Looking in from the outside, we see Los Angeles as a city of unending red carpets and parties that began in the 20th century and have yet to cease. In part, this version of the city does exist. You can catch a glimpse of it when you drive past the mansions of Hollywood or sit down for brunch at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, but there’s more to the city than just the glitz and glamour one might expect.
During my time exploring the greater area of Los Angeles in the last year, I have grown acquainted with a side of the city not always seen in the movie theaters. The heart of Los Angeles is not fame or celebrity—it is creativity. The sounds, sights, and flavors of the city converge into an artistic haven filled with people who want to create something new.
Although they can be fun, it is okay to skip over crowded bus tours of the Walk of Fame or Universal Studios in favor of some places that will offer you a deeper understanding of the melting pot that specifically makes up Los Angeles culture. Here is my list of the top ten places to visit in Los Angeles for a (literal) taste of the best it has to offer:
10. The Grove & the Original Farmers Market
If you have ever visited Los Angeles, before you might have already visited The Grove. Lights and water dance to the sound of Frank Sinatra while a two-story old-fashioned bus guides tourists from Dylan’s Candy Bar on one end to Nordstrom on the other. This can be fun, and there are some particularly good eateries such as the Dominique Ansel Bakery and Blue Ribbon Sushi, but my personal favorite half of the Grove is the Farmers Market. Here you can find vendors selling crepes, handmade toffee, and more. It is fun to simply walk around and get a glimpse and a whiff of all of the unique foods being served. Take note of the stands with lines—those people most likely have the right idea.
9. Abbot Kinney Blvd.
You may have heard of this quintessential Venice street before, but there is an endless wealth of places to explore here, from art murals to inventive restaurants. It is an ideal place for doing photoshoots with friends, getting a taste of LA cuisine, shopping for your next look, or people-watching. My favorite coffee shops on this street are Zinqué and Intelligentsia which both have free Wifi for homework, my favorite places to eat are The Butcher’s Daughter (known for their plant-based menu) and the French Market Cafe a bit farther down the road, and my favorite shop on the street is Burro where a variety of stationery and knick knacks is sold.
8. Grand Central Market
In the heart of Downtown LA, Grand Central Market is a perfect location to experience the wide array of culture Los Angeles represents. If you want to eat ridiculously good food in a ridiculously short period of time for a reasonable amount of money, this is the place to come. Due to the number of tourists and crowds Grand Central Market attracts each day, you should try going at an off time. The lunch rush means wall to wall people, and is not conducive to an “I want my tacos and I want them now” attitude. My favorite stands include G&M Coffee (for coffee and waffles), Sarita’s Pupuseria (for pupusas), Madcapra (for falafel), and Tacos Tumbras a Tomas (for street-style tacos). I really want to try Ramen Hood, which serves vegan ramen, and Sari Sari Store, which serves Filipino rice bowls, the next time I visit.
7. Manhattan Beach
There are so many wonderful beaches in Los Angeles and, in all honesty, I can’t claim to be an authority on the subject because I’m not a surfer or regular beach-goer. However, I can say with confidence that Manhattan Beach has an incredible bike path, rarely feels overcrowded, and has great restaurants. This is my favorite spot to stop by early in the morning to grab an açai bowl at Paradise Bowls and sit by the ocean to prepare for the day ahead, or to de-stress and catch up on my reading later in the afternoon.
6. Griffith Observatory
This is one of the “as seen in La La Land” spots that I just can’t get out of my head. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting or living in Los Angeles. Bring your camera, and get ready to be inspired by a truly dazzling view during the day or at night.
5. LA Times Festival of Books
The LA Times Festival of Books only happens once a year but, as a book lover and English major, I had to include it in my list. In recent years it has been hosted by the campus of USC, a place stunning in and of itself. Authors, publishers, and bibliophiles from across the country rush to LA to set up shop for one spring weekend. Bring your reading list to remind you of all the books you have at home that you still haven’t read, and your wallet because we all know that’s not going to stop you from buying more.
4. Melrose District
For anyone who loves coffee, fashion, art, or photography, Melrose has endless places to explore. For sustainable fashion check out Reformation, for seriously Instagrammable content check out Alfred Tea Room or Mansur Gavriel, and for a taste of LA tourism check out Pink’s, the famous hot dog stand. Melrose is filled with cool murals, interesting shops, and amazing cafes. You can easily spend an entire day wandering around with your camera and still not have your fill of latte art or pink walls.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is by no means “under the radar.” There is a good chance you have seen many a picture of your friends or celebrities posing with the iconic Urban Light exhibition. I have to say, this museum is worth all the hype. The LACMA has a huge selection of both contemporary and classical art. Whether you are searching for a readymade by Marcel Duchamp, a masterpiece by Monet, or a photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, it can be found here. You do have to pay for tickets, which is a downside, but students get a discount and the collection is so extensive that you will most definitely get your money’s worth.
2. Getty Villa
As an art lover, it is no surprise that museums are at the top of my list, but the Getty Villa is truly a gem. Unlike the LACMA and despite the incredible views of Malibu, admission is free. When you climb the stairs up to the main galleries and gardens, it is hard to believe you are not in Italy. Grab an iced vanilla latte and a pastry from the coffee cart and spend some time wandering past the statues and through the gardens. I dare you not to feel like you have fallen straight into a scene from Call Me by Your Name.
1. Sawtelle Blvd.
Sushi? Check. Boba? Check. Ramen? Check. Udon? Check. Korean BBQ? Check. Bread pudding? Check. Cream puffs? Check. Crepes? Check. Need I say more? Sawtelle is a haven of food. Though parking is scarce, every eatery on the block is delicious. If there’s a wait time at Kura Revolving Sushi Bar (there will be, so go early), just check out Daiso for cute stationery and Japanese candy. After you eat, stroll along the street and take a look inside the shops selling items from Japan or the art gallery promoting local artists. This street is by far my favorite street in Los Angeles, and my favorite place to take my friends out to eat. Everything is affordable, and the street breathes with life.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but if I were showing my friend from out of town my favorite places to go, these are the places I would take them. They are beautiful, authentic, and complex. They are representative of a variety of people who live a variety of lives. LA is not only about Hollywood and stardom, it is about culture and art.