L.A. Live has replaced Hollywood Boulevard as the bejeweled bellybutton of Los Angeles.
What’s your pleasure? High-stakes basketball? Red-carpet concerts? Stunning views? This downtown destination has them all. Maybe I’m biased, but I’d say it rivals New York’s Times Square for things to do, places to go, celebrities to see.
Jack Nicholson is its honorary king, LeBron James its court jester, and Beyoncé and Ariana Grande its wild-child courtiers.
All because Staples Center 20 years ago transformed a drab part of town into an entertainment vortex.
Like the city itself, L.A. Live can seem impenetrable. But not with this list of attractions — some loud and obvious, others off the beaten track.
(All within L.A. Live, unless address is listed.)
WP24: A soft spot in a brittle city, Wolfgang Puck’s place on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton is a great vantage point to overlook the skyline at sunset. A festive meetup spot or a dark, quiet place to unwind. The food is always fine — get the scallops ($39) — but I prefer the bar to the restaurant (wolfgangpuck.com).
Hotel Figueroa: Tell your friends: “Meet me by the fireplace in the front lounge.” They’ll figure it out. Kind of clubby, with rich architectural touches. The 100-year-old Fig will quickly become your go-to spot. Taco Tuesday by the pool is a worthwhile stop, too (hotelfigueroa.com).
Grammy Museum: I suspect many folks think this will be a glorified gift shop, à la Hollywood Boulevard. No way. This is a first-rate, hands-on museum that celebrates music. Kids love it. And you can even take a drum lesson from Ringo ($12; grammymuseum.org).
The Original Pantry: A landmark ... a great nosh ... the greasy spoon of greasy spoons. This cash-only monument to late-night bingeing will be here long after Staples is gone. Look for legendary Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich sneaking a midnight bite (817 S. Figueroa St.; pantrycafe.com).
Conga Room: L.A. Live is remarkably light on late-night music options. That’s what makes the Conga so popular on weekends. Sometimes live bands, sometimes DJs, sometimes salsa, sometimes EDM. But always a party (congaroom.com).
Fleming’s: A proper martini is your revenge on the world. It should come with a skin of ice across the top that sparkles like a skating rink. You can get that here, along with a sizzling chunk of prime cow that you’ll be reliving a week later. Steaks from $49 (flemingssteakhouse.com).
The rink and the tree: Speaking of rinks, there’s a great one here during the holidays. A destination all its own, this is a selfie or a Christmas card waiting to happen. It’s also a first-date venue right out of a Hallmark movie (Nov. 30-Jan. 12; $22, includes skate rental; lalive.com).
Ace Hotel: The old United Artists building is noted for concerts and a bar beneath the stars. Small plates won’t break your budget — street tacos ($3) and a robust stack of nachos ($10) — along with an eclectic list of cocktails from $12 to $14. To get to the rooftop, look for the street entrance labeled “Upstairs.” (929 S. Broadway; acehotel.com).
Lucky Strike: Not exactly the ma-and-pa bowling alley of your youth. It’s a nightclub, with bowling as an option. Great for birthdays or groups. Also great for people-watching, including — if you hit it right — athletes kicking back after their games. Hourly rates, up to eight bowlers per lane. Beware of food and drink minimums after 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays (bowlluckystrike.com).
Shaquille’s: Shaquille O’Neal’s upscale restaurant adds some welcome Southern flair to the dining choices. Noted for the fried chicken and biscuits. If you’re a true Southerner, you’ll probably opt for the shrimp and creamy grits. Dinner entrees in the $30s (shaquilles.com).
The Palm: They pour a good drink at this pregame hot spot, and add the Gigi salad ($17) or crabmeat cocktail ($26). This handsome old place, in a former toy factory, almost always impresses (1100 S. Flower St.; thepalm.com).
Broken Spanish: Contemporary high-end Mexican cuisine. “There’s a playfulness that permeates the cooking, along with all the guajillo chiles and green garlic and epazote,” Los Angeles Times writer Amy Scattergood says. Entrees from $39 (1050 S. Flower St.; brokenspanish.com).
Red Mango: Grab a seat at a sidewalk table and watch the world rush by while you calmly treat yourself to a berry-laden smoothie or yogurt. Yogurt from about $5. Smoothies about $7 (redmangousa.com).
Regal L.A. Live: Big as a presidential palace, this movie house now hosts occasional Hollywood premieres. If a major release is in theaters you’ll find it here, with shows that start midmorning and go late into the night. Check out $9 Tuesdays (regmovies.com).
The Novo: Leave the major pop stars and awards shows to Staples and Microsoft Theater — you’re probably too cool for that. This music venue focuses on edgier up-and-coming artists (thenovodtla.com).
JW Marriott lobby: I shouldn’t like this chain hotel, but the lobby bar always outperforms expectations. Live music helps, and the roomy lounge areas are casual and comfortable. A touch of class without feeling stuffy (marriott.com).
Rock’N Fish: The sourdough bread ($2.95), among the best in the city, alone is worth a stop. I like the bar here for the rum cocktails. But the place is usually packed for blackened fish ($25.95) and a $16 chowder and salad combo (la.rocknfish.com).
Tom’s Watch Bar: Everyone swears by the Yardhouse, but I prefer this sprawling sports bar that is about to renovate and get a video upgrade. Friendly wait staff hustles like a sixth man off the bench. Burgers from about $15 (tomswatchbar.com).
Rosa Mexicano: Great selection of sipping tequilas and a guac ($16.50) made at your table. Regulars also pounce on the $12.50 queso fundido (rosamexicano.com).