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NORA ZELEVANSKY

Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d say that a disproportionate number of New Yorkers who relocate to LA first settle in West Hollywood (or “WeHo” to locals). That may seem strange, since a move to the West Coast would theoretically hold promises of life by the beach (which is nowhere near this quaint neighborhood) or maybe the canyons (WeHo stops at the foothills). But West Hollywood is as central as possible in a sprawling metropolis like LA and, uncharacteristic of this city, it offers many sweet walkable enclaves. In short, it’s a less shocking transition for urbanites.

I am no exception to this rule. The first and only apartment I lived in by myself was in the area. In fact, I spent most of my early twenties inhabiting the world’s sweetest studio in this neighborhood, which—at the time—was largely populated by other young women, gay men and a close-knit Russian population (which meant access to yummy Russian breads and baked goods). My building was à la Melrose Place, which is not to say that  there was constant drama so much as the apartments all surrounded a peanut-shaped turquoise pool. I have incredibly happy memories of walks to the nearby upscale Mayflower Market for sushi rolls and groceries and even runs on windy Fountain Avenue past gorgeous old buildings that evoke chateaus of another era. In short, West Hollywood is special to me.

In the years since then, I moved first to neighboring Third Street (also very special) and then, eventually, back to New York City. And a lot has changed in those years. West Hollywood has grown sleeker and even more charming, and it’s actually become something of a wellness and design destination.

For my recent book tour, I was fortunate enough to stay at the neighborhood’s iconic Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard (which is actually featured in my novel symbiotically!) and to frequent both old and new neighborhood haunts, at once familiar and surprising. I’m not going to lie: Returning home to a place where you no longer live is always fraught because you have so many memories, can almost see trails of past selves. But finding West Hollywood in its best shape yet was like seeing an old friend who is thriving. It just gave me pleasure. Plus, the newer offerings seemed somehow designed for the me of today, as opposed to a previous version.

For dinner on my first night back in LA, my friend Anna and I hit Gracias Madre, which is an unmissable vegan Mexican spot on Melrose. (That stretch of Melrose, by the way, has always been nice, but it’s become next level manicured for both shopping and eating). I’m actually not vegan, but I have to avoid dairy, so this was like heaven for me. I basically can never order dessert at restaurants, but here I had the pick of anything I wanted. I wish this place was around the corner from my house; I would eat there every week.

But, perhaps even more notable than my awesome Matcha Do About Nothing cocktail, Enchiladas Verde and Strawberry Shortcake with Coconut Cashew Whipped Cream, is the ambience here. I have rarely visited a vegan restaurant that didn’t feel kind of crunchy and piecemeal, like a daytime stopover as opposed to a full destination. This place is at once swanky and relaxed with a festive, but not cheesy atmosphere and an outdoor patio that’s essentially perfection for an evening out.

As we left, we dropped into Au Fudge, a new spot which people describe as “Soho House for kids,” just to check it out. What could be more LA? But, actually, it was such an adorable place with an amazing market and playrooms and, of course, an all organic kid- and adult-friendly menu catering to dietary constraints from gluten allergies to vegan-ism. I will definitely have the full experience next time I’m with my daughter in the hood.

The next morning, since I had eaten my weight in guacamole, I headed to a new West Hollywood fitness destination, Playlist Yoga, just down major thoroughfare La Cienega from my hotel. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I practice yoga regularly and I actually do like the idea of musical accompaniment (as long as my goal isn’t meditative), so I was hopeful. I arrived just as class was starting, stuffed my bag and shoes in a locker marked “Drake” and headed inside. (The rockstar names on the lockers are just one cute nod to the musical theme; the whole place is more “Hey! Ho!” than “Ohm.”) In the heated room, I found that I really liked their choice of music, which was upbeat and more hip hop and dance-based. It helped keep things flowing and, partially because the class was my ideal blend of challenging and relaxing, the time flew. I couldn’t believe an hour had passed by the end!

As LA is a body-conscious city, I was not surprised to discover that the Mondrian also offered a Pilates, bootcamp and dance hybrid fitness class at 7am on Mondays and Wednesdays by the pool at Skybar. I didn’t make it because I’m really not an early riser if I can help it, but, next time, I pledge to do it!)

There were also some old West Hollywood standards that I just had to visit, as well. For one thing, I never miss a chance to go to Kate Somerville’s Skin Health Experts clinic on beautiful Melrose Place. It’s one my favorite places on Earth—my Disney Land. There’s just something about sitting in that pretty, bright white waiting room, sipping perfect spa water, that lifts my mood. And I always leave looking a thousand times better. (Kate Somerville is one of the things I miss most on the East Coast.)

No matter how many cold-pressed juice places that open, the original Earthbar remains my first love and my favorite. On this trip, I got a spicy Cold & Sinus shot to combat a cold and a Radiant Skin Smoothie with papaya and E3Live, among other ingredients. I am also deeply obsessed with the Amazon Immunity and the Chocolate Supreme with mesquite. I love pressed juice smoothies; I’m a total sucker for them as they’re the closest I can get to a milkshake. But I have to admit that they often taste kind of the same everywhere you go. Not here. And now they have a little wellness clinic at the back on top of their cohesive vitamin assortment, so that’s just an added bonus.

Lastly, I had to get pretty for my reading at Book Soup (which is just one of those perfect bookstores where you could waste hours wandering aisles and discovering tomes), so I headed to Roman Salon. Sheri Roman, the owner and head colorist, was always my go-to color person in LA. The salon itself is just feminine and pretty and mellow with a magnolia tree courtyard for waiting and lolling. But, also, as a longtime beauty writer, I have had many a bad hair situation and Sheri and the ladies there have often saved me. So, I headed there for old times sake and, of course, they did a beautiful job.

Leaving LA on this trip was bittersweet. I was excited to get home and see my husband and daughter. But it was kind of amazing to take these days to get reacquainted with a former buddy—my old neighborhood stomping ground.