exterior of a house decorated in blue and white swirlsIf you’ve read this post, you’ll know I publish a travel story series on Ellie & Co. called Seven Secret Highlights that looks at off-beat sights in destinations I discovered on my travels.

So far, we’ve explored Seville in Spain, my hometown of Brighton and Hastings, both on England’s south coast, Marrakech in Morocco, and Venice Beach in California. Today, we’re back in the USA to discover offbeat sights in the most unlikeliest of settings: the world’s most famous celebrity-filled neighbourhood, Beverly Hills.

Hidden Highlights of Beverly Hills, California

Most people who visit Beverly Hills do so for a day while exploring LA or as part of a wider holiday road-tripping along the Pacific Coast Highway. Stay a couple of nights as I did and head off the main streets to discover a hidden art collection in the hills, a nostalgic 1950s hotel for poolside lunches, old-school diners, shops and cafes.

Today, I want to share my favourite secret highlights of Beverly Hills, California, the world’s most celebrity enclave. The sights on my list are those you won’t find on most tourist itineraries; these are the ones that reveal the heart of a destination. So, let’s dive into some alternative things to do and discover in Beverly Hills!

 

1 ‘The O’Neill House’, an Art Nouveau architectural curiosity

Tucked behind the Ritz of Rodeo Drive is a powder blue architectural curiosity. Iced cake-like in concrete swirls and curves, referred to as the Dr Seuss House for its style, but most commonly, although unofficially, the O’Neill House after its owner.

It was the vision of rebel art gallery owner Don O’Neill, who bought the 1930 Spanish villa on North Rodeo in the 1970s. His vision: to create an Art Nouveau dreamscape inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, famous for the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona.

© Ellie Seymour

Strangely, the exterior design gets whackier at the back of the house. Here, strange equine and amphibious faces seem to perpetually emerge from a swirling facade of alabaster concrete beneath blue tile, contrasting the silhouettes of fowls in flight. A feminine face wreathed in tendrils stares stoically forth from the perplexing perimeter.

It’s said the interior of the O’Neill House is like that of the exterior in that it’s design features a mix of curves and cornices. I can’t vouch for this, though, seeing as it’s a private home and is not open for tours. Anyhow, I have read that it has five bedrooms and six bathrooms, and apparently, each room is oval-shaped – including the library and maid’s quarters.

© Ellie Seymour

Find the O’Neill House at 5-7 North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, California, 90210


2 The Avalon Hotel, where Marilyn Monroe once lived

picture of a green sign showing the words Avalon hotel surrounded by plantsDazzling, larger-than-life settings, in prime locations are hallmarks of typical Beverly Hills hotels. For a smaller, cooler, more discreet option, the Avalon Hotel is an intimate spot with old Hollywood vibes.

This Mid-century modern-style lover’s dream, hidden off the main Beverly Hills drag on West Olympic Boulevard, is where Marilyn Monroe lived for three years and other stars like Mae West and Cuban actor Desi Arnaz sashayed through when it opened in 1948 as the Beverly Carlton.

picture of a pool in a Los Angeles hotel from above in

Designed by legendary graphic and furniture designers Alvin Lustig and Sam Reisbord, life at the Avalon today plays out around a legendary hourglass pool as it did in its heyday.

It’s since been meticulously revamped, alongside the 84 rooms, most recently in 2015 by designer extraordinaire Kelly Wearstler, who captures the timeless glamour while adding modern flair, a spa, and a casual Mediterranean restaurant, Viviane.

Lunch here is an absolute must while in town, preferably poolside in a colourful cabana cubby hole. Order a glass of crisp Californian chardonnay to sip while perusing the California-inspired menu. Keep it light with a heaped kale citrus salad topped with chicken, prawns, or steak, your choice, or something more filling like the Viviane burger. Marylin’s Canon apartment is available to book if you want to stay.

picture of seats by a pool at a Los Angeles hotel

Find the Avalon Hotel at 9400 West Olympic Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Check in here.


3 The Frederick R Weisman Foundation, a hidden art collection in the hills

a lilac tree outside a Spanish revival home in Los Angeles
© The Frederick R Weisman Art Foundation

Forget the big-name galleries of Rodeo and head to the next-door Holmby Hills neighbourhood – a little-known celebrity enclave – for a snoop around a hidden house museum art collection with an interesting history.

The Frederick R Weisman Art Foundation consists of one-half of an incredible art collection on display across two landmark buildings, one in the Mediterranean Revival style and the other in a postmodern art pavilion, which you visit on a pre-booked tour.

Frederick and his ex-wife, Marcia Simon, amassed the collection between the 1960s and late 1970s. It started with pieces by European postwar artists like Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Alberto Giacometti. By the 1960s, they were well-known, and when they divorced in 1979, the huge collection was split. In 1982, Frederick opened the art collection in his estate for the public to enjoy. Marcia donated hers to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Over 400 pieces spanning several genres and plenty of big names can be seen here: Pop Art pieces by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg; Surrealist works by Max Ernst, and Joan Miro; European modernist paintings by Kandinsky, Picasso, and Cezanne, as well as contemporary Californian creations by Ed Ruscha.

Even if you’re not into art, it’s worth making the trip to find a part of Los Angeles you won’t find yourself in otherwise – unless you have very, very famous rich friends.

picture of a lounge room in a Los Angeles home filled with contemporary art

Fun facts: The Los Angeles neighbourhoods of Holmby Hills, Bel Air and Beverly Hills form an area nicknamed the Platinum Triangle for obvious reasons! In 1968, David Hockney painted a portrait called American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), now on display in the Art Institute of Chicago, that has become one of his most famous works.

Find the Frederick R Wiseman Art Foundation at 265 North Carolwood Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90077. Book your tour here.


4 The Nate ‘n Al Deli, a time-worn celebrity favourite

picture of the front of Nate n Als deli in Beverly Hills

No Ellie & Co.-style US travel itinerary is complete without a trip to a nostalgic American-style diner! Beverly Hills might not be synonymous with this kind of down-to-earth eatery, but as I discovered, not all restaurants in the neighbourhood offer high-end dining experiences.

Introducing the Nate ‘n Al Delicatessen, a classic old-school Jewish spot, for unpretentious food amid unpretentious surroundings served by friendly staff who like a bit of chat in the heart of the Beverly Hills action.

black and white picture showing the outside of the Nate 'n Al deli in 1948
© Nate ‘n Al

The story of the Nate ‘n Al Jewish deli is a straightforward, honest one. It was opened in 1945 by two friends, Al Mendelson and Nate Rimer, 20 years after they met for the first time in a Detroit deli. Actors Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and James Garner were regulars in its heyday. When the founders’ grandchildren put it up for sale in 2018, Shelli and Irving Azoff and other investors bought it, retaining the original Nate ‘n Als look and feel. Thank goodness for people like the Azoffs!

On the menu, think classic American deli favourites with a Jewish twist, like corned beef and stuffed cabbage and big breakfasts like eggs over easy with hashbrowns, yum.

According to its Wikipedia entry, LA Weekly magazine ranked the deli’s matzo ball soup number one in its Top 5 Matzo Ball Soups in Los Angeles listing, while CBS/Los Angeles ranked the deli’s corned beef Reuben sandwich on its list ‘Best Reubens in Los Angeles’. I can vouch that the portions are huge, and the service does come with a friendly smile and a dose of chat.

picture of a traditional American diner in Beverly Hills with booth seats
© Nate ‘n Al

Find the Nate ‘n Al Delicatessen on 414 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210


5 Virginia Robinson Gardens, a hillside party house

picture of an elaborate villa property in Los angeles
© The Virginia Robinson Gardens

Most house museum fans visiting Beverly Hills are most likely to head to the well-known Greystone Mansion with a dark past. For an alternative, little-known option, ‘even folks in LA don’t know about, let alone visitors from England,’ according to my tour guide, the Virginia Robinson Gardens is a must.

Built in 1911, ‘It’s testament to the taste of Virginia Robinson Dryden, a native of St Louis who moved to Beverly Hills in 1903, bringing her gift of an understatement to a neighbourhood where glitter and glamour were already the norms,’ says The New York Times.

© Ellie Seymour

It was built by Virginia – known as the first lady of Beverly Hills – and her husband, Harry Winchester Robinson, heir to a California chain of department stores, JW Robinson, in 1911, when the surrounding area was just fields.

It features a lush tropical forest of Australian king palms, an Italian terrace garden, and two rose gardens, along with the tennis court, a pool, a pool pavilion complete with a billiard room, bathrooms, and a second-floor card room – Virginia was an avid player.

a huge banyan tree in the garden of a Los Angeles home

As well as card game sessions, Virginia liked to entertain, throwing three parties a night, one of them formal, as well as an annual Harvest Moon Ball. On her guest list were numerous Hollywood stars, including Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin and Sophia Loren.

The gardens are preserved as they were when Virginia died in 1977; at the age of 99 and childless, she willed them to Los Angeles County, which operates them.

picture of a historic dining room in Los Angeles

Find the Virginia Robinson Gardens at 1008 Elden Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Book your tour, here.

 

6 Edelweiss, Hollywood’s favourite long-standing chocolatier

picture of a shopfront in Beverly Hills with a red canopy
© Ellie Seymour

Edelweiss Chocolates, formerly Candy Round-up, has been concocting chocolatey magic in the same downtown shop since 1942, during Hollywood’s Golden Age, when Frank Sinatra and Katherine Hepburn were regular customers. He loved the maple creams, while she had a penchant for the dark chocolate turtles. Candy Round-Up became Edelweiss Candy Kitchen in the 70s.

The shop is small, but the collection is vast. Buy a few or a petite selection box to munch on your stroll around town. Their signature red gift boxes make great souvenirs. Choose from one-kind boxes, like chocolate-covered pretzels or those packed with a mix of dark and light chocolate favourites, like nut clusters, caramels, peanut butter crunch, marshmallows, and truffles.

Today, as every day since they opened, each irresistible sweet treat, from marshmallows and truffles to chocolate-dipped cherries and honeycomb, is made by hand from scratch in their little factory out the back, which you can tour.

Fun fact: Fans of Lucille Ball might recognise the conveyor belt as the inspiration for a scene in the 1950s TV show I Love Lucy in which characters Lucy and Ethel get a job in a chocolate factory.

Find Edelweiss Chocolates at 444 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Don’t know what to choose? Their chocolate map is a good place to start.


 

7 Brighton Coffee Shop, an old-school gem

picture of an old-fashioned shop entrance floor mosaic that says Hello Brighton Cafe
© Ellie Seymour

As I live in Brighton, England, imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon the Brighton Coffee Shop in glitzy Beverly Hills. Not only that, but it’s also located on a street called Brighton Way. Who knew Beverly Hills had an affinity to Brighton? I must find out more…

Note the beautiful floor mosaic at the entrance, a clue to its long-standing history. It opened in 1928 on this corner spot, originally as a drive-in, and is the oldest diner in the city of Beverly Hills.

Like many old-school American restaurants, its interior is filled with black-and-white photos of the place in its early years. According to this story, it was previously known as Terry’s Coffee Shop, then Nelly’s, before becoming the Brighton Coffee Shop in 1968.

Throughout its long life, it’s welcomed residents and Hollywood stars alike, such as Doris Day who is said to have loved the banana pancakes. Today, alongside the traditional breakfasts and lunches it’s known for, it also serves Korean specialities.

Find the Brighton Coffee Shop at 9600 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90210


BONUS SECRET HIGHLIGHT: the 1928 liftS inside the Beverly Wilshire hotel

© Ellie Seymour

The Beverly Wilshire (a Four Seasons Hotel, to give it its full name) found fame in the 1990 film Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts as high-class prostitute, Vivian Ward, and Richard Gere as businessman, Edward Lewis – even though only its exterior and historic lifts in the Wilshire Wing featured.

Fun fact: ‘People are surprised to know that our original letter box is still operational today,’ said general manager, Reed Kandalaft. ‘A mail person comes by every day to pick up letters guests have sent down the glass chute on their respective floor.’

© Ellie Seymour

Find the Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel at 9500 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California 90212


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