A sprawling slice of SoCal city life
Los Angeles has long been looked down on by its East Coast counterparts, but now that the rest of world has caught up with California’s green juice and wellness obsession, the city is having something of a moment. No longer deemed a cultural wasteland, LA is bursting with new art galleries and museums, a flourishing fashion scene and some of the most talked about restaurants in America.
The sprawling urban metropolis is made up of several different cities within a city, the most famous ones being Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. Each of them has their own distinctive personality, from the upmarket bars and boutiques on Rodeo Drive to the beach scene of Venice and Santa Monica. The lack of public transport can be an issue – though the Metro system is currently undergoing major expansion – but it’s easier than you might think to navigate between the different neighbourhoods (as long as you avoid that infamous rush hour traffic). Add in almost 300 days of sunshine a year and you’re onto a winner.
Hot right now . . .
Luciana Bellini, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the best places to stay, eat and shop this season.
LA’s most talked about new opening is the West Hollywood Edition (9040 Sunset Boulevard; 00 1 310 953 9899), Ian Schrager’s first West Coast hotel. It's situated on bustling Sunset Boulevard, and it's where you’ll find the city’s movers and shakers knocking back cocktails by the rooftop pool or lining up for the hotel’s underground nightclub, Sunset, where the ceiling is lined with disco balls.
The perennially packed Brentwood favourite, Pizzana, has opened a new outpost in West Hollywood (460 North Robertson Boulevard; 00 1 310 657 4662) and it’s proving just as popular. Locals flock here for the perfectly cooked wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, made with Daniele Uditi’s signature slow dough. Keep an eye out for their limited edition sandwich specials too, which are only available for two days at a time.
If you’re looking for LA’s coolest boutiques, you’ll find them at Row DTLA (777 Alameda Street; 00 1 213 988 8890), LA’s answer to New York’s meatpacking district. Spread across 32 acres and housed in row upon row of former warehouses, the car-free outdoor complex is home to cult Boston-based streetwear brand Bodega, hidden away in a speakeasy-style boutique in a vegetable warehouse, and niche perfumier Scent Bar.
48 hours in . . . Los Angeles
Head to Griffith Park before the day heats up for a hike (this is what Angelenos call walks) up one of the park’s designated trails. For a fairly gentle walk with spectacular views follow the trail up to the Griffith Observatory (2800 E Observatory Road; 00 1 213 473 0800), which takes in the Hollywood sign and panoramic views across the city on the way. Make sure you explore the beautiful Art Deco observatory at the top, which you’ll recognise from scenes in Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land. There are daily shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium and tickets are available on site.
Take a stroll around the popular Los Angeles County Museum of Art, otherwise known as LACMA, the largest art museum in the western United States (5905 Wilshire Boulevard; 00 1 323 857 6000). It's famous for its innovative exhibitions and Instagram-worthy outdoor sculptures, such as Urban Light, Chris Burden's cluster of restored street lamps from the Twenties and Thirties, which has become an LA landmark. The museum’s permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Magritte and Lichtenstein.
Stop for lunch at one of the nearby food trucks on Wilshire Boulevard – my top pick is the California bowl with herbed chicken, whole grains and baby greens from the Heritage LA truck (see the full revolving weekly schedule here) – before exploring the shops in West Hollywood. Melrose Place, between Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard, has the swankiest stores (including Isabel Marant, Marni and Balmain), as well as upmarket coffee chain Alfred’s (8428 Melrose Place; 00 1 323 944 0811). This is also where cult Venetian trainer brand Golden Goose has its only LA store, selling artfully distressed sneakers and a capsule collection of clothing. It's also home to cult millenial beauty brand Glossier (8407 Melrose Place) – expect queues snaking around the block on weekends.
Head into Beverly Hills for dinner, where you’ll have your pick of posh dining spots. For top-notch sushi, book a table at Matsuhisa (129 North La Cienega Boulevard; 00 1 310 659 9639) – founded by Nobu Matsuhisa, this is the restaurant that launched the Nobu empire, though you would never guess from looking at it from the outside; the humble restaurant hasn’t changed in 30 years. Pull up a chair at the sushi bar and order all his greatest hits, from the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno to the black cod with miso.
Round off the evening with a nightcap in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Boulevard; 00 1 310 887 2777). There have been countless back-of-the-napkin deals made under the candy-striped ceiling – Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable were all regulars – but my favourite spot is the bougainvillea-filled patio, where you can order a Howard Hughes gin cocktail (he lived in one of the bungalows).
Start the morning with a bacon, egg and cheese roll at Eggslut in Downtown's foodie hotspot Grand Central Market (317 South Broadway) before embarking on a tour of the hip Arts District, home to some of the most inventive street art in the city. Make sure you look up – most of the murals rise high above the pavements, like the enormous Ed Ruscha portrait painted on the side of the American Hotel or the RETNA piece on the Row DTLA building.
A haven for artists since the Seventies, when they began to be priced out of Hollywood and Venice, the area was cemented as a bona fide art destination when the popular Broad Museum (221 South Grand Avenue; 00 1 213 232 6200) – pronounced 'brode' – opened in 2015. Tickets for the gallery can book out weeks in advance, but if you haven’t managed to nab any you can join the on-site standby line, which runs every day. The line even has its own a Twitter account (@TheBroadStandby)
The following year they were joined by a huge Hauser & Wirth gallery (901 East 3rd Street; 00 1 213 943 1620), which is also worth a look, boasting four exhibition spaces, two book shops and a spacious courtyard.
Drive over to Venice and browse the boho shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which is regularly touted as the coolest block in America. Pop into shabby-chic furniture store Tumbleweed & Dandelion, housed in a cute Venice Beach bungalow complete with a white picket fence, to browse their custom furnishings and knick-knacks.
Stop for lunch at New York transplant The Butcher's Daughter (1205 Abbot Kinney Boulevard; 00 1 310 981 3004). This branch of the popular vegetarian café and juice bar is pure LA, with its hanging plants and bright, light-filled dining room. They serve all the usual suspects like avocado on toast and acai bowls, as well as basil BLTs made with adzuki bacon.
Continue with a walk along the charming Venice Canals, the few canals that remain from madcap developer Abbot Kinney’s plan to bring Venice to America in 1905. Admire the quirky houses (keep an eye out for the one with the flamingo pedalo out front and the goldfish painted on the side), before ending up on Venice Beach, where you can browse the hawkers selling tat on the boardwalk, spot the famous bodybuilders at Muscle Beach and watch the kids do tricks in the oceanfront skate park.
Walk along the beachside promenade to Santa Monica Pier and have a go on the Ferris wheel before watching the sun set over the water with a cocktail at the Shangri-La's swanky rooftop bar, Onyx (1301 Ocean Avenue; 00 1 310 394 2791). For dinner, book a table at Michael’s (1147 3rd Street; 00 1 310 451 0843) which opened in the late Seventies and was one of the pioneers in upscale Californian cuisine. Ask for a table in the pretty garden and work your way through their locally sourced, seasonally inspired menu.
Afterwards, check out The Bungalow (101 Wilshire Boulevard; 00 1 310 899 8530), the quirky Santa Monica nightspot that feels more like someone’s incredibly stylish home than a bar, with shelves of nick-nacks, squashy sofas and a games room complete with a pool table and vintage surfboards.
Where to stay . . .
Seclusion, impeccable service and Mediterranean elegance are the epitome of golden-era Hollywood luxury at Hotel Bel-Air in the most elite oasis of the Hills. The 1922 rose-coloured Hispanic-style complex with suites, winding pathways, a swan lake, Wolfgang Puck restaurant and grand spa is set in 12 acres of gardens.
Doubles from $595 (£465). 701 Stone Canyon Road; 00 1 310 472 1211
The laidback Surfrider is the ultimate Malibu launch pad, a former motel that is now decidedly boutique and found in the heart of one of California’s most famous enclaves. The rooftop bar and restaurant are among its top highlights.
Doubles from $325 (£246). 23033 Pacific Coast Highway; 00 1 310 526 6158
The hotel-hostel hybrid Freehand Downtown Los Angeles is one of the coolest players on DTLA’s ever-growing accommodation scene. Stay here for the funky décor, a social vibe and the tropical rooftop bar and pool. It’s close to hip bars and restaurants, including the historic Grand Central Market.
Doubles from $179 (£135). 416 West 8th Street; 00 1 213 612 0021
What to bring home . . .
Pick up a crystal from Spellbound Sky (4210 Santa Monica Boulevard; 00 1 323 284 8115) in Silver Lake, one of the city’s most celebrated 'metaphysical destinations'. Alongside selling crystals, minerals, ritual candles and essential oil potions, they also hold guided meditations and workshops in local spaces.
Invest in a dress or a pair of jeans from cult LA label Reformation (8000 and 8253 Melrose Ave; 00 1 855 756 0560), who are on a mission to make fashion more sustainable – their tagline is: 'Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We're #2'.
When to go . . .
Los Angeles is a great year-round destination. The summer temperature is typically in the 80s and winter highs are in the 60s and low 70s. January and February are the rainiest months, so bring protection and winter temperatures can plunge dramatically in the evening, but who cares when you get to spend most of the day in a T-shirt? Year round temperatures are typically a few degrees cooler at the beach and from May to June it can take most of the morning for the grey ‘marine layer’ to burn off.
Know before you go . . .
British Consulate-General in Los Angeles: 001 310 481 0031
Los Angeles Visitors Information Center: (001 213 6898822; discoverlosangeles.com, 685 South Figueroa St, Downtown)
Emergency services: dial 911
Local road traffic accident/emergency evacuation information: dial 511 and at go511.com
Directory inquiries: dial 411
Currency: US dollar
Telephone code: LA has 5 different area codes 305, 213, 323, 424 and 818. Calling LA from the UK dial 001 then one of the three digit area codes and then the seven-digit number. From within Los Angeles dial one and then the three-digit area code followed by the seven-digit number
Time difference: -8 hours
Flight time: London to Los Angeles is approximately 11.5 hours, the return leg 10.5 hours
Local laws and etiquette
Always have your passport and driver’s license with you when driving in the US, in case you get stopped by police.
You can turn right at a red traffic light (provided you come to a complete stop first, there is no oncoming traffic and no contradictory sign saying “no turn on red”).
In most American cities, you have to park with your car pointing in the direction of the traffic on the correct side of the road, otherwise you will be fined.
Also, avoid parking within 15ft of a fire hydrant.
Luciana moved to the City of Angels in search of eternal sunshine and that laidback Californian lifestyle. You can find her hiking in the Hollywood Hills and hunting down the city’s best gluten-free burger buns.