Beverly Hills California is synonymous with wealth—the kind of exclusive wealth epitomized by the magnificent Beverly Hills mansions along Sunset Boulevard and the famous Beverly Hills shopping at the elite shops on Rodeo Drive. Don't call it "ROW-dee-oh" like the cowboy shows with bucking broncos, or you will brand yourself as a tourist. It's "row-DAY-oh." The two most popular things to do in Beverly Hills involve these two signature attractions.
Beverly Hills is bordered on the east by the city of West Hollywood and on the west by the city of Westwood. To the north, it spreads up the hills from which it gets its name to the wilderness of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, representative of the surprisingly intact wild places in close proximity to dense urban population that can be found in many places around Los Angeles. One of the more unusual things to do in Beverly Hills is to go hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking in this wild area that boasts wildlife such as mountain lions, coyotes, black bears, and mule deer. Visitors are rarely bothered by the larger predators, as they fear humans. But if you are unused to such wilderness, you should do some research on what to be alert for, including rattlesnakes.
The Beverly Hills mansions are some of the largest and most extravagant in the entire country, and date to the period of the 1910s and 1920s when Hollywood began producing iconic movie stars. One of the first structures to serve these stars was the venerable Beverly Hills Hotel, on which construction began in 1911. It stands today and is still a sheltered five-star retreat for the rich and famous. The first Beverly Hills mansion, Pickfair, was built in the 1920s by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. (Unfortunately, the lavish 22-room home was demolished in 1989.) Soon, luminaries such as Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Robert Montgomery, and William Randolph Hearst built mansions here. Many of these, like the 1917 Gothic-Tudor Playboy Mansion, still stand and are joined by hundreds of other mansions built by movie stars and captains of industry.
Drive just about anywhere in this tiny town, and you will find roadside stands selling maps of the homes of stars, and you can book guided celebrity home tours in various places around the city. Most of the tours are "drive by" tours in motorcoaches and double-decker buses, but you can visit the interior of some of the mansions, including Greystone. Greystone was built in 1927 and today is set in a city park where special events are held. You might recognize this Tudor mansion from films like Flowers in the Attic, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Spiderman, The Witches of Eastwick, X-Men, and There Will Be Blood.
It was the wealthy residents of these mansions that put Beverly Hills shopping on the map in the 1970s when the three-block area called Rodeo Drive was developed. Here are some of the most famous names in fashion and haute couture—from Dior and Prada to Luis Vitton and Versace. It is possible to experience some of these stores for yourself, but some Beverly Hills shopping can only be done by appointment, and you have to be somebody to make an appointment. Bijan (if you have to ask what that is, you won't get an appointment) is a good example. The average shopper in this men's fashion wear shop drops about $100,000 per visit. But even if you're a virtual nobody, you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio or Britney Spears as you stroll Rodeo Drive.
There are things to do in Beverly Hills other than gawk at the homes of the rich or the places where they shop. The center of the small town is quite lovely, with some beautiful old buildings. You can buy a ticket on the quaint Beverly Hills Trolley for 30-minute guided tours of the main commercial and residential areas. There are also some nice museums, including the Museum of Radio and Television and the Weisman Art Foundation, which has an excellent collection with works by Cezanne, Picasso, and Warhol. You can tour the 1931 Italian Renaissance City Hall or attend the colorful weekly outdoor Farmer's Market.
Image: Beverly Hills CVB