Along about now, when the East Coast is still deep in the throes of winter, friends begin to find a reason to drop in for a dose of California sunshine. One morning I might take them to Clementine for a strawberry scone or a corn muffin with orange slices woven into the batter, or show off the hipster scene at Urth Caffe in West Hollywood. But the one thing I always make sure to fit in is breakfast at Hotel Bel-Air.
While New York or Chicago shivers under the latest snowstorm, we'll be reading the paper on the sun-dappled terrace with crimson bougainvillea twined overhead. Most mornings the air is perfumed with wood smoke from the outdoor fireplace. Even if the weather's a touch nippy, heat lamps will keep you warm. Or you can retreat inside to a table in front of French doors looking out onto the garden.
Coffee? It's French press from Peet's, smooth and dark. The staff, most of whom have worked here for years, exude the graciousness of old Los Angeles. Just when you expect to see Loretta Young or some glam movie star from the '40s sweeping by, a guest in baseball cap and spandex power-walks by, a weight in each hand.
And the breakfast is splendid. The menu manages to cover everything you could possibly want: vanilla-scented yogurt, house-smoked salmon and a bagel, two eggs any which way you prefer them. If you like, there are fresh-squeezed juices.
I have a couple of favorites. The first is the fluffy lemon souffle pancakes laced with lemon zest and surrounded by what seems like an entire box of raspberries. It comes with a sauceboat of raspberry sauce too. With a side of thick, crisp apple wood bacon, it makes a perfect breakfast. I'm also partial to the hotel's nicely spiced corned beef hash topped with two poached eggs.
Afterward, you can explore the hotel's extraordinary gardens or take a walk down verdant Stone Canyon Road, which ends at the UCLA campus: tourism at its most intellectual.
Where: 701 Stone Canyon Road, L.A.
When: Breakfast 7 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays; to 9:30 a.m. Sundays. Complimentary valet parking.
Cost: Breakfast items $8 to $18.
Info: (310) 472-1211