The Local’s Guide to Los Angeles … for Beginners
Yes, Los Angeles sometimes gets a bad rap. But it’s difficult to meet someone who, after getting to know some of the best neighborhoods, wasn’t at least a little enchanted with the magic of this town. Aside from the obvious (the weather, the beach), there’s no city in the U.S. quite like it. Here are a few notable entry points into the vast 503 square miles that make up the City of Angels.
Bound by three freeways (the 10, 101, and 110) and the L.A. River, the area dubbed DTLA has never been more vibrant. Among the once half-empty Art Deco high-rises you’ll find bustling ethnic pockets, lofts converted into luxury apartments and galleries, and a growing number of buzzed-about restaurants. If zipping from here, there are several cars near 7th and Grand.
The Last Bookstore (453 S. Spring Street; 213-488-0599; lastbookstorela.com) is huge—16,000 square feet—but easy to miss, tucked inside an old 1914 bank building. New and used books and vinyl fill the space, along with cracked leather chairs and reading nooks. Don’t miss “The Labyrinth” a collection of $1 books on the mezzanine level. Just set aside time to browse; the some 100,000 titles within are arranged by subject, but not alphabetically.
A few blocks away, Chef Josef Centeno’s Bar Amá (118 W. 4th Street 213-687-8002; bar-ama.com) showcases his take on San Antonio Tex-Mex, including Frito pie served in a skillet and deep-fried tacos. The latter are off-menu, but always offered—just ask.
The four square blocks that make up Little Tokyo (between the 101 and E. 1st St.) pack in many reasons to visit, from sushi bars and novelty shops to the acclaimed theater group the East-West Players. The tiny ramen shop Daikokuya (327 E. 1st Street; 213-626-1680; daikoku-ten.com) almost always has a huge line, but it’s worth the wait for bowls of kurobata pork ramen.
LOS FELIZ/ATWATER VILLAGE
These neighboring ’hoods, along Griffith Park and bisected by the Golden State Freeway (aka “The 5”), are just far enough off the beaten path that they often go overlooked by those staying in Hollywood. Palm-tree lined streets filled with quaint, historic homes offer a glimpse of old-school L.A., while cafes, bars, and shops lend Los Feliz and Atwater an indie vibe that has transformed the area into a natural extension of nearby Silver Lake.
At the Old L.A. Zoo (4730 Crystal Springs Drive; 323-913-4688; laparks.org) hidden inside Griffith Park, visitors can picnic and explore the abandoned remnants, including animal enclosures, of the zoo’s original location. (The current zoo, which opened in 1965, is about five miles away within the park.) Across the park and accessible by car or on foot, the Griffith Observatory (2800 East Observatory Road; 213-473-0800; griffithobs.org) is free to visit and the most peaceful place to watch the sunset in the city - the views spanning from downtown to the hills are stunning.
On Glendale Boulevard, Atwater Village’s central thoroughfare, Individual Medley (3176 Glendale Boulevard; 323-665-5344; theindividualmedley.com) is known for its airy, modern interior and a well-edited selection of home goods, clothing, and accessories. Among plenty of flannel and chambray, you might find a pair of Deadstock khakis, artisan grooming products from Prospector Co., and handcrafted indoor-outdoor wood chairs among the rustic All-American wares.
Just down the block Proof Bakery (3156 Glendale Boulevard; 323-664-8633; proofbakeryla.com), is worth a stop for a fresh-baked pastry and pour-over coffee from local brewer Cognoscenti. Here, the menu changes every day; look out for distinctive homemade treats like peanut brittle and classic, French financiers that rotate seasonally.
There’s no denying the beauty of the beach herethat, on a clear day, gives way to unobstructed views of the Santa Monica Mountains. But there’s so much more to Venice than the oceanfront, and it’s one of L.A.’s most walkable pockets. Parking your Zipcar and exploring on foot is your best bet.
Though it’s only a few blocks inland, Abbot Kinney, the area between Brooks Street and Venice Blvd. seems far from the carnival-like boardwalk. Aside from artists’ studios, cafes, and high-end restaurants, the stretch is best-known as a shopping destination. Out of dozens of boutiques, Aviator Nation (1224 Abbot KinneyBoulevard; 310-396-9100; aviatornation.com) is the most quintessentially SoCal: think ultra-soft tees, hoodies, and other vintage- and surf-inspired loungewear.
In the triangle between Abbot Kinney and the beach lies the Venice Canals Historic District,the Westside’s best hidden gem. Five remain of the original manmade waterways built in 1905 to resemble those in Italy. The canals form a quiet, pedestrian-friendly nook of well-kept homes connected by sidewalks and wooden footbridges—guided tours are available, but this area is easy to explore and enjoy with nothing more than your GPS to lead the way and your own two feet.
A morning stroll through canals is best capped off with brunch, perhaps at the Tasting Kitchen (1633 Abbot Kinney Boulevard; 310-392-6644; thetastingkitchen.com). The space couldn’t be more welcoming, with trees growing inside the indoor patio space at the front, and the Zen-like ambiance contrasts with generous eats. Don’t miss the slightly spicy fried chicken atop soft Belgian waffles, the oversized homemade biscuit and jam, or any of the always-updated fruity offerings (watermelon granita and berries—yes, please).