Los Angeles is a hard city to get to know. You can’t just stroll the backstreets and get lost like you can in Paris, or take the subway and pop up somewhere new like in New York, or stumble across your new favourite organic grocer like in San Francisco. LA is too big and sprawling for that. It doesn’t mean those places and experiences don’t exist, but they are hard to find on your own.
On my first visit to LA I had a 36-hour layover so booked myself onto a bus tour so that I could see as many of the highlights as possible in one day. We went to the Hollywood Bowl, the Chinese Theatre, Walk of Fame, La Brea Tar Pits, Olvera Street, Rodeo Drive, Mulholland Drive, and some of the stars’ homes. Each site we either saw from the window of the bus, or had a five-minute photo stop. But I’d seen it all. I’d done LA, right?
This time when I again found myself with a long layover in the city, I booked myself onto an Urban Adventure. Beverly Hills: Behind the Botox was the one that was going on that day and time so I happily jumped on it. I’d been to Beverly Hills before of course, getting off the bus for a quick walk down Rodeo Drive and to take a picture of the Beverly Wiltshire from Pretty Woman but it would still be a pleasant way to spend a day. Better than hanging around in the airport.
You don’t have to know me for long to realise that Beverly Hills isn’t my natural habitat. I’m much more likely to be found shopping at Vinnies than Versace. My handbag is a $5 woven job from Guatemala. There are probably people I’ve worked with for five years who have never seen me in a dress. I don’t drink coconut water or eat kale. So I wasn’t sure what I was going to get out of this tour. I was about to be surprised.
We started off with a stroll around a couple of streets in the residential part of the neighbourhood while our guide, Summer, explained the history, how it came to be settled and when it became the ritzy suburb it is known as now. We passed a couple of sites that were familiar to me from one of my favourite movies, Clueless, before heading back into the shopping hub. Our first stop was in a fairly non-descript pharmacy which, to our surprise, had a 1960’s-style lunch counter in the back. You hear stories of lunch counter sit-ins at department stores during the civil rights protests and that’s exactly what this place was like. Some true Americana right in the heart of Beverly Hills. This particular diner was famous for their French toast so of course we sampled some to give us energy for the rest of the tour.
Our next stop was at the world’s first cupcake bakery. Here again we got to sample a little treat, as well as learn more about the area’s local food scene. And no, they don’t all stay in shape from eating kale, but rather they buy quality treats to eat in small quantities — something I can definitely get on board with! Not only was Sprinkles the world’s first cupcake bakery, but they also have a 24-hour cupcake ATM. So anytime of the day or night you can satisfy your cupcake craving by entering your order into the ATM. Something else I can get on board with!
Next it was time to pound the pavement, and so we wandered down Rodeo Drive, taking a look at the fancy window displays and fancy cars parked outside. We then popped into the foyer of the Beverly Wiltshire to check out some of their Pretty Woman memorabilia such as the dress Julia Roberts wore to the opera as well as her opera glasses.
By this stage it was at least 20 minutes since we last ate something, so time for a snack! This time we went to a local French bakery for a kouign-amann which is basically layers of pastry, butter, and sugar all baked until it caramelises. Think about a croissant caramelised in sugar. Kind of amazing. Although French, this treat has really been adopted by LA and often features in ‘foods you must try’ lists for the city.
We finished up the tour at the Paley Center for Media, which is a quirky little museum for television and radio. When we were there they had an exhibit of famous typewriters, including those used by people such as John Lennon and Ernest Hemingway, and were just setting up for a CSI exhibition, complete with a prop of a cadaver, such as they use on the show. Gory, but fun. This was the kind of place I would pass over if I was there on my own, but it was really interesting and I’m so glad Summer took us.
This Urban Adventure really showed me another side to LA and gave me a whole new enthusiasm for a city that I didn’t really take to on my first visit. Next time I have a transit there, I’ll certainly think about spending more time exploring LA’s other secrets.