Tom Kiely, CEO and President of West Hollywood Travel + Tourism Board popped into our Karryon Sydney HQ to tell us what we’ve all missed over in WeHo in the last couple of years. Turns out it’s a lot and we can’t wait to go back.
Los Angeles is a big city, why is West Hollywood a good place to base yourself?
Well, as we say, West Hollywood or WeHo as it’s affectionately known is literally, and physically the centre of Los Angeles.
If you were to look at a map of the city of LA, West Hollywood is right in the middle of it, so it makes sense to base yourself there.
We’re only really three square kilometres in size so a very small city; you can walk around anywhere in West Hollywood, and you certainly don’t need a car.
Then if you want to visit Venice Beach, Universal Studios, downtown LA or even Disneyland, you can hire an Uber. They’re super-efficient, easy and inexpensive.
You can experience everything in West Hollywood. Our shops, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and all of our hotels are within easy walking distance of each other and it’s a very residential and safe community.
What is the difference between Hollywood and West Hollywood?
Film Production and movie making first started in California a hundred years ago. A lot of those offices were in Hollywood so hence the glamour and the allure of Hollywood because that’s where all the work was at that time.
So Hollywood is still where all the production facilities and film studios are, but West Hollywood is a completely different world. Ours is one of glamour: great restaurants, great shopping, and great nightlife.
So if you really want to have an enjoyable experience when you’re in LA, stay in West Hollywood because that’s where you’ll see famous people, the hotels are fantastic, and everything is really close.
What is it about West Hollywood that resonates with Aussies?
WeHo appeals to Australians for many reasons. For one thing, we are very welcoming of people that visit. I think because Australians are eager to explore new places and get to know people when they are travelling, West Hollywood residents love that because they are like that too.
Southern California and West Hollywood’s DNA is built from people that got pushed out of mainstream life and came to WeHo because they were different. So I think we really respect, appreciate and thrive on that. We love to have visitors from all over the world come and stay with us. And we like to provide a very welcoming environment for them.
It’s been a while since we’ve visited. What’s new in the hood?
There’s a lot going on. People need more places to stay, and we have three new hotels that opened up before the pandemic.
The first hotel that opened was The Edition. It’s a very stylish property with 150 rooms and is super sleek, very sexy, and has a beautiful rooftop bar. It has the most sensational views from that rooftop of any hotel I think, in all of Los Angeles.
The second hotel is called 1 Hotel and is right in the middle of the Sunset Strip. This hotel’s DNA is about being very conscious of the environment, and they also have a really fun restaurant/club at the top called Harriet’s.
The third hotel that opened is called The Pendry. This brand isn’t so well known in Australia – yet! It’s part of the Montage Group of Hotels, which is a very luxurious five-star brand in the U.S.
It has a rooftop restaurant that is run by Wolfgang Puck, who got his start in West Hollywood and opened Spago way back in the 80s. And now he’s back again running two restaurants at the Pendry.
All up, we have a total of 20 hotels in West Hollywood, offering a selection of great options on the Sunset Strip. Among them is Sunset tower which is the iconic 1930 apartment building where John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra lived. It’s been transformed into a really fun boutique hotel, with my favourite restaurant.
We also have a selection of boutique hotels that are located in the residential sections of West Hollywood that offer sizeable rooms of around 50 square meters, which give you a lot of space including a living room, kitchen, veranda and a big bedroom and closet.
It’s fantastic for Australians because you guys travel so long to get here! So once you’ve freshened up after arriving, you can walk outside and you’ll find yourself in a residential part of West Hollywood where you can meet the locals and grab a coffee.
Does West Hollywood have value-priced stays too?
There are two hotels that Aussies love, the first is the Ramada Plaza, which has an Aussie owner. It’s in a great location on Santa Monica Boulevard, and always offers really very affordable prices.
Then, on Sunset Boulevard is The Best Western Sunset Plaza which is very comfortable and offers some great rates.
But as we know when we travel, if you’re able to have a little flexibility in your schedule and can plan ahead, you can find some really good rates in a lot of our hotels.
The good news is there are so many things to do in West Hollywood that are super affordable. When you travel, room rates are going to be a big chunk of your budget, but we’ve got a lot of restaurants and activities that are well priced.
What would be on your top five for a visit to the area?
There are lots of great bars clubs and restaurants in West Hollywood, but we can also talk about the great things outside of West Hollywood because everything is so close.
I think one of the things we’re most excited about right now is the opening of The Academy Museum, which just opened and is amazing. It’s a museum about the history of film in Hollywood.
It’s an old original 1940s department store, and famous Italian architect Renzo Piano has added a beautiful glass dome to it. The dome is about five stories high, and looks out over West Hollywood, Hollywood, the Hollywood sign and all over the Hollywood Hills.
Universal Studios or Warner Brothers are two locations very close to us that offer a really great experience if you are interested in filmmaking. Warner Brothers gives one of the best behind the scenes tours.
In West Hollywood, we have places that are iconic and super popular such as the Viper Room and Whiskey a Go-Go. Craig’s on Melrose Avenue is a super celebrity hotspot and people are there all the time.
One place that I think is really underrated is downtown Los Angeles because it was a place that was really busy 100 years ago, then died and it was a banking centre.
Now it’s come back to life so there are these really cool buildings that have been vacant for decades but are now trendy restaurants and shops.
You mentioned the restaurants and the cafes and we know was touted as kind of famous for it. Have you got any insider tips for it?
I’m going to tell you of course the one place you need to visit is EP and LP owned by fellow Australian David Combes. David has also opened a great coffee place around the corner called SOL, Strings of Life. Urth Caffe is also very popular. Everybody goes there.
Then, further down the street on Melrose, is a place called Zinque which I believe serves the best coffee in West Hollywood.
Our travel advisors have been doing it tough for the last couple of years. What would you like to say to them?
One of the reasons we took this trip to Australia was to say thank you.
Thank you for your support before Covid and thank you for your support now that we’re coming out of Covid.
We know you guys have suffered a lot, just as we have. And we’re all in this together. We are very hopeful that this is really the end of it.
We’d also like to say that West Hollywood is completely open. All of our hotels are open, as are our restaurants, bars and clubs. There’s no mask mandate in California anymore. You don’t have to show proof of vaccination. It’s literally just like it used to be.
What’s a key learning from the pandemic that you’re going to take away?
I think there are several. One is to be much more creative about surviving in the travel industry. I remember when this first started, and really for all of us, the question was “what are we going to do now?”
I think we learned how to find business where we would have not got business before and that was mostly coming from people living in LA. We weren’t really allowed to travel either, so at that time we marketed staycations.
We learned how to market differently, market to different audiences and how to go after them. I think because of that, we formed a much much closer arrangement with our city government and council.
And lastly, a very serious question. Is it the law to visit The Abbey every time you stay in West Hollywood?
That’s a very, very serious question. It is. Yes, it’s a law.
You need to stay at least an hour and spend US$100. In all seriousness, The Abbey is an institution for West Hollywood and is a must-visit.
Keen to explore more of WeHo? Head to www.visitwesthollywood.com for more inspiration.
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