Beverly Hills: It’s Not For Hillbillies

Since I’ve written about Hollywood, the not-so-charming entertainment district of Los Angeles, I thought I’d devote a post to Beverly Hills, home to the rich and famous, to some of the most beautiful –and expensive– real estate in the country, and some of the most exclusive retail shops in the world. This will complete the Tinseltown portion of this blog…

What can I say about Beverly Hills? Well, for starters, it is a beautiful place. If you come to LA, you must go see it.

The residential streets of Beverly Hills are lined with multi-million dollar mansions, towering trees, and miles of manicured green lawns. Driving around Sunset Boulevard and some of the streets north of Sunset you will see some of the most spectacular mansions in California. Stay away from them, though. The residents of such mansions have very tight security in place, with armed men and all…

The commercial areas of Beverly Hills are packed with good restaurants and most of the shops you’d find at a mall, plus other fine boutiques. I love to go there for a meal or some light shopping along Beverly Drive and Canon Drive.

Of course a visit to Beverly Hills, especially if one is a tourist, must include at least some window shopping along Rodeo Drive, where most of the luxury shops are. That can be fun, even if you don’t buy anything. Go in and check the prices… A t-shirt for $500? A simple cotton dress for $1,200? Sure, dah-ling! Why not?

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Just as in Hollywood, don’t expect to see movie stars parading around the streets of Beverly Hills, although the chances of spotting someone there are a bit higher. Stars have their routines and unless you follow the paparazzi around town, it’s hard to catch them. But if you do, act cool and try to snap a picture without them noticing. It works better than jumping on them and getting the cold shoulder…

Although Beverly Hills is part of LA County, it is an independent city, with its own government. In 2014, the City of Beverly Hills will turn 100. The community is putting together a year-long celebration consisting of tourism initiatives, regional events and community activities to pay tribute to Beverly Hills’ past, present and future. That should be a good time to visit!




In Santa Monica, No Smoking at Home

I’m all for trying to curb smoking, especially in public places. But a new ordinance approved by the Santa Monica city council, banning new tenants of apartments and condos from smoking inside their residences, seems a bit over the top.

The ban requires a second vote to become law but, if approved, it will take effect in 30 days. After that, new tenants of multi-family housing complexes will have to publicly disclose if they smoke. Current residents will have to decide whether to designate their residences smoking or nonsmoking. If they fail to do so, the new law will be applicable to their residences.

I understand that for nonsmokers living in apartment buildings the mere fact that someone smokes next door can be a huge nuisance. I’ve been in situations, especially in hotels, where I was annoyed by cigarette smell coming through the vents. But I still have a problem with this legislation, for various reasons:

First, having the law dictate what people can or cannot do in their own homes is too intrusive. After all, smoking is not illegal, and if it’s not done in public places, it shouldn’t be prohibited. Even nonsmokers have problems with that.

Second, this ban makes it even more difficult for prospective renters to find good places to live. They already have to deal with other restrictions, such as no children, no pets. Adding no smoking to that, further diminishes their options.

Finally, since neither the police nor landlords will be enforcing the law, it will be up to neighbors to file suits against transgressors. This is likely to create more –and possibly frivolous– litigation between neighbors.

But in Santa Monica, already considered a “nanny state” by some, this ordinance will probably pass and people will have to adjust to it. Years back the city banned smoking in outdoor common areas of apartments and condos. And the way it’s going, it won’t be too long before a total ban on smoking is in place.

Do Angelenos Prefer Italian Food?

I’ve been to almost forty restaurants in L.A. these past eight months and I know it’s possible to experience a variety of cuisines in the city. So how come every time I’ve asked for suggestions of good places to eat, the answer has been “there’s this great Italian restaurant…”? I’m quite amused by that.

I wonder if that’s because there are more Italian restaurants in L.A. than in other cities… Or perhaps people here just like Italian food? Or maybe they feel it’s a safer choice of food, as most people like it? Or is it all just a huge coincidence? I’ll figure it out eventually. Or maybe not…

Meanwhile, I’ve been to several Italian restaurants on the West side, some of which are indeed very good. So, if I had to suggest good restaurants in L.A. I’d probably mention a few Italian places, like Vincenti and Palmeri, in Brentwood, Villetta in Santa Monica, or Il Piccolino, in West Hollywood.

But I’d throw in a few other suggestions, such as The Ivy and Petrossian, in West Hollywood, One Pico in Santa Monica, and Rock Sugar in Century City. And for great sushi, you can’t go wrong with Katsuya, in Brentwood, and Sugarfish in various locations, including downtown, Brentwood and Santa Monica.

I guess there’s nothing else to say now, except Bon Appétit! Or should I say Buon Appetito?

Au Revoir Foie Gras…

If you live in Los Angeles, or anywhere else in California, today is the last day you can legally eat foie gras at a local restaurant.


In 2004 then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill banning the sale of foie gras in the state, following a successful campaign by animal rights activists who opposed the method used to produce it, which involves force-feeding corn to ducks and geese with a tube-like device to enlarge their livers.

Although 14 countries have some form of ban on foie gras, they mostly target its production. So California’s law is the first to prohibit both production and sale of foie gras.

The statewide ban on foie gras kicks in tomorrow, in spite of efforts by California chefs, who even created a Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS) advocating for a set of standards on the treatment of the birds rather than an outright prohibition. Animal activists plan to take this cause to New York next.

In response, California restaurants have been offering special foie gras menus during the month of June, to bid farewell to the gourmet food, drawing even diners who had never tried it before.

I suppose most people don’t even know what foie gras is and therefore will not miss it. And those who care very much for it will be crossing state lines or buying it in the black market.

As for me, at least for now, all I can say us au revoir, foie gras!

Hiking’s Big in L.A. Who knew?

It’s common knowledge that people in Los Angeles drive almost everywhere. True, Angelenos love their cars, but what is little known to people outside the L.A. area is that Angelenos also love hiking and do a lot of it.

And why wouldn’t they?  There are extremely beautiful trails throughout the area’s mountains and canyons, with spectacular views of the city, the valleys, and the Pacific ocean.

I’m not much of a hiker but I had a wonderful time hiking an easy trail on San Vicente Mountain. I especially enjoyed the friendly hikers –this is a trail that attracts families with kids and allows dogs. Needless to say, kids and pooches have a blast!

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Now, if you like hiking but can’t conceive of Los Angeles without Hollywood and celebrities, you might want to hike the Hollywood Hills, where you can take a peak at million dollar mansions, see the Hollywood sign up close and, if you’re lucky, see a movie star or two. But don’t let that distract you because along the L.A. trails the real stars are the breathtaking views.

Unveiling “Levitated Mass”

Three months after its festive arrival at LACMA ending a journey through 22 cities of Los Angeles County, the famous 340-ton granite boulder is finally part of Michael Heizer’s installation “Levitated Mass.”

LACMA opened the installation to the public on June 24, and some one-thousand curious and excited visitors showed up for the event. Heizer, who is a known recluse, was there for the dedication ceremony and stayed afterwards, graciously talking to visitors, signing autographs, and giving interviews to journalists covering the event.

Being a big fan of “the mass,” and having followed the process with great interest, I had to be there to see, experience, and photograph the final product.  The weather was spectacular (even “June gloom” decided to take a break) and the sight of the massive boulder against the clear blue sky with the beautiful pine trees in the background was very pleasing.

The 340-ton rock sits majestically on top of a 456-foot-long concrete slot, which descends to 15 feet in depth, runs underneath the boulder and goes back up. It’s an impressive work that required some complex engineering, given the weight of the rock and the need to address safety concerns, including those related to earthquakes. And this being L.A., we know there will be some…

Standing under the suspended rock one can’t help but feel small and vulnerable. These feelings are somewhat diluted when one’s in a big crowd like yesterday’s, but something tells me it might be a bit different if one stands solo under the massive rock.

To me, the only disappointing aspect of the installation is that the huge brackets used to secure the rock are exposed… They are ugly, intrusive, and take away the illusion of a levitated rock. I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to cover them somehow. But then again, I’m sure this was not Heizer’s choice but most likely an issue of safety.

Levitated Mass has been a controversial project from the start and will continue to be so in the years to come. Opponents of the project continue to complain about its cost –many wrongly assume it was funded by public money– and now that the installation is completed, they think it’s ugly and don’t consider it real art.

Although many people see no value in this type of artistic manifestation, known as land art, I like it a lot. Among other things, the value of such art lies on the fact that it makes people think and talk about it. And, boy, are they talking about Levitated Mass!

See my slide show of Levitated Mass opening day:

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June Gloom? Bring It!

I had been warned: the months of May and June in Los Angeles have lots of gray, gloomy days.

It was hard to envision that after having seen fall and winter days that were ten times sunnier than some spring and summer days on the East Coast! But locals assured me it would happen. And lo and behold, as June came along, so did those gray, breezy, gloomy days…

I don’t know about “May gray” –I didn’t notice anything special about the weather last month– but “June gloom” is for real! So far, almost every day in June has been cloudy and windy and somewhat gloomy.

This phenomenon is the result of three things that occur around this time of the year: cold Pacific Ocean water, an ocean current known as the California Current, and a high pressure formation known as the Pacific High. Put these three together and voilà! Welcome to June gloom!

While tourists and locals may dread this weather, I must confess I am enjoying it. I actually welcome a little cloud coverage in this intensely sunny city. For one, because, as many Angelenos do, we decided not to use our garage and turned it into a gym. That means our cars can bake in the sun for hours, making the first few minutes of a ride quite unpleasant. These cloudy, cooler days make a huge difference in that regard…

I also noticed that this phenomenon takes place mostly in the morning and early afternoon. By mid to late-afternoon the sun starts to break through the clouds and the rest of the day ends up being quite pleasant.

Whether one likes or hates June gloom, I guess it’s safe to say that June is not the best month to visit the L.A. area, especially if lying in the sun in Santa Monica or Malibu is your number one priority. Save that for the other summer months.

But no matter what your plans are, or what time of the year you come to L.A., the thing to always remember is that temperatures here vary within just a few miles. For example, when it’s 72°F in Santa Monica, it might be 80°F downtown, and even hotter in the Valleys. And the coast remains cool and comfortable, even a bit nippy, throughout the summer. No wonder the weather forecast for the L.A. area is a rather complicated report on what’s happening in the mountains, the desert, the valleys, the basin, the beaches, etc.

The bottom line? When visiting L.A. always dress in layers!!

P.S. Those are not my feet… 🙂