First person: Beyond the glitz of Los Angeles

Nov 13,2015

Entertainment capital aside, Marisse Gabrielle Reyes discovers a new breed of hungry creatives and talented artisans who are changing the face of the City of Angels through art galleries, indie bookstores and specialty shops.

A Burgeoning Art Scene

Instead of hitting up the obvious art museums like the MOCA and The Getty, I visited The Broad, a newly opened museum where the structure is an art piece itself. The museum, only a 10-minute walk from luxury hotel Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles, houses almost 2000 art pieces by modern art legends like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Chuck Close. Also in the vicinity is Gallery Row, an art district that includes dozens of galleries, museums and theatres. Want to join an art tour? Check out the Downtown Art Walk, which offers four types of experiences catering to everyone from young children to experienced collectors.

But Los Angeles' sprawl encouraged me to explore. On Hollywood Boulevard, I paid a visit to the home of lowbrow art, La Luz de Jesus. This unique gallery continues to spearhead this loud and punchy art movement that has its roots in punk music, hot-rod culture and comics. I then headed over to Culver City's Blum & Poe, one of the city's most successful galleries that now has outposts in New York and Tokyo. This contemporary joint seems to flaunt its fondness for modern Japanese talents like Takashi Murakami and Kazumi Nakamura.

Artists and creatives from all over the country, even New York City, have packed up and nested in Los Angeles, adding a richness to its booming art scene. LA Weekly reported that upwards of 50 galleries have opened or are opening shop between late 2013 and 2015, twice as many compared to the two previous years. They have popped up all over the large city, so expect to commute if you're interested in visiting this diverse group.

Independent Bookstores Become Sexy Hangouts

Credit: Russell Gearhart Photography / Book Soup

Steer away from movie screens and the digital world, and into the comforting four walls of a bookstore to consult the wisdom of good old tomes.

Book Soup, a rightful Sunset Boulevard icon, is more than just a shop – it’s a real community of creatives with events like author readings, signings and discussions hosted here every day. It's here where I was told by the knowledgeable book-loving staff that the Samuel French Theatre and Film Bookshop is a real icon for the film and theatre community. A quick stroll down Sunset Boulevard landed me at the small store, which I discovered was founded in 1929. Although there are little remnants of Hollywood's Golden Age here, I found rare scripts and niche books dedicated to all things film and theatre.

Credit: James Martinez / The Last Bookstore

The dramatically named The Last Bookstore, however, just might be my favorite bookstore in the entire country. Having expanded into a much larger location a few years ago, this two-storey beauty sells books and records, both old and new. The interior feels almost like a fantasy movie set: curving bookshelves that create tunnels of hardbacks and paperbacks swirling around you, almost like an art installation that reminds you of the magic and whimsy of the written word.

A Treasure Trove of Artisanal Products

Credit: Articulum General Store

While locals are choosing to go independent for books and art, the same can be observed for fashion and lifestyle. A walk down the streets will lead you to discover products with soul and a story. Cool, however, is never sacrificed.

Trendy stores like Individual Medley hawk down-to-earth but well-made goods like slouchy alpaca sweaters, screen-printed organic cotton pouches and leather moccasins. Then there’s Articulum General Store, which offers both new and vintage finds by crafters and artisans like hand-dyed fabrics, handmade jewellery and stoneware pottery. Co-op 28 is another boutique that sells a quirky mix of locally made wares like children's toys and bath products.

Unique Finds at Outdoor Markets

Santa Monica Farmers Market

Make no mistake – the incredible wealth of creativity isn't only reserved for the arts scene. It only takes a trip to one of the city's outdoor markets to rouse just about anyone's senses.

California's near-perfect weather grows some of the best produce in the country, which allows for year-round farmers’ markets on almost every day of the week and at virtually every neighbourhood. I headed over to the city’s famous seaside town for the Santa Monica Farmers Market where I found a taste of what the local farmers, both young and old, are reaping and sowing: vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes and crates of hand-picked juicy berries.

Once you’ve filled your tummy, head to the Melrose Trading Post's market. It not only offers some of the most unique finds but channels the money raised to the Greenway Arts Alliance, which provides funding for Fairfax High School's arts programmes. No strapping new name brands can be found here, only a curated mix of antique furniture and home accessories, vintage fashion and quirky odds and ends.

Sure there are the usual tourist spots of Rodeo Drive or Universal Studios, but it's the gallery owners, book lovers, farmers and pottery makers who are giving this city depth and character, and giving me a reason to come back again.

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