The Real Southern California: The Cupcakes and Haunted Mansions of Beverly Hills

National Geographic Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott is trekking through the Los Angeles area with his family in search of the real Southern California. This is his sixth dispatch; read the previous one here.

The search for authenticity can lead you to a place or, if you’re my three-year-old-daughter, it can lead you straight to a chocolate marshmallow cupcake. Not just any chocolate marshmallow cupcake, but one baked at the world-famous Sprinkles Cupcakes of Beverly Hills.

In a place that is known more for its celebrity than its authenticity, the cupcake is a standout. It took this little girl less than a minute to devour hers; the adults tried to go slow, but it’s difficult to savor a red velvet or chocolate coconut cupcake that just came out of the oven. I tried.

I wouldn’t want you to think Beverly Hills is just about cupcakes. After an interesting breakfast, we headed up to Greystone Mansion and Park high above the city. The 55-room historic estate is the largest in Beverly Hills and has served as a backdrop for dozens of well-known movies, including Spiderman and Ghostbusters.

What they won’t tell you on the record about this city-owned building is that it’s haunted in a major way.

Greystone’s first owner and his secretary were killed under mysterious circumstances in 1929. There have also been several suicides. The last two park rangers quit because of ghosts. Walking through the quiet, darkened hallways of the 18th Century-style English mansion, it’s easy to see why you might reconsider your career choice — particularly on a dark and stormy night.

Speaking of history, you can’t visit Beverly Hills without the obligatory walk down Rodeo Drive and lunch at The Beverly Wilshire, another historical building with a ghost or two of its own (Barbara Hutton died here in 1979). Even though it’s now a five-star hotel operated by the Four Seasons, The Wilshire is surprisingly child-friendly. It offers kids spa treatments and special poolside cabanas stocked with kid-friendly items, like trays of cupcakes, toys, and special towels.

I admit, we hadn’t planned to make a stop in Beverly Hills on our Southern California tour, because it has a reputation for being stuffy, artificial and not at all accommodating to children. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We checked into The Peninsula Beverly Hills, which showed us that kids were indeed welcome (I mean, what better way to say that than with monogrammed pillowcases?). They tolerated our often-noisy kids at the rooftop pool and were always unfailingly polite.

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Once you get past the Beverly Hills cliches — and there are many — this destination is authentic as any in Southern California.

Surprised? So was I.

Photo: Chris Elliott

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