The USA Hot List
The west coast of the USA is hot, hot, hot. Always. Caroline Phillips picks the best of the best – a dozen tips on how to travel there, where to stay and places to eat. From the most exciting new suite openings to the sexiest hotel in America. And the country’s leading helicopter operator. Want to know which airline to fly? Which rental car to drive? Or where to have the best steak after you’ve listened to the hottest music? Then read on. This is the IT list to beat them all.
WHERE TO STAY IN L.A: The Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows (pictured above)
This leading lady – the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows – has just had a facelift. Her Suite 100 – aka the Paul Williams Suite – has been done up in a style inspired by Marilyn Monroe, once a frequent guest. Quintessentially Californian, there’s black lacquer, tropical prints, shag carpets and a sycamore bar that’s oh so modernist. Plus a display case with original Marilyn artefacts. And timeless Hollywood glamour with the iconic hotel’s original palm-leaf wallpaper and fizzy Forties vibe. The Pink Palace – as she’s known – is set in acres of garden with palms and banana trees. Cyclamen of impossibly bright colours fringe paths leading to bubble-gum pink bungalows. Everywhere there is staff in French maids’ uniforms of candy-floss hue. Even the earthquake procedures are on powder pink paper. (‘Remain calm,’ it reads. ‘If you are in bed, stay there and bring pillows and covers all the way over your body.’) There’s a pool that has private cabanas each with TV and phone, and a stern notice forbidding photos. After all, le tous LA comes here at weekends. It’s where the beautiful people hang out – with impossibly taut faces. The Polo Lounge – Hollywood’s commissary – is chokka with Hollywood A’ listers, the likes of Jack Nicholson and Michael Douglas. Go to its garden to eat huevos rancheros for breakfast then move downstairs to the Fountain Coffee Room, its fabulous 1950s style luncheonette. Pop out for shopping on Rodeo Drive and a tour of the haunted 1920s Greystone Mansion, set for countless movies. Otherwise you can stay in your suite, where room service includes the best all-day dining – tuna tartar with seaweed salad to warm milk chocolate bread pudding with bourbon ice cream. There’s even a doggie menu of salmon and brown rice with carrots and green beans (a mere $15) or chicken and oatmeal with chopped spinach. If you want it, the staff will sort it – from professional dog walking to buckwheat pillows. Even the Spa is by La Prairie and the salon offers hairdos ‘for a wedding, special event or simply sitting by the pool.’ A Hollywood star from top-to-toe.
WHERE TO STAY IN COOL DOWNTOWN LA: The Ritz Carlton at L.A Live
If you want a bird’s eye view of the Emmys, the GRAMMYs, the People’s Choice Awards…the Ritz Carlton at LA Live in Downtown Los Angeles is the place to go. Indeed Downtown LA – or DTLA as it’s known – has become a hot destination. The New York Times placed it at number 5 in their Top 52 Places to Visit in 2014 – especially for DTLA’s exciting culinary scene. The Ritz Carlton at LA Live is a curiosity – a penthouse boutique hotel in a skyscraper: just 123 rooms on floors 23-26, with a rooftop pool. The view is of bright lights, big city. Take an executive suite in the hotel , and you actually look down at slebs on the red carpet. (Ah, there’s Lady Gaga arriving on a horse.) Or you may overlook the Staples stadium – and catch the Lakers as they arrive to play basketball. Unsurprising then that the hotel is a magnet for VIPs and talent from local concerts and sporting events. The hotel’s décor has a contemporary vibe. Everyone loves its Club Lounge which has views as far as the Hollywood hills and boasts its own version of a candy store – guests help themselves from goldfish bowls of sweets – plus it offers everything from sashimi to macaroons from dawn ‘til night. The beds – with toppers – are beyond comfortable. There’s also a 24-hour gym – this is LA, after all. And there’s little better to beat jet lag than a Signature massage in the spa. Afterwards, the Concierge will sort out your life. (He’ll already have organised much of it before you even left home. Yes sirree, he sent a Town Car the size of a city to collect you from the airport. ) He’ll direct you just a few blocks away to FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) to see the costumes nominated for the Oscars. And then to nearby MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Downtown LA. Is it possible to get more delightfully urban than this?
WHERE TO STAY IN PALM SPRINGS: The Parker
This is the sexiest hotel in America. It also oozes happiness. Palm Springs was once party town for Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, and playground of Cary Grant to Humphrey Bogart. Now The Parker has welcomed Angelina and Brad. Yes, the retro resort town – nestled in Coachella Valley and surrounded by the gorgeous San Jacinto Mountains – is cool again. The Parker is a 13-acre desert estate with three pools for a spot of synchronised swimming and 144 bedrooms, plus those in 12 villas and screen cowboy Gene Autry’s erstwhile residence. Created by hip designer Jonathan Adler – the hotel is funky from its orange-lacquered mountain-high lobby doors to its Schiaparelli-pink jacketed reception staff and valets in powder pink trousers. Not to mention its gaspingly groovy furnishings – think hanging rattan chairs, 50s furniture and an artwork that reads DRUGS. And a fire pit inside – where you can roast impossibly pink marshmallows – and one outside. Plus suits of shining armour outside the lobby loos. For breakfast there’s Norma’s – great for fajitas and fresh juice. Or go there for battered lobster and sea bass with chips for lunch. For dinner, there’s the London club-style Mister Parker’s – a wood-panelled, seductively lit hideaway for fops and flaneurs. Otherwise its staff deliver room service on tricycles. Book the 1990s neo classical banqueting building for parties. Or chill in the cheeky spa – the Palm Springs Yacht Club aka PSYC….in the middle of the desert. And a mere 16,500 ft. of it, complete with Morocco-meets-Colonial-country-club relaxation room and treatment rooms named after America’s Cup winners. It’s an anti-Zen experience par excellence: they give you a cucumber-infused vodka shot as you arrive and have a spa manifesto urging you to swim after you eat. But they also offer fabulous massages with Siberian fir and frankincense oil – ask for Ali. (If you prefer your pedi with a mojito, this is the place for you.) Alternatively you can simply hang in a hammock slung between palm trees, gazing at the blue sky and snow-capped mountains. Or play petanque in gardens with tinkling water features, pampas grass, rosemary and humming birds. It’s the best of winter getaways. And all very tongue in chic. Little wonder all eyes are on California’s desert oasis.
Parker Palm Springs is the perfect desert escape: 4200 East Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264. (760) 770-5000, www.theparkerpalmsprings.com.
WHERE TO STAY IN RANCHO MIRAGE: The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage
Surrounded by the Santa Rosa Mountains and on a 650 ft. bluff with a dreamy view of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, is the soon-to-open Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage. Sure there’s a big walk-in wine room and 25,000 sq. ft. spa, plus squillion-thread count Frette sheets and an Espresso maker in your suite. Plus pleasingly earthy décor of desert stone, wood and fire blending with the local landscape and culture. But best of all, it offers cliff-side swimming and suites with bathtubs overlooking the spectacular view. The locals call the surroundings ‘the chocolate mountains’ because of their colour as the sun falls. Sit by an al fresco fire pit and gaze…
www.ritzcarlton.com/ranchomirage starting from $279 per night. Opening May 15th.
IF YOU WANT TO STAY IN THE DESERT: La Casa Del Zorro
There are rattlesnakes, scorpions and coyotes. So don’t go barefoot. But there are also championship tennis courts and a spa. Oh and a zillion games from archery to shuffleboard and horseshoes. Plus lots and lots of idling by a mere 26 swimming pools. Who’d have thought this was the desert? Welcome to La Casa del Zorro – newly-re-opened after a multi-million refurb that brushed away the cobwebs that had been gathering since its first opening in 1937. It’s in Borrego Springs, a village in the magnificent Anza Borrego Desert, California’s largest state park. There are 19 private, rustic casistas. Or you could happily hole up for a few days in Happy Days, the home of the former owners – a 5-bedroom, super-stylish residence for rental. Outside there’s no traffic, chain stores or crowds. Just miles of emptiness, ancient cliffs and wind caves. Jagged canyons, sand dunes and expansive desert vistas. Travel around by horse, bike, off-road caravan, air, foot or car. Go for solitude and mystery. For physical and spiritual rejuvenation. Go for its dark sky – a spectacular showing of stars in an endlessly dramatic sky. And for the full moon on the desert.
lacasadelzorro.com “Happy Days” $1,500 per night. Deluxe Poolside Rooms from $189.00.
WHERE TO STAY IN VEGAS: Vdara Hotel and Spa, Las Vegas
Do Vegas differently by staying in the Vdara Hotel and Spa. It’s the only all-suite hotel that has non-smoking and non- gaming policies. There even a $250 fine for lighting up, followed by an oxygen fumigation team visiting the offending suite. And this in a city in which it’s almost illegal not to be smashed, playing roulette and smoking simultaneously? After all, this is the hotel where they throw the rulebook out of the (37th floor) window. Even the attractions the concierge suggests are delightfully different – like Dream Racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (You get behind the wheel of an Ultimate Ferrari GT racecar, five laps $2399.) When it comes to personal pruning and manscaping, Vdara men have fun too. Its 18,000 sq. ft. ESPA spa offers two floors of heat and holistic experiences. The Fitness Massage is a treatment especially for Tarzan and applied with oooh such manly pressure and essential oil. (And who could resist flopping out afterwards on a heated lounge chair?) There’s also a rooftop pool – think phenomenal views and cocktails. Plus Vdara is a four-legged friendly hotel – with special suites for guests with pooches and a little park for…let’s not go there. Bag the Executive Corner Suite – it offers 811 sq. ft. of space, cooler than cool views, a separate entertaining area, dining area and kitchenette. Perfect for business or pleasure. Or both. Additionally Vdara has a boutique grocery store for gourmet popcorn to supersize-me strawberries, wines and cheeses. And its Market Café offers freshly prepared breakfast – all day. When finally you venture outside, you’ll find a playground for grownups. A 24-hour funfair. A place where there’s piped music in the streets and fountains that dance to music. And casinos galore. As you wander, you’ll probably bump into Batman or policewomen in fishnet tights. But there’s also high-end shopping nearby – runway collections you’d find on Bond Street and more. Plus contemporary art and dining as good as London. Its big selling point is that it’s reasonably priced – leaving you to splash your money on shows and dining. Hell, who needs smoking and gaming?
www.vdara.com rooms from $129 a night.
WHERE TO EAT IN PALM SPRINGS: Le Vallauris
You don’t get prettier than Le Vallauris – the best restaurant in Palm Springs. It has a très romantique courtyard with linen tablecloths on tables under weeping fig trees that are festooned with bundles of twinkling lights. And à l’intérieur it’s like a delightful maiden aunt’s French home, with Flemish tapestries and Louise XV-style furniture. It offers French food by way of California and has a Seventies vibe. Customers are couples, glittering Doris Day lookalikes to camp fellahs – where else but Palm Springs do you get tables of 12 gay men? (After all, its pink population is seven times the national average.) A solicitous waiter will appear beside you with an easel with the daily specials chalked on it. Asparagus quail eggs caviar with creamy chervil dressing to seared ahi tuna with a ginger reduction and, oooh la la, a Grand Marnier soufflé. They all look or taste good – though you can’t expect gastronomic excellence in the desert. But definitely don’t leave without trying the Manjari Chocolate fondant. La Vallauris has been there for nearly four decades and hits the spot four times – for food, décor, ambience and service. So breathe in the cleaner-than-clean, warm desert air then stump up around $100 a head.
WHERE TO LISTEN TO MUSIC, EAT, STAY, GO TO JAIL: Pioneertown, Joshua Tree, California
With its facades of stables, saloons, bank and jail, Pioneertown is a one-time film set built in 1946 in the desert – and now turned into a outpost of alternative living. Inside Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace – an erstwhile dusty roadhouse and outlaw biker burrito bar – you’ll find it thronging with LA hipsters, babes and desert rats. It offers mesquite barbequed burgers, ribs and steaks so big they fall off your plate. Plus nachos, tacos and super-calorific fries with cheese. Above all, it’s a unique live music venue – Robert Plant and Sean Lennon have played there – offering rock and roll, punk to country and western. Play pool, eat, dance, drink and be merry. Go there on a Saturday night and you’ll find a rowdy, sold-out house.
HOW TO FLY OVER LAS VEGAS AND THE GRAND CANYON:
“Jeez, anyone can see the Grand Canyon in the sunshine. You’re seeing it in the rain. That’s special.” So says my driver taking me to the Las Vegas Boulevard terminal, the Maverick Helicopters airstrip on the Las Vegas Strip. On arrival there are parking spaces – but just for Maverick employees. ‘Offenders will be airlifted,’ read the signs. This sets the jaunty tone of the expedition. Yet this is a serious outfit – with a Federal Aviation Administration Diamond Award and the top safety record of any tourism-based aviation company in the world. Maverick operates state-of-the-art ECO-Stars with wraparound glass – for fantabulous visibility – and a low noise Fenestron trail rotor. They’ve invested $75 million in Quiet Technology helis, making it the largest and youngest fleet of ECO-Stars in the world. Phew! They offer everything from heli and rafting combo adventures, excursions to the Grand Canyon Skywalk to the Grand Canyon National Park by airplane, helicopter and foot. We set off on the Wind Dancer – their most popular flight – with music from Top Gun blaring in our earphones. Soon we’re soaring at 1500 ft. over disused mines, past a Ponte Vecchio lookalike over Lake Las Vegas. Next comes the ginormous Hoover Dam – ‘Named after the President of the time,’ says our pilot – and Lake Mead, the country’s largest man-made lake. There are hills, mountains, fabulous rock formations and sand. The Colorado River snaking dark blue to the dam. Amazing views of Temple Rock, Iceberg Canyon and Fortification Hill, an extinct volcano. The drizzle is lifting in the sky which is dotted with other helicopters. “Keep an eye open for wildlife along the way,” encourages the pilot. “There are big horn sheep, mountain lions and wild horses roaming.” Then we fly through the Grand Canyon to descend and land 3,500 feet below the rim on Hualapai Indian territory and Maverick’s private landing area, which is even kitted out with picnic tables. But hey, who wouldn’t enjoy Champagne, Coke and a picnic 300 feet above the mighty Colorado River? While flying back through the Grand Canyon, we see the stunning red rock formations of the Bowl of Fire and Wild Pinto Wash. The adventure – which lasts around four hours hotel to hotel – ends with a breathtaking swoop over the Las Vegas Strip and Downtown Las Vegas – flying over the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum and an Egyptian pyramid. Well, that saves a trip to Europe and Africa then.
Flymaverick.com Wind Dancer $419 + $65 fees per person.
HOW TO GET TO THE WEST COAST AIR NEW ZEALAND:
What the hell’s Air New Zealand doing on a hot list for the best of west coast America? Well, you don’t get better than the airline’s daily flights to LA. They’re in Air New Zealand’s 777-300ER flagship. Think super comfortable seats, excellent service and great food. It’s the best way to arrive L.A ready.
IF YOU WANT TO FLY AROUND WHEN YOU’RE THERE: American Airlines
The new American is arriving…American Airlines have been getting spanking new aircraft almost weekly since May 2011, including B777-300ERs, A319s, A321s and B737-800s. So the airline offers a whizzo level of comfort, connectivity and convenience. Book their Five Star service if you can – offering curb-side meet and greet, check-in assistance, escort to gate, priority boarding, assistance with luggage and lounge access. You can even reserve your entrée in advance in Business and First. What’s not to like?
IF YOU PREFER TO DRIVE: Affordablecarhire.com
Well, everything’s affordable when you’re a Lusso man. But the multi award-winning car rental company, Affordable Car Hire is particularly alluring – whether you want to rent a Ferrari, Porsche or a chauffeur to go with it. Or if you want the freedom of waking up in Vegas one day and the desert the next, howzabout a motorhome?! (Well, they offer vans and motorhomes, but that’s not very Lusso, is it?) Through partnerships with Dollar and Budget, Affordable Car Hire provides a lipsmackin’ range of luxury cars – from Range Rover and Audi to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. For an authentic Uncle Sam experience, you can book their classic US marques, including Cadillac and Dodge. You can collect your automobile in 1200 US locations – from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, New York and San Diego and everywhere in between. Or pick-up in one place and drop in another – on or off airport – and mostly free of charge interstate. Or they’ll do local delivery. A VIP meet and greet service for pre-registered customers is yet another cool offering for holidaymakers to the USA. Plus special offers include free additional driver, free upgrades whenever possible, one-ways hires and zero excess. Pre-pay young driver package and GPS are available, too. Oh and they’re aware of their carbon footprint – book with them and they’ll help plant a tree. According to Affordable Car Hire, the market leading, family-owned car rental company, the USA is one of the most popular destinations for fly drive holidays. So what’s stopping you living the American dream…?
Caroline Phillips (www.carolinephillips.net) is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Financial Times, Sunday Times, The Times, Observer, Guardian, Independent, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail and Evening Standard. Additionally she has been published in a variety of magazines, from the colour supplements to Tatler, Harpers Bazaar and Vanity Fair. She is a consultant for Globalista – website for the discerning traveller – and contributing editor of Country & Town House. She is also contributing editor of Spear’s and co-editor of their Spa Guide.