Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2011
Set an out-of-towner loose to roam the Los Angeles area between West Hollywood and Koreatown and what can you expect? A food-truck overdose, perhaps. Or the bold suggestion that we extend our subway system westward. (Hey, we're working on it.) Or maybe just your basic Asian-Russian-Latino-gay-vegetarian-barbecue-automotive-modernist-tar-pit-chili-dog weekend.
In other words, it's a trip worth taking, and a great way to catch the city in the act of reinventing itself, from the Japanese department store that's now a car museum to the Jewish avenue that's now a skateboarder haven.
Here are the makings of eight great days in West Hollywood, the Miracle Mile, the Fairfax district, West Hollywood, Koreatown and a few neighboring territories. This is the 10th installment in our yearlong series of Southern California Close-Ups, each piece a micro-itinerary covering a different region of Los Angeles and Orange counties. (You can see previous installments at latimes.com/socalcloseups.)
1. The heart of WeHo
West Hollywood is what you get when you place a 1.9-square-mile neighborhood between Hollywood and Beverly Hills, fill it with a booming gay population and an enduring community of Russian immigrants, then give it cityhood (which happened in 1984). Along WeHo's Santa Monica Boulevard, which used to be part of Route 66, you'll find scores of nightclubs and restaurants with names such as Fubar and Mother Lode. Farther west, the Troubadour nightclub (9081 Santa Monica Blvd.) is where Jackson Browne, Elton John, Carole King, Steve Martin, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and others played big gigs early in their careers. Dan Tana's steakhouse (9071 Santa Monica Blvd.) goes back to 1964. And if you believe every story about the original Barney's Beanery (8447 Santa Monica Blvd.), then Jim Morrison was ejected for public urination, Janis Joplin had her last drink in the dining room, and Quentin Tarantino wrote much of "Pulp Fiction" here in his favorite booth. For peace, quiet and pumpkin pancakes, Hugo's Restaurant (8401 Santa Monica Blvd.) is a better choice. And if you want to sleep near the action for less than $200 a night, check out the Ramada Plaza Hotel (8585 Santa Monica Blvd.). But beware of Halloween, New Year's Eve and the annual Gay Pride festival and parade (June 8-10 in 2012). WeHo goes bonkers on those days. For the city's 2011 Halloween Costume Carnival (Oct. 31), authorities are banning cars from Santa Monica Boulevard for 18 hours. Banning cars in L.A. County? How crazy is that?
2. Rockin' on Sunset
In the '70s, they say, the Led Zeppelin guys rode motorcycles through one or more Sunset Strip hotel lobbies. Now that you're here, you realize they were probably just looking for parking. The Sunset Strip has action and pop-culture history, so people come. It's where John Belushi overdosed in 1982 (Chateau Marmont hotel, 8221 Sunset Blvd.), where River Phoenix overdosed in 1993 (in front of the Viper Room, 8852 Sunset Blvd.) and where photographer Helmut Newton was killed in a car crash (leaving the Chateau Marmont, 2004). You start the day at the Chateau Marmont, a 1929 landmark. The hotel offers closely guarded privacy to its guests, mostly working showbiz folk paying $415 or more a night. But nonguests are welcome to dine in the lobby-adjacent restaurant or Bar Marmont (if they leave their cameras behind). Pay $19 for a salad Niçoise in that dining room by the lobby, admire the arched doorways and peek at the half-hidden naughty French postcards behind the mirror. Pretty soon you'll feel like European nobility going gently to seed or Led Zeppelin between gigs. While away the day browsing along Sunset at Boot Star (8493 Sunset Blvd.), Cigar Lounge (8420 Sunset Blvd.) or maybe Book Soup (8818 Sunset Blvd.). Soon you'll find your way to the nightclub of your choosing (two dozen are listed at http://www.thesunsetstrip.com), but give extra consideration to whoever is playing at Whisky a Go-Go (8901 Sunset Blvd.) or the Viper Room. Both are within two blocks of your last stop for the night, the London West Hollywood (1020 N. San Vicente Blvd.), a 200-room oasis of British style, often less than $350 a night.
3. Art and tar
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (5905 Wilshire Blvd.) sprawls along Wilshire on the Miracle Mile like a small college designed by an architect with a multiple-personality disorder. (The buildings have gone up piecemeal for five decades.) For a dose of order, step into the grid of 202 street lamps out front ("Urban Light" by Chris Burden, 2008). They go on at dusk and stay on till dawn. Inside the museum, give yourself plenty of time. Current shows include "California Design 1930-1965," which is up through March 25. For lunch, try Ray's, which opened this year in the entrance area. Or grab grub from one of the many food trucks lined up along the curb. If you have a child, march east across that grass to La Brea Tar Pits, which are part of the Page Museum (5801 Wilshire Blvd.). When you see a family of mock mammoths -- one of them apparently doomed -- standing at the edge of the still-bubbling goo, you have arrived. But don't miss the indoors part of the museum. The Page people have thrown open their paleontology lab (like an open kitchen, but with more bones and less meat). They've also put together displays to make a kid's jaw drop. The foot bones of 500 golden eagles. A wall of 404 dire wolf skulls. A mechanical saber-toothed cat about to take down a sloth. Still not sated? Cross Wilshire and check out the smaller Craft and Folk Art Museum (5814 Wilshire Blvd.) and Architecture and Design Museum (6032 Wilshire Blvd.).
4. To market, to mall
Farmers Market, at 3rd and Fairfax, was born in 1934 as a dirt lot where farmers sold goods from trucks. Now the grounds include about 40 restaurants and dozens of shops, some local, some national, and a few produce merchants. Next to the market is the Grove, which has upscale retail, movies, a grassy patch and cavorting fountains for kids. When you're done, cut through the Farmers Market, cross Fairfax Avenue and claim your room (often less than $200) at the Farmer's Daughter, a playful hotel. One corner of the lobby celebrates guests who have competed on "The Price Is Right," which films at neighboring CBS. (For ticket info, check http://www.cbs.com/daytime/the_price_is_right/tickets.)
5. Fairfax's ethnic eats
Canter's Deli (419 N. Fairfax Ave.) stays open all night, goes back to 1931, anchors the Jewish business district along North Fairfax and is as old school as L.A. gets. But it has a rock 'n' roll life too. In the 1960s, Frank Zappa and the Doors used to hang out on Tuesday nights at Canter's Kibitz Room lounge. And since the late 1980s, the Kibitz Room has been regularly booking rock bands. Get a bite. And on your way out, look closely among the Jewish markets and thrift shops and you'll spot a growing number of streetwear and skate-wear shops, including Supreme (439 N. Fairfax Ave.), the Hundreds (8909 Rosewood Ave.) and Diamond Supply Co. (415 N. Fairfax Ave.). Head south on Fairfax for dinner. Just below Olympic Boulevard is Little Ethiopia's restaurant row. In Messob (1041 S. Fairfax Ave.), a framed portrait of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie gazes down from above the bar while you tear off bits of spongy flatbread, or njera, to use as a tasty tool to capture your meat or vegetables.
6. La Brea, Melrose
Brace yourself. Your first stop is the original Pink's (709 N. La Brea Ave.), a hot dog haven founded in 1939 by Paul and Betty Pink. It opens at 9:30 a.m. Arrive much later and there's likely to be a long line. Order the chili dog ($3.45), admire the wall of fame (Steve Martin, Quincy Jones), sit in the rear patio and watch your meal vanish. Now on to Melrose Avenue, between Fairfax and Highland, where retailers showcase edgy displays and bizarre goods. Japanese dinosaur suit? A fake camera made of felt? That'll be $50 and $16.50, respectively, at Japan L.A. Pop Culture Shop (7320½ Melrose Ave.). Edible crickets? Two-inch mink penis bone? Human vertebra? Just $3, $6 and $35, respectively, at Necromance (7220 Melrose Ave.). For $2 on Sundays, browse stalls of antiques, collectibles, art and crafts at the Melrose Trading Post (7850 Melrose Ave.) in the Fairfax High School parking lot. For more genteel shopping, there's no end to the boutiques and such between Fairfax Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard -- on Beverly and Robertson boulevards, on Melrose and on 3rd Street. And for dinner, hit the French contemporary Hatfield's (6703 Melrose Ave.) and try the croque-madame (yellowtail sashimi, prosciutto, quail egg and brioche).
Koreatown was born in the 1970s as Korean immigrants settled in the area along Olympic and Wilshire boulevards between Vermont and Western avenues. It has grown into an equal-opportunity night-life zone, frequented by USC and UCLA students and grads, lighted by electronic billboards and fed by all-you-can-eat barbecue joints and trendy food trucks. For dinner, try Soot Bull Jeep (3136 W. 8th St.), where the interior may remind you of jail but the short ribs and Spencer steaks (which sizzle on a grill at your table) will emancipate your taste buds. Afterward, have a beer at Crazy Hook (the Korean-flavored pirate bar and grill at 3250 Wilshire Blvd., No. 102) or HMS Bounty (the English nautical mutineer bar and grill at 3357 Wilshire Blvd.). Or mellow out at the 24-hour Wi Spa (2700 Wilshire Blvd.), where sauna, massage and other spa services are offered on separate floors for men and women, with a co-ed floor above that includes more sauna rooms, a kids' zone and casual restaurant. Sweat at 128 degrees while prone on a bed of tiny clay balls, then cool down in a 41-degree "ice sauna" for $15 to $25 a person. For $10 to $15 more -- attention, budget travelers! -- you can spend the night in a recliner or on floor mats and pillows in a communal sleeping area.
8. Wilshire on wheels
It's L.A.'s grand boulevard, a 16-mile shrine to all things automotive and a collector of immigrant cultures. So get on Wilshire downtown and roll east to west, past the old Art Deco Bullocks Wilshire building (occupied by Southwestern Law School, 3050 Wilshire Blvd.); past the former Ambassador Hotel (3424 Wilshire Blvd.), where Robert F. Kennedy was killed in 1968 and legions of kids go to school; past the sleek, green Wiltern theater (3790 Wilshire Blvd.), a 1931 marvel. Hang a left at Fairfax, park and step into the Petersen Automotive Museum (6060 Wilshire Blvd.), a former department store that houses scores of gleaming cars and exhibits on car culture, freeway history and roadside architecture. Take a minute on the front sidewalk: This is where, in early 1997, 24-year-old rapper Notorious B.I.G. was shot to death in one of the most infamous drive-by shootings in L.A. history. It remains unsolved.