By RICHARD S. KLEIN
Let me guess: You were all set to go to Europe, perhaps the south of France or the Italian Riviera. You were contemplating sunny days and stunning nights on the Mediterranean. But then it hit you: The exchange rate for the Euro has risen to more than 1.25 to the dollar! Your vacation dreams turn to nightmares of travel-budget disaster!
May we offer an alternative suggestion? How about a little junket to WeHo? WeHo is the 'in' moniker for West Hollywood, one of the most gay/lesbian cities in the world.
Soak up some oh-so-chic sun
You don't need Nice to get a nice tan. You can lounge around David Hockney-inspired swimming pool settings and bronze quite will in WeHo.
Rent a convertible and glide down Santa Monica Boulevard on a sunny, balmy day ( the rule in WeHo ) . Giggle at the oversize billboards hawking the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Take note of palm trees swaying and bougainvillea blooming as you cruise by pastel buildings. But be sure to check out the boys and the girls sitting outside as you pass by all those open-air cafes.
The main drag
Santa Monica Boulevard is the main 'drag' of West Hollywood, in more than one sense. Here's some trivia: The boulevard is part of the fabled old Route 66, and it's where much of the WeHo magic happens.
Start out early and stay up late. There are some yummy restaurants on and around The Boulevard that can be enjoyed at all hours of the day. Marco's Trattoria and the Silver Spoon have great breakfasts. Many restaurants have in-front, outdoor dining, a set-up that makes for great people watching. There are too many eateries to mention. Consider that West Hollywood has over 100 restaurants within its 1.9 square mile area. But … one restaurant that I particularly enjoyed was Pan E Vino on 8265 Beverly Boulevard, featuring an irresistible risotto in vodka sauce.
And, oh, the nightlife: Mickey's, Rage, Revolver, the Palms, and the bonhomie of the Gold Coast are among the favorites.
Let's not, however, forget about culture. A Different Light, 8853 Santa Monica Blvd., is a wonderful bookstore, filled with quality GLBT fiction, Hollywood lore, and the like. There you will find community-oriented information, including GLBT newspapers. Pick up a copy of Ben Tyler's Tricks of the Trade for the ideal WeHo poolside read, with its erotic escapades and insights into movie-making intrigues.
Every October, The Boulevard hosts what is probably, the world's largest costumed Halloween parade. This WeHo Carnival began more or less as a GLBT event. It has morphed into an area extravaganza, attracting such stars as Margaret Cho and Debbie Allen.
After all the dining and clubbing it's time for a retail reality check. I found retail therapy at the Grove, a new L.A. outdoor shopping experience. The Grove is adjacent to the landmark L.A. Farmer's Market, less than a mile from West Hollywood. The site of the Grove is nothing less than the old MGM studio back lot.
I found a nice array of shops, from the usual chain and T emporiums to some really individual boutiques. All are clustered along European-style walkways. Opportunities to shop, coupled with time-outs to nosh and imbibe alfresco, make parting with your money in the Grove a sweeter sorrow.
If you find yourself overcome by shopping ennui, shift next door to the Farmer's Market and have a very-fresh-fruit pick-me-up to revive you. Or head over to the relatively close by Kodak Theatre, home of the Academy Awards ceremonies. There are tours available for this home of 'Oscar.'
Speaking of Tours
You can tour a number of nearby studios, such as Paramount and Sony. Also highly recommended is the V.I.P. Warner Bros. tour to give you a sense of the movie-making process. You might see some actual production, and maybe even a star or two. In fact, your hotel might have discount coupons available. A CityPass, which includes visits to key Hollywood sights coupled with guided tours, can be an excellent cost-saver.
If you can tear yourself away from non-stop Santa Monica Boulevard, some of WeHo's side streets make for pleasant ambling tours. Strolling down Sweetzer, Dorrington, and other WeHo byways you can see charming bungalows, mission revival houses, or courtyard apartments often tarted up in inimical Hollywood décor and enhanced with brilliant subtropical flora. Remember, many of the residents of these We Ho homes work as Hollywood make-up artists, studio grips, publicists, sound personnel, agents, set designers, actors, directors, or what have you. And not just a few of them are gay men and women. Schindler House at 835 North Kings is a Must See for architecture buffs. This is a classic early 20th design by Rudolph Schindler.
And here's a novel tour idea: Take a bus. The Sunset Boulevard bus, with a bit of patience, will take you to the Will Rogers State Beach ( a.k.a. Ginger Rogers Beach ) , which extends almost two miles ( where you will find the area's gay/lesbian beach ) .
While a car helps negotiate L.A.'s sprawl, it is possible to do without one if you limit yourself to West Hollywood and nearby Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Public transportation keeps improving in L.A. There are designated short-run buses, such as West Hollywood to the heart of Hollywood. Walking and short cab rides are good options.
To sleep, perhaps…
West Hollywood is a cornucopia of accommodations to serve GLBT folk with all kinds of travel budgets. The San Vincente Inn is the community's mainly gay and lesbian inn, but it is straight friendly. It features a wonderfully expansive poolside area.
The Ramada Plaza West Hollywood, the comfortable Beverly Terrace, and the delightful all-suite Valadon are very convenient to the Santa Monica Boulevard activity. On Sunset Boulevard, the Best Western Sunset Plaza ( great value ) is handy to the House of Blues and the great shops and restaurants on the famed Sunset Strip. For something more upscale, consider the stylish boutique hotel, the Orlando.
Airfares to the West Coast have been quite good of late. And unlike a trip to France or Italy, jet lag isn't really an issue.
Your travel writer: Richard Klein is a Travel Consultant with Aqua Terra Travel, Inc., 65 E. Wacker Place, Chicago IL 60601. Aqua Terra Travel is owned by Cynthia Marquard. Richard or Cynthia can be reached at 312-787-2400. Visit the Web site, aquaterratravel.com