Why I love the new Conrad Los Angeles, a luxury hotel that wins with small details
Few things are more exciting for a travel editor than the opportunity to check in to one of the most anticipated new hotels of the year.
But it's hard not to be skeptical.
It's been over a year since we first learned that Conrad Hotels & Resorts would make its California debut in the luxury mixed-use development now near completion in downtown Los Angeles called The Grand LA.
I worried the hotel atop the flashy, Frank Gehry-designed complex would feel inaccessible — too whimsical, too boxy, too contemporary — to be comfortable. Or that, perhaps, from its 28-story perch, the hotel would feel too far removed from the city.
But just as Gehry has been modernizing and redefining skylines for decades, the arrival of the Conrad Los Angeles last month is yet another evolution for an upscale brand trying to solidify its identity as a global trendsetter in luxury hospitality with each new property it opens.
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We booked a deluxe city-view king room at the Conrad Los Angeles for $749 per night through Brett Snyder, who runs the booking service Cranky Concierge.
Snyder's reservation came with Hilton Impresario program benefits (similar to Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts program perks) including extra cancellation flexibility, a daily breakfast credit ($30, or enough to cover one dish, without coffee), a $100 hotel credit and double Hilton Honors points (calculated on base points earned, so essentially 20 points per dollar), plus an upgrade at check-in, depending on availability. When I received my folio upon checkout, I saw that the perks had been applied correctly.
As a Hilton Honors Gold elite member, I had the option of receiving bonus points or a daily food and beverage credit, which was $25 per day. (If I had an additional guest, I would have received a second $25 daily credit.)
I opted for the latter, though I also received 8 bonus points per dollar spent as an elite. All told, I earned 28 points per dollar on this stay thanks to my Impresario and Hilton Honors elite benefits.
Rates here start around $500 per night, not including a $30 daily destination fee which, miraculously, includes a $30 daily food and beverage credit and use of the house car.
Standard room rewards start at 90,000 Hilton Honors points per night (consider opening a Hilton Honors cobranded credit card and using it to pay for your stay if you want to quickly boost your points balance).
Between the $30 daily food and beverage credit and the $25 daily Hilton Honors MyWay benefit available to Gold elite members and higher, I received $55 in food and beverage credits per day, not including the $100 property credit and breakfast credit I received by booking through Snyder — not a bad way to offset the eye-watering menu items.
I arrived in Los Angeles on board the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, which terminates at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles — a 20-minute walk, or less than a 10-minute drive ($8 with Uber), from the Conrad, which is located at 100 South Grand Avenue.
The property is so new I couldn't find it on Uber and had to manually enter the address into the app (a terribly tough feat, I know).
Travelers flying into Los Angeles International (LAX) have a 40-minute drive or longer that should cost between $30-$70 depending on the time of day and how much demand there is, or can opt for the FlyAway Bus ($9.75 one way) from the airport to Union Station.
Many of the things I enjoyed most during my stay at the Conrad Los Angeles were tiny moments of surprise and delight, such as the whisper-quiet and seemingly supersonic elevator ride to my guest room floor, or sitting down for room service breakfast to see a button for tray removal and a vase with two perfect Craspedia blooms come as part of the presentation.
But for travelers who need more incentive to spend $700 on a hotel stay, I loved:
- From the expansive 16,000-square-foot pool deck and rooftop terrace, guests can enjoy views over downtown Los Angeles, including City Hall and, from the lobby-side terrace, a front-row view of the whorly Walt Disney Concert Hall across the street — another Gehry fantasia with expressive stainless steel curves that reflect the sun and city lights throughout the day and evening. There's also fun poolside fare, like root vegetable chips with a yogurt espuma (that's a fancy word for foam) flavored with tamarind and star anise ($15).
- My studio apartment-style room had a sitting area so inviting that I actually used it multiple times for more than just storing bags and taking an initial Instagram photo. The room also measured more than 460 square feet, meaning my first Brooklyn apartment would have fit easily inside.
- A bartender I met at The Beaudry Room my first evening recognized me in the lobby the following day, said hello and asked if I wanted a glass of water. While chatting with the woman helming the reception desk at San Laurel (one of the restaurants), she asked if I'd just checked in because she hadn't seen me yet. Oftentimes, getting too much attention at hotels makes me feel uncomfortable — but in their first month and a half, the staff at the Conrad Los Angeles has mastered friendly, personable service that's attentive without being overbearing or fussy.
Aside from the prices, which were consistently shocking (food, beverage, spa services, etc.), the 305-key Conrad Los Angeles is part of a larger project to revitalize parts of downtown Los Angeles.
The Grand LA is also home to a residential tower, and visitors in the near future can expect to see the plaza it surrounds fill out with luxury retailers, more upscale restaurants (including another José Andrés venture, Bazaar Meat) and entertainment venues.
Though this could spell good news for the neighborhood, it also means guests at the hotel might feel worlds away from the city. On that note:
- Aside from the views, which are a striking and near-constant reminder (thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and the hotel's lofty position) that you're in downtown Los Angeles, I can't say the hotel screamed Los Angeles — but it didn't feel misplaced, either. It was certainly a departure from more buttoned-up Conrads in Washington, D.C. and New York City. The architecture and interior design worked together to soften the edges between inside and out, making it so that you could drift easily between the two. And there were nods to the culture and geography of Los Angeles throughout, including pieces by local artists such as Mimi Jung, a former Angeleno whose striking neon-yellow poly cord and paper installation was suspended across from the front desk. But the hotel also did feel like it could pass in another luxury development in another U.S. metropolitan area.
- My room had an open-concept closet and storage area, and there was simply no easy place to lay out my suitcase or, frankly, hide my clutter.
- The underwhelming entry to the Conrad from the street isn't a reason not to stay here, but it did make the arrival experience somewhat anticlimactic, at best, and confusing at worst. I wasn't expecting to be airlifted to the 10th-floor lobby by a magical golden hippogriff, but I also didn't think I'd have to stand on the sidewalk with my suitcase feeling befuddled.
This sculptural tower is all soaring ceilings and windows that leave the rooms and public spaces dappled with light and shadow, giving the entire property a dynamic texture that shifts throughout the day. It's at once upscale (and expensive) enough to satisfy your most discriminating business client, and simultaneously cool enough to impress your date.
During my stay, the lobby was filled with polished professionals holding quiet meetings or clicking around in red-bottomed Louboutins, while the rooftop restaurant, Agua Viva, was packed with a livelier crowd; no doubt the venue will quickly become a fixture in LA's see-and-be-seen scene.
The easygoing atmosphere is thanks, at least in part, to the multipurpose spaces around the lobby and dining venues. Unlike some hotel lobbies, which are clearly designed for moving guests through the check-in and checkout processes as quickly as possible, the lobby floor of the Conrad felt like a social lounge.
There were tables with tabletop outlets perfect for coworking, and little seating areas for sipping coffee or cocktails anchored around SED, a bar area with self-serve coffee in the mornings and adventurous cocktails at night (the Bergeron's Secret Chest features 8-year rum, lime, orgeat, orange curacao and an "aromatic cloud of hibiscus, rose and orange blossom" for $21).
I knew I'd been upgraded right away by the sheer size of the space, having skipped from a deluxe room up two categories to a studio one-king bedroom. (Generally, about $60 more per night, meaning you might want to consider buying into this room in the first place if you're not eligible for a space-available upgrade.)
Interior design firm Tara Bernerd & Partners seemed to perfect a number of concepts that, until now, I've only seen executed with partial success in other hotel rooms.
The sitting area was inviting and practical, complete with midcentury furnishings that were modern in a deliberate way: I didn't feel like I was sitting in a West Elm catalog. Instead, it seemed as though no other pieces of furniture could have been selected for the space.
I was particularly fond of the modular ottoman and loveseat hybrid overlooking the pool and courtyard, and the dark blue upholstered bedframe that seemed like an extension of the rug, or a wave of the Pacific crashing onto the shore — a textural wooden wall behind the bed.
Easy-to-use digital room controls told you everything you needed to know to transform your room for the time of day. When I wanted to get ready for the day, I hit "bright," and when I wanted to turn in for the evening, the "night light" setting plunged the room into complete darkness, like a coat of Vantablack absorbing any trace of light.
There was no bathtub, but before I even had time to register my disappointment with a bullet on my list of drawbacks, I was won over by the shower, which had a trio of showerheads (an overhead rainfall fixture, a standard showerhead and a handheld showerhead), all controlled by intuitive taps and an on-off button because it's 2022 and there is no reason anyone should ever have to stand naked in a shower wondering how to turn on the hot water ever again.
Other details I loved were the gauzy sliding glass walls that transformed the open bathroom into an entirely separate room and the full-size Byredo Mojave Ghost products.
Food and drink
After just two nights, I was joking that you can't sit down at a dining venue at the Conrad Los Angeles without spending $50. This isn't true, of course; I spent $23 for a light lunch (read: snack) at The Beaudry Room, which included a cocktail glass-size cup of gazpacho and a Diet Coke. It was a lovely little bite that shouldn't have cost more than $10 anywhere else in the Milky Way Galaxy.
Star chef José Andrés designed the culinary program of the two restaurants at the Conrad Los Angeles — Agua Viva and San Laurel — and I was wowed by the execution of even the most mystifyingly simple dishes, such as the Spanish-style fried eggs ($20) which topped thick-cut ox heart tomato slices and were drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. I added a side of avocado with flaky sea salt ($8) and could happily eat that every day for years without complaint.
Other highlights from my stay included the striped bass crudo with white escabeche and garlic blossom ($24) during dinner at San Laurel, an unfussy indoor-outdoor space with mismatched tableware. Sit on the terrace if you want to watch Walt Disney Concert Hall turn into a ripple of gold at sunset (and, don't worry, you'll be offered a blanket at least once on a cool evening).
Despite the price tag, I'd eagerly return to San Laurel to try more of the whimsical Spanish-influenced fare, including the tortilla el Camino for breakfast (egg white, labneh, nasturtium, croutons and caviar topped with a warm yolk sauce for $24) and the chilled ajo blanco soup with king crab ($27).
For lunch, head to Agua Viva, the more casual open-air restaurant that feels like a forest hideaway with its ample foliage and series of wooden pergolas. Order the watermelon report cocktail ($18) with lemongrass-infused vodka, mandarin, lime, cilantro, chipotle, a cumin tincture and — you guessed it — watermelon; and, from the continent-spanning menu, try the ahi poke starter with macadamia nuts, seaweed and radish ($20) served with taro chips.
Amenities and service
In addition to the aforementioned service — which I experienced with every interaction from housekeepers I passed anonymously in the hallway to Luke, a server at the pool deck Airlight who cheerfully checked in with me despite my absolute inability to pay attention to the menu or make a decision — guests at the Conrad Los Angeles can expect a few other standard hotel amenities.
There's a spacious fitness center with TechnoGym equipment and a spa (accessible from the eighth- and ninth-floor elevators, depending on the time of day) with an infrared sauna and a menu of services including a $500, 120-minute body sculpting treatment that, hopefully, supplant your gym membership for at least three months for that price. Afterward, you can stock up on premium products from brands such as Esker and Soleil Toujours.
Out and about
As a stubborn New Yorker who insists on walking absolutely everywhere, I can tell you that one of my favorite things about this neighborhood is its proximity to Little Tokyo. You can walk 15 minutes and be surrounded by ramen, sushi and sake (drop by Daikokuya for tonkotsu ramen; Wolf & Crane bar for Japanese whisky).
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to stay even closer to the Conrad Los Angeles, including a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall or an afternoon at the adjacent contemporary art museum, The Broad, an angular concrete structure that is a striking architectural counterpoint to Gehry's curvaceous masterpiece.
In fact, the Conrad Los Angeles may be the new nexus of art and performance in Los Angeles, since it's also within walking distance to The Music Center up the street, with its numerous theaters and venues, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, known as MOCA.
Related: From downtown to the Westside and beyond: Los Angeles hotels you can book on points
The Conrad Los Angeles has accessible rooms in every category, including suites and studios with mobility-accessible tubs, showers and hearing-accessibility features. There's a pool hoist for the swimming pool and all the rooms have Braille numbers.
Sometimes, accessible features at hotels seem to be hidden out of view, but during my two-night stay, I found myself thinking about how obviously accessible the hotel seemed to be; there are prominent wheelchair-accessible ramps; signage indicating accessible entrances and my room, which wasn't explicitly accessible, still had a grab bar in the shower.
If I could put my house on Zillow, move across the country and live in a studio at the new Conrad Los Angeles, I would currently be boxing up my belongings and shipping them to the Golden State. And though I wouldn't complain about living like a grown-up Eloise with 24-hour room service, it's mostly because of all the little things this hotel got so very right.
Sure, it may have been propelled to prominence by the constellation of stars surrounding it (architect Frank Gehry, designer Tara Bernerd, chef José Andrés) and its very photogenic rooftop and concert hall views.
But what wowed me were the details, down to the illuminating book collections scattered around the hotel (such as "Gone With the Gin: Cocktails With a Hollywood Twist" and "Tara Bernerd: Place"); the outlets built into a swooping corduroy-and-leather sofa; and cerebral sharing plates at San Laurel featuring Spanish aphorisms that are, admittedly, best enjoyed with a dinner guest who speaks at least a little bit of Spanish.