There are places celebrities go to be seen, and there are rare places where celebrities go not to be seen. There is only one place, though, that has elegantly enveloped celebrities into its 12 acre seemingly secret garden for more than 70 years: The Hotel Bel-Air. The Prince of Wales supposedly said, “I slept better in the Presidential Suite of the Bel Air than in any other hotel in the world. Tom Cruise once remarked: “I’ve lived at Hotel Bel-Air, and I always feel very comfortable there.” What is it about this classic hotel, complete with gliding swans, no less, that endures as Hollywood’s haven? On a recent stay at the Hotel Bel-Air, I think I uncovered it.
The top quality required to endure as a celebrity sanctuary: discretion by design. While located only a mile or so off of Sunset Blvd, the drive to the Hotel Bel-Air is nondescript along a narrow road marked by colossal hedges and fancy gates that shroud the mansions and estates Bel-Air is known for. A few subtle pink signs point to the direction of the property, but other than these indications, the Hotel Bel-Air appears just around a corner like any house in a neighborhood. Except, of course, this neighborhood is Bel-Air, and nearly no home sits casually on a street.
The friendly valet takes your car and you’ll walk over a little walkway bridge, perhaps catching a glimpse of one of the property’s swans (Chloe, Athena, Hercules or Odette) skating atop the hotel’s ponds. There’s a massive, old tree that literally emerges through the walkway bridge, and 12 to 15 foot-tall white birds of paradise trees, miniature yellow daffodils, billowing red bougainvilleas, and orange blossoms frame the walkway. The trickling of a fountain’s water can be picked up from somewhere. No one seems to be around, and that’s on purpose. This is the moment that I’ve had at the Hotel Bel-Air several times now throughout my stays over the years but particularly on this visit: a precise moment of going “over the rainbow” (or at least the hotel’s bridge) and feeling a bit transported into a sparkling, secret world.
Over the bridge, one may meander into the hotel’s lobby off to the right (discreet, once again by design) or pass through the open air restaurant by Wolfgang Puck who often swings by himself to greet guests on his way home located a few blocks from the hotel. I have always found this endearing (and met him twice at the restaurant), and it’s another reason the Hotel Bel-Air maintains not only its discretion but a remarkable warmth: it’s an irresistible feeling of returning home. Celebrities still get it. Long after the stays by Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, Richard Nixon, Doris Day, and countless others, Hollywood’s elite still find their ways home to the Hotel Bel-Air. Fashion “royalty” Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Isaac Mizrahi, and Oscar de la Renta supposedly hang out often. Russell Crowe held his Oscar night party at one of the hotel’s 45 suites back in 2001. Oprah Winfrey hosted the cast of Friends for their final interview at the hotel, and Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, and Jennifer Aniston had a lunch as a final girlfriends’ reunion in 2015. As Prince Charles once described, the Hotel Bel-Air is like, “staying at a rich friend’s home.” Even if you’re rich and famous, everyone can enjoy such a treat.
The rich friend warmth of the Hotel Bel-Air continues within its 103 guest rooms and suites, thanks to the all-star design eye of Canadian born Alexandra Champalimaud. My suite had a real fireplace, assembled and lit nightly by a doorman, sweeping patio doors, heated limestone floors, and a little bottle of lavender pillow spray to coax me to sleep. Other suites feature two-panel fireplaces, private infinity edge spa pools, and the most luxe bath robs one could fathom. Given the array of suites with their custom design motifs, such as the Grace Kelly and Chalon suites, it’s a good idea to ask the reservation team for recommendations on which suite or room to book. Consider the array of rooms another rich friend warmth perk, which it certainly is.
Some people visit a hotel once, perhaps for a business trip or vacation. I like to think of the Hotel Bel-Air, which celebrities certainly do as well, as a luxurious home you return to often. Perhaps your rich friend owns it, but that dear friend continues to welcome you back. With its utmost discretion and warmth, the Hotel Bel-Air remains such a cherished place.