As a kid growing up in working-class Los Angeles, I thought Beverly Hills was a faraway place reserved for privileged playboys and the Hollywood haves. Rich people lived in Beverly Hills; I watched Beverly Hillbillies on TV. I bought baubles at Target, not Tiffany. And I was in my 20s before I realized that Rodeo Drive wasn’t pronounced like the cowboy cattle-roping event.
As an adult, my tastes have become more sophisticated (though my income, unfortunately, has never quite caught up). I recently said, Oh, what the hell, and planned a Beverly Hills getaway―on my budget. After a weekend of cocktails, shopping, chic restaurants, poolside lounging, and posh digs, I have to say: Even in Beverly Hills, you can get a lot of bang for your buck.
A stylish home base for $175: For my pied-à-terre, I chose the Crescent Hotel.
Built in 1926 as a residence for silent-film stars, this sleek little 35-room boutique hotel has a prestigious address around the corner from Rodeo Drive and is within walking distance of everything, but with a nightly rate that didn’t make me swoon (compared with the $500-and-up Beverly Hills Hotel).
Bonus: Relaxing on the cushy sofas in the lounge with an indoor-outdoor fireplace feels very swank. From $175; 310/247-0505.
A touch of Hollywood for $10: To get my bearings, I hopped on the Beverly Hills Trolley for a 40-minute tour.
Okay, so you’ll never be mistaken for a local on this thing, but you get a ride through the leafy, winding roads of the 6-square-mile town.
Our guide burst into occasional song and celebrity impersonations while pointing out landmarks: the Beverly Wilshire (Pretty Woman) Hotel, countless designer stores, and mansions of old-time stars like Clark Gable, Gene Kelly, and Charlie Chaplin. Sat–Sun; Rodeo Dr. at Dayton Way; 310/285-2442.
Next: More ways to feel the star power in Beverly Hills
More ways to feel the star power: Check out vintage photos of icons like Mick Jagger and Marilyn Monroe at Celebrity Vault (free; 345 N. Canon Dr.; 310/858-7815).
Screen one of the 150,000 historic TV shows and radio or new-media clips at the Paley Center for Media (closed Mon–Tue; free; 465 N. Beverly Dr.; 310/786-1000).
Or wander the gardens at Greystone Mansion (free; 905 Loma Vista Dr.; 310/285-6830), a 1920s estate that’s been the scene of society life, high drama, and real-life murder mysteries.
Ogling luxury handbags for free: Caught up in the glamour and glitz, I ducked into Fashionphile, a handbag consignment shop with shelf after shelf of limited-edition, gently worn luxury bags: Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Hermès.
It turns out that the term “bargain” is relative in Beverly Hills: Even secondhand, many items (except for a $125 lipstick case) still had four-digit price tags, a steal by Rodeo Drive standards. I decided paying my mortgage was probably smarter. Closed Sun, by appointment Sat; 9551 Wilshire Blvd.; 310/279-1136.
Another place to get in on the glam: Browse the racks at Anat B, a trendsetting, affordable (dresses and tops under $40) boutique with a celebrity clientele. 271 S. Beverly; 310/385-7917.
A decadent treat for $3.25: So a vintage Chanel wasn’t going to happen, but there were plenty of smaller indulgences to be had.
I joined the line snaking along Santa Monica Boulevard to nab one of the famous red velvet cupcakes at Sprinkles.
It claims to be the world’s first cupcake bakery and, with flavors like chai latte and ginger lemon, takes credit for the craze. 9635 Santa Monica Blvd.; 888/220-2210.
An afternoon at the spa for $23: My luxe manicure at Thibiant Beverly Hills skin clinic included a trip to the steam room, after which I was swathed in a plush robe while European nail technicians fussed over my fingers.
I curled up with a cappuccino and cookies on a full-body massage chair in the lounge, lulled by the sound of the indoor waterfall. Closed Sun; reservations required; 449 N. Canon; 310/278-7565.
Next: Budget-friendly cocktails and bites
Drinks by the pool for $5:50: Before 5 p.m., anyone who orders a drink can claim a poolside cabana at the Avalon Hotel Beverly Hills (which has a glam old-Hollywood feel―even Marilyn Monroe stayed here).
I asked for a San Pellegrino in my cabana and then dipped my toes in the hourglass-shaped pool. For the price of a bottle of water, you can party like it’s 1959.
9400 W. Olympic Blvd.; 310/277-5221.
More spots to get a cocktail: Try the happy-hour martinis and budget-friendly appetizers at Luxe Hotel’s Café Rodeo (from $3.60; Mon–Sat; 360 N. Rodeo; 310/273-0300). The outdoor tables on Rodeo have stellar people-watching.
At the Beverly Hilton, Trader Vic’s Lounge is a happening poolside spot for Polynesian pupus and fruity mai tais with floating orchids (pupus from $12; 9876 Wilshire; 310/274-7777).
A swank dinner for two for $50: Nirvana is a haven for the young and glamorous, but the Indian menu stands on its own. Save room for halwa, or carrot pudding.
Afterward, recline with a martini ($6) on a pillow-topped bed in the restaurant’s nightclublike bar. From $50 for two; 8689 Wilshire; 310/657-5040.
More places to grab a bite: Brighton Coffee Shop ($; 9600 Brighton Way; 310/276-7732) has been a popular breakfast spot with locals since 1930.
For lunch, try LA Food Show Grill & Bar ($$; 252 N. Beverly; 310/550-9758), where fusion burgers, salads, sandwiches, wok dishes, and fish tacos reflect the L.A. area’s melting-pot diversity.
A Celebrity sighting for free: My most memorable Beverly Hills moment didn’t cost a cent. As I window shopped along South Beverly Drive, I spotted a tall, tan, handsome gentleman, who smiled and nodded genially. Is that who I think it is?
Yeah, it’s George Hamilton. Priceless.
Getting to Beverly Hills: The city is east of Santa Monica and west of Hollywood and downtown L.A. From LAX, take I-405 north and go east on Santa Monica Boulevard. beverlyhills.org