West Hollywood is an enclave all its own.
The colorful neighborhood is nestled comfortably between the ultra-affluent Beverly Hills and Tinseltown itself, Hollywood. In many ways, WeHo – as it’s affectionately called – is a mix of its surroundings. The Beverly Hills glamour manifests in the trendy boutiques and eateries lining Melrose Avenue, blending seamlessly into the wild nightlife of the Sunset Strip and the sex shops along Santa Monica Boulevard.
And while much of what makes WeHo fun and exciting is priced well outside of a student budget – a night’s worth of dinner and drinks at Chateau Marmont is practically the same price as a quarter’s worth of books – the city hosts a wide range of cheap eats, fun shops and inexpensive activities.
Moreover as Los Angeles’ primary lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender enclave and the heart of the rock music scene from the 1960s onward, WeHo’s broader cultural significance cannot be understated. Where else could you find some of the most storied music venues in history – like the Troubadour – mere doors away from some of the most important LGBT cultural landmarks and educational centers?
But finding the more accessible parts of WeHo takes research, skill and a little bit of luck. Fortunately, prime has you covered – we’ve got the best spots, shops and eats for your buck. Spend a weekend immersing yourself in the different elements that make West Hollywood weird, charming and exciting.
No matter what part of WeHo you find yourself in, there’s always something good to eat.
Start off your day at Alfred Coffee and Kitchen, located on the tiny offshoot of Melrose Place. Inside the immaculately decorated hipster haven, you’ll find an otherworldly selection of coffee, tea, pastries and even pressed juice. It’s an ideal spot for an Instagram photo or a morning of celebrity watching.
Alfred exclusively brews connoisseur-favorite Stumptown Coffee Roasters coffee, and each drink is handcrafted to your specifications. Though perhaps best known for the “Alfred Cone” – a shot of espresso inside of a miniature ice cream cone with a chocolate rim – Alfred also has top-class pastries, with a lemon poppy-seed muffin coming in as the understated fan favorite.
Down the street, you’ll find the cheapest and most elite lunch spot in the city: ink.sack.
A sandwich shop with a school lunch theme (it’s named after sack lunches), the menu takes the best of high cuisine and slaps it on some bread.
Don’t let the weird name deceive you. Owned by Michael Voltaggio, the “Top Chef” winner who was heralded as one of Food and Wine’s best new chefs of 2013 (a prestigious industry honor), ink.sack is a cheaper way to enjoy some of the finest flavors that his flagship restaurant, ink., located next door, has to offer.
Crowd-pleasers include Voltaggio’s take on the classic Vietnamese banh mi (pork shoulder, bacon, chicharrónes, pickled vegetables, onion spread, $6), the “cuban” (barbecue pork, ham, swiss, pickles, mustard, mayo, $6) and the “cold fried chicken” (house-made ranch cheese, Gindo’s Spice of Life $5). Add a side of house-made salt and pepper chips ($3), and get ready to enjoy highbrow taste in a lowbrow format.
If you’re looking to get your dessert fix, there’s no need to look any further than next door. The neighboring storefront of ink.sack houses an L.A. legend: Sweet Lady Jane.
Named the best patisserie in the world by National Geographic, this cake-making powerhouse is beloved by celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Ellen DeGeneres (whose wedding cake Sweet Lady Jane made). The shop’s slices of cake are gigantic, so they’re worth the price. Split a piece of the famous triple berry shortcake with a friend, or try out the seven-layer mocha cake.
Slightly north, on historic Santa Monica Boulevard, you’ll find more traditional grub.
kitchen24, named for the fact it’s open 24 hours a day, is a brunch classic, serving up the best breakfast potatoes – slathered in garlic and onions – in the entire city. While the line on weekends can often seem insurmountable (it can take upward of an hour, so come before you’re hungry), drop by during the week to take advantage of kitchen24′s happy hour. It runs from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.
Down the block, you’ll find a cultural landmark that’s good for a bite – Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grille.
Sure, the hamburgers are good (with a name like that, they have to be), but Hamburger Mary’s is more than just a place to eat. An LGBT community icon, Hamburger Mary’s has playful decor and stellar service that set the stage for a weekly event unlike any other: drag queen bingo.
Drop by to play bingo on a Wednesday night, grab a burger and chat with the restaurant’s infamous drag queen hostesses, who run the bingo show.
While most of the shopping in WeHo tends to be of the expensive, designer variety, there are plenty of cool places to go where you can afford to do more than just window shop. Take Kitson, for example. The celebrity-favorite boutique hosts more than its fair share of overpriced tracksuits and the like, but its knickknacks actually run fairly cheap, usually falling in the $20 or less range. Cool jewelry, home decor, books and more can be found at Kitson’s flagship location in the heart of WeHo. The store’s bright, open-floor plan makes it easy to wander for ages, picking through the piles and piles of random, cool goods.
It’s a great place to stop by for a last-minute birthday gift too (their “nice Jewish guys” calendar is always a crowd-pleaser).
Up on the Sunset Strip, you’ll find Book Soup. This giant bookstore crams in everything from coffee-table books on French decor to mystery novels to leather-bound copies of Marcel Proust. Take a half hour and get lost among the aisles.
But what makes Book Soup unique among the few remaining independent L.A. bookstores is its author events. Several nights a week, Book Soup features a different up-and-coming author for a reading and signing. Drop in to support the burgeoning local writing scene and discover someone new.
Sure, much of the entertainment in WeHo is crowded into the Sunset Strip, where you’ll mostly find bars and clubs, or concerts with ticket prices that you can only dream of affording. But even if you can’t afford the price tag to go inside, storied rock venues like The Roxy Theatre or Whisky a Go Go can be fun to just look at and soak in the rock ‘n’ roll history.
If you’re looking for evening entertainment without breaking the bank, look no further than The Comedy Store. Most shows run at $20, but you’ll find big-ticket names playing almost every night. Louis C.K. just filmed his most recent comedy special there.
For more daytime fun, the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Pacific Design Center is a good place to start. Not only are the rotating exhibits always amazing, but entrance is free. The fashion exhibit currently on display is as weird as it is enthralling. Not to mention, this lesser-known outpost of MOCA is often quieter, and the architecture of the Pacific Design Center alone is enough to warrant a visit.
Although West Hollywood boasts plenty of other fun things to do, from concerts to nightlife and bars, the city’s true heart lies in its people. From the LGBT landmarks that dot the streets to the small Russian bakeries crammed into tiny storefronts, the city’s history continues to be shaped by the communities that call it home.
Walk around and explore.