I knew West Hollywood had its hold on me when, without a second thought, I washed away last night’s excesses with an activated charcoal detoxification shot and pondered the DJ-infused yoga class I was about to take.
The day earlier I was wrapped in a plastic-lined heated cocoon bed sweating profusely as the temperature got hotter and hotter. Why? To detox, cleanse my pores and lose weight fast, that’s why.
And the day before that, I very nearly parted with a significant amount of money to buy vegan brain powder — yes, you read it right — to sprinkle on my morning lactose-free coffee.
They don’t call it La La Land for nothing.
Full disclosure: I love West Hollywood. And I’m no cool, young, hipster social influencer who hooks up for intravenous hydrating vitamin facials (yes, it’s a thing in Los Angeles). I’m a middle-aged mum who lives in Perth suburbia. But in WeHo, as locals refer to West Hollywood, that makes no difference. This tiny city of just 4.9sqkm is intoxicating, welcoming and exciting for everyone who visits.
West Hollywood became a city in its own right when it was incorporated in 1984. Before that it was a virtual Los Angeles no-man’s land; a tiny part of the city where there wasn’t a clear municipality and, with no one in charge, a limited police presence. It was a mecca for anyone and anything that refused to conform.
As ex-rocker and now West Hollywood Rock ’n Walk tours guide Jonny D’Amico explains it: “West Hollywood is located between work (Hollywood) and home (Beverly Hills) so it is the place to stop at to have fun and let your hair down before you have to be either professional or responsible.”
It all started at the ultimate dive bar, Barney’s Beanery, where, in the 1920s, gangsters flouted the law and prohibition. The bar welcomed every misfit in town; predominantly musical and creative geniuses. At Barney’s in the 60s and 70s, music rebels like Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison had a home. The table where Joplin carved her name shortly before her death is now mounted on the ceiling and the exact location at the bar where Morrison infamously relieved himself is acknowledged with a plaque. The Captain — Barney’s now retired barman — is perched at the bar every afternoon and is happy to show curious tourists around.
If it’s stories of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll you want, D’Amico’s Sunset Strip tour offers the lot and includes backstage passes to the VIP rooms at some of the most famous West Hollywood bars including Whiskey a Go Go, the Viper Room and the Rainbow Bar, where God only knows what went on.
I stayed at the legendary Sunset Marquis hotel, nestled between Sunset and Santa Monica boulevards. Spanning 1.4ha, the hotel, with its private and densely gardened villas, prides itself on discretion and is regarded among stars as a discreet place to visit for business and pleasure. Shortly after I checked in, mega actress Julia Roberts sashayed through the doors. There’s even a secret recording studio, the Nightbird, on site where the likes of Steve Tyler of Aerosmith have recorded.
The people of West Hollywood play hard. And in a great LA irony; they work hard too. But by “work”, I mean work on their appearance. After all, this is the City of (beautiful) Angels.
Health, fitness and wellbeing is on steroids in West Hollywood.
The juxtapositions in lifestyle are about as subtle as a sledgehammer. On one hand, you’re watching bands and swigging beer until the wee hours at the Whisky a Go Go but the very next day (if you’re a self-respecting WeHoian) you’ll be sweating out the toxins in a workout class.
It’s fair to say the fitness trends that are booming in West Hollywood right now are at least 12 months away from hitting Australia. So if you’re visiting WeHo, sign up for a kooky class — and for Pete’s sake, if you find yourself sweating it out next to a celebrity, act cool.
First stop for me was Rise Nation — a 30-minute class on a 1980s-inspired “VersaClimber” machine which claims to burn between 500 and 800 calories. I would best describe it as mountain climbing in a pitch-black nightclub to rap music. A-list actresses Jennifer Aniston and Hillary Duff are members. The class is hell. After the longest half-hour in my life, when the lights are finally switched back on even the buffed and beautiful regulars are dripping sweat and the floor holds ponds of perspiration. It’s clear this is where amazing bodies are made.
A post-workout vegan latte at Moon Juice is a must if you want a taste of WeHo’s uber-health scene. Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s buddy owns the store which sells “ingestible beauty” (their words, not mine) in the shape of organic juices, adaptogenic dust blends and super herb proteins. In the name of beauty and er, health, I guzzled every concoction I could get my hands on. After all, when in Rome ...
Ex-lawyer Jordan Cohen and a bunch of skater-dudes and part-time DJs run the seriously cool Playlist yoga studio, designed to take any intimidation out of yoga practice by setting the classes to playlists requested by clients or curated by the staff DJs. I was chanting Eminem through the vinyasa.
Then there was Unplug meditation and if I am going to make a statement about wellness trends, here I go: Mind health is HUGE in LA. The idea is to take a break from your stresses, anxieties, even addictions and look inwards. Who cares if you don’t know how to meditate, you have hip, young, gorgeous instructors taking you on your journey and resting your racing mind.
This is modern meditation — and it rocks. Founded by Suze Yalof Schwartz, the former magazine beauty editor decided to give meditation a makeover. She took all the best bits of the practice and made it sleek.
Ex Home and Away actor and now WeHo meditation instructor Nicholas Pratley is like a demigod in the Unplug class I attend. He is mobbed by beauties after the class and reminds all of us that we’re on a journey. Armed with crystals and my own meditation and thought book, I left the studio a believer.
But my favourite — and also my most uncomfortable WeHo experience was sweating it out in the name of vanity, sorry, health at Shape House. This day spa for sweating promises to deliver red-carpet ready skin through a modern take on the ancient technique of sweating.
For 55 minutes I lay in the red-hot plastic bed (and watched Netflix) as my sweat glands and heartbeat went into overload. Finally it was over. Drenched in my own smelly perspiration, I was led to a recovery room and offered a refreshing mint tea and orange slices. But I decided it was all worth it because the accelerated detoxification would definitely have me looking a million bucks. So, warm in my perspiration glow, I skipped out of the detoxifying sweat house and straight to a cocktail bar to celebrate.
And so goes the WeHo yo-yo.
(Top image: Meditation has had a seriously cool makeover at West Hollywood’s Unplug Meditation.)
- Want to know more? visitwesthollywood.com
DisclaimerMonica Videnieks was a guest of Gate 7, representing the Visit West Hollywood Travel and Tourism Board. They have not seen or approved this article.
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