WILSHIRE BOULEVARD is one of the main arterial roads of Los Angeles and runs for some 16 miles from Downtown to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica. Differently from Sunset, the landscape is exclusively urban and it represents a very good sample of the finest attractions L.A. can offer in terms of architecture, museum, shopping and food.
The “Wilshire One” building on Grand Avenue, which was completed in 1966 and is one of L.A.’s first modern highrises, is the start of this “trail” right in the heart of Downtown. After many years of decline, Downtown is today a quite contradictory and still culturally vibrant area. Next to the high building of the financial center, live together a large homeless community and a young crowd of new residents attracted by the recently renovated lofts and apartments still available at a relatively convenient price. Many of these lofts are often used as set for films and adverts.
We leave Downtown and start moving through Westlake – on the right side of the boulevard, the historic 1926 Westlake Theatre – and cross Mac Arthur Park with its large pond and, on Sundays, lots of Latino children playing soccer. Not far from there, one of the most beautiful building of the boulevard, the art-deco Bullocks Wilshire, once a luxury department store and now home of the Southwestern Law School. Wilshire brings us to Koreatown now (but we’ll visit one other time) and to the affluent and green residential area of Hancock Park.
We continue our drive west through the Miracle Mile and we get to one of the most interesting parts of Wilshire: the Museum Row. I am not a big fan of museums, but I have to admit that I highly enjoyed my visit to the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Jeff Koons works and Andy Warhol’s soup made my day. It is also time to stop for some lunch and instead of eating at the trendy Ray’s and Stark Bar inside LACMA, I would suggest a little diversion to nearby Fairfax Avenue to the Little Ethiopia district -home to one of the largest groups of Ethiopians in America. Go to “Merkato” or “Messob“, get your injera – a spongy and sour flatbread used as an eating utensil to eat- and discover one of the most surprising cuisines of the whole world. You’ll eat from a common plate different kind of spicy meat and veggie stews like the fantastic “doro wat” made of chicken stewed in red pepper sauce with eggs and other spices.
The drive continues through the Beverly Hills section of Wilshire across Rodeo Drive and the shopping area. If you are not crazy about shopping – I am not – do not miss the Paley Center for Media in Rodeo. Get into one of their screening rooms and browse through their archive. You could come across an episode of the “Partridge Family” or “Happy Days“, a presidential campaign debate between Nixon and Kennedy or a fight between Ali and Foreman. You’ll also pass by the Beverly Hilton Hotel where Whitney Huston died recently and then through the elegant residential condos of Westwood, you approach the last long and straight stretch of Wilshire which will bring you to the Pacific Ocean.
We are in the city of Santa Monica, just at the beginning of what I call “the gastronomic mile” of Wilshire Blvd. After Jerry’s Liquor – home of a fantastic variety of tequilas and beers from local micro-producers – and Ukranian Delikatessen – take home their pelmeni – in a rapid succession you find on the right side the Restaurant Rustic Canyon offering”new Californian slow food cuisine”, the Huckleberry Bakery and Café – do not miss their chocolate mousse – the Santa Monica Seafood Market for great oysters, fish from the Pacific and spectacular Santa Barbara prawns and, cherry on the cake, the Michelin 2 star restaurant Melisse, the kingdom of Chefs Josiah Citrin and Ken Takayama. We are almost at the end of the trail; we can already feel the smell of the Ocean and there’s one last stop on the lively Third Street Promenade – a pedestrian oasis full of shops, cafes and musicians. We are finally ready to get the reward of this journey: the fantastic view of the beach of Santa Monica and the sun diving into the Ocean or hiding behind the Malibu mountains.