Sunset Plaza | West Hollywood
The Palladium | Hollywood
Northern view from Sunset Blvd | Silver Lake
What images does a mind conjure up when prompted with Sunset Boulevard?
Palm trees and mansions? Giant billboards of the latest box office hits? Commercial blocks filled with trendy shops and restaurants? Yes, yes and yes.
A street that is larger than life, that is known by name around the world, and yet known in reality only to Angelenos who care to dig a little deeper. A street that, to those who only know of it from Hollywood, is assumed to have a singular identity, but in reality captures? takes on? complements? evolves with? the patchwork identities of the neighborhood it weaves through as it snakes its way from the Pacific Ocean to Echo Park before suddenly dissolving (as even the greatest of LA streets do) into an entirely different street, W Cesar Estrada Chavez Ave in Chinatown.
from sunset plaza to sunset junction, sunset beach to sunset strip, this boulevard carries with it the vibrant stories and histories of this mismatched city
Sunset Boulevard has inseparable ties with Hollywood, and shows up often on the big screen and silver screen and whatever OTT screens count as (bronze? aluminum? lol). It shows up perhaps most famously in a film that borrows its name, a Hollywood classic that ironically is centered around a house that was actually on Wilshire Boulevard, which, given its spot in central LA, would be 5 boulevards south of Sunset. Nevertheless, the street itself remains a formidable force that tells many stories throughout the city. Filled with longstanding icons that persist in the ever-evolving strip-mall filled LA landscape. While it wears the many colors of LA from east to west, one thing is for certain: there is no part of Sunset Boulevard you want to be on on a Friday afternoon any time after 4pm.
there’s no shortage of iconic landmarks on this street, and yet the best parts of it are still in strip malls
Sunset Boulevard takes on many forms as it ebbs and flows through the city, some undeniably more appealing than others. Let’s break it down, starting from the west and driving east.
On the west side, Sunset Boulevard begins where the Pacific Ocean ends, aka it drops you off right on PCH, right in front of Gladstones, just south of Getty Villa, and right on the northern edge of what is considered the Pacific Palisades. We’ll call this the “rich people” part of Santa Monica, part one. These are the moneyed residents of West LA who live in (multi) million dollar homes and send their children to private schools. The people who shop exclusively at Gelson’s and barely ever go to the closest beaches (too touristy). These are the unicorns of LA, the ones that are there living their lives in a normal that few of us dare dream. They’re not old money, but they’re not… not old money, at least for west coast standards.
This is the most windy part of the street, from PCH, it quickly hooks around one of LA’s most underrated spots, the Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, before snaking along past a rich kid charter school and right through the Palisades version of the /Americana (which is to say, slightly more luxe, slightly more out of touch).
Self Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine | Palisades
(top) a peek of the ocean from Will Rogers State Park
(bottom) the little market, in Palisades Village
From there, it becomes pretty residential, you’ll pass by what would seem to be perfectly normal comfortable suburban communities until you remember you are in Los Angeles and each of these homes could buy you several in the suburbs. More rich kid schools, rich people golf courses, more mansions (yes, if you took detours you’d hit some pretty well known ones) as you get into Brentwood. You’ll know you’re almost to the 405 when you reach a strangely quaint strip mall-y commercial center in a confusing intersection around Barrington (don’t worry there are even worse intersections you’ll meet later on this street).
And then suddenly you’re in bumper to bumper traffic with the not-very-aesthetic-but-certainly-recognizable Hotel Angeleno to your left and one of the more confusing freeway entrance and exit situations that will get you onto LA’s most notorious (but actually IMO not the worst – but we’ll save that rant for another day) freeway.
Beverly Hills Hotel
UCLA Powell Library | Westwood
Once you get past the 405, you reach, well, more rich LA. But this time it’s the so-rich-you-can’t-even-see-them kind of rich. Yes, this is Bel Air. Driving east, you’ll see to your left the grand gates into Bel Air, tall hedges line the street blocking the mansions from view. And then suddenly, a clearing that you can see to your right. That’s UCLA, yes, poor financial aid college students in the midst of west coast royalty. As a former student living off Sunset Boulevard for four years, I will say, there are worse places to be (cough USC cough). The parts of campus you can see from Sunset is the pretty part, north campus, home to the beautiful brick buildings that one might recognize from television and movies as “Harvard.”
But anyways, I like to call this part of Sunset, “Mario Kart” Strip, because you’ll feel like you’re playing Mario Kart as you speed along the windy street, never knowing what’s around the corner, and yet continuing to push 65 in a 35mph speed limit area, only slowing down where you know there’s a light hidden around the next blind turn. Because truly, only tourists drive the speed limit.
This takes you through Holmby Hills and The Flats, aka neighborhoods where actual rich people live, the northern end of the Beverly Hills tourists get to see. All that traffic you hit from backed up left turn lanes? Those would be for the many canyon roads that are a “short cut” (I use that term loosely) through the Hollywood Hills to the Valley, for days when the 405 is true hell (aka, every day).
Once you get past the Beverly Hills Hotel (truly an icon), you’ll begin to see more and more hotels, and start to feel like you’re in a tourist’s fever dream of Los Angeles. That’s when you know you’ve reached the next part of Sunset.
The Laugh Factory | West Hollywood
The Butcher, The Baker, The Cappuccino Maker | Sunset Plaza
Book Soup | West Hollywood
That mild annoyance you feel? Totally normal. Welcome to the scene-y part of Sunset. Where music and comedy venues mingle with sleek but bland restaurants and bars that fill in between endless 4 to 5 star hotels (let’s be real, the only one with real clout is Chateau Marmont). It feels like a constant party, but in a tacky way, a caricature of the Hollywood glitz and glam, only somewhat redeemed by the slightly elevated status of being west of the worst part of Hollywood.
Whisky A Go Go and The Viper Room, just two of many many famed venues on this strip of Sunset
Even so, there are a couple tolerable places in this strip, some even worth driving up here for. Book Soup is one of the main indie bookstores in the city, they even have an LAX outpost in the Tom Bradley terminal. Night+Market‘s original location is tucked away up here (you’ll hit a second location further east). Greenblatt’s is a longtime Jewish establishment that is well loved by locals, while Daughter’s Deli is a newer one to the block (but a part of LA Jewish deli royalty, this is the daughter of the famous Langer’s after all). The Griddle Cafe has a reputation that proceeds itself, but is an experience you just have to have (and no, there’s no way to get around that hour wait on a Sunday). And if you’re into stand up, these comedy theaters will be no stranger to you, as they are some of the major players in the scene in LA and beyond.
By the time you drive past Zankou (dw – you’ll pass by another location before this tour is over), you’ll notice a general cheapening of the commercial blocks to either side.
Welcome to . This is the part of Sunset Boulevard that captures Hollywood in all it’s glory. And no, that is not supposed to hype it up. If anything, it means it’s a hot mess. At the foundational layer, you get a lot of unmemorable strip malls and nondescript generic storefronts and the usual mix of QSR brands. The kind that could easily be used in the backdrop of any film without actually detracting any attention from the scene. The kind of place that is actually functional for residents, like where you go to run errands.
Of course once you get past that you hit In-n-Out (probably the second-most touristy one after the one by LAX) and then the most touristy Chick-fil-A in the city right on Highland. You’re dangerously close to the hell hole that is Hollywood and Highland, so keep going. But not too far. Because in that nondescript strip mall to your right is one of the best Thai restaurants in the city, . The name says it all. As for Crossroads of the World? Still unsure of what that is, but not quite curious enough to figure it out.
Welcome to working Hollywood. As in, the part of Hollywood where people work. There’s some studios and production spaces. Some office buildings. And a lot of local chain lunch options (think: Tocaya, Tender Greens, Veggie Grill). There’s the CNN building with a downstairs (pro-tip, they validate 20 minutes of parking in the structure for pick ups). The late Amoeba Music (RIP this musical institution). And then the historic Cinerama – a living relic from the hot minute when Hollywood thought they could just keep making movies wider to get people to stop watching TV.
And then you hit Sunset and Vine. Super commercial. Super Hollywood. Probably the nicest Walgreens in the city (they have specialists in the beauty section and they sell sushi??), and the prettiest Chase bank with a mural facade (and perhaps more importantly a generous parking lot).
Then, the few truly weird blocks. You have the bubbly Nickelodeon studios facing a Hollywood Palladium that just looks… tired. And then you have the sleek and modern Columbia Square (home to Viacom’s headquarters, the annoyingly pretty NeueHouse, a Sugarfish and an unnecessarily bougie cafe, Rubies+Diamonds, facing a Western themed strip mall that is just an eyesore. But I’d have it no other way. Because nothing captures the heart and soul of Hollywood than this juxtaposition that gives even Vegas a run for its money. (Although, to Gower’s credit, there is a solid coffee option – , and a Roscoe’s within reach at this intersection). The cherry on top is actually just east, an obnoxiously large sign for Arby’s (followed by another legit Thai place, Hoy-Ka Thai Noodle).
To the north side of Sunset, a beautifully minimalist commercial center. To the south, a tacky “Wild West” themed strip mall and gaudy signage. Talk about juxtaposition.
And then you got the new Hollywood money. Aka Netflix. Oh and Emerson’s LA campus (the beautiful building by the Arby’s). But once you hit Netflix, congratulations, you’ve reached the end of the worst part of Sunset.
Right past the 101, Sunset Boulevard takes you right through the heart of Thai town. It might not look impressive to those who don’t know better, but this is the place to be. Even though you’re just a mile away from the hell hole of Hollywood, here in East Hollywood, all is good and all is spicy. You’ve got your choices: there’s the solid noodle shop Pa Ord (two locations on Sunset), there’s Jonathan Gold’s favorite Jitlada. If you missed it before, there’s also another Zankou as we mix in some middle eastern flavors (the lines between Thai Town and Little Armenia get pretty blurred). Oh and excellent taco trucks a plenty. All of this scattered among discount stores and auto shops and a brand new Target that seems quite frankly out of place in the grungy patchwork blocks of EaHo. The lesson here is that all of the best things in LA are hidden in strip malls and grocery store parking lots. If you know, you know. And now you know.
Then it’s the “Hospital Strip” of Sunset Boulevard (doesn’t get it’s own section bc 1, you hopefully won’t be stopping here, 2, it really is just a couple blocks). Just be glad you aren’t a block south, on the Scientology strip of Fountain.
Case in point, many would simply drive by these signs. But those who know, know.
Right past one of the most confusing and annoying intersections in LA (that would be where Sunset turns and kind of merges with Hollywood Boulevard, but also at the same time intersects with Virgil which turns into Hillhurst), you get to the best part of Sunset Boulevard and quite frankly the only part worth existing in for the long term.
Welcome to Silver Lake and Echo Park. Yes. Home of the hipsters. Yes. Third wave coffee shops abundant. Yes. All the cool places you should be eating at. Yes. It is straight up dangerous to drive on this part of Sunset because there are far too many distractions.
I won’t get into all the places that are here. Just know that between Fountain and all the way through to the end of Echo Park, there are dozens upon dozens of cafés, shops and restaurants that are a billion times better than anything else on this street so far.
SUNSET x FOUNTAIN >> SANTA MONICA
RIP Ma’am Sir
Ok fine, I’ll go over a few. The first thing you’ll pass before you hit coffee shop heaven is Sunset Nursery (a local favorite) on your right. Try to ignore the Scientology media studio thing on the other side. Ignore it! And then you start the coffee tour with (right next to the McDonalds where you’ll always randomly run into C-list celebs). There’s the all white “Bate’s Motel” to your left (don’t know how long this will stay). And then of course, Sunset Junction. Home to the east side’s . Where all the hipsters come for coffee to sit and be seen.
Sunset Junction | Silver Lake
Skipping along (will link below), there’s that weird plaza with Pine and Crane, and then a bunch of bougie shops (think: Aesop, Le Labo, etc). Like the same ones you’d find on Abbot Kinney in . Or on Berry in Williamsburg. Or on Armitage in . Or on Hayes in Hayes Valley. A second Night+Market (Song). A strip of millennial-branded storefronts that includes a café called Dayglow (have you heard of anything more millennial?) and the new favorite .
More restaurants, more cafés, more shops and bars. Somewhere around Alvarado (around where Andante is on your left and a gentrified strip mall with Starbucks Reserve is on your right), you transition from Silver Lake to Echo Park. These days, they are practically one in the same. You can’t really see Echo Park from Sunset. There are too many trendy coffee shops and restaurants in the way. is too cool for most people. Honey Hi tricks you into thinking you’re eating healthy LA food. Sage is vegan but comfort food. There’s a Lassens. It all checks out.
From here it becomes a little less over saturated. You might have to go an entire block before reaching the next trendy hot spot. There’s , and then the famous but humble . And then near the end, near the Dodger Stadium traffic, and the famous Guisados tacos. Right when you think it’s over, Sunset hits you with another confusing loopy intersection (btw it’s not fun turning around on this street if you miss anything – the detours are hell so just try not to). A street that is short but has three names and loops up and around a hill (great view of DTLA btw) to drop you right back on Sunset. Home to Winsome (yes, the place Lena Waithe took Dave Chang in ) a Clark Street (just had to squeeze one last coffee shop in there). Side note: if you wanna do a drive by tour, turn right and explore Angelino Heights just west of Sunset, home to some very famous Victorian mansions.
And then finally, you hit the clusterf*ck that is the 101/110 interchange, and just past it, before you really get into Chinatown, the end of Sunset Boulevard, as it meets Figueroa Street to retire its name and become W Cesar Estrada Chavez Ave.
Happily ever after. How’s that for a Hollywood ending?
From ultra rich residences to grungy strip malls, from glitzy Hollywood entertainment to quiet neighborhood gardens, Sunset Boulevard has some of the best that LA can offer. And some of the worst too. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Yes, you can spend an entire day just on this street. No cheating. Ok well, you’re allowed to (and will probably have to) park on the side streets, but all of the main attractions have to have a Sunset address.
Start on the east side. Mostly so that you can get breakfast at Konbi before they run out of croissants. Do yourself a favor and double up on brunch, perhaps at Ostrich Farm or Sage or All Day Baby. Or at least grab a coffee at Triniti or Andante or at the obligatory Intelligentsia.
Shop around the boutiques of Echo Park and Silver Lake. Buy a candle or four at P.F. Candle Co. Climb the Micheltorena Stairs to get an appetite. Shop (or at least window shop) at all those yuppie brands that advertise on your podcasts. Grab a picture by the Bates Motel. Buy some succulents at Sunset Nursery.
You’re getting Asian food for lunch and you have many choices. If you want to stay a little longer in Silver Lake, get Taiwanese food at Pine and Crane or ramen at Silver Lake Ramen. Or make your way to Thai town and get noodles at Pa Ord, or test your spice tolerance with southern Thai specialties at Jitlada. Or keep at it into Hollywood and go to Hoy Ka or Luv2Eat. You have options.
After lunch, skip ahead to the west side. Trust me. Traffic wise, you might as well go for it. If you’re feeling up to it, go all the way to the end and find a moment of peace at the Self Realization Fellowship Lake. Otherwise, grab some juice at Erewhon (or a nitro cold brew from Alfred), street park by the Will Rogers State Park and pick a trail, preferably one that will give you a view of the ocean by golden hour.
Ok now make your way back east, toward the dreadful West Hollywood. Enjoy the scenic drive. Maybe stop by UCLA for a walk down memory lane? No? Just me? Ok.
Keep going. Consider stopping at the Beverly Hills Hotel (but honestly, if you’re not here for the Polo Lounge or just… rich enough to hang out, why bother?). Stop by Book Soup to pick up something good.
Need to run some errands? Now’s the time. Hollywood is a mess anyways. Take a moment to appreciate the strangeness, the weird cringey architecture, the remnants of Hollywood history hidden in plain sight.
Pregame a show with some deli favorites at Daughter’s or Greenblatt’s. Then head over to your venue of choice for some stand up.
Grab dinner at Night+Market. Order the crispy rice salad and panang curry and larb. And a bottle of natural wine. Or a beer tower. Feel our your party vibe. Night+Market will deliver.
Finish off your day with whatever West Hollywood has to offer. Perhaps that’s a concert. Or maybe a comedy show. Or maybe something a little more rauchy. Either way, end your night with tacos, because no matter what street you’re on, this is the best way to end a night in LA.