LA

Musician Moby calls it “a fantastically confused Petri dish of an anti-city” - a place with no centre but, nonetheless, a huge heart.

Musician Moby calls it “a fantastically confused Petri dish of an anti-city” - a place with no centre but, nonetheless, a huge heart. While Los Angeles might be a city people love to hate, it sure does offer a world of possibility.

Los Angeles truly embodies the American Dream, a place where anyone from anywhere can make an impact. The would-be stars, the creatives and those seeking a new start come in droves to America’s second-largest city to form part of an ever-changing cultural tapestry, nurtured by endless sun, low(ish) living costs and a shared ‘just do it’ attitude.
“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles,” observed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1920s. Nothing - and everything - has changed since.

IT’S WHO YOU KNOW

So how does a visitor navigate this disconnected kaleidoscopic city that Mayor Eric Garcetti named “the creative capital of the world”? Prep with some movies: Boyz n the Hood and Pulp Fiction for an insight into the gritty streets of LA, Clueless and Pretty Woman to understand its thirst for shopping, and LA Story to laugh at it. Then head to Venice Beach, a microcosm of the best and worst of the big city. When BB King crooned, “From Hollywood and Vine to the Sunset Strip, there’s so much goin’ on, you can lose your grip”, he could have been talking about the mad mixing pot that is Venice.

Starting the day the LA way, with a cleansing juice at Kreation Kafe on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, I browse quirky homewares shops and local graffiti, purchase a billowing Jen’s Pirate Booty shirt, then skirt through the backstreets to the canals, or ‘Venice of America’, created by real-estate developer Abbot Kinney in 1905. Narrow pedestrian bridges connect tiny shingled beach shacks with timber follies, sleek concrete and glass studios - all worth millions. The City of LA pioneered the Small Lot Ordinance that permits tiny houses and subdivisions, creating a tightly packed man-made theatre right on the street front. Head west to the sunny beach promenade for the unrivaled people-watching; look out for a rollerblading, turban-clad street poet.

Venice has always been an edgy art community, but it’s also become part of a newer western LA region sometimes labelled ‘Silicon Beach’, thanks to its concentration of tech start-ups. Although, in true LA ‘freeway-speak’, venture capitalist Mark Suster strongly dislikes the tag, saying “The most successful start-ups have all been founded east of the 405 freeway”.

There are more innovators to be found down the coast at the University of California, Irvine, where scientists are working on a way to convert waste into hydrogen to run cars.
To mingle with this smorgasbord of artists and innovators, you’ll need an event, and the CreativeMornings talks that are held across the city could be just the ticket, featuring a huge variety of speakers from actors to scientists and restaurateurs.

TRINKET TOWN

My room at Viceroy Santa Monica provides a haven from the hot mayhem outside, and a Priority Bicycles bike (included in the guest amenity fee) is the perfect way to traverse the nearby shopping mecca that is Third Street Promenade. I lock my bike outside Wasteland, a vintage clothing hang on Fourth Street, then browse Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads on my quest to dig up couture treasures from the 1980s. Instead I find an intricately worked skull chain by LA silver-jewellery designer Josh Warner, and I decide to track him down.

Warner lived in Venice Beach for years but has relocated to an old church in the Hollywood Hills. In classic LA fashion, he has a quiver of cars and vintage motorbikes to get him to his foundry, Good Art Hlywd, in South Downtown, below the 10 Freeway. Since 1990, he has been making silver jewellery and trinkets, such as his Skull Face Silver Army Men, which he says are for pirates (and Barneys shoppers) with his classic LA maxim: “Only the true pirate has the insouciance and moxie to trade a fortune for a trinket, and they’re the sort who squeeze pleasure from the finest details of life.”

For Warner, those pleasures include eating out at the oldest continually operating Mexican restaurant in LA, the original El Cholo on Western Avenue, and La Cabaña in Venice, as well as hiking the 45-minute loop up Runyon Canyon Park for expansive views of the city.

LIVING THE DREAM

A friend introduces me to Chloe Newsom, a local bon vivant running at 110 per cent. She looks and lives the LA dream, working in Hollywood for creative agency Trailer Park and playing in the neighbourhoods of Echo Park and Glendale. Her pick for instant LA immersion is The Bigfoot Lodge, a 1970s mountain-cabin-style bar where the locals congregate for free trivia, comedy and karaoke nights. Newsom says the 25- to 45-year-old ‘work hard, play hard’ Hollywood crowd likes Echo Park for its vibrant music scene and excellent food. She also recommends The Holloway for inventive burgers and daytime drinks, as well as the bar in French restaurant Taix “to get away from the world and go into complete darkness”.

Tonight Newsom is headed for The Black Cat in the Silver Lake district for a steak, where the clientele look like 19th-century barbers - in a good way. Drinks will be at Mohawk Bend, a retrofitted Vaudeville theatre with a bar and pizza oven, where they use 100 per cent Californian ingredients in the cocktails. The mass of flamboyant, friendly, ‘living life to the fullest’ people who populate the bars of Echo Park and its surrounds epitomise the cross-pollination of LA street culture.

Another local, Michael Teh, studied law, was awarded his MBA, did the corporate thing then moved to LA - and became an actor not long after. He hasn’t looked back, anchored by acting opportunities, perfect weather, scintillating dinner parties and a complete absence of tall poppy syndrome. Like Warner, Teh is a fan of Runyon Canyon but also recommends visiting Griffith Park’s man-made ‘bat cave’, known as Bronson Cave, which was made famous in the classic Batman TV series. As an added bonus, you can also see the Hollywood sign from here.

Teh then suggests enjoying a little of the Hollywood high-life by dining on the terrace at Chateau Marmont hotel, relaxing poolside at another hotel - this time the Petit Ermitage - and sipping on cocktails at the gorgeous Ysabel bar. These experiences are divine, but for a luxury LA keepsake, head to Parabellum on Melrose Avenue. Championed by Anna Wintour on The Fashion Fund, and inspired by his Native American heritage, co-founder Jason Jones creates covetable leather goods from free-range bison, stamped with their signature motif.

Heading east on Melrose, past North Fairfax Avenue, you’ll find a different side of Hollywood, where vintage shops vie with stripper supply stores. Continuing along this quirkier route, I Uber over to Hotel Figueroa, a classic Spanish Colonial style hotel built in 1925. The poolside oasis out back is renowned for its parties. Last visit, rocker Joan Jett was singing and I danced on a clear floor over the pool with a pack of local car designers while awkward ‘mermaids’ frolicked in the shallow end.

And that there is the city of Los Angeles, an infectious and stimulating mix of constantly shifting cultures and genres, where just showing up opens a myriad of creative opportunities, and working hard makes them blossom. As a visitor seeking the shimmering transience of the ‘real’ LA, your path is simple: throw yourself to the locals, who, more often than not, love to share their part of this beloved anti-city.

Words by Sally Dominguez - Published in Voyeur Published in Voyeur September 2015
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 3.8 million
Area 1,302 km²
Time Zone GMT -7
Languages English (official), Spanish, Native American
Currency American Dollar ($USD)
Electricity 110v - 60Hz
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