Hammer Museum | Westwood Village
LACMA | Mid-Wilshire
MacArthur Park | Westlake
Wilshire Boulevard is a fun street to drive on. It’s wide and spacious throughout its length. It takes you on a tour of several distinct neighborhoods, straight through the middle of it. It’s where a lot of people go to work. It’s a street for the locals.
Wilshire Boulevard is home to all the consulates, many high rises (the most notable “skyline” outside of downtown in an otherwise flat city), and some of the most popular museums. It’s a cosmopolitan street that is always under construction, eventually a subway to run it’s length and transport people east and west.
Wilshire is one of the only boulevards that has a neighborhood named after it (because for some reason most neighborhoods are named by the streets that run north and south: ie: Fairfax, La Brea, Larchmont, Westwood). Wilshire is the kind of street you’d roll down your windows for. Besides Koreatown, it’s not too overwhelming, you can focus on the road ahead. But filled with enough activities along the way that you won’t be bored.
Wilshire is probably the best boulevard for driving. It’s generally well-paved. Wide. Curvy. Congested. Clean(ish). Feels more city-like with the tall(er) buildings.
Traveling across Wilshire Boulevard really takes you for a ride. While Sunset Boulevard gives you the greatest hits scattered haphazardly across the city, Wilshire gives you a substantial taste of several neighborhoods.
Wilshire starts (or ends) at the ocean. Or rather, at Ocean Ave. From there, it’s just a park, PCH and then the beach beyond. This is the touristy part of Santa Monica. The northern edge of Third Street Promenade, the LA equivalent of a suburban mall. Chain stores a plenty, of the local kind (ie: 800 Degrees, Tocaya) and the national kind (ie: CPK, PF Changs). During the day, beware of pedestrians, this is one of the few places it’s socially acceptable to be caught walking outside. At night, beware of drunk transplants living out their LA dreams at The Bungalow.
But even in this mess, it’s not all bad, there are a few gems scattered throughout. You can get decent coffee at Demitasse and Bluestone Lane. Excellent doughnuts at Sidecar. As you move east, it becomes more of Santa Monica for the locals. This is where we prefer to exist. From around the Huckleberry + Santa Monica Seafood area onwards. Here you’ll find some of LA’s longstanding favorite establishments from Rustic Canyon to Tehran Market to Bagel Nosh to Milo & Olive.
Downtown Santa Monica
Once you pass under the Big Wave, you’ve entered the fun locals part of Brentwood. Aka the part of Brentwood that’s much less stressful than San Vicente just north. Here you’ll find some more longtime favorites of west siders, from Amandine to Literati to the UCLA iykyk Mama Hong’s pho. A messy intersection later (read: Federal Ave) you’ll pass by the VA and cross over the 405.
Literati Cafe | Brentwood
The Big Wave
Meet one of the the most stressful freeway exits in LA (seriously, you try getting off the 405 North at Wilshire and blindly crossing 5 lanes to make a left a Veteran) and pass by the Los Angeles National Cemetery. Welcome to the southern edge of the UCLA part of Westwood. Here you’ll find more pedestrians, of the student kind. Likely crossing over from the village to “south of Wilshire” via Westwood Blvd (btw: at this intersection looking north, you get a pretty picturesque view of Westwood).
You’ll pass a striped building to your left, that’s Hammer Museum (not a museum about hammers), and then you’ll enter the fun strip of Wilshire where new and old money mingle in high rise condos. This is the part of Wilshire that’s fun to drive on. Well-paved, curvy, generously spaced out street lights. Just enough to be able to ogle at the tall buildings (a rarity in this city, after all) and wonder how much a condo costs.
Past the golf courses (aka the Los Angeles Country Club), you’re abruptly in Beverly Hills.
Ah all the millionaire and billionaire condos.
Hammer Museum | Westwood
Hello hotels. The Beverly Hilton, the Waldorf Astoria, the Peninsula. The hotels that are practically as famous as the guests and events they host. To your left, the mansions of Beverly Hills (but save that for another day.
Welcome to the pivotal intersection in LA geography. Here is where Wilshire Boulevard and Santa Monica (which one would presume to run parallel east and west through the city) intersect. From here on out, you go from being north of to south of Santa Monica. And the little triangle this intersection makes is where the meat of Beverly Hills (for the tourists) exists.
Ah, the surface level glamour of Beverly Hills
This is the commercial part of time. You’ll see all the luxury brands, department stores, hotels and a glimpse into Rodeo Drive. You’ll also see more pedestrians of the tourist variety, taking photos in front of the pristine facades reminiscent of Vegas hotels.
But just as abruptly as it begins, it ends. And you’re suddenly surrounded by unremarkable buildings, most of which are miscellaneous consulates and businesses that serve the neighborhood. Welcome to the weird business-y corporate buildings part of Wilshire. Here you’ll find little of interest, just plenty of consulates and office buildings. In terms of food? Slim pickings. I’d know, these were our only lunch options. Once you get past another confusing intersection, when San Vicente, which previously was north of Wilshire crosses over and heads south, things get interesting again.
La Brea Tar Pits
Welcome to “Mid-Wilshire,” which pretty much tells you exactly what it is. The middle part of Wilshire. Here is museum row, “Miracle Mile” (a far cry from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile). Here you’ll find tall office buildings and museums. To your left, the Academy Museum, LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits. To your right, the Petersen Automotive Museum, pieces of the Berlin Wall, and a business center that is home to the weekly farmers market.
Besides the museums, this is generally a place for locals. There’s pretty much everything you need to run errands (read: grocery stores, banks, shipping services, etc) and nothing too exciting (even the lunch options are pretty much national chain stores). Now that I’m thinking about it, this is another walking place (but only on weekdays during lunch hours when people venture out of the buildings to find food. Once you get past La Brea, things get even more boring as you get back into a strip of consulates. Then you reach the Wilton and start to notice the signage and aesthetics change…
Wilshire and Fairfax. A corporate building. A presidential campaign local office in an abandoned diner. A sleek automotive museum. A museum for the Academy.
Koreatown in Los Angeles is unmatched. There is no other Koreatown that comes close. Ktown here is pretty much the closest thing you can get to Seoul outside of Korea. If you go into some shops and don’t look too closely, you might think you’ve left LA, or even the country.
Koreatown is a nightmare for driving (and for parking), but we put up with it because the neighborhood has so much to offer. Ok fine, this is also a walking neighborhood. Perhaps because of the parking nightmare (and because of the couple of metro stations in the area), and the demographics, there’s a lot of pedestrians. Wilshire captures the cosmopolitan energy of a city in a way that no other part of the city truly does. It’s expansive yet full of activity. There are so many restaurants, shopping centers, bustling intersections, star architecture, a full spectrum of businesses ranging from cheap eats to upscale.
No one does shopping complex like Ktown
And you have LA icons like the Wiltern, St. Basil’s Church, the-BCD-with-a-parking-lot (yes, this is an LA icon in all its 24 hour glory), and the LINE Hotel. More than half of the signs and words you’ll see will be in Korean, and popular establishments mingle with sleeper hits in a way that only really reveals itself to those who opt in.
And then there’s the rest of Wilshire, cutting straight through MacArthur Park (the neighborhood and the park itself) with a view of downtown ahead. Here, Korea transitions into Guatemala. Also filled with energy, but in a different way, in a street vendor and swap meet kind of way. Aesthetically, it looks like old LA, local LA, LA for the people without the glamour of other parts of the city. And then, just a few precious blocks past the 110, Wilshire comes to a sudden and undistinguished end at Grand. Like it took you there (to DTLA) but opted to drop you off before you really got anywhere.
There are more than enough things to do on Wilshire to build an entire itinerary around this street. Good luck finding parking though.
Start on the west side. There’s something very peaceful about being in the heart of Downtown Santa Monica before the tourists wake up. It’s probably the only time the beach feels mildly inviting. Granted, if you’re following the rules and still on Wilshire, it puts you a safe distance from the pier.
Also, since it’s morning, you’ll have a full selection of doughnuts from Sidecar to choose from. Pace yourself, though, because you’ll be stopping by Huckleberry for breakfast.
To walk it off peruse the aisles of Tehran Market for any of your spice and specialty Persian grocer needs. If you want to particulate in or ogle at LA’s most offensive grocery habits, stop by the new(ish) Erewhon further in.
An optional but highly recommended detour: pick up some cakes and pastries from Amandine. Thinking ahead, it’s good to have snacks onboard, maybe grab some spring rolls for the road from Mama Hong’s. Then cross over the 405.
Here you have a choice of activities: pop into Hammer Museum for some art, visit some legends at the Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery, or treat yourself to a dine-in movie at iPic (but actually, don’t, there’s more stuff to do).
Once you drive past all the condo buildings you can’t afford (this is the fun part of Wilshire where the roads are well paved and if traffic is on your side – or should I say, the other side – you get to speed along the wide curves) you’ll suddenly find yourself in Beverly Hills.
This is where things get a little messy. There’s a very unintuitive diagonal intersection where Wilshire and Santa Monica intersect (after which Wilshire becomes further and further south from Santa Monica), and then suddenly it’s the shallow glitz of touristy Beverly Hills. If you have to, do a drive by for Rodeo Drive, and then head on your way.
Drive past all the boring parts. If you’re hungry, your best bets are Uovo or Kazunori, conveniently located right next to one another, with validated parking :’). Otherwise there are usually food trucks parked in front of the SBE building. You’ll know you’ve made it to the better part of Mid Wilshire when you see Bernie to your left, a modern looking red and silver building to your right, and the Academy Museum in front. Now is your museum break. Take your pick. But no matter what, take your pic – by the Urban Light installation in front of LACMA.
Congratulations, with all that culture you gained, you deserve a cookie. Get some of LA’s best at Milk Jar. Then head on over to Koreatown.
Ah, Seoul. You’ll know you’re there when you start questioning whether you’re still in LA, or the US for that matter. But before you settle in, keep going until you hit MacArthur Park, while it’s still light out, ideally at golden hour so you can catch a glimpse of DTLA looking actually kind of pretty for once.
Then turn around and go back into Korea. From here, you can choose your own adventure. Maybe you stop by the LINE hotel for a pick me up at Alfred and something cute from Poketo. Or maybe you head straight to H Mart to load up on snacks and 85 Degrees for some bread. As for dinner? Take your pick. There’s Myungdong Kyoja or Bulgogi Hut or a variety of vendors at Platform 35 Market Hall. Any given strip mall corner will have a gem in Ktown.
For night festivities, you also have options: maybe you catch a show at the Wiltern, maybe you don’t bother keeping it classy and just go to Arena. Whatever you do, know that your night must end at BCD with soondubu to heal your soul. Thank Wilshire for feeding you.