72 Hours in West Hollywood

The perfect itinerary for spending three days in West Hollywood

Although many people believe it’s just a neighborhood of Los Angeles, the bustling community of West Hollywood is actually its own incorporated city, and has among the highest percentages of gay residents and gay-owned businesses of any place in the country. With its wealth of trendy shops, galleries, restaurants, and nightclubs – plus a nice variety of upscale accommodations and an attractive setting at the base of the Hollywood Hills, this vibrant city makes for a highly enjoyable weekend getaway.

Here’s the perfect itinerary for spending three days in West Hollywood, including a few ideas for excursions to nearby neighborhoods elsewhere in greater Los Angeles.

Friday Night
Your first night in town, opt for a relatively casual dinner somewhere in the heart of West Hollywood. You’ll find scads of gay-popular restaurants along the main drag, Santa Monica Boulevard. There’s Skewers, a cheap and simple Middle Eastern eatery with outdoor tables that provide a nice view of the steady flow of cute pedestrians, and Benvenuto Cafe, a mid-priced Italian restaurant with elegant garden seating. A more sophisticated option is Bin 8945 Wine Bar and Bistro, a mod Euro-style space acclaimed for its sensational, globally influenced food and more than 70 wines available by the glass.

From here you’re steps to more than a dozen gay bars and clubs. With a full weekend ahead of you, take it easy and stick with some of the more low-keyed spots. The Mother Lode and Trunks are a couple of festive neighborhood hangouts, and the Palms is L.A.’s longest-running lesbian bar – it’s been going strong since the mid-’70s. If it’s a new and stylish lounge you’re seeking, check out the swanky East/West Lounge, with its comfy armchairs and fancy cocktails.

Saturday
West Hollywood has always been a big breakfast town – people here take the first meal of the day seriously, and excellent options abound. One good bet is the Melrose Avenue outpost of the famed Belgian bakery chain, Le Pain Quotidien, which doles out heavenly pastries, hearty egg dishes, and some of the best coffee around. Melrose is lined with a number of fine boutiques, so you might spend the morning shopping. Set aside a little time to visit the striking Cesar Pelli-designed Pacific Design Center, which has its very own branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. This airy, 4,000-square-foot space displays many of the seminal works from MOCA’s permanent collection as well as temporary shows featuring emerging artists.

Further your art explorations with a tour of the MAK Center for Art & Architecture, inside the R. M. Schindler House, a short drive away on Kings Road. Rudolf Schindler’s 1922 modernist home hosts rotating exhibits, as well as information about the architect’s many design accomplishments.

By early afternoon, when you starting feeling hunger pangs, make the 10-minute drive to the famed Farmers Market, which offers a true L.A.-style slice of life. This vintage market building is a social hub for all types – gay, straight, old, young, blue-haired, pierced, and so on. Inside you’ll find souvenir shops, a great newsstand, food stalls, and some terrific restaurants, including the Gumbo Pot, known for its terrific Cajun and Creole fare, and the funky Kokomo Cafe, which has earned the appreciation of such celebs as Jodie Foster and Drew Barrymore for its remarkably tasty Cobb salads, BLT sandwiches, and decadent desserts. After lunch stroll next door to the adjacent Grove Outdoor shopping center, an upscale, open-air marketplace with a fairly typical selection of high-end chain stores. If you’re a serious shopper, consider venturing over to the massive Beverly Center mall, on the edge of West Hollywood, where die-hard browsers can easily while away the afternoon at H & M, Ben Sherman, Diesel, and Hugo Boss.

Saturday Night
Dress your best and head out to some of West Hollywood’s trendiest dining and clubbing spots. For a meal, it’s hard to go wrong with either The Abbey, a long-running upscale gay lounge and restaurant that serves tasty and affordable American chow, or Eleven Restaurant and Nightclub, a swell-elegant supper club with juicy steaks and pan-roasted seafood, plus lighter sandwiches and salads. Serious clubbers can then move on to the neighborhood’s top gay nightspots – Factory, Here Lounge, and Rage.

Sunday
After sleeping in for a bit, wander over to the always-jumping House of Blues Sunset Strip for its legendary Sunday Gospel Brunch (seatings are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.), where you’ll be treated to a mouthwatering all-you-can-eat Southern breakfast buffet along with exhilarating live music.

A pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoon is to drive a few miles east of West Hollywood to 4,213-acre Griffith Park, whose famed Observatory and Planetarium played a key role in Rebel Without a Cause. The park is laced with hiking trails, and affords tremendous views of metro Los Angeles. Another way to get outside and enjoy a little break from West Hollywood’s urban pace is to drive up into the Hollywood Hills, which form the city’s northern backdrop. It can be fun, if a bit confusing, just driving around these narrow, steep lanes, taking in the views and admiring the distinctive architecture. One reliable route is to follow Laurel Canyon Boulevard up into the hills, turn left onto curving Mulholland Drive, and then follow it west until you reach Coldwater Canyon Drive, where a left turn leads you back down into West Hollywood.

Sunday Night
Your final night in town, you can stroll back along Santa Monica Boulevard and check out some of the spots mentioned above that you might not yet have visited. Or for something different, drive 15 minutes east to one of the region’s other gay-popular neighborhoods, Silver Lake. For dinner, book a table at the cozy Kitchen restaurant, a beloved and gay-friendly neighborhood spot that serves contemporary versions of American comfort food – don’t miss the buttermilk-fried chicken or pistachio-crusted wild salmon. After your meal, walk next door to the charming gay neighborhood lounge, Akbar, which is typically packed with an eclectic mix of hipsters, artists, yuppies, and students.

Monday
Depending on the exact time of your departure, you can set aside Monday to explore the beach communities of Santa Monica and Venice, which are both rife with cafes, shopping, and palm-shaded beach promenades. This makes especially good sense if you’re flying out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is also out near the ocean, not too far south of Venice.

Where to Stay
Although West Hollywood can be pricey, its wealth of hotels has led to sufficient competition to keep rates relatively reasonable. Here’s a sampling of top-notch, gay-friendly places to spend a weekend.

Owing to its location near the gay-licious Beverly Center shopping mall, the Hotel Sofitel has long been popular with lesbians and gays. The management is one of the few outside West Hollywood to market aggressively to the gay community (although the property is just steps from the West Hollywood border). From top to bottom this is a first-rate property with a distinctive facade and upscale French furnishings. The 15-story Sunset Tower Hotel is a 1929 art deco icon. Formerly home to fabulous stars like Truman Capote and Errol Flynn, it contains 64 rooms with stunning period reproductions, flat-screen TVs, iPod stations, and floor-to-ceiling windows offering some of the best views in the city.

A secluded all-suites property just off the Strip, on the edge of Beverly Hills, Le Montrose Suite Hotel has huge, meticulously clean and well-decorated rooms with fireplaces, kitchenettes, and private balconies. Enjoy amazing views of the skyline from the fab rooftop pool and hot tub.

The well-tended Ramada Plaza Hotel West Hollywood is the most gay-popular mainstream hotel in metro Los Angeles; it’s in the heart of the bar district and has a sleek art deco look and a cruisy pool and sundeck out back. Most of the stylish and spacious suites have sleeping lofts, and all have kitchenettes. Arguably West Hollywood’s hippest address, and a nice value to boot, the Standard has ultra-cool rooms with down pillows, silver bean-bag chairs, TVs with VCRs, Warhol poppy-print draperies, high-speed Internet, and private balconies – plenty of nice amenities considering the reasonable rates. The swish bar is a favorite place to see and be seen.

At the San Vicente Inn-Resort all accommodations are either in large suites or detached cottages with tasteful contemporary furnishings. The rates are quite fair, given the excellent location close to the restaurants and gay nightlife on Santa Monica Boulevard. Of course, if you’re unable to meet a cute guy at East/West Lounge or Rage, it’s nice to know you can always return to the San Vicente and, on a typical evening, find someone cute lying around the pool.

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