The good life in WeHo

West Hollywood is 2 square miles of furniture, fashion ― and stars

Erika Ehmsen

Travel planner

West Hollywood seems to condense all of Los Angeles' most glamorous sprawl into less than 2 square miles. As a municipality, it's on the verge of adulthood, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Even so, the city of 36,000 suffers from an identity crisis: It's frequently lumped in with neighboring Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Still, whether they know what town they're in or not, many fashion-minded Angelenos consider West Hollywood to be the center of the universe. WeHo (as locals call it) offers a gallery, fashion, and furnishings district; sleek spas and boutiques; and some of greater Los Angeles' best dining. All this, and the music clubs of the Sunset Strip.

West Hollywood's flat, rambling Avenues of Art & Design ― centered around Melrose Avenue and Robertson and Beverly Boulevards ― are said to offer the West Coast's largest concentration of high-end art galleries, antiques stores, and interior designers. This may be the best place in the world for design doyens to window-shop ― or, if they're feeling flush, splurge.

Dominating the skyline is the Pacific Design Center (PDC), known as the "Blue Whale." Most of its 350 showrooms ― which include sleek Poggenpohl U.S. and EuroConcepts kitchen showrooms ― are open to the public, and an on-site interior decorator is available for by-the-hour consultations. Don't miss MOCA at the Pacific Design Center: This branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles displays notably thought-provoking, design-oriented exhibits.

Beyond the PDC, Avenues of Art & Design standouts include Armani Casa, the Italian design magnate's only West Coast home store. Just window-shopping at Maxfield, a collection of innovative designers on Melrose, will tug at your purse strings, so if you're looking for a bargain, walk six blocks to Maxfield Bleu, where last season's designs are discounted to outlet prices.

Maxfield owner Tommy Perse's son, James Perse, opened his first store on the Avenues in mid-August. While James Perse's clothes also can be found at Neiman Marcus, this is the only place you can ogle his Home James linen collection. Another stop for the home-minded is Thomas Schoos Design: one designer but two stores' worth of furniture and accessories.

If all the high-end consumerism becomes too much, retreat to Kinara spa-cafe. Treatments include massages, body wraps, and an only-in-L.A. pre- and post-plastic surgery facial package. The downstairs cafe includes many Zone Diet-approved entrées.

Classic architecture, modern scene

Devoted as it is to the here and now, West Hollywood has its history. The neighborhood grew in the 1920s, as next-door Hollywood gained status as a moviemaking mecca. Sunset Boulevard's first high-rise was the Sunset Tower condominiums, a 15-story art deco masterpiece built in 1930. As the Argyle Hotel, it retains an aura of film's golden age.

Another noteworthy building is Austrian architect Rudolf M. Schindler's home-studio. Built in 1922, its simple redwood-and-concrete structure drew acclaim for its groundbreaking modern form. Now the MAK Center for Art & Architecture L.A. at the Schindler House, the preserved home-museum hosts art exhibits and weekend architecture tours.

The biggest WeHo dining news is the revival of an old favorite. Cofounded by Elton John in the 1970s, Le Dôme reopened a few months ago after undergoing a facelift to its menu and decor. Its namesake rotunda has been removed to reveal the building's original wood rafters, and the menu mixes Le D"me classics (spaghetti with vodka-caviar sauce) with new items like pan-roasted lobster.

Farther down the Sunset Strip, the nouveau Japanese restaurant Katana offers tasty twists on sushi and robata-yaki (Japanese barbecue). Jennifer Aniston threw husband Brad Pitt's birthday party on Katana's patio. If you're lucky enough to get an outside table around 5 p.m., you'll have a prime view of the sun setting over Sunset, casting a warm glow on West Hollywood at its most dusk-kissed and irresistible.

Music on the strip

Even most Angelenos don't realize that "The Sunset Strip" refers only to the section of Sunset Boulevard that runs through West Hollywood. In the '60s and early '70s, this was the epicenter of Los Angeles' rock 'n' roll scene, with many of the world's most famous bands playing clubs like the Whisky A Go-Go (8901 W. Sunset Blvd.; 310/652-4202).

If you haven't paid a visit to the Strip since your college days, it may surprise you: The music scene still thrives. House of Blues (8430 W. Sunset; 323/848-5100) looks like a Disney-fied Delta roadhouse, but it sizzles with live blues and R&B. A '60s icon, the Troubadour (9081 Santa Monica Blvd.; 310/276-6168) still thumps nightly with shows ranging from alternative to country music. And the Key Club (9039 W. Sunset; 310/274-5800) frequently hosts exclusive concerts featuring big-name acts.