Beyond Hollywood glamour and celebrity obsession, the City of Angels offers a wealth of fun things to do, writes Jennifer Conley
F cities were people, if Los Angeles lived and breathed in human form, it would be a teenager with a filthy room. It has its attention on other things far more interesting than picking up clothes off the floor.
It is creative and inspiring, brashly exhibitionist in a naive kind of way. In the company of like-minded friends, this pimply youth will speak out passionately on any and every subject, will routinely question old ways and enthusiastically cook up new ones.
Mostly it doesn’t hear the criticisms. What undies? What wet towel? Every now and then, things happens to make the city a little circumspect, a little abashed, but mostly it is unapologetically out there.
For all its well-deserved reputation as the home of skin-deep beauty, of starlets and superstar glamour, LA hides its beauty behind rows of dusty mini-malls and faded billboards. But beyond Disneyland and the slightly seedy Hollywood Walk of Fame, there is superlative Los Angeles. It’s there. I’ve seen it. Here’s proof.
RODEO DRIVE AND BEVERLY HILLS
Try on Cole Haan shoes, crisp white shirts at Brazilian designer Anne Fontaine, or check out the west coast branch of Barneys New York for what will be in vogue next year.
The Rodeo Drive precinct is an opulent marble-and-granite shopping experience you don’t want to miss, even if it is pretentious.
Eat at the outdoor cafes around Brighton Way or frock up and rub handbags with society women at Mariposa, the restaurant inside the Neiman Marcus department store on Wilshire Boulevard, where diners get a complimentary cup of consomme with a classic American popover as an appetiser.
It is just around the corner from where my 16-year-old daughter excitedly stumbled across the filming of the television series Entourage .
Cutting-edge designers line the streets about 2km northwest, around Robertson Boulevard and Melrose Avenue, past celebrity hangout The Ivy. And for a step back to the emerald-green and mushroom-pink heyday of the 1950s, go for cocktails in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. www.beverlyhills-towninfo.info; www.thebeverlyhillshotel.com.
The city’s downtown area is perhaps the least appreciated of its hidden gems. Actor Johnny Depp reportedly just bought a loft downtown, and there’s a growing revival of all things cultural, evidenced by the awe-inspiring steel sculpture that is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new Nokia Theatre (the Wiggles played there in late March) and the avant garde Museum of Contemporary Art.
At the Mexican market along Olvera Street, there are sombreros and ponchos, as well as the oldest standing house in the city, Avila Adobe, built for a rich Spanish don’s family in 1818 and now a modest museum manned by volunteers.
There’s some good Mexican food around here, or go for a delicious $US6 ($6.50) roast beef or lamb ‘‘ French-dipped’’ sandwich and a beer or a US60c coffee at Philippe the Original (1001 North Alameda St). Highpowered lawyers, city daytrippers and American tourists all share the communal benches at this fabulous LA institution, which has been serving 5000 sandwiches a day since 1908. In LA terms, that’s forever. www.philippes.com.
GETTY CENTRE AND THE GETTY VILLA
The most prominent building for kilometres is the extraordinary Getty Centre on a hilltop overlooking the mansions of Bel Air. The gardens, by artist Robert Irwin, and the white travertine modernist buildings are glorious, and an hour or two of wandering in the sun is the perfect antidote to jetlag.
Oil billionaire J. Paul Getty originally housed his collections of Greek and Roman antiquities, 18th-century French furniture and European paintings in his ranch house at Malibu. He later built a Roman-style villa on the grounds, modelled after the Villa dei Papiri of the 1st century.
Reopened in early 2006 after extensive renovations, the superb Getty Villa requires reservations due to neighbourhood restrictions on traffic. Admission to the centre and villa is free. www.getty.edu.
Sunset Strip is the place for some of the trendiest clubs and bars in town (though if you are travelling with under-21s, Hollywood’s Knitting Factory and McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica are brilliant alternative music venues).
During the day, have lunch at the Chateau Marmont, tucked away at 8221 Sunset Boulevard and still frequented by a large celebrity clientele because of its legendary discretion (photography is not permitted). The day we visit, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are at the next table.
Still in West Hollywood but slightly farther afield, look for Pink’s hot dogs, south on La Brea Avenue, where the cult status of this fast fare means long lines of hungry teens and struggling musicians snake around the corner day and night. www.chateaumarmont.com; www.pinkshollywood.com.
Venice is funky, offbeat, a little weird and well worth a wander along its Ocean Front Walk. Have a go at paddle tennis on the boardwalk or hire inline skates and blend in with the scene. www.venicebeach.com.
THE WILSHIRE MUSEUM DISTRICT
This strip of Wilshire Boulevard, roughly from Fairfax to La Brea, boasts half a dozen excellent museums, including the Page Museum La Brea Tar Pits, where the world’s best-preserved mammoths and sabre-toothed cats were found mired in the still present viscous goo. Next door is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and, across the way, the Petersen Automotive Museum, which is exceptional, as you would expect in this city where the car is king. Eat at the quaint Farmers Market on the corner of Third and Fairfax Avenues. www.tarpits.org; www.lacma.org; www.petersen.org.
FREE TICKETS TO TV SHOWS
Wonder what the taping of a TV show is like? LA is definitely the place to satisfy such curiosity. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno , The Price is Right with Drew Carey, Dr Phil and Ellen Degeneres’s Ellen are taped in front of audiences in LA. www.tvtickets.com.
THE DODGERS, THE LAKERS AND COLLEGE FOOTBALL
The LA Dodgers turn 50 this year. The Major League baseball season runs from April to September, with home games played at the downtown Dodgers Stadium nearly every night for two weeks each month. Cheap tickets are usually available on game day.
The stadium hosts regular tours behind the scenes. http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com.
The LA Lakers basketball team plays from October to April, about twice a week at home. Ticket prices range from as low as $US10. www.nba.com/lakers.
LA lost its NFL professional football team when the Raiders moved to Oakland about 10 years ago, but college football, the amateur version, is a spectacle on a par with an Olympic opening ceremony. Though the rules may seem incomprehensible, if your visit coincides with a game (there are about 12 a year, from September to December), the duelling marching bands and razzamatazz make for an incredible experience.
This Frank Lloyd Wright-designed residence was built circa 1921 for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, who envisioned an artist community on her 14.5ha hill in the centre of what was then thriving Hollywood.
The only one of Wright’s LA houses still open to the public, Hollyhock House is a spectacular oasis hidden from the sprawling and unremarkable neighbourhoods below. It is well-preserved by private devotees, and volunteers run tours four times daily, from Wednesday to Sunday.
Thankfully, Barnsdall bequeathed the house and park to the City of Los Angeles with the proviso that it be used only for art and recreation or the property would revert to her heirs. From here, you get a view of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory. www.hollyhockhouse.net.
For a spectacular panorama of the city and its canyons, drive up to Mulholland Drive, which winds along the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains, the land formation that divides LA proper from its famous hinterland, the Valley. Hike along the paths of Will Rogers State Historic Park or Temescal Canyon, just west of the city, and in the quiet early morning you might see coyotes coming down for breakfast or a drink at a neighbourhood sprinkler run-off.
A free hire car comes with Air New Zealand flights to Los Angeles when booked through Creative Holidays. From $1725 ex Sydney; $1795 ex Melbourne; $1805 ex Brisbane; $1993 ex Adelaide; $2015 ex Perth. For travel from April 1 to July 14, September 1 to December 14, and January 1 to the end of March 2009. Some blackout dates apply. More: www.creativeholidays.com.au. www.parks.ca.gov/willrogers www.discoverlosangeles.com
Culture and commerce: Clockwise from bottom left, Venice Beach; Dodgers pitcher Takashi Saito; J. Paul Getty Museum; Walt Disney Concert Hall; Chateau Marmont; cafes and cruisers on Sunset Strip; Rodeo Drive