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LA neighbourhoods explained

Los Angeles is sprawling, diverse and feels like ten different cities in one. Here’s our guide to the best places to visit, shop, sleep and party, whether you want to watch the skateboarders and bodybuilders at Venice Beach, go vintage shopping in Los Feliz or wander round the revitalised Downtown, now home to the city’s most exciting museums and venues.

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Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown LA is home to two of the city’s most distinctive buildings: the Broad and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Broad is a contemporary art museum that was completed in 2015 and hosts works by luminaries such as Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, but the exterior of the building – with its undulating lattice – is just as striking as anything contained within. Meanwhile, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the LA Philharmonic, and its swooping, soaring, silver walls bear a resemblance to the sails of some futuristic ship.

Elsewhere in Downtown you’ll find the Arts District, with its reclaimed warehouses playing host to galleries such as Hauser & Wirth, while rising from Grand Avenue is MOCA, an enormous museum of contemporary art just a short distance from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. And you won’t be able to miss the stupendous City Hall, which was the tallest building in the city until 1966 and has appeared in countless movies from L.A. Confidential to War of the Worlds.

In terms of places to stay in Downtown, The Standard is probably the most iconic. Housed in the former headquarters of Superior Oil, this enormous hotel is famous for its rooftop bar and swimming pool, and it makes a great base for exploring Downtown’s tourist hotspots.

Los Feliz

Los Feliz is a diverse neighbourhood to the east of Hollywood where you’ll find Frank Lloyd Wright’s astonishing Ennis House – which will probably be recognisable to many visitors as a filming location for Blade Runner.

To the north is Griffith Park, which can be reached via the 181 steps of the Berendo Stairs. There you’ll find the beautiful Griffith Observatory, which provides amazing views across LA from right near the Hollywood sign, as well as interesting space-themed exhibitions.

Los Feliz is also home to some fantastic independent shops and clothing boutiques – not least Skylight Books, a huge independent book store that regularly hosts readings from famous authors.

Venice

Originally laid out at the start of the twentieth century, Los Angeles’ version of Venice was intended to replicate the vibe of its European namesake, right down to the canals. A few of those waterways still remain, but LA’s Venice is mostly known for its beach – and the people who go there to see and be seen.

The famous Muscle Beach plays host to sweat-slicked fitness fanatics working out in the open air, while further along the boardwalk you’ll find countless performers, clothes shops, arts and craft stores and juice bars which combine to give Venice its unique bohemian atmosphere.

Santa Monica

Just down the coast from Venice is Santa Monica, home to a fantastic beach and famous pier along with some great opportunities for shopping and dining – partly thanks to its fully pedestrianised areas, a rarity in LA. Third Street Promenade is an open-air, car-free shopping district that has around 80 shops including designing clothing stores and independent book shops.

Santa Monica has two of LA’s most famous hotels in the form of the Fairmont Miramar and Hotel Shangri-La. Both were legendary destinations in Hollywood’s Golden Age, and both offer ocean views and all the luxuries you could hope for.

Hollywood

Most visitors to this storied neighbourhood will head straight to the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside Hollywood’s famous movie palace, the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). There you’ll find more than 2,600 stars spaced at 1.8-metre intervals representing the greats of radio, television, movies and music. Movie buffs will also want to head to Paramount Pictures for a two-hour tour of the studio’s back lots and sound stages, as well as to the Hollywood Museum for a look at objects owned by legends such as Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant.

The Fred Segal boutique stores are a prime place to spot A-listers browsing high-end fashion, and when it comes to accommodation, the prime celebrity location is the infamous Chateau Marmont. A regular haunt of the rich and famous, this castle-like hotel on Sunset Boulevard has played host to stars like Grace Kelly and Led Zeppelin, and has regularly appeared on film itself.

Beverly Hills

Mulholland Drive in Beverly Hills is home to some of the city’s most fantastic (and fantastically expensive) real estate. The spectacular Greystone Mansion – built by oil baron E. L. Doheny – was one of the most expensive homes in America in the early twentieth century, and now its extensive grounds are open for the public to explore.

But perhaps the neighbourhood’s greatest attraction is its fantastic shopping opportunities – the eight-storey Beverly Center is home to the Macy’s and Bloomingdales department stores, as well as designer brands such as Gucci and Prada. And Rodeo Drive hosts some of the district’s more exclusive boutiques, making it prime star-gazing territory.

If money is no object, you might want to think about staying in the luxurious Beverly Wilshire hotel on the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. It was the setting for Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, and regularly hosts the rich and famous.

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