Los Angeles is as bustling as any other international metropolis, with a legendary reputation for traffic — then there is the glitz, glamour, and everything associated with Hollywood. It is a city bursting at the seams with art galleries, shopping plazas, great bars and an unbelievably large variety of restaurants and cuisines. The commercial and […]
Los Angeles is as bustling as any other international metropolis, with a legendary reputation for traffic — then there is the glitz, glamour, and everything associated with Hollywood. It is a city bursting at the seams with art galleries, shopping plazas, great bars and an unbelievably large variety of restaurants and cuisines. The commercial and financial hub of Southern California — LA’s heart is in the Downtown (DTLA) with Beverly Hills on one end and the suburbs of Pasadena and Brea on the other. The beach towns of Long Beach and Venice are showily different from the upbeat vibe of Santa Monica, the closest coastal city. While the city is spatially spread (and traffic has no bounds), if you have a couple of days in the city of angels, here are my top picks on things to do.
If you are in the mood for some expensive fine dining, I would suggest chefs José Andrés and Chef Aitor Zabala’s Spanish-inspired Somni, which — with two Michelin stars — is one of LA’s most famous eating places. It is just a 10-seater nestled inside The Bazaar (SLS Hotel Beverly Hills), so a table is not very easy to get. The tasting menu is crafted, plated and presented almost ‘table-side’, making eating here a memorable experience.
Chef-driven restaurants are a major draw in LA. Another of my picks is Chef Mei Lin’s flagship concept restaurant — Nightshade — in the vibrant Arts District. She presents fine Asian cooking in a nouvelle format. Then there is two-star Michelin Chef Josiah Citrin’s poolside oasis of green in the center of Koreatown called Openaire, which offers the best of California’s ingredients from land and sea, presented in a shareable format.
Beyond the myriad of Italian delis, steak houses, sandwich shops and American diners, if you want to go cheap, I would recommend checking out the ethnic food scene, especially Mexican. There is a huge variety on offer from non-chain mom-and-pop style eateries to old school classics and modern concept style restaurants. If you are fussy and want to play safe, check out Chipotle, a popular nationwide Mexican chain. Asian cuisine comes next with Thai food being a favourite (watch out for the fun heat scale of 1-10 the server asks with each order, I always pick 5). Then there are sushi and hand-roll micro restaurants along with pho and korean barbecue outlets. Be advised that the portions here, especially in diners, are enormous and so is the calorie count, so order accordingly.
For your late night cravings, LA’s food trucks are a perfect choice. My favourites for post-party cravings include Taco Zone in Echo Park, and Leo’s Tacos Truck on Glendale Ave. The latter has a benched seating zone where you can sit and munch on your meal while watching the Al Pastor (pork) being sliced up from a rotating spit along with a pineapple crown.
Speakeasies are a global phenomenon. In LA, they come with a touch of sophistication. Happy hours start early (4:30PM) targeted at people who get off the 9-5 grind. From West Hollywood to Silver Lake and Beverly Hills, there are many popular haunts frequented by Angelinos. I would recommend The Association, a low-key, old-school-style lounge, offering classic cocktails in a nostalgic space complete with leather couches and a moody vibe, located in the historic Bank District in DTLA. If whisky is your jam, Bar Jackalop, tucked deep inside the legendary Seven Grand building, is a hidden gem. I had a bit of a task finding it. But once you are inside its black door, it reveals LA’s finest and largest collection of whiskies. A personal curator will take you through the spirits and help you choose your favourites with a no-rush policy.
LA’s summers stretch into a good part of the year with copious amounts of sun hours. So all-day pool parties with margaritas by the pitcher and tapas-style meals are a must-do. Many popular hotels offer this experience. The Standard Hotel in DTLA is my pick with its poolside waterbed pods and ping-pong tables. If you are into latenight club-hopping, then this is your city. Rhythm Room, a basement bar at the former Hayward Hotel, is my favourite among the many. I like it for the live blues and jazz. The Cuban-inspired La Descarga in East Hollywood is another place that is worth a visit. It is a high energy speakeasy rum bar where you can jive to live Latin music, when not partaking in special rum-tasting sessions or smoking at the cigar lounge.
If you still have some time on hand, indulge yourself in a boozy mid-morning spirit distillery tour. The Lost Spirits Distillery is a whimsical, fantasy-driven, spirit-tasting ride, which includes a boat and two retrofitted buses bang in the middle of the city.
One way to unearth the most ethnic enclaves is to venture off the beaten path, ideally by foot. Sign up for walking food tours by Urban Adventures that takes you to LA’s ethnic locales like Koreatown, Little Armenia, Thai Town, Filipino Town for great tasting experiences at traditional snack shops and local markets. The four hours of walking is enough time to burn all the calories you will be consuming.
The natural beauty and breathtaking views of LA is best explored on daytime hikes in the hills in and around the city. Professional guides from companies like Bikes and Hikes LA will help you climb the summit of Mount Hollywood. They will take you to the famous Hollywood sign, tell you stories about the historic Griffith Park and other sights. If walking/hiking is not your thing, then companies like Handlebar Bike Tours offer guided bike tours of the city. Try the one that takes you around the arts district because LA is filled with galleries, museums, murals and graffitis in places like Bloom Wall, Colette Miller’s Angel Wings, Technicolor Ooze and Freedumb. If lucky, you will catch some of the city’s best mural artists at work.
The Getty Centre on the hills above West Los Angeles with its famous J Paul Getty Museum and several other galleries is a must-visit for any visitor to the city. Then there are other two landmark museums that should be on your itinerary, The Broad, with its massive collection of post-war contemporary art and the famous Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (LACMA), one of the biggest art museums on the US west coast.