Our LA city guide to Silver Lake reveals the best ways to enjoy this trendy Eastside 'hood, sometimes referred to as the Williamsburg of LA. Sure, Silver Lake's the butt of many a hipster joke, but we tend to mock what we envy most—and there’s much to envy here. Silver Lake is one of LA’s most walkable ’hoods, with (almost) everything conveniently located right on Sunset Boulevard. There are enough shops, bars and eateries to keep you consuming for days. The area has also managed to marry the shiny and new (of which there’s a lot) with the shabby and old, making the neighborhood feel very, well, real. And it’s totally bikeable: A Sunset Boulevard bike lane runs the length of the neighborhood and the sidewalks here have more racks than parking meters. Whether you explore Silver Lake on two wheels or two feet, you’ll find the best of what this Eastside nabe has to offer—and meet some friendly folks along the way. Enjoy!
RECOMMENDED: Find the best places to eat, drink and shop in our updated neighborhood guide to Silver Lake.
Start your day with a kick of caffeine. You may be tempted to hop in line at Intelligentsia (the coffee is delicious and the people-watching helps the 15-minute wait go by), but locals prefer Cafecito, the quieter shop down the street on Hoover. Here you’ll find less pretension, more privacy—as well as the addictive Espresso Clandestino ($2.50 per cup, $12 per bag). Music lovers, take a minute to check out Old Style Guitar Shop down the block. Rickety porch steps lead into an old house, every inch of which is covered with beautiful refurbished guitars, euks and banjos. Ask Reuben, the owner, to show you some rare antique string instruments or the latest banjo he’s made out of an end table. By the way, if caffeine isn’t your thing, you can also pick up a fresh-squeezed juice or a deelish coconut-kale smoothie ($6.50 for 16oz) at Naturewell, a health food store/juicery just down the street from Sunset Junction.
Fueled up? Time to shop. The Junction area of Sunset has some of the best boutiques in the neighborhood. If you’re looking to adopt a high-end hipster street style, check out Mohawk General Store for handcrafted homewares, leather goods and a small but well-curated selection of clothing and shoes. Indulge your inner lush at Barkeeper, a shop fully dedicated to, well, keeping a well-stocked bar. In addition to top-shelf and rare liquors, you’ll find vintage glassware, libation accessories (think: themed swivel sticks, oversized ice cube trays, a colorful array of cocktail guides) and a massive offering of bitters—tasting encouraged. The goods here are solid, but the service is notoriously crotchety. Across the street, look for an ivy-covered alleyway with a sign for the Spice Station. This stop is a must. Walk down a wooden pathway to a veritable secret garden: an outdoor courtyard with a babbling fountain, vine-covered trellis, hanging lanterns and wooden benches. Enter the intimate tea room, where Spice Station houses its signature blends and rare teas from across the globe. Or head into the station proper—an aromatic room stocked floor to ceiling with colorful jars containing more than 250 different spices, plus an extensive array of dish-specific blends (such as Poseidon’s Catch, great on white fish). You could (and can) spend hours here, unscrewing jars, sniffing and tasting, or creating blends of your own.
You’ll definitely whet your appetite at Spice Station, and there are a plethora of tasty lunch options nearby. For inventive vegan fare, cross the street to Flore, a hipster haven with specialties like Tempeh Tu-no Salad ($9.95) and Eastsider Tacos ($9.95) made with seitan, cashew cheese and cilantro cream. Another fresh option is Forage, a restaurant that sources all of its ingredients locally—and we mean really locally: Forage exchanges produce from backyard farmers for free meals, and gives grants to help urban farmers obtain state certification as approved food sources for markets and restaurants. The ever-changing seasonal menu reflects the surprising amount of farmers we have quietly tending gardens in our metropolitan midst. If quick and greasy is what you’re after, Tacos Delta is a colorful little stand on the corner of Lucile and Sunset, serving up chilaquiles, enchiladas and of course, fresh tacos. Get them to-go or enjoy them at the stand’s backyard seating area.
After lunch, make some shop-stops to add to your super-cool-media collection. First up, Secret Headquarters, a comic book and graphic novel store with shelf upon shelf of illustrated stories, as well as beautiful art books and local zines. Next door, Vacation Vinyl offers the usual selection of records, plus an extensive array of cassette tapes—the latest collector item for music memorabilia fans. Vacation specializes in punk, metal and experimental music, but don’t worry, they’ll also have that Hall & Oates album you’ve been searching for. Don’t miss the metal-themed greeting cards from Dark & Somber Greetings ($5) at the checkout counter—our favorite has a face-painted death-metal dude crying on the front, with text that says “I’m sorry”; the inside reads “for being born.”
If perusing stores isn’t your style, head down Silverlake Boulevard to the Silver Lake Reservoir; a two-mile stroll around the water affords great views of the bungalows—and a couple of Richard Neutra houses—tucked into the Silver Lake Hills. Neutra and his family actually lived in the house he built at 2300 Silver Lake Blvd, open Saturdays for 30-minute tours led by Cal Poly Pomona architecture students. ($10. Tours are by appointment only, so email director Sarah Lorenzen to check availability: email@example.com.) The Reservoir is also home to The Meadow, a soft, grassy knoll overlooking the water where visitors can lounge, picnic, or play a game of frisbee or bocce. Note: no pups allowed.
Elliott Smith fans must head west down Sunset to Solutions! electronics shop. Smith worked here before his music career took off, and the store has a mural dedicated to his memory, where fans can write lyrics, thoughts and notes to him. Unfortunately, it’s also an attractive site for graffiti artists.
If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, find Golden Saddle Cyclery just north of Sunset on Lucile Ave. A bike shop for coffee, you ask? Along with sleek frames, colorful components and a friendly, knowledgeable (and dreamy) staff, Golden Saddle offers freshly made small-batch cold brew ($4.44). Pump coffee (like a bike pump, get it?) is brewed locally in a Topanga Canyon treehouse, then bottled in glass and delivered—it’s only available at Golden Saddle and Vinny’s Barbershop nearby on Normal Ave. Cold artisanal coffee, hot hipster bike mechanics—that’s pretty much Silver Lake in a nutshell.
You’ve got dinner choices aplenty in Silver Lake, including a number of tasty ethnic options. For Mexican fare that’s less greasy and more authentic than your usual chimichanga combo meal, stop in at Alegria. The dishes here are inspired by region: try the the secret-recipe carnitas ($16.95) from Michoacan, or the Budin Moctezuma ($13.25) from Mexico City, a “tamale pie” that’s a lot like Mexican lasagna, with tortillas instead of noodles. You should definitely try Alegria’s frozen drinks, which are made with crushed ice and local fruit—think of them as healthy slushies. For a more romantic setting, try for a table at Cru, a 100% raw, vegan and gluten-free spot in the Sunset Triangle. The menu at Cru is inventive (pumpkin seed chorizo, cashew coconut sour cream) and changes often. Generously, there’s no corkage fee for the BYOB, and the crowd is beautiful and lovey dovey—you’ll be hard pressed to find a table that’s not hosting a date.
If a quick, cheap bite is more your speed, check out Blossom near the Sunset Junction. This new Vietnamese joint offers all the basics (pho, spring rolls, vermicelli) at super-affordable prices in a pleasant basement setting that doesn’t feel like a basement at all. A giant wine selection (and a large, glass-walled wine cellar in the dining room) sets Blossom apart. Try the best-selling Mas Vel Perie Les Escures malbec ($7 per glass, $30 for the bottle). If you want to go whole hog, upscale dining at Black Hogg is worth the wait (no reservations taken). Standout small plates include fried olives with honey goat cheese ($6) and popcorn bacon with maple crema ($7).
In the mood for a postprandial drink? If it’s cheap beer and good tequila you’re after, grab a stool at El Chavito, a somewhat divey bar attached to the so-so El Chavo Mexican restaurant on Sunset. The atmosphere is festive, the drinks are strong and there’s a patio outside for al fresco debauchery. But if you’d rather be served by a mixologist than a bartender, make your way to Bar Stella. This new addition to Junction mainstay Cafe Stella has a pretty outdoor patio and a slightly-shabby-but-mostly-chic interior with a subtle exotic bird theme. The lighting is just right, the drinks are expertly made and the crowd is surprisingly non-douchey. Karaoke fans should head to the Smog Cutter; the bartenders treat patrons like crap, but that’s part of the fun at this cash-only dive. (And what else would you expect from a bar that Charles Bukowski used to frequent?)
If you want to see a show, you’ve got a few options. The historic, single screen Vista Theater plays movies on actual film reels (not digital) and boasts giant Art Deco light fixtures, kitschy Egyptian-themed wall details and a manager who dresses up for every opening (think: Willy Wonka for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Down the street, the historic El Cid hosts an hour-long flamenco showcase every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, with an authentic Spanish dinner included ($35). Looking to cut a rug? Los Globos dance club used to be a notoriously seedy spot where you were as likely to get shot or shivved as you were to get picked up. Lately, it’s cleaned up its act in an attempt to re-market itself as a hip, safe dancing destination. The music changes each night (90s hits, classic Latin beats, etc.) so check the calendar before you put on your dancing shoes.
For live music, head to The Satellite on Silver Lake Boulevard (bonus: free on Mondays). Formerly known as Spaceland, the venue’s first-ever show featured local hero Beck, and the caliber of artists who play there has been pretty solid ever since. If the dance floor gets too mosh-y, head upstairs to play a game of pool or coerce the ancient photo booth into spitting out some fuzzy black & white pictures of you, your friends and your PBRs.
As your night on the town comes to a close, say so long to Silver Lake with a midnight snack at Heywood, the ’hood’s new “gourmet grilled cheese shoppe.” A little cheesy in both senses of the word, but it’s open till 3am and has something for everyone: classic bread ’n’ cheese ($9), fancy triple cream Brie and fig jam ($11), as well as gluten-free and vegan cheese options. The perfect nightcap!
Why I love Silver lake...
Silver Lake movers and shakers wax poetic about their 'hood.
Kyle Kelley, co-owner of Golden Saddle Cyclery
“The people that live here have a lot of respect for the area. The community is good at monitoring change—they’re vocal about what they do and don’t want for their neighborhood.”
Cat Walshak, bartender at Gingergrass
“Besides the obvious appeal of the Reservoir, Silver Lake is a great place to people-watch—whether it’s drunk girls jaywalking in high heels or attractive dads jogging with strollers and dogs. The neighborhood has something for everyone, even if you’re broke.“
Greh Holger, clerk at Vacation Vinyl
“This neighborhood is awesome! It’s clean, it’s safe, you can walk literally everywhere.”