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Travel: Los Angeles, California

Griffith Observatory, LA. Pic: discoverlosangeles.com

Griffith Observatory, LA. Pic: discoverlosangeles.com

  • by ROGER NORUM
 

California’s largest city has never been known as the world’s most accessible destination for business travel. Its airport, LAX, has become largely outmoded, and the city itself is more renowned for its superficial, disconnected social life than for efficient business dealings.

Furthermore, public transport in this mammoth conurbation – ten times the area of Manhattan, at the last survey – is effectively non-existent. Having your own GPS-powered vehicle is essential, and even then it can take eons to get from A to B.

But for those who persevere, Los Angeles boasts ample rewards. For one thing, it is one of the greenest cities in the US. The city has more than 214,000 acres of natural open space, including the nation’s largest municipal park – the 4,014-acre Griffith Park – as well as 22 miles of beaches. And it leads the nation in green and sustainable initiatives, receiving nearly 14 per cent of all municipal energy from renewable resources, including solar and wind power. LA also recently transformed its fleet of vehicles – street sweepers, refuse trucks and buses – to alternative-fuel vehicles systems. And the city tops the list of US metropolitan areas with the greatest number of energy-efficient buildings.

What’s more, city infrastructure is changing for the better. This autumn the new £930 million Bradley West project at LAX will dramatically expand and modernise the airport with an international terminal fit for the space age.

And LA’s population of 4.1 million represents 140 countries and 224 languages, making it a fascinating place to spend time if you have an eye for culture. Surprisingly, only 5 per cent of people work in the entertainment industry; 20 per cent work in trade, transportation and utilities, while another 10 per cent or so labour in manufacturing. Less glam than Hollywood and Beverly Hills, downtown LA is home to the majority of banking, law and financial services firms, as well as real estate developers, fashion and accessories companies.

Still, adjusting to North American business culture isn’t always easy for European visitors. Olivia Crossey, a hotel industry transplant to the US from County Clare, Ireland, found she had to make a few adjustments to working in America. “You definitely need to be on time,” Olivia explains. “You need to dress more conservatively and speak more slowly.” While Americans tend to be less formal than Europeans in manners and dress – West Coast business culture allows short sleeves in the summer months, for example – standard business courtesies are on the whole still adhered to.

Punctuality, to take one example, is highly valued in LA, as it shows you’ve planned ahead for traffic. And if you’re going for the professional look, wear a tie – even if the executive producer you’re negotiating with is ten years younger and wearing an unpressed T-shirt. Regular business hours are 8:30am-5pm, but working late into the night – or at the weekend – tends to be much more common than in Europe. And remember, while everyone has a BlackBerry, nobody leaves it on the table during a meeting. This is laidback America, after all: it’s not all business.

On the surface at least, people generally tend to be friendlier than in other parts of the world, especially if you speak anything other than American English. As Olivia Crossey puts it: “Having an Irish accent works wonders if you are selling things. Open your mouth and people just smile.”

If your meetings go well enough that you can afford to spend some leisure time in the city, delay your flight to take in some of LA’s must-see outdoor sites. Pop over to Santa Monica for a beachside lunch, go for an early morning surf in Malibu or spend an afternoon shopping on Rodeo Drive. Alternatively, stop in at the now-legendary Getty Center, or stroll down the starred Hollywood Walk of Fame or the lounge-filled Sunset Boulevard. You could head out on any number of hikes, to such locations as the Escondido Canyon and Falls, the Griffith Observatory West Trail Loop or the Runyon Canyon Loop, the latter of which boasts priceless views of million dollar mansions, the Hollywood sign and the Sunset Strip.

If you have epicurean interests, you’ll find plenty to keep you here, too. Saveur magazine editor James Oseland recently called LA “the food city of the moment”, devoting an issue to what he termed the ultimate gourmand’s destination. Some of this uniqueness stems from the city’s varied, multi-ethnic food traditions. Because LA has been difficult to define in terms of cuisine, it is easier for its chefs to get experimental in the kitchen.

Angelinos have fallen in love with Danny Elmaleh’s recently opened Mercato di Vetro, a two-storey nouveau Italian spot serving unique antipasti such as kale and pecorino pizza, and branzino with curried cauliflower, yogurt and cilantro. There are plenty of eco-conscious restaurants too, such as Fresheast, a casual new pan-Asian spot that does yummy organic dishes inside a swathe of glass, tile and wood designed by a feng shui specialist.

The kitchen of the wild, wild west has given many of the city’s non-native chefs, such as Ludo Lefebvre and Wolfgang Puck, the opportunity to develop some spectacular, innovative spots to eat. While other US cities such as Chicago and New York have worked hard on defining a specific culinary identity, the closest thing LA has to its own cuisine is its lunch trucks, known as loncheros. Be sure to try one of LA’s pop-up restaurants such as Lefebvre’s LudoBites. These ephemeral dining experiences can be some of the most thrilling places to get chow. Just be sure you know it’s actually still around before you head there with a limo full of clients.

THE FACTS

• United Airlines (0845 8444 777, www.united.com) fly direct to LAX from London Heathrow from £903.29 return. Connecting flights from Edinburgh start from £104 return with BA (www.britishairways.com)

• The landmark, 238-room Andaz West Hollywood (+1 323 656 1234, westhollywood.andaz.hyatt.com; doubles £187) has chic rooms with marble bathrooms and panoramic balconies

• The hip Redbury’s (+1 323 962 1717, theredbury.com; doubles £154) large kitchenette rooms have four-poster beds, Paisley wallpaper and record players.

• Thompson’s glamorous, regenerated Hollywood Roosevelt (+1 323 466 7000, thompsonhotels.com, doubles £208) has vintage photography, Kiehl’s bath products and iPod docks throughout.

 

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