When most people move to Los Angeles it’s for the beach, the hikes, or Hollywood. For someone like me, who grew up in London and loves the thrum of a city from its high rises to its hidden corners, everything in LA can feel, well, really far apart. Which is why for my first LA by Foot adventure, where I’ve been tasked to discover the city sans car, I decided to dip my toes into DTLA.
My base for exploring the up-and-coming city center? The Freehand Los Angeles. The distinctively local hotel where the city’s subcultures converge within a short stroll from major DTLA hotspots like L.A. Live, the GRAMMY Museum, and the Fashion District. I arrived on a Thursday afternoon, and as I do, I practically waltzed into the lobby and immediately made myself at home. I was surrounded by a collection of Instagram-worthy rattan furniture, an eclectic mix of 70s tapestries, and accents of bright colors throughout. Before heading out for the day, I dropped my things in my new home away from home, a Roman and Williams designed abode with hand-woven textiles and artwork from local artists.
I was particularly excited to be in DTLA because it also happened to be the opening preview for the LA Art Book Fair held at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo. Since I’ve found myself unable to travel by car, I decided to prep myself to make the 30-minute walk from the hotel to the Fair. With LA sunshine peering through Downtown’s high-rises, there were a surprising amount of funky spots to see along the way. The Last Bookstore, where the classics are laid out as works of art, under-the-radar restaurants like Baco Mercat and Kazu Nori—which I now know has actual mouth-watering handrolls.
Thirty minutes pass me by in the blink of an eye and just like that, I’ve made it to the LA Art Book Fair. All around me, amazing artists and publishers are showcasing their finest books and posters. One particularly intriguing man was even creating vinyl records live for all to watch. And boy, did I watch. The night is young and just as I’m ready to leave the Fair I run into Natalie, one of my favorite New Yorkers who also happened to be in town. We instantly caught up like the good ‘ole days; meaning we got some canned wine and gossiped as we drooled over bands playing outside the Fair. Which inevitably, like it always had, led us to crave another of our favorite pastimes, sushi and sake.
Luckily, we were in walking distance from Sushi Enya, a cozy and casual restaurant with all of your necessary Japanese staples. We watched as the masters expertly sliced sashimi and we cheersed to our serendipitous reunion. It’s true, we thought, that the best nights do happen when they’re unplanned, and we weren’t ready to go home just yet. We decide to keep it going with cocktails at In Sheep’s Clothing, a nondescript bar where the entrance is only found through a secret door next to neighborhood slice shop, Lupetti Pizzeria.
In Sheep’s Clothing is thoughtfully inspired by kissaten, Japan’s audio-focused lounges. We are both avid aficionados of Japanese culture, so this feels like a mini vacation, and of course, we celebrate with more sake. We listen to some great records and have a fun conversation with the people at our communal table. This inevitably leads us a few blocks over to find ourselves at the casually cool Arts District Brewing Company. I’m sold when I realize it has Skee-Ball. We grab some quarters and play a few rounds with our new friends before we head back to the hotel. Natalie, the happy-go-lucky adventurer that she is, gleefully agrees to spend the rest of the weekend together. After all, it’s not every day you run into a friend (me) who has their very own room at The Freehand, and at The NoMad Los Angeles the very next night.
We head back and decide it would be rude not to check out the Broken Shaker, the hotel’s rooftop bar with notorious tiki vibes paired with unparalleled views of DTLA. I order a Tai Hard rum cocktail (or more like three), and we end up chatting to two gentlemen in town from Chicago. We share our new-found DTLA knowledge and learn some local insight into Chicago’s under-the-radar hotspots. We immediately agree that we need to make a trip together to The Freehand, Chicago very soon. Alas, one last sip and it’s back to our room. We throw on our robes and reminisce on the night in our very own lounge area. It’s our grown-up sleepover dream come true.
The next morning bright and early, I head back to the rooftop for a sun-soaked dip whilst Natalie catches up on work in the room. We order breakfast up to bed and it arrives in a ridiculously cute to-go bag, obviously, we have an in-room picnic together. In the background, the TV is playing some retro Michel Gondry films. I couldn’t have dreamt up a better morning but back to reality, there’s just enough time to use the amazing Art Deco tiled bathroom for a shower before we’re bid our stay adieu.
So fresh, so clean, our next destination is The Nomad Los Angeles. Only a few blocks away, it’s housed in the historical Giannini Building on the corner of 7th and Olive Street. And yes, it’s as fancy as it sounds. We enter into the Neoclassical landmark’s lobby and our eyes are drawn up. We’re mesmerized by the gold and blue Italianate ceiling that somehow perfectly balances and contrasts touches of contemporary Californian design throughout. Side note, it also smells incredible everywhere.
Our room is equally breathtaking, there’s a tub you could swim in for days and gorgeous furnishings in abundance. We could stay in here forever, but as we peeked out of our oversized windows, we realized we still had ample exploring to do. Our first journey, we decided, would be a short stroll to Bottega Louie. I had heard whispers of the gorgeous Parisian-style bakery, and we wasted no time indulging ourselves in macarons, beautifully crafted cakes, and the patisserie that was set out museum-style in glass cases. We grab a few each and sit at a marble-topped table to people watch just like we would in if we were in Paris.
The sun breaks through an otherwise cloudy morning and without saying a word, Natalie and I look at each other to know we simply had to make moves to The NoMad’s opulent rooftop pool. We walk back and nab two comfy loungers surrounded by lush landscaping. Next order of business? A couple of spritz’s as we lazily trawl the internet for some ideas for our next stop. We make time to properly soak in the blissfully heated pool, share some delicious snacks (do yourself a favor and don’t miss out on their fried sunchokes) and before we knew it, the sun began to set.
Keeping in the vein of our grown-up sleepover, we press play on disco classics in our room and play dress up for the night ahead. Feeling fresh as ever, we step out and strut 5-minutes away to Little Sister, a cute Vietnamese spot which looks like it could have been plucked straight out of New York City. We split noodles, summer rolls, and some delicious sake. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, eating is actually all we ever do. And we have absolutely no shame about it. Too many add-ons later, the waiter recommends we check out 71 Above nearby which is famed for its panoramic views of the city.
We walk over (now less of a strut, more of a food coma waddle), and after riding some very futuristic elevators we feel like we’ve arrived onto the set of Blade Runner. Not mad about it. Amidst floor-to-ceiling windows and breathtaking scenes of LA, I order an Echo Park cocktail complete with tequila and aloe liqueur. This simply couldn’t get better.
The best part? Everything was in a one-mile radius of our hotels. Given the usual trek across LA to discover new haunts, we didn’t have the buzzkill of planning how to get from place to place. We were free to go wherever the night took us. And when we finally made it back to The Nomad’s rooftop for one last look across the city we realized something magical. We had taken in a little taste of Paris, Italy, Chicago and Japan…without even stepping foot in a car.