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Perhaps it was the day the first cupcake bakery opened, or the moment vintage couture boutiques outnumbered pawn shops that Echo Park landed on the Los Angeles indie radar.

Over the last two years, this quarter - east of the more gentrified hipster hangouts Silver Lake and Los Feliz - has been transformed as espresso bars replaced dive bars, and modest rents drew artisans, clothing designers and inventive young chefs.

Roughly bounded by Glendale Boulevard on the west, Riverside Drive on the north, Beverly Boulevard on the south and the 110 Freeway on the east, this neighbourhood has been part of Hollywood lore since the silent film era. Mack Sennett built Keystone Studios here and these hills around Sunset Boulevard were a favourite shooting location for Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and Our Gang comedies. An early gathering spot for counterculture, political activists such as folksinger Woody Guthrie lived here in the 1930s and by the 1970s it was home to radical activist Jerry Rubin of the Chicago Seven.

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These days, as baseball fans stream through the streets to participate in the all-American pastime at Dodger Stadium, the most startling spot may still be three-acre Echo Park where water lilies and swans float on a palm-ringed lake in the shadow of L.A.'s tallest buildings.

DRESS ME UP, DRESS ME DOWN

If the dress in the window appears to be created from scraps of tulle, lace and the odd Mary Jane wrapper bound together by twine, you're probably peering into Tavin Echo Park Boutique, where for the last year film and celebrity stylist Erin Tavin has been updating vintage frocks and exhibiting the work of eclectic young designers such as Amour sans Anguish. Amid antique bird cages and garments draped over ballet barres, we found Victorian wedding gowns and this year's quintessential stingy brim fedora. 1543 Echo Park Ave.; 213-482-5832; www.lifebytavin.com

A MOST UNLIKELY GIFT SHOP

Next door, disguised as a garden variety second-hand shop, Time Travel Mart fronts a nationwide educational non-profit co-founded by novelist Dave Eggers, 826LA, dedicated to children's literacy. Many branches have set up idiosyncratic retail areas such as the Pirate Store in San Francisco, the Boring Store in Chicago and the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. in New York. Here, beyond items for purchase such as jars of Dead Languages and sand-filled bottles of Time (five minutes, $5.99) is a tutoring centre for local kids. 1714 W. Sunset Blvd; 213-413-3388; www.826la.org

STORYTELLING ZONE

Stories is a shop that champions emerging writers with book signings and literary events. After browsing the shelves lined with new and vintage volumes, find a seat in the café and let a pot of coffee and a hummus-topped bagel get your own creative juices flowing. 1716 W. Sunset Blvd.; 213-413-3733; www.storiesla.com

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AHEAD OF THE CURVE BANDS

Club kids swarm the Echo and its younger sister, Echoplex, to see big-name talent or to catch under the radar groups like Pantha Du Prince and We Barbarians, coming Sept. 9. Wednesday's Dub Club is a Reggae dance party. The back patio is best for spotting young Hollywood celebrities and the kitchen dishes out New York East Village style Two Boots pizza. Tickets are $8 to $12 (U.S.) and entry is usually free on Monday nights. The Echo 1822 W. Sunset Blvd.; Echoplex downstairs through the alley at 1154 Glendale Blvd.; 213-413-8200; www.attheecho.com

YOUR PICK ME UP

Erudite purveyors such as Fix Coffee Co. are sourcing single origin brews from specialists like Intelligentsia and training baristas to sketch intricate designs atop a latte. The highest form of their culinary art may be the Affogato: two shots of espresso over dense artisan gelato. 2100 Echo Park Ave.; 323-284-8962; www.fixcoffeeco.com. A few blocks down Echo Park Avenue is the neighbourhood stalwart Chango, where the work of local painters crowds the walls and a bohemian throng spills onto the sidewalk. 1559 Echo Park Ave.; 213-977-9161

JACK DANIELS IN THE MORNING

Cupcake aficionados will move on to Delilah Bakery, where beyond the innocent looking white picket fence is a bacchanalia of sweets: cakes besotted with Jack Daniels, unctuous Red Velvet and wickedly rich German chocolate. At picnic tables out back young Boho families are brunching on whisky bread pudding, and even virtuous choices like the sandwich comes with a bite-size cupcake under a thick frosting cap. 1665 Echo Park Ave.; 213-975-9400; delilahbakery.com

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MASA TO MOULES

For a bit of sustenance after dessert, Masa of Echo Park claims a menu as diverse as the neighbourhood itself from Moules et Frites, to Midwest Meatloaf with Chorizo, to their signature Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, its "masa" (or dough) style cornmeal crust baked in a 1930s revolving oven. 1800 W. Sunset Blvd.; 213-989-1558; www.masaofechopark.com

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WHERE TO STAY

The Standard, Downtown L.A. Part of a growing chain of reasonably priced digs for the socially inclined from Andre Balazs, also responsible for the stylish reincarnation of Hollywood's Chateau Marmont. Rooms have platform beds designed for sleeping and playing, see-through bathrooms and rooftop pool parties with up-and-coming bands. From $187. 550 South Flower St. at Sixth Street; (213) 892-8080; www.standardhotels.com/los-angeles/

Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Now that the Thompson Hotel Group runs this 1927 Hollywood icon, birthplace of the Academy Awards, it has recaptured the bohemian chic of its Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Marilyn Monroe era. From $246 weekends; $277 weeknights. 7000 Hollywood Blvd.; 800-950-7667; www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt

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J.F.



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