Angels in the Architecture
In the not-so-distant past, the second-biggest city in the U.S. languished as an arguably second-rate cultural destination. It had the sun. It had the celebs. But few visitors came to Los Angeles to marvel at modern art, embark on craft-cocktail crawls, nor feast on fare prepared by globally renowned chefs. Back in those days, a successful tourist experience involved a map to the stars, reimagining yourself as an amateur paparazzi, and maybe grabbing some In-N-Out Burger.
Fast-forward to today, and these activities seem banal at best (save for In-N-Out, of course). LA has gone A-list. If you haven’t visited in the past few years, prepare yourself for a plot twist. LA has been transformed as an artfully rendered landscape revitalized by cutting-edge museums and galleries, and one of the most inspired food and beverage scenes in the country. No longer satisfied with second, the City of Angels is ready for its close-up.
On the Menu
Explore the Bar Scene
Innovative, inspired and immense, LA’s contemporary bar scene is beyond compare. Several speakeasies add a playful approach to nightlife fun. Break Room 86 is a 1980s-themed karaoke bar entered through a door hidden behind a vending machine. Birds & Bees is a subterranean drinking den adjacent to a nondescript downtown parking lot, while The Varnish hides in the back of a French Dip sandwich shop. Each of these outposts is more than mere novelty. They make cutting-edge cocktails, everything from mezcal mixers on tap to almond-infused ryes spiked with PX Sherry and absinthe.
Get Fed by a Top Chef
Chefs here approach a level of stardom formerly reserved for the names enshrined on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not surprisingly, LA attracts its share of reality-show talent. A meal prepared by a celebrity chef is a rite of passage here. Head to Scratch Bar & Kitchen in Sherman Oaks, where former Top Chef contestant Phillip Frankland Lee won’t just cook your meal, he’ll serve it to you. His innovative eatery features no wait staff, no tipping and a whole lot of farm-fresh flair. “There’s not a menu, but I’ll get you a physical piece of paper to look at,” he says to a first-time diner, with ingredients that change on a monthly rotation. The tasting menu can be constructed to adhere to all of LA’s notoriously finicky dietary needs. His improvisational approach is a hit, with a full bar and seafood shack scheduled to open later in 2017.
A diverse tapestry woven from hundreds of distinctive neighborhoods, LA is never short on surprises. Enjoy Saturday Farmers Market in Silver Lake, a Bohemian hotspot renowned for its weekend brunch scene.
Sawyer is a local standout, with a back-garden patio and organic housemade juices that can be spiked with craft spirits. (You don’t get much more LA than DIY health-food cocktails.) Mezcal with watermelon juice trumps all, which pairs expertly with the eatery’s eye-catching avocado toast. Across the street at Cliff’s Edge, a bamboo forest that doubles as the restaurant’s outdoor terrace is a dependable romantic hideaway, and it sports the city’s most succinctly manicured wine selections by the glass.
On the city’s Westside, Culver City has evolved into a thriving patchwork of dining and nightlife, anchored by stalwarts like The Wallace. Specializing in small plates and experimental cocktails, it serves up dishes like a balsamic-glazed, chicken-liver mousse next to a gin drink studded with “buzz buttons,” a botanical curiosity that literally leaves your tongue tingling.
For the Mind
Downtown is hip and happening. Long the domain of skyscrapers that sat deserted beyond business hours, the city’s historical birthplace is now its cultural epicenter. Nothing epitomizes this like The Broad, a contemporary art museum that opened in 2015, housed in a stunning 50,000-square-foot honeycombed structure. The 2,000-piece collection, which contains works by Warhol, Lichtenstein and Basquiat, is open Tuesday through Sunday and admission is free. Visitors line up for hours for a glimpse of the gallery’s most Instagrammable exhibit—the Infinity Mirrored Room designed by Yayoi Kusama.
The museum also helped usher in a new era for downtown dining, as evidenced by Otium located next door. The eatery expands over two cavernous floors and serves worldly cuisine and multi-course, market-driven fare assembled by Timothy Hollingsworth. “The Broad is this beacon of inspiration for the community,” says Hollingsworth. “About a year and a half ago, not many people would be walking around this neighborhood. The addition of the museum to the artsy Grand Avenue has brought so much foot traffic and has made this neighborhood a destination.”
Thrill and Chill
While you’re there, don’t skip out on thrills atop SkySpace, on the 70th floor of the US Bank Tower. Opened in 2016, the city’s highest indoor/outdoor observation deck offers 360-degree views that sweep from mountain to ocean. But the main attraction here is the Skyslide, a 45-foot glass tube attached to the building’s exterior. Glimpse down at the city nearly 1,000 feet below, if you dare, as you slide swiftly to the floor below.
Head upstairs for cocktail hour at 71Above, a bar/eatery with scenic supremacy and an equally breathtaking wine collection. “Come any of the weekdays without an agenda,” says bar director Darwin Manahan. “What’s nice is you could head up without a reservation, grab a burger for lunch, and have time to sit at the bar and catch the sunset, which is insane from up here.”
Back along the beach, Marina Del Rey Parasailing offers thrilling adventures at affordable rates. Rent a Jet Ski and view the eclectic Venice Beach scene from the water, unimpeded by the hordes on its world-famous beach boardwalk. For an even funkier perspective, climb hundreds of feet above the waves on the city’s only parasailing tour. At those heights, you can watch the skyline reveal itself, framed by distant mountains. The outfitter also rents selfie sticks to memorialize the experience.
Where to Stay
The unending sprawl can be overwhelming at first. Find inner peace at one of the city’s serene urban sanctuaries. Just steps from the sun and fun of Santa Monica Pier is the Fairmont Miramar, an oasis amid all the action. Private bungalows line an elegant courtyard pool, which affords enchanting views of the sun as it sets into the vast blue Pacific. Built in 1889, this legendary five-star hotel has hosted luminaries from Charles Lindbergh to Marilyn Monroe. Guests are received underneath the enveloping canopy of the property’s historic fig tree. Inside, an elegant atrium leads to Fig, a casual, seasonally focused restaurant marked by the Lebanese musings of chef Yousef Ghalaini.
If staying on the outskirts of the city is more your speed, accelerate the experience at Terranea Resort, just 17 miles south of LAX. Perched atop the bluffs of Rancho Palos Verdes, the Mediterranean-inspired compound offers endless panoramas and diverse foods and beverages. Pair local craft beers with elevated pub grub at Nelson’s down by the cliffside, or wander along 102 oceanfront acres to the terra-cotta terraces of Mar’sel. This fine-dining destination serves Californian cuisine with a Southern accent, all built around a thoughtfully rendered wine list.
Modern-day LA is a city that’s hitting full stride. To those adventurous enough to explore, a world of discovery awaits.
Last Updated: May 4, 2023