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“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles,” Frank Lloyd Wright once said of the mythic Californian city, which has attracted those in search of fame and fortune for over a century, from gold-hunting prospectors to silver-screen seeking ingénues. As a result, it is a city with just about everything you can imagine to do, eat and see – and even if they don’t have it, they invent it, on Hollywood’s vast soundstages, where celluloid dreams have long been made. For the casual visitor, it can make for an overwhelming experience – but, with over 284 days of pure sunshine a year, beaches, mountains and plenty of good food, Los Angeles is a holiday destination like few others.
Which begs the question: where to start? Few visitors will be able to resist the mythic allure of Hollywood – the LA of the movies. Get this out your system early and indulge in a day of true golden-age Los Angeles on arrival: lunch at the storied Beverly Hills Hotel’s candy-striped Polo Lounge (the perennial spot of the tinsel-town power broker, frequented by just about every movie star in existence); an afternoon wander with the throngs down the Walk of Fame towards Grauman’s Chinese Theatre; early evening drinks at the Chateau; and a night at the legendary (and recently renovated) Sunset Tower Hotel, where Garbo, Sinatra et al have all laid their heads (and John Wayne kept a cow on his balcony for fresh milk, so the story goes).
We would suggest, though, heading west: Los Angeles’ immortal beaches and charming seafront neighbourhoods offer an altogether more peaceful outlook on the Californian city. Find them on the city’s western side: there’s the wholesome Santa Monica – stay at beachside residence Shutters On The Beach, eat at rooftop restaurant Élephante, shop at the famed Santa Monica Farmers Market – or nearby Venice Beach, just down the boardwalk, once known as the home of punks, runaways and muscle-men (since, its gentrification has brought an altogether more well-heeled crowd). Head off the beach to its unexpected series of canals and quaint waterside properties, first built by developer Abbot Kinney in 1905 with an ambition to bring Venice to California – hence the locale’s name.
30 minutes drive out of the city proper is the much-mythologised community of Malibu, a 27-mile stretch of sandy coastline with possibly the densest celebrity-per-square-mile concentration in all of Los Angeles (which, of course, is no mean feat). But the coastline nonetheless remains an idyll – there’s the popular Zuma Beach, still frequented by surfers (the famed breakers have attracted them all the way back to the 1920s), or El Matador State Beach, where dramatic rock formations rise out of the sand. For a cultural excursion amid sedate Malibu days, head up to the surreal Getty Villa, built by oil magnate J. Paul Getty in the 1970s in the style of an ancient Greco-Roman villa – inside, real Imperial relics line the hallways. Stay at the sedate Malibu Beach Inn; eat at organic farm-to-table eatery Malibu Farm on the Malibu Pier – both perfectly encapsulate Malibu’s virtuous ethos.
And, when it comes to virtuousness, Los Angeles does wellness better than most – leave your own cynicism at LAX and embrace the locals’ glowing devotion to health. On weekends, join the many Angelenos hiking Runyon Canyon, a series of trails beloved by fitness-heads and celebrities alike (choose from a variety of routes, some of which take you to heights of over 1000 feet and offer impressive views of the city) or stay at ground level and indulge in one of the city’s numerous new-age treatments. Head to the cultish Moon Juice for namesake juices titled names like ‘enzymatic tonic’ containing things you never knew you needed (full spectrum plant-based enzymes and the like), or for a more typically Californian kick-back head to Lowell Cafe in WeHo, the city’s first cannabis cafe (ditto sleek millennial dispensary MedMen).
Those in need of more substantial fulfilment will find plenty to eat in the melting-pot city, spanning the diversity of the numerous world cultures represented. Head Downtown for Bavel, a Middle Eastern restaurant in the area’s Arts District, where mezze can be enjoyed in the airy plant-filled dining room, or nearby Bestia, a contemporary, local ingredient-focussed Italian in industrial surrounds (for the less decisive, The Grand Central Market, also downtown, offers myriad international cuisines via its thriving food stalls). Good food is pretty much everywhere in the city: other favourites include Marvin, a neighbourhood bistro on Beverly, WeHo’s Gracias Madre, an only-in-LA plant-based Mexican (Guisados is best for more traditional Mexican fare), or buzzing Friday-night spot Café Stella in hip Silverlake.
A trip to Los Angeles is not complete without at least one visit to Chateau Marmont, the notorious star-haunt which towers over Sunset. Forego the hotel’s debauched evening-time activities and enjoy it at its best: a long breakfast on its leafy poolside terrace.
Do as the Angelenos do and head for Runyon Canyon, the 160-acre parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains where they go for fresh air and a fitness fix. The two-hour-or-so walk to Clouds Rest rewards activity with panoramic views of the sprawling city (and, in the distance, the famed Hollywood sign).
Face the LA traffic and head westwards towards Santa Monica: after a late lunch at Élephante, which serves its ‘coastal Italian’ menu on an airy rooftop in the neighbourhood’s centre, hire bikes and cycle the boardwalk toward nearby Venice for some of the best people watching in the city.
Get back in the car and travel towards your last stop of the day, the mythical Malibu, in time to catch the last sun of the day on one of its many pristine beaches. Point Dume State Beach, a quieter stretch of the famed coastland, offers some of the best sunsets in California.
At the start of Malibu Pier is Malibu Farm, a restaurant offering food of the most Californian kind: zucchini-crust pizza, branzino tacos and healthful raw salads, served on the quaint outdoor terrace of this Los Angeles institution.