Los Angeles can feel intimidating to the first time visitor, but a bit of forward planning goes a long way. Photo / Getty Images

Amira Hashish shares some of Los Angeles’ newest hotspots, plus top tips for navigating the vast and vibrant City of Angels.

Where to Stay

Short Stories Hotel
Across the road from The Grove shopping destination and the foodie haven that is The Original Farmers Market, West Hollywood’s most chic new hotel opening has one of the best locations in town. Owner Leo Grifka grew up in the neighbourhood and has done an incredible job of turning this ’60s motel-style building into a laidback sanctuary with old-school hospitality at the core. Each room has local artwork by Kenton Nelson and custom decor. There is a very chilled-out pool next to the secret garden oasis that acts as the patio restaurant serving fireside drinks, decadent brunches and dinner by Peruvian chef Ricardo Zarate. As the sun goes down and the treelights begin to twinkle that La La Land vibe kicks in. The salmon-pink bar is a beautiful place to pitch up for post-dinner cocktails. From the moment you step into this hotel, you will be made to feel at home and realise that there is substance to match the style.

The salmon pink bar at Short Stories Hotel is a great spot for evening cocktails. Photo / Stefan Merriweather
The salmon pink bar at Short Stories Hotel is a great spot for evening cocktails. Photo / Stefan Merriweather

Freehand LA
In the historic Commercial Exchange building in downtown Los Angeles, Freehand packs a punch with thoughtfully designed rooms to suit every budget. Whether you are seeking bunk-bed style shared accommodation for up to eight people or The Loft Suite with sweeping views across the city skyline, there is a space for everyone. Locally crafted artwork and handwoven textiles are a delight. The Broken Shaker rooftop bar is fun for a poolside cocktail. For dinner try The Exchange, which explores the flavours of LA through an Israeli lens with impressive chef Narita Santos’ Filipino and Southeast Asian influences. Each dish is lovingly prepared and the team are so passionate about what they do. A great escape in this gritty part of town.

The Broken Shaker rooftop bar at Freehand, LA. Photo / supplied
The Broken Shaker rooftop bar at Freehand, LA. Photo / supplied

Santa Monica Proper
With leading American interior designer Kelly Wearstler at the helm, this hotel is a haven for the California-style obsessed. Think nature-inspired palettes, light hardwood floors and organic textures. Seven blocks from the ocean, it is housed across two buildings with contrasting styles; one is a 1928 Spanish Colonial Revival landmark building and the other is a contemporary new-build. The rooftop deck and pool comes with cabanas, a beach-inspired bar and the popular Calabra restaurant. Alternatively, the lobby lounge offers a casual menu of snacks and crafted cocktails, including a fabulous collection of tequilas and mezcals alongside natural wines. Santa Monica beach, pier and the Wednesday Farmers Market are all within walking distance.

Surfrider Malibu
The Surfrider is a reborn icon of the Malibu scene and the epitome of everything there is to love about this California beach town. The current owners have given the rooms a pared-back beach revamp. One of the highlights is The Malibu Suite which has beach-house vaulted ceilings and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Malibu Pier and Santa Monica Bay. Soak up the scenery and the sunset from the private outdoor terrace with hammocks and a dining space. The guests-only rooftop restaurant is so popular that people book rooms just to eat there. It lives up to its reputation and looks out to the lineup at First Point, where the legendary Malibu break hosts a lineup of world-class surfers. Relax with a coconut margarita and keep an eye out for a pod of playful dolphins.

The rooftop restaurant at Malibu's Surfrider Hotel is so popular that people often book a room just to eat there. Photo / Brecht Vant Hof
The rooftop restaurant at Malibu’s Surfrider Hotel is so popular that people often book a room just to eat there. Photo / Brecht Vant Hof

Where to eat and drink

Issima
First came sister restaurant Olivetta, where the likes of Adele, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez love to dine. Then Issima was born … and the A-listers are flocking. Owner and restaurant maven Marissa Hermer celebrates her love of a European Beach Holiday in this fun new addition to West Hollywood. The Mediterranean coastline is conjured through colourful interiors, a wood-fired grill, pasta dishes and cocktails inspired by European destinations. This is a DJ at the bar, get dressed up and let your hair down kind of place.

Pizzana
Following its queues-around-the-block Brentwood restaurant, Pizzana opened a West Hollywood location not long before lockdown. It is co-owned by actor Chris O’Donnell and his wife, Caroline, and the Neopolitan-style crusts are the stuff of dreams.

Uncool
Rocking up at a parking lot next to a Whole Foods you would be forgiven for thinking your Google Maps has led you astray but fear not. Uncool is the opposite of its name. Part corner bar with fantastic cocktails and part burger joint, it has a good selection of meaty and vegan options and makes for a yum casual pop in from the people behind equally fun Mexican Tu Madre.

The hipster interior of Uncool, one of LA's most popular new bars. Photo / supplied.
The hipster interior of Uncool, one of LA’s most popular new bars. Photo / supplied.

Cobi’s
This Southeast Asian spot in Santa Monica is drawing in the crowds with its maximalist style and curry-focused plates. The alfresco patio conjures a garden party ambience, with music pumping and plenty of over the top foliage.

Here’s Looking at You
After almost falling victim to the pandemic, HLAY raised nearly US$85,000 ($132,000) in a crowd-funding campaign and reopened its doors. The new concept fuses old favourites with a selection of post-lockdown launches, including the crispy, crackly duck confit that’s meant to be eaten with your hands.

Cabra
Chef Stephanie Izard was widely applauded for her Chicago restaurant Girl & the Goat but has ventured to Downtown LA for her most recent venture, Cabra. On the rooftop of the Hoxton hotel, the dishes are matched with views of the surrounding downtown skyscrapers.

Horses
A new lease of life for the Sunset Boulevard bar and restaurant that dates back nearly a century. Owners Liz Johnson and Will Aghajanian champion fresh California fare with a bistro sensibility. Book far in advance.

Mother Wolf
The second restaurant from Evan Funke, the chef/owner of Venice’s legendary Felix, pays tribute to the sumptuous side of Rome. His sprawling dining room is filled with chandeliers, mirrored pillars, and giant pink booths. The place for a big night out but reserve weeks in advance.

Where to explore

Los Angeles can be so misunderstood. Landing and anticipating that you can stroll around and find your place is a no-go. Plan ahead and you’ll have the time of your life. The best way to navigate this sprawling metropolis is to think of it as several cities in one. Dedicate at least three days to each neighbourhood.

If you are after great design, thriving restaurants and endless entertainment, West Hollywood is the place. Avoid Hollywood Boulevard and instead hike Griffith Park where you will have a fabulous view of the Hollywood sign from the Observatory. Of the famous working movie studios, Warner Bros is a fun option. A tour includes a look inside production and backlot areas. Or spend at least half a day at The Getty for a cultural fix. That upscale shopping and Pretty Woman moment is to be found on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills.

For an altogether edgier vibe, cafe culture and breakthrough brands head to Silver Lake or the Arts District of Downtown Los Angeles. Coastal city life revolves around Santa Monica and Abbot Kinney Boulevard close to Venice Beach. To splash out on ocean views and wellness activities make a beeline for Malibu. We could go on. There really is a version of LA to suit every mood, and once you hit your stride, you will be hungry to discover more.

For more ideas, see discoverlosangeles.com

Checklist:
Non-US citizens require proof of Covid-19 vaccination to travel to the US (unless exempt from vaccination). All travellers need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, taken within 24 hours of their flight. See cdc.gov for details.

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