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Best neighborhoods in LA: where to stay and play

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LA Post: Best neighborhoods in LA: where to stay and play
Natasha Dixon
March 22, 2024

Los Angeles constantly reinvents itself as an alluring travel destination with an ever-growing list of exciting neighborhoods to explore. Several districts have emerged as tourist favorites in recent years for their eclectic local flavors, from posh beach towns to urban city centers overflowing with culture and cuisine. Both locals and visitors find themselves spoiled for choice when planning their next LA vacation.

Some of the trendiest and best neighborhoods in Los Angeles are Culver City, Downtown LA (DTLA), Hollywood, Pasadena, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood. These diverse areas tempt tourists with new hotels, restaurants, bars, and attractions that regularly open to satisfy Angelenos' cravings for the next hot spot. 

Every trip to LA is complete with a beach visit. For that quintessential SoCal beach town experience, Santa Monica is hard to beat with its carnival-like pier, bike paths, surf breaks, and bustling farmers market. Seafood restaurants seduce visitors, like Cassia and Esters Wine Shop & Bar. Or try chef Josiah Citrin's vegetable-focused California cuisine at Augie's or Fia Steak. At the luxury Casa del Mar hotel, guests wake up to Pacific Ocean views right outside their windows.

Culver City, once mainly known as a haven for movie production studios and their backlots, has seen an influx of tech and media companies, bringing new dining options to cater to the young professional crowd. Highlights include Citizen Public Market, a 1920s art deco food hall with stalls serving Nigerian, Chinese-American, and other eclectic global cuisines; Piccalilli, blending California cuisine with Southeast Asian flavors; and new outposts from two "Top Chef" alums – Ms Chi Café and Janga. More unique museum options, like the Wende Museum of the Cold War and the eccentric Museum of Jurassic Technology, also appeal.

Meanwhile, Pasadena offers a slower, small-town vibe with fewer crowds – a nice retreat from urban LA. Its historic Old Town transports visitors as they stroll past cafes, restaurants, and indie shops occupying Art Deco buildings and brick-lined alleys. Dining standouts include Osawa's for Japanese fare, Bone Kettle for broths and Southeast Asian specialties, and Union for rustic Italian; beyond Old Town, attractions like the Huntington Library & Gardens, the Rose Bowl Flea Market, and Kidspace Children's Museum promise activity across ages and interests. 

Meanwhile, Downtown LA has similarly experienced an urban rebirth as an entertainment and culinary hotspot in recent years. The open-air Row DTLA now hosts the popular Smorgasburg LA food market on Sundays, letting visitors graze on temptations from burger tacos to rainbow bao. Other dining standouts include Bavel, which spotlights modern Middle Eastern share plates, and Everson Royce Bar, which has an extensive whiskey collection and tempting patio burgers. Several luxury boutique hotels have also opened to meet tourist demand, like the art deco-inspired Hotel Figueroa near LA Live and the modish Downtown LA Proper Hotel with its lauded Portuguese restaurant Caldo Verde.

Classic Hollywood will always lure tourists to its Walk of Fame and costumed performers, but modern lodging options also entice visitors now. Newcomer hotels Tommie Hollywood and Mama Shelter inject youthful energy through partnerships with of-the-moment chefs and trendy bar concepts. Vintage gems like the century-old Hollywood Roosevelt are getting face-lifts while keeping their old-world glamour. Now home to a refreshed pool and venues like farm-to-table eatery Shirley, the hotel retains its Golden Age grace and flair. 

West Hollywood (WeHo) parallels Hollywood as its higher-end counterpart, with designer boutiques instead of souvenir shops and fine dining rather than fast food joints. Thai sensation Night+Market competes with upscale Italian at Lavo Ristorante and Cal-driven veggie plates at Ardor inside the sleek Edition Hotel. LGBTQ-friendly nightlife also runs rampant, from drag brunches at Hamburger Mary's to piano nights at Schmitty's. WeHo's compact size makes it ultra-walkable for bar and restaurant hopping.  

Echoing other local areas capitalizing on location, Culver City utilizes its position between two freeways to craft an unexpected peaceful escape. Once past the concrete arteries, the five-mile stretch soothes with a slower rhythm while supplying cultural attractions. Fuel up on French-California fusion at Simonette inside boutique lodging Palihotel before touring Sony studios or getting Zen at tranquil Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. Then sip handcrafted cocktails at Blind Barber or the Culver Hotel, touching history at the National Landmark, where actor legends played and gambled.  

Downtown continues to reveal itself beyond initial sightseeing as well. Art Share LA spotlights several dozen creatives under one roof alongside live entertainment. Manuela dishes refined farm fare in the female-led kitchen, besides rotating fine art shows at Hauser & Wirth. Two Bit Circus injects futuristic fun with everything from VR experiences to classic arcade games. The historic Hotel Figueroa pampers visitors with chill rooms, poolside cabanas, and sustenance from its onsite eateries, Sparrow and Cafe Fig.  

Classic and modern meld in Hollywood, too. Nostalgics still flock to Paramount Studios Tours and star searches on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame. However, fresh establishments like music lovers' paradise Amoeba Records and hip Yamashiro restaurant cement Hollywood's renewed relevance. Housed in a former 1920s boarding home, Palihotel echoes Hollywood's evolution with contemporary lodging and Simonette, a Parisian-industrial bistro offering playful French fare. 

Recent global diffusion also enriches Pasadena's palate. While the city's old-world grace persists at The Huntington Gardens and slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, refined cuisine from afar also flourishes. Pasadena favorites Union and The Langham Huntington now face friendly competition from Osawa's Japanese offerings, Malaysian broths at Bone Kettle, or Providence alum Dave Beran's regional French at Pasjoli in the quest to impress out-of-towners and locals alike.  

Even seaside Santa Monica continues to shift and spread beyond its obvious beachfront allure. Homegrown Rustic Canyon provides a refined baseline with seasonal California plates and wines. But Ozawa, Cassia, and Esters add global accents to the food scene with Japanese, Southeast Asian, and coastal Italian options. José Andrés protégé Jason Neroni also elevates fine dining at his creative omakase venue Sushi|Bar. Parking limitations fade when tasting chef Dave Beran's locally sourced creations at Pasjoli.  

With its array of dynamic neighborhoods tempting diverse palates, Los Angeles spoils its residents and visitors with staycation options in their backyards. Locals have discovered a renewed appreciation for their ever-evolving city. At the same time, travelers can match locales to their desired vacation vibe -- whether chilling at a beachfront cabana or gallery hopping downtown. As the town progresses, additional areas will likely join the sightseeing circuit. But the current roster covers myriad attractions to jumpstart any LA getaway. The challenge lies not in finding enough to do but in fitting it all in.


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