From the grit and glitz of the Sunset Strip to the sea of rainbow flags on Santa Monica Boulevard, it’s easy to explore West Hollywood on foot.
In Southern California, there’s no denying the car is king. But you don’t have to tangle with the Los Angeles freeway system to appreciate what this part of the world has to offer.
West Hollywood, or WeHo as it is affectionately known, is one of America’s most walkable destinations. Bordered snugly by Beverly Hills to the west, hipster-loving East Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills to the north, it really is a city within a city.
While neighbouring Los Angeles is sprawling, WeHo is more like an urban village with its wide footpaths and tree-lined streets.
Because it’s just 1.9 square miles in size, it makes sense for the 33,000 or so people who live here (along with many of the 3.59 million people who visited in the year to June 30) to use the most efficient transportation mode possible: their feet.
While the orange Metro bus system is usually frequent and efficient, the truth is it’s easier to be footloose and fancy free in shabby chic WeHo. That’s why it’s been rated the most walkable city in California.
From vintage clothing stores to designers brands, grunge bars to gay clubs, WeHo caters to every taste.
WeHo is actually made up of three distinct, strollable areas.
The mile-and-a-half stretch of Sunset Boulevard known as the Sunset Strip is a unique mix of sleaze and glam and shopping that rivals LA’s more famous Rodeo Drive.
A few blocks to the south, Santa Monica Boulevard – part of the historic Route 66 – is home to top notch restaurants and Southern California’s most vibrant gay district, popular for bars and clubs such as The Abbey, Revolver and Micky’s.
The West Hollywood Design District – taking in Melrose Avenue, Robertson Boulevard and Beverly Boulevarde – is where you’ll find a sea of high-end interior stores.
Whether you’re after upscale or low-rent, shabby chic or the designer brands, rooftop bars or gay clubs, WeHo caters to every taste.
Be sure to download WeHo to Go – a useful guide with maps and tips to help you get around West Hollywood on foot, by bike or using public transport.
Map of WeHo
The “Sunset Strip” is a 1.6 mile stretch of the famous Sunset Boulevard and runs through West Hollywood from Doheny Drive in the west to Nth Crescent Heights Boulevard in the east.
By day the Sunset Strip looks just like any other commercial district; home to a premier collection of restaurants, boutiques and giant billboards.
But when the sun goes down, the Sunset Strip shows its true WeHo colours: a boozy boulevard of liquor stores, nightclubs and flashing neon billboards.
The area has long had a reputation for sleazy glamour and gritty irreverence, mainly because it operated outside Los Angele’s boundaries. In the early 20th century, it fell under the less vigilant jurisdiction of the county sheriff’s department.
Nightclubs and casinos sprouted up. Alcohol was served in back rooms. Reputations were made and notoriety was minted.
River Phoenix died of a drug overdose outside the Viper Room (8852 Sunset Blvd) while John Belushi reportedly ate his last meal of lentil soup at table 16 at the Rainbow Bar & Grill (9015 Sunset Blvd).
Janis Joplin played at Whisky a Go Go (8901 Sunset Blvd) – a famous nightclub and live music venues that launched the careers of the Doors, Mötley Crüe and Van Halen among others.
It’s still there, along with the Roxy, although many icons are falling by the wayside.
That’s because, in a city that’s not particularly known for its respect of history, many iconic locations are being knocked down to make way for high rise apartments and swanky new hotels.
It’s hardly surprising given tourism is a major source of income for West Hollywood, with around 25 per cent of its annual revenue derived from hotel taxes.
Although Sunset Strip is easy to explore on foot, the City of West Hollywood has introduced a free trolley service to try to ease traffic and parking woes.
If you’re visiting between 7pm and 3am on Fridays or Saturdays, hitch a ride on the faux trolley car, which arrives every 15 minutes. It’s a great way to explore the myriad of restaurants, bars, and attractions the Strip has to offer without wearing a hole in your shoes.
If you love Thai food, try Night + Market (9043 Sunset Blvd) which serves traditional Thai staples with a party vibe.
You’ll find a menu bursting with Thai favourites like pad thai, satay skewers, spicy chicken wings, thai larb, panang curry, papaya salad and the most delicious fried chicken sandwich around.
Santa Monica Boulevard
The section of Santa Monica Boulevard that cuts through West Hollywood is home to a vibrant gay and lesbian community, with around 40 per cent of the population identifying as LGBTQ.
The rainbow-draped capital of gay culture between Robertson and La Cienega is now home to the largest concentration of gay bars, nightclubs, restaurants and adult shops in the US, a mantle once held by the Castro in San Francisco.
It’s also where thousands flock to see the annual Gay Pride Parade every June.
Santa Monica Boulevard cuts a horizontal line from West Hollywood to Santa Monica. Towards the north of Santa Monica Boulevard, you will find gyms, restaurants and some of the best grocery stores in the country, including Trader Joes, Ralph’s and Gelsons, with its upscale bakery and deli.
As you walk south west, you’ll begin to hit the bars and clubs.
You can take in a drag show and a cocktail at Hamburger Mary’s (8288 Santa Monica Blvd), have a drink or a bite to eat at Micky’s (8857 Santa Monica Blvd) or Flaming Saddles (8811 Santa Monica Blvd), dance your heart out at Revolver Video Bar (8851 Santa Monica Blvd) or stop by Laurel Hardware (7984 Santa Monica Blvd) for upscale comfort food.
By far WeHo’s hottest gay hangout is The Abbey (692 Nth Robertson Blvd), which started out as a small coffee shop in 1991. It’s now a 16,000-square-foot Gothic-style venue with lush landscaping, bubbling waterfalls, cabanas, go-go dancers and notoriously strong (and pricey) drinks.
There are usually long lines to get in on weekends, when everyone in town seems to come out to play. But with four bars and a full menu until 2am it’s worth the wait.
The WeHo restaurants scene ranges from glitzy and glamorous to casual and even downright divey.
You might even get a photo with Lisa, as I unashamedly did a few years ago (pictured) at her Beverly Hills restaurant, Villa Blanca.
The latest WeHo establishment to emerge from Vanderpump Rules is Tom Tom (8932 Santa Monica Blvd) – a mix of bar-cum-restaurant with a mad scientist vibe.
But there’s more to the WeHo food scene than celebrity hot spots. At Bossa Nova (685 North Robertson Blvd) you’ll find coxinha (chicken and cheese doughnuts) or lombinho com abacaxi (Brazilian-style pulled pork with pineapple, Monterey jack and caramelised onions on a hamburger bun).
While Bossa Nova identifies as Brazilian, it has a huge menu that also includes steak, seafood, pastas, burgers and pizza.
Connie and Ted’s Restaurant (8171 Santa Monica Blvd) is lauded for its lobster rolls and oyster platters, while Guisados (8935 Santa Monica Blvd) – with its handmade tortillas – serves some of the best tacos in town.
If you’re looking to shop, one of the great retail hubs is the Beverly Center. Even though it officially sits outside WeHo’s city limits by just a street or two, it’s the shopping destination in this part of California. There are more than 160 mid to high end shops including Macy’s and H&M inside the center, while across the road you’ll find Target and Old Navy.
The Design District
The swanky West Hollywood Design District – roughly defined by the intersections of Melrose Avenue and Robertson and Beverly Boulevards – is the home of edgy designs and high-end boutiques, including the monstrous Pacific Design Center (pictured).
This square mile area of WeHo is a concentration of more than 300 high-end businesses, specialising in home décor, fashion, art, beauty, dining and more. It’s also considered one of the world’s best furniture shopping destinations.
It might be tricky for out-of-towners to buy some of the bigger home items here, but it’s worth visiting for last-minute gifts, one-of-a-kind fashion accessories and even some design inspiration.
While the big red, green and blue Pacific Design Center is home to 100 trade-only showrooms, which means they only sell to design professionals, anyone can browse the 1.6 million-square-foot multi-use space.
Dozens of surrounding shops sell unique homewares, beauty products and gifts. Kelly Wearstler sells architecturally inspired women’s wear, jewellery and home goods. Part gallery, part shop, Leica Store LA offers some of the most coveted photography equipment in the world, while Duroque, Niche and Christopher Guy all sell high-end art pieces that also serve as functional furniture.
There are also some truly great restaurants, bars and coffee shops in this part of WeHo as well.
Check out The Assembly (634 N Robertson Blvd) which dubs itself as a ‘cafe, retail, and community space’. Serving cookies, croissants and other baked goods from the Larder Baking Co and coffee beans from Counter Culture Coffee, it’s easy to see why this place is a local favourite.
Cecconi’s (8764 Melrose Ave) is a classic Italian restaurant just metres from the Pacific Design Center that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner – as well as Italian tapas – seven days a week. Choose the signature Fontina Black Truffle Burger, grab a seat at one of the comfy, leather barstools and enjoy a meal while people-watching.
The family-run Irv’s Burgers (7998 Santa Monica Blvd), located across from West Hollywood City Hall, is a no-frills throwback to the 1940s. It actually opened in 1946 before In-n-Out Burger was even heard of.
This roadside burger joint has been a WeHo favourite for nearly 70 years, but there’s some doubt about its future. It operates on a month-to month basis after its lease expired. Do yourself a favour and try one of their no-fuss burgers before it’s too late.
If you’re not up to walking, or you want to explore attractions outside WeHo, rest assured public transport is efficient and clean and generally on time (although some WeHo locals might disagree). The buses even have bike racks on the front, which is one of the smartest things I’ve seen.
Metro Local buses (they’re the orange ones) run along all the major arterials, including Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Melrose Ave, Nth Fairfax Avenue, Nth La Brea Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard.
Buses on these major thoroughfares in WeHo will connect you with popular tourist haunts like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, or further afield to downtown Los Angeles or Santa Monica Beach.
If you’re staying in WeHo or Beverly Hills, the Metro Local 217 or the 212 will be your best friend, connecting you with Hollywood and downtown LA. You can plan your trip here.
Metro Rapid buses (the red ones) stop less frequently and have special sensors that keep traffic lights green when a bus approaches. The Rapid 704, for instance, connects Santa Monica with West Hollywood.
If you plan to use buses and trains a fair bit, buy a reusable TAP card which will save you having to rummage for coins every time you travel. You just tap and go.
A single ride, regardless of the destination, costs $1.75 and includes free transfers for up to two hours. Day passes start at $7 but are only worthwhile if you’ll be taking four trips more than two hours apart.
You can get them from most rail stations, including Hollywood & Highland station on the Metro Rail Red Line, the closest to WeHo near the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Did You Know? West Hollywood is a beacon of social justice. The city has long championed the rights of gay men and women and offers same-gender partner benefits for all city employees. It was also the first US city to ban fur sales and make it illegal to declaw cats.
© 2019 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved
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