Decontructing the Arts District – Downtown LA, CA

Downtown LA has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts, most notably in the Arts District, a short drive from the downtown core. The first artist-in-residence ordinance was enacted in 1982, and a second wave of tenants are now being drawn to this diamond in the rough. Artists are working alongside food artisans, tech entrepreneurs, boutique owners, and architecture students.

Not unlike a roughly sewn patchwork piece, Los Angeles county comprises many diverse neighbourhoods and cities. The Art District follows a similar model, just with less planning. Here, an enclave covers roughly two or three blocks until it ends… you cross a few streets, and another starts up again. Each of these pockets are marked by: at least one prominent restaurant (look up: Church & State, Bestia, Urth Caffe, or Wurstkuche); a cafe that roasts its own coffee and/or bakes its own bread; warehouse-to-loft conversions; and a grocery store. Street art — graffiti, murals, and wheat-pasted posters — decorate the neighborhood, and the creative spaces — art galleries, architecture firms, design shops, and filming studios — that line the streets serve as sort-of thoroughfares that weave in the desolate areas.

For an outsider looking in, the photos below may recall street scenes from Brooklyn’s Bushwick or Williamsburg. The difference comes down to the community’s vibe. The Arts District in Los Angeles is more subdued and low key; the crowds haven’t made their way here even though the people-scape is familiar — there’s little that comes between its residents and the Ray Bans and fedoras of their creative East Coast cousins, except perhaps, less tattoo art…

Change for the Arts District is inevitable, and it’s promising to see communities re-purpose existing infrastructure for new uses (though construction at the expense of old buildings — not so much). If future development happens at a snail’s pace, then hopefully residents and out-of-towners will be able to better absorb its resurrected rawness and welcome subsequent growth.

Note: It requires a car to break down what’s happening within the neighbourhood’s expanse, unless you’re unfazed by walking long stretches in 90 Fahrenheit temps under the blazing sun; the lack of coastal air and shading from decades-old trees means it feels 10 degrees hotter in this part of town.

DSC_0441PSAbove and below – the interior courtyard of new residential complex, 7 + Bridge. The first artist-in-residence ordinance was enacted in 1982 and allowed live/work studios in the neighborhood.

DSC_0439PSDSC_0442PSAbove and below: one of the most Yelped about restaurants in the area, Bestia.

DSC_0452PSDSC_0431PSAbove and below: Nameless except for this Parking sign, The Bread Lounge serves freshly baked pastries, pizzas, and bread. The picture below is of the pistachio danish though I highly recommend the kouign-amann — imagine a croissant, as dense as a marzipan filled one except here it gains its sweetness from caramelized sugar crystals topping its outer shell. (It was eaten before I could take a photo.)

DSC_0433PSDSC_0443PSDSC_0445PS DSC_0451PSDSC_0453PSDSC_0458PSDSC_0464PSDSC_0468PSDSC_0476PSDSC_0477PSDSC_0479PSDSC_0482PSAbove: This mixed-use project on a slender strip of land between SCI-Arc and the MTA’s railyard will bring 438 new rental apartments to the neighborhood; when it opens in two years 20 percent of its housing units will be affordable. In addition, the 510,000-square-foot complex — designed by Michael Maltzan — will have a theater, dining, more than an acre of parkland and retail, including one large space that could potentially be a grocery store. (LA Weekly)

DSC_0485PSAbove and below: the bustling store, Poketo, that sells the nostalgic to the trendy. Triple-decker lunch box anyone?

DSC_0486PSDSC_0489PSDSC_0490PSDSC_0493PSDSC_0495PSDSC_0501PSDSC_0505PSAbove and below: the new gourmet store, Urban Radish, is the closest to a supermarket in this part of Los Angeles. It even caters to electric cars.


Intermission III: An Oscar-Worthy Trip to LaLaLand

The last week of a great trip is always tough. Each day seems to pass quicker than the one before, and the list of things to see and do grows longer as one becomes better acquainted with their surroundings, having immersed themselves deeper into the fabric of a place.

This is how it went for my sister, Katya, and me in the last few days prior to her trip back home to Sydney. We packed it all in: Universal Studios, LA downtown (we needed to drive by the Cecil Hotel, currently making crime story worthy news), Malibu, a side trip to San Francisco, all of Urth Caffe’s locations. We happened to catch some spectacular sunsets as well.

The trip may have started with tourist sights high on the to-do list, but it finished with talk of a possible UCLA transfer. I couldn’t be prouder – my sister had transitioned from wide-eyed tourist to enthusiastic traveler. Here are some highlights my sister’s trip to Los Angeles.

At The Getty Villa, Malibu

At The Getty Villa, Malibu

Seated Hermes, Greek God of travel and commerce

Seated Hermes, Greek God of travel and commerce

Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier

City lights from the Griffith Observatory

City lights from the Griffith Observatory

Sunset from the Griffith Observatory

Sunset from the Griffith Observatory

Lombard St, San Francisco - the world's windiest street

Lombard St, San Francisco – the world’s windiest street

Painted Ladies houses line Alamo Square, San Francisco

Painted Ladies houses line Alamo Square, San Francisco

My sis and I making heart shadows

Me and my sis making heart shadows

Sea Lions at Pier 39, San Francisco Wharf

Sea Lions at Pier 39, San Francisco Wharf


Views from Sausalito -  joined to San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge

Views from Sausalito – joined to San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge

Me and my sis - meeting of the minds as we look over the view from Sausalito

Me and my sis – meeting of the minds as we look over the view from Sausalito

Golden Gate Bridge via iphone

Golden Gate Bridge via iphone

Sis taking pics

Sis taking pics

Panorama via iphone

Panorama via iphone

San Fran's Filbert Street at night

San Fran’s Filbert Street at night

Francis Ford Coppola's, Cafe Zeotrope

Francis Ford Coppola’s, Cafe Zeotrope – in San Fran


My sis with The Simpsons, at Universal Studios

My sis with The Simpsons, at Universal Studios

Sunset views of LA's downtown

Sunset views of LA’s downtown

Tree line from Elysian Park, near Echo Park, LA

Tree line from Elysian Park, near Echo Park, LA

Farewell cake made by my husband for my sis - Raspberry baked cheesecake accompanies by prosecco topped with those red berries

A farewell cake made by my husband for my sis. It’s a raspberry baked cheesecake served with glasses of prosecco

A Glimpse: Kaleidoscopic Kalifornia

Looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses…

Well, any pair of sunglasses will do as a sun-drenched Southern California – affectionately referred to as SoCal – naturally dons a pink tinged hue.

Having lived in San Clemente and Los Angeles for two years, it was exhilarating to return to the old stomping grounds after over a year-long absence. Complete immersion meant a daily embrace of the great outdoors; watching the changing colours of an always spectacular sunset; and falling, with ease, into a laid-back lifestyle that included much coffee-and-carb indulgence by day, and pressing of lip-to-champagne flute by night.

Sun-soaking and gastronomy aside (these activities were/are by no means mutually exclusive), admiring SoCal’s vistas was a soul-awakener. Appreciating its wild and urban landscapes through a fresh pair of eyes inevitably brought to mind the cliché: “The grass is always greener…”

What I love about SoCal are those pops of colour that are woven into its fabric, be it natural or with compliments of a street artist. Like a daily vitamin boost, the bright paintbox used to decorate the region provides a natural high; the various shades of bright-against-brighter are a quick fix to lift the spirit, even when rolling out of bed to welcome a fog-induced or overcast day.

All the while, a predominance of pink against green abounds.

During my travels in SoCal, I attempted to throw any, and all, of its stereotypes to the wind. I wanted to appreciate it from a grass-roots level; at the same time, acknowledge those industries – film, architecture, arts – that put its cities on the map.

I achieved that as best I could in a short space of time. The evidence is in the details.

Enjoy the prologue to a series of posts that I’m looking forward to dedicating to SoCal’s natural and urban palette. Starting from the southermost point of the trip, in Carlsbad, and ending in Los Angeles County – to the north, I hope you’ll join me on this trip.

A note of caution: the communities of SoCal are so diverse and spread out, you may feel as if you’re jumping from town, to ‘hood, to hilltop – all in one post. No fear: this is simply an introduction.

I’d be interested in your feedback – opinions, perceptions, and experiences – of Southern California. What you love about it, and what you don’t; what you may associate with it, and what may come as a surprise to you.

“Every time you can walk in another person’s shoes, the world is a slightly better place.” ~Anthony Bourdain

For now, enjoy an introduction to the makeup of SoCal!


A blindingly bright sun, vast spaces, and the smell of a nearby ocean are instant reminders as to why Southern California is one of the best places to live well.


The Flower Fields are located in the coastal city of Carlsbad – a necessary stop for those who have always dreamt of being engulfed in a mass of blooms, not unlike those of Dutch tulip fields. Here, the slopes of the hills at Carlsbad Ranch are painted in stripes of yellow, white, purple, orange, and red, in a grid-like formation; crops of ranunculus flower for 2 months of the year during the spring. Symbolic of new life – regeneration through replanted bulbs – this sea of blooms set against a backdrop of infinite blue is a dazzling sight.

Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts. ~ Sigmund Freud

I’ve always thought my flowers had souls. ~ Myrtle Reed

A scenic drive, further up the coast…


… along Route 5, a highway edged by palms and decorated with a glistening ground-cover of the flowering evergreen Purple Ice plant; past the military site of Camp Pendleton, after which the road eventually leads into the Nixon-associated town of San Clemente, in Orange County (OC).

The hot pink of Bougainvillea is so prominent; the plant’s foliage and blooms spill over the terraces of Spanish Colonial styled villas and fringe the pathways of San Clemente’s residential streets.

A sparkly ocean mesmerises visitors and residents; its waves seduce surfers. Located close to the equator, the sun always shines brighter in this vacation town.

A little more north…


A leisurely twenty minute ocean-side drive ebbs and flows as the road leads into luxe Laguna Beach. Inspiration for artists since the 1800s, its steep cliffs are testament to the beauty of an unspoiled landscape; their rugged faces filled with homes, as well as an assortment of native shrubbery and flowers, punctuated by statuesque palms along the upper edges.

Laguna: a retreat for writers, Hollywood stars, and artists. Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Rudolph Valentino, John Steinbeck, and Mickey Rooney escaped here. The house below is located in the space where Bette Davis’ former home stood.

The expanse of blue hues viewed from the Rooftop Lounge of the historic La Casa del Camino Hotel call for endless champagne toasts. Twist my arm.

I’ve always found that seafood served near the ocean tastes better. Decadent eel sushi and cold bold sake at Hapi Sushi; the restaurant’s name, perhaps a spin on the oft-felt emotion of travelers and residents who wrap themselves in Laguna’s lush surroundings.


Traveling a couple of hours, away from the OC and into Los Angeles County. The freeway traffic flow is a steady one, for the most part.


In an inland direction: LA’s urban sprawl is made up of a number of vastly different communities. The city boasts an enviable sunset – its brush stroke of pink, yellow, purple and gold along the horizon is best seen from Griffith Observatory, up in the hills near Griffith Park.


Minutes away – say 15 or so, sans traffic – downtown LA bustles. Surprisingly easy to navigate, this part of the county is undergoing a revival. Art galleries, historic architecture, and new dining spots feed off of one another in an area on the up. Downtown living means escapism in the midst of skyscrapers. Perfect example: Figueroa Hotel’s pool terrace is a resting spot for the uninhibited in the midst of surrounding commerce.

Nearby, the fruits borne by a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification: lofts, Porshes, and blushing blooms.

In the midst of it all, a creative community resides; its art colours a still-industrial neighbourhood.

In another part of downtown, more art abounds. Amongst institutions dedicated to contemporary works and music, stands an undulating design by Frank Gehry: the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Reminiscent of SoCal’s natural surroundings, a part of its architecture takes on the look of an unopened tulip; even a rosebud, nipped.

Further afield, close to downtown LA…


Los Angeles County Museum of Art makes for a bold statement through design, colour, and a palm-dominated landscape. Its exterior is as beautiful as its art filled interior.

Better still: the Renzo Piano designed outdoor/indoor dining space – Ray’s and Stark Bar – doesn’t shy away from serving up heady liquid artworks of its own. Tequila, orange, and ice – such are the beverages prepared by innovators manning the liquor cabinet.

Onwards toward creative pastures of a different nature, not too far away…


Overcast skies don’t darken or dampen the ambiance of bohemian Silver Lake; the neighbourhood brims with street art, reflective of a creative community, alongside modern architecture. Case in point: modern architect Robert Neutra’s former office is located here, by Silver Lake Reservoir.

What’s more, the resident trend-setters take their coffee very seriously. Artisans on the rise.


The plush and posh Beverly Hills is emblematic of hedonism and history; well tended gardens, magnificent mansions, grand tree lined streets; once home to Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball,and Doris Day, and now home to Bill Cosby, Rod Stewart, and Diane Keaton.

Along its wide streets, playful architecture draws on LA’s cinematic roots….

.. and gives way to classic icons -pretty in pink, the famed Beverly Hills Hotel graces Sunset Boulevard.

Close by…


A place where all the touristic action takes place. Yes, one may immediately think: Walk of Fame, the Wax Museum, and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with handprints of celebrities implanted by its entrance. Think this once: see it all, appreciate it for what it’s worth, and move beyond the crowds.

Seek out the Cirque du Soleil, Kodak Theatre, Capitol Records Building, Amoeba Records; perhaps make some time for a glass of bubbly at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Hike even, and be wowed by viewing the Hollywood Reservoir and landmark Hollywood sign, up close.


Spectacular architecture is built into Hollywood’s hilly backdrop; the Hills are alive with modern homes, Mediterranean inspired villas, and imaginative designs of a whole other level – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House made famous by Bladerunner, and John Lautner’s Chemosphere House (below), are a couple of impressive name-droppers.

Meanwhile, modern lines and pink storefronts dominate on nearby Melrose Avenue, in West Hollywood.

Back to the coast…


Dr Feelgood: breathing in the salty air, courtesy of the Pacific, does the soul alot of good.

In this part of LA, multi-million dollar homes line the water’s edge and are set into its steep hills. Malibu Pier offers spectacular 360 degree views – for free.

Malibu – home to alcoves and private beaches, wineries, acclaimed Nobu restaurant, and the delightful Mediterranean-inspired Getty Villa. From this museum, you can view the ocean whilst staying cool in the mountains.

Its gardens are worthy of a visit alone.

Down South from Malibu…


This is the place for beachside city living and a haven for outdoor exercise pursuits – located only a half hour away from the Hollywood Hills. It’s expanse of beach is interrupted by a few volleyball courts, lifeguard huts, and a boardwalk catering to cyclists, dog-walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, and leisurely strollers.

The Santa Monica Pier can be seen from miles away; so much larger upon closer inspection. A few streets back from the beach, the city offers boutique shopping and a location of the ever-popular Urth Caffe – this is an excellent spot for coffee and farm-to-table dining.

Adjoining Santa Monica is the trendier…


Art colours the streets; restaurants are full at noon; galleries, boutiques, and homewares stores are made for window shopping and browsing. Whilst it may be known for the famed boardwalk along its Muscle Beach, a stroll along Venice’s main street, Abbott Kinney, and a meander alongside the town’s canals is a much more pleasurable experience.

In closing…

Southern California, from sunrise (if you’re up) to sunset is a beautiful area of the US. By virtue of geographic location alone, the light that colours the horizon is sublime; its ever changing hues gently unfurl from pink, to purple, to burnt yellow, to gold. Yet it is the added drama of the region’s bold urban and natural landscape that makes the experience all the more unique and memorable.

From one community to the next, colour abounds – in its architecture, natural landscaping, art, people. An entertaining kaleidoscope.

This is a sampler of SoCal; a taste of things to come.