The oft-stereotyped city that unashamedly has it all
Stereotypically known as a city for vacuous celebrity wannabes, Los Angeles often gets a bad rap. In fact, it is a city that is not just aesthetically pleasing—with almost every view framed by palm trees and rolling green hills—but one that is host to plenty of history, culture and a constantly blossoming creative and artisan scene that sees innovations popping up every day. From the glossy Beverly Hills, nostalgic Larchmont, the mayhem of Hollywood, eternally retro-vibed Venice and everything between, there really is something for everybody in Los Angeles. Visitors just might not know it yet. While CH has a few essential spots to visit, we also recommend getting behind the wheel and exploring the city in the best possible way—by getting lost in it. A city that unashamedly has it all, LA is much more cultural and interesting than it might seem, with secret treasures hidden in every district.
The stereotype that is the Venice local—surfers, skaters and artists—seems somehow out of place at Gjelina. Although it's those same locals who were the restaurant's first customers when it opened back in 2008—and now food enthusiasts from all over covet a table at the almost perfect venue. First, diners will notice the rustic, but lovely, decor: raw timber ceilings, a meathook chandelier with mismatched light bulbs and large share tables. Then, obviously it's all about the nosh. Because the menu is seasonal, a great option is to order a bunch of plates—pizzas, vegetable dishes, seafood and meat—and share. Gjelina only accepts bookings (for brunch and dinner) for groups of six or more, so it can be pretty difficult to get a table at this spot. If you can't wait, pop next door to Gjelina Take Away (aka GTA) and wander down to the beach to eat. While in Venice, it's worth walking the length of Abbot Kinney, but be sure to visit Tortoise General Store for Japan-related goodies.
It might not look like a lot from the street, but The Record Collector is a magnificent, mind-blowing adventure. For vinyl-enthusiasts, collectors and anybody with a little curiosity, a wander through the record store is akin to entering another realm. The store is made up of several rooms, lined top-to-bottom with shelves of records—over a million of them. While a lot of the records are expensive (many being rare and very collectable) this is the place to come if you've been searching for a particular album. Even if you're not interested in buying, one question to the friendly owner and you'll leave with a bunch of incredible stories and some excellent trivia about anybody from Coltrane to the Stones to a weird children's album from the '40s. If visiting on a Sunday, cross the street and wander through the flea market at Fairfax High School where you'll find vintage clothes, homewards, trinkets and Hollywood collectables. Also nearby on N Fairfax is Known Gallery, the iconic Canter's deli and (if you're a big-time carnivore) new-classic Animal—where the queues are long but more than worth the wait.
For car (and coffee) fans, keep Saturday morning locked in for a drive to Cars and Coffee, a gathering in Irvine (south-east of LA) where hundreds of car enthusiasts, drivers, collectors and restorers meet to admire and show off some of the finest automobiles in California. With no era or theme, there's sure to be a car that tickles everybody's fancy; from classics to hotrods, concept cars and everything in-between. There's no charge, no membership and no pressure—just be prepared to wake up early, and for a very enthusiastic few stories from owners if you ask about their wheels. Grab a coffee and a donut, smell the exhaust fumes, and ogle these mean machines. If you're in need of some fresh air next, drive a little further south to Laguna Beach to the Top of the World park for some nature. The hike isn't the easiest, but getting to the top is worth if for the spectacular views. Plus, hikers might stumble across deer, rabbits or even goats on their wander.
The infamous Chateau Marmont is an LA landmark; slightly hidden from the street, the historic hotel was built in 1927 and based on Château d'Amboise, in France. Inside the walls, the garden is drenched in that LA sunshine and surrounded by beautiful flowers and lush greens, making it hard to believe the rumors that the historic building is haunted. If you're lucky enough to be staying the night and can pull yourself out of the incredibly comfortable bed, head to the patio of the restaurant downstairs and sit in the midst of the amazing garden and order the burrata over bruschetta. Chateau Marmont is known for its privacy making it a celebrity power-lunch hotspot, so don't be surprised when suddenly face-to-face with a movie star—just don't take photos of live-tweet the action, or you'll be asked to leave faster than you can say "Isn't that the guy from…" The restaurant and bar are both plush, dimly lit and romantic, and where you'll find beautiful people oftentimes dressed in homage to old Hollywood. If you're looking to get out and do a little sightseeing, head down the street to sunset tower and check out its art deco design, or the incredible views of the city that it offers.
The French word Jadis translates roughly to "in times past" or "the old days" which is apt for this special, by-appointment-only antique store. While the Santa Monica shop—owned by carpenter and self-taught engineer Parke Meek until his death in 2010—seems to only sometimes be open tot the public, it's important to call ahead. Now solely owned by Meek's partner Susan Lieberman, the shop asks a $1 donation on entry, and it's well worth it. Visitors will be overwhelmed by the veritable museum inside, housing trinkets and treasures from old scientific equipment to antique globes, antlers, gizmos and gadgets, and just about anything else one can imagine. It's truly a curiosity cabinet and you will be treated to all kinds of fun facts and odd history. You might see the robot from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" or any number of famous props and costumes. The owners rent and sell props from the store, but it's worth a visit for the jaw-dropping wow factor. Leave your phone in your pocket, as photos aren't allowed. A little way down Neilson Way there is the antithesis of Jadis: Viceroy Santa Monica, a super-glam hotel where a refreshment by the pool could be the perfect wind-down. Or perhaps a visit to the William Turner Gallery for some mind-boggling modern art.
It's not often that strip malls are perceived as the places to go, but a little one on the cusp of Echo Park and Silverlake is certainly worth visiting. Not too far from the more bustling section of W Sunset sits Pho Cafe—totally unassuming from the street, save for the queue of people that appears every now and then. This brightly lit restaurant is the spot for tasty home-style Vietnamese food: grab some rice paper rolls and a big, hearty pho with all the trimmings. The food is great, and the service is no fuss and super-fast. Keep in mind Pho Cafe is cash only, but there is an ATM at the Silversun liquor store just a few meters away. Once the fortune cookies have been read and eaten, head up to Intelligentsia for a coffee or tea to sip while checking out the stores nearby—we suggest a peep at Mohawk General Store and Reform School for gifts, jewelry and clothing, and Bar Keeper for all home accessories bar-related.
Neither Jurassic nor technological, the Museum of Jurassic Technology on Venice Boulevard in Culver City—a hub for movie studios and galleries—is truly a unique experience. The dimly lit rooms create the ambiance of a haunted mansion, with eerily peculiar exhibits to match—it truly is a modern-day cabinet of curiosities. Subjects ranging from opera singers to dogs of the soviet space program and beyond are often so off-beat that for some it is hard to find "the point," though many visitors would suggest that this sentiment comes from those expecting a more concrete experience. Take a break upstairs in the tea room for complimentary snacks and catch the often rare films that run there on the hour. The not-for-profit museum is open Thursday to Sunday and runs on suggested donations, so you can pay as much as you feel you owe. While in Culver City, it's worth visiting a few of the numerous galleries nearby and maybe stopping for a snack at The Blind Barber around the corner on West Washington—a speakeasy-style venue that's hidden in plain sight behind a barbershop façade.
Dedicated to the study of arts and culture of ancient Greece, Rome and Etruria, the Getty on the beach is a more manageable visit than going to its sister Meier-designed museum to the East. Sat atop a cliff in Malibu, The Getty Villa is a sight to behold. The setting and the art collection that is housed there are as stunning as each other. When oil tycoon J. Paul Getty ran out of room in his first gallery, he decided to build a second one—the Villa— which he said he wanted to recreate the Villa of the Papyri (a house in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum). The antiquities are themed: Gods and Goddesses, Dionysos and the Theater and Stories of the Trojan War. Make sure you leave time to wander through the opulent Roman-inspired gardens too. Entry to the Villa is free, however advance timed-entry tickets are available online. While it's technically in Pacific Palisades, it's still close enough to explore beaches and other attractions in Malibu. Get a snack on the way to or from nearby beaches (try the dune between Zuma and Paradise Grove), shop the Country Mart, snack at Cafe Habana or enjoy the Adamson house. If you're up for a big day, we suggest hiking nearby Temescal Canyon for spectacular views over Malibu.
There is nothing quite like a road trip to Vegas. Depending on the chosen route from LA, drivers will come across all kinds of strange and interesting places along the way to the flashy resort city. While not technically on the way, we suggest driving a little out of the way either north-east or south-east. If choosing the first option, drive via Death Valley—the lowest and hottest place in Northern America (at 282 feet below sea level) and a sight to behold. Another route worth the detour is driving south-east via Palm Springs—if you're not in a hurry to get to Vegas, stay a night at the Ace Hotel there and head to the spectacular Joshua Tree National Park the next day. Once in Vegas, it's hard not to succumb to the kitsch, gaudy glamor and the debauchery of it all—it's not many cities whose underbelly is actually the wholesome, family-orientated facet. We suggest a visit to the Neon Graveyard, where the neon signs of yesteryear go to rest. But this is also the place to release your inner-tourist and visit the classics: Liberace Museum, Little White Wedding Chapel, Venice in Vegas, Bonanza Gifts (the largest gift shop in the world), you name it. It might be a cliche, but what happens in Vegas stays there, so embrace it!