The Guide to Melrose Avenue West

Melrose Avenue | Photo courtesy of lisalovesdesign, Flickr
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Melrose Avenue is one of L.A.’s most famous streets, featuring a myriad of shopping, dining and entertainment destinations. Melrose runs north of Beverly Boulevard and south of Santa Monica Boulevard. Along its "west end," Melrose Avenue is all about strolling and shopping, so bring dough and plenty of it. The street begins at Santa Monica Boulevard where the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood meet, otherwise known as the intersection of posh and funky.

Pacific Design Center
Photo courtesy of Pacific Design Center, Facebook

Start by heading east along Melrose LA’s chic design district, anchored by the vast green, red and blue buildings of the Pacific Design Center. In the complex's courtyard, you'll find MOCA Pacific Design Center, an offshoot of downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art; it's always free and usually exhibits work by noteworthy local artists. If you're feeling peckish, there's the upscale vegan fare at Gracias Madre, a Mexican-themed restaurant from the folks behind Cafe Gratitude. You won't have to declare "I am glorious" or "I am thriving" just to order a tempeh wrap or bowl of soup. It has a lovely patio like nearby Zinque, a loosely French bistro that's as popular for power breakfasts as it is for sipping wine and cheese in the late afternoon. If you'd rather have your vino at home, turn down La Cienega and pop into the cave-like Du Vin Wine & Spirits where knowledgeable staffers who will help you sort through the well chosen selection of wines and liquors.

Cycle House on Melrose Avenue
Photo courtesy of Cycle House, Facebook

Continuing east, you'll hit a slew of stores on Mlerose stocking everything you need to outfit your home: antique and contemporary rugs at Woven Accents or Mansour Fine Rugs; one-of-a-kind bathrooms and kitchen fixtures (perhaps inspired by the controls of a Victorian boiler room) at Waterworks; Eames loungers, Nelson pendant lamps and other classics of modernist furniture at Design Within Reach. You can also outfit yourself with luxurious handbags from Balenciaga, colorful dresses from Alberta Ferretti, buttery soft leather jackets from Rag & Bone and elegant made-to-measure menswear from Seize sur Vingt. At Kitson, you don't have to decide; choose clothes and gifts for men, women and kids from a diverse array of labels. If you need a pick-me-up, head to Alfred in the Alley, located literally in an alley next to popular and ultra-upbeat spin studio Cycle House.

E.P. & L.P. food and beerE.P. & L.P. food and beerE.P. & L.P. food and beerE.P. & L.P. food and beerE.P. & L.P. food and beer
Photo courtesy of E.P. & L.P., Facebook

Urth Caffe Melrose lets you choose between healthy salads and diet-busting desserts; if the cafe is packed, and it usually is, take your iced latte across the street where you'll find the world's fanciest Restoration Hardware. Even though it's big, RH is easy to miss because there's no sign and it feels more like a furniture gallery than a store. Head upstairs to the rooftop terrace where couches, long wooden tables, cabanas, candles and ping pong tables await anyone who wants to kick back and enjoy a sweet view of the Hollywood Hills. If you want to dine in style, there's another rooftop option. On the northwest corner of Melrose and La Cienega, above the Alice and Olivia boutique, the recently opened E.P. & L.P. offers Southeast Asian fare on two levels. Downstairs at E.P., chef Louis Tikaram offers a menu of oysters, short ribs and seafood curry while upstairs at the glamorous rooftop L.P., it's all about cocktails and streetfood-inspired small bites like turmeric pork skewers and soft shell crab buns.

Photo courtesy of TENOVERSIX Los Angeles, Facebook

Once you hit La Cienega, it's worth making a detour to Melrose Place Los Angeles, which is one block north. The street was immortalized in the '90s thanks to Aaron Spelling's over-the-top TV show, but you won't find apartment complexes populated by conniving, wanna be actors. In truth, the street is occupied by an eye-popping array of designer boutiques: Monique LHuillier, Isabel Marant, Chloe, Vince, Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs. Don't forget The Row, Ashley and and Mary-Kate Olsen's fashion line, the edgy lingerie at Kiki De Montparnasse or the ocean-inspired jewelry designs of SoCal native Irene Neuwirth. You might pop into Bookmarc, next to the Marc Jacobs store, to peruse the art, design and photo books, or Tenoversix, one of the most unique gift shops on Melrose. Melrose Place is also home to the original (and much larger) Alfred Cafe. Order at the subterranean counter -- and stop in at Compartes Chocolatier for high-style bonbons --  then try to snag a streetside table for people-watching (celeb and otherwise).

Fig & Olive Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Fig & Olive Restaurant

For a sit-down meal, there's airy, Mediterranean-inspired Fig & Olive where the seasonal fare is complemented by a tasting of infused olive oils. On Sunday mornings, check out the Melrose place farmers market that begins at the almost civilized hour of 9 a.m.

Kelly Wearstler on Melrose Avenue
Photo courtesy of Kelly Wearstler, Facebook

If you’re ready for more Melrose Avenue shopping, the golden triangle bordered by Melrose Avenue includes more high-end shops, from the opulent and kooky home furnishings of Kelly Wearstler to the outrageous fashions of Alexander McQueen. As you head east, you'll hit Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith as well as the high-end vintage store Decades and the fanciful housewares of Jonathan Adler. At the corner of Crescent Heights there's stylish stalwart Fred Segal, which feels like a handful of tantalizing boutiques that have been smartly married into one department store. Don't leave home without that Black AmEx.

Duff's Cakemix
Photo courtesy of Duff's Cakemix, Facebook

The street is also something of a dining corridor. Near La Cienega there's the longstanding Lucques where chef Suzanne Goin sets the bar high for farm-to-table fare. (Her Sunday suppers, which are served family-style, are legendary.) Michael Voltaggio aims for visual thrills along with substance at ink, where classic dishes get a modernist spin; the egg yolk gnocchi and charcoal potatoes look as good as they taste. At Tal Ronnen's Crossroads, the fanciest vegan restaurant in town, the scaloppini with marsala are actually glazed morel mushrooms and the crab cakes are made from hearts of palm. The desserts at Sweet Lady Jane, especially the triple berry cake and Oreo tiramisu, are popular; or you can design and decorate your own cake at Duff's Cakemix. Chicago chef Rick Bayless's slick, Melrose California-inflected Mexican joint, Red O, is still going strong since opening in 2010.

Cisco Home Melrose
Cisco Home Melrose | Photo courtesy of Sean Davis, Flickr

East of Crescent Heights, Melrose Avenue starts to get more funky with outposts from denim line G-Star RAW, t-shirt line Johnny Cupcakes (nope, it's not a bakery) and Adidas. Agent Provocateur specializes in provocative lingerie and you're offered champagne when you walk through the door, which is the best way to shop for anything. The playful modernism of Blu Dot and the eco-friendly finds at Cisco Home Furnishings should scratch that housewares itch.

Hollywood Improv Comedy Club
Photo courtesy of Hollywood Improv Comedy Club, Facebook

If you want nightlife, check out the comedy at The Improv, which offers a mix of mainstream and oddball acts. When it's all said and done, head to Palihotel where the terrific in-house restaurant, The Hart and The Hunter, puts an uptown spin on down-home dishes like shrimp and grits, smoked trout and fried green tomatoes. The boutique hotel, with its small but stylish rooms, makes an ideal launching point for a night on the town; you're ultra close to West Hollywood and within striking distance of both the Sunset Strip and Hollywood.