There's a kernel of truth to the reputation of Los Angeles as a one-industry town fuelled by plastic surgery, smarmy agents and intellectual vacuity. But look past that and you'll see an increasingly sophisticated centre of art, design, cuisine and commerce loaded with opportunities for the traveller passing through, whether or not you're in "the business".

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. Get your honk on: Nowhere is driving so common as in LA. In theory, rush-hour times on weekdays are 06.00 to 10.00 and 15.00 to 19.00, though on Friday afternoon it’s busy from 14.00 until 21.00.
  2. Taking sides: The city is divided by the 405 freeway. The west is the place for those seeking a beach-friendly vibe; the east, while not as polished as Santa Monica, makes up for it with creativity and charm.
  3. Rules of engagement: Angelenos are uptight about making plans; if you’re looking to have dinner or drinks, a minimum of three days’ notice is required.
  4. Here’s a tip: Whether you’re showing thanks for your Moon Juice Brain-Tonic or trying to get into that new club, don’t be shy with your cash – it can get you a taste of the high life.
  5. LA living: Downtown used to be an unprepossessing neighbourhood. But over the past 10 or so years it’s undergone a transformation, with flagship art and performance venues, a lively restaurant and bar scene and some smart hotels.

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Hotels

Hospitality at its finest

  1. The Ace, Downtown

    LA Landmark

    This hotel in the historic United Artists tower solidified the Downtown renaissance when it opened in 2014. The rooftop can be a scene and the jaw-dropping theatre is not to be missed.

  2. Chateau Marmont, West Hollywood

    Famously infamous

    Plenty of mischievous nights have been had at Chateau Marmont – including Led Zeppelin riding their motorcycles through the halls.

  3. Hotel Covell, Los Feliz

    Chapter house

    You won’t find another hotel near here and you certainly won’t find another like it in LA.

Vocabulary

Local lingo

  1. Animal style: A “secret” menu style at burger chain In-N-Out
  2. CPT: Compton
  3. Dank: Really good, excellent
  4. May grey/June gloom: The foggy mornings common in late spring and early summer
  5. PCH: Pacific Coast Highway

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Broken Spanish, Downtown

    Mexican with a twist

    It takes guts to open a restaurant in a quiet part of Downtown but that’s what chef Ray García has done, serving hearty Mexican cuisine with a refined twist. The tortillas are mind-blowing.

  2. Ostrich Farm, Echo Park

    Elegant comfort food

    This restaurant, opened in late 2014 by husband-and-wife team Jaime Turrey and Brooke Fruchtman, is a place to linger. The simplicity of the space combined with comforting dishes keep it welcoming despite the potential waiting time

  3. Gjelina, Venice

    Brunch bonanza

    This is something of a Venice institution and a brand in its own right. Good for brunch, the menu is extensive – think everything from porridge to pizza – meaning you’re sure to find something toothsome.

  4. Farmshop, Santa Monica

    California cuisine

    Set in the quaint Brentwood Country Mart, Farmshop is part restaurant, part speciality grocer. It serves California-inspired food, from crispy artichokes with burrata and pesto to marinated Pacific sardines.

  5. Café Stella, Silver Lake

    Starry nights

    It may be a little sceney but Café Stella is still one of the best bars on LA’s eastern side. With its constantly evolving roster of potent, seasonal cocktails you would be hard-pushed to put a foot wrong with your drinks selection.

Retail

Shop talk

  1. Poketo, Arts District

    Creative collective

    Poketo’s simple wooden shelves are decked with well-chosen homeware, books, jewellery, clothing and its own line of stationery. It has worked with more than 200 international artists on exclusive products for the shop, and brands such as Nike and SF Moma.

  2. Mohawk General Store, Silver Lake

    A shop for all

    Mohawk General Store has two side-by-side shops on Silver Lake’s main drag: one for menswear and another for women (plus a location in Pasadena). Beyond Mohawk’s own line there are clothes from labels such as Dries Van Noten, Lemaire, Issey Miyake and Acne Studios.

  3. Tortoise General Store, Venice

    Slow but steady expansion

    Tokyo natives Keiko and Taku Shinomoto moved to LA in 2003 and shortly after opened a homeware shop. The pair pack the general store with hard-to-find kitchenware, stationery and grooming tools.

  4. American Rag Cie, La Brea

    Denim and more

    American Rag Cie is a one-stop shop stocking Ddugoff, Engineered Garments, Opening Ceremony and much more. There’s even a hefty portion of the shop devoted solely to denim.

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