Welcome to the bright lights and big-city allure of California’s largest metropolis. Here, A-list celebrities really do walk the sidewalks, triple-shot machiattos in one hand, cell phones in the other. While travelers may bypass much of the city by staying on a network of freeways that crisscross the region, they’re missing L.A.’s hidden gems. Turn off onto side streets to discover inviting neighborhoods, incredible museums, and shopping hot spots. And when the sun sets, L.A. comes to life in a whole new way, with clubs thumping to the beat of the latest indie band, a flock of starlets swaying in the front row. Rooftop restaurants, bars, and pools draw slinky-sexy crowds, while searchlights arc through the night sky, announcing the latest silver-screen premier.
From gourmet chefs experimenting with tacos to funky ice cream sandwiches, you might be surprised what you can find on the streets of L.A. Food trucks are a fun way to sample the cutting edge of cuisine in any city, and the Los Angeles food truck selection brings to the table (er, truck counter) a blend of ethnic cuisine and cheeky takes on old-school staples. Granted, these culinary delights on wheels can be a challenge to track down, so we’ve included Twitter handles where appropriate, as well as Web sites—so you can find their exact location on any given day.
What happens when a former fine-dining chef experiments with street tacos? A serious upgrade to the food-truck world. Although Wes Avila trained under world-class chefs—such as Walter Manzke of L’Auberge Carmel and Alain Ducasse at Le Centre de la Formation in Paris—his roots have always been back in his home neighborhood of East Los Angeles. Avila set out on a mission in 2012 to bring gourmet food to the masses, starting with pop-up shops in obscure locations—garages, stairwells—before buying his own food truck. The mobile restaurant medium allowed him to test creative flavor combinations without the pressure of a white-tablecloth setting, and to be able to build a changing weekly menu based on what’s available locally. Using unexpected taco bases like oxtail, lamb kidney, sweet potato, or octopus, Avila is constantly upping his own game to deliver the fresh and new to L.A. diners. Find the Guerrilla Tacos truck here.
The Grilled Cheese Truck
Take a childhood favorite, put an adult spin on it, and the masses will flock—at least that was the thought process for the creators of this popular L.A. truck, which offers variations on the nostalgic bread-and-cheese combo (locate trucks here). The Plain and Simple sandwich has six cheese options, or you can turn it up a notch: The Cheesy Mac & Rib is filled with sharp cheddar, house-smoked barbecue pork, Southern macaroni and cheese, and caramelized onions. The Pepperbelly Melt combines fire-roasted tomato salsa with habanero jack cheese and a familiar crunch from Fritos.
Street food is often associated with indulgence—but not the organic, sustainable eats from the Green Truck, which goes so far as to use leftover vegetable oil to power its wheels. Menu items like the “Kale Yeah Bowl”—this is health-conscious Southern California, after all—come loaded with superfoods like quinoa, carrots, and raw beets, and of course there are Paleo and gluten-free options for the choosing. Truck stops are located here.
The connection between a hot dog stand and acclaimed chef Alice Waters may seem like a stretch, but the creator behind Let’s Be Frank (@letsbefrank on Twitter) has close ties to the famous Chez Panisse as the restaurant’s former “meat forager.” Sue Moore and her business partner Larry Bain support local farmers committed to humane animal practices with their grass-fed beef truck. The menu keeps things simple—choose from one of six dog options and top it with onions and/or the signature Spicy Devil Sauce.
Many taco trucks have come onto the Los Angeles scene since chef Raul Ortega opened his truck in 2002, but none has matched it yet. Ortega mastered the formula for his famous Taco Dorado (a crispy shrimp taco): shrimp, vegetables, and spices inside a corn tortilla, then fried and topped with fresh avocado and a salsa made with chili, tomato, and cabbage. Seafood lovers should also try the Poseidon, a tostada piled high with fish and shrimp ceviche, octopus, and aguachile. Its Twitter handle is @mariscosjalisco.
The two founders of Coolhaus bonded over a love of architecture and a passion for food when they decided to turn an old postal van into a roving ice cream sandwich shop in 2008. Natasha Case and Freya Estreller create funky combinations inspired by surprising places and turn them into menu items, such as Whiskey Lucky Charms, the seasonal “Netflix” Ice Cream infused with white-cheddar popcorn and Doritos, and the strawberry shortcake homage known as Buttermilk, Biscuits & Strawberry. The truck (found on Twitter at @coolhausla) became so popular that it now has 10 nationwide trucks, packaged sandwiches in Whole Foods, and a cookbook devoted to its custom funky sandwiches.
This iconic food truck is often credited as being one of the first to tap the power of social media, which has earned it celebrity status since opening in 2008. Chef Roy Choi’s unexpected mix of Korean and Mexican flavors—as in kimchi quesadillas, or the short rib taco, with caramelized Korean barbecue and cilantro-lime relish in a chili-soy vinaigrette—remains a fan favorite. The truck's weekly schedule can be found here.
In a restaurant setting, chowing down on a massive handheld sushi roll seems weird—but from a food truck? The delicious (and convenient) idea of a sushi burrito makes perfect sense. Jogasaki (@jogasakiburrito on Twitter) takes tortillas or sesame-studded soy paper and stuffs them full of sweet sticky rice with go-to sushi favorites like spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, eel, and cucumber. If the signature menu item isn’t fusion enough for you, they’ve even been known to offer spicy tuna nachos served on top of a pile of Doritos.
What began as one couple’s small collection of postwar and contemporary art is now a treasure trove of more than 2,000 pieces, housed in an architectural stunner in downtown Los Angeles.
Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with “road”) have been involved in the Los Angeles art community since they arrived here in 1963. Eli—the founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) from 1979 to 1984—is the only person to have built two Fortune 500 companies in different industries (homebuilding and insurance). In August 2010, the Broads announced plans to finance their own contemporary art museum, located on Grand Avenue, across the street from MoCA and one block away from the Frank Gehry–designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. They wanted access to be free, “so that affordability isn’t a criteria to see the art,” said Eli Broad. “Edye and I have been deeply moved by contemporary art and believe it inspires creativity and provokes lively conversations.”
The museum exterior is provocative in itself. Architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro—known for designing Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and renovating New York City’s Lincoln Center—created the gallery space, dubbed “the vault,” with a honeycomb-like “veil” exterior that lets natural light flow inside. While some museums are dimly lit or bathed in artificial light, the high-ceilinged Broad lets sunlight come in from all sides, creating a clean, crisp ambience.
The “veil” of The Broad lets sunlight come in from all sides, creating a clean, crisp ambience.
When it opened in September 2015, the Broad was an immediate hit—so while admission is free, you still need a ticket for your specific day and time, which can be ordered in advance online. Once inside, make your way to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, a mirror-lined chamber with a seemingly endless LED light display. You provide your name and phone number and you’ll get two text messages alerting you when you should return. Once inside—you can go in alone or as a pair for 45 seconds—look in every direction to see how many copies of yourself you can see. It feels like you're in the middle of a Vegas show, or a parade of lights.
While you wait for your turn in the Infinity Mirrored Room, take the escalator upstairs to the third floor, so that you can navigate the museum in chronological order. Begin with the major artists who came to prominence in the 1950s, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly. Then move into the 1960s and the Pop art of Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol, followed by the 1980s and ’90s with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons. When you return downstairs, complete your visit with the museum’s rotating exhibits, and make time for the interesting short film about the Broads in the first-floor video gallery.
For some refueling afterward, sit down for contemporary cuisine at restaurant Otium, across the outdoor plaza from the museum, or explore the food stalls of the Grand Central Market, which is about a 10-minute walk away.
Insider Tip: If the timed tickets “sell” out on the day you want to go, you can still wait in the standby line. That typically takes at least 30 minutes during the week, and an hour or more on weekends. The museum is closed on Mondays.
For a must-see look at the creative and business sides of making music, plan a visit to this outstanding, often-overlooked museum, part of downtown’s L.A. Live complex. Ultra-hands-on exhibits make this a great place for families, especially if you’ve got older kids who are into music. The museum lets them make their air-guitar fantasies come true on real instruments, or they can mix their own tunes in sound booths, just like a music producer or sound engineer. Historic recordings and videos let you relive your youth, too (Woodstock, anyone?), learn the roots of dozens of musical genres, or just tune in to some classic Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday. Another enlightening exhibit lets you listen to the same recording produced using different mediums through the years, including gramophones, vinyl records, eight-track tapes (remember those?), and MP3 players, the norm for today’s music. Also enjoy the huge collection of memorabilia and clothing ranging from Elvis’s personal fan notes to Michael Jackson’s bedazzled gloves and the jacket from his Thriller video.
Nwaka Onwusa, associate curator of the GRAMMY Museum, says that she’s most proud of “the diversity of content that is displayed in the museum…a reflection of revolutionary music and musicians.” Another hidden gem in the museum is the 200-seat, state-of-the-art Clive Davis Theater, which hosts live concerts by top artists, and talks with famous producers and others in the music business. It’s a great way to get insights and see major performers like Taylor Swift, The Cult, and Annie Lennox in an intimate performance space. (Check calendar well in advance as big names sell out fast.)
Hip and historic, downtown Los Angeles (or simply DTLA) offers big-city excitement with restaurants, cultural attractions, and major league sports. An influx of new residents has helped energize the area, and downtown’s re-emergence has also been spurred by such attractions as Grand Park, an urban oasis with views stretching from the Music Center (including Walt Disney Concert Hall) to City Hall.
Start your exploration with a full stomach. The reinvented Grand Central Market, originally opened in 1917, now has artisanal food purveyors selling of-the-moment items (Belcampo grass-fed beef burgers, build-your-own ice cream sandwiches at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams) next to long-time vendors, like Wexler’s Deli. Vintage buildings have also been transformed, including the ornate 1927 United Artists building on Broadway, where the Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles offers stylish digs and a restaurant. Crowds flock to the sports and entertainment combo of Staples Center and LA LIVE, where you can also see music artifacts (Elvis’s sheet music, Michael’s glove) at the Grammy Museum and catch concerts at the Nokia Theatre. And Grand Avenue is the city’s cultural hub, thanks to Los Angeles Philharmonic performances at spectacular Walt Disney Concert Hall and the sandstone-clad Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
Although it’s known as the birthplace of Los Angeles, Olvera Street actually dates to 1930, when it was established to celebrate the city’s Mexican heritage. With its narrow passages and 19th-century buildings housing traditional restaurants and folk art shops, Olvera Street certainly evokes the romance of an authentic mercado. Technically, it’s part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, which includes many of the city’s oldest buildings and an 1815 plaza. Mariachis strum their big guitars, and the aroma of fresh tortillas and hot churros fills the air. On holidays, like Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead” in Spanish, which is much more festive than it sounds) in the fall or Las Posadas’ nine nights of candlelight processions at Christmastime, Olvera Street truly shines. Docents offer tours of the monument, and you can also see a partially restored mural by leading Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros at Olvera Street’s América Tropical Interpretive Center.
In Beverly Hills, ritzy Rodeo Drive is a must (even if it's just for window-shopping), with to-die-for boutiques like Prada, YSL, and Versace. In-the-know shoppers also head to nearby Beverly and Canon Drives, with beautiful shops and some of the best celebrity spotting in California. Head for The Grove nearby, a luxurious outdoor shopping entertainment center, where you can eat, shop, then catch a movie or stroll to the adjacent Original Farmers Market—a great spot for food-oriented shopping.
In the LGBT enclave of West Hollywood, discover trendy boutiques like Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, and Stella McCartney, as well as nightclubs and notice-me street-side cafes, all popular with celebrities. Also visit L.A.’s Silver Lake neighbourhood, with appealing shops like Yolk or Hemingway and Pickett). If you’re an adventurous shopper, head for the L.A. Fashion District and Santee Alley, with more than 150 shops and street vendors selling almost everything imaginable—a great place to scour for bargain clothes. L.A.’s Citadel Outlet Mall has deals on big names like Calvin Klein and Michael Kors.
As the megawatt star when it comes to celebrities, L.A. naturally attracts chefs who want to make a big splash too. Household names like Wolfgang Puck—whose legendary Spago in Beverly Hills still attracts A-listers—offer amazing, innovative dishes, often in equally spectacular settings—even rooftops. Market-driven menus, focusing on California’s über-fresh ingredients, are the norm at places like chef Ben Ford’s airy downtown eatery, Ford’s Filling Station, and ultra-fancy Patina, the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s star restaurant, where chef Joachim Splichal creates gastronomic showstoppers, like his signature Seasonal Glazed Vegetable Mosaic.
For all the dress-up options and celebrity chefs dotting the city, the international city of Los Angeles also offers awesome places to get authentic, reasonably priced ethnic food, especially in tucked away neighborhoods. Try incredible do-it-yourself barbecue at Kang Hodong Baekjeong in Koreatown. Dig into perfect ramen at Tsujita in Little Tokyo. Or order the green corn tamales, a local favorite, at El Cholo, an L.A. tradition since 1923.
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The sun sliding below the western horizon, a blanket of city lights spreading at your feet, the Hollywood Sign glowing from hits hillside perch—there’s nothing quite like sitting at a rooftop restaurant, club, or lounge in the middle of Los Angeles. One of the best things about L.A. is the weather, and all those warm sunny days have an extra bonus: warm evenings and nights. So relaxing outside, perhaps at cushy banquets around a swimming pool glowing with cool blue light, well, it doesn’t get much sexier than that.
To sample all that sultry fabulousness, consider riding the elevator to the top of the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. Once there, you can relax at Herringbone, a restaurant from chef Brian Malarkey, with all his signature couches and space that make it look like you’ve wandered into the hippest living room on the planet—one that serves great food and drinks, too. Or, if you’re in the mood for short skirts, stiletto sandals, and DJ-thumping music, head for the pool scene at Skybar.
Another ace option is The Roof on Wilshire, atop the Hotel Wilshire in the heart of downtown. Relax on wraparound banquettes to watch the skyline light up, and sip on one of the bar’s signature Mule-style drinks until the stars come out. Also downtown is Upstairs at Ace Hotel, with wraparound city views, including the profile of the towering San Gabriel Mountains. Tropical drinks are the thing here; if you get a little peckish you can order food from the Ace’s restaurant, L.A. Chapter, then bring it up to your rooftop seat.
If you want a wacky and unforgettable night, try to nab one of the spaceship-like waterbed pods alongside the pool at The Rooftop at The Standard Downtown. Expect to wait—this is a seriously hot spot—but there’s plenty of people-watching to keep things entertaining.
Perched in the hills above West Los Angeles, The Getty Center looks like a modernist city on a hill, a collection of dramatic buildings housing galleries filled with modern masterpieces. To reach this complex designed by renowned architect Richard Meier, ride a tram from the parking lot up to the snow-white Getty campus, with buildings clad in travertine mined from a quarry outside Rome. Inside the galleries, see European masterpieces, decorative art, and photography. And it’s all free—a gift from philanthropist J. Paul Getty. (There is, however, a fee for parking.) For all of its art, the Getty is equally stunning outside. Broad courtyards with fountains, leafy bowers and the grand Central Garden created by Robert Irwin is a living work of art, with outstanding views stretching from Mount Baldy to Santa Catalina Island. Watch the sunset from elegant The Restaurant at The Getty for a memorable splurge. A variety of free self-guided and guided tours enrich your visits, and spirited family programs—like jousting workshops—can turn your kids onto art too.
With its soaring stainless-steel panels, the exterior of Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall has been likened to everything from a clipper ship to a blooming flower to origami. Some people say the experience of hearing a performance in its main hall wrapped by undulating walls and billowing ceilings made of Douglas fir, is like being inside a cello or violin. That means performances by the resident Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as a calendar-ful of other outstanding musicians are sensory feasts for not just the ears but the eyes too, with features including the striking central organ, nicknamed the “French fries.” Outside, take a self-guided or guided tour, including a stop at the third-level garden for city views and the rose-shaped Lillian Disney Fountain, made from crushed Delft porcelain and a meant as a tribute to the woman who made the concert hall possible.
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The largest municipal park in Los Angeles, Griffith Park protects 4,210 acres/1,704 hectares of mountains and canyons at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s a remarkable stretch of rough, hilly wilderness in the heart of such an enormous urban area. Choose from more than 50 miles/80 kilometres of trails lacing the chaparral-studded slopes, including one to the top of 1,625-foot/495-metre Mount Hollywood, the park’s highest point. Unpaved roads also provide access for mountain bikers and trail rides; guided rides out of Sunset Ranch include great views of the Hollywood sign.
Griffith Park has a more refined side, too. Learn about American western art at the Autry Museum of the American West. Leading musicians love to play at the open-air Greek Theatre. Kids can get close-up looks at koalas and Komodo dragons at Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens. And high on a slope overlooking Los Angeles, the landmark Art Deco-era Griffith Observatory presents mind-expanding planetarium shows throughout the year, plus films and special events in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater, and hosted telescope parties (check the calendar for details). A nice perk: Admission to the Observatory is free.