TRAVEL UST-LOSANGELES 2 LA

Umbrellas and chairs for dining along Broadway in front of the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.

Luis Sinco

It’s been a long time since theme parks were the main reason to go to Los Angeles. That’s even true for starstruck fans for whom the Hollywood Walk of Fame and other flashy, industry-related attractions are the main lure.

Los Angeles has begun to shed its reputation as a culturally backward sprawl of freeways, suburbs and soulless strip malls and is making a strong case for itself as destination for premiere museums and world-class culture. Movers and shakers at Vanity Fair’s 2017 New Establishment conference in Beverly Hills pondered the possibility that the region has become America’s capital for the 21st century.

Spread across 469 square miles, the country’s second-most populous city boasts neighborhoods where artists, restaurateurs and others in creative callings can afford to live and work.

In Los Angeles, one of these eclectic, happening neighborhoods might still be clustered around a strip mall that’s anchored by a check-cashing outlet, but it nonetheless has also drawn a community of energetic residents right out of “La La Land” who are making art, or staging adventurous performances in storefront theaters, or maybe pioneering the next food trend.

Los Angeles is a year-round destination, but January offers special enticements. For theme park fans, fewer tourists means shorter lines at Disneyland, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Universal Studios and other attractions.

Los Angeles’ mild January weather also means you can soak in the sun at one of its famous beaches and might only need a sweater to enjoy an evening cocktail on a rooftop bar.

Occasional rain showers may cause traffic jams, but they also rinse away the smog to offer clear views of snow dusting the distant mountaintops, the Hollywood sign or maybe the city’s skyline from the third floor of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

One sign of the art scene’s growing cachet is that the hottest tickets in town aren’t just for major movie premieres but for gallery openings and galas at one of its top museums, such as November’s LACMA extravaganza co-chaired by Leonardo DiCaprio.

But you don’t have to be a VIP to enjoy what’s fun and exciting about Los Angeles.

Head downtown to the Broad, the new contemporary art museum that features works by some of today’s top artists, charges no admission and is now one of the city’s top attractions. Here local couples, families and groups of young friends view paintings or pose for selfies in front of Jeff Koons’ sculptures. They might also catch a bite to eat at Otium, the chic restaurant next door that’s helmed by Timothy Hollingsworth, the former chef de cuisine at The French Laundry.

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The Broad’s opening in 2015 helped crystallize downtown L.A.’s transformation from a weekend wasteland of office towers and crumbling art deco facades into a thriving region of lofts, new apartment towers, stylish restaurants and bars, and the historic Grand Central Market food hall.

Southeast of downtown is the 50-block Arts District, named for the murals that cover its former factories and warehouses. Those up on their history of urban renewal say the district reminds them of gritty 1970s New York City. Still, it wouldn’t be out of place for someone famous to pull up in a chauffeur-driven SUV to shop at one of the home-design boutiques or to dine at Bestia, a wildly popular rustic Italian eatery.

About 10 miles up the 101 Freeway is another evolving district — North Hollywood, nicked-named NoHo. Things feel a little more relaxed in this pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, where young women carry yoga mats to Vinyasa classes and friendly actors invite passers-by to see their show at one of the storefront theaters.

Here you’ll find the Republic of Pie — a funky cafe with sofas, Wi-Fi and really good coffee and pie. And, true to a Los Angeles cliche, everyone hunkered over a laptop looks like they’re tweaking their screenplay.

But there’s also something more going on. And as a vocalist and her guitar-playing partner cover mellow alt-rock hits, another side of today’s Los Angeles emerges, one in which aspiring writers pause and sit back to enjoy the company of their table mates and take in the music.

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