In many different neighborhoods, L.A. is seeing a positive increase in the number of artistic and creative establishments: from hip clothing stores to shared workspaces to unique bars and cafes. Downtown, Highland Park, East Los Angeles/Boyle Heights are just a few areas that are seeing such urban revitalizations.
However, this article focuses on one of the original "hipster" regions, the trio of neighborhoods consisting of Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park. (Some people refer to this area as the "Eastside," which in reality is just reference to being "east" of upscale Santa Monica and Beverly Hills — it's a rather condescending and misleading term).
Starting at the very beginning of Sunset Blvd. is the indie, mixed-income neighborhood of Echo Park, just northwest of downtown. Traditionally, this has been a working-class neighborhood with a large Latino population that still exists today. But now el barrio is shared with an influx of middle-class types, having moved in from around the country. It includes a large creative and artistic demographic.
It's always a subjective debate about what gentrification does to a neighborhood — but I would say that Echo Park has retained much of its original charm, with there being room for everyone. Traditional Mexican grocery stores and taco joints coexist alongside trendy vintage clothing stores and cafes. At night, you can find Mexican ranchero bars adjacent to hip dive bars. There are live music venues catering to all genres and styles. A well-known spot for small to mid-scale live shows is The Echo.
The main strip could be considered Sunset Blvd., between Echo Park Ave. and (the appropriately named) Mohawk Street. However, points of interest are rather spread out along Sunset Blvd., scattered randomly between auto-repair shops and funky graffiti murals. It's also worth meandering off this main strip to explore the hilly residential streets with some nice houses — and some incredible views of the downtown skyline, which pop up randomly.
You can be driving or walking and upon reaching the crest of a hill — bam! A magnificent postcard view of downtown's impressive skyline looms up. Another place to take in the view is the park that gives the neighborhood its name, along Echo Park Ave., which also has a lake and is a nice place to sit and chill.
Continuing along Sunset Blvd, Echo Park fades into the neighboring district of Silver Lake — which, despite still retaining a somewhat rustic appearance in some sections, is noticeably more upscale than Echo Park. Silver Lake has a similar story as Echo Park: traditionally Latino neighborhood before seeing an influx of creative types and indie clothing shops and cafes and hip bars.
However, Silver Lake has always had mansions lining some of its residential streets, so the area has always had somewhat of a moneyed influence in certain parts. Essentially, it could be said that Silver Lake is a more upscale version of Echo Park; the architectural style and scenic views and graffiti murals and Latin presence are all very similar. There's a lake (reservoir, actually) here too that gives the neighborhood its name.
The intersection of Sunset Blvd. with Silver Lake Blvd. could be considered the center of the neighborhood. Other focal points are the intersections of Sunset with Hyperion Ave. and Sunset with Santa Monica Blvd. It's also worth just wandering and exploring on foot, following Sunset and exploring the streets. You'll find random staircases also in the steeper sections that offer some nice views.
Continuing northwest along Sunset Blvd. past Santa Monica Blvd. is the beginning of Los Feliz. Around here, the bohemian charm gives way to some nice residential buildings — and then to a stretch of generic-looking strip malls and parking lots, which can be ignored. Sunset Blvd. will merge into Hollywood Blvd., and at the intersection of Hollywood with Vermont Ave., you should make a right heading northbound. Once past Prospect Ave., Vermont Ave. becomes a pedestrian-friendly tree-lined strip of various independent shops (like Skylight Books) and cafes, as well as a few low-key bars. (Hillhurst Ave., which runs parallel, also has a decent number of bars).
There's even an old-fashioned cinema still in operation, while the residential streets off to the side are beautiful in themselves, quaint and tree-lined. The area has always been pretty well-off, but despite a moneyed influence it retains a left-leaning, open-minded population. Similar to Silver Lake and Echo Park, there exists a strong creative demographic — but unlike Silver Lake and Echo Park, a much smaller Latino presence.
End of the tour: Griffith Park & nightlife
To conclude this tour of inner-northwest Los Angeles, you can continue up Vermont Ave., which becomes residential before leading up the hill into the mountains and the scenic Griffith Park.
Here there is an access road which winds its way up to the observatory and famous lookout point, as seen in numerous films and T.V. shows. Late afternoon or evening would be the ideal time to arrive and watch the sunset with a view of the city, which is free to the public. If you happen to arrive earlier, there's plenty of open space within Griffith Park, including numerous hiking trails. And there's also the outdoor Greek Theater, which hosts music events.
After dark, it's just a matter of retracing your steps via the route taken earlier today: Los Feliz along Vermont Ave. and Hillhurst Ave., and Sunset Blvd. back through Silver Lake and Echo Park. The Good Luck Bar, discreetly hidden at the corner of Hillhurst Ave. and Hollywood Blvd., is a cool place to begin. The informal, indie 4100 Bar on Manzanita St. in Silver Lake, just off Sunset Blvd. (south of), is another favorite spot of mine — both have been around since before the early 2000s when I first started frequenting this area. While in Echo Park, Little Joy (on Sunset) is another hip spot which is also pretty old-school, having been around for a while.
For transport, a car is not essential, as the #2 bus runs modern vehicles with regular frequency along Sunset Blvd. (24 hours at that.) There are also the #302 and #704 buses and a metro station at Vermont Ave./Hollywood Blvd. Biking is also doable — and many of these and other streets in the vicinity are pedestrian-friendly. However, Griffith Park (including the stretch to the observatory/lookout point) can be difficult to access without a car. But Uber can easily fill in these blanks.
From San Diego, if traveling by car, get onto the 110 freeway once in Los Angeles County and take this to downtown Los Angeles, where Sunset Blvd. begins.
It's also a perfectly viable option to take the Pacific Surfliner train (run by Amtrak) to beautiful Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, where the #704 bus begins its route and continues on to Sunset Blvd. The Amtrak and public transport option in my opinion is the way to go — allowing greater possibilities to wander on foot and explore... and of course, to drink at night without any hassles! The last train back to San Diego departs around 10 p.m. from Union Station.