Getaway Guide: How to Tour Los Angeles…The Right Way

Don't be overwhelmed by L.A.'s sprawl; we've got the best places to eat, stay and play.

January 6, 2017

By Frances Bula

Tourists intimidated by Los Angeles’s size and freeways often default to the Santa Monica Pier as the easiest option. But this endlessly interesting city has many other clusters of visitor-worthy attractions. The trick is to target one area per day.

Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park
Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Photo: Alex Vertikoff)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Photo: Alex Vertikoff)

Play

Spend a day on the east side of Los Angeles, starting with a morning walk at Griffith Park (the one just to the east of the Hollywood sign), which has kilometres of trails through the Santa Monica Mountains. A visit to the lovely independent Skylight Books, down the hill in Los Feliz, and breakfast or lunch afterward in this little stretch of north Vermont Avenue is in order. From there, a quick drive along Sunset Boulevard will take you straight downtown and to The Broad, the city’s glitzy, recently opened contemporary art museum. On the day you decide to go to central Los Angeles and/or Beverly Hills, the must-do is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This large complex has six art galleries, a theatre and an auditorium showcasing everything from Western Guinea canoes to cutting-edge modern art.

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Bäco Mercat
Rose Cafe (Photo: Pascal Shirley)
Rose Cafe (Photo: Pascal Shirley)

Eat

Join the lineups for Intelligentsia Coffee—on Sunset Boulevard on the east side or Abbot Kinney Boulevard on the west side—for java and eye-poppingly rich pastries. For brunch, the recently renovated Rose Cafe in the heart of Venice elevates the humble egg, baking it with polenta and mushroom marmalade. For lunch or dinner, an eternal favourite is Gjelina on Abbot Kinney in Venice: truly great vegetable dishes that rotate with the seasons (roasted romanesco with anchovies and Fresno chili, yes please), along with the classics like wild black bass with confit shallots. In East Hollywood, Jitlada, southern Thai cooking that’s nothing like the wimpy stuff you’ve had in Canada, is the place to go. (Yes, in a mini-mall.) Downtown, Bäco Mercat is the fun, hot, lively hangout with a big selection of Spanish-inspired dishes: boquerones, grilled castelfranco, quail with sumac.

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The Upstairs Bar (Photo: Spencer Lowell)

Drink

Ace Hotel, a grand old 1972 building that was the United Artists headquarters, is the epicentre of the emerging south downtown. There’s a gorgeous theatre attached and a café off the lobby, but the real attraction is the Upstairs Bar on the roof. It’s a substantial space with big, comfortable sofas and chairs scattered around, where you can have your special drink while watching the sun set behind the faraway Santa Monica Mountains.

Heath Ceramics
Heath Ceramics
Oak
Oak

Shop

Heath Ceramics, a California institution since 1948, is famous for its elegant but hefty pottery tableware. Farther along Beverly Boulevard is Oak, a New York-based fashion store that has come to the West with its oh-so-hip minimalist grey, black, beige and white clothing lines. Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood (not far from Jitlada) is a temple of records that is still thriving in the age of streaming. And, for multiple-hit window-shopping experiences, the blocks on Abbot Kinney and Sunset near the Intelligentsia outlets, as well as Melrose between La Cienega and Fairfax, are packed with shops selling everything from local high design (Heist) to concrete containers shaped to look like Savoy cabbages (Mohawk General Store).

Stay

The Millennium Biltmore downtown, a couple of blocks from Pershing Square, is a grand old dame from 1923 that has been mostly restored to its former glory, and the Hollywood Roosevelt is of a similar vintage in central Hollywood. Or you could go ironic hipster and stay at the repurposed Farmer’s Daughter Hotel in the central city (LACMA, Heath and the Farmers Market are nearby), which blends modern cool with retro-rustic charm—think denim bedspreads and Nespresso machines.

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