Dispatches from two cities at opposite ends of the Earth.
With two million inhabitants, Kuala Lumpur is, at least by Asian standards, a relatively small city. But everything here has been designed to impress, with some of the tallest buildings in the world, one of the most modern airports anywhere, enormous shopping malls, a brand new federal government administrative center, Putrajaya, and its high-tech industry twin, Cyberjaya.
Since the days of Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister from 1981 to 2003 (his hand-picked successor, Dato’ Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, still holds the office), the rule of thumb in Malaysia has been “think big, build big and you will be noticed.” And it worked, as multicultural Kuala Lumpur (or “KL,” as the city is known in Asia) rapidly has become one of the most exciting and comfortable cities in the region, attracting tourists, expatriates and shoppers from all over the world. It may not feature countless historic sites, but its three main groups—Malays, Chinese and Indians—have managed to create a unique cultural, culinary and artistic medley.
The hip crowd hangs out at the new Kuala Lumpur City Center (50050 Kuala Lumpur), which features prominent landmarks such as the two Petronas Towers (the second-tallest buildings in the world) and the enormous Suria Mall, home to the Petronas Art Gallery and countless international restaurants and cafes, as well as almost all the top designer clothing stores including Hugo Boss, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Ferragamo.
If the mall’s not your thing, roam through the fast-emerging, boutique-filled Bangsar Baru, where shops worth hitting include Oopsie Daisie (28-1 Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar Baru), which stocks clothes and accessories sourced from designers in Hong Kong, Bangkok, South Korea, Australia and India, as well as high-end Western brands such as Chloé and MaxMara.
Arguably the best Malay restaurant in town is Seri Melayu (1 Jalan Conlay). Located in a replica of a village house, the restaurant offers a daily buffet as well as cultural performances. If trendy spots are more your speed, try Shook (Feast Floor, Starhill Gallery 181, Jalan Bukit Bintang), whose menu flirts with seasonal trends and boasts an adventurous fusion of East and West. Eat like the locals do by visiting the historic city center. The area around the Jamek Mosque and Merdeka Square is packed with traditional eateries and ethnic stores. KL is predominantly a Muslim city, but it features dozens of hot nightspots, ranging from traditional Irish pubs to karaoke bars and multivenue clubs. Many of them are located in the Bukit Bintang area. Two of the hottest spots are an excellent jazz club called No Black Tie (17 Jalan Mesui) and the Latin-flavored Little Havana (2&4 Lorong Sahabat, along Changkat Bukit Bintang), which touts fine wines from all over the world, cigars and food.
Traders Hotel (Kuala Lumpur City Center, 50088 Kuala Lumpur) may not be one of the most expensive luxury hotels, but, thanks to its elegant and minimalist design, it is definitely one of the coolest, favored by a hip international crowd. It has what no other hotel in KL can offer: a stunning view from the rooftop open-air bar and pool/spa complex, arguably one of the best spots for an evening drink. Most of the rooms overlook the KLCC and Petronas Towers. Hotels in KL are extremely cheap and Traders is not an exception. Weekend rates can be as low as $70 a night. —Andre Vltchek
San Diego is often overshadowed by the swanky beachside cities that flank it, but California’s second-largest city boasts a more eclectic cultural landscape than its ritzy neighbors, due to its proximity to Mexico and the SoCal surf and skate movements it helped define.
The city, home to 1.2 million residents, is a patchwork of neighborhoods that’s best navigated by car. Each enclave features its own distinct personality: The picturesque-but-touristy Gaslamp district offers mainstream shopping and restaurant options, but locals are more apt to frequent outposts in one of the city’s less commercial neighborhoods, including the still-gentrifying Southpark, with its stylish eateries and hip boutiques, or bustling Hillcrest, where retro hounds such as Liz Goldwyn hit the stellar vintage shops on Fifth Avenue. Quaint Little Italy hosts outdoor art fairs and independent apparel boutiques, while the urban East Village is dotted with home decor boutiques and chic coffee houses.
San Diego is home to some of the action-sports industry’s biggest names—including TransWorld Media, Rusty Surfboards and Reef—so it stands to reason that some of the city’s most notable boutiques specialize in fashion-forward streetwear steeped in the surf-skate legacy. Specialty store Steady (801 West Hawthorne Street) in Little Italy may be diminutive in size, but it hosts a large, smartly edited mix of directional looks from brands including Cheap Monday, Corpus and Trovata. New boutique Neighborhood (4496 Park Boulevard) in University Heights stocks a small selection of vintage apparel and a bigger mix of merchandise from up-and-coming brands such as Anzevino & Florence, El Zarope, Augustine and Orthodox. Magpie Gallery & Boutique (2205 Fern Street) in Southpark is another new store with vintage and new apparel, including a covetable collection of vintage boots and purses, along with edgy T-shirts and dresses from San Diego-based brands such as Pynke and Sally Bee. Blocks away is Maeve Riley (2328 30th Street), a feminine-minded shop carrying contemporary brands such as Sass & Bide, Lauren Moffatt and Fleur Wood. Kate Ross (3113 University Avenue) in neighboring Northpark also specializes in contemporary apparel and premium denim, with a sprinkling of surf-based brands such as Split and Howe. For higher-end contemporary gear, there’s Little Italy’s Niche (621 West Fir Street), which stocks lines such as Mike & Chris, Plastic Island and Spring & Clifton.
Like its boutiques, San Diego’s favorite food and drink spots are scattered throughout its neighborhoods. Southpark hipsters frequent Vagabond (2310 30th Street), a funky, casual restaurant that specializes in simple-but-sumptuous fare. Two blocks down is the Whistle Stop bar (2236 Fern Street), a friendly dive that draws a Converse All Stars–wearing crowd. Jayne’s Gastropub (4677 30th Street), a U.K.-inspired restaurant and bar in Northpark, serves up classic pub fare, including sea bass, fish and chips and braised short ribs, along with a killer selection of rare and local beers. Locals grill their own steaks on small private grills at the fun, homey Turf Club (1116 25th Street) in the urban Golden Hill neighborhood. The fashion set makes the scene at Modus (2202 Fourth Avenue), a dark, chic lounge and restaurant in Banker’s Hill, while indie rockers check out local and touring bands at the Casbah (2501 Kettner Boulevard), a deliciously disheveled rock club just north of Little Italy.
The W Hotel (421 West B Street) is a stylish alternative to the nondescript hotels ringing the city’s convention center downtown, while more discreet types decamp to the Gaslamp’s Solamar Hotel (435 Sixth Avenue), which features modern aesthetics and a rooftop bar that curves around a sparkling swimming pool. —Emili Vesilind