36 Hours in Los Angeles
Home to captivating art, deeply rooted ethnic communities and world-class food, the nation’s second largest city is vivid, soulful and eclectic.
No city in the country is more exciting than Los Angeles right now. Despite pop culture portrayals of Los Angeles as either comically superficial or darkly dystopian, the nation’s second largest metropolis is a vivid, soulful, eclectic city. It’s home to year-round blooms and captivating street murals, musical innovation and outsider art, deeply rooted communities and world-class food cooked by chefs from around the globe. The greatest challenge for visitors is not what to do, but which version of this vast city to embrace. For the first time in a long time, it is possible to travel directly between downtown and the beach by light rail with the long-awaited expansion of the Expo Line. By hewing closely to a couple of Metrorail lines and supplementing with the city’s first bike-share program, which is to begin July 7, visitors will, inevitably, miss a great deal. But as any Angeleno will tell you, Los Angeles is not a city you can see or do or taste in a weekend. By making hard choices, you willspend more time experiencing a handful of exciting neighborhoods— from Highland Park and Boyle Heights on the East Side to the eccentric coastal enclave of Venice — and less of it sitting in traffic, which is a glorious thing. Because Los Angeles is a magical place.
It’s rare that hype doesn’t disappoint. But the Broad, which opened earlier this year to critical raves and huge crowds, is an exceptional museum.Compared with the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall next door, the Broad’s 120,000-square-foot, $140-million building is understated. Yet its cheese-grater exterior and worm tube escalator shaft seem as instantly iconic as the Guggenheim in New York. The collection, 2,000 works by 200 contemporary and postwar artists, including both household names, like Warhol and Koons, and less familiar figures, is both wondrous and overwhelming. Admission is free, but tickets must be reserved on the first day of each month via an online ticket reservation to avoid same-day standby lines.CreditLaure Joliet for The New York Times
2. RADICAL REUSE, 5:30 P.M.
Even if you don’t plan to spend $21,000 on a massive globe of reclaimed steel illuminated with LED lights, $65 on candlesticks made from gears and machine parts, or $2,000 on a mosaic of recycled aluminum cans depicting a ‘57 Chevy, the works on display at the Arts District’s Cleveland Artshowroom warrants a stop for its brilliant use of recycled materials. Or, save your lifestyle envy for Saturday and stop into Highland Park’s midcentury modern furniture and housewares emporium Sunbeam Vintage, where you’ll find a classic Hollywood Regency bar cart, a set of vintage Dorothy Thorpe glasses or a ceramic volcano vase. While not obvious souvenirs, Sunbeam’s Mad Men-era collection may invoke fantasies about moving into an Echo Park bungalow fitted with beautiful objects.
3. STYLISH CERVEZA, 6:30 P.M.
Within the last few years, three new breweries have opened within blocks of each other downtown, making the area, already overflowing with spectacular, high-end cocktails, an imbiber’s delight. On the ground floor of an office building painted in aquamarine, peach and canary yellow circles and swirls, Mumford Brewing stands out for uncommon offerings like Golf Clap, a dry-hopped saison, and Unpresidential, a Northeast-style IPA. Three blocks east, Angel City Brewing has a stage-set Art Deco aesthetic, a spiral metal slide and bean bag games. The newest of the bunch, Arts District Brewing, greets visitors with a Charles Bukowski quote in blue neon and a fleet of Skee-Ball tables. To its credit, the beer scene in Los Angeles doesn’t take itself too seriously.
4. MALL FOOD (AND MUSIC), 8 P.M.
Some of the city’s most exciting food resides in strip malls. Kinjiro, anizakaya — a Japanese-style pub, serving small plates, sake and beer — is a small space with sake bottles along one wall and a sculpted bull’s head on another. Order from dozens of sakes and a menu that features tender, deeply flavorful grilled prime beef tongue with sea salt ($18); a raw dish of uni, scallop, blue crab and ponzu jelly ($16); and homemade age dashi tofu with mushroom ankake sauce ($12). Reservations are required. Down the street, on the top floor of a Little Tokyo shopping center, Blue Whale Baris a jazz club and art gallery where the owner mans the door and the music is eclectic, ranging from “The Brazil You Never Heard” to electronic funk-pop. Cover starts at $15.
5. GO EAST, 10 A.M.
Beginning in July, grab a B-Cycle, one of the communal bikes from the city’s new bike-share program, and head east to Boyle Heights. Cross the historic Fourth Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River, then cut south through Hollenbeck Park to Las Molenderas, a simple restaurant specializing in mole sauce, the complex blend of spices, nuts and chocolate that is among Mexico’s most revered traditional dishes. Here, threevarieties are made in-house and samples are offered before ordering. The sweet almond is extraordinary. Then, go on a mural-spotting bike ridethrough the neighborhood before looping back to Mariachi Plaza and stopping into Espacio 1839, a community space, gallery and shop, which also hosts Radio Sombraand its “barrio-based radio revolution.” Opens at noon.
6. SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE, 1:30 P.M.
Nowhere in downtown Los Angeles epitomizes the area’s transformation more than Grand Central Market, a self-declared “downtown landmark since 1917.” Nearly 100 vendors sell everything from bulk chiles and dried beans to smoked fish at Wexler’s Deli and egg sandwiches at Eggslut. Recent arrivals include handmade pasta at Knead & Co., a spot by the chef Bruce Kalman of Pasadena’s celebrated Union restaurant, and Golden Road Brewing, which has20 beers on tap.
7. CULTURE TRIP, 3 P.M.
En route to the grand Union Station, the city’s transit hub and a stunning 1939 structure mixing Spanish Colonial and Art Deco architecture, detour to LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes. A free Smithsonian-affiliated institution near the site where the city was founded in 1781, the museum exhibits touch on everything from historical figures, like Anthony Quinn, the first Mexican-born actor to receive an Academy Award, to baseball’s significance to the city’s Mexican-American communities. Or walk a few blocks farther north to Velveteria (admission, $10), a Chinatown storefront devoted to the dark arts of velvet painting. If you’re lucky, you will be greeted by the museum’s founder, who will explain the history of his peculiar passion, its heyday in the psychedelic/disco era and its tendency toward the bizarre, erotic and esoteric.
8. SWEET TOOTH, 5 P.M.
Take the Gold line to the Highland Park station. For a jugo verde (a green juice concoction, $4) or the Tijuana street snack, tostilocos($4.50), stop into Tropical Fruit & Juices. Or try La Monarca, a local chain of Mexican-style bakeries and cafes, serving traditional pan dulces (sweet breads like the shell-shaped concha and ear-shaped orejas), desserts like Horchata Cake and cinnamon-infused cafe de olla.CreditLaure Joliet for The New York Times
9. HIGH TIME, 7:30 P.M.
After years as a punk rock club, a 1927 bowling alley has been turned back into an elegant bowling hall. Highland Park Bowl has eight wooden lanes with vintage pinsetters, two U-shaped bars and excellent wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza, like a red pizza made with San Marzano tomato sauce artichokes, Greek olives, prosciutto cotto and shaved Parmesan($15). Games start at $50 an hour. Then, cross the street for a cocktail at ETA, which opened in April, further cementing Highland Park’s fast-changing character. The room is cool and spare — gray and black and exposed brick — but the drinks are showy and poetic. They include the Prettiest Girl of All Time, made with Tromba tequila, berry tea, pickled kumquats, purple perilla, lemon balm and citrus cordial ($12).
10. WILD WEST, 11 P.M.
Built in 1934, Clifton’s Cafeteria is part California-themed “cabinet of curiosities” and part retro dining hall. Clifton’s reopened late last year after a five-year, $10 million renovation. Stepping in from the busy downtown streets is like entering a cavernous diorama, complete with taxidermied wildlife and a five-story faux redwood tree. For nostalgic night life that pays kitschy homage to the Golden State, dance to live swing, rockabilly or jazz bands at “Clifton’s at Night.” No cover.
11. BEACH BREAKFAST, 9 A.M.
Take the Expo Line to Santa Monica and rent a bike at Santa Monica Bike Center, where options include recumbents and family tricycles. Ride south on the waterfront path to Venice. For a haute brunch, head to Dudley Market, where customers in flip-flops sit in mismatched chairs and happily pay $18 for an omelet of beer-battered soft shell crab with greens and chives. Or, for avant garde food truck fare, try Guerrilla Tacos, which parks at Venice’s Blue Bottle on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., serving experimental takes on Alta California cuisine, like a “Country Club Taco” with Nueske’s bacon, foie gras, chile de arbol and “flowering herbs” ($8). Then take a slow ride along Venice Beach, checking out its many characters,from fortune tellers to street performers to would-be prophets.
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