LA insider Saloni Kothari shows you how to live it up like a local.
So it’s your second time in LA; you’ve taken an instagram picture at the Hollywood Sign and you’ve strolled down Santa Monica Pier with cotton candy. Is there anything left to do? I was skeptical when I moved to LA, because its superficial movie-set reputation lacked the depth and grunge I needed to sustain a lifestyle as an adventure-hunting resident. I don’t identify with the beach lovers, the Coachella-crazed, or the starstruck. However, it only took me a few days of scratching away at the city’s juice bar-infested veneer to figure out that LA has so much more to offer. From intimate concerts, to secret gardens, to rooftop movies, here are some places that make LA legitimately interesting.
Sofar Sounds LA
I’m 20 and already exhausted of going to mainstream concerts. My voice gets lost in the sea of screaming lunatics, and the artist I paid $90 to see looks like malaeng from 150 rows away. One Thursday night, a college friend dragged me to a Sofar gig. Not in a concert hall; not in an auditorium; in a boutique petstore. About 50 people from different parts of the world sat blissfully together on the floor with blankets, pillows, and bottles of wine, ready to enjoy live music and connect with the artists. Young singer-songwriters and guitarists performed, making eye contact with every member of the audience and explaining the lyrics of each piece. I had never felt so engrossed by music. The attentive listeners, the appreciative artists, (and perhaps the wine) filled the room with a warm and fuzzy atmosphere. Typically, there is a lineup of three up-and-coming musicians who play four songs each. The gigs take place every day in whimsical venues like living rooms or antique stores. All you need to do is visit their website, pay $20/person and sign up for a gig in an area convenient to you. The day before the gig, they’ll reveal the exact address but they’ll keep the lineup secret. If a night of ballads, booze and blankets isn’t enough to get you hooked, I will have you know that Billie Eillish and Leon Bridges were discovered at Sofar gigs. That’s all.
Rooftop Cinema Club
As luxurious as Emquartier’s movie theaters are, open-air rooftop movies are a game changer. LA’s Rooftop Cinema Club organizes viewings in two locations: Level Downtown andNeuehouse Hollywood. Both locations set up beach chairs and provide bottomless popcorn, drinks, and burgers (vegetarian options available). After the emcee introduces the event, you get to cozy up to your loved ones under provided blankets and watch the show. Imagine watching La La Land in La La Land, feeling the breeze on your face as Emma Stone rides her bicycle, and looking up at the stars when she stargazes with Ryan Gosling at the observatory. It’s immersive, calming, and the kind of experience that you’d ironically see in movies and only fantasise about. Both venues are similar, the only difference being that Neuehouse is 21+ and Level is 18+. Try to arrive early, so you can take funky pictures at their photobooth and play the board games and giant Jenga they have set up in the corner. After buying tickets online, remember to bring your IDs and a jacket if you’re coming anytime between October and February!
Venice Beach Boardwalk
You owe it to yourself to visit Venice Beach. Its boardwalk is Santa Monica’s spunkier sister, brimming with souvenir shops and street performers from jesters, to mimers, to breakdancers. It is illegal to erase any of the art on the boardwalk, so if you look close enough you can sometimes see other murals underneath. If you’re lucky, you might see an artist making another layer of history! My favourite thing to do order is a lavender latte (or something heftier if you’re hungry, like an avocado toast or nachos) at the Waterfront Cafe. From there, I listen to busking musicians, and just people-watch. Fully-grown tattooed men will vigorously frolic to the music on their headphones, and klutzy roller-skating teenagers will ‘breeze by’ with attempted composure. For a meal, definitely visit Cafe Gratitude(vegan restaurant a 10-minute walk away) that specializes in brunch foods. Another 10 minutes away is Salt & Straw, a Portland-based ice cream parlour that features flavours like Coffee-Bourbon, Honey Lavender, and my favourite Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese. I’d recommend Ubering straight to Salt & Straw, and making your way to the boardwalk with your triple-scoop cone on foot.
The Broad Art Museum
LA’s art scene is arguably the best in the world. If there is one museum to visit, it’s The Broad. It houses collections of modern and contemporary artists, showcasing the likes of Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, and Andy Warhol. My favorite is Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room (2013). Like the name suggests, it’a a galaxy-themed mirror room you can step into for 45 seconds per round. As tempting as it may be to whip out your phone for the ‘gram, spend at least 30 seconds of your time inside to just experience the room for its staggering boundlessness. Because there is a line for Kusuma’s room, reach the Broad early and put your name down on the list so that you can spend your waiting time perusing the rest of the museum art. If the line is more than two hours long, you can leave and see The Last Bookstore(a bookstore on the next block with an actual tunnel made of books) or grab vegan ramen at Ramen Hoodin the Grand Central Market, before heading back to the museum.
Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens
Most of LA’s large and famous gardens are at least a 40-minute away from the city centre, with their plants trimmed into boxy bushes and their flowers planted in perfect rows. UCLA’s Botanical Gardens, conveniently located in the heart of Westwood, offers the personality that others don’t. It’s a mini-forest with bizarre plants sprouting from every patch of fertile ground, and a wooden footbridge going over a stream of fish and turtles. It’s undisturbed by tourists, but you might see strolling professors trying to clear their heads, or students nestled under oak trees with leather-bound books. With all its benches, tables, and nooks, it’s an ideal place for a picnic. If you don’t have snacks with you, buy some cheese and crackers from the Trader Joe’s located just a three-minute walk away! If you Uber/Lyft there, set your destination point to the UCLA School of Dentistry, because the garden gates are across the street.
- Before you get to LA, download Lyft and Uber. Lyft can be cheaper for short distances, while Uber is better for longer distances.
- To catch a ride from the airport, exit Arrivals and take the outdoor escalators upto Departures. There, labelled pickup points will make finding your ride easier.
- For food and services, it is general courtesy to tip 10-15%.
- Talk to Uber/Lyft drivers, who often lead interesting lives and drive as a side-hustle. I’ve been driven by broadway singers, surfboard designers, veterans and chefs.
- “DTLA” = Downtown LA
- “The Industry” = The entertainment industry
- “Clutch” = to provide something in a perfect moment
- “Norcal” or “Socal” = Northern or Southern California
- “Post Up”= to stick around, or to wait