The City of Angels has a bit of a soured reputation in some circles when it comes to travel. A few too many people have hoped to visit the gleaming streets of Hollywood and found it instead slightly dishevelled – the walk of fame just that bit grimier than they imagined, the locals less celebrities and more ‘colourful’. Throw in the city’s infamously poor public transit system and the fact that the city is spread over miles and miles of land, and it can look like a daunting holiday prospect.
I’ve been to LA before and been left disappointed, for exactly the reasons above, which is why I’m pleased to report that a second trip to the city revealed that there’s a right way and a wrong way to visit Los Angeles. Do it wrong, and it’s a sweaty, disappointing experience. Do it right, and you’ll find a wealth of great bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, great museums, and plenty to do. So here’s how to do it right.
Just Uber it. Or Lyft, if you want to be equal opportunities about your travel app of choice. LA’s Metro system is better than it used to be (and now boasts an Oyster-esque pay card system) but both trains and buses are infrequent and slow. But ridesharing apps are pretty cheap in the city – especially if you use the carpool options and share your ride with strangers – and by far the quickest way to hop between the city’s various districts. Even LAX is only a 20-30 minute ride from the centre.
Alternatively, you can always rent a car, but bear in mind that parking in the city is at a premium – you might find that you can save a headache by switching to an app.
Where to Stay
This depends largely on where you want to go while you’re in the city, but Downtown is a pretty safe bet these days. The area long had a reputation for disrepair, but is on the up-and-up thanks to the double-edged sword of gentrification. It’s still undeniably grotty in places, but it’s packed with interesting bars and restaurants, and is the home of the city’s cultural and historic centres.
Alternatively, the biggest and brightest hotels are up in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, but are priced accordingly – and are further away from most of the places you’re likely to want to visit.
Where to Eat
LA’s restaurant scene has undergone a creative explosion similar to London’s in recent years, but there are a few things to make sure to try. Poké, a Hawaiian cross between ceviche and sashimi, was a big craze a year or two ago, and is still all over the city – make sure to seek it out. Then there’s Umami Burger, an Angeleno chain that’s since branched elsewhere in the US, and offers brilliant burgers devoted to the so-called ‘fifth flavour’, including the likes of parmesan crisps and soy pickles. The adventurous can even try out their 9-course burger tasting menu – complete with custom drinks pairings – to make the most of a burger menu you won’t find anywhere in the UK.
Alternatively, pay a visit to Downtown’s Grand Central Market. It’s an indoor collection of food stalls offering everything from fish tacos to southern BBQ. It’s basically LA’s answer to Borough Market, but with all the food that Americans do best.
Where to Drink
If you’re staying Downtown, check out Public School 213. It’s one of a few ‘Public Schools’ – each adopting a loose American high school décor. It’s a fun novelty for those of us who’ve grown up with high school-saturated pop culture, and thankfully doesn’t get in the way of the bar’s main offering: a dizzying array of craft beers, along with wine, spirits, and a surprisingly deep – and interesting – food menu.
Alternatively, wander around DTLA and you can’t help but stumble into any one of countless cocktail bars and craft beer haunts that have opened up in the last few years – enough to make even the most ardent fan of London’s bar scene feel at home.
Where to Get Coffee
Head up north to Silver Lake, one of the city’s burgeoning suburban districts, and check out LAMILL Coffee. It’s a low-key spot that feels miles away from the bustle of Downtown or Hollywood, and backs up its locally roasted coffee with plenty of breakfast and lunch options. Do yourself a favour and order something with avocado, because they’re just plain better than ours.
Alternatively, you’ll find a few Intelligentsia coffee shops dotted around the city – including in Silver Lake – if you want to support a small chain and steer clear of the ubiquitous Starbucks. They do a mean cold brew.
What to Do
You’ve got a lot of options here, but DTLA will keep you entertained on its own for a few days. Visit the Broad art gallery for free (just remember to book a slot in advance) or grab a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall – or just wander round the stunning building. Drop into the historic Bradbury Building (the setting for the finale of Blade Runner) or head over to City Hall for a free vista across the city from the 27th floor. Then there’s Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the Arts District… there’s plenty to get on with.
Alternatively, head west and visit Venice Boardwalk and Santa Monica. The beach is pretty crowded, but the boardwalk is a lot of fun – and tucked away behind it you’ll find the upmarket, trendy shopping street of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, perfect for whiling away an hour and the contents of your wallet.
Words by Dominic Preston