Los Angeles has a soul. La-La Land is filled with the glamour of Hollywood and movie set backdrops. Yet, it’s also home to some of the United States’ very best museums, like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, outstanding art galleries, and architectural masterpieces like the Getty Center. Sure, it’s a sprawling metropolis with eternally congested freeways, but it also contains one of the most diverse and unique sets of neighborhoods in the States. It’s a town that feels like a country, and is so culturally diverse,  where the greatest challenge for travelers is not what to do, but which version of this vast city to embrace. 

I travel to LA, initially, for a couple of days as a stopover after a trip across the Hawaiian islands. But it’s hard not to fall for Los Angeles’s allures, so I end up extending my stay. In the first days, I stay at the gorgeous Santa Monica Proper Hotel. With its rooms and suites in a landmark 1920s Spanish colonial revival building, it’s a place that genuinely embodies California cool. 

I bike around Venice in the mornings for a chilled breakfast at Gjelina and wander around the vibrant and eclectic vibe of Santa Monica, West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills for the rest of the days. I go for walks along Melrose, which is a great way to get a sense of LA, with its elegant boutiques, design, and antiques.  

Los Angeles has this thing – it is interesting. A place that interesting people found to be an interesting place to live. It feels incredibly sophisticated without being snobby; perhaps it’s the Californian laid back vibe. There is world-class food too, cooked by chefs from around the globe. Zinqué café is a favorite, and Croft Alley, on Melrose place, is a tiny spot that’s very local and a great spot for lunch. I especially enjoy the Ivy in Beverly Hills for a casual meal and have a remarkable Italian dinner at Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica – home to an intimate atmosphere where I bump into Hollywood stars such as Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox. 

A sunny day in Venice

The Downtown area, or DTLA, has recently enjoyed a resurgence, with a wealth of trendy new restaurants and bars set up among classic architecture in the financial district. It’s no longer a shabby industrial district that people only visit for the Staples and Convention centers; now, it’s also home to the new Broad Museum, one of the most significant cultural openings in decades. It comprises diverse smaller areas such as Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and the Arts District, among modern high-rises mix with architectural landmarks, such as El Pueblo de Los Angeles, the city’s 1781 birthplace.  Anchoring the Music Center performing arts complex is Walt Disney Concert Hall, with striking steel architecture.

Not long ago, it was hard to imagine downtown Los Angeles as anything more than a rundown neighborhood. It wasn’t on anybody’s radar: There were not enough things to do in Downtown, aside from being a firsthand witness to the decline of a once-great city center. These days, it’s a different story. While Downtown is still developing, it’s amid a cultural and architectural resurgence that’s turning the area into a walkable, metro-friendly destination dotted with museums, great restaurants, and remarkable buildings. 

But then, in the west of the city, there is Malibu, where I see some busy Angelenos riding waves, or tying up their hiking boots. It’s true that the mention of Malibu conjures up images of celebrity homes and charming patios by the beach, but the scenic city is also far more low-key than one would imagine. It has some beautiful and quiet sandy beaches, dramatic canyons, hole-in-the-wall seafood joints, and gorgeous hiking trails. As I journey down the iconic Pacific Coast Highway, I come across the Malibu Beach Inn – a lovely boutique hotel overlooking the Ocean in the exclusive heart of Malibu, and a two-minute stroll from the Nobu restaurant and the  Soho House. Not too far from there, I stay at superb Nobu Ryokan, which seamlessly blends traditional Japanese minimalism with the elegant flair of the California coastline. From my fabulous hotel room,  I go for morning beach walks at the company of seals, and, at night, I sleep at the meditative sound of waves, in a place that envelops the natural environment and provides the luxury of instant peace. 

The mountains of Malibu

Gorgeous Nobu Ryokan, Malibu

The day I catch my flight out, I go for a late lunch at Malibu Farm, in the Malibu Pier, over another remarkable Californian sunset. It feels like no other American state quite captures the traveler’s mind like California. The sun always seems to shine here, and what’s not to love about Los Angeles, right? It is so much beyond the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. It’s hard to resist the charms of this melting pot of bold creatives and eclectic cultures, framed by its perfect weather, mountains, and ocean. 

We traveled to Los Angeles with Lufthansa and stayed at the Santa Monica Proper Hotel, Malibu Beach in and Nobu Ryokan.