If you're curious about Hollywood but feel a little tacky about buying one of those movie star maps or gawking with other tourists who board tour buses trying to glimpse their favorite stars, consider instead just living like a star yourself on the famous Sunset Strip.
This is the perfect solution for those who want to class up their visit to Hollywood but still satisfy the urge to be close to the rich and famous entertainers who live and work in the Entertainment Capital of the World. You might have to abandon the fa'ade just long enough to see the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, or to place your feet in the Grumman Theater foot impressions left by your favorite star, or to hike up to the Hollywood sign, but not to worry: Just slip on your sunglasses and no one will know who you really are.
The digs for this Hollywood weekend are going to be important so you have to choose a place that oozes Tinseltown history and is strategically located in one of the most famous parts of town. Our suggestion: the Sunset Tower Hotel, a vintage movie-town hotel in a central location on Sunset Boulevard just across the West Hollywood line. Built at the edge of the Hollywood Hills, the 15-story Sunset Tower has no obstructions in any direction, offering one of the best views we've seen of Los Angeles and the famous TV and movie cities just north and west of L.A.
From the outside, the Sunset Tower's art deco design gives it the look and feel of a hotel from another era — something you might have seen in an old Superman show, or on the original Dragnet or Perry Mason. Built in 1929, this hotel was originally designed to be luxury apartments for the Hollywood elite. Over the years such famous people as John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Howard Hughes have called the building home.
So it's no surprise that, when you walk into your suite at the Sunset Tower, the walls are adorned with old black and white promo photos of Hollywood stars. The coffee table books all feature fascinating photos of Hollywood, both from the past and the present day. The furnishings are all new, but custom-made and designed with a retro flair. The Jerusalem tile, the flat-screen televisions, the high-quality fixtures, the 90-gallon Japanese tubs, the floor-to-ceiling windows with endless views of the Los Angeles basin — they all combine to give one a sense of privilege, if not opulence.
Which is exactly the way it should be if you are going to live like a Hollywood star. To really do this right, you should consider one of the 12th floor suites if for no other reason than to have access to your own balcony and patio area — which are only available on the 12th floor and with the 15th floor Penthouse suites. These are wide runway-style balconies with solid railings and the area is perfect for dining in while you enjoy the amazing view.
Don't have a balcony? Since its opening in 2005, the hotel's Tower Bar has caught the attention of local reviewers, and many Hollywood celebrities have already been in to sample Executive Chef Piero Morovich's contemporary bistro cuisine. The emphasis here is on local and seasonal ingredients and the menu changes regularly.
Another way to be a star-for-a-day is to visit the Argyle Salon and Spa, down on the lower floors of the hotel. On our recent visit, we took a quick look-see on a busy Saturday afternoon and it was so'Hollywood. More than a half-dozen stylists were performing their magic on young women so beautiful that the work seemed superfluous. In the background was the steady pounding of techno dance music. Obviously they were all headed for the dance scene in Basic Instinct.
There, now, isn't that so much more authentic than just seeing where Hollywood stars once left their hand and foot prints? Well, of course, we had to do that as well on our weekend in Hollywood. The famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine really isn't all that appealing anymore, although there has been some major renovation in the area just in the past few years. Hollywood at Highland — a great place to park, by the way -- is an impressive new upscale shopping complex adjacent to Grumman's Chinese Theater (with its foot and hand prints), and the Walk of Fame stretches from the complex on down Hollywood Boulevard for several blocks. It's mildly entertaining to find the star of your favorite actor -- but it gets old fast.
More interesting were the people who, in other cities, might be called street performers. In Hollywood, they're movie characters with elaborate costumes who lure unsuspecting tourists into taking pictures of them with their arms, tentacles, paws or whatever wrapped around other tourists. This is not a free service, of course, but one still wonders whether it's worth it to spend 90-degree afternoons in the equivalent of a bear suit.
In this same area is the Kodak Theater, which does a very effective job symbolizing the high price we pay for movie tickets nowadays. This theater, for those true Hollywood neophytes, is the place where the Academy Awards are handed out each year and, for only $15 a person, one can take a half hour tour of the theater that basically consists of walking through the entrance and sitting in the theater. The price of admission does not even include popcorn.
Being a tourist down on Hollywood Boulevard really seemed a little too...ah...common when put alongside our luxury crib at the Sunset Tower, but then we really fell off the wagon: We spotted the Hollywood sign and drove up into the Hollywood Hills until we couldn't drive anymore, and then walked a few more yards, all to get a close-up picture of the sign. Just imagine doing that when we could have been poolside with the beautiful people at the Sunset Tower.
On the way back to the hotel, we did have another relapse as we joined the everyday people taking pictures of the entrance to Paramount Studios, the only movie studio actually located in Hollywood. Then we couldn't resist driving by a few of the famous sites in the area such as the Chateau Marmont where Belushi died — clearly visible from our hotel, by the way — and the Viper Room where River Phoenix overdosed. Not sure why we had such morbid curiosity this particular day, but it just seemed to go along with the whole Hollywood thing.
Finally we were back at the Sunset Tower, and then back on our balcony looking down on the little people, starting to recognize our star turn was just about to go the way of many Hollywood celebs who are just a little too far past their prime. It was time to go back down with the little people and, once again, actually work for a living.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Hollywood is just northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and turns into West Hollywood as you drive west.
WHAT: Hollywood is the fabled home of the film industry and even the Academy Awards recognized that fact when they chose a few years ago to make Hollywood the awards show's permanent home, a testament to the history of the area. While movie and TV making are much more spread out today, there are still studios and other aspects of the movie industry in Hollywood. And, many stars live in the Hollywood Hills.
WHEN: Any time of year.
WHY: Hollywood is a good place to get a feel for the history of movie-making and today the city includes many restaurants, nightclubs and other movie star hangouts. Also available nearby is plenty of trendy shopping.
HOW: For more information on Hollywood, contact the West Hollywood Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-368-6020 or go to www.visitwesthollywood.com. For more information on the Sunset Tower Hotel, phone 323-654-7100 or visit www.sunsettowerhotel.com. Room rates start at $235. A junior suite is $295. The hotel offers more than 40 suites altogether. The hotel also has a new poolside grill called The Terrace, which offers stunning views of the city and overlooks the hotel's swimming pool. The Terrace offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. The environment is Tuscan inspired.
Photos: Visitors can get to within 100 yards of Hollywood sign; the view from The Terrace at the Sunset Tower Hotel; the historic Sunset Tower Hotel, formerly the Argyle; tourists snapping photos of "performers" in front of Grumman's Chinese Theater.
Photos by Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway, and courtesy of the Sunset Tower Hotel