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A local, Bruce Lampcov, tells me that in Malibu’s wilder days, I might also have been able to see a few nudists down in the bay of Pirate’s Cove to the east. Nowadays, he sighs, ‘you’re more likely to see paparazzi’, thanks to the area’s countless famous residents, including the likes of Cher, Robert Redford and Ozzy Osbourne.

  • Zuma Beach is about 25 miles west of Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s quiet on weekdays and off-season, but expect crowds in August.

Drink like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown
If the English had colonised a far-away planet in the early 1900s, the result might have looked like The Prince, near downtown LA. There’s an extraterrestrial vibe to this underground lounge thanks to a bloody paint job, creaking leather, oil paintings and suits of armour – especially with an all-Korean menu and half-Korean, half-Hollywood clientele. It’s as though you’ve stumbled onto the set of a Merchant Ivory remake of Blade Runner.

Arguably The Prince’s biggest moment came in the mid-1970s when one of its red leather booths was used in a scene featuring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Today, the place is a regular haunt for the likes of Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks – in fact, it appeared in the show as a stand-in for Toots Shor’s, the infamous ‘booze and broads’ lounge in Manhattan.

The Prince isn’t the only place in LA where you can drink martinis and get all film noir; the city is full of historical hangouts. Among them is the bordello-themed drinking room of Hollywood’s newly restored Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, which hosted the very first Academy Awards in 1929.

The hotel itself is vast, dark and superbly atmospheric thanks to its Spanish-Gothic architecture which defined the city in the 1920s. In the bar there’s a long wooden counter, oxblood leather, mirrored wall tiles, thick fuchsia wallpaper, chandeliers and wines served in mini-carafes. The burgers are among the best in LA – a high compliment in such a burger-obsessed town – and can be served with 13 different kinds of cheese and 13 alternatives to ketchup, including horseradish cream and lemon dill.

  • The Prince (Blue Hawaiian £6, valet parking £1.50; 3198 ½ West 7th Street; 001 213 389 2007).
  • The Roosevelt/25 Degrees (Guinness milkshake £5, valet parking £12 maximum; 001 323 466 7000).

Admire the free-thinking architecture
Los Angeles’ houses don’t have to conform too much more than basic earthquake codes.

 I set out on a tour of LA’s architectural landmarks, starting with Frank Gehry’s Binoculars Building in Venice and on to Rudolph Schindler’s 1922 Kings Road House in West Hollywood, generally agreed to be the first private residence built in the Modernist style. Next is Walt Disney Concert Hall, another Gehry creation, which resembles a kind of cyborg insect. A guide ushers me into the main hall, directing my view towards the organ. ‘People say it looks like a bag of French fries,’ she laughs, pointing to its vast, chip-shaped pipes. She adds that the final design was more conservative than the original plan, which was impossible under the planet’s current laws of physics. That didn’t seem to stop Gehry with the rest of the building, however.

The same could be said of LA: it refuses to conform to rules, including that which says it ought to be a gridlocked, smog-choked metropolis fit only for poseurs and wannabes. The reality is quite different.

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The article ‘Rediscover Los Angeles’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.

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