The city of Los Angeles rediscovers its roots as the Entertainment Capital of California. Now, it’s your turn to see what all the talk’s about.
Photo by Nikolas Koenig, Courtesy of The Standard, Downtown L.A.
It used to be that a visit to L.A. rarely included the city of Los Angeles. Places like Hollywood and Beverly Hills had much more appeal than the run-down, empty streets of downtown. But now, artisan restaurants, hidden bars, and new entertainment venues add sparkle to an area that was virtually abandoned by residents after World War II.
Before the war, downtown L.A. was a hub of affluent culture and entertainment. It’s where West Coast movie palaces were born and some of the first movie premieres took place. These days, the second chapter of that tradition is being written: “We’re building a new city, that’s all,” says downtown developer Tom Gilmore.
The city is becoming so genuinely cool that celebs like Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder have moved in. And you should, too, at least for a weekend.
When Philip Anschutz, founder of the sports and entertainment powerhouse AEG, proposed a multipurpose sports complex at the intersection of the I-10 and I-110 freeways, most people thought he was crazy. Who would go downtown?
As it turned out, sports fans would, and his Staples Center and the surrounding L.A. Live campus prove it. Music lovers flock here, too, since the Staples Center hosts Top 40 artists such as Rihanna (June 28) and Taylor Swift (August 23–24, 27–28), and smaller concerts can be seen at two more intimate L.A. Live venues, Nokia Theatre and Club Nokia. Commonly dubbed the “Times Square of the West Coast,” L.A. Live was appropriately the site of a 2009 New Year’s Eve Event hosted by Carson Daly and accompanied by an outdoor performance by East Bay favorite Green Day. staplescenter.com, lalive.com, nokiatheatrelalive.com, clubnokia.com.
Another component of L.A. Live is the Grammy Museum, a must-stop for music fans. Highlights include J. Lo’s Versace gown, famous for its plunging neckline; handwritten lyrics by Tupac; and an interactive exhibit, where guests can record vocals and mix beats. Fashion lovers should detour to the FIDM Museum, especially during Oscar season, when costumes from nominated films are temporarily on display. grammymuseum.org, fidmmuseum.org.
If you’re looking for contemporary art or classical music, head to the top of South Grand, where the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sits next to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home of the L.A. Opera. One block down is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), housing more than 5,000 works produced since 1940. laphil.com, losangelesopera.com, moca.org.
To get behind the scenes of downtown, go on a Redline Tour, which will take you inside Broadway’s vintage theaters to see where the first movie premieres took place. (Films are still shown at some theaters during the Last Remaining Seats Film Festival, which kicks off May 25, and larger indie flicks are screened throughout downtown during the Los Angeles Film Festival, June 16–26). The walking tour also offers a peek into all the plans yet to come, such as a revamped rail system with a “subway to the sea” and a proposed professional football stadium next to the Staples Center. redlinetours.com, laconservancy.org, lafilmfest.com.
Start your day with a donut at Babycakes NYC, a vegan, kosher bakery and beloved New York City transplant. Devour a salted-caramel donut or chocolate cupcake for breakfast, without a hint of guilt (these babies are sans gluten and refined sugar), or hit up Waffle Wednesdays. babycakesnyc.com.
Grab a late lunch at Bottega Louie, one of the most buzzed-about new restaurants and the best in Los Angeles, according to Yelp last year. While you can’t go wrong with the rustic thin-crust pizzas, the stacks of macaroons in the floor-to-ceiling entrance windows or the hazelnut-filled beignets and the grab-and-go baguette sandwiches at the gourmet market may tempt you to ditch your table for a nearby bench at Grand Hope Park. bottegalouie.com.
For dinner, transport yourself to Latin America at Rivera restaurant, where tortillas have been hand pressed with edible flowers and cocktails are concocted using authentic ingredients. This downtown hot spot offers three distinct cuisines: South American in the Samba room, Spanish and Portuguese in the Sangre room, and Mexican and urban Latin in the Playa room. One of the most frequently requested cocktails, the Barbacoa, offers a blend of chipotle, bell pepper, ginger, smoked jerky, and a choice of tequila or mezcal. riverarestaurant.com.
Anyone who enjoys a well-made drink will appreciate the speakeasy-style, spirit-centric bars owned by entrepreneur Cedd Moses. Avoid typical bar rowdiness at Caña Rum Bar, a members-only establishment where hand-crafted cocktails made with small-batch rum quickly make up for the $20 annual fee. Or pick another poison, and try the nearby Seven Grand whiskey bar or Las Perlas artisan mezcal and tequila bar, also owned by Moses. 213nightlife.com.
From the moment you step into the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles, you feel like royalty. Guests are greeted with champagne during afternoon check-in, service is top-notch, and the rooms are peacefully quiet and stocked with Bulgari products, a Nespresso machine, and a TV in the bathroom mirror. Club Level rooms get you into the Club Lounge, loaded with drinks, snacks, computer access, and a view of the Hollywood Hills. Or for a real meal, take the elevator to the 24th floor, and try Wolfgang Puck’s latest restaurant, WP24. ritzcarlton.com.
Those with smaller budgets but equally high expectations should book a room at the adjoined JW Marriott. Order a drink or espresso, and people watch in the three-story lobby, or head to your room and disappear in the cloudlike bed. Both hotels feature fitness centers and rooftop pools, with hot tubs and cozy cabanas. The Spa at the Ritz-Carlton is shared by both properties and offers an array of indulgences, from the Ageless Beauty Facial to the Four-Hands Massage. marriott.com.
If you relate more to Madonna than Princess Di, try the Standard, a trendy hotel with a sexy vibe. Lounge on a poolside waterbed while watching a film projected onto the building across the street. Stick around for the weekend DJ to start spinning beats, and dance against a backdrop of skyscrapers. In some suites, only a glass wall separates the shower from the bedroom, but what’s L.A. without a little sex appeal? standardhotels.com/los-angeles.
For an insider’s shopping tour of L.A., visit diablomag.com/shopla.