The struggle with visiting Los Angeles is that it’s such a large city with a diverse set of neighborhoods to explore — it’s hard to tackle without a local showing you around. In truth, this is a good problem for a traveler to have. It means that you can personalize your trip based on what kind of experience you’re looking for. In other words, you could visit the City of Angels fifteen times and each time see a different side of the city’s personality. So, where should you grab a bite or a drink on your next trip to LA?
To answer this question, it helps to get to know the city’s neighborhoods a little better. Los Angeles might be the city of dreams, tacos, and sangria, but each area within it doesn’t fit the same mold. This guide to 15 of LA’s major neighborhoods will allow you to tailor your itinerary to where you’ll be spending your time in the city. If you’re looking for the places where locals go, read on.
1. Arts District
When non-Angelenos think of stereotypical LA, they’re probably picturing something similar to what you’ll see in the Arts District. This ultra-trendy neighborhood is the place to be if you like loft apartment Airbnbs, concrete wall murals, and a young artist population.
EAT — Daily Dose Cafe: Brunch it up Angeleno-style at this charming Arts District alley restaurant. They serve artisan coffee and locally-sourced produce, both of which are staples for residents of this pocket of LA.
DRINK — Angel City Brewery: In addition to delicious brews (with LA-themed names) and rotating food trucks, this brewery has an amazing space. Outside you’ll see a painted-mural-exterior to match the neighborhood and inside you’ll find a spacious interior with a bar reminiscent of old Hollywood.
2. Beverly Hills
The 90210 is about as you’d expect — upscale, fashion-forward, and not cheap. That being said, it’s still worth a visit for anyone coming to LA. Plus, it’s a neighborhood that attracts some high profile and insanely talented chefs.
EAT — Vivianne: Feeling a little fancy? Look no further. This restaurant is located within the Avalon Hotel but is open to any visitor. Reservations are recommended because it can fill up, especially if you’re looking for a poolside table. It’s a great spot for brunch.
DRINK — Above SIXTY: This bar will make your rooftop cocktail dreams come true. They serve just about anything you could want, from cocktails to beer to frozen drinks, plus more. You can also feast on some bar bites while you enjoy the view of the city.
3. Culver City
Even though this is where you’ll find Sony Studios, Culver City only became “cool” in the past few years. A decade or so ago, it was just a throughway to Venice for those trying to avoid the 10 or 405 freeways. Now, it has a nice after-work scene since there are more and more offices settling in the area.
EAT — Bäco Shop: If you don’t experience a new kind of ethnic food, you didn’t really visit LA. This relatively new shop is right in downtown Culver and serves up deliciously fresh flatbreads wrapped around your choice of meat and fillings. It’s not something you’ll find elsewhere.
DRINK — Bigfoot West: There’s a version of this place in Los Feliz, but the Culver City spot is the place to be. First, it’s been around longer than most bars in the neighborhood. Second, you can’t beat the lodge-styled interior, the nightly happy hour, or the occasional crazy drink specials ($1 Old Fashioned anyone?).
4. Downtown LA
DTLA is a place for the after-work crowd since there are so many office buildings, and it’s generally a big spot for nightlife. Luckily, this means plenty of bars and restaurants to check out during your visit.
EAT — Bar Amá: This place will give you your Tex Mex fix. Here you’ll find food that’s on the elevated side, such as short rib chalupas and churro funnel cake, plus fantastic drinks to accompany it all. The happy hour menu has great deals on food and drinks — just make sure you’re sitting at the bar.
DRINK — Rhythm Room: You may not notice this place walking by but it’s an awesome, basement-level bar under an office building. Plus, it’s close walking distance from the Pershing Square Metro station. Come for the ping pong and pool tables, stay for the great cocktails.
5. Echo Park
This neighborhood used to be pretty rough, especially the area around the lake, but it’s now a hip area with a lot to offer and a great amount of old school character. The paddle boats on Echo Park Lake are a fun activity if you’re in the area, or you can simply enjoy the park’s lotus flowers blooming in the summertime.
EAT — Masa: Deep dish pizza isn’t exclusive to Chicago. Don’t miss the delicious cornmeal crust, of course, but the wine carafes, bacon Caesar salad, and suppli are all non-negotiable must-buys. Note that the pizza takes a good while to bake, but there’s plenty to enjoy while you wait.
DRINK — El Prado: This isn’t a bar designed for partying but that’s not really the speed of the neighborhood, so it’s fitting. You can get a locally-sourced glass of wine or beer while you enjoy the vinyl records playing in the background.
Glendale isn’t known for being a local “hot spot” by any means. It’s relatively slower paced than the rest of LA and you’ll probably find yourself in a mall at some point. Still, there are some great food and drink options outside of the Americana at Brand, so don’t get yourself sucked in.
EAT — Sevan Chicken: Since this area is known for its Mediterranean food options, you won’t want to miss out on a kabob while you’re here. Sevan probably won’t be swamped like some other spots in Glendale. Instead, you’ll be in great company among locals.
DRINK — Brewyard Beer: This brewery was built from the ground up by a couple of buddies and is still locally owned (unlike a nearby brewery, Golden Road). It’s technically the first microbrewery within Glendale city limits. Plus, they regularly have food trucks and have a list of restaurants that will deliver to you while you’re there.
You’re technically in the Hollywood, but don’t spend all of your time on the tourist attractions. There’s much more to this neighborhood than the stops listed on the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ bus tour. (Note: Hollywood is not to be confused with the separate, similarly named neighborhoods, West Hollywood and North Hollywood.)
EAT — Palms Thai Restaurant: Since Hollywood is known by locals as a place for a newbies who may not have found their financial footing in the city yet, why not grab some delicious cheap eats while you’re here? Palms Thai has a wide variety of authentic menu items that won’t break your trip budget.
DRINK — Good Times At Davey Wayne’s: You’ll enter this not-so-secret speakeasy through a refrigerator within a garage sale (no joke). Plus, they serve up alcoholic snow cones, which you can enjoy on their groovy patio. What’s not to love?
There’s more to this neighborhood than the name suggests. In addition to the great ethnic food and Korean day spas, you’ll also find a hip nightlife scene in Ktown.
EAT — Ssam: Korean barbecue is hugely popular in LA, and the most appropriate place to enjoy it is Koreatown. You can get all the classic meats (pork, beef, etc.), but the unique aspect of this place is their emphasis on the accompanying vegetables you use to wrap what you’ve grilled.
DRINK — Apt 503: If you want to be able to brag later about how you were on the guest list for a top-floor lounge in LA, this is where you should go. To get on the list you just need to email them in advance, but it’s well worth it once you’re up there.
9. Los Feliz
This is LA’s more approachable hipster mecca (see: Silver Lake). You’ll find plenty of trendy shops here, especially along Hillhurst Ave. Its proximity to the Greek Theatre and Griffith Park is an amenity most locals love.
EAT — Yuca’s: You probably wouldn’t ever guess it by looking at this shack, but it’s a James Beard award winner. Don’t expect high prices though. For around 7 bucks you can get a delicious burrito and a happy stomach.
DRINK — Tiki-Ti: This local watering hole isn’t along the main strip of Hillhurst so you may not see it unless you happen to be looking up while driving down Sunset. It’s known for its strong tropical drinks and fun atmosphere. There’s even a little mechanical bull that inches its way down the bar. Why? Who cares why.
Mid-City is a bit of a forgotten land since it doesn’t have any of LA’s most well-known landmarks, but it’s by no means barren. It’s actually one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city. For that reason, there’s plenty to chow on while you’re in the area.
EAT — Mad Men Burger: Between In-N-Out, The Original Tommy’s and more, LA is a city of old school burgers. This Mid-City shop has a similar feel to those, except with even more options for toppings and patty types.
DRINK — Mandrake Bar: This spot has the best of both worlds: cheap drinks and unique cocktails. If you’re looking for something to get the job done, grab yourself a beer and a shot for $6 during happy hour. Or if you’re in a fancier mood, try a drink with their habanero-infused tequila.
11. North Hollywood
“The Valley” is a term you may hear Angelenos utter with a negative connotation, but if you’re in NoHo, you’re in it. And that’s OK. It’s not too far away from the rest of the city, plus there’s plenty going on within it.
EAT — Slanging Corea: It wouldn’t be an LA list without a food truck. This is Korean-Mexican fusion, something that isn’t common outside of SoCal. Grab yourself a bulgogi burrito or some pork belly tacos and don’t look back.
DRINK — Idle Hour: The front of the bar looks like a collection of barrels but don’t let that turn you away. They’ve got bottomless mimosas on Sundays, cocktails on tap or made-to-order every day, and comfortable patio in the back where you can relax with your libation.
You’ll find a higher population of families in ‘Dena, but it’s by no means a sleepy little town. There are plenty of things for younger folks to do and eat. And don’t be surprised if you hear the area called “the 626,” which is the locals’ name for the San Gabriel Valley.
EAT — Lee’s Hoagie House: This isn’t a place you’ll see on the typical city guide but it’s exactly where you should be. Get the classic chicken hoagie and you won’t regret it. The breakfast burrito is also a great option for a morning meal.
DRINK — The Cellar: This wine bar is semi-hidden in Old Town and is fun with a touch of fancy, just like Pasadena. Grab a glass from their extensive wine list and enjoy it with one of their many bar bites. Or check out the Grdn, their outdoor setting with its own menu of wine mixed drinks.
13. Santa Monica
Welcome to the west side. Here you’ll see beachfront, the 9th St Promenade, and lots of luxury vehicles. Rent prices are high because of the comfortable amenities and great restaurants, but many locals visit the area for this same reason.
EAT — Bobarrito: If you like trendy food, you’re in the right city. Here you can grab a fresh poke bowl, sushi burrito, or boba tea. It’s on the Promenade for easy access and is a few blocks from the pier. Plus, what’s more appropriate at the beach than seafood?
DRINK — The Bungalow: This spot will give you the relaxing beachside experience you’re looking for. If you time it right, you’ll be able to watch the sun set over the water across Ocean Ave. The bar, itself, features a relaxing outdoor setting that’s perfect for an afternoon hangout.
14. Silver Lake
This is LA’s main hipster mecca. It’s almost like Los Feliz’ older brother: They’re right next to each other and share a significant amount of cultural overlap, but each wants you to know that they are their own person. Silver Lake also generally has higher price tags than its hip neighbor.
EAT — Speranza: Fight the urge to be creeped out by the plastic tarps. Inside, you’ll find an intimate restaurant setting with amazing Italian food. The homemade pasta will haunt your dreams (in a good way). It’s technically on the border of Los Feliz but locals would tell you its a Silver Lake eatery.
DRINK — Diablo: What’s better on a hot California day than a popsicle? The answer: a popsicle and a beer. You can either order their version of a michelada, a beer and a tomato lime pop, or try out one of their other inventive pops in your drink, like passion fruit or mango habanero.
15. West Hollywood
WeHo is known as being a prominent gay-friendly area with an active nightlife. Santa Monica Boulevard is the main strip where you’ll find most of the popular spots. Don’t feel like you can’t venture to other parts of the neighborhood though.
EAT — Jones: Since you’ll find a mix of upscale and old school in West Hollywood, this Italian restaurant is a great place to go to experience the personality of the area. Here, you’ve got favorites, like spaghetti and meatballs, as well as higher caliber options, like a seared ahi tuna salad. Either way, the prices won’t break the bank.
DRINK — Bar Lubitsch: Come here to dance, come here for a conversation over a drink, or both. You can enjoy this no-attitude bar without leaving Santa Monica Blvd. Plus, there’s no cover for entrance.
Ready to plan your trip? Good. Luckily, a trip to LA doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of cheap eats and free activities, so you shouldn’t have to sell your Beanie Babies to make it happen. Find a cheap flight (or get in your car) and get going!
Get in touch with the author @GoFishSalmon.