Something happens to you soon after landing in Los Angeles, home of Hollywood and the entertainment capital of the world. Perhaps it's the effect of having so many hyper-groomed beings sauntering around, lean and lovely in their Alo athleisure wear and lightweight Dh735 TechLoom Bliss trainers.
Perhaps it's the light, somehow soft yet piercingly clear, which as well as the year-round blue skies and balmy climate, is why film studios set up here – but which also puts everything, especially your face in the mirror, into unnerving HD. Whatever it is, it's hard to be here for more than a few hours without being seized by an urge to lose five kilograms, get a facelift or, as a shortcut to the new you, go shopping.
Given the slow, dense and terrible traffic across vast, sprawling Greater LA, most local residents aim to live as close to where they work as possible – eating and shopping there, too. But for visitors keen to browse and buy, there are just two key neighbourhoods. The manicured, ultra high-end Beverly Hills, where on the three palm-lined blocks of Rodeo Drive, international designer labels – Gucci, Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana – stand shoulder to elegant shoulder; and the neighbouring, more youthful, laid-back West Hollywood. That's the home of Melrose Place and its little beauty boutiques, the fashion, vintage and homeware stores of Melrose Avenue, and The Grove. Set up in 2002, this Disney-esque, open-air mall is among the most visited destinations in the whole of California.
If you want to see the Pacific, you can go out to Venice late one afternoon to watch the skateboarders and sunset, before browsing the boho shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and eating excellent Japanese at MTN. If you want to dip into mainstream America, get yourself over to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, three pedestrianised blocks lined with cinemas, cafes and every US mid-market brand, from Abercrombie & Fitch and American Apparel onwards. But it is quite possible that you will not want to leave Beverly Hills and West Hollywood until you have to head back to LAX.
Three tips: one, you need an Uber or Lyft app on your phone. West Hollywood is known as the most walkable city in California, but streets run for miles and many stores are stand-alone destinations. Rates are low, though, about Dh26 for a 10-minute ride. Secondly, don't drink the tap water – it's so loaded with chemicals, you'll feel ill within days – and eat only organic.
And finally, The Book Soup book shop on Sunset Boulevard is an oasis of soothing sanity.
Sushi and coffee stops
Shopping and strolling then sushi: that's the LA way, with coffee stops as and when you require. In Beverly Hills, worthwhile stops include Kreation for syringe shots of organic juices; the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel for A-list people watching, but indifferent food and service; and excellent sushi and seafood at the newly reopened Beverly Hills institution, Crustacean. On Melrose Place, Alfred's often has a celebrity or two waiting for their coffee. On Melrose Avenue, the big hangout is Gracias Madre – great coffee and a vegan, organic, Mexican menu. And after a wander around The Grove, if you haven't overdone the free samples at See's Candies (the perfect present), there's the neighbouring Farmer's Market, a covered collection of 100-odd cafes and stalls set up during the Depression and an LA institution.
Essential stops for clothes shopping
Maxfield mixes contemporary high fashion from brands such as Kith, Yeezy, Gucci and Chanel with vintage Hermès bags, art books and jewellery. The late Karl Lagerfeld once said it was his favourite store in the world.
Outdoor Voices is dedicated to wellness and athleisure wear.
Opening Ceremony is the only West Coast US branch of this multibrand art and fashion empire.
Intermix is a multibrand wonderland of fashion finds.
Reformation is a boho destination store where sustainability is the watchword. The company does tours of its LA factory at 10.30am on the first Friday of each month (firstname.lastname@example.org), and for its floaty dresses and leopard-print tops, uses fabrics such as Tencel, which is made from eucalyptus and uses a fifth of the water that cotton requires.
Decades is the famous Melrose Avenue vintage store, known for its glamorous 1940s dresses.
Vision Quest Shoes is the place to go for practical, stylish, slip-on Babouche sneakers in rose gold or cheetah-spot hide (Dh730).
Gladys Tamez is a purveyor of fabulous hats, including big, wide-brimmed Isla straw hats, plastic berets and Lady Gaga's pink fedora.
Tyler Ellis offers ravishing little evening bags such as the rose Swarovski Lily clutch (Dh12,892), and silver chain-mail Grace bag (Dh6,758).
American Rag's World Denim Bar features a humongous selection of jeans from the US, Europe and Japan. Cropped bootcuts are currently hot.
Fred Segal is famous from films such as Legally Blonde and Clueless, for its glamorous clothes, homewares and beauty products.
Just One Eye is a boutique/gallery, located in an art deco building that once served as Howard Hughes's headquarters, selling top-end clothes from niche brands such as Maiyet, Wanda Nylon and Pierce d'Arnarchive.
American Rag Cie offers designer clothing, niche-brand homewares, beauty lines and art books.
RTH is best for leather jackets, cowboy boots and vintage jeans. The coolest store in America, according to GQ.
The newly reopened Beverly Centre on Beverly Boulevard is the best: it went upmarket during its recent refurb and is now home to everything from Apple to Zara via Bloomingdales, Macy's, Balenciaga, Banana Republic, Gucci, H&M, Maje and Sandro.
LA has become a major interior design centre, helped by the many New York creatives who moved from the east coast in search of more comfortable climes, a less stressful pace and lower rents. The commanding Pacific Design Centre on Melrose Avenue is the heart of a new design quarter, where cutting-edge companies such as Circa Lighting, Luminaire and Nicky Rising all try to inspire you to order something wild, such as a gorgeous green velvet Charlotte sofa (Dh83,744) from Ralph Pucci or wallpapers of whimsical novelty by Maison C. On Beverly Grove, the shop OK is good for eclectically well-curated gifts of the kind you may end up not handing over – Carl Aubock bookends, for example. And perhaps the ultimate interiors experience is Casa Perfect, in one of Elvis Presley's former mansions in Beverly Hills, decorated as a fully functioning home.
In West Hollywood, the healthy everything Erewhon remains a source of organic skincare brands, and cult online brand Glossier now has a new bricks and mortar boutique (with an unmissable pink exterior) on Melrose Place, where customers can play with everything. In Beverly Hills, at the gloriously expensive beauty departments at Neiman Marcus and Barneys, Crème de la Mer's Genaissance Serum Essence (Dh2,350), with the healing power of the Crystal Miracle Broth, please note, flies off the shelves and you can eavesdrop on 30-minute deliberations over the nude lipsticks essential for the athleisure look. Not surprisingly, facials are a big thing in LA, but it's essential to book ahead of your trip if you want an appointment with favourite Gina Mari.
The newish 200-room London West Hollywood Hotel, popular with film companies, is very comfortable, with its large rooms, extra-deep baths and great roof terrace restaurant and pool (doubles from Dh1,653). Nearby, the 23-room, homey, new boutique Number 850 hotel (from Dh1,194), and the Sunset Tower Hotel, opened in 1929 and home to the walnut-panelled Tower Bar, a celebrity hideout, have a retro Hollywood feel (from Dh1,506). In Beverly Hills, the 395-room Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons hotel; the 195-room Peninsula Beverly Hills; and the 233-room Beverly Hills Hotel vie for top billing (all from around Dh2,700).