Get Literary in Los Angeles

1. Where to Stay

The Sunset Tower Hotel, inside and out.Photo: Courtesy of Sunset Tower Hotel

Legendary Chateau Marmont (from $335)—with its quirky craftsman style and delightfully seedy vibe—was featured in Bruce Wagner’s Cellphone Trilogy and has hosted everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Hunter S. Thompson to A.M. Homes, whose latest novel, This Book Will Save Your Life, was written in residence.

The Sunset Tower Hotel (from $265) has an equally impressive pedigree: Truman Capote lived here in the forties; Raymond Chandler mentioned it by name in Farewell, My Lovely; Judith Regan was a resident until her recent sacking. Thanks to last year’s $25 million overhaul, rooms now come with limestone bathrooms, wi-fi, and iPod docking stations.

Though it calls itself a boutique hotel, the elegant, mission-style Hotel Bel Air (from $395) is impeccably old school. For a dreamy writers’ retreat, book the 8,000-square-foot Herb Garden Suite, with its library, fireplace, and daybed-bedecked reading room.

For more affordable accommodations—and a prime Beverly Hills address—stay behind the red lacquered doors of Maison 140 (from $179). Part Left Bank pension, part Far East opium den, this 43-room residence drips with design superstar Kelly Wearstler’s mirrored chinoiserie and crystal chandeliers.

2. Where to Eat

Café PinotPhoto: Courtesy of Café Pinot

As Bryant Park Grill is to the New York Public Library, Café Pinot is to L.A.’s stately central branch (but without the overcooked salmon). Sit outside on the twinkle-lit patio and gaze on the fountains and grassy, olive-tree-lined banks of Maguire Gardens.

Fitzgerald and Hemingway are just two of the heavy-hitters haunting Musso & Frank Grill (6667 Hollywood Blvd.; 323-467-5123), a retro relic where William Faulkner used to fix his own mint juleps. Don’t bother with a banquette; the best seats in the house are the swivel stools flanking the west room’s wood-paneled bar.

According to Nora Ephron, the world’s best pastrami sandwich isn’t in New York; it’s at Langer’s, the 60-year-old Jewish deli opposite MacArthur Park (the setting for Joseph Wambaugh’s cult crime classic The Choirboys). Be prepared for the inevitable food coma brought on by sandwich No. 19, a hand-cut pastrami pile topped with coleslaw, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing.

Long before Mozza opened in November, Angelenos were thrumming with Oscar Night–like anticipation. The collaboration between Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and LaBrea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton has patrons lining up at noon to sample a superb Margherita pie, along with Batali’s decadent, diet-eviscerating lardo.

3. What to Do

Book SoupPhoto: Courtesy of Book Soup

Although it’s impossible to hit them all in one day, L.A.’s best independent bookstores are worth a meander across the metropolis. Start at Skylight Books, a hipster hangout in Los Feliz with a stellar collection of small-press periodicals. Then stroll down to House of Pies (1869 N. Vermont Ave.; 323-666-9961), the de facto office of many an aspiring screenwriter.

From there, a ten-minute drive down Sunset gets you to Book Soup, a cozy treasure trove with over 60,000 titles. The next-door annex hosts regular readings—Norman Mailer and David Mamet are slated for February.

True connoisseurs will want to take a southern detour and stop at the Heritage Bookshop on Melrose, a former mortuary turned faux Tudor mansion with vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows. The museumlike atmosphere befits a place that sells a 1561 edition of Chaucer for almost $70,000. But deals can be found, with $300 copies of Twain and Dickens.

4. Insider’s Tip

Photo: Courtesy of Kamal Nicholas

Back in the forties, writer Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife, Marta, hosted a salon of influential European writers like Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Aldous Huxley. Villa Aurora, their Spanish Colonial house in the Pacific Palisades, now functions as a writer’s residence and vibrant cultural institution, with readings, films, live music, and such heady lectures as “After Schoenberger: The Experimental and the Avant Garde.” Best of all are the extensive property tours (reservations are required): The house has been kept almost entirely intact, down to the Adolf Hitler caricature that Feuchtwanger and friends used as a dartboard.

5. An Oddball Day

Huntington LibraryPhoto: Courtesy of Huntington Library

Follow in the footsteps of L.A.’s unofficial bard, the late Charles Bukowski. Begin with a visit to Huntington Library, where Bukowski’s widow donated his entire archive, including self-portraits and hand-edited pages of Ham on Rye. For a typical Bukowski lunch (a liquid one, in other words), order a boilermaker (one shot whiskey, one mug beer) at Barney’s Beanery, one of the author’s favorite dives. Then heed his gambling advice and bet “against the general public” at the Santa Anita Racetrack. Finish your day at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Bukowski often took his girlfriends on dates, or pay your respects at the author’s own eternal resting place, the Green Hills Memorial Park in San Pedro. His is the epitaph that reads: “Don’t Try.”

6. Related Links

The blog LA Observed goes to the heart of Southern California, covering everything from Hollywood history to union fights to whale-watching excursions.

For the latest information on the city’s restaurant scene, check out EaterLA, Eater’s recently launched Angeleno sibling.

West Coast style and beauty junkies get their fashionista fix at Splendora.

LA Brain Terrain provides a comprehensive calendar of cultural activities, as well as a wonderful roundup of city-based literary-, political-, and science-specific links.

Writer Mark Sarvas writes about books and L.A.’s literary events on his erudite and opinionated blog, the Elegant Variation.

Get Literary in Los Angeles