Dean Clough

December 30, 2021

Portico Darwin: Los Angeles Travel Guide

Although we're not (despite being in SF for 30 years), we like to consider ourselves nearly natives.  As such, or at least so the schtick goes, we're supposed to hate LA.  But we don't, and as evidence I give you the fact that this Travel Guide is based upon our 5th visit, completed over Christmas in 2021.

For our visits to this part of Los Angeles, we eschew the flexibility of an Airbnb, VRBO, etc. and instead enjoy the service and luxury of a fine hotel.  There are any number of worthy and also famous (some even justifiably so) hotels, including L'Ermitage, The Peninsula, The Beverly Wilshire, and The Beverly Hills Hotel.  But while we've visited each, our go-to and 4 time champion is The Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.  Yes, a mouthful, but definitely Killer.   Here it is.


There are any number of wonderful aspects to this hotel.  First, it just feels like Los Angeles.  It is discreet and smack dab in the middle of a very LA neighborhood and central to everything.  The scene is low-key but with that singular Four Seasons service that seems to come from every staff member, no matter their station.  Despite its 1987 vintage, the hotel is meticulously maintained and the guest rooms are to a modern spec. 

Our room, deemed a "Studio Suite", was great but not a suite, if one defines (as do I) a proper suite has having a sleeping area physically separated from the living area.  This instead was just a huge hotel room, with a dining room table and a sofa/ottoman/coffee table area, all in direct view of the scrumptious Four Seasons king bed.  I believe every room has a balcony or better.  We've had corner rooms with wraparound decks in the past, but this time it was a standard balcony.  But it was just fine.


Before I go negative, I'll had another tremendous feature of this hotel.  It is in a completely walkable neighborhood, meaning you can leave the car behind if you so choose.  While I would not recommend that for a first visit, we could easily see staying here without a car at all.

So why is the hotel not Diamond Certified?  It would seem that even The Four Seasons has a tough time with the details nowadays.  It took 3 different interactions with 3 different concierges to get our dinner and lunch bookings right.  They never mentioned the 5:30AM coffee service in the lobby, so I woke up my wife each morning running the (lovely) in-room Nespresso machine.  A chat with staff via their new-fangled in-room touchpad informed me that the pool and spa were closed - yet they weren't.  And to me, the sentimental disappointment was no acknowledgement of our previous stays - something the hotel each time before.  This time?  Not so much, and gee it's a real simple data processing effort to have our reservation highlight we've been guests previously.  Killer, though, regardless, and I can heartily recommend a stay.

Our hiking was limited, but obviously, there are about a kijillion miles of hiking trails in and around Los Angeles.  Us?  We had a wonderful time on a 5 mile roundtrip urban hike we took each day from the hotel, combined with some walks to restaurants and some excellent drives.  It is LA, after all. 

And a disclaimer:  some of what follows is based upon our previous visits, but the subjects I reference have not changed over time.

The Portico Darwin Beverly Hills Hike
This is just under a 5 mile walk from the Four Seasons, but very flat and a Diamond Certified window on LA.  Begin at the hotel and head south on Doheny to the famed Wilshire Boulevard, and go right.  It's not quite as glamorous as other of Wilshire, but it's still cool to see the business end of LA.  But then it all changes as you enter Bev Hills proper.

You'll see the iconic Beverly Wilshire Hotel (pictured below) to your left as you turn right onto Rodeo Drive.  I did this early on the morning of Boxing Day.  It was gorgeous and empty - my favorite combo.  Check out Ol' Purple Label's employer's shop!


Now, the whole thing changes.  Cross over Santa Monica Boulevard, and then go right in the park towards this, which most would say is hard to miss.


Just past it, you'll see Canon Drive and you'll now turn left.  This, and the approximately 40 other nearly identical streets that run parallel, represent the simultaneous architectural glory and tragedy of Beverly Hills.  There are the most beautiful and appropriate new and mid-century homes you'll ever see, but also beyond out-of-place Colonials and even Plantation-style places that might trigger some - all right next to each other.  No matter - these are some pretty f'ing cool streets on which to walk, especially at sunrise, as I did.


You'll reach Will Rogers Memorial Park, and then this, on the other side of Sunset Boulevard and literally the textbook definition of Textbook.


Turn right and then make another right and walk down Beverly Drive.  You'll get on to S. Santa Monica Boulevard, which turns into Burton Way, and that leads directly back to the hotel.  A big, healthy dose of LA all within a < 5 mile walk - superb.

Sunset Boulevard Cruise
But this is LA, so jump in your car.  I insist on this drive during every visit.  Drive up Doheny and take a left on Sunset Boulevard, and then don't stop until you reach the coast.  Maybe grab a drink or lunch at Gladstone's for Fish, which is right there on the beach.  But the drive itself is the highlight, as you wind through Westwood and UCLA, Brentwood, Bel-Air, and then on to Pacific Palisades.  A turn off of Sunset for a visit to the Hotel Bel-Air is never a bad idea, plus you can see the hedges and fences of extremely wealthy people.

Pick a Canyon:  Laurel.  Benedict.  Topanga.  And then cruise Mulholland Drive.
As with Sunset Boulevard, we always do this drive.  Even just saying "Laurel Canyon" conjures up all kinds of thoughts, some even wholesome.  And is there anything that says Los Angeles more than "Mulholland Drive"?  You'll do it for the clichés, but you'll stay for the views.

Walk to the Rodeo Drive District
Way back when, it was the legendary Spago that wowed us.  A few years ago, we went to Cut, also by Wolfgang Puck.  Now?  Well, we didn't eat on or around Rodeo Drive on this visit, but it's doubtful you'd make a big mistake with any pick.

Walk to the corner of Clifton and La Cienega
As we did.  That's because we virtually fell into what is one of the more storied restaurants in the USA.   And I'm not talking about the original Lawry's Prime Rib, either. 

Frankly, with a bit of research, I would wager there are many worthy dining establishments well within walking distance of The Four Seasons Los Angeles.  But here is where we visited in December of 2021, be it by foot or car.

Diamond Certified
One doesn't often end up expecting a normal meal out yet end up happily dropping several hundred dollars at a legendary restaurant on a very memorable meal.  That is what happened to us - through a series of mishaps, self-inflicted and otherwise, we ended up with a 6PM reservation here on Christmas eve.  Not expecting anything more than a regular sushi bar, we walked up Clifton from the hotel, via Doheny.  What a lovely neighborhood.

Anyhow, we walk into Matsuhisa, and by all appearances, it is a regular sushi bar.  In fact, "non-descript" would be about right.  Clean, but certainly not swank by any definition. 

But it turns out this is where, 34 years ago, Nobu Matsuhisa, opened his very first restaurant.  Yes, that Nobu, of his eponymous restaurant empire.  That explained the big-buck omakase, for which we signed up immediately, even at $170 each for 8 courses.  Over the course of two very memorable hours, we literally ate art.  The fish and everything else was of the absolute highest quality, as was the service.  Kampai, Nobu-san!


Factor's Famous Deli
Where better than to have breakfast on Christmas morning in Los Angeles than at an old-school Kosher deli?  That's what I said.  I can't say I was astonished by the quality or quantity of the lox, nor really the bagels, but it was fine, and perfect for our needs.

This is the restaurant at The Four Seasons Los Angeles.  We had our Christmas dinner here and everything, from the refined Cal-Ital cuisine, to the service, and on to the wine list, was exemplary or better.  But - the virus meant a last-minute change:  no ancient Roman-class Christmas buffet, and the restaurant offered instead a prix fixe menu.  No worries and this gorgeous room is easy to recommend.  Don't miss out:  be sure to order a pizza from the wood-fired oven.  Delicious on Christmas or any other day.

Getty Center Restaurant
Diamond Certified
You know, it wouldn't be a big stretch to say that this is one of my favorite restaurants, anywhere.  Located within the stunning Getty Center facility (see below), this place belies the old adage that the better the views, the worse the restaurant.  As at Matsuhisa, it's all top-notch, across the board.  What is different is the relatively low pricing - a point of pride for this Getty Foundation-owned restaurant. 


Village Idiot
It can't all be glamour.  When it's time to get back to the reality of an old-line gastropub, this Melrose Avenue stalwart has been a must-go on our itinerary during our last 3 visits to LA.  If anything, it was better than ever this trip.

As above, this reflects both this most recent trip and also others we've made in the past.  But I wouldn't worry about any of these spots going downhill anytime soon.

Getty Center
Diamond Certified
It is hard to overstate the splendor of this facility, located high in the hills above Brentwood.  It combines art museums, education spaces, and dining, all on a campus in a setting that really has to be experienced to be understood.  The collection, vistas, restaurant (as above), and the price (free), make it a must-do on any trip - it is for us.  It was gorgeous when we visited on Boxing Day.

Getty Villa
Diamond Certified
OK, I fibbed.  One could easily substitute a visit here to this Pacific Palisades gem instead of the much larger Center.  You won't be disappointed.

Cathedral of Our Lady of The Angels
Diamond Certified
Is this the most beautiful and spectacular modern cathedral in the US?  The world?  I don't know, but you’ll enjoy assessing that for yourself.  More than worth the trip downtown from anywhere.

On our wishlist is LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Next time.

I hear there are some nice stores on Rodeo Drive?  Between that fabled temple of capitalism, the surrounding streets, and Beverly Center, if there's not something for you here, I can't help you.  Seriously, I have nothing to add on this subject, although we were disappointed to see so many shuttered stores on Melrose, which we walked starting from La Cienega on our way to the Village Idiot.

Thank you for reading this Travel Guide.  I'd love to hear your comments.  You can also post your thoughts on the Forum at the Portico Darwin website.

About Dean Clough