-- Few cities conjure up images of glitz and glam like Beverly Hills. This ritzy enclave in the heart of L.A. is replete with recognizable landmarks and popular things to do, of course. But there’s plenty more going on beyond the five-star veneer. Consider these things to do next time you visit the so-called Garden Spot of the World.
Skip the Guide Book, Ask the Concierge Insightful and connected concierges are not relegated to fancy hotels here. The Beverly Hills Visitor Center, a state-of-the-art welcome center on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and N. Canon Dr., offers concierge services for free. Need to customize your visit? Want reservations? Looking to come up with a day-long itinerary? Seeking the top celeb-spotting spots? The center, which also provides booklets with exclusive discounts, is open seven days a week.
Skip the Tour, Take a Walk The city of Beverly Hills has come up with a variety of walking tours you can do on your own, complete with suggested stops and historical highlights. Each tailored to your specific interests and, these downloadable itineraries are totally free and easy to tweak based on your timing. The “Seen on Screen” tour, for example, leads you to spots made famous by Tinsel Town, such as Edelweiss Chocolates, where Lucille Ball’s conveyor belt bon-bon antics made millions laugh, and the landmark Electric Fountain, featured in "Clueless," the movie that made Alicia Silverstone famous.
Skip the Walk, Hop the Trolley Yes, this is a very touristy thing to do. But if you’d rather not walk and especially if it’s your first visit, the Beverly Hills Trolley Tour is worth doing, for the artistic, architectural and historical tidbits, and the inside stories the docents have to offer. It’s affordable -- just $1 for kids 12 and under and $5 for their parents. And, at 40 minutes long, it's easy to fit into your day. The hourly trolley rides leave from the corner of Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way and operate Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, with extended schedules in July, August and December.
Skip the Cinema, Visit Paley Want to catch a flick? Would you settle for the small screen? The Paley Center for Media, on N. Beverly Drive and previously known as the Museum of Television and Radio, is a must for any TV buff. It’s a massive public library of TV and radio shows -- more than 160,000 programs spanning more than a century. Rotating exhibits and ongoing public programs include daily broadcasts and periodic live discussions with actors, directors and producers. And weekend screenings, which often feature several shows and specials played back to back throughout the afternoon, are often family-friendly.
Skip Happy Hour, Sip in Reverse This town has several great Happy Hour options -- a great chance to sip sexy while saving several bucks a glass. But you’ll miss most of them if you’re not freed up by 7 p.m. Spago to the rescue! Celeb chef Wolfgang Puck’s famous eatery on N. Canon Drive offers a Reverse Happy Hour, where drinks go on sale late, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. For somewhere between $8 and $15, you’ll find a variety of signature cocktails and really good wines by the glass. Gourmet bites off the always-evolving menu at The Barget discounted, too.
Skip the Pub, Sip in Style This is Beverly Hills, so you might as well splurge on your palate. Among the most deluxe of imbibing experiences here is £10 (Ten Pound), an elegant speakeasy inside the Montage Hotel. In addition to exotic cocktails, this intimate bar -- guests are capped at 35 and reservations are a must -- is home to rare whiskeys from the legendary Macallan Distilleryis Speyside, Scotland, and some of these single malt sippers date back 64 years. Also consider VODBOX, inside Nic’s restaurant, a sleek walk-in freezer with a max occupancy of 12. The temp here stays at a nippy 28 degrees, making it the ultimate spot to sip premium vodka (and don’t worry -- you’re handed faux fur hats and coats as you enter).
Skip 90210, Savor 90211 Beverly Hills is often identified simply by its most famous ZIP code, 90210, which gained pop culture stardom from the popular eponymous TV show. But this city’s made up of five ZIP codes, and many say 90211 is worth visiting just for the food. “It’s true, people think I’m kidding when I say I live in ‘Beverly Hills, 90211,’ but the fact is it has a more vintage look and classic L.A. feel,” says my sister, Meriette Saglie, a piano performance doctorate student at USC who moved here last year. She touts a big number of international eateries, like Chakra, an upscale Indian restaurant where “you can’t go wrong with the curry dishes, or Happy Hour” she says, and Tagine, a Moroccan eatery where, she tells me, “the flavors pop.” She also gives Italian bistro Il Cielo a big nod for its “amazing homemade pastas.” Hot spots like Lawry’s The Prime Rib, Matsuhisa and The Stinking Rose also call Beverly Hills 90211 home.
Skip Dessert, Visit the ATM Nothing appealing on the dessert menu? The ATM at Sprinkles, the famous cupcake shop that got its start right here in Beverly Hills, is open 24 hours a day. And, yes, it dispenses cupcakes and cookies to quell any sweet tooth craving. Some flavors rotate, but classics like the Red Velvet and the Dark Chocolate are available seven days a week. The ATM is right next to the bakery, on S. Santa Monica Blvd., near N. Bedford. Cupcakes are $3.75 each.
Skip Beverly Gardens, Visit Robinson Beverly Gardens Park is a landmark here -- a 2-mile, 22-block park along Santa Monica Blvd. that’s ideal for joggers and photo takers (the famed Beverly Hills Sign lives here). But for a unique garden experience, call ahead and schedule a docent-led tour of Robinson Gardens, on Elden Way, near the Beverly Hills Hotel. The former estate of socialite Virginia Robinson (of Robinsons-May department stores fame) was one of the first homes in Beverly Hills and spans more than six acres. Today, it houses five distinct gardens of rare plants, exotic flowers and flowing fountains; the Kitchen Garden features herbs and vegetables while the Rose Garden is home to wide array of heirlooms.
Skip Rodeo, Shop Beverly The names on the 100 (or so) marquees along Rodeo Drive are as famous as the street they line: Hugo Boss, Gucci and Versace, among others. For many, a great window shopping venue. But many locals like spending along N. and S. Beverly Blvd., instead, where you’ll find plenty of destination eateries (Nate 'n Al deli is a celebrity favorite) and myriad of stores, including men’s fashion, women’s apparel, children’s toys, books, collectibles, home furnishings and electronics. You’ll also want to hop on Wilshire Blvd., known along this part of L.A. as Department Store Row, to visit Barney’s, Neiman Marcus or Saks.
Skip the Meter, Park in the Lot Something every shopper should know: the city of Beverly Hills runs several lots that offer two hours of free parking, a lost commodity throughout much of L.A. You’ll find the lots on S. Beverly Dr., Rexford Dr., N. Canon Dr. and Brighton Way.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features a number of Beverly Hills and L.A.-area deals and tips here.