You know that vision you have of Los Angeles and its endless beaches, movie star sightings, and shopping on Rodeo Drive? While all of those things are true, the City of Angels is so much more. A strong immigrant community, miles of coastline and growing arts scene give this expansive city its own voice, one that leaves visitors with ample opportunity to explore. From taco trucks serving up local flavor, to rooftop pool vibes where you can rub shoulders with your onscreen crush, there are a variety of experiences just waiting for you to discover. Whether it’s your first time visiting Los Angeles or you’re ready to return, here are a few places to consider exploring.
Downtown Los Angeles is definitely having a moment. As a native to the city, it was often the area I stayed away from due to lack of options and a sterile business district, but now all of that has changed. From innovative restaurants, an incredible food and wine festival, sports games and rooftop party vibes, there is always something to do. Call this area your home base by checking into The Standard DTLA. The 207-room property is right in the heart of downtown and walking distance to great restaurants and the Beyond The Streets weekend graffiti exhibition (through August 26). Here, you can view multimedia and street art in 40,000+ sq ft of industrial indoor and outdoor space. Back at the Standard, lounge in one of the waterbed pods at the rooftop lounge or get your ping pong on in the lobby. Make an appointment to visit British artist Lucy Sparrow’s largest installation at the Sparrow Mart, located on the Standard’s second floor. The installation is made up of 31,000 handmade felt items, including everything from Tapatio hot sauce to Grey Goose vodka. Here, your selfie game will be strong.
Let’s be honest, half of the fun of vacationing (or maybe even all of it) is eating. Here are just a few tried, true and new favorites all around Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival: Every summer, celebrity chefs from around the world and some of the city’s most beloved restaurants get together to satiate hungry Los Angelenos during the food and wine festival. This year, Aarón Sánchez, Mary Sue Milliken, and Susan Feniger are just a few chefs in the house, with DJ Questlove spinning tunes to a downtown crowd. Highlights include a taco takeover paired with tequila of course, as well as a grand tasting featuring over 200 wines. Now that’s a party done right.
Filifera: It’s pure summertime vibes and old Hollywood glam here, especially when you sip the refreshing hibiscus gin and tonic while people watching all of the cool kids. Don’t miss the fried chicken sliders or crab fritters during the weekly happy hour.
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar: Get your soul food fix at this always-buzzing Southern restaurant, right in the heart of L.A. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better fried chicken and waffle combo in the city. If that’s not your pick, choose a classic like shrimp and grits or St. Louis style pork ribs. There’s an outdoor patio and open-air kitchen inside to watch where all the magic happens. Another bonus, a full bar with a focus on whiskey and bourbon. Cheers.
Roku: This Japanese restaurant sits in a prime location on Sunset Blvd. The great music and ambiance here are best enjoyed by ordering the yellowtail diced chiles, baked lobster roll with hollandaise topping, and of course, the star cocktail Stranger in Paradise, made with fresh strawberry, Shiso, and Bulldog gin.
Viale Dei Romani: There’s run of the mill Italian restaurants, and then there’s Viale Dei Romani, a West Hollywood trattoria helmed by Chef Casey Lane in the Kimpton La Peer Hotel. The menu fuses ingredients from France, Spain, the Middle East and North Africa to create an impressive menu. The star of the show is the pasta alla piastra, a multi-layered lasagna — 30 layers to be exact — so bring a friend to share.
Rappahannock Oyster Bar: Seafood lovers won’t want to miss the variety of oyster selections here by chef Nick Erven. Rappahannock also serves an incredible lobster roll in the happening new ROW DTLA, a street full of emerging shops and boutiques.
Hotel Figueroa’s Veranda – Chef Casey Lane’s alfresco poolside restaurant offers Mediterranean cuisine like whole branzino and dry aged beef skewers. The atmosphere is quintessential Los Angeles, with hacienda style decor and lobby photography that pays homage to everyone from Ice Cube to local street shots. The hotel itself is a Los Angeles institution that just celebrated its 92nd birthday.
DAMA – This Latin American restaurant in Fashion District’s City Market South features dishes like whole soft shell crab tacos with hot pickled onions and radish from Executive Chef Antonia Lofaso, and cocktails from Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni. At the bar, you’ll feel like you’ve been whisked away to Havana, Cuba. Don’t leave without ordering the grilled corn, topped with queso fresca, cilantro aioli, cotija, and chili lime salt.
Skincare by Sabrina: Passion is the first word that comes to mind when anyone visits Sabrina Bradley-Baker for a facial. For 17 years, this one woman wonder has created her own elixirs and skincare regimens for hundreds of eager clients. She can help address many of the issues Black women face, including acne scarring. Her BikiniBack ™️ is an incredible vegan tonic she created to address skin inflammation on the back for those days when you’re ready to hit the pool or beach. Head over to her Instagram (@sabrinatoday) to see just how much she makes her clients glow and you’ll be ready to book an appointment as soon as you touch down in Los Angeles.
Powder Beauty Co. This Black-owned nail and facial bar provides absolute zen vibes and a nail friendly method for manis and pedis: powder. All you do is dip your fingers in your favorite powdered color and voila, you’ve got a look that will last for up to two weeks. Their Signature Pedi includes a detoxifying charcoal powder, essential oil (mint, vanilla or peony) and herb or floral (rose, lavender or mint) of your choice, exfoliating scrub, thorough massage, and a super moisturizing clay mask. A minimalist design aesthetic that pays tribute to fashion makes an afternoon here feel miles away from the busy street right outside.
Ritz Carlton: Grab your girls or a book and head downtown to the spa at The Ritz Carlton. The 8,000 foot spa is a true sanctuary for relaxation and pampering. Enjoy a top of the line facial, or the Marula Ritual Body Treatment, a detoxifying experience that uses ingredients from South Africa to penetrate and moisturize the skin’s surface.
How to kick-start your Los Angeles vacay: I’m in Los Angeles nearly every other month, and JetBlue is always my first choice for airline. Rack up those miles so you can experience MINT, domestic business class done right, and service with a genuine smile. An amenity bag from Hayward and Hopper includes an eye mask, socks, a dental kit, body lotion, lip balm, and more. Insider tip: rows 2 and 4 have their own private suite so you can binge watch your favorite show or listen to your podcast in complete peace, because yes, there’s free WiFi onboard too.
Kristin Braswell is an award-winning journalist and wanderlust. Follow her on Instagram @crushglobal.