Los Angeles isn’t just about movie stars and the Oscars, writes Sara Benson.
It’s easy to sneer at Los Angeles. California’s biggest and most diverse metropolis is often dismissed as a vapid place, populated by vain television and movie stars, dim-witted surfers and Botox-injected beach bunnies. But there is, in fact, a lot to love about “La La Land”.
Hugh Laurie is one convert, writing recently: “I’m sticking up for the beautiful city of Los Angeles. That’s right. Beautiful.” He passionately defended the city for its creativity, eccentricity and fecundity — and rightfully so.
Hotel Bel-Air is one of Los Angeles’s grand icons, a pink stuccoed hotel that underwent an impressive facelift and enticed Michelin starred chef Wolfgang Puck to oversee its bar and restaurant. It attracts A-list Hollywood stars who want a discrete, old world hideaway.
The Villa Delle Stelle hotel is a charming residential-style hotel, run by the former wife of the late Dudley Moore.
On a budget
Hotel Maya is an unpretentious, amenity-packed Long Beach resort that provides great bang for the buck.
Start your stay in style at the downtown Rooftop (550 South Flower Street; standardhotel.com; noon to 1.30am daily), a cocktail bar at the top of the boutique Standard Hotel, where boutique high-rise lodgings are decked with arty touches. Viewing the skyline at sunset from a poolside deck is a fine introduction to the city.
Nearby Bäco Mercat (408 S. Main St; 001 213 687 8808; bacomercat.com) is one of the restaurants of the moment in Los Angeles. Make sure you order chef Josef Centeno’s signature dish: a bäco (flatbread sandwich) filled with crispy pork belly and beef carnitas.
Take a light-rail ride on the Metro Expo Line south of Downtown to Exposition Park, a sprawling urban green space anchored by giant museums. The child-friendly California Science Center (700 Exposition Park Dr; californiasciencecenter.org; 10am-5pm; free) is home to the retired Space Shuttle Endeavour. Built in southern California, the shuttle successfully flew 25 missions, including to the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. Reserve timed admission tickets in advance.
Nearby, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (900 Exposition Blvd; nhm.org; 9:30am to 5pm; £8) is another family-friendly attraction. Walk through the jaw-dropping Dinosaur Hall – don’t miss the unique Tyrannosaurus rex growth series. The newest star exhibit “Becoming Los Angeles” traces the city’s evolution from American Indian villages, Spanish colonial missions and Mexican ranchos to present day.
For lunch, track down one of LA’s famous mobile food trucks. Even television chefs have put their kitchens on wheels: look for Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s Border Grill Truck (bordergrill.com), serving crunchy Baja-style fish tacos. For weekend brunch, take a taxi to chef Feniger’s casual Hollywood restaurant, Street (7) (742 N. Highland Ave.; 001 323 203 0500; eatatstreet.com), dishing up spicy, sweet and savoury snacks, from street cheese burgers to pumpkin cauliflower cannelloni.
On a sunny afternoon, hit the beach. It’s about an hour’s Metro bus ride from Downtown to Abbott Kinney Boulevard, at the heart of Venice’s artistic, offbeat and chic scene. Browse made-in-LA clothing boutiques, unusual homeware and gift shops, gourmet food vendors and more. Step into Intelligentsia Coffee (1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd; intelligentsiacoffee.com) to refuel with some freshly roasted beans.
Amble west to Venice’s beach boardwalk, officially named Ocean Front Walk. The people gathered are pure California: tanned surfers, punk skateboarders, New Age gurus with dreadlocks and performance artists busking for spare change. As palm trees rustle overhead, sprawl on the sand and catch an idyllic sunset.
Stroll back to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which also happens to have one of LA’s most innovative restaurant rows. Join the beautiful bohemians on the outdoor patio at trendy Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd; 001 310 450 1429; gjelina.com), which offers a Mediterranean-meets-Californian menu of charcuterie, farmers market salads, wood-fired pizzas, wild Pacific seafood, juicy steaks and New World wines.
Hollywood overflows with velvet-roped nightclubs for a big night out. But to try California’s new wave of handmade artisan cocktails, you don’t even have to leave the beach. Take a bus or taxi north to seaside Santa Monica, where at glittering Copa d’Oro (217 Broadway; copadoro.com; 5.30pm-midnight Mon-Wed, 5:30pm-2am Thu-Sat), a leather-clad cocktail lounge, you can enjoy expertly mixed concoctions.
Head to the Museum of Contemporary Art (250 S. Grand Ave; moca.org; 11am to 5pm Mon and Fri, 11am-8pm Thu, 11am-6pm Sat and Sun), which includes masterworks by Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, William de Kooning and many other thought-provoking artists.
Before lunch, view another postmodern LA architectural landmark, Walt Disney Concert Hall (111 S. Grand Ave; 001 213 972 7483; musiccenter.org; tour £6.50-8), designed by LA architect Frank Gehry, who gained international fame for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Tours are available most mornings and afternoons, but reservations are required.
1. For great budget transport advice, use the excellent LA Metro Trip Planner (001 323 466 3876, socaltransport.org).
2. Los Angeles has a surprising number of separate bike trails. See labikepaths.com for details.
3. For official tourist advice, visit discoverlosangeles.com