An insider’s guide to the hotspots of Los Angeles

I'm situated just metres off Hollywood Boulevard. The iconic Hollywood sign - you know the one, iridescently white with a skewiff 'D' - leers down at me as I lounge in one of the most luxe pools I've ever dipped a toe in.

It's the end of May and a balmy 23 degrees, with a northern hemisphere summer lurking just around the corner. Yet an outdoor fire still crackles off to one side, because ... well, what's to hate about naked flames cosied up to the warming embrace of a private jacuzzi?

I marvel at my new-found opulence. I'm living the LA dream, like a local, in the lap of luxury.

However I'm not in one of Los Angeles' famed five-star hotels. This isn't Chateau Marmont, The Roosevelt, or even the Beverly Wilshire. I'm in a rental apartment that anyone can discover online. This is the Airbnb way to stay, and from my salubrious jacuzzi it feels a bit like a revolution in luxury travel. 

The sharing economy

The advent of the internet may have changed a lot of things (both good and bad), but there's no denying it has made travel a lot easier. Gone are the days of having to ring across the world to book hotels in advance. Now it's as easy as an online search and the click of a button. 

Travelling today takes it one step further. Hotels and rental properties bookings are a swipe of the thumb away. And that's where the 'sharing economy' comes into its own. 

As with Uber's impact on the taxi industry, Airbnb is affecting the hotel industry. Essentially they're offering a service where travellers pay to rent out either a room or an entire apartment from a local. Simple. The app allows straightforward communication between host and guest as well as quick and easy payment (your credit card is already hooked up to the app). And off you go. 

Living it large

And so, here I am, in the middle of LA. My Airbnb rental is a lush two-bedroom flat in an apartment complex that boasts the aforementioned swimming pool, a gym, three different rooftops with incredible views across the city (and up to that leery and lovable sign) as well as off-street parking. City of Angels, I'm in heaven!

The fact that 'my' apartment includes Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, US cable TV (hello HBO!) and a coffee machine - plus there's a six-pack of beers in the fridge, left over by the guest before me - makes me question if I'll ever go back to staying in hotels. With properties like this on offer - at similar and usually cheaper rates - it's easy to envisage the whole axis of luxury travel shifting.


Local knowledge

My host is a friendly young medical student named Michael who is doing Airbnb "to meet awesome people and learn from my guests". 

"I think the best thing about hosting is having the opportunity to share my home - and hometown - with my guests," Michael tells me with a wide Los Angeles grin. "Due to LA's appeal, people visit my unit from all over the world and I am always interested in knowing how I can make their travel experience better. I often find myself sharing my favourite go-to spots and hearing their feedback on how my recommendations helped improve their travels is definitely one of the best parts of hosting." 

As well as greeting me personally when I arrive, he's happy to sit and chat with me to help ingratiate me into this thriving metropolis.

"LA is an enormous city with near infinite things to do, so try your best to plan a few things ahead of time," he says.

His top tips? Bring sunscreen, and try to avoid coming with a car or renting one; instead use on-demand services such as Uber and Lyft.

The secret's out

He's not wrong about Uber - the service is ridiculously cheap in this city and saves the hassle and frustration of navigating LA's notorious traffic. Michael is helping me live like a local in his very own city. He's a veritable cache of knowledge and imparts some invaluable LA secrets.

"Foodwise, you've got to check out El Matador Taco Truck on Western Blvd, Wurstkuche in Downtown Los Angeles, and Tatsu Ramen in West Hollywood. Oh, and the Bourgeois Pig - I absolutely adore this place, their tomato soup is literally amazing."

My stomach is rumbling already.

For sightseeing, Runyon Canyon, LA's legendary hiking trail, is his top pick. And for shopping, he recommends I stop by The Grove, the area's giant outdoor mall with everything, apparently – including but not limited to a farmer's market, shopping centres, movie theatre, book store, and coffee.

Art and about

His cultural picks are the The Getty Villa and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "And of course, don't miss the Hollywood sign," he says.

Hollywood sign aside, they're all priceless tips that I would never have known about if I hadn't had access to this level of local knowledge. Sure, I could have Googled it all - but that can never compare to information coming from those that live and breathe the city they live in.

I head off to explore 'local' LA and discover secret spots I'd have never have found had I been staying in a hotel. 

Hang solo

I'm travelling solo, but gone are the days of having to become hermit-esque - locked away and lonely in a hotel room - because Airbnb also offers travellers the opportunity to live with locals in their very own homes. While the 'private room' experience is not my choice, it is still a significant step that will allow single travellers to not be dismayed or daunted when journeying by themselves.

This 'private room' style of Airbnb stay is actually how the company was started - when founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia rented out the living room in their San Francisco flat to help pay their rent. 

Where to from here?

Luxury travel - for now - will continue to be the domain of high-end hotels and five-star resorts but the effect that Airbnb is having on the industry could be the start of something significant. 

And while there are much more expensive luxury Airbnb's out there - like Villa Machiavelli in Italy, the 10-bedroom Tuscan mansion designed by Michelangelo that costs $10,750 a night ,or the Beverly Hills listing just down the road from me which boasts a 6000-square-foot six-bedroom bolthole with glass walls, a heated saltwater pool, three fireplaces and 12 decks and goes for $1900 per night - these are usually out of most people's price range.

"I think properties such as mine are certainly a must-try for anyone who is travelling," Michael says with sincerity. "Oftentimes renting a luxury unit on Airbnb will be significantly cheaper than a hotel with the same amenities. Travellers benefit from such listings. Guests get to spend their vacation in private luxury, which helps with the immersion of all that the new city has to bring." 

Is my sweet pad in Hollywood the world's best Airbnb? Probably not. But it is hands-down the best I've experienced and it has helped me live like a local in a foreign city halfway across the world. It'll certainly take some beating, no matter how many luxury hotels I stay in.

Tim Martin stayed in Los Angeles as a guest of Airbnb.

This article The hottest tip for a cool LA stay was originally published in Executive Style.