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Insider: Los Angeles

H. L. Mencken called it "nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis." But the City of Angels has outgrown this old gripe. There's new construction everywhere, from the Staples Center arena to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Getty Center has spurred a renaissance of the arts scene, and the nightlife couldn't be hotter. The four latest neighborhood revivals are a definite don't miss. Better catch the next flight and check it out.

haute culture
Getty Center 1200 Getty Center Dr.; 310/440-7300. Though reservations are required, admission is free to this massive hilltop arts complex, the most exciting new museum in the country.
Bergamot Station Art Center 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; 310/829-5854. Two dozen galleries, plus the Santa Monica Museum of Art.
Gagosian Gallery 456 N. Camden Dr., Beverly Hills; 310/271-9400. Like the Getty, this striking minimalist building was designed by Richard Meier. The stable of artists includes Damien Hirst and Robert Graham.
Simon Schade Gallery 828 N. La Brea Ave.; 323/466-4099. A funky space, with red velvet sofas and piped-in rock and roll; devoted to showing accessibly priced work by young local artists.
6150 Wilshire 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; 323/857-5942. Seven galleries, including Acme, Brent Petersen, and Works on Paper, all with an emphasis on emerging artists.

where to stay
You've been to the Bel-Air, the Peninsula, the Four Seasons, the Beverly Wilshire, and the Beverly Hills Hotel. You're not in the mood for the Mondrian or Chateau Marmont. Here are some of our lesser-known favorites.
L'Ermitage Beverly Hills 9291 Burton Way, Beverly Hills; 800/800-2113 or 310/278-3344; doubles from $418. Reopened in June and ever-so-chic, from its airy marble lobby to the English sycamore furnishings in the 124 high-tech yet comfortable rooms.
The Argyle 8358 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; 800/225-2637 or 323/654-7100; doubles from $250. The epitome of L.A. Art Deco, this Sunset Strip hotel has 64 impeccably turned-out rooms; a new chef, Brandon Boudet, in its Fenix restaurant; and a happening bar on a poolside deck lit by palm-tree-shaped lamps from the 1920's.
Oceana Suites Hotel 849 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica; 800/777-0758 or 310/393-0486; doubles from $250. Beachside whimsy is what sets apart this bright yellow hotel. All 63 suites have kitchens, but there's also room service from the nearby Wolfgang Puck Café.
Beverly Hills Inn 125 S. Spalding Dr., Beverly Hills; 310/278-0303; doubles from $135. You couldn't find a better location--just steps from the heart of Beverly Hills--than at this cozy, well-priced 46-room property.

nightlife
Luna Park 665 N. Robertson Blvd.; 310/652-0611. The best nightspot in town, with a great Euro-Asian menu--salmon tartare, shrimp wontons--and a range of acts from African and Brazilian pop to offbeat musical and standup comedy.
Conga Room 5364 Wilshire Blvd.; 323/938-1696. Investors Jimmy Smits and Jennifer Lopez can be spotted in this Hollywood boîte, dining on nuevo latino cuisine and dancing to Cuban bands.
Voda 1449 Second St., Santa Monica; 310/394-9774. A tiny, gorgeous lounge with a waterfall behind the bar. Sample one of the 50-plus vodkas over a plate of beluga caviar or smoked salmon.
C Bar 8442 Wilshire Blvd.; 323/782-8157. A sleek Deco watering hole that has etched aluminum murals, a mahogany and brushed-aluminum bar, and the best seventies soul sound track in town.
The Room 1626 Cahuenga Blvd.; 323/462-7196. This no-cover dance club, entered through an unmarked alley, is also attitude-free--just a place for great DJ music and a friendly vibe.

scene and heard: listen up!
Lots of musicians call Los Angeles home, and they often jam where you least expect them to. Joni Mitchell has been known to do an impromptu number at favorite celebrity bistro Les Deux Cafés (1638 N. Las Palmas Ave.; 323/465-0509). At the West End (1301 Fifth St., Santa Monica; 310/313-3293), Jackson Browne and Julia Fordham regularly take the stage.

L.A. neighborhood watch

beverly boulevard
Formerly sleepy--when compared to trendsetting Melrose--Beverly Boulevard is now home to shops for big-name designers like Todd Oldham and Richard Tyler, as well as small boutiques that feature up-and-coming labels.
Modernica 7366 Beverly Blvd.; 323/933-0383. The best in mid-century design--from George Nelson bubble lamps to Eames fiberglass chairs.
Cynthia Benjamin 7375 Beverly Blvd.; 323/954-0336. In the world's most eyeglass-conscious city, here's where to find the latest. Today's emphasis is on Japanese designers, from OJO Optical to Zip + Homme.
Diavolina 7383 Beverly Blvd.; 323/936-3000. Lean back on leopard-print chairs while slipping on Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood shoes.
Red 7450 Beverly Blvd.; 323/937-0331; dinner for two $50. "Real food for real people," with plenty of sidewalk seating and special snacks for dogs.
Erica Courtney 7465 Beverly Blvd.; 323/938-2373. Courtney's own jewelry, made from black, silver, and charcoal-colored South Seas pearls.
Re-Mix 7605 Beverly Blvd.; 323/936-6210. Like a shoe museum, with endless boxes of unworn vintage (1920's to 70's) footwear for men and women.

robertson boulevard
Robertson Boulevard, near the Beverly Center, has always had great stores, but in the past year it has become L.A.'s hippest shopping street.
Madison 106 S. Robertson Blvd.; 310/275-1930. Owner Mark Goldstein works with a factory in Perugia to design his Matilde cashmere sweaters; he also stocks shoes from Dolce & Gabbana and Marc Jacobs.
Newsroom 120 N. Robertson Blvd.; 310/652-4444; dinner for two $40. With its health-conscious global cuisine, fruit-juice bar, and great selection of tequilas, this is the commissary for Robertson's fashionable set.
Ghost 125 N. Robertson Blvd.; 310/246-0567. Rosewood floors and Plexiglas furniture set off the very feminine lines of London-based designer Tanya Sarne's architectural dresses.
Curve 154 N. Robertson Blvd.; 310/360-8008. A showcase for the two woman designers who own it, Curve also carries must-have skirts and sweaters by Cake and Christian Blanken.

4th st./santa monica
The best of Santa Monica isn't on the crowded Third Street Promenade, but rather a few blocks away on Fourth Street. Once the land of boarded-up shop fronts, the area is now jumping round the clock.
La Serenata di Garibaldi 1416 Fourth St.; 310/656-7017; dinner for two $70. A new hacienda-style branch of the venerable family-run restaurant, serving highly touted regional Mexican cuisine.
Magicopolis 1418 Fourth St.; 310/451-2241. A spare, postindustrial club with magic-themed stained-glass windows. It houses two performance spaces, one for close-up magic and one for larger illusions.
Harvell's 1432 Fourth St.; 310/395-1676. The stage is microscopic and the décor nonexistent, but this is the top blues club in town, with live music seven nights a week.
Border Grill 1445 Fourth St.; 310/451-1655; dinner for two $60. Owned by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, the nationally famous Too Hot Tamales, this place is large and loud, with some of the most exciting Latin food anywhere.

silverlake
Beck and the Dust Brothers burst onto the music scene with the Silverlake sound, but there's more to this artsy hood than the alt-rock bands. The coffeehouse scene is serious, and the hillside houses are by architects Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler.
Coffee Table Café 2930 Rowena Ave.; 323/644-8111; dinner for two $30. The coolest of the cool cafés. Order an espresso with lemon.
Paio 2520 Hyperion Ave.; 323/953-1973; dinner for two $80. A tiny, minimalist restaurant devoted to ambitious New American cooking.
Linda Warren Fine Arts Gallery 2293 Panorama Terrace; 323/669-1131; by appointment; public openings on Saturdays. Contemporary paintings and sculpture in a 1938 Art Deco house turned gallery.
Rubbish 1630 Silverlake Blvd.; 323/661-5575. Twentieth-century furnishings, from 1940's American to modern Asian and Danish, at good prices.
Dreams of L.A. & Spaceland 1717 Silverlake Blvd.; 323/661-4380. After 30 years, Spaceland somehow manages to remain L.A.'s hippest rock venue. Recent headliners: the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ozomatli, and Dieselhead.

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