48 hours in . . . Los Angeles, an insider guide to the City of Angels

Luciana Bellini
The sprawling urban metropolis of Los Angeles is made up of several different cities within a city - (C)(2014)ChiaraSalvadori

A sprawling slice of SoCal city life

Los Angeles has long been looked down on by its East Coast counterparts, but now that the rest of world has caught up with California’s green juice and wellness obsession, the city is having something of a moment. No longer deemed a cultural wasteland, LA is bursting with new art galleries and museums, a flourishing fashion scene and some of the most talked about restaurants in America.

The sprawling urban metropolis is made up of several different cities within a city, the most famous ones being Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. Each of them has their own distinctive personality, from the upmarket bars and boutiques on Rodeo Drive to the beach scene of Venice and Santa Monica. The lack of public transport can be an issue – though the Metro system is currently undergoing major expansion – but it’s easier than you might think to navigate between the different neighbourhoods (as long as you avoid that infamous rush hour traffic). Add in almost 300 days of sunshine a year and you’re onto a winner.  

Hot right now . . .

Luciana Bellini, our resident expert, offers her top tips on the best things to do and the hottest places to drink and shop and this season.

Drink

LA’s most happening spot is Élephante Beach House (1332 2nd Street; 00 1 424 320 2384), a cocktail bar and restaurant overlooking Santa Monica beach. Stuffed full of models, socialites and under-the-radar celebrities, this is where to go for a sundowner with serious party atmosphere.

The best bars in Los Angeles

Élephante Beach House, overlooking Santa Monica beach, is one of LA's most happening drinking spots Credit: Stewart Uy Photograghy/Stewart Uy

Do

Housed in a former Masonic Temple, the Marciano Art Foundation (4357 Wilshire Boulevard; 00 1 424 204 7555) is one of the city’s most talked about galleries. Until March 3, 2019 they will be exhibiting Ai Weiwei’s Life Cycle, the artist’s first major institutional exhibition in LA.

The best things to do in Los Angeles

Catch Ai Weiwei’s Life Cycle at the Marciano Art Foundation - it's the artist's first major institutional exhibition in LA

Shop

Palisades Village (15225 Palisades Village Lane; 00 1 310 525 1380) is LA’s smartest new shopping destination, a beautifully landscaped outdoor mall in Pacific Palisades. Come to check out Tamara Mellon’s first bricks-and-mortar store and The Draycott, the Brit-inspired restaurant from Matt Hermer (the man behind Boujis and Bumpkin).

The best shopping in LA

Try hot new restaurant, The Draycott, at Palisades Village, LA’s smartest new shopping destination

• The best hotels in LA

48 hours in . . . Los Angeles

Day One

MORNING

Head to Griffith Park before the day heats up for a hike (this is what Angelenos call walks) up one of the park’s designated trails. For a fairly gentle walk with spectacular views follow the trail up to the Griffith Observatory (2800 E Observatory Road; 00 1 213 473 0800), which takes in the Hollywood sign and panoramic views across the city on the way. Make sure you explore the beautiful Art Deco observatory at the top, which you’ll recognise from scenes in Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land. There are daily shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium and tickets are available on site.

Head to Griffith Park before the day heats up for a hike up one of the park’s designated trails Credit: Mark Edward Harris/Mark Edward Harris

AFTERNOON

Take a stroll around the popular Los Angeles County Museum of Art, otherwise known as LACMA, the largest art museum in the western United States (5905 Wilshire Boulevard; 00 1 323 857 6000). It's famous for its innovative exhibitions and Instagram-worthy outdoor sculptures, such as Urban Light, Chris Burden's cluster of restored street lamps from the Twenties and Thirties, which has become an LA landmark. The museum’s permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Magritte and Lichtenstein.

Stop for lunch at one of the nearby food trucks on Wilshire Boulevard – my top pick is the California bowl with herbed chicken, whole grains and baby greens from the Heritage LA truck (see the full revolving weekly schedule here) – before exploring the shops in West Hollywood. Melrose Place, between Melrose Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard, has the swankiest stores (including Isabel Marant, Marni and Balmain), as well as upmarket coffee chain Alfred’s (8428 Melrose Place; 00 1 323 944 0811). This is also where cult Venetian trainer brand Golden Goose has its only LA store, selling artfully distressed sneakers and a capsule collection of clothing. It's also home to cult millenial beauty brand Glossier (8407 Melrose Place) – expect queues snaking around the block on weekends.

Stop for lunch at one of the food trucks near the popular Los Angeles County Museum of Art Credit: Ashok Sinha/Ashok Sinha

Late

Head into Beverly Hills for dinner, where you’ll have your pick of posh dining spots. For top-notch sushi, book a table at Matsuhisa (129 North La Cienega Boulevard; 00 1 310 659 9639) – founded by Nobu Matsuhisa, this is the restaurant that launched the Nobu empire, though you would never guess from looking at it from the outside; the humble restaurant hasn’t changed in 30 years. Pull up a chair at the sushi bar and order all his greatest hits, from the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno to the black cod with miso.

Round off the evening with a nightcap in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel (9641 Sunset Boulevard; 00 1 310 887 2777). There have been countless back-of-the-napkin deals made under the candy-striped ceiling – Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable were all regulars – but my favourite spot is the bougainvillea-filled patio, where you can order a Howard Hughes gin cocktail (he lived in one of the bungalows). 

There have been countless back-of-the-napkin deals made at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel Credit: Niall Clutton/Niall Clutton

• The best restaurants in Los Angeles

Day Two

MORNING

Start the morning with a bacon, egg and cheese roll at Eggslut in Downtown's foodie hotspot Grand Central Market (317 South Broadway) before embarking on a tour of the hip Arts District, home to some of the most inventive street art in the city. Make sure you look up – most of the murals rise high above the pavements, like the enormous Ed Ruscha portrait painted on the side of the American Hotel or the RETNA piece on the Row DTLA building.

Grand Central Market is a proper foodie haven and a great choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner Credit: Eddie Hernandez Photography/Eddie Hernandez Photography

A haven for artists since the Seventies, when they began to be priced out of Hollywood and Venice, the area was cemented as a bona fide art destination when the popular Broad Museum (221 South Grand Avenue; 00 1 213 232 6200) – pronounced 'brode' – opened in 2015. Tickets for the gallery can book out weeks in advance, but if you haven’t managed to nab any you can join the on-site standby line, which runs every day. The line even has its own a Twitter account (@TheBroadStandby)

The following year they were joined by a huge Hauser & Wirth gallery (901 East 3rd Street; 00 1 213 943 1620), which is also worth a look, boasting four exhibition spaces, two book shops and a spacious courtyard.

The Broad has swiftly cemented itself as one of the coolest art galleries in Los Angeles Credit: S. Greg Panosian

AFTERNOON

Drive over to Venice and browse the boho shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, which is regularly touted as the coolest block in America. Pop into shabby-chic furniture store Tumbleweed & Dandelion, housed in a cute Venice Beach bungalow complete with a white picket fence, to browse their custom furnishings and knick-knacks.

Stop for lunch at New York transplant The Butcher's Daughter (1205 Abbot Kinney Boulevard; 00 1 310 981 3004). This branch of the popular vegetarian café and juice bar is pure LA, with its hanging plants and bright, light-filled dining room. They serve all the usual suspects like avocado on toast and acai bowls, as well as basil BLTs made with adzuki bacon.

When in Venice, admire the bodybuilders at Muscle Beach or watch the kids do tricks in the oceanfront skate park Credit: © 2013 atomare aufruestung/mgs

Continue with a walk along the charming Venice Canals, the few canals that remain from madcap developer Abbot Kinney’s plan to bring Venice to America in 1905. Admire the quirky houses (keep an eye out for the one with the flamingo pedalo out front and the goldfish painted on the side), before ending up on Venice Beach, where you can browse the hawkers selling tat on the boardwalk, spot the famous bodybuilders at Muscle Beach and watch the kids do tricks in the oceanfront skate park.

Late 

Walk along the beachside promenade to Santa Monica Pier and have a go on the Ferris wheel before watching the sun set over the water with a cocktail at the Shangri-La's swanky rooftop bar, Onyx (1301 Ocean Avenue; 00 1 310 394 2791). For dinner, book a table at Michael’s (1147 3rd Street; 00 1 310 451 0843) which opened in the late Seventies and was one of the pioneers in upscale Californian cuisine. Ask for a table in the pretty garden and work your way through their locally sourced, seasonally inspired menu. 

Afterwards, check out The Bungalow (101 Wilshire Boulevard; 00 1 310 899 8530), the quirky Santa Monica nightspot that feels more like someone’s incredibly stylish home than a bar, with shelves of nick-nacks, squashy sofas and a games room complete with a pool table and vintage surfboards.

Be sure to have a go on the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier at sunset Credit: davemantel/davemantel

The best nightlife in Los Angeles 

Where to stay . . .

Luxury Living

Seclusion, impeccable service and Mediterranean elegance are the epitome of golden-era Hollywood luxury at Hotel Bel-Air in the most elite oasis of the Hills. The 1922 rose-coloured Hispanic-style complex with suites, winding pathways, a swan lake, Wolfgang Puck restaurant and grand spa is set in 12 acres of gardens.

Doubles from $595 (£465). 701 Stone Canyon Road; 00 1 310 472 1211

Seclusion, impeccable service and Mediterranean elegance are the epitome of golden-era Hollywood luxury at Hotel Bel-Air

Boutique Bolthole

The laidback Surfrider is the ultimate Malibu launch pad, a former motel that is now decidedly boutique and found in the heart of one of California’s most famous enclaves. The rooftop bar and restaurant are among its top highlights.

Doubles from $325 (£246). 23033 Pacific Coast Highway; 00 1 310 526 6158

The rooftop bar and restaurant are among the top highlights at Surfrider

Budget Beauty

The hotel-hostel hybrid Freehand Downtown Los Angeles is one of the coolest players on DTLA’s ever-growing accommodation scene. Stay here for the funky décor, a social vibe and the tropical rooftop bar and pool. It’s close to hip bars and restaurants, including the historic Grand Central Market.

Doubles from $179 (£135). 416 West 8th Street; 00 1 213 612 0021

Freehand Downtown Los Angeles, a hotel-hostel hybrid, is one of the coolest places to stay in downtown LA

• A complete guide to the best hotels in Los Angeles

What to bring home . . .

Pick up a crystal from Spellbound Sky (4210 Santa Monica Boulevard; 00 1 323 284 8115) in Silver Lake, one of the city’s most celebrated 'metaphysical destinations'. Alongside selling crystals, minerals, ritual candles and essential oil potions, they also hold guided meditations and workshops in local spaces. 

Invest in a dress or a pair of jeans from cult LA label Reformation (8000 and 8253 Melrose Ave; 00 1 855 756 0560), who are on a mission to make fashion more sustainable – their tagline is: 'Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We're #2'. 

Cult LA label Reformation has a few outposts in the city, including two on Melrose Avenue

When to go . . .

Los Angeles is a great year-round destination. The summer temperature is typically in the 80s and winter highs are in the 60s and low 70s. January and February are the rainiest months, so bring protection and winter temperatures can plunge dramatically in the evening, but who cares when you get to spend most of the day in a T-shirt?  Year round temperatures are typically a few degrees cooler at the beach and from May to June it can take most of the morning for the grey ‘marine layer’ to burn off.

Know before you go . . .

Essential information

British Consulate-General in Los Angeles: 001 310 481 0031

Los Angeles Visitors Information Center: (001 213 6898822; discoverlosangeles.com, 685 South Figueroa St, Downtown)

Emergency services: dial 911

Local road traffic accident/emergency evacuation information: dial 511 and at go511.com

Directory inquiries: dial 411

The basics

Currency: US dollar

Telephone code: LA has 5 different area codes 305, 213, 323, 424 and 818.  Calling LA from the UK dial 001 then one of the three digit area codes and then the seven-digit number. From within Los Angeles dial one and then the three-digit area code followed by the seven-digit number

Time difference: -8 hours

Flight time: London to Los Angeles is approximately 11.5 hours, the return leg 10.5 hours

Local laws and etiquette

Always have your passport and driver’s license with you when driving in the US, in case you get stopped by police.

You can turn right at a red traffic light (provided you come to a complete stop first, there is no oncoming traffic and no contradictory sign saying “no turn on red”).

In most American cities, you have to park with your car pointing in the direction of the traffic on the correct side of the road, otherwise you will be fined.

Also, avoid parking within 15ft of a fire hydrant.

Author bio

Luciana moved to the City of Angels in search of eternal sunshine and that laidback Californian lifestyle. You can find her hiking in the Hollywood Hills and hunting down the city’s best gluten-free burger buns.