This is a city that, by all logic, should never have sprung up—in an arid, mountainous desert with hardly a drop of potable water to drink. But it's here, and it is the second largest urban area in the nation, with more then 3.8 million people (in the city alone) and more than 9 million in the county.
L.A. is like no other megalopolis in the world: an amalgam of Hollywood kitsch and creativity; large ethnic Asian communities in the downtown area and suburbs; exclusive residential communities on the West Side, including Bel Air, Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood, that feature upscale shopping and dining; and the sprawling valleys—San Fernando, San Gabriel and Santa Clarita—where barely a tree existed before the landscapers went to work when huge subdivisions were built. Angelenos water their lawns with water piped from Northern California and from the Owens Valley, on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Add to all this the mass of humanity in South Central L.A., Watts and the other urban areas bordering Long Beach and Orange County, and you have a megalopolis in search of a single identity. Fortunately, the region is divided by geography (and freeways) into manageable chunks of space: communities where many things to see and do are available for the visitor. If you don't have a car in which to navigate the freeways, you can use the growing rapid transit system.
Los Angeles has several superb natural areas at close range, including the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests to the north and east respectively, and the Cleveland National forest, which lies southeast of Long Beach.
Where to Eat
The Los Angeles area has long been a fine place to eat and the scene of a constant search for new types of cuisine that will be embraced by L.A.’s rich and famous. The following recommendations include a few of the more experimental restaurants, as well as some of the long-standing favorites that attract those who wish to see and be seen.
Downtown: Most of the fancy places to eat are in the major downtown hotels, and there are some excellent examples including dining at Breeze in the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza (2025 Avenue of the Stars, 310-551-3334) and Azalea, across from the city hall in Little Tokyo's Kyoto Grand Hotel (120 South Los Angeles St., 213-253-9235). Both are in the $$ to $$$ range.
There are several distinctive cafes outside of hotels that offer everything from the traditional steak and seafood fare to the new blended California/Southwestern cuisine. With a very high rating from Zagat, the Water Grill (544 S. Grand Ave., 213-891-0900) specializes in food from the Pacific Northwest waters. There's an oyster bar, and the menu includes a daily fresh sheet ($$ to $$$).
El Cholo, one of several restaurants operated by the El Cholo group, is located at 1037 Flower Street (213-746-7750), one block from Staples Center and LA Live. As it name suggest the cuisine is Mexican and their green corn tamales are famous, as are the margaritas ($$).
Two landmark restaurants attract many locals as well as tourists. Phillippe The Original in Chinatown (100J N. Alameda St., 213-628-3781) has been operated by the same family since 1927. It originally opened in 1908, and specializes in family dining with family-style seating. Meat is the main attraction, and their famous French dip sandwich has been served continuously since opening ($ to $$).
The Original Pantry Cafe (877 S. Figueroa, 213-972-9279) has also been around for a long time. The fare varies from steaks to sandwiches and fresh baked goods. The ambience is casual, the servings are huge, and the quality of the food is great. The service could be improved at times but don't miss it because of that. It's open 24 hours and is close to most major hotels and the Convention Center ($ to $$).
Dining in Hollywood
For family dining, noon or evening, it's hard to beat the variety of Universal City Walk (1000, University Center Dr.) This Hollywood urban streetscape here has a brace of eating places, including full-scale restaurants, sidewalk deli-style cafes and fast food kiosks. The kids will love it and it's also a fun destination for grown-ups ($ to $$$).
For fine dining, the historic Fountain Court, at 1370 N. St Andrews Place (323-465-1394), offers exquisite decor, including a fountain patio that is perfect for special occasions. This is a power lunch place haunted by the Hollywood elite. The food is California Cuisine with wonderful desserts ($$$).
On The West Side: Beverly Hills, Westwood, Culver City and Century City provide much in the way of dining. Some of the most famous restaurants in America are here, close to the film studios. Cut, Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, is at 9500 Wilshire Blvd. (310-276-8500). It's open for dinner, 5:30 p.m. Mon. through Thurs. and 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday ($$$).
Gordon Ramsay Restaurant, in the London West Hollywood Hotel (1020 N. San Vicente Blvd., 310-358-7788), has recently captured quite a lot of attention. Ramsay oversees all food service at the hotel including in the hotel's Boxwood Cafe ($$ to $$$).
Arnie Mortons Steakhouse, 435 S. La Cienaga Blvd. (310-246-1501), is one of two Morton's steak houses in the L.A. area. The other is downtown on Figueroa. The atmosphere here is cozy, with dark wall paneling. Tender steaks are what you come here for, but Morton's also offers seafood, and huge martinis. It's open daily for dinner, Monday-Saturday at 5:30 PM and Sunday at 5:00 PM ($$$).
Mobile Food Trucks
Food trucks are a phenomenon across the country and most of the stir caused by this emerging phenomenon started in Los Angeles. Innovative dishes served by these trucks include Korean BBQ, Spanish tapas, Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), and even Mac 'n Cheese.
Kogi, with its Korean specialties, has taken the lead in turning a small business into a much larger one, now with a growing fleet of trucks. The truck owners use social networks (Facebook, Twitter) and their own web sites to let their audience know when and where the trucks will appear for lunch and dinner on any day.
Here is a short list of the best food trucks in LA and area:
Kogi BBQ - Korean BBQ: http://kogibbq.com/
The Green Truck - gourmet organic food:
The Burger Bus - Ventura County:
Barcelona On the Go - Spanish, Orange County:
Nom Nom Truck - Vietnamese
The Grilled Cheese Truck - cheezy dishes:
Let's Be Frank - grass fed hot dogs:
http://www.mobilecravings. com/lets-be-frank-hot- dog-truck/
Where to Stay
The central area has a mixture of chain hotels and motels (Hyatt, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Quality & Best Western) and several great little European-style hotels. The latter include the Kawada Hotel, 200 S. Hill St. (213-687-4455). This hotel has the ambience of a small continental hotel but it has 115 rooms and one suite plus the Epicenter Dining Room & Lounge ($$).
Miyako Hotel is located in Japantown at 328 E. First St. (213-617- 2000) across the street from the MCI Center shopping complex. It has a restaurant and lounge ($$ to $$$). The Inn at 657 (213-626- 6222) is a European-style B&B inn featuring five non-smoking rooms with kitchens and full breakfast, at 250 S. Grand Ave. ($$).
In Hollywood: To get the essence of the old Hollywood style, stay at the historic and storied Chateau Marmont, at 8221 Sunset Blvd. (213-656-1010). There are 10 rooms and 53 suites with partial or full kitchens. The outdoor pool is set in a palm garden and there is a dining room ($$$ to $$$+).
Much less expensive (and much less deluxe) is Highland Gardens, at 7047 Franklin Ave., in the Hollywood Hills (213-850-0536). Set in a garden, there are 48 suites and 22 rooms, an outdoor pool and full kitchens. This is bare-bones accommodation but it's in a handy section of Hollywood, close to the attractions ($ to $$).
In the middle of the price ranges is the Best Western Hollywood Plaza Inn, 2011 N. Highland Ave. (323-851-1800). The motel has 74 rooms and eight suites and an outdoor pool ($$ to $$$).
If you perversely prefer to rough it in an old bungalow court, stay at the Banana Bungalow in Hollywood (877-977-5077, toll-free in U.S. or 323-469-2500). It's at 2775 Cahuenga Blvd, near Universal Studios. The place is a combination of refurbished old motel with private rooms and a hostel with dorms and group kitchen ($ to $$).
There's a Hyatt, a Marriott, and the Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows. All are fine, deluxe hotels in the $$$+ range. For the ambience of a smaller, European-style hotel (and less expensive rates) stay at the Beverly Hills Plaza, 10300 Wilshire Blvd, (310-175-5575 or 800-800-1234). This atmospheric inn in the Rodeo Drive area has 98 rooms with restaurant, lounge, and a large pool in the inner courtyard.
The Beverly Hilton is a very nice hotel in Beverly Hills, at 9876 Wilshire Blvd (310-285-1313). With specious guest rooms and suites, the hotel has business services along with a salon. Outdoors is the heated pool, beautifully lit at night. It's been here a while, although it looks very modern. The star TV chefs are missing but there's Trader Vic's for nostalgia fans, plus the retro Circa 55 Restaurant, open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the Lobby Bar.
On the Coast: The Belamar Hotel, 3501 Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach (310-750-0300 or 888-235-2627) is a continental-style hotel with 124 rooms and four suites, set in gardens and not too far from the beach. It offers complimentary buffet breakfast, pool, and whirlpool ($$$).
Redondo Beach Galleria Inn, 1740 Artesia Blvd. (310-370-4353) is a Best Western inn, close to the beaches with a whirlpool and free continental breakfast served to overnight guests ($$). Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club, 260 Portofino Way in Redondo Beach is an inn with a fine location, 161 rooms and several suites, on a private peninsula next to the pier. There are cafes, pool, whirlpool, and fitness center ($$$).
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