Only got a few days in L.A. and don’t know where to go? Follow in our footsteps and you’ll eat, drink and shop like a local.
The thing about Los Angeles, residents will tell you, is that you get so used to being defensive about your hometown that you quickly learn to look past the La-La-Land clichés—the traffic, the Malibu beach bunnies, the Beverly Hills star maps and velvet ropes—to find a spirited city at turns flamboyant, exotic and unpredictably idyllic. And thanks to an ever-changing landscape Los Angeles, and downtown in particular, is finally emerging as a vital, breathing city with a first-rate cultural landscape and America’s most exciting culinary scene.
Grand Central Market This Downtown LA (DTLA for short) market has been around for a century. Instead of cheap tacos and Latin spices, you can now grab an espresso drink from G&B, a delish egg sandwich at Eggslut, and other yummy treats. Don’t miss the gorditas at Ana Maria, a longstanding vendor.
The Broad Across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall is DTLA’s newest cultural institution and architectural gem. The stunning $140 million building houses some 2,000 works by the likes of Cindy Sherman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Cy Twombly. Admission is free but reservations a must.
Bestia This is still one of the hottest tables to score for dinner in DTLA thanks to a factory-chic setting, a beautiful but unpretentious crowd, and a fresh California menu. Start with the house-cured salumi or farro salad, try the pasta with sea urchin or pork sausage, and save room for dessert.
Ace Hotel If you’ve ever stayed at an Ace hotel, you know the drill: basic rooms are small and austere, but it makes up for that with exemplary service, and the setting in a historic DTLA building. Pop in at the gorgeously ornate theatre next door, and head to the rooftop for sunset cocktails by the pool.
Griffith Park Five times the size of Central Park, L.A.’s urban wilderness area encompasses miles of hiking and biking trails, some with views of the Hollywood sign. There’s also a zoo, an old-fashioned merry-go-round, and an art deco observatory, which was immortalized in James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause.
Shopping on Abbot Kinney Boulevard Venice Beach is unlike anything else in L.A. and this street has trendy cafes and farm-to-table eateries but also great shops. Stop at The Stronghold for denim goods produced on vintage looms. Pick up a retro graphic tee at Marine Layer, and Japanese-inspired homeware at Tortoise General Store.
LACMA Located in the heart of L.A., this museum features fascinating exhibitions, and music and film programs that take place both inside and under the California skies. Don’t miss the iconic Urban Light installation of lampposts and Levitated Mass, a 340-ton boulder that rests atop a walkthrough trench.
Gjelina This Venice restaurant opened in 2008 and has been packed ever since, so book ahead. Inside are large communal tables, a bar illuminated by bare lightbulbs, and a boisterous crowd sharing yummy pizzas and roasted vegetable dishes that come out of a wood fired oven. Don’t miss the local beers on tap.
Butcher’s Daughter Opened in early 2016, this LA outpost of popular Nolita cafe takes the laidback wellness concept and menu and gives it a Venice beach spin. Light pours in the 3,200-square-foot space that features lots of hanging plants over a large communal table, a small market stocked with Cali pantry staples, cookbooks, and handmade soaps and pretty linens. The menu showcases seasonal goodies procured at the nearby Santa Monica farmers market.
Hotel Bel Air Set on 12 acres of perfectly manicured gardens, this Spanish mission-style hotel fuses a relaxed resort setting with timeless Hollywood allure and flawless service. Spread across the property are 115 impeccably decorated rooms and suites, many with indoor and outdoor fireplaces and private patios.
The Walker Inn This is the kind of hip L.A. spot you’d never know existed unless an equally hip local took you there. Dark and dimly lit, the speakeasy is located behind a locked door at the back of the Normandie Club. Reserve one of a handful of spots at the bar to sample the themed seasonal cocktail menu.
Go Get Em Tiger This café in artsy Los Feliz neighorhood draws a cool crowd who while away the hours sitting in a sunny courtyard, sipping coffee, and eating salads and sandwiches made with ingredients sourced at farmers’ markets. Try the almond-macadamia milk latte served in a chilled Mason jar.
Drive the Pacific Coast Highway Known as the PCH, this iconic road is one of the most scenic in the U.S. Even if you can’t do it all, it’s well worth renting a car (make it a convertible) and doing a short stretch of it. Start in Venice and drive north to Malibu for sunset drinks at Duke’s, a surf-themed eatery with a view.
Photos (portrait) by Allison Kuhl.