As I crushed sunburnt dirt with my sneakers during a hike up Mount Hollywood, I decided the difference between Florida and California is in inches, feet and miles. I took note of how the hills kissed the sky, the palms floated their heads like basketball players in a crowd of average-sized people, and the land below spanned in every direction to no end. It’s enough to make you feel microscopic, but in a comforting way—like being a kid in a sea of adult legs.
The reason for an adventure to the West Coast was to celebrate my and my friend’s birthday. Yes, our poor mothers delivered their first daughters in the same hours, on the same day, in the same year. Unbeknown to them, we would meet as college roommates and vow to take a trip together every year to celebrate. Birthdays aren’t so scary when you have someone with whom to brave getting older.
But where do you go for a quick getaway when you already live in paradise? The answer: California.
By the time we landed at LAX and valeted our rental car at the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills, the sky had turned dark. We climbed a fluorescent-lit staircase and checked in with the property, which went through a $25 million renovation during the summer. With the remodeling came updated rooms, the restaurant STK and a redesign of the lobby’s “living room.”
Like most W properties, lighting is key and set in pinks and blues that match modern, sleek furniture. The hotel also boasts fountain features throughout the lobby with a continued water theme that enters each room with artwork by photographer Amber Gray. In her pieces, she captures women falling through water in extravagant gowns. The property is in close proximity to UCLA’s campus (the hotel was actually once a school dorm building) and is also close to the iconic Sunset Boulevard. We wouldn’t do much exploring that night, but we would go to dinner.
Cut, by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, is on the first floor of the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. Last year it was named one of the 10 best hotel restaurants in USA Today’s Reader’s Choice Travel Awards. We split an aged steak, the Yukon Gold potato puree and the cavatappi pasta mac & cheese. Our waiter also brought out a complimentary plate of small desserts with “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate and a candle to blow out.
In Florida, it’s easy to spot tourists. They brave 60-degree weather in flip flops and tank tops, and they’re usually in pods of four—mom, dad, sister and brother, give or take. For the next few days we didn’t give much effort to blend with locals. We hiked to the Hollywood sign, scheduled a TMZ bus tour and visited Madame Tussauds. We strolled Rodeo Drive, visited an In-N-Out Burger drive-thru and watched the sun set over the Santa Monica Beach pier. There’s no shame in being a tourist when you’re in foreign territory.
On the flight back to Florida, I watched from the window seat as the colossal hills and palms, and the ever-spanning land shrunk. Our trip transitioned from something anticipated, to something we were in the midst of, to something that would be filed away as a memory. But at least going home meant heading back to paradise.
When you go…
Visit: If you venture to downtown Los Angeles, check out The Broad, a contemporary art museum that offers free admission. A must-see is Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room where guests can enter one-by-one to view the mirror-lined chamber paired with LED flickering lights.
Grab a drink: Visit The Bungalow in Santa Monica. The part-indoor, part-outdoor spot gives titles to each of its rooms, like the Game Room, which centers around a pool table, and the Deck, where a cobblestone path leads to patio furniture circling a fire. We settled into the Study on a fat, patterned couch, placed our vodkas on the coffee table and listened to a mix of ’90s music that played throughout the dim room.