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