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Los Angeles Today

Starstruck... excessive... smoggy... superficial.... There's a modicum of truth to each of the adjectives regularly applied to L.A. But Angelenos—and most objective visitors—dismiss their prevalence as signs of envy from people who hail from places less blessed with fun and sun. Pop culture, for instance, does permeate life in LaLaLand: a massive economy employing millions of Southern Californians is built around it.

Nevertheless, this city also boasts highbrow appeal, having amassed an impressive array of world-class museums and arts venues. America's second-largest city has more depth than paparazzi shutters can ever capture. So set aside your preconceived notions and take a look at L.A. today.

Downtown's Upswing

Los Angeles has been archly described as "72 suburbs in search of a city." Hence the renaissance its once-desolate Downtown is experiencing may come as something of a surprise. Long-neglected neighborhoods here have been spruced up, and streets even the police deemed irredeemable have been revitalized.

The Broad Foundation's 120,000-square-foot, three-story contemporary art museum, simply called "the Broad," created quite a buzz when it announced it would open in late 2014. Across the street from Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the honeycomb-shape structure holds more than 2,000 art objects, which will include pieces by heavy hitters in the art world like Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol.

Even taking an ailing economy into account, in the last decade Downtown saw a remarkable development boom—most notably L.A. LIVE: a 27-acre, $2.5-billion entertainment complex, which includes the Nokia Theatre and the innovative Grammy Museum. Restaurants, boutiques, and art studios are opening all the time, more people are moving in, and public spaces are finally being put to good use.

And that’s not all: the $20-million makeover of the galleries at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens have made it a "must-see" for lovers of European art.

Access Hollywood

Hollywood may disappoint tourists looking to overdose on glitz: after all, most of its moviemakers departed for the San Fernando Valley decades ago, leaving the area to languish. Even after the much-hyped debut of the Hollywood & Highland Center, the area remained more gritty than glamorous.

Yet new life continues to be pumped in. In the last few years, Vintage venues such as the Hollywood Palladium have been refurbished; the popular Madame Tussauds constructed a movie-theme museum adjacent to TCL Chinese Theatre, and Cirque du Soleil began a show with a decade-long run at the Kodak Theatre.

New Lights on the Coast

Having fun in the sun isn't relegated to the beaches and other outdoor activities alone in L.A., when you consider the number of amusement parks close to the city.

One of the first sites you see driving into Santa Monica is a tremendous Ferris wheel at Pacific Park out on the Santa Monica Pier—and now it stands out even more. The wheel was recently replaced, and the new one is covered with about 160,000 dazzling LED lights that shine much brighter than the 5,000 or so red, white, and blue bulbs on the old one.

Food for Thought

Star chefs continue to flock from across the country to make their mark on Los Angeles. Recent big openings have included Bestia, a hot seasonal Italian restaurant in Downtown, and all-star team Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo’s Trois Mec. Both restaurants have hard-to-score seats, so plan months in advance. For house-made pasta, try Evan Funke’s Bucato. The rustic Italian fare is unlike any other in Los Angeles, but note that there’s a strict no-photo policy. Seafood is aplenty, so nosh over at Michael Cimarusti’s Connie and Ted’s Seafood or David LeFevre’s newest outpost, Fishing with Dynamite.

Eats in L.A. remain relatively egalitarian. Even posh places seldom require jackets, so the dress code is casual. Ditto for the menu. (In the city that invented fast food, it's no coincidence that Govind Armstrong flips gourmet burgers or that Wolfgang Puck built his reputation on pizza.) Of course, if you want to go budget, you can easily justify chowing down at McDonald's, Carl's Jr., and In-N-Out Burger because all, having started in the Five-County Area, qualify as "indigenous cuisine."

What's New

Downtown Los Angeles is undergoing a major makeover. Longtime residents who once would never have considered venturing into the center of the city are finding lots of reasons to linger. In 2014, the city hosted its first New Year’s celebration, attracting more than 25,000 people to Grand Park in the Civic Center.

The super-stylish Ace Hotel opened in 2014, adding to the luster of Downtown. It’s in the old United Artists building, one of the city’s architectural gems. Downtown’s Grand Central Market underwent a major makeover in 2013, bringing in eateries that cater to a hip crowd. Around for a century, the atmospheric market is now attracting an upscale crowd noshing on Texas barbecue and Thai sticky rice. Don’t worry, it’s still a great place to pick up freshly ground spices and other kitchen staples.

The next addition to Hollywood will be the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which will highlight how film and the moviemaking business has woven its way into pop culture over the course of time since its creation. The 290,000-square-foot museum, estimated to cost around $400 million, is due to open in 2017.

Getting to the L.A. area is easier than ever. Long Beach Airport dazzled passengers with a $140 million renovation in 2013. The airport’s 3 million annual visitors can enjoy more efficient gates and a garden atrium, upgraded lounges, and upscale dining options that include a wine bar with outdoor fire pits.

Updated: 2014-07-24

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