Once upon a time I lived in West Los Angeles. As a result I’m pretty familiar with this part of town that’s known for its high rises, excellent restaurants, and designer shopping. Unfortunately, it’s also known for its high prices and traffic congestion, so I had not made an effort to get back here in many years. That all changed this past weekend when Jason and I decided to revisit some of our favorite sites in West LA and check out some new ones. I was reminded why it’s such a popular part of the city to visit. (To learn more about other parts of LA, click here and here.) In all fairness, this area can be expensive and crowded, but with some good planning, that can be mitigated.
Our previous visit to the Hammer Museum was at least twenty years ago. Boy, oh boy, has this place changed! What I remembered as a small, but typical art museum is now a combination of gallery spaces featuring mostly modern art and a large outdoor courtyard popular with UCLA students. This is no stodgy, quiet museum with vast halls of classic paintings in elaborate, gold frames and ancient Greek statues. Instead it’s a series of small and medium sized galleries filled with some challenging exhibits. I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy all of the exhibits and thought to myself a few times, “Is that really art?” However, there were a few exhibits that I really did enjoy and was glad we came. I also appreciated the price--free! If I lived nearby this would be the type of place I would come often, maybe visit a new exhibit and grab a cup of coffee to enjoy in the outside cafe on a sunny day. What I really appreciate about the Hammer is the way it seems to challenge our preconceived idea of what an art museum has to be.
If you haven’t heard of the Hammer before, you’re not alone. It’s often overshadowed by the larger museums nearby like Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Getty. Founded in 1990 by Dr. Armand Hammer, this museum began by featuring the vast private collection of Dr. Hammer. Then in 1994 it merged with UCLA and the collections of both institutions are now stored on site. Over the years it’s purpose has evolved from showing mostly classic works to showcasing emerging artists from around the world.
For a visit to the Hammer, I’d recommend about two hours. Parking is available below the museum for a reasonable fee, but they do not accept credit cards, so have cash handy. If you are hoping for a meal before or after your visit there are plenty of great options within walking distance.
Eataly Los Angeles
Last September Jason and I stepped inside Eataly Chicago and fell in love. When I learned that they were opening a new location in Los Angeles a few months later I was ecstatic. If you haven’t heard about this chain of Italian food stores, then you are in for a treat. This is a high end Italian grocery store combined with several cafes and restaurants serving authentic Italian food. I think calling it the Disneyland of Italian food is fair.
Just wandering around Eataly is fun, but we decided to take it up a notch and participate in one of the Eataly tours. The Experiential tour was scheduled for one hour and fifteen minutes, but actually lasted for two. We learned all about the history and mission of the store from our guide, Nadia. She then led us to each of the major food stations and served us samples specially prepared for our group. By the end of the tour we had tried about fourteen different items including Kobe beef, pizza, octopus, prosecco, aged parmesan, prosciutto, burrata, gelato, and more. I actually had to refuse samples because I was so full.
In addition to this tour, Eataly Los Angeles offers regular food tastings and a wide variety of cooking classes. There are 39 locations around the world and each has its own theme as well as its own schedule of events. Checkout the website for more information.
The Getty Museum
If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you’ve probably learned that I love museums, and I especially enjoy art museums. But I think the Getty is my favorite. The combination of spectacular architecture, world famous art and beautiful gardens is unsurpassed. And did I mention that it’s free? If you are driving here you will pay $15 for parking, but there is no charge for the museum, its docent-led tours or audio guides. If you have young children, activities in the Family Center are also free.
During our most recent trip to the Getty we did not visit any of the art exhibits, but instead took both the architecture and gardens tours led by volunteer docents. Both tours are 45 minutes and were quite interesting.
The architect of the Getty Museum is Richard Meyer, one of the top architects in the world. A hallmark of his style is buildings that are in relationship to their environment. The curves of the front museum building are intended to suggest waves of the nearby ocean. The tram from the parking lot to the campus follows the natural curves of the land. And since this museum is in sunny Southern California, the design takes full advantage of natural light through the use of plentiful large windows.
The Getty gardens were designed by the artist, Robert Irwin. Before this project he had no landscape design or horticultural experience. Irwin designed everything in the Central garden including the lighting fixtures and fencing which contributed to his intent to create a ‘living sculpture.’ What I’ve always appreciated about these lovely gardens is how they invite people of all ages to enjoy. Children are attracted to the water features while older adults enjoy the seating in the shade. In contrast to the quiet and orderly visitors in the art galleries, the gardens allow people to be noisy and active.
A few tips about visiting the Getty. First, get here early. A museum of this quality that is free is always a top attraction. But most people tend to arrive late morning and early afternoon. Arrive when it opens and you’ll better enjoy the exhibits and gardens. If you have young children you may consider visiting on a weekend with specific family activities. Just know that these weekends are exceptionally busy. This is an indoor/outdoor space, so dress accordingly. We visited on a chilly weekend and were glad we had warm coats to wear during the outdoor tours. On a rainy day, you may get wet moving between buildings. Finally, if this is going to be your first visit, allow yourself several hours to enjoy this impressive place--you won't regret it!
Eat in Little Ethiopia at Meals by Genet
I have driven through Little Ethiopia for decades, but during our most recent visit to LA we decided it was time to eat here. If you’ve never tried Ethiopian food then you are in for a treat! It is among the most flavorful food I’ve ever eaten. And the fact that you eat with your hands is a bonus. There are several highly rated restaurants in this area, but we opted to visit the one recommended by Pulitzer Prize winning food critic, Jonathan Gold. He is a huge fan of Meals by Genet, so that’s where we ate. We ordered the vegetarian combination and Ria’s Genet Dorowot. This version of dorowot is a family recipe made of onions, garlic and spices stewed for 50 hours! Later, chicken and Ethiopian butter is added and the final touch is a hardboiled egg. All is accompanied by injera, a spongy bread used to scoop up the food.
Ethiopian food is an excellent choice for vegetarians since there are plenty of delicious vegetable dishes available. Meals by Genet also offers beer and wine. On weekends reservations are recommended.
West Los Angeles Restaurants
There are so many great places to eat in West Los Angeles! I am not going to provide an exhaustive list of restaurants, but instead share some of my favorites as well as those convenient to the sites described above.
First, if you are planning to visit the Getty museum, there are two great options on site, the Restaurant and the Cafe. The restaurant is upscale and may require reservations. The cafe is well suited for quick meal. Both offer amazing views and healthy food made of locally sourced ingredients.
If you plan to visit Eataly, but will not be eating there, consider a meal at Din Tai Fung, also located in the Westfield Shopping Center. This Taiwanese based chain offers some of the most delicious dumplings you’ll ever eat. There will likely be a wait, but it’s worth it.
Other nearby restaurants worth a visit are the Apple Pan and Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle. The first is a classic diner that has been popular with locals for decades. The second is one of the top ramen houses in all of Los Angeles. Again, both of these places will require a wait, but that’s usually a sign of great food.
Tips For Visiting West Los Angeles
This is a very congested part of town in a city that is legendary for its traffic. For sightseeing, I prefer to visit on the weekends when there is no business related traffic. The trade off is that the sites mentioned may be busier, but I go to great lengths to avoid LA traffic, and for the West side, weekends are preferable.
Parking charges can be outrageous in LA. A little bit of advanced research is worth the effort. Does the restaurant/ museum offer a special lot or validation? Is there an affordable parking lot nearby? Just don’t expect free parking because it simply doesn’t exist.
If you have the opportunity to spend the night I recommend the Marriott Courtyard Beverly Hills/Century City. The rates are reasonable, WiFi is free and there is no resort fee. Most hotels in West Los Angeles are very upscale and pricey, but we found the Courtyard to be comfortable and the staff quite friendly.
My final tip is find the time to visit West LA! Yes it can be congested and expensive, but there is an energy in this part of the city that’s infectious. The combination of great sites to see and delicious restaurants to try make the trip worth it.
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