LA is no stranger to glamour but look behind the glitz and there are cultural gems aplenty as well as some of the best surf in the West. A thriving foodie scene belies the city’s reputation for culinary fads, while hipster neighbourhoods Silver Lake and Venice are both charming and eccentric.
A vast urban sprawl, getting from one side of LA to the other can take up to two hours when the traffic is bad – which is most of the time. Happily, car hire is cheap and can be done from LAX. Buses serve the seaside suburbs, while the new metro shuttles between Pasadena and Culver City.
Hollywood might be at the heart of LA but the city is really a string of loosely connected suburbs – each with its own flavour and a bewildering array of things to do. Before you head out into Tinsel Town’s laid-back beach communities, get your bearings on Hollywood Boulevard which is home to the Walk of Fame and Graumann’s Chinese Theater. Beverly Hills lies a short drive to the west and is worth a look just to goggle at the gated mansions, although celebrity sightings are few and far between.
For that, try leafy Los Feliz just below the Hollywood sign or head to Malibu – once famous for Baywatch and now for its A-list residents. The sleepy seaside town is also home to the spectacular Getty Villa, with its bewildering array of ancient Greek and Roman artefacts, and is the first stop on the wonderful Pacific Coast Highway. Further along the road is Ventura, a small port that specialises in whale-watching charters, while back the other way is Calabasas, an upmarket suburb that is home to the Kardashian clan among others.
Less glamorous but brilliant fun is Disneyland, which sits just to the north of LA in Anaheim. Universal Studios is smaller but, thanks to its convenient Studio City location, much closer and adds new rides each year.
Once a druggie’s paradise, recent years have seen Venice reborn as a hipster haven – complete with chic shops, a glossy pier and a boardwalk packed with interesting characters. A similar process is now taking place in Silver Lake, although the suburb’s historic stairways give it a slightly old-fashioned air.
Surfers and paddle boarders should head east to Pacific Palisades where the beaches are clean and the waves second to none. For riders, there’s a small ranch tucked away under the Hollywood sign in Los Feliz and trails that give you a view of LA that you won’t find anywhere else.
Beverly Hills might have The Ivy and Nobu but it is far from being the only LA location where top-notch cooking reigns supreme. And nowhere is this clearer than Koreatown – a stretch of Downtown that was once off limits to all but LAPD and is now home to some of the best Asian food in the US.
Close by, and also famous for their food, are Little Armenia and Little Tokyo. Venice, Marina del Rey and Santa Monica are replete with hipster hangouts and organic pizza, while Pasadena has an up-and-coming food scene and a lovely weekly farmer’s market on Saturdays. Don’t forget to grab a freshly cooked tamale – they’re worth the journey by themselves.