L.A. Live has replaced Hollywood Boulevard as the bright, bejeweled bellybutton of Los Angeles.
What’s your pleasure? High-stakes basketball? Red-carpet concerts? Stunning views? This downtown destination has them all. Maybe I’m biased, but I’d say it now rivals New York’s more-celebrated Times Square for things to do, places to go, celebrities to see.
I’ll go even further and declare L.A. Live superior to Times Square on nearly every level. Jack Nicholson is its honorary king. LeBron James is the court jester. Beyoncé and Ariana Grande are its wild-child courtiers.
All because Staples Center, which opened 20 years ago, transformed a drab part of town into an entertainment vortex.
Like the city itself, L.A. Live and the surrounding neighborhood can seem impenetrable at first — a dense and dizzy light show. But not with this little checklist of 20 attractions — some party-loud and obvious, others quietly off the beaten track.
(All venues within L.A. Live itself, unless address is listed)
WP24: A soft spot in a brittle city, Wolfgang Puck’s place on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton is a great vista to overlook the skyline at sunset. A festive meet-up spot or a dark, quiet place to unwind. The food is always fine — get the scallops ($39) — but I prefer the bar to the restaurant. wolfgangpuck.com
Hotel Figueroa: Tell your friends: “Meet me by the fireplace in the front lounge.” They’ll figure it out. Kind of clubby, with rich architectural touches. The 100-year-old Fig will quickly become your go-to spot. Taco Tuesdays by the pool is a worthwhile stop too. hotelfigueroa.com
Grammy Museum: I suspect many folks think this will be a glorified gift shop, a la Hollywood Boulevard. No way. This is a first-rate, hands-on museum that celebrates music. Kids love it. And you can even take a drum lesson from Ringo. Admission $12. grammymuseum.org
The Original Pantry: A landmark … a great nosh … the greasy spoon of greasy spoons. This cash-only monument to late-night binging will be here long after Staples is gone. Look for legendary Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich sneaking a midnight bite. Yes, cash only. 817 S. Figueroa St. pantrycafe.com
Conga Room: Though home to the Grammys and audacious mega-concerts, L.A. Live is remarkably light on late-night music options. That’s what makes the Conga so popular on weekends. Sometimes live bands, sometimes DJs, sometimes salsa, sometimes EDM. But always a party. Covers vary. congaroom.com
Fleming’s: A proper martini is your revenge on the world. It should come with a skin of ice across the top that sparkles like a skating rink. You can get that here, along with a sizzling chunk of prime cow that you’ll be reliving a week later. Steaks from $49. flemingssteakhouse.com
The rink and the tree: Speaking of rinks, there’s a great one here during the holidays. A destination all its own, this is a selfie or a Christmas card waiting to happen. It’s also a first-date venue right out of a Hallmark movie. Nov. 30-Jan. 12. Adults $22, 6 and under $17 (includes skate rental). lalive.com
Ace Hotel: Well worth the six-block schlep, the old United Artists building is noted for concerts and a bar beneath the stars. Small plates won’t break your budget: street tacos ($3) and a robust stack of nachos ($10), along with an eclectic list of cocktails that range from $12 to $14. To get to the rooftop, look for the street entrance labeled “Upstairs.” 929 S. Broadway. acehotel.com
Lucky Strike: Not exactly the ma-and-pa bowling alley of your youth. It’s a nightclub is what it is, with bowling as an option. Great for birthdays or group nights out. Also great for people-watching, including — if you hit it right — athletes kicking back after their games. Hourly rates, up to eight bowlers per lane. Beware of food and drink minimums after 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. bowlluckystrike.com
Shaquille’s: Shaquille O’Neal’s upscale restaurant adds some welcome Southern flair to the dining choices. Noted for the fried chicken and biscuits. But you can get that anywhere these days. If you’re a true Southerner, you’ll probably opt for the shrimp and creamy grits. Dinner entrees in the $30s. shaquilles.com
The Palm: They pour a good drink at this pre-game hot spot, and be sure to add the Gigi salad ($17) or crabmeat cocktail ($26). This handsome old place, in a former toy factory, almost always impresses. 1100 S. Flower St. thepalm.com
Broken Spanish: What contemporary high-end Mexican cuisine looks like. “There’s a playfulness that permeates the cooking, along with all the guajillo chiles and green garlic and epazote,” Los Angeles Times food writer Amy Scattergood says. Entrees from $39. 1050 S. Flower St. brokenspanish.com
Red Mango: Grab a seat at a sidewalk table and watch the world rush by on Fig, while you calmly treat yourself to a decadent, berry-laden smoothie or yogurt. Yogurt from about $5. Smoothies about $7. (213) 746-2646. redmangousa.com
Regal L.A. Live: Big as a presidential palace, this movie house now hosts occasional Hollywood premieres. If a major release is in theaters you’ll find it here, with shows that start mid-morning and go late into the night. Check out $9 Tuesdays. regmovies.com
Club NOVO: Leave the major pop stars and awards shows to Staples and Microsoft Theater — you’re probably too cool for that. This music venue focuses on edgier up-and-coming artists. Prices vary. thenovodtla.com
JW Marriott lobby: High-end cookie cutters are still cookie cutters. I shouldn’t like this chain hotel but the lobby bar always outperforms expectations. Live music helps, and the roomy lounge areas are casual and comfortable. A touch of class without feeling stuffy. marriott.com
Smashburger: Admit it, you usually just want a burger most of the time anyway. Smashburger proves that not every meal at L.A. Live is 30 bucks (though it sometimes feels that way). These delicious, loose-packed burgers drip with flavor. From $6. smashburger.com
Rock’N Fish: The sourdough bread ($2.95), among the best in the city, alone is worth a stop. I like the bar here for the rum cocktails. But the place is usually packed for blackened fish ($25.95) and a relatively affordable chowder and salad combo ($16).la.rocknfish.com/
Tom’s Watch Bar: Everyone swears by the Yardhouse, but I prefer this sprawling sports bar that is about to renovate and get a video upgrade. Friendly wait staff hustles like a sixth man off the bench. Burgers from about $15. tomswatchbar.com
Rosa Mexicano: Great selection of sipping tequilas and a beloved guac ($16.50) made at your table. Regulars also pounce on the queso fundido ($12.50). rosamexicano.com