Few neighborhoods match Beverly Hills’ grip on the popular imagination, thanks to a history studded with more celebrity and excess than an Aaron Spelling TV series. Today, luxury juggernauts lure well-heeled shoppers to Rodeo Drive, while the mansions of famous locals past and present draw busloads of looky-loos. Nearby cities and neighborhoods stake their own claims to L.A.’s affections, including skyscraper-speckled Century City, known for business and high-end shopping; Westwood, home to UCLA; and Culver City, an emerging dining and cultural destination steeped in entertainment-industry history.
The launch of Beverly Hills’ glamorous reputation dates to the early 20th century, when the then-new Beverly Hills Hotel ushered in a frenzy of movie-star mansion-building in the hills north of Sunset Boulevard. Today, the population of 35,000 is more economically diverse than Tinseltown might suggest. Nonetheless, the triumvirate of Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel-Air still attracts its share of famous residents, including the Stefani-Rossdale and Beckham families. Hop on the Beverly Hills Trolley Tour or book ahead with Starline Tours to see notable homes in the ‘hood, along with other local landmarks packed into the city’s nearly six square miles. Among the more storied and oft-filmed estates nestled in the hills is the 19th-century English Revival-style Greystone Mansion & Park, whose graceful city-owned grounds are open for strolling.
Rodeo Drive + Golden Triangle
From Greystone, head west on Sunset Boulevard, then hang on to your wallet as you turn south onto Rodeo Drive. After passing through a tony residential neighborhood, you enter the shopping district known as the Golden Triangle, bounded by Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards and Cañon Drive. David Yurman and Tom Ford each recently opened flagships on Rodeo, reminding retailers that 90210 is still the most prestigious ZIP code in the States. Ascend the Italian-esque side street to Tiffany & Co., perched atop Two Rodeo. Pause for the quintessential Beverly Hills snapshot before continuing on to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel (of Pretty Woman fame) at the south end of Rodeo. Continuing west, pass Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York, the reigning luxury retail titans along this stretch of Wilshire. At Santa Monica Boulevard, you hit the Beverly Hilton Hotel, which rolls out 30,000 square feet of red carpet annually to host the Golden Globe Awards.
The Industry + The Arts
Beverly Hills isn’t all shopping sprees and gated estates: Talent agencies William Morris, Endeavor and United Talent Agency are just three of the entertainment business powerhouses based here. Witness fierce negotiations and wooing over Cobb salads at Scarpetta at the Montage Beverly Hills and newly revamped Spago across the street. The city’s cultural treasure-troves include the Paley Center for Media and the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, both of which hold screenings. Promising even more cultural programming is the forthcoming Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which will transform the historic Beverly Hills Post Office into an entertainment destination.
Heading west from Beverly Hills on Santa Monica Boulevard, you enter the 0.3-square-mile modern acropolis of Century City. International Creative Management and Creative Artists Association are located here, as is a Fox Studio lot and countless legal, financial, entertainment and hospitality firms. But those outside the biz won’t be excluded. Just past Avenue of the Stars, you hit the upscale Westfield Century City shopping center, with luxury boutiques and dining venues to rival those of Beverly Hills. Nearby on Constellation Boulevard, Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio draws epicures to his acclaimed restaurant Craft and lower-priced Craftbar. Steps away, The Annenberg Space for Photography displays cutting-edge exhibits of digital and print photography.
A few miles northeast of Century City is the University of California, Los Angeles, one of the top public universities in the country. Visitors are welcome at several university attractions, including the Fowler Museum of Cultural History and the outdoor Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden in the north campus, the planetarium on the south campus and the seven-acre Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens (100 Stein Plaza Driveway). The Hammer Museum is nearby and houses works by Degas and Rembrandt as well as contemporary works and installations. Paid parking is available in UCLA lots and structures throughout the 419-acre campus.
Just south of the campus, the pedestrian-friendly Westwood Village features independent shops and cafes among its art deco and Mediterranean Revival buildings, as well as two landmark movie theaters at the intersection of Broxton and Weyburn avenues: the 1936 marquee-wrapped Bruin Theater, and the Village Theater across the street. Built circa 1931, the Village Theater is a favorite for movie premieres and thus prime star-spotting territory. Another don’t-miss venue is the award-winning Geffen Playhouse, located on LeConte Avenue in one of the oldest buildings in Westwood.
Covering five square miles about four miles southeast of Westwood, Culver City has benefited from a polish in the past few years, and now boasts a thriving downtown. The Kirk Douglas Theatre and the Ivy Substation, home to the Actors’ Gang, bookend the downtown area and stage excellent live productions throughout the year. Traveling east on Washington Boulevard, don’t miss the sprawling Helms Bakery complex, which contains dozens of high-end furniture showrooms. Moving along Washington, the scene-y Arts District has more than 30 art galleries and exhibition spaces clustered along Washington and La Cienega boulevards. At the intersection of Washington and National boulevards is one end of the anticipated new Expo Line, a Metro light rail that traverses from Culver City to Exposition Park and the University of Southern California to the heart of downtown.
Hollywood gets all the attention, but it’s Culver City that claims the official motto “The Heart of Screenland.” In 1915, Ince/Triangle Studios, today Sony Pictures Studios, opened at 10202 W. Washington Blvd. Classics including The Wizard of Oz would eventually be filmed on the lots of the pioneering movie studio. The stately Thomas H. Ince Studio opened in 1918. Today, Culver City’s screen culture is still going strong, with the TV series Cougar Town among the productions filming at Culver Studios, and the Spider-Man franchise among the hits produced on the historic lots at Sony. Fully experience Culver City’s screen heritage by taking a studio tour at Sony.
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