On my first night in Los Angeles, I stayed on Sunset Boulevard, at the Andaz West Hollywood, a modern, if stylish, tower block of a hotel which hides its history well. Thanks to its proximity to once-popular clubs like the Whisky a Go Go, it was a hotbed of rock and roll in the 1960s and 1970s (a more modern and relatable local landmark would perhaps be the Tinder office, which is just down the road). It was from the window of Room 1015 of this hotel in 1972 that Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards threw a TV onto the pavement below. Jim Morrison stayed here until he was evicted for hanging out of a window with his fingertips. Led Zeppelin routinely rented as many as six floors of the 14-storey hotel in the 1970s for the band’s entourage. Suffice it to say that the hotel is the stuff of musical legend. It just doesn’t look like it is. And that, in a nutshell, is the story of LA. You wonder what the fuss is all about. Downtown LA could be AnyCity. Hollywood, mostly low-rise owing to zoning regulations that were in place for decades, looks more like saddi Dilli than glamour central. But persist a bit and LA will reveal its charms willingly. You will walk where the stars walked.
You will find that the city still has functioning oil wells, which genuflect like praying mantises as they go about their business. You will meet loveable crackpots, like the diviner I shared an impromptu—and rather nice—pizza with in Venice Beach, who could tell your future from ‘reading’ magazines. (Someone’s gotta do it.) If you thought they subsisted on burgers and fries in LA, think again. It’s mostly progressive American now. Because of its movie heritage, they’ve preserved the gorgeous old theatres across town.
LA gave me goosebumps all the time. And it wasn’t just the movie locations, although they are goosebump-inducing enough. LA also has a wonderfully relaxed vibe, like a city permanently on holiday. That is something New York—its great ‘other’—can never claim.
LA is quietly bohemian too. This is California after all. Even on my first night out, at a bar down the road, a nattily dressed man walked in with a leather doc bag and ordered a pot of tea. I can’t imagine that happening in New York. But the truly bohemian live in Venice Beach, where there’s no one without a tattoo.
For a city that gives the world its dreams, LA is remarkably real too, with glamour and grunge in equal measure. It may lack New York’s grandeur, but it more than makes up for this with experiences. What follows is a very personal—and entirely too short—list of recommendations for stuff to do in the City of Angels.
Old Hollywood Walking Tour
This one is special, thanks to its host, April Clemmer. Her passion for Hollywood borders on obsession—a totally good thing—and she conducts her walks in vintage dresses and period hairstyles. She delves into the architecture and history of Hollywood like no other tour, with special access to iconic buildings and shuttered theatres as well as a peek at a stunning miniature of Hollywood currently being restored. Her tours often end with coffee at Musso & Frank, Hollywood’s longest continuously operating restaurant—which Gore Vidal once described as ‘getting into a warm bath’. The tour is offered on the last Friday of each month at 10am or on any other day on request, so do book in advance. It’s only $25 per person. aprilclemmer.comv
The Original Farmers Market
A favourite with locals and tourists alike since 1934, the market hosts over 100 gourmet grocers, sit-down eateries and food vendors and, unlike other farmers markets, is open seven days a week. It is located at the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue, an iconic location, and a sign that reads “Meet Me at Third and Fairfax” is displayed at the front of the market. It’s next to The Grove outdoor mall. An electric streetcar runs between the two, making the mall a great post-lunch retail therapy plan. farmersmarketla.com
This contemporary art museum in downtown LA’s art district named after philanthropist Eli Broad, who shelled out the $140 million for the building to host his art collection, opened in 2015. A competition was organised in 2010 to select the architect. Diller Scofidio + Renfro were ultimately chosen to design the approximately 120,000 sq ft museum, which includes exhibition spaces, offices as well as a parking garage. The collection, which has more than 2,000 artworks, features over 200 artists, including the likes of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Notable installations include Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013). The Washington Post described the collection as including too much “high-end trash”, but this only piqued my curiosity. I wasn’t disappointed. thebroad.org
Venice Beach, named for the faux canals that a developer created here once—and a few of which can still be seen today—is where LA lets its hair, and guard, down. There’s a great beach boardwalk, and the iconic Santa Monica Pier—which marks the end of Route 66—is next door. The skatepark, where many a skateboarding talent was born, is world famous. There are murals, tattoo parlours, street performers and fortune tellers. It’s that kind of place. A nice way to explore Venice Beach is on a bicycle (much safer than those electric scooters anyway) and I did so with Bikes and Hikes LA. In fact, I liked the tour so much, I returned home and bought the same bike. venicebeach.com
Petersen Automotive Museum
Auto lovers, especially the smaller kind, will find this museum adorable. The rest will be easily converted. Founded in 1994 by a magazine publisher, the museum went in for an extensive $125 million renovation in 2015. The façade was redesigned by the architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, and now sports a stainless-steel ribbon assembly made of 100 tons of steel. Over 100 vehicles are on display in 25 galleries, just half of the collection. The ground floor has the flamboyant cars, while other floors showcase automotive engineering through interactive exhibits, and the history of the automobile with a special focus on the car culture of Southern California. Exhibits include one on powered children’s racecars as well as the 1992 Batmobile from Batman Returns. petersen.org
Movie Locations Tour
There are movie location tours and then there is the Starline Movie Locations Tour. Their USP? They play the relevant movie clips at the location. Their extremely knowledgeable—and, more importantly, extremely entertaining—guide, who also doubles up as the driver, can be heard through earphones, so the tour doesn’t bring the entire neighbourhood down. Their Celebrity Homes Tour also comes highly recommended, and takes in posh neighbourhoods like Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and the iconic Sunset Boulevard and, of course, star homes, like the one Audrey Hepburn stayed in, which is pictured here. starlinetours.com
Griffith Observatory and Park
Griffith Observatory is an LA icon which opened in 1935 but closed for renovation in 2002. When it reopened in 2006, the art deco exterior was retained but the planetarium dome was replaced and several new exhibits added. Key attractions include the Foucault pendulum and a very large Tesla coil. It also offers great views of LA. Millennials will know it from La La Land. A great way to visit it is to first hike through the 4,310-acre Griffith Park surrounding it (beware of rattlesnakes, though). I did the hike with Bikes and Hikes LA and enjoyed every minute of it. We might have passed Jessica Davis from Thirteen Reasons Why on the way. griffithobservatory.org, bikesandhikesla.com
Warner Bros Studio Tour
LA, obviously, boasts a number of studio tours, and Warner Bros has to be one of the most fun. They tailor the tour to the movies or shows you’re specifically interested in and you also get to visit a live studio set. We had a peek at the sets of Big Bang Theory. There’s a lot of interactive stuff too. One of the most iconic TV shows of all time, F.R.I.E.N.D.S., set in New York, was shot right here. There’s a Central Perk coffee shop, therefore, as well as a live set where you can be part of a scene from the sitcom if that’s your thing. I was happy to nurse an Oscar statuette instead and pretend it was mine. wbstudiotour.com
Loews Hollywood Hotel
You cannot beat this hotel for location, or, in fact, for service and style. It’s right next to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, behind the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre. From my plush suite at the hotel, I had a panoramic view of the Hollywood sign and the surrounding hills. If you’re exploring Hollywood, this hotel, which also happens to be pet friendly, should be your first choice. The highlights are definitely the California-inspired contemporary American cuisine at Preston’s and the fifth floor pool deck featuring a poolside menu by Wolfgang Puck. Each of the 628 guestrooms and suites is decorated in a chic slate grey, with pops of violet and burnt orange, while modern oak furniture and iconic Eames chairs complete the look. The staff is helpful and friendly, without being obsequious. loewshotels.com
To truly get a sense of the scale of this city, take an elevator up to OUE Skyspace, California’s highest observation deck located on the 70th floor of the iconic US Bank Tower building. The views are spectacular. A silly skyslide juts out of the building and they will take atrocious pictures of you while you’re embarrassing yourself on it, and which you’ll be forced to buy just so they’re not unleashed on the world. But it’s a fun experience nevertheless and the souvenir shop—be warned—is excellent as are the F&B offerings. oue-skyspace.com