Far Out’s ultimate and comprehensive guide to visiting Los Angeles
There’s a movement going on in LA these days, things are changing. So often in the past America’s second city has been discussed as the west coasts’ answer to New York City, a hotter, drier and traffic heavy pit of confusion, but Los Angeles is not the fake movie set of aspiring celebrities it was once described as but a is a trend-setting culture melting pot of creatives looking to add personality to the ruggedly handsome landscape.
Far Out Magazine landed at LAX airport to kick-start our road trip series; a project that would begin with an outrageously mammoth drive around California, America’s largest populated and most eclectic state. Much like many places in the world, LA’s transformation over the last decade has meant that places such as Echo Park and Silver Lake have transformed from areas to avoid into places to be enjoyed. Not only that, a growing art district in Downtown LA is proving fruitful, Koreatown’s food reputation continues to be enhanced with every growing day and neighbourhoods like Highland Park are luring people away from the main tourist spots.
In this guide, we’ll detail some of the best places we found during our stay in the City of Angels.
It’s weird, when we arrived in LA the first place we headed to on our inaugural day was Downtown. Seemed, as we’re trying to explore the new city we found ourselves in, that the largest and most populous area was a good place to start. Although lacking personality centrally, you’ll find a whole pocket of great stuff down there and it offers a glimpse at some history of the city with the Los Angeles Theatre or the Grand Central Market (which has a bunch of great independent food spots). The financial district, which has a selection of incredible galleries like MOCA, holds a lot of the main tourist attractions like The Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s great to be there but, if you’re anything like me, the hoards of people gathering in mass to gain entry to a cafe for a bottle of water on a scorching hot day can prove to be quite stressful.
To avoid a nightmare, you’re better off picking your spots in Downtown and being smart. Get in, get out and make sure to visit the Last Bookstore.
Art District and Little Tokyo
While on the subject of picking your spots in Downtown, Art District and Little Tokyo should be on your list. We’d been driving a lot around the area so decided to park up in a secure multi-story car park and walk out to the Art District, what is essentially a creative hub taken over by the youth who are looking to build something unique.
For some reason ‘gentrification’ is somewhat of a dirty word, but it is that process that has allowed artists and creatives to transform former factories into industrial businesses, galleries, food spots and general creative spaces.
Before you arrive at Arts District (if you’re walking from central Downtown), you’ll pass through Little Tokyo. The area was established around 130 years ago and remains one of the few Japantowns in North America. There’s so much going on here with authentic restaurants, galleries and late-night karaoke bars – it was quite refreshing to have the feeling of community in a section of the city that lacks character.
Located west of Downtown and just south of Hollywood you’ll find ‘K-town’, a thriving and fast expanding neighbourhood of great food, dive bars and all-round good-feel atmosphere. As trends move and flow, the hipsters of Silver Lake have descended upon Korea Town in search of cheaper beer.
Everyone will tell you Hollywood sucks and, in part, they’re probably right. The area certainly isn’t the cultural hotspot for people trying to drill down into the local hangouts of Los Angeles. It is, however, a once in a lifetime experience and you’ll enjoy it no matter how much the locals in bars will tell you how gross it is.
Walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame, head up to the Griffith Observatory, go to Universal studios if that’s your thing and give yourself a full day to experience the lights, camera, action chaos – you’ll be knackered afterwards but you’ll be pleased you did it. In terms of finding something a bit more unique in Hollywood, you’re better off driving into the obscure places like north Hollywood, for example. There’s also some great bars we found in the area, more on that below.
Has to be said, from all of the areas we explored in LA it was Highland Park that sticks in the memory as the most enjoyable. I think because the city is so large it’s hard to find a place that feels like a community, an area that has a buzz about it – but Highland Park had that in abundance. The area feels quaint, there’s record shops, vintage shops, cafes and local bars. If you can, head to Highland Park Bowling Alley in the evening, it’s LA’s oldest bowling alley and has a really nice atmosphere… if not a little pricey.[MORE] – Read about being lost in the desert at Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain.
Venice and Santa Monica
When you’re in LA it’s easy to forget the beach is only a 25 minute drive from Downtown. The haven for skaters, artists, surfers and those hench guys at muscle beach, Venice is as sleazy as it is charming.
Santa Monica is quaint, cute and offers a glimpse into the ‘surf town’ mentality that dominates the coast of California. A highlight for us was Rae’s Restaurant, an old-school diner that looks like it hasn’t changed since the 60s – it was also a scene in cult skate film Lords Of Dogtown so you can pretend to be Heath Ledger, if you want.
Far Out’s Californian road trip allowed us two stops in LA, the beginning and the end. To start the trip we flew to LAX and partied in Koreatown, Hollywood and Highland Park. To end, we spent our last few nights in Pasadena and enjoyed the tree-lined residential streets and boutique shops and the incredible Hotel Constance.
Pasadena is about 10 minutes north of Downtown and offers a glimpse at the slower pace of life in LA, the calm and the picturesque, it’s certainly worth checking out if not just to see the Rose Bowl or the Huntington Library.
Echo Park, once upon a time, was a place to avoid. Now, however, the area has more to brag about than to hide from travel brochures. Sandwiched between Silver Lake and Downtown Los Angeles, Echo Park has become a bit of a hipster hangout with plenty of vegan food markets, taco spots, vintage shops and really nice lake to rent a rowing boat. If you’re hungry, check out Ostrich Farm or Elf Cafe for coffee etc.
Things to do
Tourist spots are tourist spots because they’re normally really great, the annoying thing about them is that they’re busy. That said, you’re in LA so what did you expect? There’s a bunch of stuff you need to do while you’re in the city, we’ve tried to pick out some well-known bits and some slightly more obscure efforts.
Very cool. You want to see the Hollywood sign and you want to get some nice pictures, this is pretty much the place. The massive white building also has a museum and planetarium laser show which is interesting but normally surrounded by hoards of people which is just way too stressful. You can have a nice walk around and get some great views of LA.
Also, traffic is normally mental. While driving up to the observatory, keep an eye out for any potential parking spots on the left-hand side, they’re free and saves you the hassle of trying to get into the car park at the top.
Situated in Pasadena, Huntington Library gives you some solace and a moment of calm in what can feel like a chaotic stay in LA. Impressive art collection, Botanical Gardens and an expansive and rolling clear space allows you to chill a bit before hitting Hollywood or whatever.
Mainly just here to remind you that you have to see some culture while in LA – it’s what you do to remind your friends back home that you didn’t just spend all you holiday eating tacos and complaining about how much you need to tip for a beer.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
While in the vicinity of MOCA, you should go and check out the Walt Disney Concert Hall. You’ll notice it from the street, the building is absurd. I wasn’t convince at first but we managed to mess up our days and tried to visit MOCA on the one day of the week that is was closed and decided to check this out instead and was pleasantly surprised. It’s free, has air-con and looks like this…
Drive Sunset Boulevard
Stretching from the deep of downtown to absurdly glamorous Malibu, Sunset Boulevard is one of those drives that just feels iconic. If it’s because you just want to know you’ve done it, or because you are obsessed with Billy Wilder film you should just get on the road and do it.
Go bowling in Highland Park
We’ve already told you of our admiration for Highland Park in the above. We enjoyed our visit during the day so much we headed back in the evening for a spot of bowling. Highland Park Bowl was establish in 1927 and has been refurbished spectacularly and included pizza and cocktails, it’s super impressive. They also bring our burlesque style singers which is a bit odd but great all the same. Warning, take a few people with you to rent a lane because it could get pricey.
Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier
Just to say you stared at the gross body builders, took sneaky pictures of the skaters and said you’ve eaten breakfast at Rae’s diner.
For some reason we forgot to take our swimwear with us to Venice Beach and instead wandered the Santa Monica Pier – big mistake, it was really hot and the water looked incredibly inviting.. as does the pizza.
Eat at Grand Central Market
Eating at Grand Central Market feels very, very LA. Steeped in history, the market is great reminder of America and all it’s diversity and an intimation as to why California are very much against the current ruling of the country. From the great coffee of ‘G&B Coffee’ to the giant line of people waiting for a bit to eat at ‘Eggslut’ to the endearing ‘China Cafe’ and Mexican spot ‘La Tostadería’ Gran Central has it all.
Go to Amoeba Records
A reminder that Far Out is also a music publication, we spent an obscenely long time browsing what is described as ‘The World’s Largest Independent Record Store’ as I went in search of a much treasured Spacemen 3 record that had, typically, sold out. Go to Hollywood, speak to the guys at Amoeba, they’re great.
Explore Arts District / Explore independently
As mentioned above, Arts District is really great with plenty of things you can find along the way. The best thing to do is just get out there and see what you can find, seriously, speak to the locals in an are and see what you can find.
There are a ton of really great bars to find in and around the city and it really does get tricky when trying to recommend stuff like this, doesn’t it? We found some nice spots in Hollywood, Koreatown and Highland Park but it really does depend on what you’re looking for and where you’re looking for them.To save a little time talking about how much we drink, we prepared this map here for you to pick and chose some of the best bars in any area you might be heading to. All of these are interesting in their own right and serve nice drinks. Follow these and you’ll be just fine:
I made a promise to myself a long time ago to never, ever, under any circumstances, argue or disagree with Action Bronson. Can’t lie, its a life choice that has brought me a lot of problems and complications in certain aspects. However, in the category of food, this philosophy has served me well.
If you haven’t sat in your underwear for an obscenely long time watching Bronson’s ‘Fuck That’s Delicious’ cooking show then clear your schedule, whip off your trousers and get comfy… (we also made a map with some great food spots, below). Good luck:
To find good spots to eat in the area of LA you’ve found yourself in, check out some of these suggestions.
If not, get to one of the vendors on the street and eat a taco or something.