Few names conjure up as glamorous an image as that of Hollywood. And that, for decades, has been North Hollywood's problem. If its namesake has nabbed all the glitz, and West Hollywood has earned its place at the top of Los Angeles's nightlife pole, lesser-known NoHo – lurking in the San Fernando Valley on the other side of the Hollywood Hills – has, traditionally, had less going for it.
“The Valley used to be where you had to live if you couldn't afford the other side of the hill, but now there are fewer and fewer reasons to head into the city,” says journalist Tony Horkins, a Londoner who moved to NoHo in 2010. “It still wasn't great when I moved here,” he says. “There used to be a saying: 'The next decent place to eat north of Ventura Boulevard is San Francisco'.”
Yet now, café and bar owners are venturing up north. And, this being LA – and with NoHo neighbouring Burbank, home to Universal, Warner Bros, Dreamworks and Disney's studios – there's a hefty amount of stardust added to its “new Silver Lake” feel, too. Not only do the ever-multiplying coffee shops double as script-writing offices, but warehouses are rented out as rehearsal space, and film crews are rarely off the streets.
The NoHo Arts District, established a decade ago, may be small, but it packs a punch with a glut of 22 theatres, including the 1926-built El Portal (001 818 508 4200; elportaltheatre.com) and the NoHo Arts Center (thenohoartscenter.com) as well as galleries such as the NoHo Gallery LA (001 818 506 6684; nohogalleryla.com) and Lankershim Arts Center (001 818 752 7568; lankershimartscenter.com), an independent cinema and dance studios.
The big LA cliché, of course, is that you need a car to get around, but with its nightlife, shops and culture packed into a few walkable blocks – and with an easy metro link to Downtown LA – North Hollywood is a rare exception to the rule.
As a residential area, NoHo's hotel scene is virtually non-existent, but The Garland (001 800 238 3759; thegarland.com), which upgraded to sleek boutique-style hotel last year, is making laudable efforts to get one going. The renovated rooms have been given a vintage feel, and restaurant The Front Yard pulls in the locals – but it's still a large hotel, and its free shuttle to Universal Studios means it's popular with groups and families. Doubles from $209 (£139).
Over in Burbank, Tangerine (001 818 843 1121; thetangerine.com) is a lovely little renovated motel with – unheard of in LA – free breakfast. Doubles from $176 (£109), B&B.
Its proximity to the film studios and a wealth of warehouse space has drawn legions of dance studios to North Hollywood over the years, with drop-in classes of all styles around the clock. Britney Spears, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez are all regulars at the Millennium Dance Complex (001 818 753 5081; millenniumdancecomplex.com) and while its hip hop, jazz and heated yoga classes are popular with young Hollywood, you'll also spy celebs at the Debbie Reynolds Studio (001 818 985 3193; drdancestudio.com), whose classes include “burlesque jazz” and krumping (classes $12/£8).
A 1926 restaurant designed to look like a railway car, the baby-pink Phil's Diner was a NoHo landmark – even appearing on the X Files – until its closure in 1997. Since then, it has reopened sporadically and briefly, but as of June, a permanent solution has been found: Sweetie Pie's (001 818 761 1325;sweetiepiesnoho.com), a legendary St Louis soul-food restaurant that even has its own reality TV show, has opened its first branch beyond Missouri in the diner. Order food such as baked yams and BBQ ribs outside and go into the diner to eat – but be prepared for long queues.
In keeping with its unusual-for-LA drinking “strip”, North Hollywood is big on gastropubs, such as The Federal (001 818 980 2555; thefederalbar.com), housed in a grand old bank, and District (001 818 732 7319; districtpubnoho.com), which serves gourmet sausages alongside craft beer.
The Fat Dog (001 818 985 3644; thefatdogla.com), which opened in June, is the latest on the scene – sibling to the popular Fat Dog in Hollywood, it's a hipster joint with 18 beers on tap across two bars. The kicker? The huge plant-lined patio out the back.
NoHo's shopping scene is pretty eclectic. The Iliad Bookshop (001 818 509 2665; iliadbooks.com), has been a local stalwart since 1987. Its labyrinthine walls offer 125,000 used books, while the store's cats, Zeus and Apollo, preside over the till.
In Tujunga Village, on NoHo's southern edge, is Alisa Michelle (001 818 763 2949; alisamichelle.com) a fantastic jewellery store run by designer Alisa Cohen. Her custom-made and hand-stamped pieces are incredibly reasonably priced, especially considering her celebrity following.
Glass Horizons (001 818 760 3733; glasshorizons.com) is a stained glass workshop that doubles as an antique shop, much of whose stock comes from studio productions, while It's a Wrap (001 818 567 7366; itsawraphollywood.com) is a thrift store selling cast-offs from TV programmes such as Veep, Pretty Little Liars and Masters of Sex.
Get a taste of the area's movie magic with an Indie Film-making Tour (001 818 506 3132;nohoartsdistrict.com). You'll meet independent film-makers, see some of their work, and then be taken out into NoHo to make a short film, which you can later download and watch. The tour costs $125 (£83).
Over in studio land, Universal (001 800 864 8377; universalstudioshollywood.com) will open its highly anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction on 7 April (tickets £64).
Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; airnewzealand.co.uk) flies non-stop daily from Heathrow to Los Angeles.
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