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  • The Alternative Guide to LA

    Dividing her time between London and LA, journalist Luciana Bellini knows a thing or two about locals-only locations in the City of Angels. Here’s her guide to exploring Tinseltown’s lesser-known hot spots...

    California’s golden beaches, rolling surf and swaying palm trees have always held allure. And it’s not just the landscape and endless sunshine that has us hooked – LA is also home to a spate of buzzy new boutique hotels, a flourishing local fashion scene and some of America’s hottest restaurants. Read on to discover how to experience it like a local. 

    What To Eat...

    Food trucks have long been a mainstay on the West Coast, with the ubiquitous taco truck the most popular of them all. LA’s finest comes courtesy of Tacos 1986, famous for its Tijuana-style tacos. If you don’t fancy chasing the truck all over town, they’ve just opened their first bricks and mortar spot in Downtown LA (Tacos 1986, 609 South Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014). Head for a classic brunch at Sqirl in Silver Lake, which has gained a cult following since first opening as a homemade jam store in 2011. Breakfast lasts all day here and consists of organic offerings like vegan buckwheat pancakes, pesto rice bowls and brioche slathered in ricotta. (Sqirl, 720 North Virgil Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029). The best pizza in the city can be found at Pizzana, where locals and celebrities gather to marvel over the perfectly cooked wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, made with Daniele Uditi’s signature slow dough. It’s worth noting they also offer an excellent gluten-free base – this is LA, after all… (Pizzana West Hollywood, 460 North Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048).

    Where To Stay...

    There’s no shortage of great places to stay in sprawling La La Land, from swish five-star hotels to hip beachside B&Bs. Two recent openings on different sides of town have got everyone talking. The West Hollywood Edition straddles bustling Sunset Strip, its sleek, minimal design, destination restaurant and elegant rooftop pool have cemented it as the hottest place to be seen right now (The West Hollywood Edition, 9040 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069). Downtown, the Hoxton hotel group has opened its latest outpost, bringing a bit of European flair to the West Coast. Housed in a grand French Beaux Arts building and spread across 11 floors, the hotel has a distinctly clubby vibe, with reclaimed vintage furniture and a selection of cool restaurants and bars (The Hoxton, Downtown, 1060 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015). For boho beachside living it doesn’t get better than Hotel Erwin. Just steps from Venice Beach, this trendy boutique hotel offers laidback vibes and is home to the best rooftop spot for watching the sunset over the ocean (Hotel Erwin, 1697 Pacific Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90291).

    What To Do...

    Forget Rodeo Drive – the best shopping in LA is found at the city’s eclectic flea markets. The most famous is the gargantuan Rose Bowl Flea Market, which takes place on the second Sunday of every month and sells vintage threads and wonderfully weird bric-a-brac (Rose Bowl Flea Market, 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, CA 91103). If you’re after a weekly fix, head to West Hollywood’s Melrose Trading Post on Sundays for custom T-shirts and second hand furniture (Melrose Trading Post, 7850 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046). LA’s coolest new shops and restaurants can be found at ROW DTLA, a grid of former fruit and veg warehouses that have been transformed into one of the city’s most exciting new projects. Locals and tourists flock here for cult independent labels and modern art galleries (ROW DTLA, 777 Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021). For a quieter side of Venice, take a stroll along the charming Venice Canals. Left over from madcap developer Abbot Kinney’s plan to bring Venice to America in 1905, they’re a peaceful way to take in some of the city’s most quaint waterside properties.

    What To Drink...

    For sunset cocktails, there’s no better spot than Élephante, Santa Monica’s most popular beachside bar and restaurant. Nab a table on the ocean-facing terrace and order one of their signature cocktails, with passion fruit, lemon, Calabrian chilli and your poison of choice (Élephante, 1332 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90401). If you’re looking for old-school Hollywood glamour, head to the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where you can drink champagne on the same bougainvillea-strewn patio where Marilyn Monroe and Katherine Hepburn once rubbed shoulders (The Polo Lounge, 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90210). For late-night fun, make a booking at the speakeasy-style No Vacancy bar in Hollywood. Situated in a restored Victorian house masquerading as a Prohibition-era hotel, walking in here feels like stepping onto a film set – and, really, isn’t that how all LA nights should feel? (No Vacancy, 1727 North Hudson Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90028).