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Actively looking for Hollywood celebrities is weird, but hanging around their natural habitats is oddly exciting. Forget a casual encounter in Vancouver — they’re just here to work. And forget L.A., where their guards are set to full shields. What you want is to go where they wind down. Here are three favourite celeb retreats that happily double as perfect March getaways for northerners.
Visiting Malibu is like visiting Point Grey Road: plenty of beautiful oceanfront houses that you have no access to and not much else. Santa Barbara, on the other hand, is only 90 minutes north on PCH1 and it’s a proper — albeit pricey — community.
Distance from L.A. 155 km
Who’s There? Well-heeled types with enough clout that they don’t have to drive in to the studios to take meetings: Steve Martin, Rob Lowe, Oprah.
Where Do I Sleep? Most of the real cash lays down in the neighbouring community of Montecito. The best (and only) lodging is the tony and expensive-even-for-a-Four-Seasons Four Seasons (Fourseasons.com/santabarbara, 800-819-5053; from US$495/night). The place for homeless celebs.
Where Do I Eat? La Super-Rica (622 N. Milpas St.) is a roadside taco shack from before such things were ubiquitous. Julia Child evidently stopped by every Tuesday, and her lead is followed by locals hell-bent on keeping it real by standing in line with real people.
A visit to the 7,500-person enclave in the mountains north of L.A. elicits one of two responses: “I love Ojai!” or “Where’s that?”
Distance from L.A. 130 km
Who’s There? A mix of old-timers (Julie Christie) and an interesting breed of young stars (Jake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Emily Blunt, and John Krasinski) who eschew the scene. Plus a lot of wealthy new-age nut bars.
Where Do I Sleep? The Ojai Valley Inn and Spa (Ojairesort.com, 855-697-8780; from $450/night) has been drawing the rich and fab since 1923. (Famed architect Wallace Neff did the blueprints for this Spanish Revival behemoth.) They still flock here for golf, tennis, and superlative spa time but are fiercely protective of their privacy.
Where Do I Eat? The town bans chain restaurants, so forget about that Bloomin’ OnionTM. Best to embrace the hippie vibe and go vegan at the new Hip Vegan (Hipvegancafe.com) — admittedly a ballsy choice for a name, but cool and relaxed, with surprisingly good vegan fare.
The desert spot of yesteryear is having its second act as an architecture-loving LGBT paradise for the generation of Angelenos that’s never heard of Louis B. Mayer.
Distance from L.A. 170 km
Who’s There? Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and a slew of other dead celebs. But also a surprising number of young bucks like Kirsten Dunst who want to bask in the desert’s Rat Pack glory. Plus everyone cool under 40 (or trying to be) during Coachella and everyone cool over 40 (Clooney) during the film fest.
Where Do I Sleep? The Ace (Acehotel.com, 760-325-9900; from $149/night) gets the press and the 22-year-olds in Daddy’s Bimmer, while The Parker (Theparkerpalmsprings.com, 800-543-4300; from $199/night) has more low-key wattage. But for an authentic PS experience, go for the luxe-bohemian Korakia Pensione (Korakia.com, 760-864-6411; from $169/night), fresh off a well-deserved nod in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and soon to be crowded with the Louis Vuitton-sandalled crowd lounging on its Moroccan daybeds watching movie screenings on the grounds.
Where Do I Eat? Thelma & Louise it and point your car north into the desert until you hit Pappy & Harriet’s (Pappyandharriets.com, 760-365-5956), an Old West roadhouse in the middle of nowhere that nonetheless features pilgrims like Franz Ferdinand, Cold War Kids, and Lucinda Williams, who have all recently stopped by to play a set or two.