Anthea Gerrie dismisses the myth that no one walks in LA by exploring Beverly Hills Happy Trails, strolling its art, retail and restaurants.
Given the myth that no one walks in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills is working hard to dispel that misunderstanding by publishing a set of suggested urban walks. The exclusive residential and shopping district which is a city in its own right, perched between Downtown LA and the beach, has created themed “Beverly Hills Happy Trails” to encourage exploration of its culinary and shopping delights as well as a wealth of art and architecture.
But there’s much more to Beverly Hills than a cluster of smart spots in which to dine, drink and splash the cash. While the urban centre is a treasure-trove of taste-treat-studded landmarks, the great, green swathe flanking the northern side of Santa Monica Boulevard along which most visitors approach Beverly Hills is the initial enticement for those who have come to stretch their legs. Taking to the lawns is a good bet to build up an appetite for brunch, lunch and the retail therapy for which the area home to the rich and famous for more than a century is now best known.
Start with the sculpture trail in Beverly Gardens Park, fielding iconic works by some of today’s greatest artists, including Jaume Plensa. There’s an Ai Wei Wei not to be missed when crossing the boulevard to visit City Hall, replete with sculptures inside and out, whose Spanish-style architecture makes it looks older than its 1932 origins.
The park is the starting point for the “Step Back in History” trail, a reminder, with its iconic Beverly Hills sign and lily pond, that this city was established more than a century ago for the movie stars and moguls making it big in the movie industry. Most wanted to live far from the busy studios and their workers crowding the denser and edgier streets of Hollywood a few miles to the east.
Five-star hotels were an early draw; the Beverly Hills Hotel, with its famous Polo Lounge, in front of which Peter Finch dropped dead before being able to claim his Oscar, a swimming pool where Marilyn Monroe once did laps and the garden villas where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton famously warred for days and nights on end, has stood since 1912, a vision of pink, green and gorgeous palm leaf-patterned wallpaper pre-dating the city itself by two years.
The elegant Beverly Wilshire, built in 1928, was the setting for Pretty Woman, and for those who preferred and still favour the clean lines of Modernism, there’s no finer example than the Beverly Hilton, with its million-dollar lobby mural, opened in 1955 and home to the Golden Globes for more than 60 years.
Even restaurants are historic in Beverly Hills; the Brighton Coffee Shop has been serving breakfast daily since 1930, while Nate’n’Al’s, the favourite deli of scriptwriters and producers as well as ordinary lovers of mile-high pastrami sandwiches and smoked salmon bagels, has served almost continuously since 1945. It may have announced it was closing its doors during the pandemic, but a couple who had been loyal customers for years saved it, trimming the menu down slightly but adding a new sidewalk terrace for people-watching breakfast, brunch or lunch.
It may not be part of the history trail, but Mr. Chow’s, consigned to the route named “Around the World”, has long been a purveyor of fine Chinese food to the rich and famous.
The history trail also pays homage to Fred Hayman, credited with making Rodeo Drive one of the world’s most famous shopping streets in the 60s and 70s. The man who was also responsible for dressing movie stars for the Oscars gets a namecheck on the blink-and-you-miss-it Fred Hayman Place off Rodeo. Now the preferred home for the world’s great designer boutiques in the greater Los Angeles area also has some art pieces of its own which are part of the “Artist’s Dream” trail, which unsurprisingly includes the aforementioned Beverly Gardens Park.
It’s even possible to admire many of Beverly Hills’s multi-million-dollar mansions on foot – just turn right off Santa Monica Boulevard into one of the many streets comprising the “flats”, which sit surprisingly unfenced behind open lawns along the tree-lined streets which are pleasant to walk. These homes, built for a growing post-war middle class, are newer than the 1928 Greystone Mansion close to the eastern boundary of Beverly Hills at the end of Sunset Strip; the grounds of the mansion, with its formal gardens, are free to explore.
Wheels are required to get into the canyons shielding many of the finest homes and around other exclusive enclaves like Trousdale, once home to Sinatra and Elvis and still the address of choice for stars and moguls with taste and an admiration for California’s finest Modernist architects. A guided coach tour is available for architecture buffs whose visit coincides with the new MADE in Beverly Hills festival celebrating the city’s historic buildings – it’s an acronym for Modernist Architecture Design Experience which will take place in May and offers trolley tours of the highlights for those who feel they have already walked their socks off in highly pedestrian-friendly Beverly Hills.
Tell Me More About Beverly Hills Happy Trails
Beverly Hills Happy Trails is easily reached by buses serving both Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards. For full information on city landmarks visit Love Beverly Hills and download maps and itineraries of the new walking trails here: