Is it worth the drive?
I recently watched the Entourage movie, set in LA, on an airplane. Yes, that’s nearly two hours of my life that I won’t get back. But there was one funny line when the friends saw a distraught “E” walking. I’m paraphrasing, but it was something like “Why the hell are you walking? You look like an idiot.”
That sums up Los Angeles for us. In New York, you’ll willingly walk for miles, sometimes in bad weather, and experience the streets. In LA, if you say you’re walking, the response is incredulous. “You’re walking? But that’s almost a half mile away! Why wouldn’t you call an Uber?”
We’re in the city probably almost monthly these days, so we’ve had a chance to love LA. But we haven’t quite gotten there. Yes, they have great weather (that they never walk in). Yes, they have the beaches and the hills for hiking. And, yes, they have their cars. The latter seems the most important, begging the question, “With all the great natural beauty, why spend so much time in your car?” The answer is because it takes two hours to drive two miles. And that’s not much of an exaggeration.
So we’re learning to stay in areas where we can easily access some great places without being entirely car bound. It’s a great two-day town, unless you’re on your way north (Santa Barbara, Montecito), or south (Newport, etc.).
Let’s start downtown, with its recent resurgence (here, “resurgence” is defined as a blend of some remaining skid row places coexisting with the hippest of new hotels and restaurants).
Where the cools kids went:
First, the Ace Hotel deserves huge kudos for taking a challenging, but very cool, historic building and creating a hotel, complete with the pre-WWII musty smell. The Ace was a great addition and a huge catalyst of change downtown. In the beginning, the cool kids came. But in true LA fashion, the cool kids don’t stay long. We don’t love it, but it’s currently the best downtown option.
The Ace still boasts a pretty great rooftop and gathering spot, but if you stay there, be prepared for a room that is weirdly shaped and, in some cases, unnecessarily big (or mindbogglingly tiny). Also be prepared for minuscule soap and running into a guitar perched in the middle of the floor as you get up during the night—let’s call the décor eclectic rather than functional.
Downtown, which is where the convention center and LA Live are, will soon be the home of about 10 new hotels. Mostly chains, but reputable ones, giving a lot of great options.
The restaurant scene downtown is definitely evolving. Within a short walk (off of Spring and 4th/5th), you run into Josef Centeno’s thoughtful and fun creations: Bar Ama, Orsa & Winston, Ledlow, and Baco Mercat.
Grand Central Market on South Broadway has had a recent resurgence of hipsters.
Don’t miss Bestia, It’s a cab ride and probably a wait, but a fun vibe and eclectic menu.
Off to Sunset:
Ahh, West Hollywood. Still home to the cool kids. Home to Chateau Marmont, the London, the Mondrian, the Andaz, and the SLS or Sofitel a little further down on La Cienega. They all have happening outdoor bars or rooftops with overpriced cocktails and great weather. Of the supposedly “cool” hotels, our go- tos are the London and SLS. The London for the balconies and the rooftop view, and the SLS for the unmatched hotel breakfast by Jose Andres. Seriously. The breakfast is unbelievable. Try the eggs Benedict if you don’t believe me.
The SLS is where Maybachs actually mate, sometimes with the Ferraris. Try pulling up in a rental Ford to the valet following a Maybach and watch the “smell the fart” face the valet guys give you.
If you stay in this area, the restaurants to hit are in the area from La Cienega to Highland between Sunset and Melrose.
There is a group of restaurants owned by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo that are actually all worth a visit, from Trois Mec, a finer dining prix-fixe spot, to Animal (a great choice on Fairfax) to Jon & Vinny’s (a tiny place with great pizza, pasta, meatballs, and more on the same street as Animal). There’s also Son of a Gun and Petit Trois. Petit Trois is a freak of nature. They have a great French menu coming out of what may be the world’s smallest kitchen. The food is fantastic, and we actually enjoyed it more than the finer dining Trois Mec, which is right around the corner. These are all great examples of the theater a kitchen brings into a restaurant.
On Melrose, you have a few interesting and known selections clustered more on west Melrose. The eastern part of the street still tries to maintain the hip grittiness that made it famous, even though it’s interrupted by the occasional Johnny Rockets and Subway.
Melrose has Ink. Ink is probably the worst example of a restaurant renovation ever. It still has the ghosts of what was formerly a sushi place. For those of us in the industry of creating experiences, walking in is a nightmare—your every impulse is to leave immediately. But ignore your flight instinct. The food (branzino with fermented grapes, anyone?) is great.
Melrose also has Red O. It’s more scene than substance now, but this Mexican place had our client Rick Bayless help with the initial menu. Providence, a long term player in the finer dining scene, sits on Melrose. Lucques, by Suzanne Goin, serves up phenomenal steak frites at the bar, and Ago, which is a decent choice for fine Italian. For another Suzanne Goin treat, try AOC, a wine bar about 10 minutes from the SLS hotel. Yes, we did walk, and yes, we probably looked like idiots.
This area also has the LA Farmer’s Market, which is mostly shopping mall, but it’s still great to see the old-school, unchanged food stalls.
Even though Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are intertwined neighbors, we’ll separate them out for the purposes of hotels and restaurants. The hotels are decidedly bigger, more posh, and much more expensive:
Sixty (of the too-cool-for-school Thompson Hotel group). The cheapest of the bunch, and you’ll see why.
For restaurants, this area has the perennial to-do, Spago, as well as the teeny-tiny-but-attention-getting Maude. Sotto is a good Italian choice, and Hinoki & the Bird is always interesting. There are also all the big dog restaurants, many within the big dog hotels.
Food trucks need to be chased in LA, but they’re worth it. Just remember to factor traffic into everything.
If you go further afield in LA, our next best choice is Santa Monica. You’ll get the beach if you want, with a handful of cool hotels close to a great selection of restaurants:
Shutters on the Beach (A luxury hotel with beach house inspired design)
Oceana (Classy but still breezy and not far from the Santa Monica Pier)
Viceroy (We always give a cool-kid, scene option. This is it.)
Palihouse (A historic, eclectic Mediterranean Revival boutique hotel)
Melisse (A 2-Michelin French restaurant)
Rustic Canyon Wine Bar (Small plates and a huge wine list)
Gjusta (A great display and all-day dining)
Tasting Kitchen (Mediterranean spot with killer cocktails and bustling brunch)
Cassia (Southeast Asian cuisine with a clean California vibe)
Gjelina (One of the city’s most-envied patios)
LALA Land is great for a while—making it the perfect two-day town.