Saturday, June 5, 2010

What to do in Los Angeles

Last week two of my housemates took a long weekend/mini vacation down to Los Angeles and they asked me if I had any advice for places they should visit or restaurants they should try. My original intention was to give them a few neighborhoods, a few links, and be done with it. Clearly that didn't happen. But since I spent far too much time describing my favorite places in the city for them, I figured I'd have this advice serve double duty and share it all with you, too!

What to do in...

Photo by Slices of Light

I love it here. Walk/skate/bike along the boardwalk, oogle people on the rings at muscle beach, buy some crazy silver jewelry, dig your toes in the sand. There's an awesome drum circle on weekend afternoons until it's dark and the police break it up. For a little more young urban chic and a little less hippie dippy, walk up and down Abbot Kinney Blvd., poking into shops and galleries. Don't miss Intelligentsia, my favorite cup of coffee in LA.

Santa Monica: 3rd St. Promenade is fun--it's an outdoor mall of sorts, where the street has been shut down to vehicle traffic. Lots of shops and good people watching. On the other hand being there makes me feel like I'm in high school again, and there's only so much fun you can have shopping at big name stores. Walk down to the Santa Monica pier for some old fashioned carnival rides and such. Lay out on the beach or put your toes in the water, but I wouldn't go swimming. It's pretty polluted here. There's an awesome farmers market on Sundays at 2640 Main St. Go down the street to Urth Caffe for lunch afterwards.

Photo by Muy Yum

For dinner, one of my favorite places on the westside is Lares Restaurant on Pico Blvd., just south of the 10. Amazing Mexican food and margaritas: just trust me on this one and don't judge it on its crappy website. Also note that you can order a pitcher of margaritas, which makes going with a group of friends even more fun. The "Mexican" restaurant in my Seattle neighborhood laughed at me when I tried to order a pitcher of margaritas. Oh Lares, how I miss you.

Photo by mgarbowski

Northern beaches: Drive north up the Pacific Coast Highway for stunning views and beautiful beaches. Seriously, just the drive alone is worth it. Zuma beach is the classic, but you could stop almost anywhere along the way: Point Dume, Leo Carillo, El Matador, whatever. The sunset is stunning. Or if you're there earlier in the day, try lunch at Neptune's Net, a local surfer hangout heavy on the greasy yummy seafood. Feel free to swim; it's as clean as you're going to get in southern California.

Photo by fineartlady

East San Fernando Valley: My favorite place to walk/shop/people watch is Ventura Blvd., specifically the mile between about Laurel Canyon and Coldwater Canyon. My family lives super nearby, which is why I end up here often. (Our local farmers market is at Laurel and Ventura on Saturdays.) Hugo's and Aroma Cafe are two of the best brunch/lunch spots in the whole city. If you're looking for something a bit more cheesy, Artisan Cheese Gallery is one of my favorite places ever, both to buy cheese wrapped to go and to linger a while over a sandwich. Or speaking of canyons, go take a hike! Tree People is in Coldwater canyon near Mulholland, or Griffith Park is totally spectacular and has a sweet observatory, too. (Although it's not really in the valley, more like the mountains between the valley and downtown.) Also: don't even bother going to the west valley. There is nothing good there.

Downtown: Walk around, look at cool stuff. I love Olvera Street, which has kept a lot of its Spanish/Mexican flair but has also become a bit touristy. Chinatown is fabulous. The LA cathedral is newish and supposed to be breathtaking, but I've still never been inside. Just don't walk around alone at night unless you're going to a show at the Music Center (which is wonderful and totally worth it) because it's not super safe.

Photo by Kristin A

Hollywood: I know it's a tourist "must-have" but I'm not actually such a big fan. Perhaps it's because I drove down Vine every single day on my way to high school, but Hollywood has always struck me as dingy and gross and lacking in its former glory. Even so, it's fun to put your hands and feet in the concrete prints at the touristy Grauman's Mann Chinese Theater, as is finding the names of stars you know on the sidewalks. (My grandpa dated a B-list starlet in the 40's and I freaked out when I just happened to find her star on the walk of fame. Very cool.) If you're in Hollywood around lunchtime and have a car, I'd recommend driving a bit southeast to the cuter Larchmont neighborhood and eating at Wine, Spirits, and Cheese. Such good sandwiches. Say hi for me to the multitudes of girls in school uniforms--my high school is just three blocks away.

Nighttime in Hollywood is hit or miss. Sunset strip is fun nightlife but expensive. There are supposedly a few good clubs, but I can't say I know which ones. Luckily you can get even better people watching out of Bossa Nova, a Brazilian restaurant on Sunset that's open until 4am nightly. (Hallelujah!) The best is to get a table around 1:15 am, munch on fried plantains and yucca, and watch all the drunk people come in from the strip after last call. If you're looking for a slightly nicer dinner in Hollywood, I highly recommend Lou, a veritable diamond in the rough. This place is in a strip mall next to a laundromat in a crappy part of Hollywood. (Just ugly, not super dangerous.) And yet it very well might be my favorite restaurant in LA. Once you find the place, convince yourself it's not closed, and go inside, you're transported into a lush cozy room that's so different from where you just were three steps ago. The wine selection is amazing and dinner is consistently wonderful/seasonal/fresh without being extravagantly expensive. Sit at the communal table and make friends with the people around you. Heck, if you stay late enough, invite the wait staff to sit with you and drink a glass from your bottle of wine. Some of my best nights in LA have passed in that way.

There's so much more to the city, but those are the parts I really know and love. What's your favorite Los Angeles neighborhood? Any recommendations for visitors or restaurants that shouldn't be missed?


  1. Farmers market at 3rd and Fairfax, you can skip the Grove, although there is nice people watching.
    For Culture, LACMA, The Getty, The Huntington and my personal favorite - Norton Simon.

    Echo Park and Silver Lake, along sunset blvd - funky, mixture of counter culture and good ol' Hispanic. Stop in at Masa for the best bread pudding ever!

    In Hollywood, Los Feliz, Barnsdall Park, visit the Hollyhock House, an original Frank Lloyd Wright, a docent tour will give you history you never imagined.
    Hike up to the Observatory in Griffith Park, or to see the beautiful people out with their dogs, Runyon Canyon from Hollywood to Mulholland Dr....

    Is that enough, cuz there is tons more, this hardly scratched the surface.

  2. You didn't mention the Fairfax District for Jewish delis, and, just south, for Ethiopian food at Nyala.

  3. Ooh, I'd totally forgotten to include museums! I agree with all four of your picks, Leah, especially the huge Degas collection at the Norton Simon.

    Dad, I'm pretty sure I've never been to an Ethiopian restaurant that far south. Did we ever go there as a family? I also have no memories of Fairfax delis, although there's a great one in Seattle. Have a favorite to recommend?

  4. Best Deli, Langers on 7th st. right next to MacArthur's Park, best pastrami!!! Right off the redline subway so easy to get to.
    Cantors on Fairfax is good for old time deli atmosphere.
    Someone wrote a book recently about Jewish Delis, turns out that LA has more than even NY. Looks like they thrive here in the southland.

    Food downtown, can't miss Phillipes for the original french dip sandwich and 5 cent cup of coffee - great atmosphere, communal tables and sawdust on the floor. In Chinatown, although Phillipes' predates the area becoming Chinatown.

  5. Love, love, LOVE this post. I miss home.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...