You’ve probably heard the song that refers to Los Angeles as ‘a great big freeway.’ It’s partly true but if you stick to the motorways you won’t get to see the best bits. It’s not a walking city, so you do need an insider guide to locate interesting destinations that you won’t see from behind the wheel.
Laurel Moglen is co-author of 111 Places In Los Angeles That You Must Not Miss. “There are a lot of freeways and there is a lot of traffic – we recognise that. But between these freeway exits lie great discoveries and a Los Angeles that many people don’t necessarily know. I think Los Angeles is often identified as the entertainment industry hub and it is and that’s a big part of what the city is, but it’s not all,” says Laurel.
“If you want to live like a Los Angeles local, head to the Dockweiler Beach” she says. “It’s one of the two places where you can have a bonfire. But you definitely have to get there early to snag a spot.”
If you want no doubt that you are in America and Los Angeles, take your hire car to the cinema. “I guess a drive-in movie theatre is one of those iconic places,” says Laurel. “There’s one in the LA suburb, City of Industry, where seven nights a week, rain or shine, you can see a film.” This is the world’s movie capital after all.
Another site you might recognise if you loved the old black and white Laurel and Hardy films is from The Music Box, where they had to haul a piano up a long flight of steps, only to discover they could have driven the instrument to the property instead. “The staircase really looks like it did back then,” says Laurel. “It still has those concrete steps and it’s not that pretty – it just feels great standing where these legends once did.”
If you want more showbiz, what about a shop where you can dress in the stars’ clothes? “It’s A Wrap is not your average second-hand store. All the clothes and objects come from movie and television sets. You can find really high-end designer material at a discounted prices and it’s a really fun place to shop,” says Laurel.
If you want to find off-the-beaten-track shopping, Laurel has another Los Angeles tip. “York Boulevard has a really nice history. It was a hub of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1960s and was infused with Mexican Americans. It now has hipster families living around the area – lots of tattoo-sporting artists hang out there. There’s a great coffee shop and it’s right next to a playground, so if you have kids you can let them run loose. I recommend the artisanal rosewater pistachio ice cream at the shop called Scoops. And there are vegan options in the area, along with other restaurants. You’ll find high quality second hand stores and high quality boutiques, which are locally owned.”
For a night out, Laurel recommends the Blue Whale jazz bar and art gallery in the city’s Little Tokyo area. “I had an incredible time,” she says. “This guy called Joon Lee, a South Korean, was in college in New York and dropped out. He pursued jazz singing and then opened the club in Los Angeles. The night I went there I was alone and entered with trepidation. But when I walked in I found a warm, welcoming environment that’s all about the music. Alicia Keys’ keyboardist was playing when I was there. It cost just $15 to see an amazing artist and the crowd was super-friendly.”
If you want to taste Los Angeles, again Laurel’s book makes recommendations. “Cindy’s is a roadside diner in Eagle Rock. The story goes that a teenager, Lionel Sternberg, was working there for his parents when he spontaneously dropped a piece of cheese on a burger. He created what is thought to be the first cheeseburger – an iconic American food. It’s had a few owners since the 1920s, and it was called the Right Spot back then. It also hosts a weekly veggie burger.”
So where should you stay in this sprawling city? Laurel recommends the Charlie Hotel, which was once owned by Charlie Chaplin. It’s close to Melrose Avenue, thirty minutes from Santa Monica and twenty minutes from Hollywood and Downtown.
You can buy 111 Places In Los Angeles That You Must Not Miss on Amazon.
Hear my chat with Laurel for the Great Destinations Radio Show here: