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Southern California Close-Ups: West Hollywood, Fairfax, Wilshire, Koreatown

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First published on Oct. 30, 2011. Revised and expanded in early 2012.

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 nine great days in West Hollywood, the Miracle Mile, the Fairfax district, West Hollywood, Koreatown and a few neighboring territories.

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., West Hollywood; www.troubadour.com) 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., West Hollywood; www.dantanasrestaurant.com) dates to 1964. And if you believe every story about the original Barney's Beanery (8447 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; barneysbeanery.com), 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., West Hollywood; www.hugosrestaurant.com) 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., West Hollywood; www.ramadaweho.com). But beware 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 Halloween Costume Carnival, authorities have been known to ban 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), 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 (8221 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; www.chateaumarmont.com), a 1929 landmark with 63 rooms and suites. The hotel offers closely guarded privacy to its guests, mostly working showbiz folk paying more than $400 a night. But nonguests are welcome to dine in the lobby-adjacent restaurant (which welcomes dogs) or nearby Bar Marmont (if they leave their cameras behind). Pay about $20 for a salad Nicoise in the 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 Jeff Beck between licks. While away the day browsing along Sunset at Boot Star (8493 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; www.bootstaronline.com), Cigar Lounge (8420 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood) or maybe Book Soup (8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; www.booksoup.com). Soon you'll find your way to the nightclub of your choosing (about two dozen are listed at www.thesunsetstrip.com), but give extra consideration to whomever is playing at Whisky a Go Go (8901 Sunset Blvd., www.whiskyagogo.com) 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., West Hollywood; www.thelondonwesthollywood.com), a 200-room isle of British style with a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and a staffer whose job it is to brush smooth the hotel’s suede walls.

3. Art and tar

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; www.lacma.org) sprawls along the “Miracle Mile” stretch of Wilshire 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, and don’t miss the big rock out back. For lunch, try Ray's (www.raysandstarkbar.com), which opened in 2011 and is in the BP Grand Entrance of LACMA. Or grab grub from one of the many food trucks lined up along the curb. (And remember: The museum is closed on Wednesdays.)

Next, especially 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., Los Angeles; www.tarpits.org). You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a family of mock mammoths at the edge of the slowly bubbling goo, one of the beasts apparently doomed. Inside, you’ll see that 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.; www.cafam.org).

4. Three stops for style points

This part of Los Angeles is big on design – not only clothes and art but also architecture. For insight into Modernist pioneer and L.A. émigré Rudolph Schindler, check out the bare walls and simple geometry of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture (a.k.a. the Schindler House, 835 N. Kings Road, West Hollywood; www.makcenter.org), which he designed as a two-family home in the 1920s. Then break for lunch among the beautiful people at Kings Road Café (8361 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; www.kingsroadcafe.com). And finally, advance to your third stop, the Architecture and Design Museum (6032 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; www.aplusd.org), a tiny but smart institution that has found a home near LACMA on Wilshire after hop-scotching among several other locations. (Because of MAK and design museum hours, this itinerary works only Wednesdays through Sundays.)

5. To market, to mall

Farmers Market (6333 W. 3rd St. at Fairfax, Los Angeles; www.farmersmarketla.com) was born in 1934 as a dirt lot where farmers sold goods from trucks. Now it’s one of the best-loved public spaces in the city, and 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 (115 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; www.farmersdaughterhotel.com), 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 www.priceisright.com/tickets.)  

6. Fairfax's ethnic eats

Canter's Deli (419 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; www.cantersdeli.com) stays open all night, dates 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., Los Angeles; www.supremenewyork.com/stores), the Hundreds (7909 Rosewood Ave., Los Angeles; www.thehundreds.com/locations/los-angeles) and Diamond Supply Co. (415 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; www.diamondsupplyco.com/diamondlife/locations).

Now head south on Fairfax for dinner. Just below Olympic Boulevard is Little Ethiopia's restaurant row. In Messob (1041 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; www.messob.com), a framed portrait of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie gazes down from above the bar while, forsaking cutlery, you tear off bits of spongy flatbread, or njera, and use it to capture your meat and vegetables.

7. La Brea, Melrose

Brace yourself. Your first stop is the original Pink's (709 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; www.pinkshollywood.com), 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, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Cosby and George Lopez), 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? These things can be had at Japan L.A. Pop Culture Shop (7930 1/2 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; www.japanla.com). Edible crickets? Two-inch mink penis bone? Just $3 and $6, respectively, at Necromance (7220 and 7222 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; www.necromance.com). For $2 on Sundays, browse stalls of antiques, collectibles, art and crafts at the Melrose Trading Post (7850 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; www.melrosetradingpost.org) 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, not only along Melrose but also along Beverly and Robertson boulevards and 3rd Street.

For dinner, you could unwind at the Village Idiot (7383 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; www.villageidiotla.com), a mod pub that’s big with soccer fans. Or you could aim higher, for a downright elegant meal.

In that case, head for a French contemporary dinner at Hatfield's(6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; www.hatfieldsrestaurant.com), and try the croque-madame (yellowtail sashimi, prosciutto, quail egg and brioche).

8. K-Town

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., Los Angeles), 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. For a glimpse of K-Town’s wilder side, have a beer afterward at Crazy Hook (3250 Wilshire Blvd., No. 101, Los Angeles), a Korean-flavored pirate bar and grill; or HMS Bounty (3357 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; www.thehmsbounty.com), an Anglo-flavored mutineer bar and grill. Or mellow out at the 24-hour Wi Spa (2700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; www.wispausa.com), 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.

9. 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., Los Angeles); past the former Ambassador Hotel (3424 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles), where Robert F. Kennedywas killed in 1968 and legions of kids go to school (the Robert F. KennedyCommunity of Schools); and past the sleek, green Wiltern theater (3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; www.livenation.com/The-Wiltern-tickets-Los-Angeles/venue/73790), a 1931 marvel. Hang a left at Fairfax, park and step into the Petersen Automotive Museum (6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; www.petersen.org), 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 rapperNotorious B.I.G. was shot to death in one of the most infamous unsolved homicides in L.A. history -- a drive-by shooting in front of the auto museum.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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