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If you were to drive around one of LA’s richer neighbourhoods on a weekend, you’ll see makeshift sandwich boards on street corners advertising such sales, but the most devoted of estates salers check in advance for times and locations on websites such as estatesales.net. These same people – generally interior designers and antiques dealers – will then arrive at dawn and fight for the best items, which can range from 1920s fixtures to jewellery, paintings, rare books, furniture and even cars. At one notorious estate sale held after the dotcom bubble burst a decade or so ago, mobile phone billionaire Craig McCaw sold his private island, a 985-metre-long yacht, a hangar’s worth of executive jets and a rare wine collection.

Don’t expect to be told whose home you’re poking around, however. ‘Part of the fun is guessing,’ says Lucie, a self-confessed estate-sale junkie, as she buys a wrought-iron birdcage at a sale in the hills above Los Feliz. ‘The clues come from which eras of the city are most obviously represented and if the person has picked up a lot of items from another part of the world.’

Of course, it’s often the homes – many of them in aggressively gated communities with godlike views over the city or ocean – that are the real draw, not the dusty old curiosities on sale. Visiting a sale in Bel Air, I find the property set within several acres of grounds with a private railway, complete with two stations, connecting the main residence to the gardens below. The trains aren’t working, so I queue up with my fellow scavengers to be taken to the house on an electric golf cart.

Nobody seems to care if people actually buy anything; it seems that this rare glimpse into how some of the richest people on Earth spend their money is more than enough for most.

  • See estatesales.net and pacificestatesales.com. Cash is the best method of payment, but events organised by professional liquidators may take cards. Although high, prices are usually far lower than at antiques shops or on eBay.

Spot whales, dolphins and possibly cheer on the empty, sandy beaches of Malibu
When LA locals want a day at the beach, they tend to avoid Santa Monica, with its crowded, touristy pier and snoozing bums. Instead, they head further west up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, more commonly known as The ’Bu.

Specifically, they go to Zuma Beach – an unbroken, two-mile-long stretch of white sand, clean water and churning surf. Neil Young named an album after this place, Gwen Stefani named a son after it, and David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson ran along it in slow motion for the opening credits of Baywatch (it also features in the original Planet of the Apes movie as the place where Charlton Heston finds the half-buried Statue of Liberty).

Zuma is also of interest for other reasons: it was an ancient hunting ground for Clovis man – the prehistoric Paleo-Indians who populated America about 13,000 years ago – and it remains a site of intense academic interest (the ‘real’ Indiana Jones, a Los Angeles archaeologist named Gary Stickel, infamously attempted to halt the construction of a clifftop mansion in 2005 so he could do more digging). It’s also home to many dolphins – they will swim alongside you if you get out far enough. During winter it attracts migrating whales.

I go to Zuma on an off-season Sunday and more or less have the place to myself. From the beach, I hike up a well-marked trail lined with sea figs, sage, coreopsis (a type of yellow-flowered herb) and prickly pear cacti to the top of Point Dume – a triangular bluff that juts out into the Pacific. The view from the top is so good, it feels like I’m floating above the ocean. I don’t spot any whales, but I do see dolphins and sea lions.

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