West Adams may not be an Instagrammable L.A. hot spot by most influencers’ standards — and that’s exactly why it’s so charming. What it lacks in impermanent trendiness it makes up for with an impressive architectural and artistic pedigree as well as historical roots. Even its influx of destination restaurants has substance. Despite being one of the most rapidly changing areas in South L.A. — gentrification and affordable housing are charged issues here — West Adams and its surrounding areas maintain an authenticity that feels tangible.
An abundance of street art adds to the neighborhood’s color. The scent of brothy birria and freshly baked birote intermingle with smoky barbecue. Fliers promoting popular community events in English and Spanish get tacked to telephone poles. The allure of West Adams lies just below the surface. There, you’ll find provocative art, culture, soul food and even the promise of spiritual enlightenment.
One tip before you go: West Adams’ spread-out streets aren’t exactly famous for their walkability. The quickest way to get around is inevitably by car. A bike works too, as long as you don’t mind the lack of dedicated bike lanes. But, if you welcome a challenge, exploring by foot is doable and arguably more interesting. Let’s go:
Noon: Hidden on the very west end of West Adams Boulevard lies the proverbial hidden gem: Just Tantau, 5740 W. Adams Blvd., a jewelry and art shop with pieces ranging among the elegant, kitschy and eco-conscious. Owner Carol Tantau and her charcoal-colored cat Ricky are Venice transplants who’ve found a kinship with the area. On Sundays, the shop hosts a walk-in jewelry repair workshop for $15 that handles everything except silver soldering.
12:15 p.m. Go east until you hit Alta Adams at 5359 W. Adams Blvd., a buzzworthy soul food restaurant frequented by locals and celebrities alike. From Alta’s newish brunch menu, order the collard green and shaved veg salad ($13) and cornmeal pancakes ($14) by chef Keith Corbin. Equally enjoyable? The restaurant’s weekend playlist by Alta manager Justin Berry, which includes MF Doom, Slum Village and OutKast.
Step into the adjoining Adams Coffee Shop and ask for an oat milk latte to go, made strong with Coffee Manufactory espresso.
1:30 p.m. Continue to make your way to Runway Boutique at 4755 W. Adams Blvd., where community-conscious owner Fatima Dodson has curated an impressive collection of vintage, contemporary and handmade pieces to browse. Dodson is new to the area but quickly found her place as a regular participant in community events like the West Adams Family Function and host of Second Saturdays on Adams.
2 p.m. Harness the last of your caffeine buzz as you continue trekking east along boulevard. Let the youthful skateboarders kick-flipping in front of Lotties skate shop energize you. As one of the few shops of its kind in the area, it’s become a hub and hangout for the local skate scene and appreciators alike. Once you hit 6th Avenue, turn left and lose yourself in the endless row of Craftsman houses, among other styles, until you hit Washington Boulevard.
2:30 p.m. On Washington, camouflaged amid the warehouses and depots of Arlington Heights, lies the Underground Museum at 3508 W. Washington Blvd. — an alternative exhibition space with a focus on black art. Its bookstore alone is worth the detour: Monitors stream artist Khalil Joseph’s arty cultural broadcast “BLKNWS,” which reimagines mainstream journalism from a black perspective. The shelves are stacked with unique tomes and treasures.
Once you walk into the actual exhibition space, you’re transported into another dimension. During my recent visit, the starkly minimal atmosphere set the tone for artist Roy DeCarava’s haunting photographs in “The Work of Art” — which was on display until June 30.
Before you leave, step into the museum’s serene outdoor space, dubbed the Purple Garden, where you can pay your respects to a Nipsey Hussle shrine adorned with crystals, candles and lavender sprigs; and admire sculptor Lianne Barnes’ mind-bending work, “Sanctum.” Browse countless photos of Purple Garden events on the museum’s social handles — from indie film screenings to inclusive yoga classes — and you’ll realize that it is, in fact, Instagrammable.
3:15 p.m. Take a swift walk back down 6th Avenue and turn left on the boulevard, where you’ll find yourself in the heart of Historic West Adams. Look for the behemoth Beaux Arts-style mansion that’s home to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens at 3500 W. Adams Blvd. Now owned by the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, the architectural stunner still feels like a well-kept secret.
After giving you a free tour of the grounds (book in advance through peacelabyrinth.org — note the grounds are open to visitors from 12 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and select Sundays), your dulcet-toned docent will guide you to the main attraction: the sanctified labyrinth. You’ll be instructed to walk the windy path with a prayer or mantra. Even if new-age spiritualism isn’t your thing, — keep an open mind. It’s a good opportunity, if nothing else, to reconnect with yourself. After you’ve reached peak peace, or made yourself dizzy, recalibrate in the lush meditation gardens. It might be hard to believe that, yes, you are still in fact in the middle of hustling, bustling L.A. Before you leave the oasis behind, breathe in the smell of jasmine flowers one last time.