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LA for 20th anniversary in February...what area gives us maximal exposure to great restaurants without driving all over the place?

We are thinking of staying 4 nights (Sat-Tues) for our anniversary. We live in Portland, which does not have a lot of fine dining, so we would like to do some of that (especially Tuesday night, which is the actual anniversary).

We don't want to be driving/cabbing all over the place, though, so what part of LA makes the most sense to stay for 3-4 fine dining spots at night and other interesting (ethnic/casual) spots for brunch/lunch. We are willing to drive/cab a bit if necessary, but would like a great home base so most nights we can have short rides or even walk (up to 2 miles each way assuming good weather and safe streets).

Also love great craft cocktails, so restaurants that have this would be great or bars nearby to stop before dinner would also work.

We have received a recommendation from non-Chowhounders for Santa Monica, but would appreciate some input from the Board...

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Weho/ Beverly center area near old and new restaurant rows and still near koreatown and Thai town. That's my opinion.

    1. I actually think Santa Monica is a great suggestion (although I imagine staying there will be quite expensive). I don't know about cocktails (since I don't really drink), but you've got everything else you're looking for (including walkability and public transit via the Big Blue Bus).

      Most of western LA county has good weather yr around....

      Santa Monica does have a fairly sizable homeless population b/c of the (now dwindling) homeless resources available there, but it's generally considered a quite safe area (esp in the northern part of the city).

      A search will pull up suggestion, but just off the top of my head, the following are places that I've been too or read good things about

      Tar and Roses
      La Botte
      Hostaria del Piccolo
      Milo and Olive
      Stella Barra/Rossa (not sure what it's called now)

      If you're willing to go 3 miles on the bus, then you can go to Monte Alban, Churro Calientes, and access everything on Sawtelle (do a search).

      WeHo/Beverly Center is also a good suggestion, although, IMHO, it's one of the snootiest places in all of LA....

      5 Replies
      1. re: ilysla

        to add to ilysia's santa monica list:
        fig restaurant in the miramar

        1. re: westsidegal

          Yes to Santa Monica but add Melisse ,Rustic Canyon, Water Grill, Chinois on Main. Supera Snack Bar and Gjelina

          1. re: wienermobile

            Oy, can't believe I forgot those! (although I've only been to Melisse and Gjelina myself) But I agree that those would be great for someone coming from out of town (Melisse esp for a special occasion).

            WSG, does Fig do the 1/2 off happy hr (might be useful for the OP)? I've not been there myself...

        2. re: ilysla

          I live in Santa Monica and agree that it would be a great single spot for dining in LA.

          For Santa Monica I would add:
          Rustic Canyon
          Melisse (for really fine dining)
          Hungry Cat
          Zengo for Sunday brunch.

          A trip to Malibu should include Nobu for a great ocean view and sushi, and maybe Grom for gelato.

          Just a few miles south is the Venice area which has great restaurants as well, but Santa Monica's atmosphere can't be beat

          1. re: Ogawak

            Nobu Malibu Is the most beautiful restaurant in Los Angeles.

        3. I suggest you stay in West L.A., which borders Santa Monica.

          From West L.A., you can easily get to Sawtelle's "Little Osaka" area, try n/naka, get great Persian fare in Westwood, go the Century City and try Hinoki & the Bird, Craft, and reach Beverly Hills for all its Chow-ish places. Culver City is also nearby, featuring Father's Office, Bucato, etc.

          Will you have a rental car to drive or are you cabbing it for 4 days? Cabs may get expensive.

          1 Reply
          1. re: J.L.

            a big +1 for Craft. Great place for actually anniversary dinner.

          2. I'm of the opinion that you should stay near a red line stop, e.g. Hollywood or DTLA

            2 Replies
            1. re: ns1

              Santa Monica and near 405 boring overpriced and worst traffic in all of la. If you want to walk and have fine cuisine w variety I would not recommend.

              1. re: jessejames

                If you're west of the 405 the traffic isn't that bad. Getting past the 405 during rush hour is pretty frustrating.

                As as boring (or overpriced) - I strongly disagree.

              1. My wife and I are frequent visitors to Los Angeles. After years of staying downtown, we pulled up stakes and moved to Beverly Hills.

                The Beverly Wilshire is now our base when in town. We walk to many decent restaurants and watering holes. Driving to Venice/Santa Monica/Malibu is a snap.

                1. Wow, thanks for the suggestions everyone. I will check out the areas suggested and try to pick one after researching.

                  To answer J.L., I assume we will probably have to have a rental car, but if we can walk to some places to limit cab rides (and expense), we might do that instead of the rental car...unless it is just crazy to go to LA and not have a car.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: cobpdx

                    Quote: "unless it is just crazy to go to LA and not have a car"

                    Depends on where you're staying and what else you plan to do/see (outside of eating). If you're just planning to lounge around the beach area, then no, it's not crazy to not have a car.

                    If you're hoping to see parts of LA that are far apart (I know that's not a very specific phrase), then, yes, I would think it'd be a good idea to rent a car. If you have a rough itinerary, you could post it (and perhaps get location-specific suggestions for food).

                  2. What do you want to do between meals? If you just want to lounge around your hotel, that would entail a different strategy than if you wanted to hit museums, shop, hike or go to the beach, or do touristy things. Thus the decision to rent a car.

                    What celebratory dinner do you want? Providence is generally considered to be our finest seafood-oriented tasting menu -- it is east of West Hollywood/Beverly Hills. Some would choose Melisse -- Santa Monica near the coast -- high end French/California. Spago is a contender, in Beverly Hills. Sushi would be a whole other territory, with Urasawa in Beverly Hills being the high-priced leader. If you want to order from a menu, there are a host of choices...

                    Lunches -- Do you want to venture to the San Gabriel Valley for the best of our regional Chinese? Dim sum, dumplings, the current new favorite Chengdu Taste? That is east of downtown, but accessible to and from during midday. Thai-town and Koreatown are between downtown and West Hollywood/Beverly Hills. The best Mexican small places are probably east of downtown (East L.A.) or north (York Blvd., Highland Park), but you can find good Mexican everywhere (for instance, Monte Alban in W.L.A. and Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica). For arguably the best pastrami on rye in the country, Langer's Deli west of downtown.

                    So do your research, on food and activities. Set a budget for hotel. Decide if you will rent a car. Then decide between Santa Monica near the coast, West Hollywood/Beverly Hills for westside, or downtown, the emerging contender. Then we can help you with the best of those areas.

                    1. You need a car.

                      LA is not like Portland, in obvious ways, but it is one of the most spread-out metropolitan areas in the U.S. (outside of Phoenix/Scottsdale maybe, but only maybe).

                      And the public transportation system, while improving, sucks. There is no MAX or Streetcar equivalent in LA, and TriMET would make MTA blush like hot coals in the bbq grill.

                      Assuming you choose not to rent a car, at least consider a Zipcar.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Disagree. No car needed. Be central mid city and walk or uber or cab or bus or subway.

                        1. re: jessejames

                          Be central mid city and walk or uber or cab or bus or subway.



                          And one uber or cab ride is about an economy rental car price for a day.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            sure, hollywood to downtown or langers or whatever on subway...you should try it.

                            there's tons of good eats midcity you can just walk to, expand range with uber cabs and subway.

                            you're forgetting about parking prices in some hot areas regularly exceeding 20 bucks, valet which is a total ripoff in some spots and loads more ... we regularly get around town this way and it has worked out well ... drink and don't drive.

                            la's a pain in the ass to drive around and park etc -- why have a pain in the ass for a vacation?

                            1. re: jessejames

                              Red and Purple lines don't get you very far. In many respects, the points they can get you to are probably as accessible by foot if OP is amenable to walking.

                              LA is a pain in the ass without a car. Why have a pain in the ass for a vacation?

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                Taking the car = you can't get smashed. LA is a pain in the ass without alcohol. Why have a pain in the ass for a vacation? lol

                                I think LA is a lot more accessible via public transport than you give it credit for.

                                If the OP stayed in DTLA they could go to a lot of CH favorites and check out a lot of sites using the subway. Eg Langer's, little Tokyo, Thai town, ktown, hollywood, etc.

                                +1 on uber, get one from one of the stops to go to lacma/tar pits/famers market

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  Agree that a car is part of the LA tourist experience. You get to go back home and regale all your friends with stories about THE TRAFFIC. And if you have undergone an ordeal getting to a resto, you may appreciate the good food even more.

                                2. re: jessejames

                                  I think we'll be able to more reasonably suggest Metro to tourists when Expo Phase 2 gets to Santa Monica [2016] and the Downtown Connector between Expo/Blue and the Gold Line opens [2020] Until then, it'll take a person who is A) limited to a local area or B) who kinda knows what they are getting into to do LA Car Free. IE more buses and more time than you might think it should take to get from point A->B. From the post I can't tell if the OP is up for it. Also, while Zipcar has expanded its service beyond UCLA & USC it's by no means ubiquitous in LA and you have to have a subscription in place to use it. Finally bike sharing is not in place here yet.

                                  Be that as it may, I would suggest Downtown LA because it has a fair amount of good restaurants and more are coming. and it is the easiest place to facilitate public transit to points throughout the LA Basin.

                                  1. re: jessejames

                                    Just as it's a 'pain in the ass' to drive in downtown SF it's a complete pain in the ass not to have a car in LA.
                                    Subway? Bus? In LA? I wouldn't try it, thanks.

                                    Rent a car, you'll be happy you did.

                              2. If you don't want to break the bank and you want Asian, plant yourself in Monterey Park. If money is no object (if so, should you be on Chowhound?), then hunker down as close as you can get to Urusawa and fan out from there.

                                1. Getting around LA requires a car…

                                  We're spread out, as you already know, with great restaurants everywhere.
                                  LA's not like San Francisco or NY where a bus line or cabs are readily available within minutes. There's always Uber.
                                  I know I'd become bored quite fast if I was only able to stay in one area and not venture out to try other places.
                                  All the areas mentioned are great but they're also quite a few miles away from each other with a fair amount of time in between each, traffic wise.
                                  Nobu….in Malibu for Tuesday night would be memorable, no question.

                                  1. SF hound chiming in. We just returned from 3 nights in LA staying downtown and felt like we spent less time in the car than on any other LA trip. We come down about once a year, drive straight to Langers for lunch then usually stay in the Venice/Santa Monica area near friends but decided on downtown this time for a change and really enjoyed it. We walked to Grand Central Market every morning for coffee/breakfast, were able to walk to Baco Mercat for dinner, drove to Parks, Bludsoes, LACMA and the farmers market – but very short drives. Took the 5 year old ice skating at Pershing Square where we parked for $16/night versus $40 the hotel wanted (I hate valet at any price also) and walked up to the Disney Concert Hall and MOCA.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: sunnyside

                                      glad you enjoyed ... we are a spread out city that you can't see / do / seat in 3 or 4 days so i like your plan of picking a spot and centralizing. Downtown has changed so much in the decades since i moved here. I agree the farmer's market and grand central market are fun spots too.

                                      1. re: jessejames

                                        Oh forgot Guisados, which is awesome and just 2 miles from downtown. Guisados and Langers have no equals in SF. We were actually talking about whether we needed a car or not and I think you could get by for 2-3 days downtown with public transportation and minimal taxi expense but for 4 nights I think you'd want a car to expand your dining and activity options. We hit Egg Slut and an $8 cold press juice (worth it to get my daughter to eat something healthy) at Grand Central Market and its also a great place to pick up fruit for snacks. Bobs Donuts and toffee at the Original Farmers Market - and meh lunch at Short Order.

                                        1. re: jessejames

                                          So true.

                                          I just came back from SF and decided to concentrate on Fillmore and Valencia this time, staying in the Ferry Building area.
                                          I couldn't have walked from one place to another, it would have taken up too much time, didn't want to drive the insane streets, and depended on cabs to get from one place to another.
                                          Staying downtown, concentrating on one area in LA is a great idea.

                                      2. Thanks, everyone! We decided on Santa Monica and I have posted a more pertinent topic for advice on restaurants now that we have chosen:


                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: cobpdx

                                          I greatly appreciate the way you request suggestions and how you report back. I really hope you have a fantastic time dining and enjoying your time her. Please report back.