Los Angeles’s Must-See Galleries, Museums, and Art-World Watering Holes

Maxwell Williams
Jan 19, 2016 4:00PM

Nothing defines Los Angeles, that sprawling California metropolis, quite like its medley of neighborhoods. Hollywood is known for its mansion-dotted hills and Golden Age ghosts, Downtown for its charged clash of high-end condos and Skid Row, and Santa Monica for its muscle beaches and oceanfront views. These, and the hundreds of areas in between, each with their own personality, make up the city’s storied landscape—and L.A.’s art scene spreads through all of them.  

Over the past seven years, Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) has galvanized the city’s diverse cohort of neighborhoods at the end of January. To coincide with the art fair, blockbuster shows, performances, galas, and openings by ace artists transpire around the city, coming together informally as “L.A. art week.”

Left to right: Calvin Marcus, Bettina Korek, Anat Ebgi, Joanne Heyler, and Sarah Awad.

Because L.A. can be a difficult city to navigate (we’ve all heard the tales of titanic traffic jams), we consulted with in-the-know locals—Broad Museum director Joanne Heyler, ForYourArt’s Bettina Korek, artists Sarah Awad and Calvin Marcus, and gallerist Anat Ebgi—to send us in the right direction for galleries, food, and shopping in the City of Angels.


Santa Monica

Santa Monica. Photo © Adobe Stock / MixMotive.


Situated along an ocean dotted with surfers, Santa Monica operates like a beach town and moves at a slower pace than the rest of L.A. One of the city’s few neighborhoods that might be easier to traverse by foot than by car, it’s covered with restaurants, bars, and art spaces, and, in January, is home to L.A.’s largest art fair. 

A | Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC)


ALAC, now in its seventh year, is the crux of L.A. art week, playing host to over 70 galleries—plus several more in their new program, Freeways, which gathers galleries less than four years old. Look out for talks, lectures, and performances, too—including Alison O’Daniel’s much-anticipated collaboration with the Centennial High School marching band.

B | Bergamot Station


A defunct trolley depot—soon-to-reopen as a stop on the light railway Expo Line connecting Downtown with Santa Monica—Bergamot Station has doubled as a mainstay arts complex since 1994. Across the property, a mix of highbrow and lowbrow galleries, including Patrick Painter Inc., William Turner Gallery, Craig Krull Gallery, and Robert Berman Gallery, join art and design studios, event spaces, and cafes.

C | Coast


An ultra-luxury hotel with a fabulous art collection (think David Hockney), Shutters on the Beach is also the home of Coast, a quiet restaurant with a perfect view of the beautiful, blue California coastline (again, think David Hockney). The lobster roll is one of the best in the city.


Culver City

East of Santa Monica, Culver City is a patchwork of commercial storefronts and industrial buildings, including the massive Sony Studios campus. It’s also been regarded as L.A.’s art epicenter, dubbed “Little Chelsea” for its high concentration of galleries. While art spaces have since dispersed across the cityscape, Culver still bustles with art, boasting many of the city’s most established white cubes.

La Cienega Boulevard & Washington Boulevard

Stalwarts like Honor Fraser (A | 2622 S. La Cienega Boulevard), Roberts & Tilton (B | 5801 Washington Boulevard), Cherry & Martin (C | 2712 S. La Cienega Boulevard), and Blum & Poe (D | 2727 S. La Cienega Boulevard) provide an anchor for under-the-radar galleries like China Art Objects (E | 6086 Comey Avenue), Edward Cella (F | 2754 S. La Cienega Boulevard), Anat Ebgi (G | 2660 S. La Cienega Boulevard), Luis De Jesus (H | 2685 S. La Cienega Boulevard), and Klowden Mann (I | 6023 Washington Boulevard). Gallery Row still hums on Saturday evenings during openings—Ebgi’s gallery opens an anticipated show by New York-based textile artist Margo Wolowiec on January 30th.

Installation views of Ericka Beckman, “Cinderella,” at Cherry and Martin. Photos courtesy of Cherry and Martin.

J | The Mandrake


Right in the middle of gallery row is the Mandrake, a laidback artist-run bar—and the perfect spot to quaff a potion after gallery hopping, according to Anat Ebgi, whose space sits right next door. “We often come here after our openings for drinks,” she notes.

K Arcana: Books on the Arts


Ebgi also suggests stopping at Arcana, an art bookstore in the Helms Bakery District, full of excellent new and rare used tomes. “Arcana is one of the best resources for art books in the entire city,” she explains. “It's really worth taking some time here to browse their collection.”


Artist Sarah Awad, whose studio is in Culver, recommends heading due east to the adjacent West Adams neighborhood, where emerging artist-run spaces like JOAN Gallery (L | #1 4300 West Jefferson Boulevard) and Ms Barbers (M | 5370 West Adams Boulevard) are cropping up.



Installation view of Rafaël Rozendaal, “Abstract Browsing,” at Steve Turner, January 2016. Photo courtesy of Steve Turner.

Hollywood houses perhaps the most improbable outcropping of L.A. art spaces, scattered across this famed landscape of boulevards, Spanish revival architecture, and lingering production studios (remnants of Hollywood’s Golden Age). A bevy of top-notch galleries have found their home in the cozy corridor just south of the bustle of Hollywood Boulevard, centered on the Santa Monica-Highland Avenue intersection.

The New Gallery District

It’s easy to visit brilliant galleries such as Various Small Fires (A | 812 N. Highland Avenue), Hannah Hoffman (B | 1010 N. Highland Avenue), Gavlak Gallery (C | 1034. N Highland Avenue), Kohn Gallery (D | 1227 N. Highland Avenue), Regen Projects (E | 6750 Santa Monica Boulevard), Steve Turner (F | 6830 Santa Monica Boulevard), LA><ART (G | 7000 Santa Monica Boulevard), Redling Fine Arts (H | 6757 Santa Monica Boulevard), LAM (I | 913 N Highland Avenue), and Diane Rosenstein (J | 831 North Highland Avenue) on foot. Other galleries worth the short driving distance include David Kordansky Gallery (K | 5130 W. Edgewood Place), and Kayne Griffin Corcoran (L | 1201 S. La Brea Avenue) to the south, Tif Sigfrieds (M | 1507 Wilcox Avenue) to the north, and M+B Gallery (N | 612 N. Almont Drive), Matthew Marks (O | 7818 Santa Monica Boulevard), and Moran Bondaroff (P | 937 N. La Cienega Boulevard) to the west. Don’t miss Amy Yao’s new work at Various Small Fires, opening on January 23rd.

Q | Blue Window


After grazing the galleries, grab a snack at one of Awad’s favorite nooks. “If I’m walking that strip looking at shows, I would stop for a bite at Blue Window, a takeout window run by Mud Hen Tavern with a changing themed menu of small bites [and] street food,” explains Awad. “It’s not open on weekends, though,” she warns.

R | Amoeba Records


We also recommend checking out Amoeba Records, the legendary, colossal music store on Sunset Boulevard to pick up a few CDs (yes, they still exist) for when you’re stuck in that famous L.A. rush hour traffic.

S | Sapp Coffee Shop


For a more substantial meal, “Sapp Coffee Shop is a Thai place that has an amazing dish called jade noodles,” hints artist Calvin Marcus, whose first solo show with David Kordansky Gallery, “Malvin Carcus,” opens on January 30th.

T | Musso & Frank Grill


The food at Musso & Frank’s is delicious, but it’s all about the martini. And it doesn’t hurt that literary heroes Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler used to hang out here, making it a perfect place to mingle with highbrow ghosts after a day of art-world hustle.

U | Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills

456 North Camden Drive

Before heading south, take a short drive down Santa Monica Boulevard to Gagosian Gallery’s sprawling Beverly Hills outpost, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and currently shows new work by Edmund de Waal


Miracle Mile

Full of wide, palm-tree lined avenues and mid-century homes, Miracle Mile embodies classic L.A. “Halfway between the beach and downtown on L.A.’s main thoroughfare, Wilshire Boulevard was originally envisioned as a retail center but is home to a sampling of unique L.A. ‘miracles,’ anchored by the city’s encyclopedic museum, LACMA,” explains Bettina Korek, L.A. County Arts Commissioner and founder of independent arts organization ForYourArt. Here, she takes us on a journey down this famous stretch of Wilshire Boulevard.

A | The La Brea Tar Pits & Museum


The La Brea Tar Pits are a National Historic Landmark, a notorious mass of naturally occurring asphalt that’s billed as the “world’s most famous ice-age excavation site”—prehistoric animals were trapped and ultimately preserved by the tar. “Where else can you travel back in time to when dinosaurs roamed and 10 minutes later visit a contemporary art gallery?” says Korek.

B | The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the lynchpin of L.A. art, with its huge campus offering one of the most impressive art-going experiences in the country. “Urban LightChris Burden’s sculpture made up of lampposts from across L.A., is a 24-hour selfie attraction,” says Korek. “And located within LACMA, Dagny Corcoran’s famous bookstore, Art Catalogues, consistently hosts some of best conversations with artists in the city. Check the daily calendar online.” On January 24th, the museum will unveil “Islamic Art Now, Part 2: Contemporary Art of the Middle East.”

Let: Installation view of Diana Thater, Delphine, 1999, at LACMA, courtesy of Diana Thater and LACMA. Photo by Roman Mensing/ Right: Installation view of Diana Thater, Chernobyl, 2011, courtesy of Diana Thater, Hauser & Wirth, and LACMA. Photo by Peter Mallet, courtesy Hauser & Wirth.

C | Craft and Folk Art Museum


“The institution often presents exhibitions of new work that employs traditional techniques, and their shop is one of LA’s best-loved stores,” says Korek.

D | 6150 Wilshire


This is one of those L.A. anomalies: a clutch of excellent galleries—Marc Foxx Gallery, ACME, and 1301 PE among them—all clustered together into half a city block. They all come “together in this great complex at 6150 Wilshire, just adjacent to the official beginning of the Miracle Mile,” says Korek. “Other galleries dot the area, with Sprüth Magers Los Angeles joining the neighborhood soon.”

E | Yuko Kitchen


“For a snack or lunch, Japanese cafe Yuko Kitchen is a local favorite, with charming proprietors and sushi specials, and homemade desserts, that can’t be beat,” hints Korek.



Downtown Los Angeles.

Downtown L.A. is vast: The newly minted Broad sits adjacent to nearby institutions MOCA and REDCAT (A | 631 W. 2nd Street) on Grand Avenue in the northern section of the neighborhood. FARAGO (B | 224 W. 8th Street), a gallery opened by photographer Max Farago in three adjacent storefronts that once housed jewelry stores, shouldn’t be missed—along with its posthumous survey of John Kayser’s sumptuous images of female nudes sitting on pillows, cakes, books, and sculptures. A little further to east is the Downtown Arts District, where Wilding Cran (C | 939 S. Santa Fe Avenue), The Box (D | 805 Traction Avenue), MAMA Gallery (E | 1242 Palmetto Street), and Venus Over Los Angeles (F | 601 S. Anderson Street) are must-visits. (Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will open in the Arts District in March.) Then there’s the galleries on the southern reaches—Night Gallery (G | 2276 E 16th Street), François Ghebaly (H | 2245 E Washington Boulevard), Château Shatto (I | 406 West Pico Boulevard), Rosamund Felsen (J | 1923 S Santa Fe Ave #100), and non-profit art space, The Mistake Room (K | 1811 E 20th Street). We enlisted Joanne Heyler, the founding director at The Broad, to give us her tour of the neighborhood.

L | Otium


Downtown L.A. is no stranger to culinary delights—some of the best restaurants in the country exist here. The new kid on the block, Otium, has been garnering rave reviews since opening in November. “Otium just opened next to The Broad, and like our museum’s advance reservations, it books up fast,” says Heyler. “Helmed by the talented Chef Timothy Hollingsworth, formerly of The French Laundry, the restaurant offers inventive and delicious California cuisine in a stunning space. LA’s own Pulitzer-prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold is a fan. Not to be missed.”

M | The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles


Since its opening in 1983, MOCA’s influence on Los Angeles art can’t be understated. “I’m thrilled to be MOCA’s neighbor now at The Broad,” Heyler says. “A visit to both institutions offers visitors a comprehensive and fascinating overview of contemporary art that has few if any peers in the world.” Opening January 23rd, “Catherine Opie: 700 Nimes Road” is the L.A. photographer’s exploration of Elizabeth Taylor’s Bel-Air mansion.

N | Bottega Louie


Bottega Louie is a no-frills but classy restaurant that’s been one of the best lunch spots in L.A. for years—the prosciutto pizza is decadent. “The white marble counters, soaring ceilings, and rows of colorful macarons make this bustling restaurant as pretty as it is delicious,” says Heyler.

O | The Last Bookstore


It may not literally be the last bookstore, but it’s one of Los Angeles’s best—a sort of analogue to NYC’s Strand. Their newly renovated art book section will make you want to drop some coin on a rare Rothko catalogue. “A sure antidote to Barnes and Noble and a great place to get lost,” says Heyler. “Whether you are looking for something new or used or not looking for anything in particular, you will find it—or it will find you—here.”

The Broad museum on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles; photo by Iwan Baan. Courtesy The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

P | The Broad


Heyler heads up the newest museum in L.A., The Broad, a display of Eli and Edythe Broad’s contemporary art collection, amassed over decades. “Of course, you must visit The Broad,” says Heyler. “Since opening in September, it has been amazing to see the excited and diverse audiences engaging with our collection and with the architecture of the museum. With free general admission, it is not to be missed on a visit to Downtown L.A.” In addition to the collection, the museum hosts a series of events and screenings by artists like Martine Syms and Shirin Neshat.

Q | 356 Mission / Ooga Twooga


Just across the L.A. River, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, artist Laura Owens and gallerist Gavin Brown’s 356 Mission has basically changed the complexion of Los Angeles art with an invigorating mix of woolly and exciting exhibitions and performances. Currently on view is a show by textile artist Susan Cianciolo, through March 13. At the entrance to the gallery sits Wendy Yao’s Ooga Twooga—an offshoot of Ooga Booga, her Chinatown concept store with a cult following—where you can shop for clothes, books, and editions.


Further Afield

A | Paramount Ranch 3


Be prepared to drive way out to Paramount Ranch, an old Western film set, for what might be the weirdest art fair in the world. Anything can happen there, not least of which is a chance to see some of the globe’s best emerging galleries gathered together. Run by Freedman Fitzpatrick’s Alex Freedman and Robbie Fitzpatrick, along with artists Liz Craft and Pentti Monkkonen, Paramount Ranch 3 is an absolute must-visit during arts weekend.

B | Human Resources


A non-profit art space in Chinatown, Human Resources produces an wide array of challenging performances and exhibitions. Perhaps the most political space in town, it programs the kind of art that is needed—and feels urgent.

C | Chin’s Push


Run by Lydia Glenn-Murray—who spent the summer running Blood Gallery in Brooklyn’s Coney Island—Chin’s Push functions as an incubator for young artists, including Wrinkle-Decker, who first showed their large-scale sculpture “Lazy Boy” at the space in 2014. Last year, the same piece welcomed visitors to Art Contemporary Los Angeles. This month, the gallery will show L.A. artist Mitra Saboury in “Gut House.”

Views of the J. Paul Getty Museum campus. © J. Paul Getty Trust.

D | The J. Paul Getty Museum


An art trip to L.A. wouldn’t be complete without a pilgrimage to what’s arguably the city’s most beautiful museum. Perched in the Santa Monica mountains, The Getty’s futuristic campus of five exhibition pavilions, research institute, and restaurant (all designed by starchitect Richard Meier—and used as backdrop for the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness) houses a sprawling collection of internationally renowned work—with a view. Surrounded by grounds and gardens designed by Light and Space pioneer Robert Irwin, the visit can border on transcendent. 

Maxwell Williams