In the popular imagination, Beverly Hills is the city as diva, the urban embodiment of the 1980s ethic that you can never be too thin or too rich.
For years I lived on the other side of the proverbial tracks from Beverly Hills. Then, as now, distinctive 1930s-vintage signs, tailor-made for tourist photographs, marked the Beverly Hills boundary, and another sign proclaimed Cannes, France, as its sister city. Just walking down the street I would often hear a polyglot of languages, from French to Farsi.
Considering that Beverly Hills is one of the most quintessentially Southern Californian places, it may seem a stretch to describe it as having a European mien ― Cannes sister-city status notwithstanding. But part of its appeal is that Beverly Hills is an international city in miniature. To me, it all seemed wonderfully jet-set, yet slightly out of reach.
But having a fabulously wealthy and stunningly gorgeous neighbor had its upside. There were galleries, parks, and museums to explore in this, one of Southern California's most walkable cities.
As I soon found out, despite the stereotypes, Beverly Hills is a very real place with discoveries ― and bargains ― to be had. With a busy summer schedule of events, now is the prime time to experience the city at its sophisticated best, without busting your budget.
Bling Bling Sans Ka-Ching
Part of Beverly Hills' appeal is its impressive retail architecture, including such notables as Wilshire Boulevard's 1930s-era Saks Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive's Anderton Court, designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950s (art-and-architecture trolley tours go by these locations). Both vintage and contemporary buildings are designed to catch the eye of some of the most persnickety consumers anywhere ― and they make for great sightseeing, even if you don't plan to spend a dime.
With its dark walnut interior and Albert Oehlen collages, the Taschen Store Los Angeles is an ideal setting for books-as-artwork art tomes that can cost thousands of dollars and weigh more than 70 pounds. But even if you're not in the buying mood, there's plenty of lighter fare, both in weight and price.
An inexpensive but intriguing stop on Beverly Drive is the Museum of Television & Radio, designed by Richard Meier. With its massive archive of historic programs available for viewing, the museum's presence here is only fitting, considering Beverly Hills' undying television presence ― from The Beverly Hillbillies in the 1960s to 90210.
For a three-dimensional city view, check out the Sunday Farmers' Market ― a linear cornucopia and one of the better people-watching (and celebrity-spotting) experiences anywhere. Plus, even though it's in Beverly Hills, a basket of strawberries will still cost you just a couple of bucks. And nearby Beverly Gardens Park is one of Southern California's great public spaces. Designed by Wilbur S. Cook, it runs nearly 2 miles along Santa Monica Boulevard.
A highlight is the Electric Fountain, with scenes of early California history and an art deco-styled sculpture of a Native American man.
There are even a few affordable places near the park to pick up lunch, from Philly cheesesteaks of the gods at Papa Jake's to an elegantly simple baguette and brie at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. Who knows, you may even have some money left over for shopping.
Take advantage of $5 specialty martinis at Nic's Restaurant & Martini Lounge.