The VICE Guide to Los Angeles
Whether you're just visiting or settling in for the long haul, our VICE guide will help you navigate LA like a local.
Photos by Katie McCurdy
People love to hate Los Angeles. Tell someone you're visiting or moving here and steel yourself for the barrage of unsolicited jabs about how "the people are so fake," or "the traffic is unbearable," or "there's not enough water." OK, well, that last one is totally true and we have no clue how to fix it.
Someone once said that "people who complain about LA are like the guy who calls a girl a slut because she won't sleep with him." This perfectly captures the essence of the city—if there comes a moment that LA decides it likes you, $50 says you'll be packing up and moving out here immediately.
When that happens, here's a helpful list of the neighborhoods you should comb through.
NEIGHBORHOODS WE LIKE
There was a time when Koreatown residents had to defend their neighborhood with firearms from droves of looters. Times have changed. These days, the locals are more preoccupied with using cold shoulders to defend their neighborhoods from droves of gentrifiers. Whether you came up in the area or were priced out of Silver Lake, it's a great time to be in Koreatown. With some of the best restaurants in the city, dozens of places to get fucked up, and fancy apartment buildings popping up like weeds, you'll like it enough to overlook its lack of parking and obsession with consumerism.
There's no denying Hollywood sucks, but like WWII Paris, pockets of resistance to that suckiness are there if you know where to look. One such oasis in the desert of awful clubs and tourist traps is the little strip of commerce known as Franklin Village. On the surface an improv theater, cheap sushi, and a smattering of bars doesn't sound like much, but it's one of the few foot-traffic friendly areas for blocks that won't run you the risk of being accosted by a mangey Spider-Man. The front patio setups at the bars only compounds the people-watching quotient. Comedy nerds are more than likely to see multiple luminaries in the field on their stroll through the neighborhood. Just try to not take up the entire sidewalk when you stop your hero to gush.
Arts District/Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo has a few decent shops and more than a few decent restaurants in its a-little-too-cute outdoor plaza, but you're missing the point of being there if you skip the less polished Galleria. This mall is a dilapidated relic of the 90s full of specialty shops, a grungy BYOB booth karaoke spot, and a strangely fun bowling alley/bar/arcade on the third floor.
Cross Alameda Street into the Arts District and you'll find a different sort of great restaurants, bars, and arcades altogether. Don't go in Wurstkuche if there's a line, but do wander around admiring all the unique murals and wall designs. Instagram fashionistas be warned: these spots are played-out as fuck for photo shoots.
You'd think the valley was East Berlin the way some speak of it. These detractors are likely the same people that still think industry lunches are done at the Ivy. The valley of today is much less concerned with what you think, especially in hotspots like NoHo. The cheap rent coupled with myriad acting and dance schools in the area have made this a mecca for fresh-off-the-bus young transplants. Naturally, the requisite bars, shops, and eateries have bubbled up to accommodate the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before the slog of living in this city robs them of all their disposable income.
Technically, it's Little Osaka, and some even call it Japantown. Angelenos are a utilitarian breed, so this neighborhood is only really ever referred to by its main thoroughfare, Sawtelle Blvd. Half of LA refuses to travel west of the 405, but this enclave of hip shops and experimental restaurants—just spitting distance from the cacophony of the freeway—is enticing enough to coax even the staunchest East-Side-4-Lifers from their snark bunkers.
The ridiculous sprawl of LA is a pain in the ass when you have to schlep across town, but an oft-overlooked perk of having a city this massive is that it allows for slice-of-Americana areas that harken back to simpler times when Main Streets and the American Dream were things. Eagle Rock, like everywhere else on this list, is enjoying a renaissance thanks to those damn hipsters and their filthy millennial money. Those jerks have even attracted a bunch of new restaurants and stores to flesh out the landscape already rich with vintage stores and legacy eateries. Yuck.
Highland Park is highly recommended as it somehow maintains its "realness" while gentrification steamrolls its way onto the block. There's plenty to eat, drink, and do on Figueroa, and you'll more-than-likely be fine if you venture elsewhere. Just try not to gawk when you see an honest-to-god drug deal going down.
WHERE TO EAT
Drought aside, Los Angeles is full of great places to eat and drink. Here's a handy guide to all our favorite spots.
Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles
5006 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Don't let all the advertisements for Pit Bull Energy Drink fool you. This place serves good food! You might be able to get chicken and waffles in potato chip form at your local liquor store now, but no gastronomic snack food horror show can replace the real thing. The lines out the door for the Hollywood location might deter you, but be patient. It's worth it. And if you're feeling sleepy after your meal, why not try a Pit Bull Energy Drink?
Every Taco Truck
Slam our pizza. I dare you. If you're worried about where you can get a slice of pepperoni in Los Angeles, you're completely missing the point of being here. The simple LA street taco is our shining star. Unencumbered by superfluous toppings, the street taco's meat is allowed to claim its rightful role as culinary King Shit around these parts. El pastor, carnitas, pollo, and more adventurous choices like lengua and cabeza really only need an assist from some salsa, a bit of cilantro, and a sprinkling of onion. Any more than that would be a fucking crime.
Doomies Home Cookin'
1253 Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90038
Doomie's is a vegan restaurant in a strip mall in Hollywood that sells fucking incredible fake-meat versions of buffalo wings and Big Macs and all the other junk food that vegans never get to eat. They could definitely stand to get their shit together on some fronts. For instance, it's 2015 and they don't have a website, and, as far as I can tell, there's some menu items that don't actually exist (the French onion soup has been "sold out for the day" as long as I've been going there) but it's worth it because their ham and cheese croissants are so addictive they may as well be a Breaking Bad box set wrapped in heroin.
11401 Moorpark Street, Studio City, CA 91602
Humble and unassuming, Cactus is one of those places that a friend takes you for a quick lunch and the life-changing meal throws you into an existential crisis about all the other hiding-in-plain-sight gems you're likely missing out on. Maybe that bar next to your apartment is actually the coolest place ever. Maybe the consignment store next to work is stocked with Rick Owens gear. Maybe James from accounting is actually kinda handsome. Cactus will fuck your shit up like that. The burritos are great. The tacos, even better. Oh, and if you've never tried lengua, here's your golden opportunity to be an adult and experience new things.
5107 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90065
The aesthetic of the site and shop can come off a bit too adorkable, and the punk band pun names for their signature donuts only compound the eye-roll factor, but god damn do they make a good donut. If you're looking for a bear claw or maple bar, there are a million other spots in town for you. Donut Friend is a bit more highfalutin with items like a vegan cream cheese, strawberry jam, and basil stuffed donut topped with a vanilla and balsamic glaze. You can also "make your own" if you're the sort that likes to tell people that are experts in their field how to do their job. But you do you.
Before Oinkster, the only place to go in Eagle Rock was the food court of that weird post-apocalyptic mall on Colorado Blvd. Then the heavens parted and God threw us a bone of delicious hamburgers. It's a modern spin on the classic Southern California burger stand and they make their own ketchup that's almost worth drinking by itself. The waitstaff is so nice, they might even let you get away with that.
704 S. Alvarado Street, MacArthur Park, CA 90057
Come here if you like sassy, crusty waiters who probably worked there back when you could walk in MacArthur Park after 10 without fearing for your life. It doesn't stay open late and isn't even open on Sundays, but it has the best pastrami sandwich in town (the #19). That's gotta count for something, right?
BCD Tofu House
3575 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010
Six-year-olds and other picky eaters, fear not. Despite what the name might suggest, you aren't actually relegated to a menu full of tofu. You can even get meat. I promise. Foodies will tell you it's not the best Korean food in K-town, and they're totally right. The world needs places like BCD, contently living that four Yelp star existence. They're open 24 hours, there's an honest-to-goodness parking lot, and you can fill your belly for like 10 bucks. What's not to love?
327 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
If you haven't caught on yet, Asian cuisine is just as much a staple of the LA diet as tacos, brunch, and edibles. It's impossible to select a ramen joint from such a formidable selection, so just take the recommendation of Daikokuya with the underlying presumption that they're giving the humble, bewildered "honor to even be nominated alongside you all" acceptance speech of a young Oscar winner. Located in Little Tokyo, the hearty bowls are packed with fresh ingredients and delicious broth. Well worth the potential hour wait and post-meal sweats.
Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway, Downtown, CA 90013
Grand Central Market, an enclosed public food hall, has been a Los Angeles institution since the late 1800s. You can get fresh produce, deli meats, seafood, and prepared dishes. This is one of those places assholes like to refer to as "foodie heaven," but it really is. For many years it served a mostly Spanish-speaking clientele, but just like everything in downtown, the rest of the city recently discovered it in the last five years. Now, it's got trendy chefs renting stalls to serve gourmet food at places with names like Eggslut. But don't let that dissuade you from popping in.
WHERE TO DRINK
Eating is great and all, but what's more important than a nice spot to grab a drink? Here are some of our favs in LA.
6202 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, 90038
This place is owned by skate photographer Atiba Jefferson and it's one of the few places in Hollywood that isn't crawling with tourists and/or dickheads. It's got a big outdoor backyard space, stiff drinks, and televisions screening movies for those nights when you want to zone out and not talk to anybody. Show up early and it's very mellow; show up late and you'll get drinks spilled all over your skate shoes. Why did you wear white shoes for going out anyway?
864 N. Virgil Ave, East Hollywood, 90029
Sure, it's cramped. And the drinks are pricey. And they just started charging for karaoke. And there's a two-drink minimum. And the bathrooms are gross. And the people behind the bar are so rude that, at points, I've been convinced I'm on a hidden camera prank show, but... Actually, I have no idea why people continue to drink here. Anyone?
1455 Sunset Blvd, Echo Park, 90026
There are a lot of bars in Echo Park fighting to claim the title of "most popular bar to get shitty drunk in without shame." Some say it's Gold Room. Others will go to bat for Little Joy. Unfortunately for them, there can be only one championship belt holder: The Short Stop. While it boasts some of the most popular dance nights in town, Short Stop really shines as a place to wreck yourself before a Dodger game. They do $3 PBRs in the hours before the game, and it's packed with die-hard fans. This is the only place you should go if you want to have a sloppy argument about whether or not Don Mattingly should have pulled Kershaw in the 7th inning of Game 1 of the NLDS last year. The answer is "yes," by the way.
4441 Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake, 90027
Some of the best bars in Los Angeles are inside Mexican restaurants. They're relaxed, unpretentious, and prone to serving really cheap, stiff drinks. On the East Side of town, a lot of the really shitty/amazing ones are being killed off due to soaring rent prices. Fortunately, El Chavo still stands. No one has ever had a real sit-down meal here. If they have, they keep quiet about it. The featured attraction is their bar, which offers a stellar outdoor patio where you can smoke and drink $4 margaritas until your heart stops. Also, they give out free chips and salsa to bar patrons.
Church of Scientology Celebrity Center International
5930 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, 90028
This is the restaurant in Scientology's "Celebrity Center," but it's open to everyone. Their sommelier was once named "best sommelier in Southern California" by the Restaurant Writer's Association, so their wine selection is really good—provided you can convince yourself that it hasn't been spiked with Scientology mind-control drugs.
1222 W. 7th Street, MacArthur Park, 90017
Monty Bar has the advantage of not being totally "discovered" yet, mostly because it's nestled between downtown and Westlake/MacArthur Park on a fairly desolate strip of 7th Street. Of course, that anonymity is being ruined with this paragraph, so if you really love this bar and appreciate how spacious and not trendy it is, feel free to send a dirty email right now. Forgive me.
2640 N. Figueroa Street, Lincoln Heights, 90065
Yes, this place is all the way out in Lincoln Heights. Yes, it's called "Footsies," which makes you think about elementary school flirting. But who cares when you can enjoy their free jukebox? A free jukebox means you can play music that doesn't suck for as long as you want (or until the DJ shows up at 8 PM).
K-Town Karaoke Bars
American-style karaoke, a.k.a. forcing a bar full of strangers to listen as you realize that you don't actually know the words to "Lose Yourself," is awful. Koreatown is full of spots where you do the other kind of karaoke, the kind where you and your friends get a little room of your own with a long booth seat and a huge table covered in tiny liquor bottles. If you're lucky, the English part of the Korean-made karaoke system will have something as contemporary as old Taylor Swift, but if not, that's fine because they have plenty of Boyz II Men. You better hope the door-to-door strippers show up before you've had more than two bottles of soju, because their services can get pretty expensive once you've lost all your inhibitions. Tip: The button to push when you want your song to start is the one labelled "시작." A lot of people struggle with that.
Pinz Bowling Center
12655 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, 91604
Like everything else in the Valley, this place is tucked into a strip mall. Don't let that scare you away. Pinz is a great bowling alley and, according to a Google Image search I just did, Justin Bieber and Nelly have both bowled there at some point. There's a diner inside called Jerry's where you can order terrible food and pretty good drinks, but you can also get drinks delivered directly to your lane by pressing a button on the bowling console. It's probably how all the "celebrities" do it.
Bigfoot Lodge West
10939 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90034
The hunting lodge aesthetic seemed cooler when we were all going through that "lumbersexual" phase, but even though we've moved on to greener sartorial pastures, this place still has some nice happy hour cocktails and a charming ambiance worthy of return visits. The live music might downright suck at times, but good places to drink on the West side are so few-and-far-between that you'll let it slide.
Mid-City Yacht Club
Somewhere on West Adams Blvd. between S. Ridgely and S. Burnside
The lack of representation on Google Maps and general online cageyness about revealing it's full address might lead one to believe this place is breaking a ton of zoning laws and is just some dude's house with a bar inside. But every time the music is tight, the crowd is way too hip and attractive (yet friendly and conversational), and the bartenders pour a little extra. So go check it out before this article lands the proprietor in a shitload of legal trouble.
939 S. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Fight it as long as you care to, but eventually you'll find yourself at one of LA's many poolside bars. You'll hate yourself (and your body) if you go to brofests like The Standard or Roosevelt, but Hotel Fig's disheveled, quirky building and better curated beats brings the douchiness down to more manageable levels. After a couple drinks you might even begrudgingly have a good time.
303 E. 5th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Because no career politician would ever consider upsetting the ready-for-outrage hydra that is MADD by actually passing legislation that would allow CA bars to stay open past 2 AM, we're forced to find weird, quasi-legal loopholes to stay inebriated, such as the inception of the "afterhours club." The Overpass is one of the better ones. There's regular cool local DJ sets and cheap (cans of) beer. Check online to make sure there's actually something going on the night you want to go or you risk showing up to a locked gate and looking like an idiot in front of your date.
WHERE TO HANG OUT DURING THE DAY
It seems like everybody can handle an average of six winters in New York City before they scrap everything and flee west, and the reason is pretty obvious—Los Angeles is beautiful and the weather is routinely gorgeous and there is a seemingly unlimited amount of fun shit to do while the sun's out. Here are some of our favorites.
Go on a Day Trip
Have you ever been on Soarin', that ride at Disneyland where you fly over California? There's a reason they chose California for that and not like, Delaware or something. California is fucking beautiful. It's like the state is a video game world with mountain, beach, city, forest, and desert levels. Drive an hour in any direction and you'll be in an environment so scenic, you'll almost forget to eat the shrooms you brought along for the trip.
One of the main streets in downtown, Broadway has the largest concentration of classic movie palaces in the world. For decades, it's been a popular shopping destination for Spanish-speaking immigrants. You can still pick up a pink ball gown or a cowboy hat for cheap, but the addition of spots like the new ACE Hotel and Acne Studios has made the street equally as popular with people who learned how to ask for the bathroom in Spanish on their junior year trip to TJ. There's also the Bradbury Building, which is that amazing iron and wood building they used in Blade Runner that looks like an Escher painting.
Hike a Trail That Isn't Runyon Canyon
We LA folk sure do love hiking. But not, like, real, Appalachian Trail-style hiking with backpacks and unfashionable shoes. No, LA hiking is really just walking on a dirt path with a slight incline in new Lululemon duds. That said, it's still pretty fucking fun to break a slight sweat with friends on a Saturday afternoon. We have this mountain range just sitting there in the middle of the city. Might as well use it. Just don't go to Runyon.
Let me save you a Google search: Griffith Observatory is that white domed building on a hilltop you see in flyover shots of LA. It has a museum and planetarium laser show, but you're not a kid and you're not going to get around to going to those (if you do, make sure you get really stoned first). Where the place really shines is this: Geeks come out of the woodwork whenever there's a space event in the news and set up telescopes outside the observatory you can use for free. They point it at the sun or whatever, apply the proper filters, focus, and all you have to do is look into it and go, Whoa. Fuck!
876 N. Vermont Ave, East Hollywood, 90029
That fancy "barcade" place downtown is perfect if you're the kind of person who likes a $12 cocktail and a DJ blasting generic fashion beats while you're lining up for ten minutes to play a retro arcade game that isn't really as fun as you remembered. For everyone else, there's Family Arcade. The games are cheap, there's free parking, and I'm willing to bet everything I have that the guy working there has never tried a drink that cost more than $6.
1800 S. Brand Blvd, Glendale, 91204
GameHäus is a cafe in Glendale that has close to a thousand different board games. For a $5 fee you can stay as long as you want and play whatever you want. In addition to legitimately good games, there's a bunch of weird gems hidden in their collection. For example, a Monopoly ripoff that Donald Trump made in the 90s called Trump: The Game, which might be the single most detestable item I have ever seen.
Sweeping its horrific history of displacement, racism, and class warfare under the rug for a second, Elysian Park is a pretty chill spot. You can go to a Dodgers game for just a few bucks (unless you plan on eating or drinking in the stadium) or you can find a grassy knoll, set up a picnic, and engage in your God-given right to day drink.
The Beach Strip on the 1 Between Santa Monica and Malibu
People that don't live here think that just because we live right next to the Pacific, we're constantly at the beach. Unfortunately, due to slogging through traffic for upwards of an hour, searching for parking for another 30 minutes (because fuck caving into the tyranny of beach-adjacent lots and paying their exorbitant fees), and dealing with the throngs of people, beach trips are often stressful and rarely impromptu. Fortunately, if you head north on the 1 and bust a U-turn halfway to Malibu, you can just pull over on the side of the road and walk down an embankment to some primo beach real estate.
Entertainment Industry Stuff
Yes, LA is synonymous with Hollywood, but aside from a few holdover pockets of production, we're really more of Media HQ and creative incubator these days. If you're dead set on doing something industry-related in your time here, skip the overpriced bus and lot tours where you'll be treated like a bumpkin who doesn't know what a building façade is. Instead, go see a capital-F Film at Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema. Or catch a screening of The Room, a cult classic that's so-bad-it's-good. Creepy star and director Tommy Wiseau will even be there to take selfies with you before the show. You can also catch a taping of a show like @midnight with relative ease. Comedy fans should check the calendar for NerdMelt theater, a stage crammed in the back of a comic book store that regularly hosts stand up like The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail or podcast tapings like Dan Harmon's Harmontown.
Art, Music, and Culture
The film industry aside, Los Angeles is a hotbed for art—and if you're one of those supreme weirdos who claims not to care for music, there are plenty of killer museums, too. Here's a little handy guide to all the best culture stuff LA has to offer.
If you come to LA asking "where's a good place to hear some music" you're asking the wrong question. We don't really swear allegiance to specific venues out here. Instead, we align ourselves with "branded scenes" that each hop around to different venues week by week. If it sounds a bit complicated to have your favorite party constantly on the lam, that's because it is. Making matters worse, for whatever reason, these brands operate entirely via email listservs.
Once you've RSVP'd online to that night's scene (and really, we all just RSVP to everything we might even consider going to that weekend because it's completely inconsequential), you can expect an email with the address of the event some time the night of. Occasionally, you'll be given an address of a parked U-Haul where a man inside will give you a slip of paper with the true event address. Yes, it's completely ridiculous to engage in these sorts of Cold War spy tactics, but the fruit of this labor is that much sweeter for it.
If underground hip-hop and trap is your thing, you'll want to check out a HAM show, usually in sweaty warehouses around DTLA. Big names like Wiz Khalifa, Waka Flocka, and Vic Mensa will pop in unannounced and spit a few songs while the crowd dances on stage with them due to the lack of security, railings, or general law and order. HAM's also known as a green zone for squashing beef, as was the case when Riff Raff and Soulja Boy played together after their feud. Sometimes things get a little out of hand, which is what happened when a riot broke out during Lil B's show, shutting down an entire city block. If you can push past the drunk underage kids and stomach lukewarm Tecate, you'll usually be treated to one of the craziest shows in town.
Somehow, LA goths are all flawless models draped in luxurious black and white clothing—a far cry from the unfortunate haircuts and Invader Zim T-shirts from your high school. Lil Death elevates witchhouse, deep house, and other creepybeats from Vaporwave Tumblr posts to bougie rooftop bars packed with the aforementioned modelgoths and enough cocaine to shoot season 2 of Narcos.
Lil Death is at its most fun when it leans into its thesis statement of "technology as a new religion" with attendees often referring to that night's venue as "church" and the DJ booth as "the altar." Proselytizers of note include Brodinski, Crystal Castles, and Shlomo, so come hear the good word. Worst case scenario, you'll get a few interesting pics for Instagram.
A self-proclaimed "monthly shrine to Dionysus," A Club Called Rhonda is the nu-Disco playground for polysexual hedonists who look better in an outfit made of Japanese bondage rope than you'd look in a bespoke suit off Savile Row. Heavy hitters like Hot Chip, Simian Mobile Disco, and Todd Edwards constantly come through, which has boosted the brand, allowing Rhonda to take the scene international and become a regular party presence around festivals like Coachella. You'll invariably come out the other side covered in glitter and smelling like amyl nitrate, but that's a small price to pay for the opportunity to party inside the mind of Zebra Katz.
B&L features acts from around the world in the arenas of hip-hop and electronic music, which makes you wonder which genre is represented by brownies and which by lemonade. Sometimes crammed into the back patio of a bar, sometimes in ritzier corporate venues, the tastemakers behind the scene usually shine the spotlight on up-and-comers, but occasionally pull bigger names like Ryan Hemsworth, DJ Quik, and Capital Cities.
If you've ever wondered what it'd be like to party in a Basquiat painting, you're probably pretty cool and we should totally hang out. But, also, you're in luck. New kid on the scene, Fine Time, brings thoughtful, challenging, yet fun and danceable beats to its crowds. Though their main thing is a wide spectrum of house, they don't shy away from the occasional dalliance with jazz, noise, and hip-hop. You needn't be the art school type to enjoy this scene. Their doors are open to anyone down to get a little weird with the likes of Galcher Lustwerk, Mumdance, and Matrixxman.
Don't worry. LA music ain't all bleeps and bloops. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about all that email bullshit from before) to see bands playing more than computers, you'll have to do things the old fashioned way and buy tickets for a show at theater like some sort of caveman. As long as you avoid the cesspools of aging hepatitis on the Sunset Strip, most venues in LA will get the job done. Here are few of the better ones.
The Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall
665 W. Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007
Built by Shriners in 1906, presumably for all the wacky ceremonies and rituals white men used to love getting into, today The Shrine hosts the great-grandchildren of these fraternity members as they grind their teeth to likes of Jamie XX, Chance the Rapper, and My Morning Jacket. The Moorish architecture is cool. The $20 parking is not.
2301 Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90068
Back in the Roaring Twenties, cities and philanthropists loved to swing a big dick with cultural projects. This enormous outdoor amphitheater was one such gift to the commoners from the ivory tower of the aristocrats. The bowl has evolved with the populace and what was once venue for sophisticated orchestral concerts and live theater, now also hosts Phish shows. One of the best things about the place is their allowance if not encouragement of outside food and drink.
1822 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
The Echo and the Echoplex share an owner and building but are not the same and somehow exist in spatial plane where they are on perpendicular streets, multiple stories above and below one another. Getting to the right door can feel like you're playing a game of that 3D Star Trek chess, so be sure to park on Sunset if you're going to The Echo, the upper one. The acts that come through cover a wide spectrum of tastes, from modern indie (like Best Coast) to metal royalty (like Melvins).