This must be Fairfax
Los Angeles County is sprawling and expansive, stretching through the dust-worn hills of Santa Clarita, the gondola-crowded canals of Long Beach and deep into the wilds of Angeles National Forest. It’s hard enough for locals to agree on which neighborhoods fall on the east or west side, let alone pinpoint its center.
Get to know Los Angeles through the places that bring it to life. From restaurants to shops to outdoor spaces, here’s what to discover now.
Yet Fairfax and the larger Mid-Wilshire area are about as close as you’ll get to identifying the apex of L.A. It’s true not just in the geographical sense — plug it in as your starting point and it’ll take you about 20 minutes to get just about anywhere in the city, as long as you don’t run into traffic — but in a symbolic sense too. Fairfax isn’t the most dense, touristed or even diverse section of the city, but the district is so packed with landmarks, history, entertainment, art, retail and cuisine that it’s become a natural hub for Angelenos to flock to.
Tucked away from Fairfax Avenue on quaint side streets, you’ll find preserved architecture in styles that span Art Deco, Spanish Colonial revival, Chateauesque, Streamline Moderne and more. Just next to Rick Caruso’s outdoor mall the Grove, the Original Farmers Market operates much as it did when it opened in 1934, with a maze of merchants selling just about anything your heart could desire. Within its shaded halls, Patsy D’Amore’s is a family-owned pizzeria that’s been around since 1949 and claims to be the first to sell pizza in L.A., while Trejo’s Tacos is a casual Mexican cantina from actor and activist Danny Trejo. And with numerous synagogues, Jewish schools and businesses, in addition to the historic Canter’s deli and the Holocaust Museum, the Jewish community has long had roots in this area.
For Waverly Coleman, 36, who grew up off West 3rd and South Detroit streets and still lives nearby, she finds herself falling back on the same neighborhood routine her mother introduced during her childhood.
“Before the Grove was built, my mom would take me to the Original Farmers Market to get meat and seafood,” Coleman says. “Out of habit when I got older, I would just go back to all of the places I remembered from childhood. So now that’s where I run my errands with my kids.”
Crawl up Fairfax from Pico Boulevard to meet the northern edge of Melrose Avenue, then circle east to La Brea. The gridlocked section on Fairfax between Whitworth and Olympic Boulevard represents Little Ethiopia, with a cluster of Ethiopian restaurants sandwiched alongside thrift shops and a renowned cake shop. Keep heading north and you’ll cross into construction-laden Museum Row, with new entries like the Academy Museum and where expansions to the Metro, LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits are underway. The block intensifies in hipness as you pass West 3rd with the Original Farmers Market, the Grove and CBS Television City — you’ll spy lines of glaring zennials and Hollywood assistants waiting on clothing drops from streetwear shops like Golf Wang, Ripndip and the Hundreds, with similarly hyped restaurants like Jon & Vinny’s, Badmaash and Trophie’s Burger Club ready to whet their appetite when they’re done.
But Fairfax isn’t all congestion, tourist attractions and parachute-pants hipsters. Right next to the Grove, Pan Pacific Park remains an essential green space, with an ideal mix of nature interspersed with people-watching fueled by the adjacent, high-priced Erewhon market where everyone seems on their way to or fresh from a specialized group workout class. Suzanne Isken, executive director of Craft Contemporary on Museum Row, escapes the neighborhood bustle at Yuko’s Kitchen, a plant-strewn cafe with rice cakes, sushi rolls, udon and salmon skin salad (Isken’s favorite), or at the La Brea Tar Pits across the street from the museum.
“You always run into a tourist who has a question for you, and that’s kind of fun,” Isken says of spending time in Fairfax. One of her favorite hidden gems in the area: an office building called Wilshire Courtyard. “In the back they have this little playground that my granddaughter used to love when she’d come and visit me at work,” she says. “But if you go across the other side, there’s a shady little pond filled with koi fish and turtles.”
Whether stopping by for an afternoon, a day or a long weekend, there’s plenty to keep you busy in this part of town. From local coffee shops to food trucks, ice cream shops, Irish pubs, poetry nights, vintage cinemas and more, this must be Fairfax. — Danielle Dorsey
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What's included in this guide
Anyone who’s lived in a major metropolis can tell you that neighborhoods are a tricky thing. They’re eternally malleable and evoke sociological questions around how we place our homes, our neighbors and our communities within a wider tapestry. In the name of neighborly generosity, we included gems that may linger outside of technical parameters. Instead of leaning into stark definitions, we hope to celebrate all of the places that make us love where we live.
Tuck into the plant-filled respite that is Lo/Cal Coffee & Market
The food and beverage menus are solid, with Stumptown Roasters coffee drinks and food ranging from the usual avocado toasts, sandwiches and pastries to empanadas that are dropped off fresh daily from Culver City’s Argentine Grand Casino Bakery. The real draw here is 5th Street General Market, which operates a plant and gift shop inside the cafe, with a range of potted and hanging foliage to peruse while you wait for your coffee order or procrastinate doing work. You’ll find kitchenware, garden tools, bath products, stationery and more.
Hunt for vintage treasures at Melrose Trading Post
Some favorites from a recent visit include JM Film Resins, where you can find repurposed old film prints, and Marz Jr.’s art stand, where you can nab a print or a blanket with illustrations of L.A. landmarks including Canter’s, the Hollywood Bowl or the huge minion that peers over the 101. Since there’s frequently a line at the main entrance on Melrose, head for the one on Fairfax, which is often less congested. Tickets are $6 (with $2 booking fee if purchased online). Valet parking is free for 3 hours, after which it costs $20.
Get your brisket fix at Bludso’s BBQ
The restaurant has a small, street-facing patio with a few umbrellas, but it’s the interior that gets raucous with sports fans and smoked meat lovers. This is the kind of barbecue you can’t help commenting on as you fork it into your mouth: You’ll wonder aloud if you’ve ever had brisket so tender or pulled pork so feathery and moist. The mac and cheese is similarly metamorphic, thick with creamy cheese, al dente noodles and crispy baked edges, while the collard greens balance the sweet-spicy barbecue sauces with a vinegar kick. Bludso learned to barbecue from his Aunt Willie May Fields in Corsicana, Texas, but L.A. influence is woven throughout, like rib tips tossed in buffalo sauce and house-made tortilla chips served with queso, Fresno chile and Texas caviar.
Bludso’s has a full bar menu with cocktails that fit the vibe (think: a cold-brew concoction with reposado tequila, mezcal and BBQ bitters, and a Ranch Water with agave and aloe) and is especially popular during football season, when games play live on TVs above the bar.
Dig into fresh Sinaloan seafood served from a truck at Del Mar Ostioneria
Here, Leal crafts a menu of aguachiles, ceviches, seafood tacos, oysters, raw seafood shooters and sashimi that draws from his experience running a sushi restaurant in La Paz, Baja California. Expect standouts like an aguachile negro with wild-caught shrimp drenched in a spicy ponzu sauce, house mango habanero hot sauce and lime, or a crispy octopus taco on a fresh-pressed, non-GMO blue corn tortilla with guacamole that’s topped with a spicy tamarind sauce. The move is to go with a group and order from every section of the menu.
Run, play or chill at Pan Pacific Park
My book club meets monthly in a quiet section off 3rd Street and South Gardner Street and if you zoom in on Google Maps, you’ll see this area correctly identified as “Cool Park.” There are a handful of tables as well as open space for laying out a picnic or even hosting a yoga class. On the other side of the park on Grove Drive, there’s the survivor-founded Holocaust Museum, the oldest Holocaust museum in the country. The institution hosts Sunday Survivor Talks, film screenings and town hall-style conversations on topics such as book banning and the global refugee crises.
Grab a baguette, empanadas or a mojito at the Original Farmers Market
The Original Farmers Market invites you to choose your own adventure. If you’re grocery shopping, visit Monsieur Marcel Gourmet market for French- and European-leaning items like cheeses, charcuterie, pastas, desserts and pantry items, including wine and caviar — this is where I stocked up for a posh, socially distanced New Year’s Eve in 2020. If you prefer to let someone else do the cooking for you, snag one of the white-clothed tables at Monsieur Marcel Bistro or grab a counter seat at Roxy & Jo’s seafood grill and oyster bar. There’s also Marconda’s Meats or Huntington Meats if you’re in need of a butcher, Farm Boy Produce for fresh fruit and vegetables and Michelina Artisan Boulanger if you’re seeking fresh-baked bread and pastries.
Other stops on my Original Farmers Market hit list? Kaylin + Kaylin Pickles for a jar of the honey mustard chips; an old-fashioned doughnut and cuppa from Bob’s Coffee + Doughnuts; creamy pistachio or macadamia nut butter from Magee’s House of Nuts; and a couple of Nonna’s Empanadas. El Granjero Cantina is home to one of my favorite happy hours in the entire city, running 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday with discounted dishes and $10 cocktails, including a raspberry hibiscus concoction and a frozen mojito. If you’re not in a rush, commandeer a table in the center of the action for prime people-watching.
Get hands-on with art at Craft Contemporary
On a recent revisit, I encountered “Black — Still,” a multisensory exhibit on the ground floor that uses the tar that bubbles underneath the neighborhood, and “Wayfinding,” a ceramics exhibit that explores themes of climate disaster, personal identity and migration through clay pieces. Regardless of what’s up when you visit, you can count on Craft Contemporary offering a modern perspective on craft art, usually featuring local artists.
Slurp up bone-in oxtail pho at Pho Saigon Pearl
Chef Bernard Hoang also experiments with influences from other cuisines that dominate L.A.’s restaurant scene, such as a Vietnamese take on Peruvian lomo saltado and tacos with grilled meat or tofu, a fistful of pickled vegetables, hoisin and sriracha. Beverages include a selection of lemonades, coffee drinks, milk and bubble teas, beer, wine and cocktails, including mimosas with $5 refills on weekends.
Admire Picassos and street lamps at LACMA
Inside the art museum, the largest in the Western United States, you’ll find a permanent collection that includes paintings by Pablo Picasso, David Hockney’s stunning rendition of L.A.’s Mulholland Drive and Michael C. McMillen’s wonderfully eerie installation “Central Meridian (The Garage),” which makes you feel as though you’ve stumbled into a stranger’s untouched garage. And though Burden is best known for “Urban Light,” his kinetic sculpture “Metropolis II” commands its own room inside, where tens of thousands of tiny cars whir up and down freeways at 240 scale miles per hour.
There’s also a lovely plaza with a cafe and a bar, which is perfect for killing time and taking in the ambience on a beautiful day. From April to November, LACMA hosts free jazz concerts every Friday night, which draw jazz lovers of all ages for picnics and dancing. Since the museum is tucked within Hancock Park, it’s also adjacent to the Academy Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits. A modest amount of street parking can be found on 6th Street and Wilshire, but there are parking garages in the surrounding area.
Order a cup of Philly-style water ice at Happy Ice
The dessert on offer isn’t ice cream at all but dairy-free Philadelphia-style water ice, which owner Lemeir Mitchell brought west from his hometown, the City of Brotherly Love. The consistency is similar to Italian ice, with refreshing, fruity flavors like sweet watermelon, strawberry lemonade, mango tango and cherry bomb, and striped combinations that look like rainbows in a cup. Top it off with a dollop of oat milk-based sweet bean soft serve. Happy Ice also pops up at Sunday Smorgasburg at the Row DTLA, though the soft serve is exclusive to the Melrose shop.
Take in the sights (and smells) of the ooey-gooey La Brea Tar Pits
That makes these pits an enduring scientific wonder. “The type of science that you can do at La Brea Tar Pits is stuff that you can’t really do at any other paleontological site in the world, just because we have so many fossils, and they’re so well preserved,” Emily Lindsey, associate curator and excavation site director, told The Times. Though dinosaur fossils have not been found in the pits, there have been excavations of the remains of mammoths, saber-toothed cats, rabbits and even one raccoon.
In front of the museum, check out the still-bubbling Lake Pit, where you’ll see an installation that depicts a baby mammoth watching one of its parents drown in the tar. Then, once you’re thoroughly bummed out, take a break from the tar on the lush premises — there’s plenty of grass and space for picnics and general frolicking. Admission to the actual park and tar pits is free, but getting into the museum (which houses impressive fossils) costs $15 for adults.
Behold the 1989 Batmobile (and other cool cars) at Petersen Automotive Museum
From the first functional car (which was built in 1886) to a life-size replica of Lightning McQueen from the Pixar movie “Cars,” the Petersen has plenty of flashy automobiles and factoids to marvel at.
Movie lovers can find the DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” Black Panther’s claw-marked Lexus, the 1989 Batmobile and Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, among other car stars. The entire place feels a bit like a 3-D encyclopedia, with perfectly organized collections of TV-famous vehicles and cars that belong to celebrities including Slash, Daniel Wu and Patrick Dempsey. Where else would you learn that athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley and Joe Namath inspired Lightning McQueen’s competitors in the “Cars” franchise?
Tickets to the museum are $19.95 and self-guided tours of the Vault (which is basically a whole other museum in the basement) are an additional $25. Down in the Vault, there are more than 200 automobiles, including plenty of race cars, lowriders and one-of-a-kind paint jobs. You can also sneak a peek at the 1998 Popemobile (designed for Pope John Paul II), the yellow van from “Little Miss Sunshine” (which was one of five used to film the movie) and a massive statue of the Michelin Man. On the first floor there’s the Meyers Manx Cafe, a perfect place to process all of your newfound car expertise and order coffee, sandwiches, pizzas or vintage cocktails.
Savor strong coffee, spices and thrift shopping in Little Ethiopia
Go with a group, or at least a hungry friend, and order a veggie combo with portions of lentils in red pepper sauce, garlicky collard greens, steamed cabbage, spiced peas and more, served with spongy injera bread. For meat entrees, there’s kifto, a buttery steak tartare with robust spices; doro wat, or stewed, berbere-spiced chicken with hard-boiled egg and Ethiopian cottage cheese; or you can add juicy, seasoned cubes of lamb or beef to your veggie sampler. You’ll also want to tack on appetizers like plantains and crispy sambusa pastries filled with veggies or beef. If you’re at Lalibela, you can close the meal with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, a relaxed affair that will allow your food to digest as you sip the strong concoction and frankincense wafts in the background.
There are a handful of vintage and thrift stores on the block if you’re up for shopping before your parking meter runs out. Don’t forget to stop by Hansen’s Cakes, a family-owned bakery that’s been going strong for seven generations, for a cupcake.
Treat yourself to French decadence at République
Cozy up with the regulars at the historic Canter's Deli
Catch a buzz at classic coffee shop turned wine bar Stir Crazy
Watch a double feature at historic revival house New Beverly Cinema
One of the most beloved things about the New Bev is that since Quentin Tarantino bought the theater in 2007 and started running it years later, it has turned into a 35-millimeter mecca. This means that all movies at the New Bev are shown on film, so you can see everything from “Finding Nemo” to “Wet Hot American Summer” and “A Clockwork Orange” in impeccable quality. Because the theater doesn’t assign seating, it’s worth showing up at least 15 to 30 minutes before your screening starts; otherwise it can be hard to find multiple seats together. And though most theaters discourage phone use, the New Beverly staff makes it very clear before each screening that they have no problem banning phone users — who dare to ruin the art of cinema — for life.
Standard tickets are $13 (even for a double or triple feature) or $10 for a midnight screening or matinee. Concessions include standard popcorn and candy along with frozen treats (like chilled cookie dough bites and Junior Mints), White Castle sliders and vegan “Okja” dogs.
Snap along to the voices of local poets at Da Poetry Lounge
“I’ve been attending DPL since I was 15 years old,” Williams said. “This is the thing that changed my life.”
DPL takes place at the Greenway Court Theater, just a block from the intersection of Melrose and Fairfax, and hosts an all-ages open mic every week, with a slam night every third week and women and femmes night every fifth week (a schedule of upcoming shows can be found on the website). All performances are limited to three minutes and comedians aren’t allowed on the mic. There are 90 “green seats” — guaranteed, theater-style seats — available online for $10, but there are plenty of walk-in spots open for those comfortable sitting on pillows onstage or standing. Along with street parking, ample free parking is available in the Fairfax High School lot just north of the venue.
Drink a Guinness and play trivia at Molly Malone's Irish Pub
There’s no question this is your quintessential Irish bar — the dark exterior features gold lettering that proclaims “Irish pub,” with clovers and Irish flags to really drive it home. Inside, the space is split into two warm and welcoming rooms. The first is the actual bar: a laid-back place to chat over a beer or a cocktail, where the lighting is low and the walls are covered with dozens of portraits of Molly, family and friends — all oil paintings by Neil Boyle. In the back, to the left of the bathrooms, you’ll find a door to the venue’s event space, with a stage for performances. That’s where the bar hosts open mic or comedy nights every Tuesday, trivia (run by Sasha Hanlon, the owner’s daughter) every Wednesday and live music most weekends.
In addition to beer and wine, Molly Malone’s also serves food Wednesday through Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., including Dublin Bay fish and chips, various sandwiches and even a paddy melt (get it? Like a patty melt meets St. Paddy?).
Order an IPA and watch a flick at Brain Dead Studios
Each month, Brain Dead has a new curated calendar of films, with themes that range from “The Body Fantastic” (think “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Freaky Friday” and “Magic Mike”) to “XXX” (think “Showgirls,” “Knife + Heart,” “Austin Powers”). Since opening in late 2020, Brain Dead has drawn a mix of streetwear enthusiasts and dedicated movie lovers, who are looking to watch anything from “Jackass: The Movie” to Derek Jarman’s 1993 film “Blue,” a solid blue screen with a poetic voice-over about his AIDS-related illness.
Standard tickets are $12, and concessions include pre-buttered and salted popcorn, candy and soda along with less conventional options, like yerba mate and IPA beers. Shop for Brain Dead clothing upstairs or head to Slammers cafe in the backyard, which offers beverages like the Mint Element latte (a shaken oat milk espresso with brown sugar and muddled mint) and light snacks including onigiri and hot dogs. The cafe also hosts culinary pop-ups where chefs can throw tea parties, whip up items like banh mi and fry some of the best chicken parms that money can buy. It’s located on a bustling stretch of stores and restaurants, so there are plenty of places to grab a smashburger or a sweet treat between double features. Screenings, events and food pop-ups are regularly posted on Brain Dead’s Instagram.
Learn the magic behind motion pictures at the Academy Museum
The Academy Museum’s first-floor lobby is where the three-level “Stories of Cinema” exhibition begins with a free-to-the-public multichannel media installation that charts film history by pulling content from more than 700 movies. If you want to see more, purchase admission and head to the second and third floors to continue the “Stories of Cinema” exhibition, with galleries dedicated to animation, special effects, costumes, classic films like “Casablanca” and “Boyz N the Hood” and international filmmakers like Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and documentarian Lourdes Portillo. The fourth level features temporary exhibits, with past shows including a retrospective on Black cinema; on view through August 2024 is “Pope of Trash,” an exhibit centered around John Waters’ film career. Head to the fifth-floor terrace to catch one of the best views of the neighborhood, including the Hollywood sign in the distance. Don’t leave without a visit to the museum gift store, with limited retail collaborations for films like “The Godfather” that fans are sure to appreciate.
Go rogue with chicken tikka poutine at Badmaash
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