Welcome to the jungle, with its famous traffic, smog, and endless urban sprawl; and welcome to the perfect postcard, a portrait composed of beautiful beaches, streets lined with palm trees, gorgeous snow-capped mountains and perfect weather — rarely (if never) too hot or too cold. Yes, like any great city, La-La Land is full of contrast, contradictions, and a bit of craziness. Whether you choose to visit the renowned museums or not, the choice is entirely yours — L.A. is what you make it. There’s no better way to form your own point of view than to plug your iPod into the all-new Rio’s UVO Powered by Microsoft® infotainment system, load your favorite playlist, and spend a long weekend soaking the City of Angels in.
The first thing you’ll recognize: L.A. is enormous. The city seems to stretch for miles (and hours) in every direction, from coastal beach communities to the vast Inland Empire. While getting across town may take a little creativity and a lot of patience, exploring the megalopolis one small area at a time is easy and painless — not to mention a whole lot of fun in the all-new 2012 Rio.
DOWNTOWN AND THE EASTSIDE
Downtown L.A. was once a forgettable area that became deserted each night as commuters left the urban high-rises and surrounding warehouses to head home. Just recently, that trend has reversed, as the capital of sprawl reinvents itself as a vibrant urban center. Alongside the development of high-profile attractions like the Museum of Contemporary Art, Disney Concert Hall, and Staples Center (home to both of L.A.’s NBA teams), downtown lofts have bloomed, and new residents have transformed the oldest part of Los Angeles into one of its hippest and liveliest neighborhoods. While still composed of fashion, jewelry, flower, produce, and toy districts, peppered among these skyscrapers and giant warehouses are spectacular residential properties and some of the city’s best high-end restaurants, bars, and galleries.
Though founded by the Spanish in 1781, the city of Los Angeles frequently paves over its past. Across from the beautifully restored Union Station train terminal is Los Angeles’ most vibrant artifact, the Olvera Street Market, part of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. (Known worldwide for its diversity, L.A. remains a profoundly Hispanic city — nearly 50% Hispanic, according the most recent census.) Lined with historic architecture and carts selling some of the city’s best Mexican food, Olvera Street and its plaza offer a taste of the past, before showbiz came to define the city.
While its roots are Spanish and Mexican, L.A. is a mix of every culture imaginable, a genuine melting pot featuring all types of authentic flavors. Sushi is one of the signature foods of Los Angeles, and the Little Tokyo section of downtown is a great place to sample a variety of raw fish, or just stroll among the funky boutiques. If you’re hungry for something as all-American as French fries, stop by Philippe’s, home of the original “French Dipped Sandwich.” This legendary establishment got its start in 1908, and customers have lined up at its counter ever since. Prices haven’t gone up much in the past 100-plus years — coffee is still just nine cents.
Just over the hill from downtown lies the Eastside, including neighborhoods like Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Echo Park. Formerly a less hospitable area with inexpensive housing by L.A. standards, trendsetters have flocked to the hillside homes, and the Eastside is now regarded as a Mecca for hipsters and the creative class. While some corners of these neighborhoods are still a little unpolished, Los Feliz Boulevard and Sunset Junction (near the corner of Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards) are two of the most prominent focal points of the Eastside scene. Around these hubs, cafes serve up everything from artisanal sausage to $6 coffee drinks, while indie storefronts attract connoisseurs of high-brow vintage clothing and the latest rare sneakers.
Hollywood and Beverly Hills
Though downtown is coming back to life, few would deny that Hollywood is Los Angeles’ real center. Tinseltown is synonymous with fame, glamour and glitz, and while it can be spectacular, Hollywood Boulevard, the tourist centerpiece of Hollywood, is a bit overrated. The Walk of Stars is no more than a sidewalk gilded with celebrities’ names (some a little tarnished), and stars never hang out there unless there’s a movie premiere — which is actually rather often. Yet, in an era when fans can get Tweets on their favorite celebrity’s nail color, the façade of Hollywood may not live up to the hype. A look behind the curtain usually proves more fun, and Universal Studios offers a tour of their expansive lot just over the Hollywood Hills. If you’re a DIY-type, maps to the stars’ homes are available everywhere, and you won’t be alone in taking a picture at the front gate of a mansion or two. Our Rio was certainly a star in Hollywood, its Idle Stop-and-Go system saving fuel by shutting off the engine at every stop in the heavy traffic.
During the day, Hollywood is simply not as glamorous as it should be. However, when the sun sets, Hollywood comes alive with a nightlife scene that is second-to-none. For tourists and locals alike, the scene can be difficult to navigate, since the exclusive and hush-hush locations where the young and beautiful mingle seem to be reshuffled every few weeks. Don’t let that deter you. Finding out what’s best on any given night is never very hard — just ask a beautiful person strolling past what the latest hotspots are. With a little luck, you may find living the Hollywood lifestyle is far more entertaining than standing on the sidelines.
Still trying to spot a star? Take a hike around Lake Hollywood (taking in the fabulous views of the famous sign) or through Runyon Canyon, two of the most scenic outlooks in the Hollywood Hills. The views very often include stars sweating it out with their personal trainers, or just walking their dogs.
Heading through colorful West Hollywood, you may notice Sunset Strip’s glory days seem to be behind it, and even Melrose Avenue isn’t the bustling street scene it once was — but there’s a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow: Beverly Hills, 90210, in all its shining glory. Few places on the planet can do excess so, well, excessively. Here, the wealthy show off their money in unfathomable ways.
Tour the neighborhood to see the spectacular homes of the rich and famous, with a tennis court and pool in every yard, and then take a stroll down through downtown Beverly Hills. Rodeo Drive is still the most posh address for any luxury brand, and while the fashions are noteworthy, the prices in the boutiques are nothing if not absolutely stunning.
Thankfully, not everything in Beverly Hills comes with sticker shock, and three of the area’s most popular restaurants are downright reasonable. (Maybe it’s their New York roots?) Watch the ladies lunch and enjoy the spectacular view from the fifth floor of Barneys New York at Barney Greengrass Restaurant; Nate ‘n Al of Beverly Hills Delicatessen unpretentiously dishes out its famed corned beef sandwiches and homemade hot dogs; or try Mulberry Street Pizzeria for a slice of L.A.’s best impression of N.Y. pie under the gaze of the celeb clientele — or at least their autographed 8x10 headshots.
When you’re ready to relax, throw on your flip-flops and take the Rio on a ride to the Westside, through neighborhoods like Brentwood, Venice Beach and Santa Monica to the surf, sun, and sand of the Pacific — no visit to Los Angeles is complete without visiting the beaches made famous by TV lifeguards. Whether you take a swim, a romantic and relaxing walk along the shoreline, or a bike ride up the boardwalk, the sunsets are spectacular (rumors say it’s the smog), and the views toward the secluded beaches and canyons of Malibu are priceless. While it can get hot inland, the weather along the coast is always mild due to the cool ocean breeze. The water is also always colder than you think it will be — which can be refreshing on the hottest days of summer.
With its wide and easy public access, Santa Monica is tailor-made for tourists, with its namesake pier offering roller coaster and Ferris wheel rides, as well as free concerts some nights. Near the foot of the pier sit Santa Monica Place and the Third Street Promenade, a public mall area that is a shopper’s delight. Along with Main Street a couple of blocks south, these are excellent places to people-watch and stretch your legs. Santa Monica’s gentrified streets are no match, however, for the entertainment value and excitement of the Venice Beach boardwalk.
No word can summarize Venice, but the one that comes closest is eclectic. On the Venice boardwalk, you’ll find the most random collection of musicians, comedians, jugglers, and far more bizarre street performers including famous “Muscle Beach” bodybuilders, renowned streetball courts, legends of surf and skateboard culture, drum circles, supermodels, homeless camps… It’s all here, and it’s all progressive, creative, artistic, and usually more than a little weird — all part of the beachfront circus atmosphere you can only find in Venice. If you’d care to try surfing, rent a board and test the peeling waves at the Venice breakwater. If you’d rather roll around (or just watch), a skatepark was recently built to honor the birthplace of skateboard culture. The Venice boardwalk is typically a madhouse on the weekends and only slightly less loony on weekdays, so finding parking isn’t always easy, but with the Rio’s compact size and the help of the rear camera display integrated into the UVO system, parallel parking was a breeze.
Just a couple of blocks off the beach, Abbot Kinney Boulevard is Venice’s other main drag, full of one-of-a-kind stores and extraordinary restaurants — no chains seem willing to push their luck in this funky environment. If you happen to be in Venice on the first Friday of the month, all of the galleries and shops on Abbot Kinney stay open late, and seemingly every food truck in greater Los Angeles parks along the street to test their creative cuisines with the huge and diverse crowd.
For a quiet break from all the hubbub, take a detour into the Venice Canals, which give the area its name. Celebrities have taken interest in the unusual properties and Bohemian community along these serene waterways, where the only traffic is footsteps along its pedestrian bridges and paths, and the occasional rowboat.
Whatever your tastes or interests, whether tanning on the sand or skiing in the mountains, contemporary art or live music, nightlife or movie studio tours, Los Angeles likely has exactly what you’re looking for. You just need to find it first. In just three days, you can experience a lot, yet barely scratch the surface of everything Los Angeles has to offer. Where there’s time, there’s also the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Orange County, Riverside, Long Beach… And the all-new Rio is certainly up for the adventure.
Kia Motors Open Road Issue 8, Fall 2011