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Top things to do in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood

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LOS ANGELES – It’s impossible to encapsulate a city of such diverse neighbourhoods into one, so I’ll keep this focused on Hollywood and downtown L.A., which has seen an incredible resurgence – resurrection, even – since the bad old days when this correspondent toiled nightly in what was then a wasteland at Fifth and Figueroa.

SLEEPING The Roosevelt, a Thompson property, was home to the first Academy Awards ceremony, which lasted only minutes (if only). Marilyn Monroe used to do photo shoots at the palm-surrounded pool and used to sleep there regularly, amongst other things. There’s a cool, old-fashioned, two-lane bowling alley in a funky upstairs bar, a cool Spanish-looking lobby and fun, modern rooms. The Roosevelt, a Thompson property, is one of the best spots to get your Hollywood hit. Downtown, you can find a similar vibe at the Ace, which also has buzz-inducing branches in lower Manhattan, Palm Springs, London and other cities. The L.A. version is in the old United Artists building, dating to 1927 and therefore ancient by California standards. Also downtown is The Standard and the sleek Ritz Carlton, part of the L.A. Live entertainment complex, which includes the Staples Centre and the Grammy Museum.IMG_0497

DINING Where to start? You can try Public at the Roosevelt in Hollywood for grilled octopus or even rabbit, served in a bright room with diamond-tufted banquettes and lots of dark wood. The burgers at 25 degrees have been voted L.A.’s best many times. They also will serve up a chocolate milkshake with Guinness so you can have yet another thing to brag about when you get home. A personal favourite for those on a budget is Tommy’s Burgers near downtown at Beverly and Rampart, where the gooey, napkin-destroying chiliburgers are legendary. Downtown, near Union Station on Alameda, you’ll find Philippe’s original. The place has hardly changed in decades, right down to the pickled eggs and French dip sandwiches on crusty bread. Angelenos of all colours and creeds gather to munch on roast beef French dip sandwiches (ask for a double dip for more juice), pickled eggs and local beers. It’s just 65 cents for lemonade and 45 cents for coffee. Richard Riordan, the former mayor, runs one of the best greasy spoon breakfast joints in town, the Original Pantry. They serve up excellent hash browns and spicy Portuguese sausage, amongst other items.

DRINKING The Library Bar at The Roosevelt is a tiny spot with dark wood and zebra-striped chairs. Bartenders (sorry, mixologists) have a huge array of locally grown herbs on the bar counter and they’ll mix and match them to your taste. I had bourbon with lemon and rosemary that was fresh and flavourful. Just down the road, Musso and Frank is known for both steaks and legendary, perfectly dry martinis served in a classic, old-time setting. I haven’t had the pleasure, but I’m told that the rooftop bar at The Standard on Flower Street. is terrific. There’s another rooftop spot at Perch on Hill Street, complete with fireplaces. (Hey, it can get dip down to the 30’s in L.A. at night. In winter. In some years.)

DOING Olvera Street is an old Mexican-American area with souvenir stands selling cheap, colourful guitars and lots of great knickknacks for a few bucks. You can dine on cheap burritos or tacos and watch mariachi bands in full dress outfits. Wander down to the Disney Concert Hall, designed by Ontario’s own Frank Gehry and known for its wavy, oscillating silver roof. The Angels Flight is an old-time funicular that takes you up (or down) Bunker Hill for 50 cents and is billed as the shortest railway in the world (just shy of 91 metres) The nearby Grand Central Market has gorgeous local produce, while old-timey Jones Grain Mills sells jars of sarsaparilla, horehound, comfrey, ginger and more. Try a horseback ride through the Hollywood Hills (and near the Hollywood sign) with the folks at Sunset Hollywood Ranch), where you’ll find remnants of southern California’s cowboy culture and outstanding views of the L.A. basin.

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