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(2011 - Spring/Summer Issue)


The sun shines all day; the stars shine all night; the Hollywood Hills glow; the shimmering surf curls. How cool is that?

As I sip the day’s first coffee on the rooftop pool garden of the Andaz West Hollywood Hotel, I watch the sun rising over the billboards and buildings below as traffic snakes down from the Hollywood Hills. The serenity of this glassed-in space at dawn is a stark contrast to the glitzy event there the night before, when about 200 of us had munched on mounds of fresh shrimp and oysters, sipped wines from the Napa Valley and posed for photos with wax figures of Julia Roberts and Michael Jackson on loan from Madame Tussauds.

Our packed two-day trip to Los Angeles meant rising early and retiring late. We started with a healthy breakfast and Indonesian coffee at the Rose Café & Market in Venice, down the street from the original Gold’s Gym where Arnie Schwarzenegger trained and the Klitschko brothers work out. According to locals at the café, a wildly popular culinary pursuit in L.A. is eating from food trucks such as Kogi Korean BBQ. When diners spot one of the trucks, they tweet its location so everyone in the area can dash over and line up for food.

To work off breakfast, we rented bikes from Perry’s Café on Santa Monica beach and cycled for about an hour along The Strand past the famous pier. A paved bicycle path, The Strand tracks along the Pacific Coast Highway for 35 kilometres between L.A.’s Pacific Palisades and Torrance County Beach.

Soup, Shops and Stars

In keeping with the exercise theme, we strolled Venice’s legendary Abbott Kinney Boulevard, where shops dispense medical marijuana, sell unique gift and decor items, and offer the coolest fashions—including jewellery made from old typewriter keys. I couldn’t resist having my short-term fortune told by a Native American medicine woman at the Mystic Journey Bookstore. While I was skeptical about her predictions, for the next six weeks they turned out to be eerily accurate.

Lunch consisted of Mediterranean cuisine at Gjelina, where lineups are common and the stars are fiercely sheltered. We spotted John Malkovich there, and were warned that anyone who tries to photograph or bother such luminaries gets escorted out pronto. That night, on our way to dinner at Delphine Brasserie in the new “it” hotel, W Hollywood, we stumbled on the media event for the premiere of Law & Order Los Angeles and heard about the rooftop gala. While we couldn’t get into either invitation-only affair, we did gawk, tweet and snap candid shots from afar.

Before heading to Orange County the next day, we stopped at the bustling Farmers’ Market, which dates back to the Great Depression. According to David Hamlin, our guide who was dressed nattily in Old Hollywood style, this is the No. 1 place in L.A. for celebrity-spotting. Stars working at CBS Television City next door will pop over to grab lunch or talk shop, while talk-show hosts and newscasters will run across to do “man-on-the-street” interviews. A big magnet at the Farmers’ Market is the vast assortment of cosy eateries, both indoors and out.

Sand, Sunsets and Killer Waves

An hour’s drive southwest of L.A. along US-101 took us to our next home base—the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel on Dana Point, where the killer Dana wave broke until the rocks were replaced by a harbour. But the Dana is immortalized by the 1960s surf rock band, The Chantays, and the Killer Dana Surf Shop, owned by two local surfers who keep the memories alive.

Our stay at the Ritz included an outdoor yoga class with Cynthia Nelson, a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor. Lunch was at Raya, the hotel’s new restaurant with an expansive view of the ocean. Original dishes prepared by chef Richard Sandoval and chef de cuisine Greg Howe use local, sustainable and organic ingredients. We started with a ceviche taster of rock shrimp, ahi tuna, plantain and yucca chips, then moved on to main courses featuring Latin, Japanese and French influences.

My afternoon explorations included watching surfers walk on water. The fastest-growing trend in surfing, stand-up paddle surfing on an oversized surfboard (paddleboard) allows surfers to catch more waves in a set than traditional surfing. Other ocean sports include eco-adventures offered by the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and Jean-Michel Cousteau.

After browsing through the town’s quirky art galleries, decor shops and gift boutiques, I joined a workshop at Pure Light Candle Studio, where I made a designer candle that I proudly took home. Afterwards, I reconnected with my group on the rooftop of the historic La Casa del Camino hotel, a favourite celebrity hideaway in the 1930s and ’40s.

Today, residents and visitors crowd the rooftop every evening to watch and toast the sunset. As an ode to the SoCal surf and skate culture, the hotel has enlisted 10 top interior designers to create one-of-a-kind suites. Sponsored by brands such as Quiksilver, etnies, Billabong and Rip Curl, the colourful designs are founded on environmental consciousness, using recycled sports materials and energy-saving technology.

Our final day in Orange County had an arts focus, starting with the art of shopping at South Coast Plaza in nearby Costa Mesa. An internationally-acclaimed shopping resort complete with hotels and an arts district, South Coast Plaza has a waiting list for retailers, many of which are unique to California. During our visit, we were treated to a live performance of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Panunder a cirque-style tent next to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. This was followed by an outdoor vertical dancing show by Project Bandaloop on the centre’s wall.

Day Trips

On my next visit, I’ll be sure to include some areas within a three-hour drive of Los Angeles. For example, the Danish village of Solvang in the Santa Ynez Valley, celebrating its 100thanniversary in 2011, has fascinating historic and cultural aspects. The enclave of Ojai, bordering on Los Padres National Forest, is a quiet country retreat and recreation area scented seasonally with orange blossoms and lavender. And Palm Springs offers tours of Frank Sinatra’s haunts and Old Hollywood hideaways.

It’s also worth remembering that the world’s first Disneyland is only a half-hour’s drive from L.A. in Anaheim. Multi-million-dollar investments in the adventure park are funding new attractions that include a nighttime water show, 3-D experiences and an undersea adventure.

Leaving L.A. was the toughest part of this trip, since I feltI had barely scratched the surface of this nautical nirvana. As I reluctantly boarded my homeward-bound Air Canada flight at LAX, I took a last look at the California sunshine as Arnie’s famous farewell crossed my mind: “Hasta la vista, baby!”

Travel Planner

Air Canada (aircanada.com) flies direct to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) from major Canadian cities.

For more information, visit:

Delphine Brasserie: restaurantdelphine.com

Farmers’ Market: farmersmarketla.com

Gjelina: gjelina.com

Kogi Korean BBQ: kogibbq.com

Rose Café and Market: rosecafe.com

Abbott Kinney Boulevard: abbotkinneyonline.com

Pure Light Candle Studio: purelightcompany.com

South Coast Plaza: southcoastplaza.com

The Grove: thegrovela.com

W Third Street: discoverlosangeles.com/play/shopping/apparel/west-third-street-shopping.html

Costa Azul: costaazul.net

Killer Dana: killerdana.com

Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel: ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/LagunaNiguel

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