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Lost in L.A. – the heart of the city

January 13, 2017
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By Hannah Yakobi and Brendan Ross
Photography by Hannah Yakobi, Brendan Ross, courtesy of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board and their partners, and courtesy of each venue

Visiting Los Angeles can be an overwhelming experience for many: a seemingly endless sprawl, stretching from the ocean around and over mountains, into national parkland and nearby municipalities. The city’s magnitude is unlike anything in North America or Europe.

But Los Angeles is also unique for its popular culture, art scene and healthy living. At any point, you could stumble upon a tourist site, shopping plaza or even a coffee shop, you knew from your favourite film, TV show or song. Even if it’s your first time, you’ll feel that somehow you have been here before. There are also close to 100 museums, hundreds of galleries, and over 10,000 restaurants with many, many healthy and delicious food options all over the city.

In our first story of FAJO’s Los Angeles-focused health and rejuvenation series, we go beyond the sights, and help you discover a hub full of surprises, a vibrant metropolis that has reinvented itself for the 21st century. We will explore L.A. in quadrants, and we’ve kept everything within walking distance or a short drive.

The 3 guides will include our detailed recommendations on incredible food, art, hotels or ways to get your fitness fix! Here is part 1, which focuses on the downtown core of the city.

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Let’s get started

While studio theme parks, historic theatres and the beaches of Santa Monica are a focus for many tourists, the city’s downtown has evolved into a worthy destination for lovers of art, design and urbanism. Skyscrapers mingle with Hollywood golden-age landmarks, while cars rumble in tunnels below.

On the south-east end is the Arts District, a long-neglected neighbourhood now undergoing an exciting rejuvenation. The district’s many empty warehouses provide homes for art galleries (including the North American location of the famed Hauser Wirth & Schimmel), breweries, shops, cafes, restaurants and more. On a sunny weekend, young locals stroll between them, bringing the neighbourhood to life. It’s a part of the city that is bound to inspire you.

A healthy break

On our day of exploration, we first headed to The Springs, a multi-purpose space dedicated to a healthy and mindful lifestyle. Housed in a massive warehouse, The Springs includes a restaurant, juice bar, yoga studio, wellness centre, co-working space and a curated pop-up shop that changes every three months.

The owners – Kimberly Helms and Jared Stein – both worked on Broadway and originally met on the same show. They had very demanding jobs, so the concept behind The Springs was to create a place that can provide healthy, yet delicious options for people with a hectic schedule. The name itself originates from the idea of “an oasis” – as some locals say: when The Springs opened, its neighbourhood was like a food dessert.

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We sat down for cold-pressed, organic juice (we chose Malibu Morning that consisted of kiwi, dandelion, pineapple and granny smith apple) and a delicious brunch made with local, organic and wholesome foods that nonetheless prioritized artful presentation and taste. We opted for colourful and delicious Macro Bowl (sweet potato, braised greens, black beans, amaranth pumpkin crunch, marinated seaweed, sprouts and hijiki puree), as well as Mateo Rancheros (housemade tortilla, black beans, radish, avocado, carrot-habanero hot sauce, coconut-cashew crema) with a side of poached egg.

The menu at The Springs is mostly gluten-free, and everything is free of refined sugar. Organic, local and sustainable produce is used whenever possible, and the eggs are locally and sustainably sourced from Chino Valley Farms.

A fixture in the area since 2014, The Springs is part of the neighbourhood’s growth. The Arts District is one of the surest signs that, despite being a city that came of age in the 20th century, Los Angeles continues to find ways to evolve and redefine itself.

A lavish haven

From there, we checked into Los Angeles’ OMNI Hotel, a luxurious hotel for business and leisure travellers, with amenities such as a heated outdoor pool, fitness centre and the elegant Noé Restaurant and Bar.

Situated atop historic Bunker Hill, the hotel is centrally located within the city’s financial district, and right next to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and The Broad museum, two temples of contemporary painting, sculpture and installations that should be on the itinerary of any art lover, or anyone looking for some quiet moments of reflection and spiritual regeneration. Exploring both can take as little as a few hours, or as long as an entire day.

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Our room at the OMNI featured a lovely view of both museums and had a lot of natural lighting. Despite being literally in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, the rooms were very serene and perfect for afternoon naps.

The service throughout the property was excellent too: staff were courteous, polite and very attentive. We stayed at the hotel at the start of the holiday season, so the décor was colourful and festive, yet elegant. It made the entire hotel feel very cozy, almost like it wasn’t a hotel but a home.

The art escape

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is across the street from the OMNI Hotel. It’s a subterranean tour through abstract expressionism, pop art and sculpture, by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Joan Miró, John Chamberlain, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Susan Rothenberg. Another highlight at the museum for all fashion lovers is the furniture by renowned designer Rick Owens.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is located in the heart of Los Angeles.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is located in the heart of Los Angeles.

All art is positioned on a single floor, in a labyrinth-like layout that is still easy to follow and explore. There are many memorable exhibits here, ranging from an installation by Louise Nevelson, which is made up of materials she collected on the streets of New York City; to Dan Flavin’s fluorescent lightbulb structure, called “monument” for V. Tatlin; to Robert Smithson’s Mirage No. 1, which is a just-above-the-floor arrangement of nine framed mirrors that progressively increase in size from one square foot to one square yard.

At just over a couple of hours to take in, the museum offers a perfect moment of downtime in the midst of a busy day of sightseeing. It also makes for an excellent pairing with The Broad museum across the street.


 
Built in 2014 by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, The Broad is spectacular. A standout on a street of iconic buildings, it’s adjacent to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The two buildings have contrasting architecture, with the smooth and shiny exterior of the Concert Hall and the “porous and absorptive” presentation of The Broad. The latter features a central section that is called “the vault” and houses all artworks. To get to it, you have an opportunity to tunnel through the vault: up the 105-foot escalator, up or down the cylindrical glass elevator, or down the central stairs that give you a glimpse of the art along the way. It’s truly a place full of surprises. For example, we felt like we were on set of Alice in Wonderland when we saw the massive furniture installation (aptly titled Under The Table) by Robert Therrien.

The Broad family had been building their collection of postwar and contemporary art over the course of the last 50 years. The museum houses an impressive permanent collection of pieces by Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger and more, as well as the otherworldly Infinity Room installation by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The Broad’s collection continues to grow, adding about one work per week. Currently, at nearly 2,000 pieces by more than 200 artists, the collection is stored onsite across 21,000 square feet of storage.

The Broad is a gift to the city as much as its visitors: part of the money from the lease of the space supports affordable housing units in a nearby building, and admission to the permanent collection is free.

 

A fine-dining experience

After our tour of museums, we headed next door for drinks and dinner at Otium – California chef Tim Hollingsworth’s gorgeous, haute cuisine take on everything from sushi to falafel, to old-fashioned steak. Featuring an eclectic menu, Otium merges indoor and outdoor spaces through the use of wood-fire rotisseries, a mezzanine garden and an open kitchen. There is also a unique mural on the exterior of the building that features a large-scale photograph produced by British artist Damien Hirst.

We settled down for cocktails on a heated patio, then moved inside for a multi-course meal highlighting California’s finest ingredients and cultural diversity. The restaurant’s design is memorable: it features an open-concept kitchen, lightbulb fixtures attached to metal rods on the ceiling, shelves lined with elegant kitchen supplies and an exposed wine cellar. Entering Otium is reminiscent of a personalized visit to a cozy, yet very modern, kitchen of a chef.

The restaurant’s name has its roots in Latin and is meant to emphasize a place where time can be spent on leisurely social activities. Otium also draws inspiration from the 100-year-old olive trees planted in The Broad’s adjacent plaza, through the use of rustic cooking with wood fire and sustainable ingredients grown in the garden of the restaurant’s mezzanine.

 

Our server had a great sense of humour, and made us laugh many times throughout the evening. He seemed to have the same effect on guests at other tables too. We also noted how much attention he and the rest of the Otium team paid to small details – be it refilling our glasses with water as soon as they were empty, offering us a drink before we even realized we wanted one, or answering any of our many questions about the menu.

Each dish at the restaurant didn’t have a specific name and simply listed all key ingredients. We opted for Kurodai (with rice, shiso and yuzu kosho), Dry Aged Beef Tartare (presented with walnuts, lavash, bulgur, yoghurt and mint), Butternut Squash (paired with coffee, pepitas, ricotta and sorrel) and Bucatini and Pork dishes (that had a variety of exotic ingredients, such as persimmon and Dungeness crab).

This was a high-dining experience, where familiar dishes were reinvented, recreated and redesigned with unexpected ingredients. Award-winning Hollingsworth is an artist in his own right, creating food that looks like it has just been transported onto our table straight from a still life painting.

After the meal, we walked (despite what you may have heard, you can do that in Los Angeles) several blocks to a nondescript skyscraper where, after speaking with reception, we took a private elevator to the 71st floor, and a view unlike any other.

At 71Above restaurant and sky lounge, post-modern geometric design mingled with incredible panoramic views of the skyline through floor-to-ceiling windows. We pulled up a seat at the bar and joined the flurry of well-dressed people sipping cocktails inspired by the city’s diverse neighbourhoods, to wrap up a truly memorable day of serenity, creativity and complete rejuvenation.

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FAJO would like to thank the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board and its partners for organizing this trip and experience.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of our Los Angeles health and rejuvenation guide that will focus on West Hollywood and other parts of the city!

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