WHAT TO DO
Los Angeles is a vast melting pot of different ethnicities and cultural experiences. It's a city that feels more like ten different cities and has the traffic to match. LA is known for beaches, freeways and the glamour of Hollywood, but there is so much more that makes this unique place so great. From the newly revitalized downtown to the exploding food scene and from the excellent art institutions to the sunny skies - they all combine to make a legendary place even more so. With so much to see and do in this metropolitan sprawl, having a solid game plan before you hit the freeways is always a good idea. I will recommend some of my favorite neighborhoods and places of interest. Put on your sunglasses, make the Uber car service your best friend (nobody walks in LA) and enjoy the City of Angels.
A pleasant introduction to Los Angeles (especially if you're arriving by plane at LAX airport) is the South Bay. Here, laid back, seaside charm meets big city style in the neighborhoods of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. Miles of waves, sand and an oceanfront bike/pedestrian path (The Strand) offer copious coastal diversions, including surfing, swimming and beach volleyball. Check out the Manhattan Beach Pier or enjoy a drink on Hermosa's lively Pier Avenue. Up the coast from the "Beach Cities" is the bohemian enclave of Venice. Life in Venice moves to a different rhythm and nowhere more so than on the famous Venice Boardwalk, officially known as Ocean Front Walk. It's a wacky carnival full of hoola hoopers, roller skaters, magicians, musicians and artists - along with Muscle Beach and the Jim Morrison Mural (1811 Speedway), it's a must see. Just a few blocks away from the madness is the idyllic Venice Canals. Best accessed from Venice Boulevard, the Venice Canal Walk threads past eclectic homes, over bridges and waterways where ducks quack and locals row their boats. Not far away is Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a mile long stretch between Venice Boulevard and Main Street that is full of upscale boutiques, galleries, lofts and several great restaurants that I will discuss later.
Rent a bicycle in Venice and cruise the pathway north to Santa Monica. Stop in at the Cape Cod like hotel Shutters on the Beach for a drink while you look out on the ocean. Be sure to hit the colorful Hot Dog on a Stick, located at 1633 Ocean Front Walk. This classic stand on the beach has been serving corn dogs and fresh lemonade since 1946. Once the very end of the legendary Route 66, the Santa Monica Pier dates back to 1908 and is still very popular with tourists. There are arcades, carnival games, a vintage carousel, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster and an aquarium. Palisades Park is a 26 acre park located along Ocean Avenue on top of the coastal bluffs and offers scenic views of the Pacific Ocean. Inland, enjoy upscale shopping and dining on swanky Montana Avenue and laid back Main Street. More eateries and trendy chains populate downtown Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, whose three block pedestrian zone terminates at the open air Santa Monica Place shopping center. Make your way east down pretty San Vicente Boulevard to the Brentwood Country Mart at 225 26th Street. This charming place is a local shopping and food center and is home to several boutique shops including James Perse clothing, Diesel bookstore and Edelweiss chocolates. The courtyard food court has Barney's burgers, Frida taqueria, Sweet Rose ice cream and the fantastic Farmshop - an artisanal restaurant and bakery. The one drive that every visitor to LA must make is up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from Santa Monica to Malibu. The iconic beach town of Malibu is the quintessential, blissful representation of SoCal living. This stretch of the PCH is one of the most delightful drives around and the half hour or so you're in the car may be the only time during your visit when traffic is your friend. Head up to Point Dume beach before driving down to the Malibu Pier - the quiet, comparatively non touristy alternative to the Santa Monica Pier. Be sure to stop off and visit the beautiful Adamson House, located at 23200 Pacific Coast Highway. This historic house and gardens dates back to 1929 and has been called the "Taj Mahal of Tile" due to its extensive use of decorative ceramic tiles. Note: tours are offered Thursday-Saturday from 11am to 3pm. On your way out of Malibu stop in at Duke's (21150 PCH) for some tasty Hawaiian umbrella drinks and killer views.
Staying on the west side of town, I highly recommend a visit to the J Paul Getty Museum's 2 venues - the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. Perched atop a hill in Brentwood (1200 Getty Center Drive) and accessible via a driverless tram, the Getty Center is a modernist, Richard Meier designed complex featuring expansive views, travertine (Italian white stone) clad buildings and a labyrinth like, seasonally changing Central Garden. The five pavilions hold collections of manuscripts, drawings, photographs, decorative arts and a strong assortment of pre 20th century European paintings. Highlights include Van Gogh's Irises, Monet's Wheatstacks, Rembrandt's The Abduction of Europa and Ensor's Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889. Don't miss the lovely Cactus Garden on the remote South Promontory for amazing city views. The coastal Getty Villa is located at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades and is modeled after a Roman villa. It's a stunning 64 acre showcase for exquisite Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities amassed by oil tycoon J Paul Getty. Note: admission requires a timed ticket which you can reserve online.
Next, explore 3rd Street between Fairfax Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard. It has enough restaurants and shops to keep you busy for a few hours. There's a poke shop, a juicery and several day spas - very LA indeed. Some of my go to spots include Katsuya Izakaya, Kreation, Magnolia Bakery and the local favorite, Joan's on Third. From there, head over to Fairax Avenue and wander through The Grove and Farmers Market. The Grove, an open air shopping and entertainment destination is a pleasant place to while away an afternoon. The picturesque center features a cinema, quaint cobblestone streets, a dancing fountain and an extensive selection of dining spots and boutiques. Go to the French bakery Laduree for some yummy macarons, then visit the adjacent Original Farmers Market. This LA institution dates back to 1934 and is packed with more than 100 stalls, boutiques and food counters. Journey down Melrose Avenue and check out some shops before making your way over to Museum Row and LA's premier art museum. Located at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard along the famed Miracle Mile is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It is the largest art museum in the western United States and houses a collection that includes more than 130000 works dating from antiquity to present day. My favorite building on the 20 acre campus is the Ahmanson - it displays masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse, Warhol, Pollock and more. Outside, do not miss the photo friendly installations, Urban Light by Chris Burden and Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer, which is a 340 ton granite megalith perched atop a passable slot. LACMA is closed on Wednesday.
From there, hire an Uber car and drive through Beverly Hills along Sunset Boulevard. Feel free to stop for lunch on the patio at the Polo Lounge (get the McCarthy salad) inside the legendary Beverly Hills Hotel. After a bite with the beautiful people continue east on Sunset and experience West Hollywood and Hollywood. Cruise the notorious Sunset Strip in West Hollywood (WeHo) and pass by some famous rock clubs such as The Viper Room and Whisky a Go Go, where The Doors and Guns N' Roses performed in their early days. Drop in to the rad, rocker hangout Rainbow Bar & Grill (9015 Sunset Boulevard) for a drink or two. Another worthwhile stop is my favorite book store in LA - Book Soup. Located at 8818 Sunset Boulevard, this independent shop is a cultural fixture of the Strip and is known for its tall, teetering stacks and mazes of shelves crammed with every title and genre you can think of. My favorite record shop in LA (and the country) is a mile or two down Sunset in Hollywood. Amoeba Music is at 6400 Sunset Boulevard and is the world's largest independent record store. Since 2001, Amoeba has stood as a beacon for resilience in an industry disrupted by digital downloads and streaming music services. This bustling shop has a huge selection of vinyl, video and CDs, plus live performances by bands. Just across the street is Arclight Cinemas, the best movie house in town. It has assigned seating, a bar and cafe, along with the awesome Cinerama Dome. Finish up your tour of the Hollywood area with a drive along Santa Monica Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard. You will pass by several landmarks including the Hollywood Walk of Fame (my star should arrive any day now), Chinese Theatre, Dolby Theatre (site of the Academy Awards), Hollywood & Highland complex and, of course, the iconic Hollywood Sign perched up in the Hollywood Hills.
East of Hollywood are the 2 trendy neighborhoods of Silver Lake and Los Feliz. They draw the creative set to their indie boutiques, dive bars, music clubs and fantastic restaurants. Sunset Junction, where you'll find a smattering of boutiques, is Silver Lake's epicenter of cool. A similarly eclectic vibe reverberates along Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues in neighboring Los Feliz, where Little Dom's (2128 Hillhurst Avenue) and McConnell's Fine Ice Creams (4634 Hollywood Boulevard) serve casual eats. To the north, Griffith Park offers miles of hiking trails (more on hiking shortly), the LA Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the excellent outdoor Greek Theatre and the must visit Griffith Observatory. Located at 2800 East Observatory Road, this landmark 1935 monument to public astronomy offers you the opportunity to see real stars (the ones in the sky). It's also one of the city's best places to take in expansive views of the LA Basin and Hollywood Sign. At this dome topped observatory, you can tour the grounds, explore exhibits, behold the universe at the state of the art Samuel Oschin Planetarium and search the sky through telescopes. Griffith Observatory is closed on Monday. Los Angeles is blessed with something like 300 sunny days a year and an equally impressive number of worthwhile hiking trails. Combine nice weather and a nice trail and you’ll get a pretty nice day. Some of my favorites (in no particular order) are Topanga Canyon, Franklin Canyon, Runyon Canyon, Temescal Canyon, Los Leones Canyon and Mandeville Canyon Fire Road.
Conclude your Los Angeles odyssey by spending an afternoon or even a full day in Downtown LA (DTLA) and the Arts District. There is a solid momentum and reinvention happening here and judging from all the cranes, razed buildings and scaffolding - it is still going strong. Begin at The Last Bookstore, located at 453 South Spring Street. It is California's largest new and used book shop, spanning two levels of an old bank building. Eye up the cabinets of rare books before heading upstairs - home to a horror and true crime vault, a book tunnel and a few art galleries to boot. The store also houses a solid vinyl collection. From there, head to Grand Central Market at 317 South Broadway. In continuous operation since 1917, this historic collection of stalls offers everything from produce and spice vendors to taco joints and cheap lunch counters. Enjoy a latte from G&B Coffee while you wait in line at Eggslut - get the Gaucho (seared wagyu tri tip steak, cage free over medium egg, dressed arugula in a warm brioche bun). Across the street from the market at 304 South Broadway is the Bradbury Building, the city's oldest landmarked building. It is an architectural delight with its birdcage elevators, ornate iron and woodwork and five story, light filled central court. Note: the first floor is open to the public. Next, take a ride on the recently reopened Angels Flight. This historic funicular railway originally opened in 1901 and transports you (cost $1) 298 feet up and down the slope between Hill and Olive Streets. After the lift, make your way to DTLA's newest sensation at 221 South Grand Avenue, The Broad (rhymes with road). From the instant it opened in 2015, this magnificent building became a must visit for contemporary art fans, including yours truly. It houses the world class collection of local philanthropist Eli Broad, some 2000 pieces by heavy hitters including Roy Lichtenstein, Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and the totally awesome installation by Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room - The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. The Broad is closed on Monday. Adjacent to The Broad at 111 South Grand Avenue is the stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall. Opened in 2003 and designed by Frank Gehry, this iconic concert venue - renowned for its acoustics, is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and also hosts contemporary bands such as Kraftwerk and Sigur Ros. This psychedelic silver building is a gravity defying sculpture of heaving and billowing stainless steel panels and is an architectural landmark in LA. From there, take a short Uber ride to the Arts District to watch its lightning speed revitalization happen in real time. Start at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, located at 901 East 3rd Street in a historic 100000 square foot flour mill complex. This gallery feels like a museum and features innovative, indoor outdoor exhibitions. The onsite restaurant, Manuela offers tasty food and drinks - the gallery is closed on Monday and Tuesday. End your journey at The Springs (608 Mateo Street), it's an urban oasis - a casual raw and vegan eatery, a juice bar, a yoga studio and a wellness center. Try the Craniosacral Technique massage and follow it up with the Malibu Morning juice, you'll be so LA in no time.
WHERE TO EAT
Los Angeles has a vibrant restaurant scene and it's also one of the greatest places for food in America because of its endless variety of cuisines. Be sure to have an appetite along with some patience (LA traffic) as you traverse the various neighborhoods on your culinary journey. Down in the South Bay town of Manhattan Beach are 2 of my favorite spots, chef David LeFevre's Fishing With Dynamite and Manhattan Beach Post (MB Post). Located at 1148 Manhattan Avenue, Fishing With Dynamite is a seafood lovers paradise. The oysters and raw bar are superb, the drinks are great and the atmosphere is relaxed. MB Post is just a few doors away at 1142 Manhattan Avenue. It is a soulful space made of old wood that offers a menu of farm to table shared plates and hand crafted cocktails. Try the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits with maple butter and the house cured charcuterie with assorted pickles and wash it all down with the Southern Hospitality Bourbon Punch. MB Post is open daily for dinner and does a killer brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Santa Monica has some solid go to places that cover all the bases. Start the morning at Huckleberry. Located at 1014 Wilshire Boulevard, it has some of the city's best pastries and does a nice country breakfast. If you're in the mood for a traditional Italian deli, head to Bay Cities at 1517 Lincoln Boulevard. Take a number at this usually busy institution and without a doubt order the famous Godmother sandwich (prosciutto, ham, capi cola, mortadella, genoa salami and provolone cheese - best with the works, mild or hot peppers). For a fancier Italian experience and special occasion, make a reservation at Capo. It can be found at 1810 Ocean Avenue and has the best truffle ravioli anywhere. A tasting menu is available and the wine list is impressive. My favorite sushi spot in LA is Sugarfish. It has numerous locations around town and the Santa Monica destination (1345 2nd Street) is only a few short blocks from the ocean. It is open for lunch and dinner with walk ins only. Note: order The Nozawa Trust Me.
Venice has an upscale oddity vibe with hip concepts and eclectic locals. Stop in to Intelligentsia at 1331 Abbot Kinney Boulevard or Blue Bottle (1103 AKB) for some really good coffee. If you crave tasty donuts (maple bacon) with your coffee, head over to Blue Star at 1142 Abbot Kinney Boulevard. One of the most talked about restaurants in the city is Gjelina. Located at 1429 Abbot Kinney, this hot spot for seasonal New American cuisine dishes out favorites such as the crispy pork belly in a rustic setting. The thin crust, wood fired pizza is sensational and better yet, food is served until midnight. Reservations are a must or you can try to snag a seat at the communal table. Not too far away at 320 Sunset Avenue is Gjusta - the sister establishment of Gjelina. Pronounced Joo stah, this casual gourmet bakery and cafe is housed behind a nondescript storefront on a hidden side street. Open pretty much all day, every day - it does a fantastic breakfast with delicious pastries and fresh baked breads. For lunch, try the smoked brisket sandwich and chicken dumpling soup. Order at the counter then go enjoy it all at a picnic table in the back yard.
Making your way east, West Hollywood has some of the best food joints in LA. For excellent Thai street food, go to Night + Market at 9041 West Sunset Boulevard. Start with the pork satay skewers then move onto the chicken pad thai and don't forget to order sticky rice. To put out the fire, the home made coconut ice cream is a must. If you like Indian, try Flavor Of India (9045 Santa Monica Boulevard). This casual and friendly spot does a solid chicken tikka masala and lamb vindaloo. Throw in some basmati rice and garlic naan and you're good to go. If you fancy Italian, head to the iconic Dan Tana's at 9071 Santa Monica Boulevard. This old school joint has a fun atmosphere with cramped booths and the red and white checkered table cloths. Get the chicken parmesan, it's epic. For seafood, it has got to be Connie & Ted's. Located at 8171 Santa Monica Boulevard, it offers New England seafood classics and raw bar options in a sleek setting with an open kitchen. Try the lobster roll and sample some of the several oyster varieties with a crisp white wine. Another solid sushi option is Sushi Park, found on the second floor of a strip mall at 8539 Sunset Boulevard. This unassuming spot does a very good omakase (chef's choice). For something more elegant, try the patio at Eveleigh (8752 Sunset Boulevard). This rustic space does farm to table small plates inspired by American and European country cooking. For some quality comfort food, head to The Pikey - a UK style gastropub at 7617 Sunset Boulevard. If you like ice cream as much as yours truly, then Salt & Straw at 8949 Santa Monica Boulevard is your place. The flavors are seasonal and a few of my favorites include the Stumptown coffee with compartes love nuts and California honey rocky road.
The nearby Fairfax District is home to quite a few of the city's top restaurants. I particularly enjoy Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook's 2 creations, Animal and Son Of A Gun. They are kind of ying and yang if you will. Located at 435 North Fairfax Avenue, Animal is a minimalist New American restaurant celebrated for its offal (entrails) specialties and other carnivorous plates. Sample the sweetbreads with creamed spinach, crispy pig's head and the foie gras with maple sausage gravy. Son Of A Gun is at 8370 West 3rd Street and it is a nautical themed restaurant known for its shrimp toast, lobster roll and fried chicken sandwich. The linguine and clams is also very tasty. There are 2 places in the area that draw crowds for their Italian fare. Angelini Osteria can be found at 7313 Beverly Boulevard and Osteria Mozza is at 6602 Melrose Avenue. Both are bustling trattorias that present upscale Italian cuisine and everything on the menus is top notch. A cool spot that serves food until 2am is Jones Hollywood, located at 7205 Santa Monica Boulevard. This hip hangout does Italian and American plates along with great house cocktails in a retro supper club type setting. The spaghetti and meatballs are popular as is the thin crust pizza. Some of the house made drinks include The Hendrix, Thin White Duke and LA Woman. One spot that never closes is Canter's (419 North Fairfax Avenue). This landmark deli offers a huge variety of hearty sandwiches and baked goods around the clock. You can't go wrong with a bowl of matzo ball soup and pastrami on rye. Note: have a beer at the adjacent Kibitz Room.
Some final destinations include areas east of Hollywood. For the best in Korean barbecue, go to Park's BBQ at 955 South Vermont Avenue in Koreatown. This grill it yourself spot has a fun and lively atmosphere. For killer tacos, try Sonoratown at 208 East 8th Street in Downtown (DTLA). This Fashion District spot serves true chargrilled (over mesquite wood) carne asada and flour tortillas. The most sought after reservation in town has to be Bestia. Located in the Arts District of Downtown at 2121 East 7th Place, this trendy Italian restaurant highlights creative seasonal fare. Some of my favorites on the menu are the roasted bone marrow, ricotta dumplings with housemade pork sausage and the grilled branzino. Be sure to save room for the frozen strawberry torte. Located in Silver Lake are 2 fantastic spots. L&E Oyster Bar is at 1637 Silver Lake Boulevard and specializes in seafood. The raw and grilled oysters are great, as is the smoked mussels. Pine & Crane can be found at 1521 Griffith Park Boulevard and it offers a seasonal menu of Chinese and Taiwanese small plates, noodle and rice dishes. Get the beef roll, panfried pork buns and three cup jidori chicken. To conclude your culinary tour, no visit to Los Angeles would be complete without a visit to an In-N-Out Burger. There are several locations around LA, all offering the famous double double animal style.
Los Angeles has some cool spots to enjoy a drink or two. It also is home to several of the best music venues in the country. I would like to share some of my personal favorites. LA is not a traditional bar hopping town. Usually you do dinner and a few drinks - maybe you have a nightcap somewhere before calling it a night. An Uber ride will get you anywhere in town you need to go. For a solid selection of craft beers on tap, head to The Surly Goat at 7929 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. It has a chill vibe and always plays good music. If you're looking for an Irish pub (shame on you if you're not) go to Tom Bergin's at 840 South Fairfax Avenue. Opened in 1936, it is one of the oldest watering holes in town. Famous for its Irish coffee, delicious pints and signed paper shamrocks on the ceiling, it should not be missed. For a step back in time try The Roger Room at 370 North La Cienega Boulevard. This eclectic bar with vintage freak show pictures on the walls serves trendy, upscale cocktails. Try the Old Sport (botanist gin, black tea infused soho lychee liqueur, cucumber juice, lime juice). The Spare Room is located inside The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel at 7000 Hollywood Boulevard. This elegant cocktail lounge and game parlor features polished wood bowling lanes along with classic games. Musso & Frank is the best classic cocktail bar in town. Located at 6667 Hollywood Boulevard, it takes you back to Tinseltown's golden age. While there are other drinks on the menu, the only one you should have is the dry martini with two or more olives - the same enjoyed by F Scott Fitzgerald, Keith Richards and Michael Lichtstein.
LA is a great music town and it's home to many impressive venues. The following 4 are where I always enjoy seeing a show. My favorite is The Troubadour, located at 9081 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. It's an intimate club (capacity 500) and has hosted artists like Guns N' Roses and Radiohead at the beginning of their respective careers. The inside is standing room on the floor with a seated balcony above. The Roxy is at 9009 Sunset Boulevard (the strip) and has hosted such acts as Jane's Addiction and Prince. This standing room only club (capacity 500) provides clear views of the stage from any spot in the room. The Fonda is located at 6126 Hollywood Boulevard and has both a standing general admission floor and a seated balcony. The room is not too big (capacity 1200) and the sound is one of the best in town. There are a few bars to wet your whistle and past performers have included Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Finally, The Hollywood Bowl is a landmark in Los Angeles. This historic venue (capacity 18000) is an outdoor amphitheater in Hollywood. It is known for its band shell and superb sound and has hosted The Beatles and The Doors. The LA Philharmonic plays The Bowl during summer months.
WHERE TO STAY
Los Angeles is a big town spread out from the Pacific Ocean to the San Gabriel Mountains. With so many places to choose from in several different locations, it can sometimes be overwhelming. In my opinion it comes down to personal preference and what you plan to see and do. Some might prefer Downtown or Hollywood, close to all the action and some might want to be near the beach. The 2 hotels that continue to impress me are Sunset Marquis and Palihouse Santa Monica.
The Sunset Marquis is located at 1200 Alta Loma Road in West Hollywood. It is tucked away on a residential street just south of the bustling Sunset Strip. Only a short drive from Beverly Hills and Hollywood, this storied hangout for rock n rollers has a relaxed vibe. The minimalist suites feature amenities like plush beds, flat screen TVs and some provide balconies with garden views. The on site eatery Cavatina has pretty patio seating and offers California comfort cuisine. There is a cozy cocktail bar, a day spa and 2 outdoor heated pools.
Palihouse Santa Monica sits just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean at 1001 3rd Street. This boutique beach lodge is located in a quiet residential neighborhood and offers 38 generously appointed rooms. Each is individually decorated with quirky touches and feature free WiFi, flat screen TVs, rainfall showers and Egyptian cotton bedding. The gracious lobby has terracotta floors, beamed ceilings, leather sofas and a coffee bar. The staff is super friendly and the service could not be better.
Los Angeles is a magical place full of wonder, creativity and sunshine. It has so much to offer and will surely put you in a euphoric dreamlike state of mind that is indeed La La Land.