Travel writer Anna Hart divides her time between London and LA. Here, she shares her secrets for getting under the skin of America’s most culturally rich city
It used to be fashionable to throw shade at Los Angeles. Civilised people, it was snootily murmured, preferred the East Coast; LA was the sun-worshipping, superficial and star-struck little sister to cultured, classy New York. Today it’s a different story. Musicians and artists that were priced out of Brooklyn regrouped in the shabby-chic villas and dive bars of Silver Lake. Gallerists spied opportunity in the vast warehouse spaces of downtown LA’s Arts District. Freelance creatives, young entrepreneurs and bohemians were lured west by the promise of an easier, breezier lifestyle, grabbing their surfboards, yoga mats and MacBooks and congregating in Venice Beach and Los Feliz. The secret to loving LA is to live it like a local, abandoning box-tick tourism and focusing on a key neighbourhood, navigable by foot or Uber. As Angelenos say, if you find yourself not liking LA, just drive five minutes…
The gradual restoration of Broadway’s theatrical buildings, along with dazzling new arrivals such as the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and the new Broad (www.thebroad.org) kickstarted DTLA’s renaissance, and the previously overlooked neighbourhoods of the Arts District and Koreatown are experiencing the most rapid development in the city. A wander down Traction Avenue, 3rd and 4th Streets and Santa Fe Avenue serves as a strong introduction to the Arts District’s design big-hitters. Start at Hammer and Spear (www.hammerandspear.com), my favourite design den, crammed with cherry-picked vintage pieces and items by local designers. Down the road, the flagship Poketo (www.poketo.com) is where to load up on cool accessories and stationery to take home.
Founded in 1905 by the tobacco millionaire Abbot Kinney as a beach resort, by the 1950s Venice was known as a hangout for artists, musicians, stoners and surfers; Charles Bukowski, musicians Tom Waits and Patti Smith, artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Dennis Hopper all found inspiration here. Today Venice remains delightfully alternative, and I love that you’ll find stoned skateboarders co-existing amicably with Google employees from the nearby HQ. Gjelina (www.gjelina.com) on Abbot Kinney is notorious for long waits but exemplary farm-to-table fodder that makes it all worth it. Meanwhile Moon Juice (moonjuiceshop.com) is where yoga-honed locals – and me – get their Brazil nut and kale smoothies and raw chocolate treats. Just a block from the boardwalk, fashion photographers Glen Luchford and Doug Bruce’s lovely Rose Hotel (therosehotelvenice.com) houses 14 stylish yet simple rooms with beach-house decor and a low-key surfer vibe. It’s pretty much my dream home.
While most Angelenos shudder at the thought of Hollywood’s more touristy offerings, West Hollywood (or WeHo) has retained its cool credentials, thanks largely to the vibrant gay community (as of 2013, 39% of WeHo’s residents are gay men), excellent eateries and Museum Row, five museums (most notably Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art ) within walking distance of each other. Vegan Mexican joint Gracias Madre (graciasmadreweho.com) is the go-to spot for entertainment industry lunches. (Yes, Gwyneth Paltrow is a regular.) WeHo’s best-loved cafe is Alfred Coffee (alfredcoffee.com), populated by in-between-jobs actors and screenwriters. By night, venture east to Good Times at Davey Wayne’s (goodtimesatdaveywaynes.com), a 1970s-themed bar run by the Houston brothers, the unstoppable hit-makers of the Hollywood bar scene, who are also behind The Line Hotel’s 1980s-themed karaoke bar Break Room 86.
Sunday is Funday in WeHo; I love taking in an exhibition in the morning, then treating myself to bottomless mimosas at brunch, followed by a tipsy spree at The Grove (thegrovela.com).