What's it like to live in Beverly Hills? Julie Wagner, CEO of The Beverly Hills Conference and Visitors Bureau gives us the inside scoop -- not just the stars' homes and Rodeo Drive, but the arts, green space, and surprises of this glam Southern California destination.
We start with what makes Beverly Hills, so magical, including a discussion of its history and geography.
We talk of celebs, their homes, films set in BH, and the whole starry scene, and continue on to what not to miss.
The Annenberg Performing Arts Center and the many venues for visual arts and public arts are an important part of the scene.
The classic Beverly Hills Hotel, with its Polo Lounge; and the Beverly Wilshire, setting for the movie, "Pretty Woman," are only a few of the luxury lodgings.
And then there are the eateries -- not just famous ones like Spago, with its stunning new outdoor area, but fun ones the cupcake ATM at Sprinkles.
Of course we talk boutique shopping, and we even get to the less expensive options. Green spaces and parks are open to all, and we learn there are more trees than people in BH.
Julie ends with her special memory, going way back to when she was a little girl in magical Beverly Hills.
As CEO, Julie Wagner leads the Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau
(BHCVB) . For a complete list of activities in Beverly Hills, visit lovebeverlyhills.com.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at forbes.com, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.com. Please follow, rate and review this weekly travel podcast!
*Transcript edited for clarity.
Lea Lane 0:04
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world.
Beverly Hills, California might be the most famous exclusive suburb in the world. Say the words and you might think of the zip code 90210, the name of a TV series. Or maybe you'll think of the movie stars who lived in the mansions over the past 100 years, or Rodeo Drive with all the top designer labels. And in this episode, we'll discuss not only the glamour, glitz and over the top luxury of Beverly Hills, but surprises too. Our guest is Julie Wagner, CEO of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitor's Bureau. Julie, welcome to Places I Remember.
Julie Wagner 0:59
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited.
Lea Lane 1:02
So what do you think makes Beverly Hills so magical to people?
Julie Wagner 1:07
Well, I think the thing that makes it magical for me is this whole old meets new vibe that you get here. There's so much history here. And you know, so much lore around movie stars and CEOs and you know, elite people. But there's also this village like charm. It's a little oasis in the middle of a very bustling city. And you feel like you're at home. As soon as you land here you feel it as soon as you drive into the city. It's completely different. You know, the streets are manicured, the trees, the flowers, it really is a very beautiful little place.
Lea Lane 1:55
Well, tell us about the history. How did Beverly Hills come to be?
Julie Wagner 1:58
So Beverly Hills was part of a Spaniard settlement. And some prospectors came in the early 1900s looking for oil. And instead of oil, they found water, which was equally valuable at that time. And so they parsed out Beverly Hills to develop it for residential purposes. And in 1912, the Beverly Hills Hotel opened up and that really is the cornerstone of our history. And from there, it became the place to be seen, the place for old Hollywood. And then one of the first people to settle here was Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and their estate, Pickfair, is famous even to this day.
Lea Lane 2:47
Yes, I've visited it. It's really old Hollywood, and it's something everyone should visit if they can, because it gives you the real feel of what you're talking about, the magic. Yes, started back then, which you can't find so much anymore. Now where exactly is it in LA located?
Julie Wagner 3:05
So we're smack dab in the center of Los Angeles County. We're 20 minutes, well, it depends on traffic, right. So you know, let's just say no traffic in a magical world. Oh, yeah. Magical. The magical world. We're about 25 minutes from the airport. We're about 25 minutes from downtown. We're about 25 minutes from Universal Studios. So we're very, very centrally located. And we're just adjacent to the Santa Monica Mountains, which splits what we call the west side and the San Fernando Valley.
Lea Lane 3:40
How expensive is it to live there? Would you say wow, average?
Julie Wagner 3:45
Let me preface it by saying what most people don't know, is that Beverly Hills is comprised not just of beautiful expensive homes, but also there's a lot of apartments here and a lot of multifamily dwellings. However, I will say especially with California real estate being what it is, and real estate everywhere in the United States being what it is. The median house price is about $3.8 million.
Julie Wagner 4:14
That's why I don't live here. But yes, yeah. So you know, that's the median. Okay, that's the median I just had or more I got, because I wanted to make sure that I was accurate. Yeah.
Lea Lane 4:26
Okay, well, I mean, there's a place to visit.
Julie Wagner 4:28
There's homes that have sold for, you know, 100, over 100 million. I mean, there's been a few really big sales and that certainly skews the average price.
Lea Lane 4:36
Yes, it does. Talking about this, there are so many movie and television stars that live in Beverly Hills. And I know you can find the addresses online, so-called story maps. I want to know, is that legal? And what are the rules about driving around and looking at some of these homes and what are some of the best ones if you are driving around?
Julie Wagner 4:57
I would say it's fine. You can drive around wherever you want, if you obtain a movie star home map, I don't know how accurate they are. I will say that one of the best tours out there is the TMZ celebrity tour. It's entertaining, it's fun, and I think their information is probably a little bit more accurate than some of the others. But, you know, the whole vibe is just, it's about being in the midst of Hollywood and people want to be close to movie stars.
Lea Lane 5:28
What are some of the names? I mean, you know, there's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them. But you know, a few old ones, a few new ones, just to give us an idea.
Julie Wagner 5:35
Lionel Richie has a home here. Who else has homes here? There's a lot of people that are in Beverly Hills post office box, but not necessarily the city and they live up in the hills as well. But they're pretty good about keeping everything on the down low. And they don't really talk too much about where they live. So if you talk to like the hotels and stuff, they'll never tell you who comes and stays there. It's all word of mouth, so to speak. Right?
Lea Lane 6:03
I did look it up there. Just hundreds of people that you know are famous,s from Greta Garbo in the past. Oh, Madonna has lived there. They don't necessarily live there now. But they had, Taylor Swift had a house here for a while. I don't know if she still owns it.
Julie Wagner 6:14
Yeah. And you know, and real estate changes hands quickly. Ellen DeGeneres had a house here for a while. I will tell you that a lot of celebrities can be seen at local restaurants and around town for sure.
Lea Lane 6:30
Do people bother them or not?
Julie Wagner 6:33
I think it depends on, you know, if it's somebody who lives in Los Angeles, they tend to be a little bit more slick. I think people stare but I don't think they bother them as much. But I think when you're in an environment where you never get to see that then yeah, you want a picture, you want an autograph, you want to be able to document that you had that opportunity.
Lea Lane 6:56
It's fun. It's part of this. So much is difficult in life. And I guess that's it's so much fun to come to Beverly Hills to find some magic as Yeah, some of the movies that have been done and some of the TV shows are Beverly Hills, 90210, Beverly Hillbillies, Entourage, Pretty Woman, Clueless, Down and Out in Beverly Hills. So many, the settings that movie with Nick Nolte. So it's fun, not only to see the homes, but I'm sure there are tours that take you to where the films were shot.
Julie Wagner 7:30
Absolutely. And we have some walking tours that also do that as well. So you know, it's especially if you've seen the movie like that the fountain in Clueless. That's the one in Beverly Gardens Park. Yeah, yeah. Right across from the Waldorf Astoria.
Lea Lane 7:46
And isn't there a big sign, Beverly Hills, right there.
Julie Wagner 7:49
There's a Beverly Hills lily pond, which was redone actually, the all of Beverly Gardens Park was renovated in conjunction with our centennial in 2014 to really bring back that former vibe. So you know, again, this whole old meets new and it's probably the most photographed place in the city.
Lea Lane 8:09
Well, I enjoyed visiting the Greystone mansion. I know that's been a backdrop for many many films since the 1920s to the revival, and has beautiful gardens you can walk through and a pond and all of that. Can you go into the building?
Julie Wagner 8:23
It has to be a special request to go into the building. Supposedly it's haunted. Oh, yeah. Yes. And I've heard lots of good stories. It was the scene of a murder. A murder suicide, I believe and they, supposedly the ghosts are still there.
Lea Lane 8:40
Oh, really? Well, I know it was the setting for movies like The Bodyguard, Social Network, Spider Man.
Julie Wagner 8:51
The gardens are spectacular. I can't say how many weddings there are a year there. Everybody likes to get married up there.
Lea Lane 8:56
Well, I have to mention before we go on to other things, the incredibly popular reality series, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. What can you tell us about the filming of that around Beverly Hills? Are you happy about that?
Julie Wagner 9:08
Most of them don't even live here. So I think when the show started, there was a little bit more of a concentration but I mean, the name Beverly Hills resonates and just people identify that. So why change the name of the show?
Lea Lane 9:23
Exactly. That's a big compliment. Okay, so let's go into other things that we may not think about as much, the Performing Arts Center. Tell us a little about that. The wall.
Julie Wagner 9:33
Used to be originally it was the post office built in 1934. And it has these beautiful as you walk in, frescoes, all on the ceilings that are original and marble foyer. And so when Wallace Annenberg Foundation decided to develop the property, they pulled in an architect to kind of give that old meets new conjunction and the outside of the newer part of it is made to look like envelopes. It's got these slats really in it and it's supposed to symbolize the original envelope and the fact that it was a post office; they have two theaters there, they have a 500 seat theater. We're looking forward to Love Actually coming for the holidays. And they also have a smaller theater as well, which I believe seats 150. And then this beautiful sculpture garden where they do a lot of public events. And during the pandemic, when it was at its height, they were doing a lot of outdoor activaties as well.
Lea Lane 10:42
I just love repurposed buildings. I'm speaking to you from Miami and our center, our performing arts center, has the former Sears tower as the center. It was a Art Deco 1930s building. And that's also the center of a very modern complex. So it's beautiful when they do that.
Julie Wagner 11:01
Yeah, because it just celebrates who you are, you know, and your heritage.
Lea Lane 11:06
There's a lot of visual arts, there's about 100 public art pieces I read, all around Beverly Hills, which is wonderful. There's a place that I just saw the name of it. I want to ask you, you have lots of art galleries, but it's called Casa Perfect.
Julie Wagner 11:19
Oh my god. So we discovered Casa Perfect, it's David Alhadeff who is curator and he created FuturePerfect in New York. And then he decided that he wanted to move here. And he bought this house up in Truesdale Estates, which is a famous area of Beverly Hills up in the hills, and it had only had one owner and it's all mid-century Modern, and it's his own home. But you can make appointments to come and see all the art that's been curated. It's definitely a hidden treasure that I encourage visitors to come and take advantage of.
Lea Lane 11:57
Well, I couldn't get over the name. I think I would definitely want to try that. And he's lovely. I'm sure. Now you mentioned the Beverly Hills Hotel. I know there's a pool there and so many people have come by and it's legendary. What are some of the other classic hotels of Beverly Hills?
Julie Wagner 12:20
Absolutely. But I just want to mention the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. That's one of the best places for celebrity sightings. You know, we have the beautiful Waldorf Astoria, which has one of the best rooftops in all of Beverly Hills, you get pretty much almost a 360 degree view. And if you're a bit of a voyeur like I can be, you can see into people's backyards. So you see, you know, really nice homes and show their backyard. Yeah, but we, but we don't talk about that. And we don't also see City Hall, you can see Hollywood, you can see all of the west side, and they have incredible food and cocktails up there. And they're hilarious up there too. So that's fun. The afternoon tea at the Peninsula is known probably the world over. And it's all set up in what they call the living room, which is the central meeting place in the hotel. And they're the spread is incredible. Of course the Beverly Wilshire which is a Four Seasons Hotel, the Pretty Woman hotel, and also has a lot of history and lore around it. It was built in 1928 on a former Speedway site, and they have the Pretty Woman cocktail, which is made with a fancy name for garbanzo bean liquid. It's like a vegan, you know, to make it vegan, and it's also peach and raspberry and all of that good stuff.
Julie Wagner 13:51
It's really delicious. I mean, I just think it's kind of an interesting, it's like when you find out that mole's made with chocolate, you know, it's just Oh, okay. Then sort of, okay,
Lea Lane 14:02
Well, it worked for Pretty Woman.
Julie Wagner 14:05
And a lot of them have packages, and they also do this incredible thing during the summer, although obviously it hasn't happened in the last couple of years. But they used to do like a glamping package where you could stay on one of their terraces and in a giant tent with personalized butler service.
Lea Lane 14:22
Oh, my goodness. I've heard of another wonderful package the flight package. Can you tell us about that one?
Julie Wagner 14:31
You, wait, were you the private suite?
Lea Lane 14:33
Yeah, and the private jet.
Julie Wagner 14:35
Yes, yes. So they have a special package where you fly in on a private jet and you stay in one of their magnificent suites. And that hotel was recently renovated, and it is probably one of the best kept secrets in Beverly Hills. It's a little off the beaten path but still very, very walkable. All of their rooms are junior suites. That's the entry level and I believe they're like 750 square feet and they have a wonderful restaurant. So it's really like if you want to feel like a celebrity in a quiet off-the-beaten path location, that is definitely the one I would call.
Lea Lane 15:17
All of this aspirational travel. Yes, absolutely. We all would like to do and maybe if we prioritize it once in a while, we'll do that.
Julie Wagner 15:28
But I might also say that one of the few takeaways in Beverly Hills is that there is really a breadth of opportunities for people depending on their different lifestyles and, you know, if you have kids, you can paint pottery and go to the ATM cupcake machine from Sprinkles.
Lea Lane 15:48
I've heard about that. Yes, the cupcake machine is something I definitely want to try. Tell us about that one.
Julie Wagner 15:57
Oh my god, you put in your credit card and out comes your choice of cupcake and I know most people know about Sprinkles. But on the go in the middle of the night, they know time is off limits for cupcakes for sure.
Lea Lane 16:11
Perfect. Now, speaking of food, Beverly Hills has some fabulous restaurants. Give us a couple of your favorites.
Julie Wagner 16:18
So Beverly Hills probably has one of the most vibrant restaurant scenes in Southern California right now. We just have so much development, there's Mira Ma, which is authentic Mexican cuisine with a healthy twist to it. There's TaoTao which is owned by a number of celebrities, including Galgo Saul and that's Spanish influences. Very, very popular. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Gucci Osteria, which is a restaurant and also earned their first Michelin star just recently. And then the outdoor dining in Beverly Hills, you know, with COVID we really had to be super innovative and Spago just blew it out of the water with this outdoor tent that makes you feel like you're in a palace, a glass palace, and it's right at the end of a cul de sac and we have this beautiful mural in the background and that is definitely a special-occasion place.
Lea Lane 17:26
I know Nusret Gökçe, Salt Bae, you know, famous Salt Bae. I actually met him, I was a guest of someone else who was buying a lot of steak and I had no idea who he was, this man comes over in a T shirt and he starts to go like this and sprinkle salt on my steak and I said who is that? And they said, Are you kidding? He is the most, you don't know? I didn't know, this is a few years ago, I guess. You know, I was out of it, but he has like millions and millions of followers.
Julie Wagner 18:02
Yeah, he even has a Saturday Night Live parody.
Lea Lane 18:06
But I will never forget that, Who is this man coming? Crazy characters. It was good. So tell us about, you know, some of the boutiques. There’s a couple I know, there's some wonderful shops on Rodeo Drive. We all know that with great names like you know Gucci and all that. But something maybe we wouldn't know.
Julie Wagner 18:26
Well there's a lot of independently owned stores with a lot of history, some that are brand new and there's also Beverly Drive which is still beautiful clothes, but it's things that you would find in upscale mall, so things like Sandro and Mosh and Scotch and Soda and other stores. If you want to shop couture you can, if you don't want to shop couture you have that option too and then there's also Gary's which is like an institution here which is where people shop for jewelry for for beautiful watches for incredible home goods that is the place to register if you're going to be getting married because the china and the home goods are just bar none; the owner travels all over the world to collect unusual pieces that you know that are exclusively offered. Then there's also like bespoke tailor John Carroll whose father started a store on Canon many, many years ago and jewelry designers like Anne Sisteron and it's fun to shop those stores as well because you can't get it anywhere else.
Lea Lane 19:43
Right. If you're a budget traveler, I have to say, is there is there a place to stay that you recommend ,and I'm sure there are places to eat. Give us one budget place that you would suggest.
Julie Wagner 19:54
I would say maybe Beverly Terrace Hotel or the Mosaic Hotel, these are all, I mean, I don't know budget wise, I don't know. But it's not like staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, it’s much more affordable. We have a lot of boutique hotels that are the Crescent Hotel that are, you know, around 40 rooms and they're very reasonable and in terms of where the locals eat, they eat everywhere. Their Cannon Drive is what we call little restaurant row. And there are, you know, tons of different restaurants for every appetite. South Beverly Drive has probably one of the most popular earth cafes in all of Los Angeles. There really is something for everybody here.
Lea Lane 20:38
Good. Good to know. Now there's a focus on green spaces all around the world. Tell us some of the wonderful green spaces in Beverly Hills if you want to walk and sit.
Julie Wagner 20:50
So Beverly Hills has about 35,000 residents, I believe, and we have 33,000 different species of trees and plants. So there's almost a tree planted for everybody here. We have the beautiful, we talked about the Beverly Gardens Park, which is about two miles long. It's got a running trail, cactus garden, a rose garden, beautiful public art. Will Rogers Park. There's also Beverly Canon Gardens. And where Busan used to be, which is almost leased out I think at this time, which is just, there's places to pick up lunch and chairs and tables where you can sit down and eat outside. There's green everywhere here. And I think that because it's a village-like atmosphere, and the fact that you're outside in Southern California is beautiful year round, where you really don't ever feel like you're enclosed in a mall or have that kind of experience here. So it's very easy to integrate that into, you know, into your day. And we also have up in the hills. It's Beverly Hills post office, but there's Franklin Canyon where you can go hiking and meet people so there's really a lot of opportunities to spend the day outside.
Lea Lane 22:13
Well, it sounds like paradise. The podcast is Places I Remember. So Julie, what's one of your favorite memories or stories about Beverly Hills?
Julie Wagner 22:23
So when I was a little girl, Rodeo Drive was just getting started with Giorgio, which was created by Fred Heyman, who was one of the founders of Rodeo Drive, really. And my big Saturday was going with my mom to Beverly Hills, and we would stop at Saks and pick up you know, whatever sundries you know, she needed. And we'd have lunch at Saks, which was always very, very special. And then if my mom had a big event to go to with my father, we would go over to Giorgio and my father would sit with his Scotch because they had a huge bar and a pool table and stuff for men to do as well. And my mother would try on dresses for my father and my father would pick out the dress that he wanted her to wear.
Lea Lane 23:09
That sounds totally wonderful.
Julie Wagner 23:12
I mean, even as a little girl it was like, really, my aspirational place to go, you know?
Lea Lane 23:17
Absolutely. You're a lucky lady. Well., thank you so much. Julie Wagner, CEO of the Beverly Hills Conference and Visitor's Bureau. I won't just think of spas and movie stars anymore. I'm gonna think of those cupcakes. Thanks so very much.
Julie Wagner 23:37
It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. Bye, bye.
Lea Lane 23:47
Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.