As one local puts it, "People go to Hollywood to see the handprints. When people think of what they see on TV — reality shows, the glamour, 'Entourage' — that's West Hollywood."
As its name suggests, West Hollywood is bounded on the east by Hollywood. Packed into 1.9 square miles, it's a city unto itself. Literally. Though it has a long and colorful history, tracing its beginnings to the late 1800s and becoming the playground for Hollywood types back to the '20s, it didn't become a city until it was carved out of the unincorporated Los Angeles area in 1984.
Today its population doubles on weekends as out-of-towners are drawn to the tidy, pedestrian-friendly city for shopping, food and music.
Anya Levart lives in neighboring Beverly Hills, "but I come here to have fun," she said.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, she and her husband were strolling Sunset Boulevard, showing her 15-year-old Ukrainian niece around town. She explained what makes the city a destination.
"Santa Monica, I don't like it because there's nowhere good to eat," Levart said. "It's made for tourists. No culture of food, no culture of music. (In West Hollywood) there are lots of hotels, lots of restaurants that have privacy. They respect a person's privacy. And it's not New York, where you have to fight for a table."
West Hollywood is a city of many attractions, many parts, many communities.
"The rockers on Sunset, the higher-ends in the design district, the gay community, there's a Russian community on the East Side," explained Kristen Trzcinski, director of film marketing and media for Visit West Hollywood, a marketing firm. "All these different groups are packed together, but it works."
The city can be considered in three chunks. There's the design district, formerly called The Avenues, known for art, fashion and design. Santa Monica Boulevard offers restaurants, eclectic shopping and clubs. And Sunset Boulevard and the Strip, stomping ground for everyone from Howard Hughes to Jim Morrison, is home to boutiques, spas, celebrity restaurants and music. Especially music.
"The Strip, it's almost like a living thing," said Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy Theatre (theroxyonsunset.com), which his father, Lou Adler, co-founded in 1973. "We have the local music scene pass through here. So from the '40s, there was Sinatra, then Motown, then the Doors, the Laurel Canyon folk rock. ... We came out of the '70s folk era with new age punk rock. It was a little dirty, a little different. Right after that, glam rock, with the teased-up hair and the clothes."
These days, the Strip is dotted with iconic venues — the Whisky a Go Go (whiskyagogo.com), where Morrison and the Doors were the house band in the 1960s; the generation-spanning Roxy, which opened 40 years ago with a Neil Young concert and which recently packed in 500 teenagers for a Chord Overstreet ("Glee") show; the Rainbow Bar and Grill (rainbowbarandgrill.com), which opened in 1972 with a party for Elton John. But there are newer faces too. Rock & Reilly's Irish Pub (rnrpub.com) has been open slightly more than a year, and the old Duke's coffee shop, next to the Whisky (and where Morrison had a small apartment), is gone, replaced by Pearl's Liquor Bar.
"If you look at anyplace that has been around 40, 50 years, there are great years and not great years," Adler said. "We are having a renaissance right now, a mix of what's new and what's classic."
Morrison, he said, would feel comfortable walking into Rock & Reilly's. But he'd find a club with quinoa-crusted avocado on the menu and flat-screen TVs everywhere.
"We embrace the past but are open to what's new."
Another example is Laurel Hardware (laurelhardware.com), a trendy new restaurant on Santa Monica in a space formerly occupied by a neighborhood hardware store. In a nice touch, the store's original hardware signs are part of the building's facade.
Music and eating are just two ways to spend your time. A third: shopping.
Sunset Plaza, a stretch along the 8600 block of Sunset, is a must if you like to shop. Or just reconnoiter.
Dawn Yang, a visitor from China, was there for "good shopping."
"I just like it," she said, carrying several shopping bags. "With not having many people shopping, you get to browse."
Among the stores that call West Hollywood home: Kelly Wearstler's (kellywearstler.com) flagship boutique on Melrose Avenue, the Christian Louboutin Boutique (christianlouboutin.com) on Robertson Boulevard, Church (churchboutique.com) on Santa Monica and Stella McCartney (stellamccartney.com) on Beverly Boulevard.
All that shopping, eating and walking may exhaust you. There are 15 hotels in West Hollywood — world-class establishments such as the Sunset Tower (sunsettowerhotel.com), Andaz West Hollywood (westhollywood.andaz.com) and the Sunset Marquis (sunsetmarquishotel.com), as well as the less expensive Grafton (graftononsunset.com) and Ramada (ramadaweho.com), ideal for a younger person who wants to party on the Strip for a couple of nights.