Sitting in LA's Chateau Marmont Hotel, it seemed pretty clear there was a life-sized Barbie heading my way.

Tall, willowy and dressed in a sequined white gown, her perfect blonde hair fell around her shoulders and a golden-tanned waist peeked out from two cut-out panels on either side of her dress.

"That's Paris Hilton, I'm sure of it," I said to my companion as the life-sized Barbie swanned into the bathroom.

Sure enough, it was later confirmed when pictures of the socialite heiress, in that distinctive white dress, were splashed all over the gossip magazines after her appearance at an awards ceremony that very night.


But it's a strange thing, spotting a celebrity in the flesh. The 2D photograph doesn't really reflect reality. People make the same comments after they spot their idol in the flesh: "He was smaller than I expected" or "She was a lot thinner than she looked in photos".

Well, there's no better place to put this theory to the test than in LA.

It's the home of celebrity culture and Hollywood's hot property are everywhere, but there are some tips that can help with the starlet spotting.

1. Act like you're supposed to be there

At the Chateau Marmont, spotting celebrities is like shooting fish in a barrel. Celebrities flock to the renowned haunt just to bask in its general sense of superiority.

The key to entry, I found out, is to walk in as nonchalantly as possible. My companion and I entered with shopping bags and casually sauntered past security, as though we were guests. In fact, we were staying at another hotel in the downtown LA LIVE complex.

As we were leaving (having spotted Courtney Love and Vince Vaughn dining, separately, in the exclusive courtyard) we saw some young wannabes trying to enter. Dolled up and certainly looking the part, the group paused briefly around the security guard and that was all it took.

Once you hesitate: all is lost.

The security guards, like wolves, have an eye for the weakest in the pack. Desperados and wannabes don't make it past.

2. Talk to the locals

In LA, people are very forthcoming and one of the hottest topics is celebrity: everyone has their own Kardashian story.

Waiters in a cafe on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood happily spill the beans and, after some easy conversation, I find out the Madden Brothers have a favourite bar, The Pikey on Sunset Boulevard. However, after an hour nursing a beer in this joint, the boys fail to make an appearance. I guess sometimes a gossip junky has to be content just knowing they were in the same place as their chosen celebrity.

3. Ask people about themselves

That person next to you might be the next Ariana Grande and you wouldn't know. In this social-media dominated culture, people might be famous online which won't always be immediately obvious to the average Joe.

I get talking to two young hostesses at the launch of the Marriott Residence Inn Hotel at L.A. LIVE. It soon transpires, sisters Helena and Maria, are a bit of an internet sensation. The pair have had millions of views on their YouTube page singing covers of anyone from Jay-Z to Iggy Azalea.

4. Take a tour

The celebrity homes tours are fairly renowned. Most people know you can cram on to a bus with a load of tourists and trundle through the streets of Beverly Hills, while peering into garden walls and through gates at the homes of celebrities. It's a tried-and-tested trip for most tourists in LA.

However, the latest kid on the block of bus tours is the TMZ Hollywood Tour. Hosts from the gossip site and TV show, TMZ, give the tours themselves and offer a somewhat more salacious experience than some over-the-fence peering.

If you're familiar with the site you'll realise this is a seedier experience, with the hosts happy to accost celebrities during the tour while they bring you to their hangouts - you're basically a member of the paparazzi for the day.

5. Go out

LA is a town that likes to give its celebrities a reason to put on a gown and accept a gong, so it stages events.

During my stay in the L.A. LIVE area, the annual BET (Black Entertainment Television) awards are being held. Guaranteed, pretty much everyone is a celebrity, or trying to be one.

Musicians mill around the area, a girl band with an unpronounceable name poses for photos, and rumour has it, Lionel Richie is in town.

If you can venture further afield to The Forum in Southern California, the recent MTV Video Music Awards also offer ripe celebrity pickings.

So really, fame fanatics, what are you waiting for?

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies double daily to Los Angeles from Auckland, increasing to three daily services from December-March.

Accommodation: The Marriott Residence Inn in the L.A. LIVE complex offers travellers some independence with a kitchen area attached to a large living area.

Further information: See for more on visiting Los Angeles.

The writer travelled as a guest of Marriott International.