This is something I have been thinking about since I arrived. The main attraction of Los Angeles are its never ending streets. They cut across the big galaxy, they bring you through many different continents, different worlds, different solar systems actually. They offer great views and experiences. They surprise you, they scare you sometimes. Just take the time to drive slowly and stop anytime you feel like it. This is by far the best way to fall in love with the city of Angels.
1) SUNSET BOULEVARD – There is no need to be original at all costs. If you are in L.A. just for one day or in any case if you have just landed, you have to live the Sunset experience. In our cultural and visual background Sunset Blvd means Hollywood, but it is actually so much more. It is the most iconic L.A. boulevard – immortalized by Billy Wilder in his masterpiece – which stretches for 25 miles from Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway in Palisades. My advice is to start right from there “where Sunset meets the PCH” as the sign of the restaurant Gladstone (decent, great view, overpriced) suggests. As you leave behind the big blue of the Ocean, the route starts climbing up to the heart of Pacific Palisades, a quiet, beautiful and rich retreat, home of many Hollywood stars and writers. Once you cross Temescal Canyon Road, you’ll see on your left the Will Rodgers State Historic Park which lies in the Santa Monica Mountains. The trails of the park offer vistas of both the sea and the mountains. In this part of Sunset there are many numerous curves and crests, it is a pleasure to drive while you just sense the fantastic mansions hidden in the greens. You pass Brentwood now and after crossing the 405 – the highway that goes north to Pasadena and Sacramento and to Long Beach and San Diego southbound – in the Bel-Air district, you long the campus of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the two big education institutions of this city. With about 27,000 undergraduate and 12,000 graduate students from the United States and around the world, it is the largest university in the state of California. UCLA is a public university and The Princeton Review listed it as a “Dream School” selected by both students and parents in 2010.
As you enter West Hollywood, you get to the best-known one-mile-and-half long portion of Sunset. The so-called Strip embraces billboards, boutiques, restaurants, hotels, rock clubs, that are on the cutting edge of the entertainment industry. I would definitely make a (long) stop by Book Soup (8818 W Sunset), one of my favourite book shops in L.A.. It has the right dimension, a discrete and competent staff and a lot of authors events. And as you’re there, let’s drink or eat something on the charming, wooden, semi-covered terrace of Everleigh. In this area of Sunset there are many legendary places from the “Whisky a go go” where Jim Morrison and the Doors made their debut in the sixties or the “House of Blues” to glamorous hotels such the Mondrian, the Andaz or the Chateau Marmont.
Sunset runs now straight just a couple of blocks west of Hollywood Blvd. The atmosphere is less glamorous, the neighborhood a little run down, but hey, we are in Hollywood. This part hosted a sort of red light district in the 70s, now most of the business has moved online. Stop at “Catalina Bar and Grill” if you look for live jazz and burgers and definitely do not miss “Amoeba Music” a fantastic shop – great building too – where you can find any music CD you want (used or new) and a lot of films at unbelievable prices.
Sunset crosses now the 101, the “Hollywood Freeway” and adventures itself into Little Armenia, Silver Lake and Echo Park. The environment changes again. The students and a crowd of former hippies, radical-chic, writers of Silver Lake, gets mixed with a Latino community in Echo Park. At the number 1716, Stories is another book shop well worth a stop. Choose a book and read it while sipping a coffee in their outdoor patio. Nearby, you’ll find many restaurants specialized in cuisine from Mexico, El Salvador (pupuserias) and even Cuba. You can also grab bread and pastries at one of the several Oaxacan bakeries – the bread is simple and good like it used to be in Italy 40 years ago.
Sunset Boulevard turns south, crosses its third freeway, the 110, the “Harbor Freeway” and finally comes to an end into North Figueroa Street right before Chinatown. Now, if you want, just make a u-turn and head back to the Pacific Ocean. It does not matter how slow your journey through Sunset has been. For sure, you have missed something unbelievably interesting.