Los Angeles is a strange and seductive place, if you know your way around. For a visitor it can be rather daunting… geographically huge, pricey and almost impossible to explore without a car. Once you’ve ticked off the tourist essentials (Walk of Fame, Hollywood Sign, Rodeo Drive), concentrate on a few friendly neighbourhoods and enjoy the cafes, bars and boutiques who offer some of the best food, culture and shopping on the west coast.
Mama Shelter LA – The newest hotel in the hip Mama Shelter chain, this branch only opened in July 2015 and is already popular for its quirky minimalist bedrooms, lively bar and unique gift shop. With reasonably priced rooms and a great West Hollywood location, it is a brilliant accommodation option for design conscious travellers.
Bestia – One of LA’s most celebrated restaurants, Bestia is always busy. Located in a former warehouse in an unlikely pocket of downtown LA, it is the project from husband and wife team Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis. Sit at the bar and order a ‘Puddle Jumper’ bourbon, fig and apricot cocktail. When it comes to food there are a lot of enticing dishes, my highlights were the peppery Alla ‘nduja pizza (housemade spicy ‘nduja, san marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, black cabbage and fennel pollen) and the innovative Agnalotti alla Vaccinara (cacao pasta parcel, braised oxtail, burro fuso, grana padano, pine nuts and currants).
Animal – A restaurant by foodies, for foodies. Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo practice nose-to-tail style cooking with a focus on meat. Try: grilled quail with plum char-sui; Mexican street corn with epazote, Serrano and parmesan; and Bacon chocolate crunch bar with salt +pepper ice cream for dessert.
Alimento – The Silverlake area of town is home to a host of neighbourhood restaurants. Alimento is a small welcoming Italian eatery, which has won a handful of awards for its homemade pastas. I tried their delicious speciality Tortellini in Brodo “al contrario” ($15). The delicate parcels of artisan pasta contain a hot meat broth and are coated in a buttery sauce. It was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten, so good that I ordered a second bowl!
Pine + Crane – Ideal for a speedy lunch, this trendy Taiwanese café serves authentic and flavoursome food. I loved the moreish Beef roll and Three cup jidori chicken, and to accompany it I enjoyed a pot of their fragrant tea.
Night + Market – For a vibrant Asian meal try Night + Market or the newer outpost Night + Market Song. The colourful little restaurants are cheap and cheerful with a menu of tempting recipes. Chop-suey chinese eggplant with bean sauce, chili, garlic and thai basil was addictively tasty. I also tried the popular Thai boxing chicken, BBQ chicken with a lovely chargrilled flavour served with som tum papaya salad and sticky rice.
Tsujita Annex – Across the road from the original Tsujita noodle house, this tiny Japanese café is just as popular. The menu is very brief and really there is only one dish to try… the Tsukemen with char siu (pork) is a warming and wonderful bowl of broth with handmade udon noodles. The regular size (250g) is big enough to share and costs just $14.95.
Sprinkles ATM – I had dreamt of visiting the Sprinkles ATM ever since spotting a picture of it on social media. There are pink Sprinkles shops all over LA but for the magic ATM visit the Beverly Hills branch, just off Rodeo Drive. I tried the simple but delicious vanilla with chocolate icing, after popping in my card a cake appeared in a box less than 30 seconds later.
Lock + Key – There is a lot of bar competition in LA so every local has their own favourite cocktail hangout. I liked Lock + Key in Korea Town, an unpretentious and fun prohibition style bar. Once inside the lobby you have to choose from hundreds of keyholes to find the correct entrance. The signature ‘Old Money’ cocktail is a strong and sophisticated mix of scotch, sugar, ginger, bitters and orange peel.
Go get ‘em Tiger – There are plenty of great independent coffee places to choose from in LA but I particularly liked this cute and characterful café serving a range of beans, including Ritual and Parallel, to a dedicated crowd of fans. They also serve a delicious brunch menu.
Verve Coffee – Passionate about great coffee, the Verve team started in Santa Cruz and now have two locations in LA. The spacious industrial Melrose branch is filled with coffee addicts ordering their favourite style of coffee. I ordered a flat white which was perfectly smooth with a delicious rich flavour.
Getty Museum – The Getty’s hilltop location overlooking the city is as impressive as its collection of art. The curved white building was designed by Richard Meier and the different pavilions house paintings and sculptures from across the ages. I particularly enjoyed the West Pavilion, which showcases masterpieces from 1800 onwards. It is also worth visiting the beautiful original Getty Villa. Admission is free at both.
LACMA – The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has recently expanded and is now spread over eight hectares. When I visited I saw the intriguing temporary exhibition, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. The show documents a time of huge upheaval and thriving creativity. I particularly loved seeing the work of Georg Schrimpf, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann.
Soul Cycle – I could not visit America without trying a class at Soul Cycle. This fitness fad has spread fast across the country and LA has studios in every district. It was the hardest exercise class I have ever taken. 45 minutes in a dark hot room clicked into a bike, with blaring beats and a screaming teacher. The aim is to never stop cycling as the resistance changes from high to low and the exercises vary according to the song being played. The keen class around me whooped and cheered as we struggled through the class together.
Barre Belle – I have tried a range of barre classes, but Marnie Alton’s boutique studio was the most stylish and friendly I have visited yet. The ex-dancer started up her motivational classes after establishing herself as one of the founding instructors at Bar Method. She describes Barre Belle as “kick butt ballet barre”. I joined a large one-hour class and tried to keep up with the pros. Marnie’s extremely inspirational teaching style and hands on approach helped me really push myself, and I felt great at the end of the hour.
Fred Segal – This boutique department store stocks a carefully curated selection of local designers. You can find stylish and unique items from jewellery to swimwear. I couldn’t resist buying some humorous socks by Ron Herman, which you can also personalise with your own image.
Abbot Kinney – Venice was easily my favourite neighbourhood in LA, a friendly area with a bohemian community. The main street, Abbot Kinney is a shopper’s paradise, each shop could have tempted me to spend a fortune. Charity-driven shoe brand Toms started here and for nourishing skincare pop into Aesop. I fell in love with Strange Invisible Perfumes, a local scent designer who creates beguiling perfumes. I bought a small bottle of the memorable and distinctive Fair Verona scent. When your bags begin to drag head to Intelligensia coffee for a great cappuccino.
Warner Bros Tour – If you want an insight into the world of Hollywood the Warner Bros Tour is a must. The two and a half hour trip will take you around the back and front lots to see famous facades and important sound studios. Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guide, Tim, pointed out spots used in popular TV shows and films including Oceans 13, Gilmore Girls, Pretty Little Liars and Spiderman. The studio is currently celebrating the 75th anniversary of Batman and has the real batmobiles and outfits on display. If you are a Potter fan the museum will impress you, with a talking sorting hat (I was Griffindor, phew), models of the creatures and a variety of artefacts and memorabilia. Perhaps the most exciting part comes at the end of the tour when you can sit in the original ‘Central Perk’ café set from Friends.
Griffith Observatory – This popular tourist attraction sits atop Mount Hollywood. The grand art deco building is mainly visited for its views of the Hollywood sign, which are particularly atmospheric at sunset.
LA Galaxy – Made world-famous by the signing of David Beckham, LA Galaxy still has a number of British stars leading the team. Catch a game at the StubHub Center for a whole new experience of soccer. It is much more than just a football match, with plenty of entertainment for all the family.
Venice Beach – When you need some down time from the city, head to Venice Beach for surfing and skating. The laidback boardwalk is home to legendary Muscle Beach and Venice Skatepark, though I enjoyed simply wandering barefoot in the sand and watching the world go by.
Walk of Fame – LA, and more specifically Hollywood, is home to many of the world’s most prominent film, TV and music celebrities, so it seems fitting that there is a street honouring them. With over 2,500 stars across 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street, it’s best to look up the location of your favourite stars of stage and screen before walking the whole distance. I spotted Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, and Grease hero, John Travolta.