Los Angeles is the strangest of cities: simultaneously the most overrated and underrated in the world. A profound let-down for anyone who was hoping to get off the plane and onto the set of Baywatch or Beverly Hills, 90210, LA initially presents itself as little more than a disorientating labyrinth of freeways and strip malls designed, it seems, only to mock the casual visitor.
Look closer, however, and you will see that it’s a Russian doll of seemingly infinite surprises. A nation within a nation and cities within a city, LA has changed a lot since the nadir of the 1990s – the era of riots, gangs, O.J. Simpson and revelations of widespread police corruption. In recent years, like any great screen goddess, LA has picked itself up and launched a comeback. Today the economy is booming, the water and air are cleaner than they’ve ever been and as the undoubted cultural capital of California, the city is the epicentre of America’s shift to the West Coast. The ubiquity of its entertainment output means that LA is part of us whether we like it or not. It shapes what we see, hear, wear… even our language. These days, we’re all California dreaming.
Coffee pit stop
Blue Bottle Coffee
Rapidly growing chain Blue Bottle Coffee now has 15 outlets across LA, including this lovely, airy space in Downtown’s legendary Bradbury Building.
It specialises in single-origin, small-batch roasts and the cold brew is especially delicious.
Jon & Vinny's
From the group that launched LA hipster staples like Animal and Son of a Gun, Jon & Vinny’s is a true rarity – a restaurant doing breakfast, lunch and dinner equally well. There are two venues – one in fancy Brentwood, the other in more central Fairfax – and the morning menu offers Italian-American twists on breakfast staples, like scrambled eggs with burrata and basil, as well as a selection of breakfast pizzas. Service is fast and tables feature plugs for charging phones.
Chef Nancy Silverton is a Los Angeles legend and Osteria Mozza is an epic ballad to her skills. A supremely elegant restaurant with bar seating, housemade mozzarella and the specialty Amaro Bar, this place will be serving robot movie stars 100 years from now.
A creation of Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, Craft obviously knows its audience. Studio executives and talent agents, who come to enjoy power lunches and drinks on the patio, are drawn by a winning combination of discreet and attentive service, minimal noise and private-dining options. The classic American menu – steak, seafood and pastas – doesn’t score highly for creativity but it’s so well executed that it’s difficult to imagine anyone having a bad time here.
Drinks with clients
Show that you’re really serious about doing business by taking them to £10, a “secret” whisky bar inside the swanky Montage Hotel. The US$50 per head minimum spend might give you cause for pause but did you think that some of the world’s rarest whiskeys served in Lalique glassware and chilled with ice spheres made of water imported from the Scottish Highlands would come cheap?
1. At the edge of Downtown, adjacent to Chinatown, the Los Angeles State Historic Park offers an ideal space for jogging or simply lazing in the sun after a long flight. A historically significant former railway yard, the park now features dramatic architectural landscaping, fruit trees and views of the LA skyline.
2. Visiting a Korean spa is a ritual in LA and Beverly Hot Springs Spa is one of the best. The city’s only spa with naturally heated thermal spring water, it has a cult following among the famous, who come here for invigorating body scrubs and massages that have been described by regular Sharon Stone as “not for sissies”.
3. Bikes and Hikes LA offers a variety of tours of Hollywood, the canyons and other areas specifically designed to show you the city. Private tours are available, as are electric bikes for those not in the mood for sweating.
Best co-working space
The Collection offers Downtown luxury office space with access to a 10-gigabyte fibre connection and phone conference rooms. Day passes cost US$50 and access to a shared private space with a lock starts from US$450 per month.
If you have half a day…
The Getty Villa has one of the finest collections of Classical art in the world but you don’t really need to care about Greek bronzes or Roman perfume bottles to fall in love with it. Housed in a recreated first-century CE Roman villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Getty Villa is the very best kind of museum: intimate, serene and free. The small scale means you can easily see the collection in a few hours and the proximity to Santa Monica allows you to grab lunch by the sea.
If you have a full day…
There can be few more lovely ways to spend a free day in LA than at the vast estate of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Set in a grand suburban enclave near Pasadena, The Huntington features several exhibition venues showcasing its holdings of artworks as well as a rare- book collection. But it’s the 50 hectares of grounds that are the main attraction. Stunning Chinese and Japanese gardens are guaranteed crowd-pleasers but those devoted to herbs, palms, jungle plants and roses are equally magnificent. Make time for the enchanting children’s garden – it will delight, no matter your age.
If you have a weekend…
Famed for its prettiness, Ojai has long been a hideaway for stressed-out showbiz folks looking to unwind. It’s also a great base from which to explore Santa Barbara wine country. The Ojai Valley Inn is the premier hotel in the area. It offers superb restaurants but the whole region is dotted with worthy choices. Beacon Coffee is a great place for a light breakfast while Ojai Ranch House is a dreamy garden fantasy that has served the likes of John and Yoko and Paul Newman for more than 60 years.
Occupying the upper half of the 73-storey Wilshire Grand Center, the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown features spacious rooms with panoramic views. There is a gym and La Boucherie restaurant has private-dining spaces.