Los Angeles (LA) is an epicentre of cool. So much has come out of LA that is reflected in culture, fashion, politics, sports, and lifestyle. It’s exerting itself as an influential hub for art, culture, food, and design next to heavy-weights like New York, Tokyo, Paris, and London. However, the urban sprawl leaves something to be desired, which is arduous if you are used to high-density cities with well-connected transit systems and less traffic.
I resisted LA for many years, finding it hard to believe that I could connect with what appears to be a very superficial city. However, with this blog and my love of art, design, food, and cities, I thought I would give it a go. I should give credit to a few shows like Ugly Delicious, Chef’s Table, In the Mind of a Chef , and David Chang’s podcast, which revealed another side of LA I hadn’t expected and a group of people that I was inspired by, whom I didn’t think would live there.
This bias only serves to showcase why it took me so long to get to LA and now I am clambering at every chance to head back. My trip focused on Central LA (Silver Lake, Los Feliz, and Echo Park) and Downtown (Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and the Arts District). These areas jived with me and had more compelling social and cultural fabrics. Exploring these neighbourhoods was made easy by foot, despite contrary opinion, because many of the regions bled into one another. Despite the connectedness, it was clear that each area had its own unique characteristics.
Interestingly, a friend of mine consulted her friend who lives in LA, albeit, in Pasadena and they were not fond of or spoke well of Echo Park. To me, it looked like a sunny, cozy, suburb around the Dodger’s stadium. There are cute houses perched on well-maintained lawns, palm trees scattered throughout, and, at the heart of the neighbourhood itself, Echo Park. My perception of this neighbourhood is skewed being a visitor, so I acknowledge that these areas have layered pasts and presents. What I am experiencing as charming and fresh with new shops, restaurants, and cafes could be negatively impacting people who have lived here for a long time. With this in mind, LA seems to create a patchwork of cultural fabrics, which reveal storied neighbourhoods, dense with things to explore, eat, drink, and do.
It is important not to underestimate traffic congestion and the lack of mass transit in the city. Give yourself ample time if you need to be somewhere at a specific time, otherwise roam freely by rideshare, bike, or electric scooters. There is a metro, but it is limited. Walking is feasible within specific neighbourhoods. The city isn’t super pedestrian friendly, whether it’s the streets themselves or just much-needed shade along the long boulevards.
Air Bnb is by far the most affordable option. I scooped a superb spot in Echo Park that was one of the best places I’ve stayed. I would recommend finding a place in the area you want to explore, reducing the amount of time you spend in a car. If you have to move locations, it’s not the worst because then you can deep-dive into that specific neighbourhood.
Eating and Shopping:
One of the things that stood out to me, which I admire, in LA, is the organic and impromptu street food culture. It reminds me of street food culture throughout Asia and Latin America, which makes my heart sing. Good food passed down through generations, that is humble yet utterly delicious. I love the lack of pretense. Some of the street food highlights were wondering to the Row DTLA from the Arts District, and finding a perfectly placed taco truck in the industerial area. Then passing a street BBQ on a long strip of Sunset Blvd between Silver Lake and Echo Park, with full party lights, seating, and an epic oil drum converted into a BBQ.
Then there is just an incredible assortment of restaurants in every neighbourhood. Koreatown beckoned with a wide variety of restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and bars. Little Tokyo is so charming, with a blend of restaurants, shops, and hyper-niche boutiques for the only in Japan products you may covet. Chinatown is extensive with an incredible array of food and tiny shops. All of these anecdotes serve to highlight how complex and unwilling LA is to be pinned down by any one stereotype. Those stereotypes exist, but that isn’t all of LA. So, read on for a more in-depth look at my short, yet meandering trip through LA.
Central LA is full of incredible delights on every corner. I was impressed with the variety of neighbourhoods in this area and the vast array of boutiques and restaurants. Here are my favourite spots.
Los Feliz is comprised of the beautiful, quintessential LA palm-lined streets. It’s a walkable neighbourhood with a string of cafes and cozier restaurants along Hillhurst Ave. While Vermont Ave, which runs parallel to Hillhurst Ave. has a bit more hustle to it. You’ll find shops, restaurants, bars, and a cinema here.
Coffee – Maru Coffee A minimalist little spot on Hillhurst Ave, which is chock-full of independent cafes between Finely Ave and Sunset Blvd. A minimalist white interior with wood accents makes this a bright, yet cozy spot to relax with a coffee. I tried the spiced cold brew, which was a refreshing delight.
Shopping – Spitfire Girl A beautiful selection of antiques (jewelry and knick-knacks), along with contemporary pieces, homeware, stationery, books, and other curious finds. A great spot to look for a unique souvenir or two.
Food Hot Spot – Little Dom’s A restaurant and deli combo, this has a European deli vibe. The cozy sidewalk seating is excellent for people watching or enjoying your food in the fresh air. The menu has a comforting quality that is top notch.
Shopping – Skylight Bookstore This is a neighbourhood staple with a vast range of books, stationery, gifts, and the things you didn’t realize you needed. It’s a comfortable little spot to stop and ponder your next literary adventure or take a break from the heat. I especially liked the vintage postcards of LA and the dog enamel pins.
Shopping – Sumi’s Boutique – This little shop is well-stocked with beautiful houseware items, stationery, gifts, books, and accessories. The owner also has the cutest collection of polaroids of the neighbourhood dogs.
Silver Lake is an oblong neighbourhood that stretches quite far. Sunset Blvd. runs through it, and there can be stretches without much to see. However, there are also vast stretches with some of the best restaurants, shops, and bars. The vibe is a bit hipster, a little edgier, and eclectic.
Food Hot Spot – Pine & Crane Wow, coming off a trip to Taiwan a few weeks before, eating here I was impressed. It’s family style eating, so bring an appetite and a friend or two. It’s a favourite spot with locals who queue up for their spot in the famous restaurant. A beautifully minimal interior creates a comfortable ambience while allowing the natural energy to bubble out and infuse the atmosphere. Lively conversations are interrupted by vapid chewing and hums and haws of happy customers.
Food Hot Spot – Song Night/Market
A Thai treat, this little hole in the wall has been operational for some time and is another favourite spot amongst locals. Get there early to avoid the queue, or bring a line beverage or snack to avoid hanger. Don’t let the kitschy interior fool you; these guys take Thai serious. My friend and I shared a som tum (papaya salad and one of my favourite dishes), and garlic/green beans. For our mains, my friend did the Sweet Potato Massaman, and I did the Pad Thai. The wine pairings were refreshing and delicious; I had an orange wine, which I had never had before. Ace.
Beers & Patio – Haché LA Perfectly situated across from Song Night/Market. It feels like a brewery, with a great range of craft beers to choose from, tasty snacks to complement your beverage, and a super chill aesthetic, but they don’t brew their own beer. The outdoor patio is a perfect place to beat the heat and enjoy cold beer on a hot day (which is pretty much everyday).
Hollywood felt quite touristy and a bit cheesy. The reason I ended up there was for the Rooftop Cinema at Neuehouse, which is a beautiful building, in addition to having an engaging and creative range of cultural offerings. Interestingly, change seems to be on the horizon for this area as studios and corporate head offices are moving into the neighbourhood, and with it, a diverse range of supplementary businesses to support these workforces.
Highlights: Rooftop Cinema at Neuehouse
Since my first experience in Bushwick, New York, I am hooked. It’s such a great way to see a city at dusk, typically with unobstructed panoramic views. It’s also a fun way to sync up with the local vibe; you can usually grab drinks at the bar, or in some cases BYOB. At Neuehouse, there was a bar with a range of tasty cocktails, beer, and wine. If you’re after classic movie snacks, the concession has you covered. I saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s always a delight to see Keanu on the big screen. #iheartkeanureeves
I am obsessed with this place. I initially came across it while listening to David Chang’s podcast, where he interviewed the owner and chef Jessica Koslow. I immediately bought her cookbook and plotted all the jams I would buy before I arrived. The food is delicious, unpretentious, creative, and thoughtful. It’s comforting food that leaves you feeling satisfied and content. I opted for the hash but dabbled in my friend’s ricotta toast with a thick slather of in-house jam. I also took home jam (which is to die for) and a tote bag. Sqirl is a must when you visit.
Echo Park itself is an excellent spot for a stroll or a run if you’re feeling so inclined. I highly recommend hopping into a Swan Boat for an hour and ripping around the lake. We were hungover, it was scorching, but it was a great way to start the morning. Although it may seem kitschy, it’s a unique perspective of the park and city, and it’s cheap fun.
The downtown area is quite massive encompassing several smaller unique neighbourhoods such as Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the Arts District, the Fashion District, the Toy District, and Skid Row. I was able to explore a number of these neighbourhoods; I recommend wandering by foot through the downtown area there’s a lot you’ll miss otherwise.
Highlights: Little Tokyo – Is a concentrated area of streets crammed with restaurants, and a funny mall, Weller Court, right in the middle. It is chock-full of shops of varying nature all geared towards Japanese culture and goods. However, the bottom floor opens up into an open-air shopping area, Japanese Village Plaza Mall, with a variety of restaurants and boutiques. After we popped out to the main street, we stumbled on the LA Book Festival, which was such an unexpected treat. A huge cluster of LA’s coolest (at least by my definition – design focused, well dressed, creative, open-minded types) were hanging out here eating from street vendors, flipping through their indie zines, and admiring the new art that would soon grace their walls. Inside the book the fair, there was an incredible array of independent artists, writers, and vendors offering up unique and often one-of-a-kind items. If you get a chance to go, I would highly recommend attending. This as a great way to see a hyper-local perspective of LA.
Food Hot Spot – Daikokuya
We managed to squeeze into this ramen spot during the lunch rush on a Saturday, but the wait would be worth it. A favourite no-frills, ramen shop with a slightly expanded menu, which allows for tasty snacks to start. Veggie options are limited but available. This location is cash only!
Food Hot Spot – Boteaga
This is a posh spin on bubble tea, using fresh fruit and unconventional toppings to elevate your bubble tea experience. The fresh fruit tea is a tasty way to wash down your lunch ramen. It’s also a good hangover cure.
Shopping – Foot Land Sports
An impressive selection of fresh kicks for sneaker enthusiasts, or just someone who is looking for a rad pair of shoes.
Art & Culture – The Broad Museum
Museums and galleries are always a priority while visiting a new city. I enjoyed the permanent exhibit in the Broad, a lot of prominent artists of the American brand. But, it was the temporary exhibit, Soul of a Nation, that I found very engaging and compelling. Hot Tip: Save the museum for last, you can check your bags so if you have time before the airport you can stop in here before you fly out. If you’re one to appreciate architecture, this is a building worth stopping by. I like the views from directly across the street and two blocks down towards Grand Central Market looking up to the Broad.
Smorgasbord – Grand Central Market
Is similar to the other major food markets, but it’s all about what’s inside. There is an excellent selection of fresh produce, meats, cheeses, spices, and other cooking essentials, while the take-out food scene is on point. This place is bustling and rightly so. There are so many choices, so give yourself some time to sample a few different spots. It was lunch for me, so I hunkered down in Kisamet Falafel for a classic falafel and rosewater lemonade to tide me through the plane ride home.
Art, Food, & Shopping – Arts District
I loved the walkability of the AD and the twisty streets with hidden restaurants, cafes, bars, and art studios. It’s a neighbourhood where you go with the flow. If you see something that intrigues you stop and check it out. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon with a curious mind and no agenda. This area is on my hit list for when I return.
All in One – Row DTLA
We wandered over to the Row from Arts District which was a much longer walk than expected. However, we did stumble on an excellent taco truck outside one of the warehouses en route. The tacos were inexpensive, yet delicious and the perfect snack to tide me over. Once we made it to the Row, it was surprisingly quiet likely due to the LA Book Fest.
There are a lot of neat shops, restaurants, and cafes in the Row. I stopped into Poketo, which has been on my list for some time. They have a beautiful collection of stationery, homeware, accessories, bags, and books — thoughtful and creative pieces. I also stopped into the Paramount Coffee Project (PCP) for an afternoon latte and a much-needed rest on their shaded patio. I also scooped one of their super rad tote bags. If you’re a lover of good wine, spirits, and bar accessories stop by Flask & Field for some treats for your home bar. If you’re a stationary enthusiast, particularly of the Japanese persuasion, then you should ensure to stop by Hightide for a beautiful assortment of notebooks, pens, desk top accessories, and travel items.
LA is filled with incredible street art, which can be found on buildings, sidewalks, alleys, and even stairs. The range of talent and creativity makes it a bit of a treasure hunt to look for it while you’re walking. Another reason to explore LA by foot, in most places.
Kitty the Kat
While strolling through Silver Lake, my friend suggested that we check out the Goodwill, because you never know what kind of gems you may find there. Of course, she was right. I stumbled upon a cat cookie jar, which was too cute and kitschy to ignore. We then proceeded to capture ‘Kitty the Kat’ on her adventures through LA. The takeaway: always make time for a pit stop at the Goodwill, you never know what you may find, or ‘need.’