Los Angeles: Downtown L.A.
The location of much of the city's corporate activity, Downtown has undergone serious gentrification in recent years. Amid the historic and modern high-rises is a surprising mix of ethnic restaurants.
SEE Museum of Contemporary Art
250 S. Grand Ave., 213/626-6222, moca.org
Excellent interactive museum with works by modern masters, including Jackson Pollock, Diane Arbus, and Andy Warhol. The gift shop sells an impressive array of cards, T-shirts, prints, and art books. $8, free Thurs. 5 p.m.--8 p.m. Closed Tues. and Wed.
SEE Olvera Street
125 Paseo de La Plaza, 213/485-6855, olvera-street.com
Colorful Mexican street market with vendors selling tacos, sombreros, and handcrafted maracas. Mariachis roam the street on weekends, and it bustles during fiestas like Day of the Dead (Nov. 1--2) and Cinco de Mayo (May 5).
SEE Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 S. Grand Ave., 323/850-2000, musiccenter.org/wdch
Frank Gehry's metallic masterpiece draws visitors to Downtown for its exterior, but the stunning interiors, the gardens, and the thrilling performances of its resident companies, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale, are also noteworthy. $15 for one-hour guided tours of the building and gardens (check the calendar for schedule); $10 for self-guided audio tours, available most days 10 a.m.--3 p.m.; $10 for the 30-minute Lunchtime Express Tour. Note: The auditorium itself is off-limits to tours because of its constant use for rehearsals and performances. Your best bet for access is to buy a ticket and experience the acoustics firsthand. Tickets from $15.
EAT Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway, 213/624-2378, grandcentralsquare.com
Wall-to-wall booths sell every kind of cheap food and drink, but this is more than a source for quick-bite tacos or to-go bowls of pad thai; you'll also find exotic spices and fresh produce.
EAT Yang Chow
819 N. Broadway, 213/625-0811, yangchow.com
General Tseng's chicken, moo shu pork, steamed dumplings, kung pao shrimp, and an even more authentic selection of well-priced lunch specials. The kitchen is accommodating and can make some dishes with veggies only.
DRINK Rooftop Bar at the Standard Hotel
550 S. Flower St., 213/892-8080, standardhotel.com
This alfresco party spot is still going strong, and it's made André Balazs's ultramod hotel a landmark. Hop in the pool if it's hot out, or watch the city light up at dusk. Weekend nights can get raucous. Call ahead to make sure there isn't a private party. Free; $20 after 7 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
SHOP American Apparel
312 W. 5th St., 213/593-1394, americanapparel.net
T-shirts, retro running shorts, and underwear that have taken the fashion basics world by storm with sweatshop-free production and fabrics, including unbleached organic cotton. Items come in every color.
SHOP Santee Alley
East of S. Santee St., between E. Olympic and E. 12th Sts., fashiondistrict.org
The city's best designer knockoffs. Well-made faux Fendis and Louis Vuittons start at $20 for wallets and $100 and up for luggage and pet carriers. It's hard to find (there are no location markers to help out, and street signs are small), so park at one of the many rooftop parking areas nearby (from $5/day) and walk to the alley. Not recommended for claustrophobes.
PLAY L.A. Derby Dolls derbydolls.com
All-female roller derby. Team names include the Trust Fund Terrors and the Tough Cookies. The website has schedule and locations (and killer photos).
The South Bay Beach Cities
A string of seaside communities, old-school surf towns, and beautiful beaches that are literally a breath of fresh air.
Redondo Beach: Spend a lazy day strolling the scenic esplanade with a view of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and then browse the charming homegrown shops in Riviera Village, such as Harmony Works (1705 S. Catalina Ave., 310/791-7104) and Soil (1799 S. Catalina Ave., 310/791-2265, soil.us). The Redondo Beach Brewery (1814 Catalina Ave., 310/316-8477, redondobrewery.com) is a local favorite.
Hermosa Beach: To the north of Redondo Beach. A good place for nightlife. Catch Jay Leno testing new material at the Comedy and Magic Club (1018 Hermosa Ave., 310/372-1193, comedyandmagicclub.info, from $13.50 for smaller acts); get a manicure with your martini on Wednesdays at the Lighthouse Café (30 Pier Ave., 310/376-9833, thelighthousecafe.net); or chill out with rowdy old-timers at the kitschy Mermaid bar (11 Pier Ave., 310/374-9344).
Manhattan Beach: A few blocks north of Hermosa Beach. The most upscale beach city on the South Bay, with trendy shops and fine dining. For after-hours dancing, try Chakra (304 12th St., 310/545-1881, $5).
To get to all three, follow the Pacific Coast Highway south. Redondo Beach, the furthest away, is only 20 miles south of Los Angeles.