Originally opened in 1946 as a luxury hideaway for the rich and famous, the Hotel Bel-Air’s brilliance as a Hollywood icon has, if anything, increased since its renovation, finished in 2011, by the renowned design teams at Alexandra Champalimaud and the Rockwell Group. Surrounded by 12 acres of fragrant, exotic gardens, the decadent rooms have housed everyone from Grace Kelly to Oprah, from Richard Nixon to the Prince of Wales, all of whom sought serene privacy—and the staff’s renowned discretion. Its iconic oval pool—with umbrella-shaded loungers and “pop-up refreshments” like push-pops and frozen grapes in the summer months—sits on the site of the estate’s former horse-riding ring, and is still as much a place to see and be seen as the famous terrace restaurant, now run by Wolfgang Puck. Naturally, each of the rooms and suites is more luxurious than most private homes, decked out in limestone, Italian marble, and Hollywood Golden Age–inspired decor; some touches can feel a bit kitsch (not everyone’s a fan of swan-shaped butter), but it all contributes to the pervasive feeling of having stepped back in time.
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Hidden away in the hills above Beverly Hills and Westwood, the Hotel Bel-Air is where guests stay when they already know L.A. Not that it's actually difficult to find—the iconic sign precludes that—but the surrounding area is quiet and residential, the winding, leafy streets lined with mansions set on sprawling grounds. Everything one needs can be found on the hotel's grounds; if it can't, the expert concierges can procure it without complaint, or can arrange for the free house car to take guests out and about. It does speak volumes, though, that some of the closest sights (apart from the canyon views, of course) are art galleries, including the private-collection Weisman Foundation and the free-to-the-public Getty Museum. For a livelier scene, head down the hill to Westwood.
Need to Know
Rooms: 58 rooms and 45 suites. From $525. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: After the 2011 renovation, the Bel-Air reopened with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at the helm of its iconic restaurant, famous for its swan lake–side garden terrace, where the biggest names in Hollywood have been regulars for every meal of the day since the 1940s. The same fresh, classic menu of everything from a Japanese-inspired tuna tartare to a Sonoma lamb chop is served in the main dining room, too—a sultry, understatedly gilded affair with a whiff of Old Hollywood elegance. With its renowned Bloody Mary bar, brunch is equally impressive—and sceney—and the lobby lounge’s afternoon tea on Fridays and Saturdays attracts both well-heeled locals and celebrity residents. Don’t get swept away by the restaurant, though; a stay at the Bel-Air wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the bar, reimagined as a black-and-white vision of art deco glamour, complete with vintage photography and a grand piano. Spa and gym details: The fully outfitted, 24-hour fitness center has lockers, a stretching area, plus USB ports, TVs, and Internet on all machines. The hotel also offers Saturday morning yoga on the lawn, health and wellness day packages, and an 80-foot pool. The spa by La Prairie has seven treatment rooms (one of which is open-air), a private nail salon, a steam room, and a full range of treatments. The neighboring Joseph Martin Hair & Beauty salon is especially popular with guests getting ready for events.
Who's it best for: Lovers of luxury with a sense of history and a flare for the dramatic. Our favorite rooms: Live like a movie star and book one of the seven specialty suites, each individually decorated and outfitted with verdant garden patios and wood fireplaces. For a true classic-Hollywood feel, opt for the Grace Kelly Suite, named for its most famous resident. Cooking lessons: If dining on Wolfgang Puck’s cuisine isn’t enough, take a class with the restaurant’s expert culinary team. Offerings include “How to make pasta from scratch” and “How to cook the perfect steak.”