Ahead of a massive El Trafico clash between LAFC and the LA Galaxy in the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs on Thursday (10:30 pm ET | ESPN in US; TVAS, TSN4 in Canada), the spotlight of American, and arguably world, soccer is squarely on the city of Los Angeles.
But the city's place as a hotbed of soccer goes back a lot further than the current rivalry heating up MLS. Considering the first-ever national final for this sport — for teams competing in a single coast to coast league — took place mere steps from Banc of California Stadium at the LA Coliseum more than a half-century ago (where the Los Angeles Wolves beat the Washington Whips 6-5 in the United Soccer Association’s 1967 Final) this city remains the sport’s historic if not also its spiritual home.
In fact, if Los Angeles didn’t have so many other things it was known for — admit it, you already have a preconceived notion of what it’s like here based on our cultural, entertainment and sporting exports —then visiting for soccer reasons would have already be a bucket list item for lovers of the game the world over.
But like so many other things hiding between the clichéd narratives about this city, the best experiences here are often best served with a bit of nuance, and a taco, preferably at the same time.
After LAFC took home the Supporters' Shield in sparkling fashion, there's very much a possibility that Banc of California Stadium could be hosting MLS Cup on Nov. 10. With that in mind, here's your guide for what to see and where to play in the City of Angels.
Where to Eat/Drink
Few foods are as definitive of their cities as the taco is to Los Angeles — we even have an annual March Madness-style tournament bracket to prove it — and there are several dozen distinct verities worth trying while in town. LA also has, by many measures, the largest populations of Korean, Iranian, Salvadorian, Thai, Ethiopian, Japanese, Armenian, Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese, outside of those countries, providing considerable options of traditional and inspired-by dishes with a spectrum of flavors and techniques. We have award-winning fine dining too but the good people of Los Angeles know a lot of the best stuff is hidden in strip malls, so happy hunting.
NEAR BANC OF CALIFORNIA STADIUM: Adjacent to LAFC’s home ground is one double whammy drinking and dining option. Part sports bar, part lounge, part arcade, Free Play is a popular pre- and post-match spot for the Black & Gold faithful. A food hall — The Fields — sits downstairs where you can scarf down C.J. Boyd’s delicious fried chicken sandwiches, among other options.
Within walking or biking distance, the community-driven Mercado La Paloma could be a one-stop-shop for some of the best ceviche in the city (Holbox) as well as Yucatecan specialties served up at Chichen Itza. Revolutionario’s North African tacos showcase the kind of flavors and creativity you can expect in the city and just on the edge of Koreatown sits famed Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, with its mole of the gods.
ACROSS THE CITY: Downtown LA has enough to keep you satisfied throughout your time in the city. Breweries abound from bigger spaces like Angel City, Boomtown and Arts District to smaller outposts like Dry River Brewing. Built right into Union Station for a convenient drink in or out of town, the Imperial Western Beer Company — and its cocktail wing, The Streamliner — are among the city’s best places to grab a drink. Nearby, Little Tokyo also has enough izakaya and ramen joints to literally make your head spin until all hours, classics like Sushi Gen (the weekday lunch special might as well be civic charity), newcomers Marugame Monzo (Uni udon, anyone?), and Tea Master’s must-have Matcha Ice Cream showcase the kind of specialties offered in the city’s many enclaves. DTLA also has Sonoratown, Chica’s Tacos, and Guisados for the taco fix.
Koreatown is where much of LA goes to play and as such, the eating and drinking options are unparalleled. Know that Korean food is much more than BBQ — although you could do worse than Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong and the more modern Quarters, both within historic Chapman Plaza — so get ahold of some cheese-covered-and-blowtorched Galbi Jjim at Sun Nong Dan and Bosam at Kobawoo House, plus Jajangmyeon for your hangover. Flag down Roy Choi’s famous Kogi Truck for your Kimchi Quesadilla and Short Rib Tacos.
Famously built for cars on a halcyon urban architecture that favored horizontal development — and pools in every backyard — LA’s sprawl is rivaled by very few places on Earth. Ditto for its traffic. As the city nudges toward a more vertical build, however, it has invested in key public transportation veins to help locals and visitors take on the sprawl and win. You can never have it all, but you can have much more than you used to.
- METRO: The Expo line runs from Downtown LA to the Santa Monica Pier. The Gold Line lassos downtown on its path from East LA to Pasadena and beyond. The Red Line will get you to North Hollywood and you can ride the Blue Line to Long Beach. With just these train routes, you can conceivably eat, see, and do everything in LA that’s required. Trains run until 2 AM on weekends and some buses go all night.
- RIDESHARE: Prices for Uber and Lyft in LA have made taxiing across the city wildly more affordable. If you’re not in a rush, use a shared ride and get a complimentary detour along with it.
- SCOOTERS & BIKE: These exist in such ubiquity in Los Angeles as to be borderline pollution. For visitors, they can make that last mile to or from the train stop that much easier to handle. There are a half dozen companies for each, just download the apps and don’t be a dufus when riding.
- BOARDS & BLADES: Whether along the beach bike path or dicing up the city blocks, skating is a distinctly Southern Californian option and a great alternative to the abundance of electronic vehicles.
- METROLINK/AMTRAK: If you’re visiting or staying with friends or family farther out of the city in the suburbs, there are several train routes that will get you to Union Station easy enough. Fun fact: for LAFC’s first season, Benny Feilhaber famously commuted on a Metrolink train for every training season.
Where to Watch Soccer
Angelenos follow all the leagues and you’ll see people rocking jerseys from across the globe. The one caveat: you’ll also notice that there are dozen-odd other professional teams in Southern California and enough transplant fans of every conceivable allegiance for there to be full-blown bars for sports teams on the opposite side of the country. Suffice it to say, depending on the specific game you want to watch, when you want to watch it, and where in the city you happen to be staying, there will be a prescription.
- La Chuperia: Is there a better way to spend 90 minutes than positioned down the street from LAFC’s East LA training ground rocking a michelada overflowing with the high- or low-brow beer of your choice, and a bit of mango, watermelon or shrimp for company? No. There is not.
- Lucky Baldwins: Considering a group of LAFC’s key supporters came out of the English-football-pub-cum-Belgian-beer-haven, the two Pasadena locations make it one of best places in the city where MLS and followers of other leagues stand shoulder to shoulder with high point pints in hand.
- The Down & Out: The arrival of LAFC nearby turned this bruised-up downtown sports dive into a place where the snare-totting football-loving masses brush up against their Kings, Lakers, and Dodgers counterparts in the spirit of song and civic unity.
- Cock N’ Bull: Reputed to be one of the first bars on the West Coast, if not the country, to broadcast English league games live, it’s a veritable bunker of drawn-curtain, bangers and mash, crusty-eyed football viewing.
- Ye Olde King’s Head: A block from the bluffs of Ocean Ave overlooking the Santa Monica pier, it’s hard to find a better beach adjacent option for football, morning, noon, or night.
- Joxer Daly’s: Culver City’s football nook is popular among the Champions League crowds due to its West side centrality, great for neutrals or the Liverpool and Celtic obsessed.
Where to Play Soccer
Without exaggerating, there are hundreds of places to play pickup across this city. Wherever you’re staying, you could probably drive to the nearest park and find some football. In fact, you could probably play your way from Playa Vista (right by LAX) all the way to Rio de Los Angeles in Glassell Park (near Dodger’s Stadium) on a weekend afternoon, but here are a few key spots.
- Expo Park: Whether it be the Soboroff Fields on the southwest corner, the lawns south of the Natural History Museum or north of the rose garden, or even in the gameday tailgating space of Christmas Tree Lane, it seems no daylight hour passes in Expo Park — home of Banc of California Stadium — without a little pickup action somewhere.
- The Base LA: Billing itself as the premier indoor futsal location in LA, the Lincoln Heights hub runs league, pickup, and tournament play for those who love the cage-fight football vibe.
- Venice Beach FC: If you didn’t already see Kylian Mbappé and Arsenal visit earlier this year, then you saw it when you fired up FIFA20’s Volta game mode. It’s street football meets skateboarding culture, all next to the sand.
- MacArthur Park: Sandwiched between Koreatown and Downtown LA — just north of Banc of California Stadium — weekends can get lively on the pickup pitches of the city’s densest neighborhood.
What to See
Like other world cities, LA probably has too many things to conceivably do in one’s visit (if not in one’s life) so you’re better off asking yourself what you’re into and working backward from there. Whatever esoteric interest you might have, you can probably do it here — year-round, I might add.
- Mountains & Beaches: One of the few places you can ride snow in the morning and waves in the evening — or vice-versa — Los Angeles has an embarrassment of outdoor riches within driving distance for whatever you like to do. Be it Mt. Baldy or Malibu, Big Bear or El Porto, get out there and get some.
- Film: If you love film, skip the Walk of Fame and catch a flick at one of the many incredible theaters the city boasts, including the Egyptian, the Nuart, the Aero, Quinten Tarantino’s New Beverly or the Cinerama Dome. Bonus points if your visit coincides with one of the many, many festivals.
- Music: Whatever genre you’re into, there’s a strong chance your favorite band or musician is playing while you’re in town. They all really do live here. If you can, catch ‘em outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl, The Greek, or even the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (which also shows movies). There are also arenas and sweaty dives of all shapes and sizes from The Echo to the El Rey, the Bluewale to The Roxy, and The Mint to The Peppermint Club.
- Museums: The Getty and LACMA are the best known, The Broad is the new kid on the block, but you don’t have to step off the grounds of Expo Park to enjoy some of the best museums the city has to offer: the California Science Center, the California African American Museum, the Natural History Museum and, coming soon, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
- Griffith Park: If you just can’t decide, there’s a chance you can get a bit of everything in one place. Among the largest urban parks in the world — it covers an area that could contain five Central Parks — Griffith Park is a place for everyone. There’s the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood Sign, the LA Zoo, The Greek, the Autry Museum, and more, but it’s best enjoyed with a hike or run to gain some perspective of it all.
And finally: Do yourself a favor and throw the spoon-fed definitions for what Los Angeles is or isn’t away. Nothing that seems so obvious every really is. Come through, dodge the traps, explore the strip malls, kick it for a bit, decide for yourself. And, of course, choose well.