LA confidential

George Epaminondas sets his GPS for the sweeping boulevards of Los Angeles and uncovers, beyond the Tinseltown hype, a city of first-rate eateries, sensational vintage shopping and cool galleries.

Swarms of tourists descend on Hollywood Boulevard every day of the week, buzzing up and down the legendary Walk of Fame, anxious for a glimpse into the celebrity universe, or at the very least a new T-shirt. Some make a beeline for hoary attractions like Ripley's Believe It or Not, or snap photographs with eccentric look-alike actors garbed as Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe, while others are whisked away on dubious home tours, to observe the tall hedges of a bygone star's former residence. As for actual stargazing, even a cinema history buff would be hard-pressed to identify most of the names etched into the gritty boulevard. The whole Hollywood experience leaves one feeling a little well, underwhelmed, which is a pity because the charms of Los Angeles are hardly revealed on the gritty boulevard.
It's true that LA - too spread out, too congested and with no discernible centre - can be a tough nut to crack. Up until recently it was regarded as little more than a glorified waiting room for San Francisco or New York. But lately the Californian destination has redeemed itself. Scratch the surface and discover sensational restaurants, bustling galleries, first-rate shopping and cultural diversions far beyond the Tinseltown tourist trap.
In a city as sprawling as this one, hiring a car with a GPS is vital. That way you can navigate from brunch in Silver Lake in the east to drinks in Venice in the west with relative ease. Yes, traffic can be a challenge, but the same could be said for São Paulo, Moscow or Sydney. The joy of visiting any place is in seeing how the locals live, and the following is an insider's guide to the City of Angels.
With its lustful pizzas, scrumptious salads and delightful lodge-like interiors - the outdoor courtyard is particularly fetching - it's no surprise this hipster haunt is permanently humming with plaid-clad patrons. Self-taught chef Travis Lett is a master at woodfired Mediterranean fare. Spare yourself the long wait and make a reservation. 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, +1 310 450 1429
Bottega Louie
Marble floors, brass accents, soaring ceilings and seating for 185 diners is not what you would expect of a downtown restaurant. This grand establishment, a mixture of eatery, bakery and gourmet market, looks as though it beamed down from Planet Sybarite. Yet it serves accessible food, from onion gratinée to mushroom pappardelle, seven days a week. Plus it's open from early morning to late night. 700 South Grand Ave, LA, +1 213 802 1470
Church & State
The city's downtown area is still rather insalubrious in parts, yet this excellent French bistro is worth the trek. Expect topnotch renditions of bouillabaisse, moules marinière and cassoulet. The house-made charcuterie is also not to be missed. The space has an industrial flair befitting a former cookie factory. 1850 Industrial St, LA, +1 213 405 1434
The Mercantile This airy café and wine bar is an escape from the Hollywood hubbub. It's especially wonderful for lunch, with local filmmakers, TV executives and designers noshing on smoked trout tartines and duck confit salads. Wine barrels, retro signs and spice-lined shelves imbue the space with a groovy vintage air. 6600 West Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, +1 323 962 8202
Delphine Eatery & Bar
The restaurant at Hollywood's newish W Hotel is a chic oasis; we're fans of the white wicker chairs, patterned tile floors and expansive menu - everything from scrambled eggs in puff pastry for breakfast to risotto Milanese with braised veal for dinner. 6250 Hollywood Blvd, LA, +1 323 798 1355
Thomas Keller, one of America's most esteemed chefs, puts his stamp on French cooking at this swish Beverly Hills boîte. Well-heeled locals graze on seafood platters, melon and feta salad, and roast leg of lamb in a Belle Epoque-style setting. 235 North Canon Dr, Beverly Hills, +1 310 271 9910
Hatfield's Don't expect scenesters here. Husband-and-wife team Quinn and Karen Hatfield have an ardent culinista following for their inventive French-American fare. To wit: the Hatfield's version of a croque-madame comes with yellowtail sashimi, prosciutto and quail egg on grilled brioche. 6703 Melrose Ave, LA, +1 323 935 2977
Tavern Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin are at the forefront of the LA dining scene. They already operate two exceptional restaurants, Lucques and AOC, and they recently opened this one in Brentwood. Tavern serves mouth-watering fare - such as grilled quail with couscous and cumquat sambal - in a picturesque dining room decorated with Chesterfield lounges and olive trees. Dine here if you're shopping in Santa Monica, or visiting the Getty Center, which is 10 minutes away. 11648 San Vicente Blvd, Brentwood, +1 310 806 6464
Red O
Well-known toque Rick Bayless created the delicious menu at this Mexican restaurant - example: pork belly sopes with black beans and salsa negra - but it's nearly overshadowed by the jaw-dropping interiors. The space is embellished with church bells, sweeping chandeliers, and even a corridor of floor-to-ceiling tequila bottles. 8155 Melrose Ave, LA, +1 323 655 5009
The Hall Located in the Palihouse inn in West Hollywood, this is the most charming courtyard brasserie in the city. Dining under the stars here, patrons nibble on steak tartare, quaff crisp French wines, and table-hop with convivial abandon. The Palihouse also boasts a trendy bar and lounge that evokes New York's Tribeca. 8465 Holloway Dr, West Hollywood, +1 323 656 4020
Osteria Mozza
Despite the fact it's been open for three years, this temple of Italian cuisine can still be a tricky reservation. But it's worth the exertion, and the slightly attitudinal service, for heavenly dishes including ricotta gnudi with ramps and fungi, beef brasato with polenta and horseradish gremolata, and grilled whole orata wrapped in radicchio. 6602 Melrose Ave, LA, +1 323 297 0100
Though not as decorated as Katsuya or Matsuhisa, this Little Toyko gem is one of the best Japanese restaurants in town. The sushi is consistently first-rate, while the izakaya-style small dishes, like simmered pork belly and seafood cream croquette, will inspire. 132 South Central Ave, LA, +1 213 613 9554
Izaka-ya by Katsu-ya
Katsuya Uechi is one of LA's sushi shoguns with a few starry restaurants to his name. This is his low-key, super-cool eatery that's invariably brimming with hungry hordes until late at night. Spicy tuna on crispy rice is omnipresent in this city but it reaches its apogee here. "Like French fries on crack!" wrote one enthusiastic blogger. 8420 West 3rd St, West Hollywood, +1 323 782 9536
Father's Office A gastropub acclaimed for its craft brewed beers and its gourmet burgers designed by chef Sang Yoon. The original is in Santa Monica, but two years ago they added a sleek second location in Culver City. Take a seat on the outdoor deck. 3229 Helms Ave, LA, +1 310 736 2224
Inn of the Seventh Ray For a totally different beat, how about a dreamy dinner amid the verdant mountains of Topanga Canyon, 20 minutes from Santa Monica? The name makes it sound like a hippie retreat but, with new chef Bradley Miller at the helm, this famously romantic spot also has serious foodie credentials. 128 Old Topanga Canyon Rd, Topanga, +1 310 455 1311
Cut It wouldn't be a guide to LA without at least one Entourage reference. This Beverly Hills steakhouse, which attracts a slew of Hugo Boss-wearing Hollywood agents, was the scene for one hilarious episode. Major deals are cut over the 21-day aged rib-eye. The ultra-minimalist space, within the Beverly Wilshire hotel, was conceived by architect Richard Meier. 9500 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, +1 310 276 8500
CAFE CULTURE Intelligentsia The best espresso comes from the brainiacs at Intelligentsia. LA has two outposts - one in Silver Lake and the other, unveiled last year, in Venice. On weekends it's not uncommon to have 20 people queuing ahead of you for a macchiato. Is it worth it? I think so, and the people-watching helps. Intelligentsia's baristas are as fastidious as they are courteous, while the décor recalls a mad scientist's laboratory. 1331 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, +1 310 399 1233
Lamill In the mood for organic iced coffee? Head to this enticing Silver Lake café for worldly coffee options from as far away as Rwanda, exotic teas such as pineapple papaya green tea, and scrumptious treats including grilled peanut butter and chocolate sandwiches. They recently added sake selections. Mural-decorated walls, ornate leather chairs and graphic serving implements make for poppy visuals. 1636 Silver Lake Blvd, LA, +1 323 663 4441
Joan's on Third Find everything from chocolate cupcakes to artisanal cheese at this shrine to gastronomy. It's also a brilliant option for coffee, with plenty of outdoor seating to soak up LA's idyllic weather. What's more, 3rd Street has a full plate of retail diversions. But Joan's is where everyone ends up. 8350 West 3rd St, LA, +1 323 655 2285
SHOP Church
Fashion zealots will adore Church, an under-the-radar clothing emporium featuring an eclectic array of local designers. The cavernous space houses bags by Balatsos and T-shirts by Hero Crane as well as religious art and taxidermy. There's no sign and you will imagine you're in the wrong place. Look for the steel door with a spray-painted cross. "How did you hear about us?" the manager asks me. "God," I reply. 7277 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, +1 323 876 8887
A well-edited selection of women's clothes, from recognisable designers such as Alexander Wang (a darling of New York) and Elizabeth and James (by the sisters Olsen) to emerging local labels, makes this store a standout on 3rd Street. 8745 West 3rd St, LA, +1 310 275 1930
Confederacy Hollywood stylist Ilaria Urbinati is behind this cool store stocking covetable women's lines from Proenza Schouler and Vena Cava among others. In the back are men's lines, including Michael Bastian and Rag & Bone. There's even a courtyard café and rotating art on the walls. 4661 Hollywood Blvd, LA, +1 323 913 3040
The Way We Wore A vintage collector's paradise, with everything from 1920s flapper dresses to 1980s Dynasty cast-offs, meticulously arranged by decade. Clothes are in mint condition and prices hover closer to the high end. The store is a magnet for collectors, fashion students and stylists. 334 South La Brea Ave, LA, +1 323 937 0878
The Paper Bag Princess Chloë Sevigny and Julia Roberts have been tempted by the pristine vintage wares at this Beverly Hills emporium. Former actress and author Elizabeth Mason stocks red-carpet-worthy pieces from the likes of Chanel, Valentino and Pucci, as well as a slew of more affordable accessories. 8818 West Olympic Blvd, Beverly Hills, +1 310 385 9036
Design heads will thrill to LA's exceptional vintage furniture scene. This store boasts an impressive assortment of pieces ranging from sconces to a George Nelson cabinet and a Pierre Cardin desk, many of them beautifully updated. 8111 Beverly Blvd, LA, +1 323 782 6898
Another brilliant furniture store. The owners here, like those at Orange, are adroit at refinishing vintage pieces so that they gleam anew. Lawson-Fenning also has its own line of handsome seating, case goods and accessories. Their Tabouret side table, which hints at Morocco, is absolute genius. A second store, in Silver Lake, boasts an excellent design book section. 7257 Beverly Blvd, LA, +1 323 934 0048; 1618 Silver Lake Blvd, LA, +1 323 660 1500
Specific An idiosyncratic assemblage of quirky vintage pieces (a Mexican silver pitcher with a parrot handle), fetching contemporary designs (the whimsical lighting of Marie Christophe is a standout), and various kooky curiosities (such as a sculpture made entirely from bottle tops). I'm also fond of their denim-upholstered sofa. 7374 Beverly Blvd, LA, +1 323 930 0220
Gibson Studio Always worth a gander is this intriguing repository of decorative pieces, furniture and art, located just a few doors from Specific. Interior designer Gary Gibson has a flair for sourcing, collating and explaining, in his personable manner, an endless stream of eclectic found objects. A reason to justify that second travel bag. 7350 Beverly Blvd, LA, +1 323 934 4248
DRINK The Roger Room
This raffish speak-easy, which opened last year, features stained-glass windows, circus-themed murals and nattily dressed mixologists. The exotic libations include drinks like Let's Get Lost, with tequila, lime juice, agave nectar, cucumber and mint on the rocks. Don't forget: closing time for bars in LA is 2am. 370 North La Cienega Blvd, West Hollywood, +1 310 854 1300
La Descarga
Is it the fact you enter via a secret doorway that resembles a closet? Is it the impressive array of vintage rum cocktails on offer? Perhaps it's the gorgeous dancers who salsa on the bar or the chichi clientele. This stylish East Hollywood bar conjures pre-Castro Cuba - they even have a cigar room. Reservations recommended. 1159 Western Ave, Hollywood, +1 323 466 1324
The Tar Pit
Try and nab one of the mirrored booths in this glamorous, art deco-inspired establishment and order a peach-flavoured Georgia Julep. The vibe is decidedly grown-up, and the service is extremely cordial - making it a welcome respite from the Sunset Strip. A menu of small plates adds another urbane dimension. 609 North La Brea Ave, LA, +1 323 965 1300
This sprawling indoor-outdoor bar boasts an arresting fit-out, a genial crowd and an enormous coral tree in the middle of it all. The three-storey venue has plenty of room to stake your turf. Nosh on spicy tuna tacos and portobello mushroom fries, and sample the many boutique beers. 1714 North Vermont Ave, Los Feliz, +1 323 669 1550
Las Perlas
A cantina-like bar serving artisanal Mexican spirits distilled from the agave plant, tequila and the lesser-known mezcal. Boutique drops are listed by region on the blackboard, and if you're so inclined, you can sample one in a clay pot. Or you could have a cocktail like an El Melón, a blend of mezcal, citrus and muddled goji berries topped with cantaloupe foam and edible flowers. 107 East 6th St, LA, +1 213 988 8355
ARTS It would be a miscalculation to visit LA and not review the multi-layered art scene. Well-known institutions including the Getty Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art all own superlative works - the last deserves a visit for its Mark Rothko collection alone. And then there are scores of modern galleries, clustered around theMiracle Mile (try Ace Gallery), Downtown, Chinatown, Culver City and Santa Monica. To access the scene, refer to listings in Art Scene, LA Weekly or the Los Angeles Times. Bergamot Station (2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica) houses more than 30 galleries in one location, so it's an excellent starting point.
Runyon Canyon Park
For an insight into how Angelenos stay in shape, visit this popular hiking trail in Hollywood. Enter at the northern end of Vista Street or Fuller Avenue, warm up the hamstrings, and choose your trail. My favourite route involves going anticlockwise: jog up the steps and bound down the paved path. The top of the trail offers breathtaking vistas. You can also enter the park from Mulholland Drive, which offers a picture-perfect view of the Hollywood sign. It's an off-leash dog park, too.
Santa Monica Steps
The perfect workout spot for those who prefer to end their cardio session with a plunge in the nearby Pacific Ocean. Located near the corner of 4th Street and Adelaide Drive, this stairway to endorphin heaven is a magnet for runners, walkers and gawkers - you're bound to see a celeb. Choose from wood or concrete steps and remember: when going up, hew to the right - just like the traffic flow.
Zuma Beach
It's not for nothing that Gwen Stefani named her second son after this beach. Located at the northern end of Malibu, it takes over an hour to motor here from Hollywood but the Pacific Coast Highway is a joy (depending on traffic). Zuma boasts excellent surf, golden sand and pristine water. Other great stops in the 'hood include retail hot spot Malibu Lumber Yard (3939 Cross Creek Rd) and eatery Geoffrey's Malibu (27400 Pacific Coast Hwy), which has ocean views and lobster Cobb salad on the menu.
Griffith Park
Five times the size of New York's Central Park, this public park has hiking trails, picnic spots, tennis courts, golf courses, an open-air theatre, a zoo and even a museum. Walk from the Griffith Observatory to the summit of Mt Hollywood. Parts of it are still very rugged but captivating nonetheless. 4730 Crystal Springs Dr, LA, +1 323 913 4688