When I was a kid, my friends and I all dreamed of going to Hollywood to hang around movie stars and to Beverly Hills to hobnob with the rich and famous. (They were always the same people in my 11-year-old mind as I had yet to learn the phrase “actor-waiter.”)
Turns out those cities are adjacent, and right next to the LGBTQ mecca that is West Hollywood, and when folks in Los Angeles say “Hollywood” it’s more of a sentiment than a location. As an entertainment journalist, I’ve spent plenty of time in the area, and after a while visiting Beverly Hills became less exciting than say a trip to Curacao. Visiting one hotel and seeing it through a plucky foreign couple’s eyes, however, changed all that.
Landing at the Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills — en route to a red carpet event that night that was just feet away — I’m sandwiched in line at reception between a famous basketball player and his lady friend (she’s dressed like a Kardashian, because L.A.), a cute lesbian-bi girl couple from China (their English was paltry so I never really got their names, but their Gen Z enthusiasm for queer America was infectious).
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Chinese travelers spent over $275 billion in overseas travel last year (compared to Americans who spent less than $150 billion) and that’s with fewer than 10 percent of Chinese citizens owning passports. And what Chinese travelers gravitate to is shopping and American entertainment. For LGBTQ travelers among them, who still want to shop, the large draw is the same thing that drove teens like me from rural Idaho: seeking a safe space to hold hands with a girlfriend and be around other queer folks.
Which is why, though I only saw them a few times after the lobby, I’m fairly certain my Chinese couple friends were thrilled with Sofitel, a luxury hotel that’s super close to West Hollywood’s queer nightlife, the boutiques of Rodeo Drive, and literally steps away from L.A.’s best and LGBTQ-friendliest shopping mall, the Beverly Center.
For me, the hotel’s sort of built-in art crawl in the vast lobby is worth the visit alone and each day folks show up simply to take selfies or study the artists’s work. Around every turn there’s amazingly colorful Warholesque modern pop art, paintings, sculptures, neon signs, and more. The lobby and restaurant art décor are actually dozens of one-of-a-kind pieces curated by the contemporary art gallery #TheCoolHeART. The gallery pulls what they call “the crème de la crème of the global contemporary art scene,” from painter and sculptor Elena Bulatova to graffiti artist and fashion entrepreneur RISK; celebrity and fashion photographer Giuliano Beckor to legendary street artist James Goldcrown (known for his “bleeding-love” walls); and Tiffany Anderson, the self-taught artist who was once in the girls group Girlicious and is now more famous for her art than music.
You can buy the art too, but with price tags up to $100,000, they are a bit out of my budget. No worries, the stunning hotel lobby prepped me for the see-and-be-seen excitement of Hollywood and my suite, with its view of the Hollywood Hills, felt like a calming oasis at the center of it all. It came complete with a lovely rain shower, fancy French soaps, and top of the line tech (giant HDTVs and Bose Wave Radios, for example). And if you’re lucky enough to bag the 900+ square foot presidential suite, you’ll get a breathtaking 180-degree views of the Hollywood Hills landscape from the very chic Bel Air to the Downtown L.A. skyline.
In addition to being right around West Hollywood’s infamous queer nightlife, visitors can still do all the tourist things that locals roll their eyes about but are secretly delighted when you ask them to show you (like Melrose and Sunset Boulevards, the TCL Chinese Theater, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame).
It’s also, I discovered, right around the block from the famed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which means some of those suites might be taken up by celebs getting nips and tucks nearby. More proof of celebrity culture: many locals work out in the hotel’s 2,500-square-foot gym SoFIT with their own trainers.
It’s easy to get carried away at a place in the heart of Beverly Hills, when everywhere you turn you feel a bit like a star yourself.
From the year-round heated outdoor pool to LeSalon at Sofitel (the celebrity hair salon), the hotel is fit for business travelers (which is why you’ll find film and TV crews as well) but absolutely dreamy for LGBTQ travelers who want the Los Angeles they’ve seen in movies and TV.
While you’re there, do a few musts at the hotel before you head out on the town. First, a visit to the award-winning L’Art de Vivre Spa where a magical massage got me ready for my red carpet moment. The farm-to-table breakfast was worthy, but it was dinner at Cattle & Claw’s outdoor garden that I can’t stop raving about. As other in-the-know omnivores have discovered, it offers unusual lobster (and burger) combinations that must be tried. The vegan Beyond Burger and the always popular lobster and beef burger are two wonderful choices. For brunch you can get lobster waffles, lobster benedict, and bottomless lobster bloody mary and mimosas that’ll have you feeling like you’re one of the ladies on Sex and the City (though I’m assuming many of the Millennials I saw at the hotel won’t get that reference). But it was the lobster tacos for lunch and the lobster ravioli for dinner that turned out to be my favorite meals.
You don’t need to leave Sofitel to find one of the city’s best nightclubs. The hotel’s bar, Riviera 31, which is ranked as one of L.A.’s hottest clubs, has excellent live music, sophisticated cocktails — and, of course, Instagram-thirsty ruby and blue velvet sofas and a gold Rococo ceiling (very Baroque). Mondays offer up eclectic jazz and every weekend Riviera 31 fills up with the beautiful people of all sexual orientations and genders for live DJ’d events.
The new director of nightlife at the hotel, Aidan Demarest, played a role in propelling cocktail culture into what it is today. He has helped launch or revive several of L.A.’s hottest bars and clubs including Seven Grand, Doheny Room, First & Hope Supper Club, and The Edison; as well as the Spare Room in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and Beaches WeHo in West Hollywood. (He knows his booze. Demarest has been a brand ambassador for the launch of four spirits including Stolichnaya Elit Vodka and El Silencio Espadin Mezcal).
Of course, my new lady friends from China, who I later saw at the Riviera 31 surrounded by a group of hip 20-somethings of undetermined gender, spent less time at the nearby West Hollywood haunts than I did. Instead, their time was spent across the street at the Beverly Center, the quintessential upscale California mall. Sofitel just so happens to have Stay, Shop & Dine package for travelers, that offers a "Passport To Shopping" discount shopping program, complimentary delivery to your hotel room, free valet parking, a Kiehl's 1851 facial, and apps, cocktails, and deserts at the Center's uber hot eateries like Yardbird Southern Table & Bar. (And yes, that shopping program is offered in four languages—including Chinese.)
(Click for more photos including the pool!)