Shopping and sport, art and history, beaches and Botox, Los Angeles offers it all up for those who can handle – and afford – the colourful way of life this city of contradictions gets by on.

The Griffith Observatory is Los Angeles sees over a million camera-wielding visitors each year. Getty Images
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Why Los Angeles?

The American dream at its most relentless, Los Angeles is an irrepressible monster built on aspiration. There’s an image for sale to those prepared to work hard enough or get lucky enough to buy in. And, perhaps more than with any other city on earth, the world knows what that image is. Screens big and small hammer home sun-kissed hillside mansions, endless beaches, diet-friendly power lunches with stars and moguls, can-do cheeriness and beautiful people as a standard setting.It’s a city where the clichés are broadly founded in truth, but where jarring exceptions force a look from a different perspective. Signs warning of rattlesnakes near the well-beaten canyon jogging paths in the Hollywood Hills hint at an urban landscape borrowed from a near-desert past. Strip mall tacos are just as LA as celebrity-chef superfood salads. Top-down convertibles move alongside buses full of everymen who work behind the scenes to sustain that California dream.

LA is not one city, but many. Middle-class, liberal Santa Monica doesn’t have much in common with Botoxed Beverly Hills. Heavily visited, hustly Hollywood doesn’t fit in with surfy, mansion-dotted Malibu. And scores of humdrum, workaday settlements fill in the sprawl between the big hitters.

Its sheer size and complexity means that Los Angeles is impossible to nail quickly. But then, it’s not supposed to work like that. You pick your own LA, your own dream, and follow it through every validated preconception and surprise contradiction.

A comfortable bed

The key rule is to pick which part of the city you want to stay in. Coastal Santa Monica is arguably the most likeable all-rounder – good restaurants, shopping and walkability complement the beach lifestyle. The Fairmont Miramar (, 001 310 576 7777), once a favourite of Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow and JFK, has the buzz factor – something always seems to be going on. The poolside bungalows have their own patios, while butlers will bring out food and towels to your sunlounger on the beach. Rooms from US$552 (Dh2,028) a night.

A few blocks north is the smaller and more chilled out Oceana Beach Club (www.hoteloceana, 001 310 393 0486). Spacious suites, overlooking the ocean on one side and the boomerang-shaped pool on the other, come with neat touches like built-in reversible chess / backgammon tables and complimentary iPads. Suites cost from $541 (Dh1,986) a night.

Elsewhere, the Hotel Wilshire (, 001 323 852 6000) on the museum-packed Miracle Mile feels smartly businesslike. That’s until you see the animal-print robes or head up to the rooftop, where the restaurant, pool and superlative views of the Hollywood sign in the hills combine for something altogether more glamorous. Doubles start from $317 (Dh1,167).

The 12-acre, garden-set Hotel Bel-Air (, 001 310 472 1211) plays the urban oasis card to the hilt. Oprah Winfrey’s been known to describe it as her favourite place in the world, and a recent two-year revamp has brought updated modernity to the classily relaxed retreat. Expect to pay from $571 (Dh2,098) per night.

Find your feet

Attempting to walk around all but a few pockets of LA is an exercise in highly frustrating insanity. On the flip side, few cities are better suited to flitting round in a helicopter. Elite Helicopter Tours (, 001 877 624 9242) offers a 90-minute, $360 (Dh1,321) heli-tour that packs in a glitzy highlights reel – whirring over the top of celebrity homes, getting the best view of the Malibu mountains, plus ticking off the likes of the Griffith Observatory and Hollywood sign.

For an in-depth exploration, hiring a car and driver is time-efficient. American Limousines (, 001 214 574 5900) offers chauffeured sedans from $49 (Dh180) per hour.

Two very different architectural marvels should be worked into the route. In Malibu, The Getty Villa (, 001 310 440 7300) is an astonishing no-expense-spared recreation of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy, which was buried in the AD79 Vesuvius eruption. It’s used as a museum for highly impressive Greek, Roman and Etruscan artefacts collected by the Getty Foundation.

The revitalisation of Downtown LA, however, is symbolised in the Walt Disney Concert Hall (, 001 323 850 2000). Arguably Frank Gehry’s masterwork, it looks like a sinuous jumble of steel butterflies – and the acoustics inside are phenomenal should you wish to catch an LA Philharmonic performance during the winter months.

Meet the locals

An LA Lakers basketball game at Downtown’s Staples Center (, 001 213 742 7100) generally turns out to be an exercise in star-spotting, with Jack Nicholson a near-permanent presence in the mid-court seats and other Hollywood legends popping in periodically. Premier level tickets cost from $160 (Dh588) via Ticketmaster (

Book a table

The unassuming sushi joint Matsuhisa (, 001 310 659 9639) in Beverly Hills is where the Nobu restaurant empire kicked off. The superchef’s fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines is arguably at its best at the low-key original. The $90 (Dh331) multi-course chef’s selection Omakase menu is the signature option, although the tiradito – Peruvian-style sashimi – and filet mignon with wasabi pepper sauce are fabulously representative.

Slightly farther up S La Cienega Boulevard is The Bazaar by José Andrés (, 001 310 246 5555), a bold and buzzy take on tapas. The menu is highly creative – the mini Philly cheese-steak with exploding liquid cheese and hollowed bread has already become legendary, while other options include cod fritters in honey aioli or eggplant tempura – and each small dish costs $10 to $14 (Dh37 to Dh52).

In Santa Monica, Josiah Citrin’s nominally French-Californian fusion cuisine at Mélisse (, 001 310 395 0881) throws up plenty more intriguing ideas – such as 21-day aged duck with figs and beets or cherry tomatoes with almond panna cotta and lemon basil. Four- course menus cost from $125 (Dh459).

Shopper’s paradise

Few streets scream prestige shopping like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The predictable big names such as Dior, Gucci and Cartier congregate there, spilling over into the surrounding streets. But the slightly less familiar names – Charlotte Olympia’s daring women’s shoes, David Yurman’s jewellery, Vilebrequin’s gorgeous swimwear – prevent it from becoming just another globalised high-end mall.

Less ostentatious, and far more charming to saunter down, is Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. It’s lined with one-off boutiques and stores with a heavy emphasis on personalisation. The Blues Jeans Bar hones in on the right style, wash and waist size of denim; Cheryl Fudge lets you put individual touches for garments before they sew them on; Pure Sense by Paula lets you create your own scents for reed diffusers, pillow sprays and shower gels.

What to avoid

Pretty much every guide to LA (and everyone who has read such guides and been to LA) will insist that you should eat at one of the numerous In-N-Out Burger franchises. Quite why is a mystery – the burgers are OK, but nothing special.Also best skipped are the much-touted surfing lessons. Yes, LA has a big surf culture, but that just leads to overcrowding and fierce competition whenever there are waves. There are far better places to learn.

Don’t miss

Theme parks can often be little more than a collection of rides with transparently shoehorned branding, but Universal Studios (, 001 818 622 8477) keeps the theme well. It also offers a brilliant tour around the backlot, where sets get tweaked and reused. One set has doubled as New York for decades, others do a remarkable job of being Africa, or Mexico. Plenty of filming secrets are shared along with stunt-like thrills and spills. It’s a great day out, and the $299 (Dh1,098) VIP experience gets you access to sound stages and the props department, plus front-of-line access to the rides.

Getting there

Direct flights with Emirates (; 600 55 5555) from Dubai to Los Angeles cost from Dh6,925. The flight takes 16 hours.