United Presents Three Perfect Days: Tel Aviv - United Hub
Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Tel Aviv

By The Hub team , June 04, 2019

Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Yadid Levy | Hemispheres June 2019

Tel Aviv means “hill of spring" in Hebrew, and perhaps no city in the world has a name that fits better. Western religion was conceived just a few miles away from here, thousands of years ago, but neither that fact nor the associated, ongoing complications have stopped this 110-year-old town from showing the blooming, hopeful, renewed energy of springtime. It's the super-cosmopolitan home of cutting-edge museums, world-renowned dance companies, and celebrity chefs. The only thing more beautiful than the beaches is the population that flocks to them and then later fills the bouncing bars and clubs. The tech industry is booming so fast the country has been nicknamed Start-Up Nation. If you think all that sounds like a mash-up of Brooklyn, Miami, and San Francisco, you're right. Many visitors come to Israel to learn about the past, but in Tel Aviv, all eyes look to the future.

Day 1: Rooftop views and rock 'n' roll grooves

City views at Blue Sky

The Statue of Meir Dizengoff and his horse on Rothschild Boulevard

I start my first visit to Tel Aviv the way everyone should: with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. I'm sitting on the deck at Manta Ray, a restaurant perched on the tiled promenade above Alma Beach, looking at the water and thinking about my family's short, fraught history with Israel. My grandparents moved here in the late 1940s, along with many other Jewish refugees in the aftermath of World War II. It may have been the homeland, but it was also hot and dusty and underdeveloped, and my grandmother, whose pre-war life had been a bit more refined, hated it. They lasted less than a year and soon settled in America (in that most refined borough of New York City, the Bronx).

As of today, I'm the first member of my family to return to the homeland. It's not particularly my homeland—I wasn't raised religious, and I try to steer clear of the politics—but I've always wondered how I would feel here. For starters: hungry. On my table is a scattering of mezes (roasted peppers with feta, mullet ceviche) and a tower of bagels, smoked salmon, pickled onions, and heirloom tomatoes. I work my way through it all, thinking, Pace yourself, Justin, while I take in the scenery. To my left rises Jaffa, the ancient clifftop port city from which Tel Aviv sprouted; to my right stretches a ribbon of sand below the skyscrapers of the modern metropolis; in front of me, waves lap upon the shore.

After breakfast, I set out into the city, passing through the narrow streets of Neve Tzedek, the first neighborhood Jews settled outside of Jaffa, in the late 19th century. These cobblestoned alleys went into decline for a time, but over the last few years glassy condos have joined the squat Mediterranean houses, making this 'hood the home of the city's most expensive real estate (“the bougie-est of the bougie," a young local tells me with an eye roll).

Chef Eyal Shani at North Abraxas

On the far side of Neve Tzedek, I hit Rothschild Boulevard, the pedestrian greenway that arcs through the heart of the city. The tree-lined path bursts with dog walkers, cyclists, moms and dads pushing strollers, teenagers lined up at gelato kiosks. As I stroll the long boulevard, I soak up the sun—and also the history. Israel celebrated the 70th anniversary of its statehood last year, commemorating the occasion with an itinerary of sites called the Independence Trail, including the Tel Aviv Founders Monument; a statue of Meir Dizengoff, the city's first mayor, atop a horse (he used to ride from his house to City Hall every morning); and Independence Hall, where David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

OK, enough history—I'm ready to eat. Just a block south of Rothschild Boulevard, I snag a barstool at North Abraxas, a sunny spot created by celebrity chef Eyal Shani and film director Shahar Segal. The bartender brings me a hunk of fresh sourdough, with a dip of rich crème fraîche and chopped tomato and spicy green pepper. The guy seated next to me nudges a bowl of tahini in my direction. “I can literally drink it," he says. Next comes a head of baby cauliflower roasted to the point of melting and a skillet of chraime (tomato-fish stew) adorned with another slice of that bread. I have failed to pace myself.

A lifeguard tower on Frishman Beach

I need to lie down after all those carbs. To the beach! A short cab ride (pro tip: download the ridesharing app Gett) takes me to my hotel, the Carlton Tel Aviv, a fortress of luxury looming over the promenade and the sea. The front desk loans me a towel, which I take down to Gordon Beach, where every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked or paddled around by impressively tanned people. I skip over a stack of paddleboards to dip my toes in the Mediterranean, but the water's a bit chilly, so I retreat and stake out a patch of sand, where I close my eyes and bask in the rays.

As the sun begins to fade, I retire to my balcony at the Carlton, from which I watch the sky and sea turn pink. Once the colors have faded to black, I ascend to the 15th-floor rooftop and celebrity chef Meir Adoni's Blue Sky, which specializes in seafood and incredible 360-degree views. I order a grouper fillet with bouillabaisse butter, potato cream, shoksha pepper, roasted fennel, and chickpeas. “Our chef is known for mixing flavors," the server says as she pours me a cabernet from the Israeli winery Flam, “so try to get everything in each bite." I take care to heed her advice while eating the Citrus Aromas in Kyoto, a dessert of roasted rice ice cream, white foam, matcha crumble, and citrus compote that transports me, for a moment, from the Middle to the Far East.

“On the beach, every manner of ball you can think of is being bumped or tossed or kicked by impressively tanned people"

Tel Avivians are famous for partying hard, and where better to work off a few calories than at the club? I hail a cab to Beit Romano, in Florentin, a recently behipstered neighborhood on the city's south side. At first, I think the driver has brought me to the wrong place—it looks a little dodgy, with a graffitied industrial door surrounded by scruffy kids—but inside I see two stories of restaurants and bars, a radio station, and a bandstand. Soon, the smoky courtyard is full of 20-somethings bobbing their heads to the Santana-esque, afro-psychedelic band Tigris. I get my groove on, losing track of time until the musicians take their curtain call. Time for me to do the same.

One perfect day in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is about an hour from Tel Aviv by bus (and only 20 minutes from Ben Gurion Airport thanks to a high-speed train that debuted last year). Here, a cheat sheet for a day in the Holy City—a must for any visitor to Israel.
Start with a breakfast of meze dips and muesli at the Villa Brown Jerusalem, a 24-room boutique hotel that opened two years ago in a refurbished 19th-century mansion in the centrally located Russian Compound district.
A 10-minute walk from the Villa Brown takes you to the Jaffa Gate and the ancient walls of the Old City. Hire a guide (try Hemispheres favorite Tours By Locals) to help you navigate the crowds and give context for all the sacred sites—the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the City of David, the Via Dolorosa—and then stop by one of the many Palestinian merchant stalls to buy one of the beautiful rugs.
For lunch, walk back through the city center to the Machane Yehuda Market. Snag a seat at Azura for Turkish-influenced takes on homestyle dishes like kibbeh and shakshuka.
Next, take the light rail to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, home to an exhaustively comprehensive history museum (featuring many video testimonials from survivors), as well as a National Mall–style campus dotted with public art pieces. The tragic history commemorated here is critical to understanding the modern Israeli state.
You'll need a drink after that, so head over to the Mamilla Hotel, just steps from the Old City. Taste a few local vintages at the Winery bar, which sources its roughly 120 labels exclusively from Israeli wineries, and then go up to the Rooftop restaurant for astonishing views and tasty dishes such as grouper shawarma and roasted goose breast.
For a nightcap, stop in at Gatsby, where the hostess will slide open a bookcase to reveal a Roaring '20s–style speakeasy, complete with faux-tin ceiling, bartenders in leather aprons, and a Sinatra soundtrack.

An alley in Old Jaffa

Day 2: Eat, pray, dance

Bread displays at Abouelafia

A shop at the Jaffa Flea Market

Hotel breakfasts are a big thing here, and the one at the Carlton is particularly lavish, but I skip it, because the whole city is about to become my buffet. A cab takes me along the waterfront to Jaffa, the historically Arab area that's now one of the hottest parts of Tel Aviv, where I meet Lainie Schwartz, a tour guide with Delicious Israel.

Schwartz, a bubbly 27-year-old originally from Winnipeg, starts me out at Abu Hassan, a hole-in-the-wall that's renowned for its hummus, which is eaten as a breakfast food in Israel—hot, fresh, and with a peculiar vocabulary: “We say in Hebrew that we wipe hummus," Schwartz says. “We don't say, “Do you want to go eat hummus with me?' We really say, 'Do you want to go wipe hummus?'" Following her lead, I wipe up all the impossibly creamy stuff, first using warm pita and then segments of raw onion (don't knock it till you try it).

Hummus dispatched, we stroll past The Smiling Whale, a bronze statue that commemorates Jonah's biblical joyride (which supposedly occurred just off the coast here), and through the sandstone-walled corridors of Old Jaffa. We pause at Suspended Orange Tree, a small tree growing from a hanging jug that honors Jaffa's historic orange groves, and then at the 3,000-year-old Ramses II gate (named for the Egyptian pharaoh).

Down the other side of the hill, past the Jaffa Flea Market, I try an astonishing za'atar flatbread at the neighborhood institution Abouelafia. Then, crossing into Neve Tzedek, we stop at the Dallal Bakery to try a chocolate babka—and to meet Inbal Baum, who was born in D.C. to Israeli parents, moved here 10 years ago, and founded Delicious Israel in 2011.

The Chapel bar

“My big initial goal was advocacy, trying to get journalists to write about Israel in a way that wasn't about politics," Baum tells me. “That has changed in a big way. We now have almost no problem inviting journalists, and a lot of that is because of the way Israelis eat."

I don't think I can eat any more, but then Baum suggests we get a falafel at the Carmel Market, a bustling shuk in the otherwise sleepy Yemenite Quarter. I love falafel—I eat it three times a week in New York—and this being my first trip to the Middle East, I can't say no. At the stand, Baum asks the cook, who's rapidly forming the chickpea dough into perfect spheres and tossing them into the fryer, if we can have just the falafel, but he insists we taste it properly, in pita with tahini (at least he cuts the pita into quarters). My first bite sends me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down. “I wish I had recorded that," Baum says, laughing and handing me a craft pale ale from the Beer Bazaar stand next door to bring me back to earth.

I thank Baum and Schwartz for all the deliciousness and then walk (I wish I had Dizengoff's horse) back to Old Jaffa. It takes some looking, but at the top of the hill I find Yoko Kitahara House of Treatments & Gallery, a spa hidden behind a small iron gate marked with scarcely more than a business card. I ring the bell and enter a sparse space inside a pair of 500-year-old, arch-ceilinged Ottoman homes. My appointment begins with a traditional ashiyu (Japanese footbath) and continues with a hogushi aromatherapy massage. Afterward, I have a cup of tea while seated on a tatami mat, looking out a window at the sea and chatting with the spa's eponymous owner, who says she moved to Tel Aviv “for love."

Suspended Orange Tree, in Old Jaffa

“I wanted to do a nice place in Jaffa," Kitahara says, “but I didn't want to create a Japanese 'shrine.' We want it to be a surprise, a hidden place with some Israeli culture and Japanese culture—to make harmony."

I tend to prefer cacophony to harmony, so next I peruse the flea market, which is surrounded by bustling bars and trendy boutiques. I stop at the gallery 8 in Jaffa to gawk at grotesque ceramic sculptures by Alma Moriah-Winik, and at The Cuckoo's Nest, an antiques shop/gallery/bar, to take in a heart sculpture composed of paint brushes. Just across Jerusalem Boulevard, I reach my new digs, The Drisco Hotel, a landmark boutique hidden down a narrow street at the crossroads of Jaffa, Neve Tzedek, and Florentin. Nap time!

“My first bite of falafel send me reeling. Literally, I almost fall down."

Mushrooms and tapioca at Opa

The sun has set by the time I'm done snoozing, and I'm (miraculously) ready for dinner. It seems as though every wall and garage door in Florentin bursts with graffiti, which makes the unadorned white decor at Opa, around the corner from the Levinsky Market, even more sleek and refreshing. That description also applies to the entirely vegetarian menu: sliced pears with chervil and green garlic; a prime rib–like cut of red cabbage with grapefruit foam and white balsamic dressing; a circular presentation of mushrooms and crispy tapioca that I'm not sure if I should eat or wear on my head like a crown. Who needs protein?

I finish my meal just in time to make the curtain at the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, a performing arts hub that sparked the renaissance of Neve Tzedek and is home to the famed Batsheva Dance Company. On stage tonight is The Hill, in which a trio led by choreographer Roy Assaf enacts a visceral portrayal of the experiences of veterans—a particularly relevant topic in a country that has compulsory military service and has been through numerous conflicts with its neighbors. The depiction of PTSD, in which one of the dancers repeatedly hits himself in the head while one of the others tries to restrain him, is breathtaking.

Spices at the Carmel Market

After the show I stop by the center's chic new restaurant, Cordero, to have a glass of Burgundy with Claudio Kogon, the deputy director of the center. “We are only 8 million people, but the amount of culture per capita is huge," says Kogon, who was born in Buenos Aires but moved to Israel 32 years ago, at the age of 22, to live on a kibbutz. “Tel Aviv is very vibrant. In every corner, something is going on. And in dance, we are a superpower."

Next, I seek out another corner where something is definitely going on. The Chapel, at The Jaffa hotel, is the most beautiful bar I've ever seen—and the most appropriately named, as it's inside a 140-year-old hall of worship with 40-foot-high arched ceilings. I order a smoked, shaken mezcal Negroni and lean back in my seat to fully take in that soaring ceiling. The soundtrack in here may be techno, but somehow all I can hear is Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah."

Day 3: Bauhaus Beach Babylon

An art installation on the Bauhaus exterior of the Center Chic Hotel

Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv guide Alisa Veksler

I'm standing in the city center, a block east of Dizengoff Street, amid a group of tourists staring up at a curvilinear house. Tel Aviv is home to about 4,000 International Style buildings, designed in large part by architects who fled the Nazis in the 1930s—a period when the population here, not coincidentally, boomed—and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the White City. As we look at one of these houses, Alisa Veksler, a tour guide from the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv, explains to us the particularities of the Tel Avivian style, which occasionally strays from the Bauhaus ethos that function must dictate form.

“A round facade gives it the association of a ship," Veksler says of the house in front of us. “This was a desert, and when these immigrants came from Eastern and Central Europe in the '30s and built their houses, they put a ship in the middle of the desert."

The artsy interior of Kuli Alma

We continue on for a few blocks, with Veksler explaining the reasons for various architectural details—slit balconies to offer relief from heat, roof gardens to encourage social interaction—finishing at the recently restored Dizengoff Square.

“In 1934, they did a competition for the design of this area," she tells us, “and the winner was a young woman named Genia Averbuch. She was only 25—wow!—and she designed a big circle with a garden and a fountain in the middle, surrounded by Bauhaus buildings with the same unified facade. It instantly became the coolest spot in Tel Aviv. This is a huge milestone in the culture of Tel Aviv. Once Dizengoff Circle was built, we were not immigrants from different countries anymore—we were suddenly people of our own city."

The group gives Veksler a round of applause, and after picking up a White City tote bag at the center, I walk a couple of blocks east to Hakosem, a falafel joint that takes its name from the Hebrew word for magician. It's just after noon, and a long line stretches across the patio and out to the sidewalk. I'm line-averse, but y'all know how I feel about falafel, and soon a tattooed Israeli line cook—“I have eight!" he proudly says when he sees the ink on my arms—is stuffing a pita with falafel, hummus, chili sauce, sauerkraut, pickles, and eggplant. When I take a bite, I have to admit, it really is magic. Also: My life is ruined. I'm never going to be able to eat falafel in New York again.

“When immigrants came from Europe and built their houses, they put a ship in the desert."

After breaking free of Hakosem's spell, I move on to take in another architectural marvel, the nearby Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which has a geometric exterior that looks a bit like a broken Rubik's Cube. Inside, a series of ramps carry me from gallery to gallery. The holdings in the Impressionist and post-Impressionist collection read like an art history syllabus—Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Chagall—but I'm drawn to contemporary works such as Following You, Following Me No. 1, a breathy, haunting video piece by 37-year-old Israeli artist Yasmin Davis.

Dizengoff Square

As I wander west, back toward the beach, I happen across Rabin Square, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli ultranationalist in 1995, a year after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords. As I watch a few kids chasing pigeons around a fountain and a Holocaust memorial, I find myself reflecting on how inextricable this nation's psyche is from existential threats past and present.

Anyway, I need to lighten things up a little bit—both emotionally and physically, given how much I've been eating this week. So, after moving my bags to the Miami-esque Brown Beach House hotel, I slap on my sneakers and hit the promenade, running north to three side-by-side beaches that illustrate the surprising diversity of Tel Aviv: one that flies rainbow flags to welcome gay beachgoers, one that's walled off for Orthodox Jewish swimmers, and one that's populated by dog owners. Few things will brighten your mood like watching a sandy dog take a shower on the beach.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Running a 10K does wonders for the appetite, so after cleaning up—no, not at the dog showers—I head to Mashya, one of the city's hottest restaurants. The space, on the first floor of the Mendeli Street Hotel, features a bright green living wall and an intricately patterned black-and-white ceiling. The food is just as attractive: I order a fresh fish crudo with labneh and mint; an arugula salad with medjool dates, pineapple, and avocado; and a six-hour-braised oxtail terrine. Something about the whole experience feels celebratory, so I top things off with Israel's finest bubbly, the Yarden Blanc de Blancs.

For a nightcap, I walk to the nearby Imperial Craft Cocktail Bar, which has appeared on the World's 50 Best Bars list and slings complex drinks inspired by the city. As a hoopshead, I'm compelled to order a Red by Heart, a mix of amaro, banana syrup, and lime juice that's dedicated to the outdoor court the city's popular Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team once called home. It's smoky, bitter, and delicious. Nothing but net!

Old Jaffa, seen from Alma Beach

As I leave the bar, I look at the Brown Beach House, right across the street. I have a 12-hour flight tomorrow … but I can't quite put myself, or this city, to bed. So I hop in a cab to Florentin, where I descend a stairwell decorated with a comic-book style mural and a giant red neon heart into Kuli Alma. I wander through the labyrinthine space, sipping a Goldstar beer and taking in the murals and prints and paintings that decorate every surface as dancers twist to thumping music. This place just feels right somehow, and I can't help but wonder what my grandmother would say about today's Tel Aviv. Something tells me that if she had experienced three days like these back in the '40s, I would have been born an Israeli.

A dog takes a shower on the beach

Where to Stay

Carlton Tel Aviv

This Brutalist building overlooking the marina was designed by Israel Prize–winning architect Yaakov Rechter and opened in 1981. A recent $12 million renovation included an update to 268 guest rooms and suites, the addition of a rooftop pool, and redesigns of Meir Adoni's two on-site restaurants. Don't miss breakfast on the beachfront deck. From $370, carlton.co.il






Brown Beach House

In a city that gives off plenty of Miami vibes, few hotels feel more South Beach—note the three live palm trees and the neon flamingo in the terrace lounge—than this 40-room boutique one short block from Jerusalem Beach. Pedal out to the promenade or into the city center on one of the free bikes available to guests. From $250, brownhotels.com







The Drisco Hotel

This 42-room-and-suite boutique property opened last year in a 150-year-old building that once housed the city's first luxury hotel. The Drisco is walking distance from the restaurant-studded neighborhoods of Jaffa, Florentin, and Neve Tzedek, but don't miss the hotel's recently reimagined Mediterranean eatery, George & John. From $360, thedrisco.com

A message from our CEO Oscar Munoz on the anniversary of September 11, 2001

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , September 11, 2019

Today, we remember the colleagues, customers and every single victim of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

I know each of us in the United family marks this difficult moment in our own way. Still, we all share a common commitment to honor how our brothers and sisters left us and also celebrate what they gave to us during their lives. We remember their professionalism and heroism. We cherish their camaraderie and friendship. We carry with us the examples they set forth, especially in the heroism and bravery displayed by so many on that terrible day. Above all, we understand a simple truth: While thousands of our fellow human beings lost their lives in New York City, Arlington and Shanksville, the attacks of September 11th were aimed at all people of peace and good will, everywhere. They were attacks on the values that make life worth living, as well as the shared purpose that make us proud of what we do as members of the United family: connecting people and uniting the world.

We may live in times scarred by discord and disagreement, and we know there are those around the world who seek to divide us against one another. But, on this day – above all – we come together, as one. We affirm our core belief that far, far more unites us as citizens and fellow human beings than can ever divide us.

Let us embody that belief as we go about serving our customers and one another – on this day and every day – as we continue to help building a world that's more united. Let that be our memorial to the sisters and brothers we lost, eighteen Septembers ago.

Humbly,
Oscar

Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Los Angeles

By The Hub team

Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Tanveer Badal | Hemispheres September 2019

No one comes to Los Angeles without having at least a little foreknowledge. If you're a film geek (like me), you know where the heist crew had breakfast in Reservoir Dogs and which building was Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. If you're a music geek (like me) you can name the clubs Guns N' Roses welcomed to the jungle and the streets Dr. Dre went rollin' in his '64. If you're from New York or San Francisco (like me), you probably hate LA on principle—for the smog, the Lakers fans, the fame-seeking ethos of Hollywood. And yet, no matter how much you think you know the City of Angels, there's always something more to learn, something real to find. LA County, after all, comprises more than 4,000 square miles and 10 million people (including the largest Mexican and Asian immigrant communities in the U.S.), with a GDP of $700 billion. It's impossible to make an LA guide for everyone, but if you (like me) are a fan of Chinatown and Charles Bukowski, beaches and bowling alleys, Michelin stars and micheladas, here's one for you.

Day 1

Beaches and speakeasies on the Westside

I'm in Los Angeles, so of course I'm eating breakfast by the pool. More specifically, I'm in the lovely atrium at FIG, the poolside restaurant at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. In the water, a couple of kids are splashing around in unicorn floaties. On the wall above, Muscle Beach's best-known lifter, Arnold Schwarzenegger, flexes in a mural. On my plate is a scramble chock-full of fresh produce—tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, spinach—from Santa Monica's famed farmers market.

The pool may be Hockney-worthy, but these flip-flops were made for walking. Five minutes down Ocean Avenue, I cross a bridge over the Pacific Coast Highway and onto the Santa Monica Pier, passing the Route 66 sign, caricature artists, funnel cake stands, and carnival rides on my way to the end of the pier, where fishermen toss their lines in the water and tourists snap photos of a sea lion barking for scraps. The sharp salt smell of the ocean beckons, so I backtrack to the sand, where I roll up my jeans and watch the surf slide over my feet. I lose my thoughts in the rhythm of the waves, until a big one crashes in. Reverie over.

A prideful lifeguard tower on Venice Beach

A prideful lifeguard tower on Venice Beach

Going wheels-up at the Venice Skatepark

Going wheels-up at the Venice Skatepark


I watch the surf slide over my feet, losing my thoughts in the rhythm of the waves, until a big one crashes in.

I keep flippin' and floppin' my way south toward Venice Beach, the epicenter of Southern California's grungy, punky beach culture. Snatches of the Doors leak from surf shops and sunglass stands on the very strip where Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek formed the band. Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light? Or just another lost angel… I kill a few minutes watching skaters ollie along the undulating walls of the Venice Skatepark, and then I exit the beach, going a few blocks inland to the Venice Canals. Developer Abbot Kinney built these narrow waterways in 1905 to evoke some other Venice, and while I don't see any gondoliers, the homes lining the canals make for a fun self-guided architecture tour, veering from glass-walled Modernist structures to mosaic-tiled hippie bungalows.

A few more blocks up Venice Boulevard, I reach the town's main drag, Abbot Kinney Boulevard. I'm having lunch at Gjelina, which for more than a decade has offered the sort of farm-fresh cuisine and casual-yet-sceney vibe that the rest of the world thinks is LA. I sit at a distressed-wood table and chow down on California king salmon tataki; grilled peaches with burrata, prosciutto, and chicory greens; and a perfectly cooked black bass with olives and heirloom tomatoes. If this is what people associate with LA, I can see why everyone wants to move here.

My feet are flip-flopped out, so it's a good thing my college buddy Matt, who lives in Hermosa Beach, has loaned me his car—a cobalt Chevy Volt we call the Blue Dragon—to help me navigate this unending city. Fortunately, you don't need to be a Targaryen to ride this dragon, so after retrieving the car from the Fairmont valet, I fly up the 405 to the J. Paul Getty Museum, which stands on a hill above the most heavily trafficked freeway in the U.S. I park and take the tram up, then meander through the Robert Irwin–designed Central Garden, following a trickling waterfall to a reflecting pool and an X-Files-esque azalea labyrinth. The scene is so transporting that it's easy to pass a couple of hours without even entering the galleries. Oops.

No time for regrets, though. The afternoon has begun to wane, so I drive back to the Fairmont and take a seat on my balcony to watch the curtain fall on another day in America. Once night has settled and the lights have come up on the pier, I walk over to the Third Street Promenade, an outdoor mallwhere fairy lights twinkle and purple jacarandas bloom above shoppers and buskers singing Justin Timberlake. At the food court, I go up an escalator and tap a code into a black door marked "private." When it opens, I enter Dialogue, an 18-seat tasting-menu hideaway that was one of just 24 restaurants in LA to receive a Michelin star this June. As he passes me the gorgeous plates (21 of them!), chef Dave Beran explains how the Roots' album …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin inspired his menu.

"I reached out to Questlove, and he told me they wrote that album over the course of the last year of their manager's life," Beran says. "It's essentially their progression emotionally. You had to experience that album the way they intended it, and that led us to the idea of writing a tasting menu that had to be experienced the way we intended. Just as the seasons look forward and backward, the dishes do as well. Every dish has something in it from the last one and something to look forward to in the next. Your snapper had a ginger mist on it, which went into the ginger-rhubarb foam, which leads to a rhubarb chip with matcha and lilac pudding, followed by a cucumber-lilac soda. None of our dishes are intended to be complete thoughts as much as completing each other's thoughts." Food for thought, indeed.

The landmark Venice Sign at sunset The landmark Venice Sign at sunset

After dinner, I'm buying Matt a drink as a thanks for lending me the Blue Dragon. I take a cab to Abbot Kinney and meet him at the restaurant Scopa Italian Roots, where we tell the maître d' we have a reservation at Old Lightning. He promptly confiscates our phones and leads us around to the side of the building, through an unmarked door, and into LA's premier bourbon bar. The glass case along the wall taunts us with shelf after shelf of nigh-impossible-to-find vintage bottles. Matt leers covetously at a collection of limited-edition Willett, while I pine for the Pappy. I tell the bartender, Jesús, that I love the wheated flavor profile of the Van Winkles but can't shell out $3,000 for a flight. He brings me a more affordable sampler: a delectably corn-sweet Old Taylor 6-year from 1980; an Old Fitzgerald made by a legendary Kentucky warehouse manager who stole from his stores to create his own sought-after blends; and a 101-proof Evan Williams 12-year that's normally available only in the Bluegrass State. "I hope you didn't drive," Matt deadpans, although I think he's just trying to confiscate my Old Fitzgerald. Not a chance, pal.

Day 2

Artful architecture and swinging nightlife in DTLA

Los Angeles may have an underrated metro system, but the city's true essence is found where the Blue Dragon and I now sit: in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10. I pull up my rush-hour playlist, and Guy Clark sings, If I can just get off of this LA freeway, without getting killed or caught…

Eventually, I reach the center of the city, which the Spanish founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles but has in recent years been rebranded simply as DTLA. I'm starting the morning with a bite at Grand Central Market, a 1917 building that's home to all sorts of hip food stalls. I stop at the G&B Coffee counter and get an almond macadamia latte to sip while I wriggle to the Clark Street Bread stand, where I order avocado toast. It tastes like California.

On the other side of the market, I spot one of LA's signature architectural sights, the Bradbury Building. The interior of this National Historic Landmark, which was built in 1893 and features five floors of ornate iron railings and elevator shafts climbing toward an expansive skylight, looks both stunningly vintage and eerily futuristic. It's little wonder Ridley Scott chose it as the setting for the climactic scene of Blade Runner.

I exit through the side door and gawp at the Pope of Broadway, a soaring mural of Anthony Quinn on the former Victor Clothing Company building across the way, before continuing on through DTLA. This area was once so rundown that it wasn't much of a leap for Scott to imagine that by 2019 it would look like a post-apocalyptic dystopia, but over the last decade it has become the reenergized hub of the city, thanks to places like The Last Bookstore. This temple to the written word is probably best known for its second-floor book tunnel, which tourists and wannabe influencers line up to snap selfies in. I ask a clerk what he thinks is the definitive LA novel, and he points me to John Fante's Ask the Dust, which local literary god Charles Bukowski called "a wild and enormous miracle."

It's a good thing I picked up the reading material, because I'm going to have a wait at my next stop. One of the wonderful, contradictory things about this wonderful, contradictory city is that some of its best restaurants are in run-of-the-mill strip malls. One of these is Sushi Gen, in DTLA's Little Tokyo, where a long line has formed before the doors even open. I take my spot and read for a few minutes—Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets … you sad flower in the sand—before I'm seated at the sushi bar, where a chef slings slices of Tsukiji Market–quality fish (buttery tuna, briney sea bream, sweet shrimp, creamy uni) at me until I wave my napkin in the air like a white flag.

The Pacific Seas bar at Clifton's The Pacific Seas bar at Clifton's

The afternoon sun is beating down and bouncing up off the pavement, so I elect to walk off my meal indoors, at The Broad Museum. The four-year-old building, which entrepreneur Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, created to house their 2,000-piece collection, stands like a square of honeycomb next to the flamboyantly curvaceous Walt Disney Concert Hall next door—a contrast that associate curator Sarah Loyer tells me was very much intentional.

Jeff Koon's "Tulips" at the Broad Museum Jeff Koon's "Tulips" at the Broad Museum

"Where the Disney Concert Hall reflects light, our building draws light in," she explains. "The ceiling has 318 individual skylights that light the collection gallery. At peak sun hours we have all natural light." We ride the escalator up to the third-floor gallery, an acre of column-free space where pieces by Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, and Kara Walker are on display. I'm particularly struck by Deep Blue, an expansive mixed-media canvas by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford. "It's inspired by the 1965 Watts Rebellion," Loyer notes. "You can see the map of the city grid, and the different dots and colors represent historic losses from that event."

We ride the Broad's escalator up to an acre of column-free space to see pieces by Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama

I thank Loyer for enlightening me and then zip over to the recently restored Hotel Figueroa, which features works from a new artist—often a Southern California woman—every quarter. I valet the Blue Dragon and take a few minutes to peruse Topanga-based painter Sophie Kipner's blind-contour portraits before stretching out on a poolside lounge chair with a Bohemia beer. When I mention to the waitress that something about the pool seems odd, she tells me it's shaped like a coffin. That seems like a bad omen for tonight…

But hey, if I gotta go, there are worse places to have my last meal than Nightshade, Top Chef winner Mei Lin's much-hyped new restaurant in the up-and-coming Arts District. A taxi drops me at a converted warehouse space that's an Instagrammer's dream—blond wood, white brick, mint and emerald green upholstery, and hanging plants—surpassed only by the presentation of the dishes: Hokkaido scallops in a coconut vinaigrette, chicharrón chunks with a bright green coconut and trout roe dipping sauce, prawn toast that tastes like Vietnamese spring rolls, Szechuan hot quail served atop Japanese milk bread (à la Nashville hot chicken). If the atmosphere is heavenly, that last plate is hellish; my eyes start burning upon its arrival, and it takes an extra glass of grüner to cool my mouth after its departure.

Let's keep turning up the heat! Clifton's is a DTLA institution, a Depression-era cafeteria that fed 10,000 people a day, eventually fell into disrepair, and was ultimately reborn as a four-story nightlife bazaar following a 2015 renovation. I climb past the giant trunk of an (admittedly fake) redwood tree to the top-floor Pacific Seas tiki bar, where I sit in a wicker chair under a mermaid statue and sip a Scorpion Bowl (rum, gin, cognac, orgeat, and god knows what else) that is, yes, set on fire by my waitress. Before I get stung, I descend one floor to the Brookdale Ballroom, where dancers in Gatsby-esque getups swing to a New Orleans jazz band. A woman sashays by me in a peacock-feather outfit, but she's gone before I can ask her if this is real or if I've been consumed by the flames of Szechuan pepper and Polynesian mixology.

Day 3

Hollywood history and Eastside eats

It was all real, and I'm paying for it now. Good thing I know the perfect place for a clean-living kind of breakfast. Sqirl is on the edge of East Hollywood, in an area that's still dotted with 99-cent stores, but the line of part-time models waiting outside betrays its hip quotient. I make my way to the counter, order an Horchoffee (vegan horchata shaken with a double espresso) and a Crispy Disco (brown rice with mint, cilantro, cucumber, scallion, avocado, fried egg, and sausage), and grab a seat at the sideboard. The restaurant's sprightly owner, Jessica Koslow, brings over my food and gives me a playful punch on the knee as she takes the stool next to mine.

"It was a lot of pressure to be this funky place and be like, 'Here's what's happening in Los Angeles,'" the Long Beach native says, recalling the rapturous reviews she received after opening in 2012. However, she does take pride in being an evangelist for SoCal cooking. "There are so many different pockets of LA that [its cuisine] is hard to describe, but if you want a neighborhood restaurant for LA, you're here."

The Angel of Breakfast gives me a hug and waves me back to my food. After devouring the Crispy Disco, I head to The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Upon checking in, I rendezvous with Tours by Locals guide Jasmine Jia, who takes me on a winding drive through Griffith Park to the Griffith Observatory. The triple-domed Greek Revival building is one of LA's most recognizable—it can be seen in Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land—but Jia tells me it almost didn't get built. The city turned down funding from tycoon Griffith J. Griffith in 1912 because he had infamously shot his wife (who survived) a decade earlier. "There was a sensational trial," Jia says. Griffith re-donated the money when he died in 1919, and the Observatory was completed by the WPA in 1935. Today it's both an interactive astronomy museum and a spot from which you can see the Pacific Ocean, DTLA, Dodger Stadium, and the Hollywood sign.

The soup bowl–size chalices of salty, limey beer are garnished with shrimp, and the straws are even crusted with tamarind candy.

Now, the question every tourist in LA inevitably faces: Should I take a picture with the sign? As we drive over, Jia tells me it was erected as a real estate advertisement in 1923, when it originally read "Hollywoodland." "The land was sold, and the sign should have been taken down," she says, "but it became associated with the movie industry and LA and became a landmark." It was later shortened to Hollywood—better to fit the photo Jia snaps of me from the vista point in Lake Hollywood Park below.

Jia drops me back at the Blue Dragon, and I head to a far less touristed part of the city. Another college buddy of mine, Rob, was born and raised in Cypress Park, his parents among the tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants who settled on the east side of the Los Angeles River, and I've asked him to show me a couple of off-the-radar spots. I cross the concrete riverbed into Boyle Heights and meet him at El Tepeyac Café, an institution that serves old-school Mexican food. Rob points me toward the gargantuan chile verde–slathered Original Hollenbeck burrito, which is stuffed with rice and beans and guacamole and pork and comfort. Next, we zip over to La Chupería, in neighboring Lincoln Heights, where the bartender brings us two micheladas, soup bowl–size chalices of salty, limey beer (a Modelo bottle floats mouth-down in each cup) rimmed with chili sauce and garnished with cucumber, celery, and shrimp. The straws are even crusted with tamarind candy. As we slurp our drinks and watch a replay of the previous night's Dodgers game on the TV, I ask Rob what places like this mean to LA, and if he's worried about them disappearing as the city changes.

The busy lanes at Highland Park Bowl The busy lanes at Highland Park Bowl

"Gentrification brings restaurants and nightlife to areas that were overlooked, but now you have these immigrant-run mom-and-pop businesses, which have contributed so much to LA's cultural identity, operating under the threat of extinction," he tells me. "Without culture, LA risks losing its home too."

I thank the homie for the knowledge, and we split up with plans to meet later. I really need to stretch my legs, so I head to Echo Park. A popular walking path circles the lake where Jack Nicholson's J.J. Gittes snapped compromising photos of Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown, but today it's strangely calm: just a couple of teenagers lazily peddling swan boats and a few kids quacking at the ducks near the shore.

Feeling a little lighter, I get back in the car and cruise up Sunset Boulevard, shopping my way through LA's hippest 'hood, Silver Lake. I browse kid-centric bios of Prince and Bowie at MRKT, whip-stitched watchbands at Dean, and vintage rock 'n' roll tees at Sick City Records. Past the junction with Hollywood Boulevard, I make a pilgrimage to the swirling mural that appeared on the cover of Elliott Smith's Figure 8 album. The storefront has changed tenants several times—it's now a well-regarded Filipino restaurant—but most of the artwork remains, serving as a shrine where fans of the deceased songwriter still leave remembrances.

Echo Park Lake Echo Park Lake

We order frozen White Russians and 'Dead Flowers' comes on. I'm pretty sure we're in a Big Lebowski dream sequence.

Nostalgia makes me hungry. Dinner is at Majordomo, superstar chef David Chang's first California restaurant. I'm joined by Rob and Matt (who has come to reclaim the Blue Dragon) at a table beneath a skylit warehouse ceiling, and we go in on silky tofu topped with uni and avocado, dungeness crab mafaldine pasta, and a pot of boneless chuck short rib onto which our waiter slices a hunk of raclette. "Has anyone ever asked you to carve it straight into their mouth?" Matt asks. "All the time," the waiter replies.

We continue the impromptu reunion at another one of Rob's favorite spots, Highland Park Bowl. A diverse young crowd rolls strikes inside the 92-year-old bowling alley, LA's oldest, which is decorated with league championship banners from decades gone by. We order a round of frozen White Russians, a cocktail the bar calls The Dude Abides, and as we lace up our shoes, the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" comes on. I'm pretty sure we're in a Big Lebowski dream sequence, but I don't see any purple jumpsuits, and the only thing that's nihilistic is the score of our game.

I hug my friends goodbye and hail a ride back to the Roosevelt, where I slip into a robe and look out the window of my suite. Hollywood Boulevard is asleep; the only stars sparkling are the ones embedded in the sidewalk. Good night, stars. Good night, moon. Good night, Los Angeles. I'll see you soon.

Scroll to top