The Hollywood high life: a Pretty Woman-themed trip to Los Angeles

Live like a celebrity on a movie-themed trip to the home of Hollywood, Los Angeles.

The Beverly Wilshire is celebrating Pretty Woman’s 25th anniversary with a range of premium packages. Courtesy Beverly Wilshire
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Mo Gannon

I am having what you might call a Beverly Hills problem. Standing outside the ­Beverly Wilshire hotel, under the striped awnings of the stately stone facade that anchors Rodeo Drive, my friend and I are waiting for the courtesy car to chauffeur us around like the wannabe celebrity poseurs that we are – lunch at The Ivy, shopping at Fred ­Segal – when our Los Angeles dream is almost punctured by a flat tyre for our intended ride.

“Normally, in the daytime, we use the Mercedes, but the Mercedes has a flat, so we’re riding in style,” the driver informs us, ushering us into its replacement – a Rolls-Royce Ghost.

Now this we can roll with. So we do, right on time to make our coveted lunch reservation, pulling up to a white picket fence that surrounds the terrace of The Ivy, where celebrities are known to graze (I do rather like its grilled vegetable salad, a Gwyneth Paltrow fave, even if it is US$30 [Dh110]).

After a shopping expedition on Melrose Avenue, I think we’re pushing our luck to call for a ride back home in the Rolls, but we’re staying at the Four ­Seasons, where even impossible requests seem to be granted with ease. When the driver returns to pick us up, our hands full with shopping bags and red-chilli lattes, I’m tempted to blurt out a quote from the movie Pretty Woman in directing him back to the hotel: “Rodeo Drive, baby.”

We’re in Los Angeles for the weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that very movie, in which Julia Roberts shot to fame as Vivian, a modern-day Cinderella swept off her feet in her thigh-high boots by the silver-­fox charms of the wealthy businessman Edward, played by Richard Gere.

The movie was set at the ­Wilshire, at the time a Regent hotel, but the Four Seasons, which took over the management not long after, is marking the silver anniversary this year with everything from spa packages to a princess-priced weekend in the presidential suite.

In its lobby, there’s a display of movie memorabilia and a replica of the necklace Edward gives Vivian, designed by Jason of Beverly Hills for the occasion, half a million dollars of white diamonds, natural rubellites and white gold. Next to it, there’s an iPad photo booth set up so you can take a selfie and send it by email in a “Pretty Woman ­Experience” frame.

“It’s amazing the impact the movie has had,” says Audrey Slade, the hotel’s PR director, revealing that among the guests keen to visit for the anniversary is a man planning to propose.

Just like in the movie, the hotel staff know how to make the average girl feel like a star. Within a few hours of arriving, I’ve lunched like the boys in ­Entourage at The Blvd, the hotel’s art-deco restaurant with a patio perfect for people-­watching; been offered a “transformation” in the on-site salon of the celebrity hairstylist Lea Journo; and had my nails done at the hotel’s Nail Bar next to a Beverly Hills housewife with a white ­Maltese dog in her lap, while Pretty ­Woman plays in the background (the results of my manicure, easily the best I’ve ever had, last two weeks).

The concierge works the phones to get us a last-minute reservation to The Ivy and complimentary spots on spin bikes across the street at the cultlike SoulCycle: “Inspiration. Transformation. Celebration. DONE,” our registration email promises.

After sweating it out in a candlelit studio among the Beverly Hills bods while the neck-snapping instructor shouts inspiration at us over pumping club music, we recuperate in the much calmer surrounds of the Wilshire’s Old Hollywood-style pool terrace, small but lush with gardened ­alcoves, modelled after the one in Sophia Loren’s ­Mediterranean villa.

Once we’ve had enough of swanning around in style, we trade Beverly Hills flash for ­Hollywood trash. ­Universal Studios’ theme park has a new “grand finale” to its studio tour, the Fast & Furious – ­Supercharged ride, which attracts us because of its Abu Dhabi connection. (Furious 7 was partly filmed in Abu ­Dhabi, as was Star Wars: The Force ­Awakens, which has its world premiere in LA on Monday.)

We take the new Nighttime ­Studio Tour, which in the summer is the perfect time to watch the sun go down over the ­Hollywood Hills while touring the backlot on an open tram. “You guys are going to see our studio in a completely different light,” the guide tells us. “True movie magic often takes place only at night.”

While listening to a tour video on the overhead screen narrated by The Tonight Show’s Jimmy ­Fallon, we roll past movie and television sets, from the Bates motel in Psycho to Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane.

The last stop is Supercharged, which Universal filmed with the cast of one of its most-successful movies ever: I was expecting something more like Ferrari World’s Formula Rossa, but we don’t even get off the tram. It pulls into a garage, where we’re surrounded by a wraparound screen and put on 3-D glasses: for 10 minutes, we’re immersed in life-size film imagery of Vin Diesel and co, plus special effects involving a car chase and fiery gun battle on an LA freeway, the tram lurching as if we’re part of it. Not bad, for a simulation, but definitely not a ride.

The next morning, we’re back in Hollywood on the Walk of Fame waiting for a more unvarnished tour. From our hotel room window overlooking ­Rodeo Drive, we’ve been ­watching the red TMZ Celebrity Tour buses frequently cruise by on star-spotting missions, and we’re curious to see things from the other side.

Our tour guide is Danica, a dead ringer for Drew Barrymore who appears on the irreverent celebrity news/gossip show: if a star is spotted, she’s ready to roll her camera and send it back to the newsroom. (TMZ’s website has footage of celebrities spotted on the tour, including some who’ve even boarded the bus.)

Danica welcomes us on board the “celebrity safari”, apologising for the downmarket vibe of Hollywood Boulevard outside the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are held. “Looks so different, right? It’s so less glamorous than what you see on TV.”

She asks who people want to see. “Ellen,” someone shouts. “Channing Tatum – shirtless,” says another. And the inevitable: “Kim Kardashian.”

As we drive down Sunset ­Boulevard in our open-air bus, Danica highlights some infamous spots, from the corner where Hugh Grant “nearly murdered” his movie career to the Chateau Marmont hotel where John Belushi died. She also gives us the stargazing lowdown: BOA Steakhouse (yes, there’s one in Abu Dhabi) is one of the best. “We send our cameras there every night.”

As the bus enters Beverly Hills, Danica points out celebrity plastic-surgery clinics and hair salons, telling us to watch “rich people in their natural habitat”.

“I have a lot of luck spotting celebrities here,” she says, but it’s an uneventful Sunday morning, and we escape back to our habitat of the Beverly Wilshire and “Rodeo Drive, baby”.

mgannon@thenational.ae

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