Travel: LA confidential

Horse riding at the Sunset Ranch in LA. Picture: Contributed
Horse riding at the Sunset Ranch in LA. Picture: Contributed
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FROM the vibrant city streets to the wide beaches of the Pacific Ocean, Scott Macnab gets a taste for the less famous side of Los Angeles

Los Angeles has long been the home of Hollywood and the movie industry, but there is another side to the City of Angels. The Hollywood sign, its Walk of Fame and celebrity-spotting will always be part of any trip to LA. But the city has far more to offer, from its stunning beaches and sweeping valley views, to its year-round sunshine. And neighbourhoods once seen as decidedly off the beaten path are driving its renaissance as a vibrant arts and cultural hub.

The city has always been an ethnic melting pot with Korean communities living alongside Armenians, Thais and Bangladeshis. A stay in these central areas of this massive sprawl of a city – stretching over 40 miles – is worth a visit.

Koreatown was named after the mass immigration of Koreans in the 1950s who still run most of the local shops and businesses. It has become one of the more sought-after parts of the city, shedding an unsavoury reputation from decades ago.

The historic Wilshire Boulevard is an ideal base for exploring the area and the Line Hotel, located between the stunning neo-Romanesque Christian church and the dramatic skyscrapers of international banking giants, provides just this. The hotel even serves Quaker Oats porridge all the way from Cupar in Fife in its breakfast cafe to meet the morning requirements of Scots abroad.

But it’s out and about that the area’s real hidden treats are to be found, especially for curious foodies who can enjoy some of the best ethnic fayre LA has to offer. Discerning diners, perhaps accustomed to the grandeur of Edinburgh’s New Town or Glasgow’s Merchant City, could be tempted to walk past the facades of local strip (that’s American for “street”, not undressing) malls. But that’s where you’ll find many of the best restaurants, bakeries and cafes.

Take Ham Ji Park, for example. This family-owned Korean restaurant which serves delicious ribs, vegetables and octopus in a variety of sauces and spices is a ten minute bus ride north – nobody walks in LA. The route takes you into Little Armenia and Santa Monica Boulevard, home to the Lebanese-Armernian Carousel where Kardashian family patriach Robert was a regular. The family still return each year to celebrate his birthday. For a proper baptism into LA’s secret culinary scene, try a food walking tour with LA Urban Adventures, which also provides interesting nuggets of information about the history of the area.

It includes a walk around the lobby of the Gaylord hotel and its HMS Bounty bar where regular guest Winston Churchill has a booth named after him. Directly across Wilshire Boulevard is where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 in the then Ambassador Hotel. It is long gone and a school now stands there in his honour.

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A few miles east is Downtown, the closest LA has to a city centre. A good place to start exploring is the LA Chapter, a traditional American brasserie at the Ace Hotel on South Broadway. The food is good and the brasserie is located in the United Artists building. It houses the stunning fully-refurbished Gaudi-style 1,600-seat theatre which hosts concerts for acts including Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Foodies should make a point of visiting the Grand Central Market which is an LA institution and worth braving at the lunchtime rush. More than 30 stalls feature authentic dishes, including Thai, Mexican, German and Japanese, although I would recommend Wexler’s traditional Jewish deli and its huge “Macarthur Park” pastrami and cheese sandwich. It’s a proper “man versus food” style American experience, but worth a holiday treat.

Anyone who thinks Americans aren’t proper drinkers should venture along to the nearby arts district where the Angel City Brewery provides craft beers straight from its onsite brewery. The West Coast-style Angeleno IPA with its malty backbone is highly recommended.

If you need a break from the urban adventuring, there’s always the ocean. The beaches of Santa Monica and Venice, where the Baywatch TV series was often filmed, are among the best in California.

Like most other things Americans do, their beaches are big; these are no thin strips of sands meeting the tide, but massive expanses of space which include volleyball courts, the famous Muscleman beach and the Santa Monica Pier. But smokers be warned. This is California where cigarettes are widely frowned upon and smoking is strictly prohibited on the beach and in its immediate vicinity. The Pacific Ocean is the perfect temperature for swimming, even in late October, though an early morning dip gives the best opportunity of beating the crowds.

A 45-minute bus ride on the regular rapide service goes straight down Wilshire Boulevard to Santa Monica at a cost of $1.75, although it will take longer at peak commuter times. From Santa Monica, a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the best reasons to go to California. The ocean views are stunning and there is also the chance to indulge in a some star-spotting at the beachfront villas, which have been home to Hollywood’s elite since the dawn of the movie industry.

Complete the experience by stopping off at Malibu pier and grabbing brunch at its far end in the Malibu Farm restaurant, so called after the fresh ingredients it sources from local producers.

If you fancy a touch of old world grandeur while in Malibu, it’s worth visiting the Getty Villa which is located off the Pacific Coast Highway. The sprawling recreation of an ancient Roman country house and its gardens on the California hillside – the brainchild of the late billionaire industrialist Jean Paul Getty – is worth seeing for novelty value alone.

Venice, a few miles down the coast, is so-called after its Italian namesake and the canal system both share. It has the added bonus of giving visitors the opportunity to check out the growing shopping mecca of Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Big name chain stores are banned on this fascinating street, which is emerging as one of the hippest places to hang out, with boutiques showcasing the city’s top up-and-coming artists and designers.

While you’re there, check out Gjelina pizza restaurant, a favourite haunt of A-listers including Robert de Niro and Beyoncé. The pizzas and cheeseboards are superb. A stroll around the nearby canals and stunning homes which lace their banks helps explain why the area has become one of the most popular places to live in California.

Any visit to the once Wild West wouldn’t be complete without the chance to be a cowboy – or cowgirl – for an afternoon at Sunset Ranch.

A horseback ride through the Hollywood Hills, part of the stunning 5,000 acre Griffith Park which looks down on the city below is an experience not to be forgotten. One or two hour trips are available with a guide – often actors between work – and offer the best views of the city as well as that world famous Hollywood sign.

• United Airlines flies from Heathrow to LAX (www.united.com) this month for around £570. The Line Hotel (213 381 7411, www.thelinehotel.com) offers rooms for $223 a night; to book a guide for a food tour contact LA Urban Adventures (www.losangelesurbanadventures.com); for a one or two hour guided horse ride in Griffin Park, see www.sunsetranchhollywood.com; a full list of the food stalls at Grand central market is available at www.grandcentralmarket.com; for more information on LA, see DiscoverLosAngeles.com

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