Just under an hour from London by train, the seaside enclaves of Brighton and Hove are a world apart from bustling London. The pace is slower, the scale of things more manageable, the locals friendly and, perhaps most importantly, a more provincial side of life in Great Britain comes into view. It’s the sort of place where you can slow down and truly experience life as real Britons do.
Land at Heathrow via Air New Zealand, whose daily direct flights from L.A. to London are one of air travel’s best kept secrets. With a premium economy class that excels business class options on other airlines, and innovative offerings like the life-altering Economy Sky Couch (perfect for couples), Air New Zealand is without question one of the best options for making the long-haul. airnewzealand.com
Board a train at London’s Victoria Station for the hour-long train ride (from the airport, take the Heathrow Express to Paddington, transferring from there to Victoria). Or you could simply book a car and travel directly from Heathrow to Brighton; you’ll find yourself in the heart of the seaside village in little over an hour and a quarter, depending on traffic.
Once in town, accommodation options are plentiful. For authenticity, check-in at the stylish Blanch House. Just steps away from the beach, it’s a boutique hotel set in a charming Regency townhouse, on a residential street, right near the hub of Brighton’s bohemian life. Rooms commingle modern conveniences with classic furnishings to create elegantly comfortable spaces. (Request the Perrier Jouët room for a real treat.) For a more ultra-modern experience, book yourself at My Hotel Brighton. blanchhouse.co.uk;myhotels.com/brighton
Take a seaside stroll. No matter the temperature, a walk along the sea in Brighton is a brilliant way to get to know the city. On a pleasant day, you might even walk all the way down to Hove. Along the way, stop by Brighton Pier, where kitschy arcade games abound and a spin on the Brighton Wheel ensures the best views around.
There’s no scarcity of fish-and-chips joints in Brighton, though recent years have seen a wave of exceptional eateries take up residence. Case in point, Kooks, a self-described “boho bistro” that might seem as at home on SoHo’s Old Compton Street as it does in its Brighton hipster outpost. The menu is diverse—offering everything from a darn good cheeseburger to rosemary salted pork cubes and Mascarpone mash—and the setting is decidedly urban chic. Also of note is the cocktail menu, which is superlative and a rare find in these parts. Needless to say, Kooks is a favorite of local creative types. kooksrestaurant.com
It’s time to mingle with the locals. Brighton is well-known for its thriving gay scene and plentiful gay bars, including Charles Street and Legends, which peers out over the beach and offers a hotel of its own. Pop by one or a few of these hot spots after dinner, as most are clustered within a few short blocks. charles-street.com; legendsbrighton.com
Get a jump on the day with breakfast at Kemptown’s quirky Cup of Joe cafe. As the name suggests, patrons can grab a fortifying cup of java and enjoy selections from a small but broad range of breakfast/brunch items, ranging from a traditional English breakfast or eggs benedict to French classics like a Croque Monsieur. After breakfast, stick around and wander around the attached Kemp Town Trading Post, where stalls contain all sorts of locally sourced and vintage items, including names like Hermès and Gucci.
Since the late 18th century, shoppers have descended upon Kemptown and, more than three centuries on, the village’s enduring appeal remains. You’ll find no chain or department stores, but instead independent wine stores, quirky antique shops, galleries and vintage clothing boutiques overflowing with booty for the most zealous shoppers. Time permitting, venture over to the Lanes and North Laine, where you’ll encounter more unique shops along with an outpost of famed chocolate shop and café Choccywoccydoodah!
Built as the summer pleasure palace for King George IV, the Royal Pavilion is a spectacular example of the Georgian era’s excesses. Unlike any other royal residence in Great Britain, here weaves the exoticism of Indian and Chinese design and architecture with stylistically defining elements of the Regency era to grandiose effect. On warm, sunny days the lawn of the Royal Pavilion is quite the gathering spot.
When in Britain, do as Britons do. Step back to a more genteel time by booking afternoon tea at Metrodeco. This Art Deco-themed 1930s tea salon serves sweet and savory treats with vintage style, as well as wine, cocktails, artisan gins and local beer. metro-deco.com
Steps away from the sea sits the Hotel du Vin Bistro, a bright, vibrant Parisian-themed boîte serving a menu inspired by French homestyle cooking. Think classic French faves like cassoulet and French onion soup along with a few unforgettable signature British dishes like Sunday roast, and you’ve got the gist of this little gem. hotelduvin.com
Next door to the Hotel du Vin Bistro sits the clubby Pub du Vin, a traditional British pub with an upscale twist. Stop by this inviting pub for a tankard of its legendary ales on tap among its well-heeled locals.hotelduvin.com
The ultra-sleek bar at My Hotel’s Merkaba is well-known for its artisan cocktails, making it the perfect stop for a civilized after-dinner libation. The vibe is also notably upscale for Brighton, as management has instituted a “smart casual” dress code. merkababrighton.com
Close out your visit to Brighton with a final twirl through the gay nightlife hot spots you missed on previous nights. Perhaps hit the Basement Club below Legends, or nip into the venerable Bulldog for a pint. As you might expect, weekends are busiest, but every now and then you’ll encounter a particularly raucous crowd of party people on weekdays, particularly during summer months. legendsbrighton.com;bulldogbrighton.com