Los Angeles is a place of luminous beauty juxtaposed with Hollywood’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” It’s a mixed bag where substance belies shallow, red carpet vapidity, and resplendent nature exists in stark relief against gritty, exhaust-crusted urban sprawl.
Imagine the marbled sidewalks of Rodeo Drive lined with the plastic cards used within its stores, its neat cobblestone walkways laid with silicon implants wending into the half-life Day-Glo green of ghosts of aspiring actresses past — a cinematic decay befitting Los Angeles. It’s insipid, and it’s viral, and it’s not going away, much like famed residents the Kardashians. The city is chock-full of everything divine, and everything of the Bacchanalian and vice-fueled flesh. It is, in essence, what you make of it.
L.A.’s musical history was built on garage rock and surf music from the ‘60s, bloated arena rock of the ‘70s and the Aqua Net and peroxide blond hair bands of the ‘80s. During the ‘80s heyday, labels such as Warner Bros. and Geffen pumped hair bands throughout “Rock ‘n’ Roll Sunset,” from the Rainbow to The Viper Room, where wealthy Turkish tourists with grey suede driving shoes, sailors with penny loafers and frat boys with a penchant for Girls, Girls, Girls gathered.
In any case, Los Angeles is a city predicated upon — and built up exclusively by and for creatives — and corollary gawking tourists. After the initial economic boom of California’s gold rush, Hollywood’s initial population upswing was indebted to the number of sunny days to film, and with the film industry came the aspiring actors, writers, musicians, comedians, and — let’s face it — porn stars.
Generally, prom queens from the Midwest arrive in the city generally (pitifully) wanting to make it, borne up by the levity of casting couch social mobility and upward social climbing, relying on the further buoyancy of their sizzling good looks. Cliché, yes, but they arrive with each bus and LAX inbound flight, indulging in the general painlessness of 72-degrees-and-sunshine-all-the-time. This general “Westward Ho!” behavior should probably be rewarded. It is, after all, evolution and ambition. Right, pioneers? Go West!
Los Angeles continues to evolve and expand with that Wild West mentality. The city’s recent population boom and influx to the Silicon Beach economy guarantees a continuation of growth, ensuring L.A. will sprawl up, down and sideways. Here’s our guide to everything from neighborhood exploration to restaurants, nights out, shopping, coffee shops and the stark contrasts within the City of (Hell’s) Angels.
DowntownAs recently as 2000, downtown Los Angeles was a wasteland of decommissioned industrial warehouses, a strange combination of drug addicts and businessmen and high-rise office towers. A new community sprouted around the affordable artist loft community near[Factory Place Arts Complex](http://factorypl.com/) in the mid-2000s, bringing with it a proliferation of boutiques and restaurants such as[Church & State](http://churchandstatebistro.com/) and[Bäco Mercat](http://bacomercat.com/), a highlight in the Old Bank district with fusion tapas-meet-French, Moroccan and African influences. A visit to [Grand Central Market](http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/) is a great way to experience the cultural melting pot that is Los Angeles. The market dates from 1917 and within its lively rows of stalls where everything from imported Mexican herbs and Santería potions to a Korean dollar store, affordable farm-fresh produce, Japanese bento boxes and food for the popular all-day breakfast whore, [Egg Slut](http://www.eggslut.com/#about). After a breakfast-as-dinner meal, head to La Cita for theme nights such as mixed homo- and heterosexual night Moustache Mondays or “angry hour” Fridays. Catch an indie rock band at the pirate-themed[Redwood Bar & Grill](http://www.theredwoodbar.com/2012/calendar.html) or sample a fine malt scotch selection at[Seven Grand](http://213dthospitality.com/project/seven-grand-dtla/), which boasts taxidermy displays, pool tables and pastoral British hunting paintings. ## Los Feliz, Silverlake & Echo Park Taco trucks, palm trees and sunshine — all typically Angeleno, and all well represented in Silverlake. Taco trucks around Silverlake are plentiful and affordable. Most trucks pride themselves on fresh salsa bars and slow-roasted al pastor (pork), but none are as divine as[El Flamin Taco](http://elflamintaco.com/), the home of the best post-sweaty-night-out-dancing food imaginable, such as Asada Fries, a lavish combination of steak-cut thick fries drizzled in slow-cooked carne asada, sour cream, shredded cheese and avocado. Other tasty food options are plentiful, with [Silverlake Ramen](http://www.yelp.com/biz/silverlake-ramen-los-angeles) on Sunset offering delicious spicy chicken, beef and vegan broths. The[Sunset Junction](https://sunsetjunctioncoffeeshop.com/) area is a great shopping destination, with the nearby[Mohawk General Store](http://www.mohawkgeneralstore.com/) drawing most of the uncompromising Han Kjøbenhavn-bespectacled hipsters. Also worthwhile: French restaurant [Figaro Bistrot](http://www.figarobistrot.com/) in Los Feliz, where the New York strip drizzled in creamy green peppercorn sauce surpasses many five-star French establishments in Paris.
Highland Park & Boyle Heights
The charming barrio of Highland Park has gone through something of a dubious renaissance — or, in more appropriate Angeleno terminology, a facelift — of gentrification over the past few years. Hipsters decamped Silverlake and encroached Highland Park in search of affordable rent, and brought with them all of the attendant record shops, boutiques and coffee houses that hipsterdom entails. Topping the list of worthwhile Highland Park record stores isMount Analog, which also stocks an exhaustive selection of rare books, cassette tapes and collectibles. Record store runners-up include Gimme Gimme,Permanent Records andWombleton. Book collectors, take note of the Espacio 1839 community space and shop in Boyle Heights, which stocks an exhaustive selection of books in both English and Spanish, Chicano crafts, art and apparel. The venue was launched by a team of entrepreneurs (including an artist, DJ, journalist and bookstore owner), and also hosts art openings, music shows and radio podcasts via Radio Sombra.
Santa Monica’s TrueTone Music carries an exhaustive selection of new and gently used music equipment. The shop’s wall of electric and acoustic guitars stretches from floor to 40-foot ceilings with a candy-dish colorway selection of guitars in every combination and finish imaginable. Fancy a Russian Balalaica? TrueTone has a wide selection. A ’59 Danelectro in Sea Foam green? Yes. A Les Paul signed by Kid Rock or a custom Les Paul Quilt Top with Rosewood fretboard? Yes. Nearly every Telecaster and Stratocaster in any and every finish from any year is available, as well as a wide selection of Danelectro, Fender, Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars, basses, pedals, and tube amps.
Good food options in Santa Monica are centered around the boutique-laden Main Street and tony Montana Avenue areas. Cafe ’50s on Santa Monica Boulevard features kitschy 1950s collectibles and posters plastered on every available surface, magicians doing tricks alongside dining tables on weekends, and a comprehensive array of innovative malt and shake recipes, including the peanut butter and jelly shake, date and honey shake, and the Elvis shake. Huckleberry on Wilshire has excellent pastries, coffee and farm-to-table food.When you’re done dining visit Planet Blue, an expensive but beautifully curated clothing collection for occasions ranging from a red carpet event to bohemian beachside lounging.
For outdoor adventures, Will Rogers State Park offers great hiking with beach views, horse stables, and the historic Will Rogers residence where the actor lived before deeding the property to California State Parks in 1944. Access the park entrance on Will Rogers from Sunset. Park at the polo grounds and meander up the pathway behind the house. The hike is a loop that culminates at Inspiration Point with a view of the ocean that stretches from from the Pacific Palisades to Long Beach, downtown and even Catalina Island (on a clear day).
The burgeoning Venice Beach area hosts everything from excellent vintage goods at Gotta Have It, Technicolor beachwear at Surfing Cowboys, amazing coffee, custom vintage motorcycles (and surfboards?) at Deux Ex Machina. A Venice highlight is the Abbott Kinney Boulevard area near the Venice Canals historic district, with shops such as Burro and extensive jewelry designer ateliers, such as Sofia Kaman (where Lindsey Lohan infamously stole jewelry prompting one of her arrests) and Alexis Bittar.
For divine low-brow eats, head to the Dogtown Dogs truck for a bacon-wrapped hot dog or a Trailer Trash Dog (a beef dog topped with chili and Fritos), or go high-brow at eitherGjelina orTasting Kitchen.
Skip the tourist trap of Hollywood Boulevard’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” a dingy walk lined with requisite shops filled with the fake IDs of starlets, overpriced plastic Golden Globe award replicas awarding recipients with dubious titles of “Best Mom” and “Best Dad” and cheap cotton bubblegum pink tees emblazoned with the likeness of Marilyn Monroe and/or the Hollywood sign. But if you must go that route, indulge in a bit of Hollywood’s golden era at the Hollywood Museum in the historic Max Factor building before having a bite of prepackaged Wonderbread Americana in the ‘50s style Mel’s Diner next door with its overstuffed red vinyl booths and miniature jukeboxes on each dining table.
Alternatively, skip the Hollywood Boulevard area altogether and head to Melrose Avenue for its fashion atelier-meets-punky eclecticism. Here, Tenoversix curates handmade designs and wearable art not too far from the massive Burton flagship store staffed with affable dreadlocked snowboarders and their oversized dogs, or plunder the racks at Wasteland for consignment extras from fashion and movie set stylists. You’ll likely find brand new Comme des Garçons, Rick Owens or L.A.M.B. fresh from the shoot or runway, and affordably priced. The nearby American Rebel has an exhaustive selection of vintage goods, from artfully distressed used Levi’s 501s to cowboy boots, polyester flowered muumuu eyesores, vintage men’s OP cotton swim trunks, and other collectibles.
Concept gallery and storeJust One Eye, lavishly housed in a historic 1920s art deco building, is a great pit-stop before searching for vinyl, cassettes, CDs and music-related ephemera atAmoeba Records, which likely has one of the largest brick-and-mortar music selections in the world. After netting music scores at Amoeba, head toMud Hen Tavern for dinner. Don’t miss the Chicken & Waffle Croquettes with bacon and spicy maple sauce. For a night out, the speakeasyNo Vacancy is the destination for excellent drinks and live music housed in a former hotel and brothel in what looks to be a Victorian-era building. The doorman shows guests into a waiting room, where a bed is moved to reveal the secret entrance.
Rose Bowl Flea Market
On the second Sunday of each month, a collectibles and vintage market overtakes the Pasadena Rose Bowl in a massive display of 2,500 vendors with upwards of 20,000 attendees.
Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concerts
Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concerts are free things to do involving blankets, sausages and hot dogs on Thursday nights from 7–10 p.m. July through September. Arrive early, that’s all.
Lucha VaVoom events are advertised as striptease, luchadores, and comedy where burlesque and barely-clad trapeze performers shimmy alongside Mexican wrestlers, and comedians like Bobcat Goldthwait round out revue-style performances. Lucha events are typically focused on Halloween, Cinco de Mayo and Valentine’s Day.
Originally founded in the ‘90s in Northern California by Chris Manak (Peanut Butter Wolf), Stones Throw relocated to Los Angeles to embrace the nucleus of an emerging hip-hop underground with artists such as Mad Lib. Stones Throw’s roster includes a wide swath of genres with leftfield nuggets, hip-hop stalwarts and reissues: the gritty Detroit hip-hop of J Dilla, pop of Mayer Hawthorne, Tuxedo, Aloe Blacc, Egyptian Lover, The Funky 16 Corners, J. Rocc and James Pants. Classic minimal hip-hop lovers should explore the collaboration between Madlib and J. Dilla (as Jaylib).
Brainfeeder is the, uh, brainchild of DJ and producer Flying Lotus and catalogs a bright scene that’s percolated along the lines of the electronic underground in L.A.’s gritty downtown warehouse scene and the beachside innovation of Venice start-ups a few miles west. Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, TOKiMONSTA, Mr. Oizo and Gaslamp Killer are all on the Brainfeeder roster.
WhileDelicious Vinyl is known for classic hip-hop from The Pharcyde, Tone Loc and Young MC, recent releases by Frank Nitt, the former J Dilla collaborator, continue to keep the label fresh. Delicious Vinyl also curates events, and in a somewhat head-scratching new development, opened Delicious Pizza, a “hip-hop pizza shop” joint, in the West Adams neighborhood.
Originally founded in 1994 as a means to release 12” singles,Plug Research developed into a full stable of West Coast talent including Bilal, Boom Clap Bachelors, Daedalus, Mia Doi Todd, Thoman Fehlmann andMilosh.
Friends of Friends
Los Angeles-based label Friends of Friends hosts releases by Anenon, Deru, Daedalus, Kyson, Tomas Barfod, Shlomo, Ernest Gonzales and Angeleno tech house producers Nadastrom — and that’s just the tip of an otherwise massive member(ship) roster.
Dim Mak’s recent releases span the gamut from shimmering trap-inspired electronica by GLOWINTHEDARK to lo-fi garage pop rock of The Bright Lights and slamming, crunchy “Clickbait” by Botnek, whose vocals proclaim that “Kim Kardashian is dead.” If only there were a world without Kardashians…
Orange County’s Burger Records is a physical store based in Fullerton and a label pushing digital releases as well as niche formats such as cassette tape and (arguably) vinyl. The label hosts artists Chery Glazerr (a riff on the popular KCRW terrestrial station morning anchor Chery Glaser), Black Lips, Adolescents, and similar artists in the post-punk, rock and garage pop genres.
Low End Theory
Wednesdays bring hump day revelry in Low End Theory events at The Airliner, with psychedelic glitch, avant-rap, IDM, trap and dubstep of resident DJs Nobody, D-Styles, Gaslamp Killer and Daddy Kev.
House music legend Doc Martin helms SubLevel events, typically held in downtown or deep-in-the-valley warehouses.
The monthly Dub Club events at Echo Park’s Echoplex center around reggae, ska, dub and dancehall.
Curator Marques Wyatt has organized Deep events in Los Angeles since the ‘80s after traveling to New York and seeing Larry Levan’s classic Paradise Garage parties. Deep events are typically held in Venice or Hollywood and feature house music DJs and musicians, with a rotating cast of favorites, including Osunlade, David Morales, Miguel Migs, Lisa Shaw and Julius Papp.