Los Angeles, now: What's new & fun in the city's pop-culture landscape

Los Angeles, now: What's new & fun in the city's pop-culture landscape

Anyone who’s visited Los Angeles knows how impenetrable the city can seem; if you don’t know what’s going on (or have a friend who can give some tips), L.A. looks like little more than a sprawling wasteland of sun-bleached strip malls. More than any other major U.S. metropolis, L.A. requires really knowing exactly where to go and how to get there, lest its infamous traffic cause a descent into madness. 

After losing some momentum during the financial crisis of 2008, the city seems to have found its footing as a wave of new eateries, watering holes, and nightlife spots have popped up. Its big siblings New York and Chicago may scoff at its attempts to be on their level, but an abundance of new locales unique to L.A. make it worth a visit.

As far as food goes, Umamicatessen is a newcomer that’s worth the trip downtown. Founded as an extension of the hip Umami Burger chain that’s sprouted up around town, this dining hall is a mix of outdoor bazaar and comfort-food deli, set inside the historic Orpheum Theater. There’s even an all-pork counter serving crispy pigs’ ears and fries covered in “brainaise,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Across town is another dining destination that’s managed to do the unthinkable: bring foot traffic to the automobile-congested Miracle Mile. The swank, Mediterranean-inspired Ray’s And Stark Bar sits in the heart of the L.A. County Museum of Art’s plaza, and shares space with permanent outdoor exhibits like Urban Light’s antique lamp posts and the brand new giant rock known as Levitated Mass.

Outside of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, a newcomer to the city’s comedy scene has wedged its way in with all the buzz and big names to make it a consistent draw. Comedian Chris Hardwick of the Nerdist podcast/TV show founded NerdMelt, which takes place in an intimate performance space in the back of the comic-book haven Meltdown Comics. Just a stone’s throw from the Sunset Strip, it has hosted comedians like Sarah Silverman, Jim Gaffigan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Louis C.K. for its weekly Wednesday stand-up night. Then there are monthly shows like Dan Harmon’s Harmontown, and Sketchmelt, along with ongoing art shows connected to everything from Yo Gabba Gabba! to comic books.

Although L.A. arrived late to the craft-beer party, the city finally has several of its own breweries. Two standouts are on the city’s east side, starting with the Eagle Rock Brewery, which claims to be “the first brewery with operations based in Los Angeles in over 60 years.” A public taproom allows customers to sample the product, and Eagle Rock even encourages visitors to bring their own food or visit the food trucks that park outside on Friday and Saturday nights. This spring, the Angel City Brewery reopened a renovated, art deco-style warehouse on the outskirts of downtown with a launch of brand new beers and a tasting room. Take a short jaunt up the 5 highway past Atwater Village for Golden Road Brewery, which has tastings every weekend and its own pub inside, with more than 20 revolving beers on tap and a regularly updated food menu. 

Another great spot is a true hidden gem in Echo Park called Pins And Needles. It boasts a collection of 24 original pinball machines from the ’70s and ’80s (and a few modern ones). It’s run by one woman named Molly, who can be found tending to the aging machines while customers play. The space has finicky hours, so it’s best to check the blog to make sure it’s open. (And bring a good supply of quarters.)

The radio station KCRW reigns supreme as one of the city’s best sources for bands on the rise, thanks to its daily Morning Becomes Eclectic program. It makes perfect sense that it would be connected to one of the most creative live-music events in town. First Fridays at the Natural History Museum has featured Japanther Dan Deacon, Gaslamp Killer, Zola Jesus, EMA, and more. The monthly after-hours event kicks up in the spring and runs through the fall at the city’s Natural History Museum. As night falls, bands and DJs perform in the halls of the sprawling museum, alongside stuffed grizzly bears and dinosaur bones. Each month’s event is paired with scientific talks from various experts, ranging from discussions about dinosaur extinction to the myriad ways the periodic table connects with money, the arts, medicine, and other corners of human history.  

On the first Thursday of every month, the throngs descend on L.A.’s newest farmer’s market. The Yamashiro Farmers Market is unique in that it’s a nighttime gathering in the parking lot of the famed Yamashiro Restaurant, the giant Japanese palace in the Hollywood Hills. Shuttles and free parking make it an easily accessible event that’s also family-friendly, where adults can stroll and sip on cocktails and wine while overlooking the city lights below. Booths serve typical farmers’-market fare alongside food trucks, the de rigueur standard of any event in L.A.