‘Riot House’ No More: A Review Of The Andaz, LA’s Coolest Hotel

I’m a budget traveler who has spent more time in dives with droopy mattresses than luxury hotels with spa treatments that cost more than Suriname’s annual GDP. So on the rare occasions when I get to stay someplace truly swanky – usually when the Priceline roulette wheel shines favorably on me or if I’m accompanying my wife on a business trip – I sometimes feel a bit like Jed Clampett arriving with Hillbilly family in tow in Beverly Hills.

Did I shave that day? Is my car the cheapest one on the premises? How much do I need to give the bellboy who is charging over to open my car door? I had this same fish-out-of-water feeling when we pulled up to the Andaz, a luxury hotel in West Hollywood that is part of the Hyatt chain last week. But the place turned out to be very different than any other fancy hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

For starters, the young man who opened our car door and took care of our suitcases was our one-stop check-in person. After loading our suitcases on a trolley, he escorted us into the sleek, dimly lit lobby, checked us in himself and then brought us up to the room as though we were at a small B & B.

“Now everything in the minibar except the alcohol is free,” he said to my surprise and puzzlement. “So all the soft drinks, bottles of water and snacks are free.”

I asked him to repeat that because I’ve never heard of a free minibar before and I didn’t want to get a bill for a $9 bag of chips, but I’d heard him right. The Andaz also has free wireless Internet and serves good, free California wines from 5-7 p.m. each night. Before I gush about this place a bit more, I should point out that unlike many “reviews” of luxury hotels, this is not a paid endorsement or quid-pro-quo deal. At Gadling, we do not write about free press trips or accept other free travel perks, so you can trust the integrity of our reviews.

Our double room was stylishly decorated and had a curtained off little section in the back with a love seat, comfy chair and Ottoman. My kids immediately claimed this area as their clubhouse, but it was also useful for my wife and I after the kids went to bed.

The hotel was renovated and turned into an Andaz property, one of just nine around the world, in 2009. Gene Autry once owned the hotel and in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, it was known as the Riot House because rock stars used to routinely trash their rooms. John Bonham reportedly once rode his motorcycle down the hotel corridors, Keith Richards once dropped a television set from his room out onto Sunset Boulevard, and Jim Morrison lived there until he was evicted for hanging out a window by his fingertips.

Those days are long gone, but recording artists still patronize the place. A big contingent of Brits including the singer Laura Mvula was there during our stay. And they still play great music in the lobby – I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to The Smiths at any other hotel I’ve ever stayed at besides this one.

The Andaz has everything you might expect in a luxury hotel: incredibly comfortable beds, high-quality toiletries and linens, plus a very nice rooftop pool that offers lovely views of the area. We found the Sunset Boulevard location to be convenient but thanks to the notorious L.A. traffic, it can take a lot longer to get around than you might think.

And now for a few niggling complaints. No hotel is perfect and that includes the Andaz. I found the free wireless to be extremely slow at times and when I called down to inquire I was transferred to an off-site tech support person who suggested I pay a premium to get better speed. No thanks. The valet parking is $32 per night (there is no self-park option), which isn’t exactly a bargain and the sumptuous buffet breakfast is strictly expense account territory at $26 a head.

But you don’t come to a luxurious hotel like this one to pinch pennies, you’re there for a treat and the Andaz certainly is one. Aside from the free snacks, soft drinks and wine, my other favorite perk was the selection of free newspapers. I’m an old-school hard copy newspaper reader and the fact that the Andaz was willing to deliver copies of the New York Times, the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal right to my doorstop made me very happy indeed. On my last night at the Andaz, our neighbors stumbled back to their room at 2 a.m. and commenced a noisy party worthy of the hotel’s glory Riot House days. At the time, I was annoyed but in retrospect, it was a fitting end to a memorable stay.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Traveling Otter, Rachel Kramer Bussel, and FiskFisk on Flickr]

Hiking To The Hollywood Sign (No GPS Required)

I studied abroad in Ireland but I never kissed the Blarney Stone. I visited the Great Pyramids at Giza but refused to pony up for the classic photo on the camel. And I went to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, but didn’t bother to put a wish or prayer in one of its crevices. I don’t have an interest in checking off travel cliché to-do boxes or even making bucket lists, but for some reason that I can’t really explain, I wanted to hike up to the Hollywood sign while in L.A. last week.

In many ways, I hate everything Hollywood represents and rarely spend money on the kind of mindless, big budget movies that are produced there. But I love hikes that have some goal at the summit and, well, I wanted to see the damn sign up close. Don’t ask me why.

Earlier this year, there was quite a bit of press about how people who live near the foot of the Hollyridge Trail that leads up near the sign are sick of lost tourists following their GPS’s onto their dead-end streets in search of the trailhead. So rather than use my GPS, I Googled “Hike to the Hollywood” sign and was surprised to learn that there are a few ways to see the sign.

I drove north on Beachwood Drive in Hollywood until the street came to a dead end. There I found hand painted signs that pointed towards a horse stable to the left and the Hollywood sign to the right. It was a warm Thursday afternoon and there were only a smattering of people on the dusty trail, most of them speaking foreign languages and clutching cameras.

The wide path leads you on a gradual ascent through the scrubby, camouflage-colored landscape of the Hollywood Hills. After about 15 minutes, the trail split – to the right was an uphill path and to the left the terrain was level. There was no one around to ask, so I went left and in another 15 minutes came to a little rocky plateau where some French and Russian tourists were posing for photos with the sign as a backdrop.

It felt like a dismal letdown. We were relatively close to the sign but, in honesty, the darn thing looked more impressive from a distance when seen from Beachwood Drive. I headed back in the direction I’d come from and when I got back to the fork I asked a woman who was jogging down the hill from the other direction what was up that way.

“A great view,” she said. “Just follow the trail up and you’ll end up right on top of the Y and W in the sign.”

I followed the path up for about 20 minutes and eventually arrived at the top of Mt. Lee, where a 10- to 12-foot fence stops tourists from trying to hike down and actually pose with the sign itself. I stepped on a rock in order to snap off a few photos and was joined by a couple from Wisconsin that was irate when they saw the fence.

“We can’t even take our photo with it,” the woman complained. And her male companion was annoyed that only half the sign would fit in his camera frame. Nonetheless, they asked me to take their photo standing in front of the fence and I gladly obliged. It may not have been exactly what we imagined, but it was a little piece of Hollywood for us to take back to the Midwest.

[Photo credit: Dave Seminara]

Video of the day: the best burger in Los Angeles

Los Angeles from Dave Pinke on Vimeo.

Even with the Grammys and the Oscars behind us now, it’s still safe to say that Los Angeles is a major travel destination. Especially during months that are just a little too cold for comfort in other parts of the world. Dave Pinke, a traveler and video-making cool guy from NYC, put this video together after one of his trips to L.A. Among his travels featured in this video is his search for the best burger in L.A. And, you know, that’s important information–according to me.

Have a video you wish we’d see? Contact us.

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