Stylist’s photography director Tom Gormer is converted by the retro Hollywood glamour of Beverly Hills...
ABOVE: Duck the LA heat in the cool of the Avalon
Let’s just get this out there in the open right now – I love New York. I love the food, the people, the views, the fact it is literally like walking through your TV into an episode of Friends. There really is steam coming out of the roads, people really are that friendly and hailing a yellow cab on the street really is that exciting.
So, needless to say, I’ve never been convinced about the lure of Los Angeles. LA stands for everything I don’t like – hot weather, people with ridiculous tans and no facial expressions, gridlocked traffic and a long, fidget-inducing flight. Plus, my knowledge of LA runs to this: it has a giant sign spelling out ‘Hollywood’, there are stars on the pavement and it’s the city where dreams crumble. LA and I will not bond. No way. Not ever. Then after a surprisingly relaxing 10-and-a-half hour flight and 20 minutes in a taxi, I arrived at the Avalon hotel in Beverly Hills… and I was immediately won over. Yes, I am that fickle.
The Avalon is a retro Fifties luxury boutique hotel just off the main road on West Olympic Boulevard. As you drive up to the entrance, two things spring to mind – The Jetsons and those episodes of Mad Men where Don goes on holiday. Old school stars such as Lucille Ball stayed here (and more recent actors too – it turned out Benedict Cumberbatch was one of our fellow guests) and I’m not surprised. It’s a haven from the wild traffic and hectic pace of the city. The main focal point is a bright aqua hourglass swimming pool complete with heated poolside cabanas and Art Deco tiles – it’s ideal for poolside cocktails (all alcohol in LA feels double strength) but it’s in no way lairy, just very elegant and refined.
ABOVE: The Avalon's hourglass pool is a Hollywood classic
Above and surrounding the pool are the rooms, 83 in total, including suites and penthouse studios. Stylist stayed in a classic queen room, which was suitably chic. We had free Wi-Fi, 24-hour room service, an impressive shower and a large, comfy bed. The staff make you feel special and are happy to book taxis if, like me, you don’t drive – quite a rare thing in the sprawling LA suburbs. But it was easy to get about and I quickly gave in to LA life. I spent an evening in Soho House, had a manicure and went to see the Hollywood sign (which I can report is genuinely very impressive).
Next time I’m aiming to book into the legendary Chateau Marmont (just to track down Lindsay Lohan), hike in the hills and set foot on the famous beaches. And yes, there will be a next time. I’m converted.
Prices for a classic queen room start from $202.50 (£134) a night; viceroyhotelgroup.com/avalon
Stylist’s beauty assistant Anita Bhagwandas parties at Palm Springs’ Coachella Festival, then heads for Santa Monica to recover
ABOVE: A view of sunny Coachella
For me, a holiday should have an element of escapism and a good sprinkling of hedonism, all mixed in with heavy doses of sunshine. And if the books, records and films are to go by, then all of the above are found in California. I wanted in. Immediately. I didn’t have long to wait.
Palm Springs is a 107-mile (one hour and 45 minutes) drive from downtown LA and harbours an oasis of desert resorts, a history steeped in ‘Spring Break’ culture and the US’s largest concentration of mid-century modern architecture – all glass panes and linear panels. It’s also home to Coachella, the festival that’s become a bastion of cool over the last few years thanks to its notable musical line-ups and high-end celebrity quota. It’s one of a handful of places where fashion trends are born (last year, it was cat eye sunglasses and headscarves reeking of insouciant Fifties nostalgia). It’s grown up and effortlessly chic – the festival experience we all deserve. It’s also aeons away from the mud-encrusted, waterlogged affairs to which Brits are accustomed.
Idyllic weather, a relaxed crowd and elegant accommodation make it utterly blissful from start to finish. The clientele tend to stay in local hotels (Coachella hotel pool parties are legendary) or, as we did, in luxury Safari Tents that come with golf carts (and drivers, sadly, before you get excited) to whizz you backstage. VIP festival tickets are part of the Safari Tent package, as is much-needed air conditioning and a mini-fridge that it seemed rude not to fill with $10 litre bottles of Vodka Of The Gods (which one bleary-eyed morning was tragically mistaken for water).
As the desert heat clambered to over 30°C, I retreated to the glistening turquoise pool, a mere 10 seconds from my tent, for a bathe and cocktail before meeting a friend for sushi – which is probably the most Californian sentence I’ll ever write. If 14-year-old Anita, sneaking through fire exits into local gigs could see me now, it would blow her mind. It’s a feeling that resurfaces that evening looking out over an ocean of lighters and voices singing in unison to Pulp’s Common People with a silky breeze carving through the navy sky… It’s the execution that makes Coachella so faultless. The stages are close together, and yet a passing wind doesn’t render your favourite band inaudible. You scan in and out of checkpoints with hi-tech wristbands – they’re Facebook integrated making it easy to share your adventures with your friends sat weeping in Brixton.
Later I headed to the nearby Ace Hotel for a pool party, then on the second night we partied backstage in the company of Rihanna and Katy Perry, before being whisked in our golf buggies back to our air-conditioned tents. The following day involved an impromptu trip to Desert Hills Premium Outlets which turned out to be an Aladdin’s cave of prêt-à-porter. I left with Chanel wedges and a Saint Laurent necklace which, without sounding too shallow, might just have changed my life.
When Coachella ambled to a close, we headed towards the beachfront of Santa Monica in Western LA. After the enveloping heat of Palm Springs, the sea breeze was a welcome friend, as was our spacious suite at the Hotel Shangri- La – a slice of Art Deco brilliance, all pastel shades and retro elegance.
ABOVE: Watch Santa Monica go by from the Shangri-la
Behind the hotel is the bustling Third Street Promenade, where I stopped for an authentic stir-fried tofu and brown rice lunch at an unassuming Asian fusion restaurant called Yangtze, while pondering the logistics of spending my rent on an Alexander Wang Diego bag. I vetoed that and instead spent much less at the vintage store Buffalo Exchange and Penzeys Spices to pick up some gifts.
Goodbyes have never been my strong suit, and my heart plunged as the lights of LA disappeared into the distance. It was a surprisingly sad process lowering my business class seat into a bed, before a jovial Air New Zealand host came over for a chat with a peppermint tea. There’s no way I’m not doing this again every year. Just try and stop me.
The Safari Tents are $6,500 (£4,300) for two people including VIP passes; coachella.com. Rooms at Hotel Shangri-La (shangrila-hotel.com) are from $215 (£142). Air NZ flies daily from Heathrow to LA from £481. Upgrade to Economy Skycouch from £169 one way per couple; airnewzealand.co.uk. For more info, go to visitcalifornia.co.uk