Los Angeles’s long association with celebrity culture often has it portrayed as a place of sun-bleached swimming pools populated by stars and starlets. But there’s much more to this city than stage-managed settings and fleeting fads.
The settlement of Los Angeles stretches back to 1781, when the town of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles was founded as a Spanish colonial outpost. Soon a thriving frontier town and trading centre, it became part of the U.S. in 1848. The entertainment industry took root in the early 1900s, attracting what may be the largest concentration of creative professionals in history.
Beyond movie studios and theme parks, L.A. brims with attractions to entertain its almost 50 million yearly visitors. Los Angeles County is home to more than 300 museums and theatres; one of the country’s largest urban green spaces, Griffith Park; and 120 kilometres of glorious Pacific coastline.Pacifi
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Tip the world over on its side, and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” Certainly loose change has accumulated into huge wealth here. But there are other riches: the diversity of cultures and the unflagging energy that continues to power this modern metropolis.
Woods and bright cottons decorate the 167 guest rooms and 59 bunk-bed studios at downtown’s Freehand Hotel, the most recent incarnation for the 1924 Commercial Exchange Building. Part of a collection of “communal” hotels, the Freehand also has that most L.A. of hotel amenities: a rooftop pool with a cocktail bar, the award-winning Broken Shaker (freehandhotels.com). The Beverly Hills Hotel first welcomed guests 105 years ago, but L.A.’s “Pink Palace” is as much a celebrity as ever. You won’t spot Marilyn Monroe or John Wayne lounging by the pool, but you still can stargaze as you stroll the pink-and-green hallways. That is, when you’re not downing the Polo Lounge’s famous McCarthy salad, sipping a mai tai at Bar Nineteen12, or luxuriating at the spa (www.dorchestercollection.com). Opened in 2014, The Line LA quickly became Koreatown’s new anchor. Its 12-storey tower is a modernist masterpiece dating to 1964, and the room design references mid-century aesthetics. Most nights the lobby is packed with locals ordering handcrafted cocktails at the bar before savouring celebrity chef Roy Choi’s Mexican-Korean dishes in the rooftop Commissary (www.thelinehotel.com).
Many celebrities are themselves visitors to L.A., and hotels are their natural habitat.
Ace hotel Downtown
Downtown’s Ace Hotel has a gorgeously restored 1,600-seat 1927 theatre (United Artists’ flagship movie house) that hosts headlining acts such as Coldplay, cheered on by VIP fans like Matt Damon and Jennifer Lawrence (www.acehotel.com).
The courtyard at this celebrity haunt on Sunset Boulevard often is a setting for industry bashes. When the party ends, look for the likes of chanteuse Lana Del Rey and Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington lingering on the shady terrace (www.chateaumarmont.com).
Four Seasons at Beverly Hills
This landmark hotel has long been a go-to venue for movie promotions and awards lunches. Most of theseevents are closed to the public, but snag an outdoor table at the wine bar for a glimpse of A-listers (www.thelinehotel.com).
L.A. is home to more than 100 neighbourhoods, but start with these four headliners.
Tick off the name-brand boutiques on Rodeo Drive, then browse local labels along low-key Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Pick up a distressed hoodie and a velvet bikini at Aviator Nation or vintage denim at Current/Elliott. The selection of international women’s wear and jewellery at Coutula is sourced by owner Carrie Hauman during her travels, while Open the Kimono hawks imaginative Japan-inspired loungewear. Refuel with a coffee and bialys or four-grain porridge at Gjelina Take Away.
A day in Malibu is a vacation without leaving L.A. Start with a hike to the waterfall in Solstice Canyon, then head west to the cliff-backed beach at Point Dume for secluded, sun-soaked relaxation. Sip local wines in Malibu Family Wines’ outdoor tasting room before tucking into a hearty dinner of oak-grilled steak and fish at funky, saloon-like The Old Place, where Steve McQueen would hang out after rides through the hills on one of his Triumph motorcycles. It doesn’t get much cooler.
With everything from surreptitious hideaways to cacophonous karaoke bars, Koreatown is perfect for a bar crawl. Start at the Normandie Club to sip classic cocktails (try the daiquiri) in a setting that evokes old Hollywood glamour. Then take a clandestine turn at speakeasies like Lock & Key or the more divey R Bar, which offers karaoke or live comedy most nights. Keep those vocal cords warm for live karaoke at Jam. After you take your bow, play vintage arcade games at ’80s-era Break Room 86.
Downtown L.A. has undergone a dramatic transformation, making it one of the nation’s most arts-driven destinations. Among the exciting newer cultural landmarks: the gleaming, Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the L.A. Philharmonic; the four theatre venues of the Music Center, including the Mark Taper Forum; and museums such as The Broad, which opened in 2015 to house the contemporary art collection of philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad.
From vegan tacos to sustainably sourced seafood, L.A.’s food scene gets four stars.
In a city as health focused as L.A., vegan eateries abound. Café Gratitude prepares raw specialties, including macrobiotic bowls and superfood smoothies. Gracias Madre serves meatless Mexican dishes, such as sweet potato flautas with cashew nacho cheese, on its patio. Chef Matthew Kenney whips up palate pleasers like smoked tofu Florentine with cashew hollandaise at Plant Food + Wine, while Crossroads elevates vegan cuisine with an elegant ambience and dishes such as artichoke “oysters” with kelp “caviar.”
Angelenos capitalise on the climate to dine outdoors all year. Patrons of Manuela, part of the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in downtown’s Arts District, savour seasonal fare surrounded by sculptures. Salazar, in up-and-coming Frogtown, was repurposed from an auto-body shop into a Mediterranean garden, where diners devour tacos with house-made tortillas. The patio at Santa Monica’s Cassia is Westside’s go-to spot for Southeast Asian flavours. Creative cocktails and views of the Hollywood Hills are draws at E.P. & L.P.’s rooftop bar.
Like its classic red-and-blue stand on Sunset Boulevard, Twins Sliders serves a nostalgic mix of burgers, fries, and milkshakes, including one with bits of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Butterfinger, and a Twinkie. Poke-Poke, in Venice, focuses on the healthy bowl trend, and the egg-topped breakfast pizza at Dinette is worth the trip to Echo Park.
In L.A. good causes and good food go hand in hand. Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson opened Locol, a health-conscious fast-food joint in Watts, a neighbourhood that needed wholesome options and jobs. Providence’s Michael Cimarusti created the Dock to Dish program in 2015 to promote seafood sustainability and reduce fraud by connecting fishers with chefs. At his Melrose restaurant, Wolf, Chef Marcel Vigneron champions sustainability with a “zero waste” scheme that uses all edible parts of the ingredients he cooks with.