I’d never discourage anyone from vacationing in Los Angeles — it’s almost impossible to run out of things to do. But the plethora of sites and sounds may prove frustrating. How can you possibly experience this megalopolis during a short vacation?
But you can indulge in a culture- and food-filled weekend, 48 hours that might whet your appetite for a longer stay. All you’ll need is money — and patience. My city’s reputation for pricey entertainments and traffic jams is well-deserved. If the GPS tells you the distance between two points is 17 miles, the drive might take you 25 minutes — or two hours.
Here’s a plan for your weekend trip to L.A.
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After you land at LAX, pick up your rental car (sorry, no avoiding it) and head to your hotel: Try the Viceroy (viceroyhotelsandresorts.com) or the Palihouse(palihousesantamonica.com) in Santa Monica or the slightly farther afield Culver Hotel (culverhotel.com). (The Culver, which opened in 1924, may be best known as the place where much of the “The Wizard of Oz” cast stayed in 1938.)
For dinner, check out the Little Osaka neighborhood of West L.A., which runs along Sawtelle Boulevard and is crowded with restaurants and stylish shops. Explore the Giant Robot stores (giantrobot.com) and stop at Rufcut, (rufcut.com) a jeans shop that attracts customers from around the world.
Dine at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, which, according to L.A. Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, is the place to go “for the garagiste version of a modern hamburger … as re-imagined by a gear head working alone in his kitchen instead of by a team of technicians in a lab.” Burgers are pricey ($10-$14) and the place is usually packed, but the vibe is playful and there’s valet parking, a bonus on a street that has exploded in popularity. (plancheck.com)
Take advantage of our culinary cornucopia (and indulge your craving for a bit of Hollywood) and start your morning at the Sapp Coffee Shop on Hollywood Boulevard — more proof that many of L.A.’s best restaurants can be found in obscure mini malls (sapp.menutoeat.com). You’ll notice the neighborhood looks a little run down (true for much of Hollywood) and that Sapp is more Thai restaurant than coffee shop. But the roast-duck noodles are the ideal way to start the day (or cure a hangover).
You’ll need a little fuel to walk the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just a few blocks west, at Hollywood and Highland, which is both a shopping center and an intersection. Take a stroll in either direction to inspect some of the 2,400-plus Walk of Fame stars embedded in nearby sidewalks. The best part? All the names you’ll recognize and all the names you won’t. You may even want to take a tour of the Dolby Theatre (in the Hollywood and Highland Center), site of the Academy Awards (dolbytheatre.com).
Next stop? The California Science Center in Exposition Park to check out the Endeavour Space Shuttle exhibit. (Make sure to buy tickets in advance, californiasciencecenter.com). The Natural History Museum(nhm.org) and California African American Museum are nearby (caamuseum.org), and the University of Southern California is across the street.
But don’t dawdle — a late lunch is waiting at Chichen Itza, about a four-minute drive from USC. Gold writes that the menu is “a living, habanero-intensive thesaurus of the panuchos and codzitos, sopa de lima and papadzules, banana-leaf tamales and shark casseroles that make up one of Mexico’s spiciest cuisines.” But don’t let the references to spicy put you off. There are all sorts of dishes for those who have a sensitive heat meter. (chichenitzarestaurant.com)
After you’ve had your fill, hop in the car and head west to the Getty Center (getty.edu), which sits above the 405 freeway on the Westside. The Richard Meier-designed campus is home to a many important artworks, but save plenty of time for one of the most astonishing sites in Los Angeles: the Central Garden. I could spend an entire day there and never tire of the crape myrtle, lavender, gold-leaf New Zealand iris and the black-stem elephant’s ears. Then dine at the Garden Terrace Cafe or the Restaurant there (reservations advised).
Time to experience iconic Venice Beach. Get there by 9 a.m. and you might find a place to park in a public lot. Take a stroll on the boardwalk and check out the body builders, break dancers, food vendors, chain-saw jugglers and juice bars.
But save your appetite for nearby Abbot Kinney Boulevard, perhaps the hippest street in Los Angeles, with its high-end restaurants, clothing stores and jewelry emporiums. Do breakfast — or brunch — at Gjelina, (gjelina.com) where the line for admission can be long but worth it. Order the lemon buckwheat ricotta pancakes.
You might be heavier by the end of the weekend. And you’ll definitely be poorer. But you’ll be richer in spirit.