A Washingtonian’s Guide to Los Angeles
You’ve made the 3,000-mile leap from Washington, DC to Los Angeles -- the City of Lights, Camera, and Action -- and despite the backdrop of constant sunshine, winding canyons, and gorgeous people, you still frame your fun in the terms of our nation’s capital. So now what? Here’s where you’ll find West Coast versions of your DC passions in the 503-square-mile sprawl of LA, one of the most vibrant, multicultural cities in America.
FOODDC’s food is eclectic but there are a few staples that belong to the capital more than the rest of the country. Here are the places that will add some spice to your LA living.
EthiopianLA’s Little Ethiopia is so compact, you won’t miss the trek across DC’s north quadrants (or Silver Spring) to find a good injera and honey wine. On a mere one-block stretch of Mid-Wilshire’s SoFax (South of Fairfax), you can indulge in a surprising slew of Ethiopian restaurants, including Messob, Merkato, Rosalind’s, and Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine.
Chili dogA Ben's Chili Bowl/Meats & Foods-style half-smoke is tough to find in Los Angeles, but let the spicy comfort-food magic of a chili dog from Pink's soothe your pain. The standard version includes mustard and onions, but you can add bacon, cheese, and/or extend to a full nine inches. Lines here can get Star Wars-opening-day long, so swing by between 10-11am or 3-4pm to skip the wait.
Southeast Asian foodWhen you find yourself pining for the Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotian cuisine of NoVa's Eden Center, hit the mini-malls of Thai Town, between Western and Normandie on Hollywood Boulevard. This is hardly the only slice of LA where you’ll find solid Southeast Asian cuisine, but you can’t beat it for density or late-night eats. Seek out Sapp Coffee Shop for boat noodles, Ruen Pair for papaya salad, Pailin for its coconut-curry khao soi soup, Sanamluang for chive dumplings, and Rodded for duck noodle soup. Just be sure to bring cash or an ATM card to avoid going hungry; only Pailin takes credit cards.
Eastern Market + Union Market = Grand Central MarketCombine the soaring ceiling and specialty products of Eastern Market with the high-end local fare of Union Market, and you’ve got Downtown LA’s Grand Central Market. A few blocks from the Pershing Square Metro stop, this 1917 landmark offers one hour of free parking and homegrown standouts like egg sandwiches at Eggslut, Olio’s wood-fired pizzas, seafood dishes at Bombo, G & B Coffee (LA’s answer to Peregrine Espresso), and the bakery paradise of Valerie Confections.
Ramen and pokeThis combination of hearty Japanese noodle soup and Hawaii’s famed raw-fish dish have recently taken DC by storm, but you'll find kick-ass, well-established spots for both all over LA. Tetenyu and Daikokuya are just two of the hundreds of ramen spots across the Southland, and Sweetfin, Ohana, and Ahipoki are super-popular picks for poke. (Try to say that 10 times fast.)
MUSICThere’s no need to pine for DC’s booming, eclectic music scene -- you’ve actually traded up. As the business hub of the U.S. music industry, LA attracts unknown, emerging, and ultra-famous artists of every genre to venues ranging from 100 seats to 100,000.
Devoted to the top alternative acts who play the 9:30 Club and The Birchmere? Try The Mint and the El Rey Theatre, where you’ll also find Art Deco style and strong drinks. For the kinds of emerging acts that favor the Black Cat and U Street Music Hall, check out a seemingly endless roster of small-stage venues, such as The Echo, The Satellite, the long-famous Troubadour, Complex, the revamped Viper Room, Hi-Hat, and Resident.
The Hotel Café provides the singer/songwriter vibe of DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel, and when you’re craving EDM and hip-hop, hit up dive-bar/club The Airliner, funky Los Globos or the 1920’s glam of Avalon. Miss the ‘90s and ‘00s standbys and just-about-to-explode artists you’d see at The Fillmore? Haunt scruffily elegant theaters like the Wiltern and Fonda.
For the jazz you’d hear at Blues Alley and Madam’s Organ, pick up the beat at The Baked Potato, The Varnish, and bluewhale. And don’t lament your loss of the under-the-stars experience at Wolf Trap -- just head to the Greek Theatre and/or the Hollywood Bowl from April to October, where you can bring a picnic or book seats with full food, beer, and wine service.
DRINKSYou have to drink something or you’ll die of dehydration. That’s just science. Therefore, you ought to do your drinking someplace fun. That’s just tourism. LA is an artsy town, and the art of complex cocktail concoction is as strong here as is the science of perfectly brewed beer. Here are some venues where the humanities meet in a convivial atmosphere.
Shaw + H Street = DTLA’s Arts DistrictAlong a few formerly lonely, industrial streets in DTLA, the Arts District mixes the after-dark energy of Shaw with the gritty funk of H Street. This compact, walkable shopping/gallery area is full of boozy hot spots like Eat.Drink.Americano, Pour Haus Wine Bar, and Villains Tavern.
K-Town > North end of H StreetRoll to the center of Koreatown (between Olympic, Beverly, Wilton, and Vigil) for a sense of the still-emerging north end of H Street, with dimly-lit watering holes like Lock & Key and late-night karaoke bars like Gaam Karaoke and Karnak. H Street Country Club fans will love the arcade games, billiards and bowling at Shatto 39 Lanes.
BreweriesLA’s friendly local breweries could almost make you forget Northeast DC favorites like Bardo, DC Brau, Right Proper, and Hellbender. Focus your quaffing efforts between DTLA and Glendale and enjoy Eagle Rock, Angel City, Golden Road, FrogTown, Boomtown, and Arts District Brewing, or hop (get it?) around LA County to discover a whole lot more.
Rooftop barsThese are an LA summer staple, just like they are in DC. The Roof on Wilshire’s pool, wooden deck, city views and colorful cocktails will remind you of another Kimpton property’s rooftop, DNV at The Donovan. Awash in bubbly, vines, live jazz, DJs, and sick views of DTLA, the 16th floor rooftop at Perch is a way more dramatic version of Perry's. And the 10th-floor Brit Bar Lounge at Rooftop West offers a swanky poolside taste of The Liaison Capitol Hill rooftop, without the need for a $35 day pass.
OUTDOORSFor an LA take on Georgetown’s side streets or the C & O, tool around the Venice Canals. Built in 1905 just a few blocks from Venice Beach, these shallow waterways are lined with pedestrian-only paths and more styles of fantastic/weird-ass architecture than you ever knew existed.
When you're jonesing for the Mount Vernon Trail, go run or bike The Strand, a beach path that stretches 22 miles from Santa Monica to Torrance. You’re trading the winding Potomac for the sparkling Pacific, a difference you can note from any of the beachside bars along the way.
When you want a Tidal Basin vibe, head to Echo Park Lake for its fountain, pedal boats, and palm trees. In exchange for the Jefferson Memorial and cherry blossoms, check out the boathouse (which has a lighthouse and the breakfast/lunch Beacon café) and the pink lotus flowers that bloom here in July and August.
CULTUREYeah, yeah, you’ll never get over being so far from the Smithsonian. But take it easy -- Los Angeles is a cultural mecca in its own right.
LA has a great theater and classical music scene. No, seriously -- and some of its top venues are in a one-block chunk of DTLA called The Music Center. When you miss the Kennedy Center, check out the Ahmanson Theatre for Broadway headliners; Disney Music Hall for ensembles, soloists and the LA Philharmonic; and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for opera. For the contemporary plays you’re used to at Arena Stage, hit up the Mark Taper Forum, or for a West Coast version of the intimate Studio Theater, head across town to Westwood’s two-stage Geffen Playhouse.
The Getty Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) combine elements of the National Gallery, the Phillips, the Sackler, and the Freer, and you’ll find a Renwick Gallery stand-in across the street from LACMA at the Craft & Folk Art Museum, as well as at UCLA’s Fowler Museum. If you’re a fan of the Hirshhorn and/or the National Gallery’s East Wing, get your modern art on at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), The Broad, and the Hammer Museum.
The Huntington in upper-crust San Marino offers a hybrid of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Arboretum, the U.S. Botanic Garden, and Hillwood Estate -- and you only have to park once.
Drive or take the Expo Line to Exposition Park for LA's Natural History Museum (where you can party after hours with bugs, dinosaurs, DJs, and booze the first Friday of each month). Also here is Air & Space Museum-ish California Science Center, home to the Space Shuttle Endeavour and a bunch of chicks. (They’re baby chickens, but still.)
When you start to feel nostalgic for the street art of Blind Whino, Union Market, Blagden Alley, and Adams Morgan, buck up and head to DTLA’s Arts District to feast your eyes on wall-bound works by artists like ROA, How and Nosm, and Tristan Eaton. Want to learn more about what you’re seeing? Let LA Art Tours show you around.
You might think you’re gonna die without Politics & Prose or author readings at Sixth & I, but you’re not -- because you have the liberal/literary haven of Los Feliz’ Skylight Books, as well as DTLA’s The Last Bookstore. The latter is one of the largest indie bookshops on Earth, decorated with sweeping art installations made of books, and offering stacks of old-school vinyl and studio space for local artists.
ARCHITECTUREThe Beaux-Arts/Art Deco/Classical Greek tower of City Hall is where LA hashes out its politics, and its 27th-floor observation deck is open to the public and free to enter -- aside from the taxes you pay those folks hashing out LA's politics.
There are no boundary stones in LA, but you’ll find Freemason design and symbolism at Masonic strongholds like the Scottish Rite Temple, as well as the tall-and-trippy Central Library, where a free tour provides a context for bronze sphinxes and a massive, mosaic-paved rotunda.
Get the Art Deco fix you’re used to in DC by exploring pretty much all of LA Standout structures include the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica (hello, rooftop bar) and the old Bullocks Wilshire building in Koreatown. Stroll around DTLA (or let the LA Conservancy guide you) to see beauties like the Oviatt Building and Eastern Columbia Lofts.