City Guide: Los Angeles
By Kevin Okeeffe
Most think of West Hollywood as the pulsating gay heart of greater Los Angeles, but that’s discounting how accepting the rest of the City of Angels is to LGBT travelers. From the rising Downtown area to the hipster haven of Silver Lake, there are plenty of neighborhoods in and around L.A. to explore. Each boasts a different flavor, but all include good eats, great drinks, and a breadth of culture to discover both day and night. With public transportation constantly improving, you can easily access many of the city's divergent, thrilling, and constantly changing neighborhoods sans a rental car.
EAT: A Culinary Powerhouse
With L.A.’s diverse districts comes a range of great food to enjoy — it’s no wonder it’s gained a reputation among foodies. From a quick bite to a more luxurious brunch or dinner, you’ll have no shortage of great dining options during your stay.
ALMA: Named the best new restaurant in the nation by Bon Appetit last August, this modernist hot spot features the best in fresh fare from wunderkind Ari Taymor. The 27-year-old chef opened Alma with an extraordinary vision and a need to keep things different. The menu changes regularly, sometimes even nightly, based on what Taymor’s fresh garden yields. The Downtown gem is rather exclusive — fewer than 40 seats available — so if you want to experience it for yourself, it’s best to plan ahead: reservations tend to only be available two or more weeks in advance. (952 South Broadway St., more info)
LA CHAPTER at Ace Hotel: A new addition, the Ace Hotel brought not only its trendy sensibilities, but a new entry to the L.A. dining scene as well. LA Chapter, the brainchild of Brooklynites Jud Mongell and Ken Addington, features European flavors spun in a quintessentially American way. The flavors are a mix of the exotic and casual. It’s location make it conveniently close to the vibrant new soul of the city. (927 South Broadway St., more info)
SUR: Even as other regions in L.A. grow in LGBT inclusiveness, West Hollywood remains the gold standard. And Sur, the bar and restaurant located at the epicenter of WeHo, is in and of itself a standard-bearer: for its atmosphere, not to mention its owner, Bravo’s own Lisa Vanderpump. The design of Sur is unparalleled, unique, and hip without being overwhelming. The food is also good, but make no mistake — a trip to Sur is first and foremost a feast for the eyes. Plus, maybe you’ll make it into a background shot on Vanderpump Rules. (606 North Robertson Blvd. in West Hollywood, more info)
CONNIE & TED's: If you’re in WeHo and craving fish, you can’t do much better than Connie & Ted’s. Born of the history between the two titular lovebirds, Connie & Ted’s features simple, delicious seafood so fresh that it could have easily been fished in New England just moments before. With an impressive modern exterior that complements the clean flavors of the food, Connie & Ted’s is a must for all those passionate about seafood. (8101 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, more info)
800 DEGREES: Even in L.A., eating luxuriously every day and night isn’t expected. 800 Degrees features great pizza at an equally great price in two locations. Unlike other pizzerias, where removals and subsitutions are the norm, 800 Degrees allows you to build your dining experience yourself from the very base. Great pizza your own way makes 800 Degrees one of the best affordable options during your stay. (120 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, 10889 Lindbrook Dr. in Westwood, more info)
MALO and MAS MALO: Located in Silver Lake, Malo is the perfect solution for your need for good L.A. Mexican cuisine (it's right near Akbar, too [see below]). If you love great tacos and a killer weekday happy hour, Malo is your new favorite cantina. But if just one Malo in your trip is insufficient, you can always get Mas Malo by going downtown to the newly opened sequel restaurant in a gorgeous, 1920s-inspired space. Mas Malo features a gourmet spin on east L.A. Chicano food, giving your downtown experience a whole new zest. (4326 West Sunset Blvd. in Silver Lake, 515 West 7th St. in Downtown, more info)
SLEEP: Zzzzz Like a Star
There are two reasons they don’t call L.A. the City That Never Sleeps. One: New York had it first. Two: The hotels are fantastic. If you want to fall into your dreams in luxury style, you can’t do much better than staying at these three sweet spots.
Ace Hotel (pictured): A new debut in Downtown, Ace Hotel is adorned with a gorgeous interior. The rooms feel as though you’re staying in your very own, with little touches to make you feel at home. It’s located in the historic United Artists building in a thriving new cultural center. It’s hipster-friendly and gay-owned, so the modern LGBT traveler should feel more than welcome. (929 South Broadway St., more info)
Chamberlain: Downtown still too up-and-coming for you? Find comfort in the gay-friendliest part of town by staying at the Chamberlain in West Hollywood. Featuring fabulously adorned interiors and an incredible rooftop pool, the Chamberlain will have you at hello. The rooms are also top-shelf, though with all of WeHo at your fingertips, who knows if you’ll ever find your way to your bed? (1000 Westmount Dr. in West Hollywood, more info)
Georgian: Looking for something beachier that might still have a home in a Wes Anderson film? You and the Georgian are going to get along just fine. With a sharp teal exterior color scheme and bold interior style, the Georgian isn’t playing around — it’s here to win your heart. And with Santa Monica just outside the front door, you’ll have amusements of the sun, sand, and surf varieties within a stone’s throw. (1415 Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica, more info)
EXPERIENCE: Culture, and Then Some
L.A. has always been a great place for music and film, but now it’s a cultural center rivaling New York and London. Here are the high-minded stops that can’t be missed.
J. Paul Getty Museum: This hillside museum, referred to as the Getty, is accessed via a mountain-side tram, with commanding views of the city’s Westside. Once you arrive at the top, travertine stones and exquisite statues greet you. The thousands of paintings, sculptures, and antiquities include pieces from the Middle Ages to the present, and there’s an excellent photography collection and roving exhibits. The grounds are maybe the best part, with gardens, picnic areas, sit-down restaurants, and plenty of places to chill and have a quiet moment. Take the bus if you can (the 761 can be picked up in Westwood Village) as parking is stressful and expensive. (1200 Getty Center Drive, more info)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art: This centrally located art center opened in the early ’60s and has enjoyed a rebirth as of late (mostly thanks to youthful director Michael Govan). Constantly expanding, the museum contains contemporary, American, Latin American, Asian, Greek, Roman, and Etruscan pieces, as well as decorative arts. Levitated Mass, a 340-ton boulder hanging over the museum’s attendees, is a recent hit, while Urban Light (pictured), a collection of street lamps facing Wilshire Boulevard, has become an iconic L.A. spot for photo-taking and romantic rendezvous. (5905 Wilshire Blvd., more info)
Walt Disney Concert Hall: This acoustic and architectural landmark, designed by Frank Gehry, just celebrated its 10-year anniversary last year. Make sure to check out the strange and beautiful design, pick up something at the cool shop, grab a bite at fancy Patina, discover a hidden garden embedded in the building, and catch a show — the Concert Hall is in the midst of a festival of music by Tchaikovsky, the gay Russian composer. After you take in Disney Hall, walk through Grand Park to get to Little Tokyo, a great ethnic enclave. (111 S. Grand Ave., more info)
PLAY: Best Nightlife and Daylife
L.A. is not known as a night-owl city — it’s more an early-to-bed, early-to-rise town — but that doesn’t mean there aren't a million things to do seven nights a week. Here’s what places are perenially hot:
Roosterfish: If your vacation has you on L.A.'s Westside, that would be near the beach, this is the gay bar for you. Located on trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, this bar has a
friendly and approachable clientele, a great jukebox, a busy pool table, and cheap drinks. During the summer the back patio is open, with lots of burgers grilling and medicinal herbs smoking. (1302 Abbot Kinney Blvd., more info)
Akbar: Over on the other side of town in Los Feliz is this hipster haunt with Middle Eastern touches and a rowdy, handsome crowd. The bar is filled with the city’s coolest gays, though the attitude is neither exclusive or haughty. The dance floor is one of the city’s best, with great music that straddles all tastes. The bar and dance floor get insanely packed around 11:30. (4356 Sunset Blvd., more info)
M.J.’s: This place is a quick Uber ride from Akbar, but it’s significantly different. More cruisy and leathery than the aforementioned watering hole, M.J.’s is the place to party with a capital P. Lines to enter the bar sometimes snake around the block, so get there early if you can. (2810 Hyperion Ave., more info)
The Abbey: This legendary WeHo bar is indeed a tourist trap, but every visitor to L.A. should see it at least once. Weekend nights are mostly insufferable, so go during the week or for a late-afternoon drink. The church-like motif is mostly gorgeous, as are the bartenders. Drinks are expensive, but two will have you forgetting how you got to L.A. in the first place. (692 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, more info)
Click here for more on The Abbey.
Will Rogers State Beach: OK, so this isn’t a bar or club, but this gay-popular beach is definitely a place to play during the spring and summer months. We can’t promise the water will be warm, but the views are killer — we’re talking about both the boys and the Santa Monica Mountains. Traffic can be heavy, so leave early in the day and pack hydration. If you tire of the beach early, head to pedestrian-friendly Santa Monica, where you can wander for hours along the Promenade, the pier, or the busy downtown area. (14800 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, more info)
MORE WAYS TO EXPLORE LOS ANGELES
See more iconic images of L.A. on the next pages: