you In Los An­ge­les, need a plan. Al­ways.

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Los An­ge­les isn’t just celebri­ties, pa­parazzi and Hol­ly­wood. You know it, I know it. The lo­cals def­i­nitely know it. But what is ‘real’ LA? There are as many an­swers as there are cars on Wil­shire Boule­vard. To some, it’s the yoga-mat-and-surf­board life­style of Santa Mon­ica and Mal­ibu; for oth­ers, it’s the gritty faded beauty of down­town. Many ar­gue that the fur­ther east you go, the realer it gets: in East­side neigh­bour­hoods like Sil­ver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park, the only swarms of pho­tog­ra­phers you’ll en­counter are In­sta­gram­mers an­gling for shots of a hip new café or ef­fort­lessly cool de­signer store. Then there are the eth­nic en­claves – Lit­tle Ar­me­nia, Kore­atown, Lit­tle Tokyo, Thai Town and more – liv­ing proof that this is one of the most cos­mopoli­tan cities in Amer­ica. As the writer Quentin Crisp once said, “Los An­ge­les is just New York ly­ing down”. LA may lack the soar­ing towerblocks and sky­scrapers of its east coast ri­val, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as cul­tur­ally, ar­tis­ti­cally and eth­ni­cally di­verse.

The point is, there’s so much more to Los An­ge­les than theme parks and Hol­ly­wood, if you know where to look. And that last part is key. With its low-rise sky­line



and its end­less, car-clogged roads, LA can be an over­whelm­ing and con­fus­ing city to get to grips with. And it’s true that, un­like in New York or San Fran­cisco, you can rarely just leave your ho­tel and walk, leav­ing your day to serendip­ity. No, in Los An­ge­les, you need a plan. Al­ways. That’s why, be­fore my most re­cent trip there, I sketched out a loose sched­ule. My rules: no tourist traps, no theme parks, no celebrity spot­ting or Hol­ly­wood kitsch. Just au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, in ar­eas An­ge­lenos them­selves love to spend time in.

Day one – Down­town

I’m a fan of cities; the big­ger the bet­ter. Hav­ing re­cently re­turned home to New Zealand after a year in New York, I’ve been pin­ing for the kind of ur­ban en­ergy that only comes from a lot of peo­ple crammed into a too-small space. But that’s not some­thing laid­back, spread-out Los An­ge­les pro­vides – ex­cept in down­town, oth­er­wise known as ‘DTLA’. Los An­ge­les’ civic core is cen­tred around Broad­way, once Los An­ge­les’ main com­mer­cial street and to­day the epit­ome of de­cayed glam­our. At 10am on a Satur­day morn­ing, I join one of the reg­u­lar Broad­way walk­ing tours run by the Los An­ge­les Con­ser­vancy, which does heroic work pre­serv­ing the city’s ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures.

In Jan, a sprightly 82-year-old who looks at least a decade younger, we have the ideal guide for a tour of the movie the­atres that line Broad­way. As we walk, the 40-year veteran of Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios tells us how in the early days of cinema, ri­val mag­nates com­peted to build the most jaw-drop­pingly opulent movie palace. By the early 1930s, this hand­ful of blocks of­fered seat­ing for 15,000 pa­trons and could claim the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of cin­e­mas in the world.

These days many of the the­atres re­main, though none show movies full-time. Some are used for church ser­vices or flea mar­kets and some have been sim­ply boarded up and left to rot. But a lucky few are get­ting a new lease on life, such as the cathe­dral-like United Artists Theater, once co-owned by Char­lie Chap­lin and now part of the su­per­cool Ace Ho­tel. It’s a stun­ning the­atre, more like a gaudy gothic cathe­dral than an au­di­to­rium, but my favourite stop on the tour has to be the over-the-top Los An­ge­les Theater, com­plete with chil­dren’s nurs­ery, bar­ber shop and a periscope sys­tem so pa­trons in the base­ment lounge can watch the movie up­stairs.

After all that walk­ing, time for lunch. We head straight to Grand Cen­tral Mar­ket, a food court and pro­duce mar­ket lo­cated a few blocks from the end of the tour. For a cen­tury now, lo­cal work­ers have flocked to this mar­ket in search of cheap pro­duce or a quick lunch. These days the old-school ven­dors – taco stands, noodle shops, and stalls sell­ing Mex­i­can spices and chillis – share space with ev­ery­thing from craft beer, to gourmet cheese, to high-end ice cream. With the new­com­ers have come the crowds – if you want to try one of the amaz­ing sand­wiches from the Eg­gslut food stand, for ex­am­ple, get there be­fore 10am or be pre­pared for a half-hour wait. No thanks. At Wexler’s Deli, the queue isn’t so bad, thank good­ness. We even find a perch

at the counter to wolf down our sand­wiches stuffed with ap­ple-wood smoked pas­trami and home­made pick­les. A taste of New York in the mid­dle of LA.

Day 2 – Kore­atown

My base for the trip is The Line, a former 1960s Hy­att trans­formed into a quirky 388-room boutique ho­tel. The big draw here – apart from the rooftop restau­rant in­side a glasshouse and the ef­fort­lessly stylish dé­cor – are the rooms’ floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, which give you the feel­ing you’re float­ing high above the city (ver­tigo suf­fer­ers, watch out). The Line is lo­cated in Kore­atown, a large cen­tral neigh­bour­hood that, as the ar­rival of ho­tels like this sug­gest, is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly trendy. But the Korean com­mu­nity that built this district still thrives; their in­flu­ence can be seen ev­ery­where, from amaz­ing bar­be­cue restau­rants to in­cred­i­bly good value spas (I’m talk­ing ‘$20 for a day pass to the Natura Spa on Wil­shire Boule­vard’ good value). Don’t for­get to hit up the beauty stores, stocked with all man­ner of Korean cult favourites that are un­avail­able here in New Zealand. It sounds dis­gust­ing, I know, but the Mi­zon Snail Cream (con­tain­ing, yes, snail mu­cus) has been hailed as a life­saver mois­turiser for acne-prone skin. Or try the Su:m 37 Mir­a­cle Rose Stick Cleanser, which packs all the gen­tle, deep­clean­ing power of an oil cleanser into a su­per-por­ta­ble solid stick.

One of the more won­der­ful things about Kore­atown’s beauty sup­ply stores is they of­ten share space with dessert bars, mak­ing for a near-per­fect re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence, at least if you’re me. After you’ve stocked up on unguents at The Face Shop, for ex­am­ple, stroll across the room to the oddly-named Choco­late Chair, and order a serv­ing of Dragon’s Breath – candy-coloured ce­real puffs snap-frozen in liq­uid ni­tro­gen. Pop one in your mouth, bite down and breathe out through your nose – voilà, you’re a dragon for a mo­ment.

Day three Venice and be­yond

Nes­tled as it is be­tween LA’s vast con­crete jun­gle and the vaster still Pa­cific Ocean, it’s easy to see why Santa Mon­ica draws thou­sands of lo­cals and tourists each day – an eas­ier trip than ever, since the light rail line be­tween down­town and Santa Mon­ica opened last year. But hav­ing been to the beach, and done the shop­ping mall on pre­vi­ous trips, I de­cide to give it a miss this time. In­stead I head south to Venice, home to Mus­cle Beach and the fa­mously weirdo-friendly board­walk. A few blocks back from the ocean­front is one of the best LA shop­ping strips: Ab­bot Kin­ney Boule­vard. This is the sort of LA neighborhood where the cof­fee shops are crammed with smart young screen­writ­ers work­ing on spec scripts and ev­ery­where you turn you see beau­ti­ful peo­ple with per­fect tans. The shop­ping here is phe­nom­e­nal: check out Scotch & Soda for fun, af­ford­able pieces and Bazar for small-batch prod­ucts and vin­tage finds. Eat at the gor­geously rus­tic restau­rant Gjelina, or grab a sand­wich from its sis­ter café Gjusta down the road; I can at­test to the de­li­cious­ness of their Banh Mi Amer­i­cano. For dessert, stop at Salt & Straw, where the ice cream flavours run the gamut from clas­sic to the out-there, like black olive brit­tle and goat’s cheese.

After lunch, we drive north, through Santa Mon­ica to a hill­side on the out­skirts of Mal­ibu. Our des­ti­na­tion: the Getty Villa, a free mu­seum spe­cial­is­ing in Ro­man and Greek an­tiq­ui­ties – some 40,000 of them, housed in a replica of a Ro­man villa. It’s a lovely place for adults to wan­der, and does a good job of cater­ing to kids too, with a Fam­ily Fo­rum gallery of­fer­ing the chance to dec­o­rate life-sized Greek vases. But the high­light is the gar­dens, lushly planted with an­cient species and pep­pered with mo­saics, per­go­las and re­flect­ing pools. I find a seat by a bab­bling foun­tain and look out at the ocean be­yond. Yes, I think, I am still in Los An­ge­les. But also very, very far away.


Top row, from left: Santa Mon­ica Pier is a pop­u­lar touristy hotspot; the Hol­ly­wood sign seen from the palm tree-lined streets of Bev­erly Hills. Mid­dle row: Kore­atown is a vi­brant and trendy neigh­bour­hood;

the iconic Rodeo Drive; life­guard tow­ers dot the beaches around LA. Bot­tom row: Getty Villa in Mal­ibu;

the board­walk at Venice Beach.

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