Welcome to the bright lights and big-city allure of California’s largest city. Here, A-list celebrities really do walk the pavements, triple-shot machiatos in one hand, mobile phones in the other. While travellers may bypass much of the city by staying on a network of motorways that crisscross the region, they’re missing L.A.’s hidden gems. Turn off onto side streets to discover inviting neighbourhoods, 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 premiere.
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 energise 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 artefacts (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 back 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 fill the air. On holidays, like Dia de los Muertos (‘Day of the Dead’ in Spanish—much more festive than it sounds) in the autumn 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 centre, where you can eat, shop, then catch a film 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 cafés, 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 Shopping Centre 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. Well-known 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 super 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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End your trip with at this sunny, waterfront city. Downtown, shop at Horton Plaza, or catch a baseball game at Petco Park. See the giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Next, explore one of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, Little Italy, North Park, South Park, East Village, pedestrian friendly...
The sun sliding below the western horizon, a blanket of city lights spreading at your feet, the Hollywood Sign glowing from its 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 LA is the weather, and all those warm sunny days have an extra bonus: warm evenings and nights. So relaxing outside, perhaps at cushy banquettes 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 taking the lift 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 making it look like you’ve wandered into the hippest living room on the planet—and 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, on top of the Hotel Wilshire in the heart of town. Relax on wrap-around 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 in town you will find the Upstairs at Ace Hotel, with panoramic 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 grab 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 flower in bloom 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-full 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 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 of trails lacing the chaparral-studded slopes, including one to the top of 1,625-foot Mount Hollywood, the park’s highest point. Unpaved roads also provide access for mountain bikers and trail rides; guided rides from Sunset Ranch include great views of the Hollywood sign.
Griffith Park has a more refined side, too. Learn about the American West at the Autry National Center. 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 theatre and hosted telescope parties (check the calendar for details).
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 refuelling 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.