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Beverly Hills

Trip to glamorous city like dressing up for the prom

By CARY ORDWAY

Way back in the 1950's there was a television show called "Queen for a Day" which, despite present-day connotations, was about taking an everyday person and changing her entire life – if only for a day. It was a chance for some deserving person to really see how the Other Half lives.

Today you can do the same thing with a trip to Beverly Hills. The average mortal may not be able to afford anything they'll see in the posh stores on Rodeo Drive, but they'll certainly get a taste of what life would be like if they could. And therein lies the fun – it's like dressing up for the prom, or putting on airs at the local country club. In this little getaway, you get to pretend you're something that you are not.

Of course there are lots of movie stars out there, mortgaged to the hilt, who are essentially doing the same thing.

Start your pretend weekend with accommodations like the Montage Beverly Hills, footsteps from Rodeo Drive and the newest luxury hotel in the area. Sister property to its famous Laguna Beach hideaway, the Beverly Hills version is just as swanky but built with Spanish Revival architecture that matches the Mediterranean styling you see throughout the city. It's not quite the Hearst Castle, but the flavor's the same and the opulence just as pronounced. Our first clue was that our garden-variety SUV was outclassed the moment we eased onto the Montage circular driveway and took our place right between the Bentley and the Maserati.

You'll want to have a few bills ready to tip your valet and bellhop. Five bucks seemed awfully little reward for putting our vehicle to bed amongst all those classic cars, but some habits die hard. Our poor valet – he got stuck with us and our SUV while, very next car, his co-worker drew a top-of-the-line fully-tinted Beamer and some executive who probably doesn't even know what a five-dollar-bill is. And then it dawned on us: maybe that guy's pretending, too.

Our room at the Montage was just as you would expect: ultra-luxurious. At 500 square feet it was larger than most hotel rooms and featured elegant dark wood furniture – a cabinet, combination desk and LCD TV hutch, stylish headboards on two queen beds – as well as a muted brown and beige color scheme that contrasted well with the furniture. Our room featured a lanai perfect for enjoying breakfast while looking over the hotel's courtyard and gardens. The same tones and rich brown woods were used along with marble to make the bathroom and dressing area seem fit for a (pretend) king.

The Montage would be our base of operations and, with its location at the intersection of Canon and Beverly Drives, it's in the heart of the action. It was a quick walk over to the famous Rodeo Drive, probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of visiting Beverly Hills. Almost all of the big-name stores are neatly compressed in a little two-block area where you'll find Valentino, Fendi, Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent and Armani. The key to success here, apparently, is to be sure and give your store a foreign sounding name. No one will spend buku bucks to shop at Jones, Smith or Johnson.

Now some pretenders will sweep into town and think they will spot movie stars up and down Rodeo because, let's face it, hitting Rodeo is a little like driving to Costco for the well-heeled who live in the hills that are no more than 10 minutes away. But we're told the stars avoid the commoners on weekends so your star search will have to be mid-week. Another tip: hang out in the alley ways where, instead of the homeless, you'll find jobless movie stars who, while waiting for their next acting job, have their chauffeurs drop them off at the back entrances to top clothiers and jewelers.

If you really must see a movie or television star, stop by the Paley Center for Media, where you can at least see them on a television screen. Just a few blocks from Rodeo, this is like a library for TV watchers and has a unique setup where you can search for television shows dating back to the beginning of TV and then sit at a television and watch the entire show. Have a favorite show from the '80s? Just punch in the number and the show magically appears on your screen. The Paley Center also is now the West Coast edition of the Museum of Broadcasting, a popular attraction for visitors to New York City. And there are regular events at the Paley Center when they will have the stars come in and be honored for their achievements – a great way to lure them out of their Beverly Hills mansions long enough that the little people can get an up-close look.

Lots of people who visit Beverly Hills will take one of the star tours where you'll be driven around town in a bus or some unusual vehicles we noticed that looked like vans that had the top half removed, ostensibly for a better view of the stars. We're told the chances of seeing a star are slightly less than seeing a Republican in San Francisco, but you will see some fascinating homes and be able to put a name with a house. A better bet, we think, is the Beverly Hills trolley tour which you can catch near Rodeo Drive. For five dollars, you can ride around town for 40 minutes, visiting all the Beverly Hills highlights including the Beverly Hills Hotel and a number of stars' homes.

The dining choices in Beverly Hills are spectacular. We enjoyed a couple of excellent meals at the Montage – lunch at the poolside Conservatory Grill and breakfast in the more formal Parq. In both cases, the food and service were excellent and came with some especially good people-watching and eavesdropping. One thirty-something man sitting next to us, for example, was telling his male friend that the impeccably dressed middle-age woman sitting a few tables away was worth about three billion dollars. Later he left his friend, went over to her table and launched into some serious schmoozing which we're certain had nothing to do with money.

Another restaurant deserving special mention is the LA Food Show, a relatively new eatery on Beverly Drive. The unbelievably attentive service was only surpassed by the fascinating and eclectic menu. Our Gaucho Steak was hearty and tasty, while the Cajun Trout was done to perfection. Both entrees were reasonably priced.

We also enjoyed a delicious lunch at a place called Boe where we ate on the patio in front of the Hotel Crescent – one of the city's "hot" social spots right now. It's a great place to people-watch, especially if you stop in for dinner on a Friday or Saturday.

If you visit on a weekend, be sure and check out the Farmer's Market held each Sunday near the Beverly Hills Police Station from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The parking area looked a little like the Montage with Land Rovers outnumbering Jeeps 10 to 1, but the concept is the same as in any other community: reasonably priced super-fresh produce along with the unusual knick-knacks and food booths galore.

With just one night in Beverly Hills, we left a lot undone – no time for the Spa at the Montage, for example. There were several gardens we didn't have time to see. And our time on Rodeo was spent "speed-shopping," something I invented this trip to keep my wife from making our pretend trip a real trip with real credit card bills to remind me of our great time.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: Beverly Hills is in the heart of Los Angeles and adjacent to other fun areas to visit such as Santa Monica and Hollywood.

WHAT: Beverly Hills is the epitome of wealth and style with more famous people living here than anyplace we can think of. It's fun to play in the Big Leagues for a weekend.

WHEN: Anytime of the year. L.A.'s weather is almost always good.

WHY: Beverly Hills is making an all-out effort to welcome visitors, and anyone who watches TV or movies will immediately recognize the famous landmarks. Great hotels, superb dining choices and constant sunshine all help seal the deal.

HOW: For more information on Beverly Hills, phone 800-345-2210 or visit www.lovebeverlyhills.org.

Photos, from top: Iconic Beverly Hills Hotel; crowds shopping on Rodeo Drive; Montage Beverly Hills; Kimberli Partlow views TV show from Paley Center archives

Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway

OTHER DESTINATIONS: Be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Laguna Beach, La Jolla and Coronado.



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