Too often written off for its sprawl and traffic, Los Angeles seldom gets credit as a cultural capital. But stand before Jeff Koons’ oversized cobalt blue Balloon Dog at the months-old Broad museum downtown, and it’s quite obvious that the city has officially arrived as an arts destination—if ever there was any doubt.
Locals and insiders have known it for decades: Los Angeles has been home to artists such as John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha and David Hockney. Not to mention the city’s legacy of mid-century modern design thanks to architects John Lautner, Richard Neutra, Pierre Koenig and many more. Skeptics are only now catching on, but better late than never.
For a proper introduction to the city’s art scene, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art makes a great start. Spread across a seven-building indoor-outdoor campus, LACMA boasts a nearly 130,000-object collection, including Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman with Handkerchief, Diego Rivera’s Flower Day, dozens of Korean works of art as well as the much-photographed lampposts, Urban Light, by Chris Burden at the entrance. LACMA’s Boone Gallery serves as a complimentary children’s art-making studio and is an ideal stop for families visiting the museum.
There’s also the Richard Meier-designed Getty museum, of course, notable for its architecture and gardens, as well as pieces such as Vincent van Gogh’s Irises. The 45-minute architecture tour is a must, delving into everything from why Meier chose travertine as his material of choice to the way he framed vistas of the surrounding hills. Still, all eyes are now on the city’s newest jewel: The Broad, a contemporary art museum from philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, opened in downtown LA last September. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler, the museum’s honeycombed concrete exterior gives way to two floors of gallery spaces, where a who’s who of pop and contemporary artists are on display, including Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Takashi Murakami.
Many of LA’s midcentury-modern homes—art of a different kind—are open to the public, as well. From Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning Hollyhock House, which sits on the grounds of the Barnsdall Art Park and reopened last year after an extensive six-year renovation, to the Pacific Palisades home of Charles and Ray Eames, these houses were groundbreaking in their utilitarian design and fluidity of indoor-outdoor living. Atop a cliff in the Hollywood Hills with the city’s twinkling lights spread below it, the Stahl House remains a favorite and earned its fame in part thanks to a black-and-white photograph of the home taken by esteemed lensman Julius Shulman.
LA’s cultural offerings also take to the outdoors in ways not possible elsewhere. The Hollywood Bowl, an historic amphitheater with nearly 18,000 seats, serves as the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is led by the Venezuelan-born director Gustavo Dudamel—today a bit of a legend in his own right. This summer’s season includes Tosca, Tchaikovsky, jazz and even a concert performance of West Side Story. Or visit one of many gardens around the city, including the gorgeous Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Easily one of the country’s premier botanical gardens, the 120 acres here feature a desert garden with 2,000 varieties of succulents, a Japanese and a Chinese garden, and an impressive and interactive children’s garden with a vine-covered lattice playhouse as well as several water features. There’s also the nearby Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, which has fantastic family programming, from nature-themed storytime to children’s gardening classes. And in Palos Verdes Peninsula, the 87-acre South Coast Botanic Garden features more than 200,000 plants, with gardens specifically dedicated to fuchsias and dahlias.
Where to Stay: Consider checking into downtown’s 182-room hip Ace hotel, with its rooftop bar and proximity to many cultural highlights. Or, to appreciate artwork right in your hotel, the Andaz West Hollywood has a contemporary art collection that rotates twice a year.
Where to Eat: LA’s blooming Arts District, just east of downtown, has great dining, from the easy, breezy Zinc Cafe & Market to The Factory Kitchen, a modern Italian trattoria in a former fish factory.