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Following its 1920s heyday, downtown Los Angeles entered a protracted period of decline. Blame freeway-induced sprawl, the allure of the beach, or the burgeoning film industry's thirst for larger swathes of land. Whatever the reason, the city’s downtown districts became less its beating heart and more its ailing appendix—obsolete and expendable. This narrative of decline persisted until 2003, when architect Frank Gehry unveiled his $130-million-dollar Walt Disney Concert Hall. With striking curves of stainless steel and an acoustical quality that Frommer’s claims “equals or surpasses those of the best concert halls in the world,” the building would come to symbolize downtown’s 21st-century renaissance. Another prominent symbol of that renaissance emerged with the completion of the L.A. Live project. Developers and taxpayers spent billions to grow the area surrounding the Staples Center, which today comprises movie theaters, clubs, music venues, and restaurants. Head to the complex's Grammy Museum to check out four floors of interactive exhibits and artifacts that range from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s battered Fender Broadcaster to Michael Jackson’s sequined gloves. As the sun sets, bounce over to the Conga Room, a Latin music nightclub owned by a celebrity cohort that includes Jennifer Lopez and Jimmy Smits. Along with top salsa and Latin jazz artists, the club is home to Boca, whose Latin-style tapas dishes include seared tuna breaded with Cuban spices and shrimp marinated in coconut, cilantro, and jalapeno. With all the attention that L.A. Live and other new additions garner, it's easy to overlook the institutions that have flourished in downtown for decades. Two of the area’s eateries feature rich—if conflicting—histories. Phillipe the Original and Cole's have both been open since 1908, and both claim to have invented the French dip. It hardly matters who’s right, as both restaurants serve prime specimens of the sandwich piled high with beef, pork, lamb, or turkey. Break the tie by choosing the closer location; Cole's sits a few blocks east of Pershing Square, whereas Phillippe straddles the boundary with Chinatown just north of the 101. Thankfully, downtown Los Angeles doesn't shut down after dark. For a nightcap, head to The Edison, where guests munch on deviled eggs and sip bourbon cocktails. There’s an anachronistic element to the décor that recalls the early days of silent film—don’t miss a lounge filled with turn-of-the-century generators that create the impression of an Industrial Gothic cathedral. Nearby, Seven Grand caters to the worldly set with hundreds of whiskeys that range from cask-strength Irish spirits to single malts from Japan and India. Of course, pockets of downtown take pride in their shaggier sensibilities. A case-in-point: The Smell, an all-ages punk club, experimental music venue, and art gallery. The prevailing ethic is decidedly DIY; volunteers operate every aspect of the not-for-profit club, from manning the soundboard to running the vegan snack bar. Occasionally, well-known artists such as Peter, Bjorn and John stop by to perform, but the lineup tends to feature homegrown acts—this is partly why tickets typically cost only $5.Read More
To the untrained eye, there’s not much in the way of scenery along the 270-mile stretch between Las Vegas and Los Angeles—just distant mountains and vast expanses of desert punctuated by the occasional tumbleweed. The monotonous terrain seems a fitting contrast to what awaits at either destination: the promises of money and stardom. An empty stomach and a taste for curiosity, however, can get the best of anyone during the four-hour drive. Luckily, just off the beaten asphalt of Interstate 15, there’s a smattering of roadside stops that prove anything but boring. Just an hour outside of Las Vegas, Primm is more than meets the eye. The city sits right up against Nevada’s border with California—an imaginary line that felons have long associated with freedom from the law. It happens that Primm is home to the most famous getaway car of all: Bonnie and Clyde’s V8 Ford. Punctured with more than 100 bullets, the battered vehicle sits behind a glass enclosure inside Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino. Nearby rests the torn and bloodied shirt Clyde wore on the morning of his death. More than 70 miles down the road and safely across California’s border, Alien Fresh Jerky restocks stomachs set on empty with 20 flavors of jerky—not to mention stuffed olives, nuts, candy, and various sauces. A few miles south of the exit for Zzyzx, CA, the gourmet jerky stop gets its curious name from owners who founded it after a failed search for Area 51. Standing at an impressive 134 feet and visible from Interstate 15, the world’s largest thermometer sits just down the road from Alien Fresh Jerky. The thermometer’s height honors the highest temperature ever recorded in North America: 134 degrees in nearby Death Valley. The heat and lack of moisture in the desert can help with preservation, which might explain why dinosaurs still roam the earth at Peggy Sue’s Diner and Dinosaur Park. When nobody is looking, the giant metal dinosaur statues that inhabit Peggy Sue’s backyard are said to slip quarters into the giant outdoor jukebox and feed on Peggy Sue’s hearty burgers and sandwiches. Not far down the road from these towering statues, Casa Jimenez hosts some animals of its own. The Mexican restaurant lines its walls and counters with stuffed antelope, zebras, and wolves. Of course, you don’t need to contend with wild beasts to get your fill of tacos and burritos. Just across town from Casa Jimenez, the world’s oldest operating Del Taco has kept its grills hot and its drive-through open since 1964.Read More