Near the end of my second night in the Los Angeles neighbourhood of Los Feliz, I had my first celebrity sighting.
A talented but disgruntled actor friend of mine had taken me on a crawl of his favourite watering holes, the initial stop being a faux-Chinese, faux-dive called Good Luck Bar, where I made like a local and downed PBR while drinking in tales of Hollywood woe. Our evening kicked up a notch, however, after we sloshed over to a true L.A. landmark: the Dresden Lounge, immortalized as a hangout for frustrated thesps in the 1996 comedy Swingers.
Our waitress had taken a break to sing with Marty and Elayne – an old-school toupee-clad jazz duo – when Michael Cera, the soft-spoken Canadian actor from Arrested Development, arrived with his entourage (known as “friends” anywhere outside L.A.).
It’s always that way: You fly across the continent and the only Hollywood celeb you spy is the one you’ve also spotted brunching back home. Or, to put it philosophically: Que Cera, Cera.
My Superbad star sighting wasn’t the only thing pedestrian about my short sojourn, however. Getting around by foot was, indeed, the theme of the trip.
On my only other visit to Los Angeles, I wasted at least 50 per cent of my holiday sitting in snarled traffic, getting an ankle cramp from the constant accelerator-to-brake tap dance. Not a fan of the apparent local custom of drinking and driving, I remained stone sober and lost a small fortune in valet parking. This did not endear Tinseltown to me. This time, I vowed to try to be more carefree by going car-free.
Los Feliz, a perennially popular neighbourhood where both stars and second camera operators reside, made that easy. The New York Times once called it “eminently walkable,” and it really is a great place to be footloose and fancy-free.
Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues, the two main parallel arteries of trendy shopping, eclectic restaurants and quirky cabarets, are just a few blocks apart. They lead north from Sunset Boulevard up to Griffith Park, one of the biggest municipal green spaces in North America – and the perfect spot for a morning run, or an enjoyable afternoon hike that will take you from the Greek Theatre to the lovingly restored Griffith Observatory. From there, you can gaze up into the heavens in the planetarium, or down at more earthbound star systems thanks to spectacular views of downtown L.A.
Walkability, it turns out, isn’t as rare in Los Angeles as one thinks. While going entirely car-free would be difficult for any extended period of time, the feet-first attitude is catching on, creating hipster-friendly ’hoods as it spreads. Franklin Village, part of the larger Los Feliz district and one of the city’s most recently recognized neighbourhoods, touts “the fact that so much is located [within] walking distance is a blessing” on its website. (The website LAist described it as “how Los Angeles does New York.”) Even Echo Park, which borders downtown, offers historic walking tours and beautiful views from the Baxter Steps. Silver Lake, which begs to be explored on foot, also throws another stereotype for a loop: The vibe is more bohemian than Botox. Full of cafés and arty boutiques, it’s a series of what have been called “micro-neighbourhoods.”
But Morgan, a crew member on NBC’s Parks and Recreation whose cozy bungalow I rented for a couple of days through Airbnb (there are few hotels), swears by her ’hood. Professionals ultimately outnumber hipsters in Los Feliz, and she’s never felt unsafe walking around the streets at night.
Another plus: While Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie call Los Feliz home now, and Frank Lloyd Wright built Hollyhock House for oil heiress Aline Barnsdale there 100 years ago, the area sustains a healthy mix of income levels.