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Best of 2013: Readers pick the best places to go and things to do in LA

Time Out Los Angeles readers told us which restaurants, bars, museums, shops and more are at the top of their lists.
By Time Out contributors |

Everyone's got a strong opinion about the best things LA has to offer—and we at Time Out Los Angeles are no exception. This time, though, we want to know what our readers' favorites are. You told us what really impressed you this year in Los Angeles, from the best new art exhibition to the coolest local festival, and your enduring favorites: most mouth-watering burger, the hit-the-jackpot vintage store, the best theater for artsy-fartsy films, and more. Here are the winners in our readers' choice poll.

Shopping, Bookstores

Best indie bookstore: The Last Bookstore

icon-location-pin Downtown

If the Last Bookstore Downtown were really our last bookstore, we'd be in good shape. Currently housed in what used to be an old bank building (complete with marble columns and giant doors), the store first began in a loft apartment and has since expanded to include a record shop, coffee bar and "Labyrinth" mezzanine level solely dedicated to $1 books. It's now the largest independent bookstore in Southern California. You can sell or trade old books here, pick up new ones, grab a record or a cup of joe, and attend a myriad of events including readings, book signings, writer's groups, open mic nights and concerts. It's a true community hot spot, bringing like-minded literary folks together to create, inspire and share in an open and welcoming space. RECOMMENDED: The city's best independent booksellers

Shopping, Boutiques

Best vintage shop: Wasteland (Melrose)

icon-location-pin Fairfax/Beverly/La Brea/Third St.

Can’t afford to shop at the Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg or Helmut Lang shops on Melrose? Not to worry—Wasteland always has plenty of these designers and more, for less than you’d pay for lunch at The Ivy. This sprawling consignment shop is filled with rack upon rack of lightly-worn clothing and accessories for guys and gals, with a bit of vintage in the mix as well. The store also allows you to sell your closet castoffs for cash or store credit—we often spot celebs among the selling crowd, with garbage bags full of swag in tow.

Bars, Cocktail bars

Best cocktail bar: The Varnish

icon-location-pin Downtown

Classic craft cocktail aficionado Sasha Petraske is a big deal in New York—he opened one of the city’s first serious cocktail bars Milk & Honey—so when he teamed up with downtown nightlife operator Cedd Moses (Golden Gopher, Broadway Bar, Seven Grand) and barman Eric Alperin in 2009, he launched one of Los Angeles' first sophisticated bars, now considered the godfather of LA's craft cocktail movement. The Downtown speakeasy sits inside Cole's, past a discrete rear door, marked only by a drawing of a coupe glass. Standing at the bar is not permitted, so snag a vintage booth and take in the live piano music; but, of course, the main draw here is the drinks. You can't go wrong with a classic Old-Fashioned or Aviation.

Restaurants, Fast food spots

Best burger: In-N-Out Burger

icon-location-pin Los Angeles

Southern California may have spawned the golden arches, but no other regional fast food export has a local and out-of-towner following quite like In-N-Out. "Did you go to In-N-Out?" is bound to come up in any conversation when a tourist visits LA. And honestly, it's hard to argue with less-than-$3 cheeseburgers, late-night hours and a not-so-secret menu that offers a surprising level of customization for a fast food spot.

Restaurants, Trucks

Best food truck: Kogi

Craving the taste explosion that only Korean short ribs and Mexican quesdillas can deliver? Catch one of Kogi's Korean taco trucks as they travel LA Tuesday-Friday.  Find the Kogi's weekly schedule here and don't miss out on LA's tradition of fantastic street food!

Bars, Lounges

Best gay bar: Abbey

icon-location-pin West Hollywood

The Abbey is annually voted one of the world’s best gay bars. That explains the long lines on the weekends to get into this once humble coffee house that now boasts four full bars and sits on about five times the amount of real estate it originally occupied. The drinks at this West Hollywood stalwart are notoriously strong (they should be at $12 to $14 per) and the upscale, Gothic-meets-the-Mediterranean indoor/outdoor spaces, plentiful cabanas and hunky bartenders are all aesthetically satisfying to be sure. If there’s a downside to The Abbey it is actually its success. Not so very long ago, it was the nucleus of gay life in West Hollywood, but as its popularity has grown, increasingly the crowd (particularly at night) seems to be made up of tourists and a hodgepodge of bar flies in which West Hollywood locals no longer feature as prominently as they once did. To its credit though, the Abbey banned ‘Hen Nights’ and bachelorette parties in early 2012, which helped to shore up its gay street cred among some of the faithful who felt it had overextended itself in its efforts to be hetero-friendly. All that said, make no mistake, The Abbey is the granddaddy of gay bars in Los Angeles and as such it still rules the roost. Other bars and clubs come and go, but, bitch and moan as some may, every gay in West Hollywood still worships at the altar of The Abbey from time to time. RECOMMENDED: Best gay bars and clubs in Los Angeles

Things to do, Event spaces

Best outdoor music venue: Hollywood Bowl

icon-location-pin Hollywood

This gorgeous outdoor amphitheatre has been hosting concerts since the LA Philharmonic first played here in 1922. Nestled in an aesthetically blessed fold in the Hollywood Hills, the 18,000-seat venue can bring out the romantic in the terminally cynical, and the glorious setting almost makes up for the somewhat dodgy acoustics. It's the summer home of the LA Phil, but it's hosted everyone from the Beatles to Big Bird, and today mixes classical concerts with all manner of rock and pop.

Movie theaters, Independent

Best arthourse cinema: Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre

icon-location-pin Fairfax/Beverly/La Brea/Third St.

LA's equivalent of the Cinemateque Francaise responds to Truffaut's inquiry—"Is the cinema more important than life?"—with a wholehearted "yes." Fairfax's historic Silent Movie Theater still screens early archives—and, yes, talkies from classics to more modern picks complete with Q&A's, live music and potlucks. You'll find everything here, from kitschy B-movies to punch-proud masterpieces—with fun concessions such as giant cupcakes and free coffee—plus lots of special guests and parties out back on the patio.

Stanley Kubrick Retrospective at LACMA

Best art exhibition of 2013: Stanley Kubrick

If you hate the idea of going to a museum because you think it's all Old Masters portraits and landscape paintings, the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at LACMA might have you seeing things in a new light. Come view photographs, scripts, lenses, cameras, set models, costumes, props and, of course, film at this extensive, 13,000-square-foot retrospective of the auteur's work. There are large-scale photos and set pieces that will captivate you, but some of our favorite smaller pieces include: the voluminous scrapbook made by Gertrude Kubrick (aka "mom") of young Stanley's early photojournalism work; the type-written letters Kubrick received from various religious institutions condemning Lolita; the giant, shiny knife that Jack Nicholson used in that famous door-slashing scene in The Shining (Kubrick took the knife from his wife Christiane's kitchen drawer).

The exhibition is co-presented with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and demonstrates LACMA's commitment to exploring the impact of fim on art history. The retrospective begins with the photographs Kubrick took early on for Look magazine in the 1940s and surverys his career over the course of 50 years, including his technological accomplishments, special effects, an alternate beginning for 2001: A Space Odyssey and even films he was never able to complete. (Kubrick passed away of a heart attack in 1999, around the time Eyes Wide Shut was released.)

Best exhibition about LA: Becoming L.A.

The much-anticipated permanent exhibition "Becoming L.A." opens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County this Sunday. An innovative and comprehensive view on LA's history and identity, the exhibition captures the essence of LA's complicated genesis, from Mexican rancho settlements to the transformative World War II years. Must-sees include Walt Disney's animation table (reportedly used to make "Steamboat Willie"), a souvenir bottle of water from the opening of the Los Angeles aqueduct (which opened one day before the museum itself, a century ago this year), the many portrait walls and the W.P.A.-created model of downtown from 1939. If you were a California fourth-grader, the Catholic missions portion will be particularly memorable (there's even a diorama!). "Becoming L.A." is an excellent addition to the Natural History Museum's permanent collection, and as the museum celebrates 100 years as a part of this city's culture, the timing for an LA-focused exhibition could not be more appropriate.

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