Los Angeles City Guide
| By Kate Zentall, CatalogLink Editor
|Ah, La-La Land. How to describe a city with no center and a short history? The magnet of stars of so many stripes? Car clogged and smog afflicted, sprawling way too wide, way too far to be containable, more urban than it was intended to be, the city defies the stats and rules and somehow prevails. You see it for what it is, chide it for being shallow, and yet you wake up to a glorious day where the sun shouts out, and you suddenly feel like there's a party and you've been invited. And there are the mountains, and there's the ocean, and the supermarket checkout people smile and ask how you're doing, and the food is fresh and affordable and local and delicious, and at some point you throw in the towel of resistance, mutter something like Who knew, and acknowledge (to yourself, anyway) that you're in a variation on the garden of Eden.
World-class L.A. has the third-largest economy on the planet (after NYC and Tokyo), high-toned hotels, astonishing, multitudinous restaurants, stunning theater and concert venues (Disney Hall, OMG), magnificent museums (sheesh, the Getty alone …), and some of the most intense, insane, and inspired shopping you will find anywhere. Full stop. Love it or hate it, you'll probably end up loving it. For reals.
|The sheer retail breadth of this wildly cosmopolitan center -- glitzy designer ateliers displaying glam gowns, gemlike boutiques offering stunning vintage treasures, and everything in between - makes it drop-dead shopping heaven. There's truly a style for everyone in this diverse creative culture, with iconic Beverly Hills stepping up as a top designer area, showing off its famed Rodeo Drive and every major luxury brand under God's golden sun. With the Beverly Center, West Hollywood, Hollywood (and yes, the two Hollywoods are way different), Century City, and Westwood within spitting distance, and then Santa Monica, Venice, Los Feliz, Glendale, and Pasadena just short drives away, you're guaranteed to find what you're looking for (and maybe what you didn't even know you were looking for). Seeking something one of a kind? Stretches of Melrose, Robertson, Third, and La Brea in town are chock-a-block with enticing vintage, antique, and designer stores. The beach areas boast Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, Montana Ave. and Main Street boutiques, and the fine and funky one-of-a-kinds on Abbot Kinney in Venice.
Hard as it is to narrow down the prospects, the following selected destinations are guaranteed to fulfill and even surpass shopping needs, dreams, and expectations:
Beverly Hills is the elephant in the room when you're talking shopping in L.A.
It really does defy description, and all we can say is it's as much fun to browse who's browsing as it is to check out the wares of the beyond-luxe stores themselves.
In addition to 6 (count 'em) furriers, 12 eyewear salons, and more designer labels than you could shake a stick at -- Burberry, Bally, Gucci, Chanel, Dior, Prada, YSL, Hermes, Valentino, Armani, Bijan (supposedly the most expensive, and appointment-only, store in the world)-you'll find lots more earthbound retailers too, like the fabulous dueling Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barns, a spectacular Williams-Sonoma, and more than 54 jewelers, including Bulgari, Cartier, Tiffany, and Harry Winston. It's all true, it's all there. The most glam and ostentatious section is the new-but-looks-Old-World Via Rodeo corner of Rodeo Drive; its curving cobblestoned street features romantic archways, fountains, an Italianate piazza, wrought-iron street lamps, ornate flower-filled planters, and oh yes, the crème de la creme of high-end shops.
There's something - how do you say - European (but hardly Old World) about the Westfield Century City outdoor mall, which was recently updated and sleeked out with a glitzy megaplex and a sophisticated food court that defies its mundane name. The 140-plus shopping options start with Bloomies, Macy's, Vuitton, Tiffany, Apple and go on from there. Smack in the middle of the cluster of office-building high rises, and not that far from Bev Hills, Century City attracts a businessy crowd during the day that gives way to families, tourists, and movie-going locals later on. (10250 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A., CA 90067; 310-277-3898)
A good sample of L.A. life can be found at The Grove
outdoor mall, with its charming gardens, choreographed fountains, movies, stylish shops (American Girl, Coach, Chico's, Lucky, Anthropologie, J Crew, Nordstrom, Gap-everything, and so on), and its proximity to historic Farmers Market and its countless stalls and cuisines, and CBS Studios right across the street. Some say Disneyland itself could take a page from the Grove's book. (189 The Grove Dr., L.A., CA 90036; 323-900-8080)
For a more classic indoor mega-mall, head for the Third Street Promenade, where tangy sea scents are caught in the ocean breezes. This three-block pedestrian-friendly stretch draws local and tourist crowds, a clutch of lively street performers, popular farmers markets, and a wide range of retail, including Adidas, Armani Exchange, Guess, American Eagle Outfitters, Urban Outfitters, and Barnes & Noble, among many others, plus three different movie megaplexes. At night the joint is positively jumpin', so if it's a quiet evening by the shore you're after, fuggeddabouddit. (Third Street Promenade, between Broadway & Wilshire, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 800-544-5319)
About as far away as you can go from the beach and still be in L.A. is the brand-spanking-new Americana at Brand,
the huge luxury living/”shopping community” complex in Glendale, created by Rick Caruso, who developed the Grove. Here you'll find one of only two Barneys NY CO-OPs (the wayward “downtown” offspring of Barney's NY) in L.A. (the other's at the Grove), plus usual stylish suspects like Calvin Klein, Kate Spade, Crew Cuts, GUESS, Lululemon, Gilly Hicks, Ruehl, and Free People, as well as the obligatory 16-plex movie house, live events, and (but of course) a musical fountain. (300 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91209; 818-637-8982) . . . Meanwhile, the huge three-story mega-mall (OK, let's just call it a small city) Glendale Galleria, is less glitzy even with its high-end offerings (Nordstrom, Coach) and a bit more down to earth (Build-a-Bear, JCPenney, J Jill, Vans, Steve Madden, Target, Macy's). And, as the 2nd-largest mall in L.A. county, packed to the gills with retail - with 33 places to get shoes alone. (2148 Glendale Galleria, Glendale, CA 91210; 818-246-6737)
It's fitting to bookend this shopping overview with Old Pasadena (aka Old Town), L.A.'s oldest, most elegant suburb, with a far more substantial pedigree than nouveau-riche Bev Hills. With its 200 one-of-a-kind specialty boutiques and exclusive national retailers concentrated on tree-lined streets, all within walking distance, the restored buildings on Colorado Blvd., site of the annual Rose Parade and main shopping drag, only underscore that even in a town as young as L.A., history and charm count for something.
|Let's start with beloved Loehmanns, the mecca for
discount designer clothes, esp. in its legendary Back Room. Fashionistas flock here for that special-occasion dress or business suit, cool jeans, shoes, bags, scarves, winter coat - just about anything you can wear. Great prices, something of a crush (of clothes, of people), but def. worth it. (333 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90048; 310-659-0674) . . . and while we're talking designers for less, there's elegant PJ London's designer consignment shop in chic Brentwood, where the stuff moves fast and you'll find Stella McCartney, D+G, and other hot-off-the-runway designer handbags, clothing, shoes, and jewelry--at over 70% off the original cost. Almost nothing in the store is over two years old, and some items still have their original price tags. (11661 San Vicente Blvd., L. A., CA 90049; 310-826-4649)
For lively, young, and adorable, try Polka Dots and Moonbeams, which is as much fun as its name implies - “fabulous, glamorous, and accidentally sexy,” they tell you -- for hip and funky new and vintage clothes and accessories. (8367 W. 3rd St., L.A., CA 90048; 323-651-1746 . . .
In the same spirit, there's Kitson to catch the coolest, cutest trendiest fashions for men and women, esp. jeans - plus it's great for people watching and celeb spotting. (newest store: 8590 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069; 310-855-9635; also at 146 N. Robertson Blvd., LA 90048 (men's) and 142 S. Robertson Blvd, LA 90048 (women's).
More tony togs for the young and the restless stack up at Jigsaw London ; sort through soft and flirty tops, sweaters, dresses, shoes, plus handbags that manage to be non-slavishly trendy. (Paseo Colorado, 340 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91101; 626-577-7300; also in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica) . . . And then there's Vince, for insouciant, tres casual-looking t-shirts, sweaters, and basics you want to wear every day, in soft luxe fabrics (cashmere hoodie, anyone?) and oooo, so desirable. The stuff real stars wear so they don't look like they're trying too hard. (112 S. Robertson Blvd., L.A., CA 90068; 310-247-8299)
Catch yet another angle of the cutting edge at Max Studio, where they say a new collection arrives every 15 days, which explains why everything is so incredibly sharp and au courant -- and for a price. (Beverly Center; Third Street Promenade; outlet store: 2712 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405; 310-396-3963) . . . Affordable Spanish fast-fashion chain Zara, meanwhile, offers terrific worldly, moderately priced knock-offs and interpretations of current high-fashion trends, with stores all over town. Great blouses, pants, sweaters, jackets, even shoes, for men and women. (1338 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-458-0892; also 6904 Hollywood Blvd., L.A, CA; .323-469-1002, as well as Century City and Pasadena)
You don't have to be a size 2 to look great in the clothes at stylish Bryn Walker, with its elegant, loosely constructed, casual clothing in a rich and wide array of colors, the perfect backdrop for the irresistible scarves, jewelry, and accessories also on display. Small, memorable shop, great service. (2921 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90405; 310-314-9158) . . . And (final flourish) be sure to drop in at Harari for its gorgeous, unique garments, notable for their unusual, exotic prints, vibrant colors, beautiful fabrics, and attention to detail. Not the least bit costumey. Of all the great exclusive designer stores in town, this is the one that comes up most consistently as people's favorite, even if those people wildly differ in style. And if you can catch a sale … ay caramba. (1406 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90403; 310-260-1204; also in Beverly Hills and on Robertson Blvd. in L.A.)
|If you can't find a great gift at Salutations,
with its many gorgeous imported and local home furnishings and picture-perfect frames, albums, paperweights, jewelry, and tons more, it may not exist. Bath, tabletop, lovelies for les petits. Exquisite, tasteful stuff; they know what they're doing here. (900 Granite Dr.,Pasadena, CA 91101; 626-577-74600) . . . Closer in town, check out Village Heights; locals are passionate about this friendly neighborhood go-to wedding, housewarming, and whatever-else gift store and its creative glassware, gifts for men, kicky, unusual housewares, and truly great earrings and jewelry - not to mention its smart, helpful staff and brilliant (and free!) gift wrapping. (122 N. Larchmont Blvd., L.A., CA 90004; 323-463-9410)
Just up the street, stop into Larchmont Beauty Center
Locals swear this is the hands-down best beauty-supply place in town-everything for hair, nail, and skin care; cosmetics, perfumes, plus salon services and samples; also lush and beautiful soaps and high-end candles that make gorgeous gifts. (208 N. Larchmont Blvd., L.A., CA 90004; 323-461-0162)
Not far away is the craftsy, renowned Freehand, www.freehand.com one of the first stores to feature local artists, which offers fine American craft that translates into unique vases, ceramics, hand-blown glass, handcrafted wood, clothing and accessories, and beguiling earrings and other baubles, all beautifully boxed. (8413 W. 3rd St., L.A., CA 90048; 323-655-2607) . . . Also great fun is New Stone Age, for unusual, charming, inspired gifts, everything from Day of the Dead tokens to high-end jewels. Consider browsing here its own form of entertainment. (8407 W. 3rd St., L.A., CA 9008; 323-658-5969)
Lots of one-of-a-kinds at House of Love and Luck,
with its vintage jewelry from the 19th and 20th centuries - Victorian, deco, glam, from luxe to off-beat -- in an intimate, boudoir setting. A favorite with studio stylists who pick and choose from the inventory for film and TV shoots. (370 1/2 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., CA 90048; 310-657-9911) . . . Farther west, in Brentwood, drop on at Del Mano for museum-quality sculptured wood, fiber objects, vases, bowls, jewelry, teapots created by local and far-flung artists. By hand indeed - beautiful, unique, impressive gifts. (11981 San Vicente Blvd., L.A., CA 90049; 310-476-8508)
Farther west, in Venice, Sunya Currie creates exquisite handmade jewelry, clothing, decorative boxes, gifts; inspiration is taken from around the world, to beautiful results. Nice range of prices, too. (1130 Abbot Kinney Blvd.,Venice, CA 90291; 310-581-7980) . . . Bring in the joys, bring in the funk at Soaptopia, where the pure eco-friendly soaps, slathers, and salts are all plant-based and handmade with essential oils and wild-crafted raw shea butter and come in fun colors and wear lively, winsome names. Great gifts from a local source, and beautifully wrapped. Let the sunshine in! (12228 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista, CA 90066; 310-398-8333)
|Two wine emporiums, both in the same general neighborhood on the Westside of town, provoke fierce loyalties. Wally's Wine and Spirits, a neighborhood shop with renowned, jaw-dropping selection and helpful knowledgeable staff, is a destination and joy, the Cartier of wine shops, where you just want to linger. Great cheeses and gourmet foods as well. (2107 Westwood Blvd., L.A., CA 90025; 310-475-0606) . . . The Wine House is larger and a bit more warehousey, but the staff are friendly, relaxed, and immensely knowledgeable about their vast selection. Come for hard-to-find international liquors and aperitifs, as well as great prices. Wine tastings, too, in a computerized tasting room (buy a prepaid debit card, put the card into the wine machine, and choose from 20+ different wines to try), and an upstairs restaurant, plus exotic salts, chocolates, cheeses. (2311 Cotner Ave # B; L.A., CA 90064; 310-479-3731)
You won't be far from Bay Cities Italian Deli and Bakery, where many claim you'll get the best sandwiches in town, period. (Go for the Godmother.) While you're waiting your turn, check out the olives, pastas, cheeses, oils, and everything else you've come to expect from the best of Greek, Italian, French, Middle Eastern cuisines. Lines can be a drag, but this one pays off big time with its sub at the end of it. (1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-395-8279) . . . Penzy's Spices a few blocks away offers a mind-boggling collection of fresh spices - vanilla sugar, shallot salt, Indian curry powder, anyone? (1347 4th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401; 310-917-5577)
Back in town, culinary emporium Joan's on Third
offers an extensive selection of cheeses, olives, freshly baked pastries, and hand-selected gourmet retail items from around the world. The bustling café has become a haven for people seeking Joan's signature sandwiches, salads, soups and seasonally inspired food. Foodies claim it's the place to buy cheese. (8350 1/2 W. 3rd St., L.A., CA 90048; 323-655-2285) . . . Compact Fanciful lures with lovely baskets of personally selected wines and gourmet treats, owned by a savvy globe-trotting couple. You can purchase wine, cheese, tasty crackers, chocolates, and other items separately as well. (5617 Melrose Ave., L.A., CA 90038; 323- 466-7654)
Make a pilgrimage to La Brea Bakery, the grandmamma of the whole fresh-baked artisan bread movement. Now an industry in itself, it all started here, so breathe it all in and grab some delicious baguettes or a sandwich to go. (624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., CA, 90036; 323-939-6813)
. . . But it's got some competition at Amandine Café, One of the top bakerie sin LA and a charming place for a lounge and a latte; real French tartes and pastries and to-die-for croissants and breads, some in adorable animal shapes. Soups, sandwiches, salads, quiches too. (12225 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., CA 90025; 310-979-3211)
Don't overlook Surfas for kitchen and restaurant supply, a kind of industrial Sur la Table, and every bit as much fun. Kitchen tools, gift baskets, cutlery, glassware, baking and bar supplies, bar, aprons like the chefs wear, toques too. Plus pates and oils and olives and crème fraiche-type foods. Great café adjoining. (8777 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232; 310-559-4770)
Finally, a word about Trader Joes, a chain of upbeat food markets so awesome some people refuse to move more than half an hour from the nearest branch, wherever it may be. Fortunately, TJ's has branched out nationally, but in case it's new to you, this LA-originated market has great deals on high-standard coffees, cheeses, wine and beer, snacks, oils, soups, fresh breads, nuts, frozen ethnic foods, organic everything, and tons more. You won't find better prices, greater value, or higher-quality food anywhere, period. Plus you're guaranteed to feel more cheerful about life in general when you leave. Don't ask why, it's just true. (Stores throughout L.A.)