Untangling the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, home to almost 19 million people, is a tough task. There’s the wider city of LA but within that are smaller “cities” or regions and inside those are neighbourhoods. While municipal boundaries in the Californian city are distinct, uncovering where one neighbourhood ends and another begins might depend on who you ask. One intricate map suggests there are almost 500 suburbs in greater LA so it’s easy for a newcomer to feel overwhelmed. Here are some notable areas you should get to know if you’re heading to the City of Angels.
If you’ve come to LA for the beaches, head to Malibu. As far as Angelenos are concerned, Malibu comprises beaches and hamlets along the Pacific Coast Highway from Topanga to County Line Beach. You might spot famous faces at Nobu Malibu, do brunch with the beautiful crowd at Malibu Farm Cafe on the namesake pier or go for the low-key option with takeaway from Neptune’s – it’s what Keanu Reeves would do.
Much of the LA you’ve come to know via popular culture is in WeHo or West Hollywood. In this pocket east of residential Beverly Hills, you’ll find the turrets of the Chateau Marmont, celebrity-favourite eateries such as Cecconi’s and the world-famous Hollywood Boulevard. You’ll also find cool coffeehouses and shopping strips that are more boutique than big name – La Brea Avenue is a great place to start.
An area of contrasts, DTLA is an industrial-hub-turned-hip-hangout, a lucky dip of artist studios, taco truck pop-ups and bucket-list hotels and bars (see The Standard and Ace hotels’ rooftop bars). Arts District galleries The Broad and MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) are must-sees. Don’t leave the area before checking out Grand Central Market, a food emporium that serves up everything from authentic Mexican to excellent bento boxes.
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People-watching doesn’t get any better than in Venice, where Muscle Beach and a legacy of bohemian living collide in a mesmerising daily performance. Away from the shoreline, Venice retains its free spirit in bright street murals, near-fanatical surf culture and great wholefood cafes. Don’t miss the canals that bisect residential blocks just steps from the beach.
Known to some as the Williamsburg of LA, Echo Park is a neighbourhood where the cool and creative cluster. It doesn’t have a transitory feel, though – lots of families and long-time locals call Echo Park home, as does heritage architecture. It’s the place to spend sunny days exploring the colourful streets and parks and chillier ones in a trendy indie cafe, of which there are plenty.
Eastside Los Feliz is a neighbourhood best explored on foot, thanks to its shady streets and outdoor dining culture. A wander in this area adjacent to the Griffith Observatory could yield all sorts of discoveries: an Old Hollywood-style Italian diner, a stand-up comic incubator or the breathtaking sight of a Frank Lloyd Wright – the lack of pretence here is lovely and very un-Hollywood.
North of Downtown LA, east-central Silver Lake doesn’t have any bucket-list items to speak of but don’t overlook this little borough – it’s consistently chosen as one of the city’s best thanks to a bustling farmers’ market and the relaxed Silver Lake Reservoir. Eateries here are a testament to this reputation, such as Botanica, where you can order a natural wine alongside a pretty-as-a-picture plate.
Wedged in a western corner of the urban sprawl and in the shadow of Topanga State Park, the picturesque (and affluent) Pacific Palisades unlocks another of LA’s famed drawcards: excellent hiking. Will Rogers State Park is snaked with shaded trails and paths such as the Los Leones trail deliver excellent views of Santa Monica Bay. Be sure to check with local authorities about trail accessibility due to wildfire damage.
The joke about Eagle Rock? It’s where hipsters go to have their kids. You’ll likely see families trawling one of the area’s vintage-furniture warehouses or grabbing an evening meal at a pizza joint that’s been around longer than they have. The best way to experience Eagle Rock’s laid-back, small-town feel is to eat your way around – start with breakfast at old-school diner Cindy’s, lunch at the forest-green Peruvian-Chinese fusion Chifa and end at Casa Bianca, a 50-year-old pizzeria.
This coastal neighbourhood lies north of Venice and is known for its eponymous pier, home to Pacific Park, an admission-free amusement park, and the historic carousel at the Looff Hippodrome. While the pier attracts families looking for a fun day out, back from the beach, the Downtown Santa Monica mall along Third Street has an open promenade for outdoor shopping and dining and farmers’ markets twice a week. For Michelin-starred dining try the tasting menu at Mélisse or stop by its casual sister restaurant Citrin next door. Enjoy a long lunch with ocean views at Élephante’s alfresco Sunset Room, a popular spot with a tempting all-day Italian menu.