No question, at this last, sprawling stop on the road west in search of the American dream, driving is a must. Which means, in a city where the locals size each other up by their cars (and these days, a Prius wins as many admiring comments as a Porsche), if ever there was a place to rent a fantasy car or test a hybrid, L.A. is it. As for getting at the essence of the city, that magnetic tug that has drawn silver-screen and rock star hopefuls in droves for decades while rewarding only the lucky few, Sunset Boulevard is the cruiser’s expressway. An icon in itself, the road accelerates through more personas than Madonna.
From the Los Feliz neighbourhood, idling west, Sunset reveals a particularly vivid cross-section of the city’s cultural east-west split. Eastsiders pride themselves on their ethnic diversity, nightlife and throbbing music scene. Westsiders crow about their coastline, boutique-lined streets and sophisti-cated foodie enclaves. “Poseur hipsters!” yelp the westsiders. “Limousine liberals!” jab the eastsid-ers. Yet both east and west rise above the fray to graze the Wednesday morning farmers’ market in Santa Monica or clock off early to catch a baseball game at Dodger Stadium. And there’s no clash that a burger at the Apple Pan can’t fix.
Meanwhile, in Hollywood, sleek new clubs and restaurants signal an upswing after a decades-long slump, with the restored 1920s movie palaces on Hollywood Boulevard and huge Cinerama Dome on Sunset speaking to Tinseltown’s determination to regain its early glamour. Curling south from Hol-lywood, the boulevard then morphs into the Sunset Strip, a shift in gears signalled by rock clubs and Maserati-fringed hotels, before crossing into Beverly Hills and Bel Air to ease past the lushly land-scaped retreats of megawatt stars such as Nicole Kidman. Finally, it winds up at the coastal highway, that legendary beachfront ribbon of asphalt that traces the California shoreline.
The Go Spots
- The undulating architecture and eclectic art collections of the hilltop Getty Center. Open until 9 p.m. Saturdays, with spectacular views across the city. 310-440-7300; http://www.getty.edu
- Upper Melrose Avenue, for a local spin on luxury, starting with Maxfield’s avant-garde clothes. Stroll Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice for quirky, casual boutiques.
- Largo, the legendary music club, for sets by the likes of singer Aimee Mann. 310-855-0350; http://www.largo-la.com
- Frank Gehry’s silver, swooping Walt Disney Concert Hall for a performance by the L.A. Philhar-monic. 323-850-2000; http://www.laphil.com
- Pizzeria Mozza Even celebs have a hard time acting cool when Mozza’s savoury pies emerge from its wood-fired oven (323-297-0101). The pizza topped with guanciale (lean cured pork) is divine. Or belly up to the buzzing mozzarella bar in Osteria Mozza, next door. 323-297-0100; http://www.mozza-la.com
- Sona Chef David Myers proves that surfing and ambition are not mutually exclusive. Inventive, seasonal cooking paired with an exceptional wine list, rich in California Pinot Noirs. A tempting pastry shop, Boule (310-289-9977), is right across the street. 310-659-7708; http://www.sonarestaurant.com
- Apple Pan For the ultimate burger, served in a 1940s time warp. 310-475-3585
Best Crash Zones
- Chateau Marmont Discretion and a whiff of scandal coupled with a Sunset Strip location. Don’t miss: A Sunset Sour cocktail at the namesake bar, which often bulges with paparazzi bait. From $370. 323-656-1010; http://www.chateaumarmont.com
- Shutters on the Beach Haute-cottage guestrooms just steps from the sand.From $475. 310-458-0030; http://www.shuttersonthebeach.com