My very first podcast guest on SideKickBack, Leslie Dysart, has a wonderful blog of her own over at www.wildprestige.com and was kind enough to have me write a little post about how I enjoy myself in this odd hometown of ours. Here’s a repost of the article for you all 🙂
I can’t tell you how strange it is, the looks I get when I tell people I’m from LA.
“No, where are you from before LA?”
“No no,” I say. “I was born in Santa Monica, hung out at the old Sherman Oaks Galleria, the one from Fast Times. I slept through the Northridge ‘quake. I remember a time when downtown LA was not cool, just creepy and hipster-free.”
I am an LA native, and it is weird. This place is weird. Its identity in flux, fractured, and big: Really, really big. “Sprawling” I believe is the word. Some parts of it I love; some parts of it I hate. But here are some of my favorite things to do in and around LA, so maybe you can enjoy it just a little bit more.
Surprised? This is probably the most tired and spent topic when it comes to LA. “The traffic, oy, the traffic!” It alters the course of people’s days, dictates social gatherings and even business decisions. I’d love to give some home-grown tips but that could take me days because of the case-by-case nature. I can at least offer my favorite ways to go in the hopes that you will work them into your drive and enjoy your time in the car a little bit more.
Mulholland Drive is my favorite way to go East/West. It is surprisingly efficient and you get stunning views, especially as the sun drops from the sky and the valley is bathed in some epic sidelight. The Santa Monica Mountains on the other side usually get a nice smoky haze going. The best section is between Laurel Canyon Drive and Roscomare Road, but if you can keep your jealousy intact as you drive past dozens of dream homes heading West, all the way at the end is LA’s Nike Missile Site, a decommissioned missile defense station from the Cold War Era that offers an unobstructed 360-degree view of the city. It’s a 10-15 minute walk up a dirt road, but if you fancy s’more hiking, there are plenty of trail heads in this area.
My favorite North/South way to go is Topanga Canyon, including Old Topanga Canyon Rd. It’s another world in there, with twisting creeks, massive boulders, and caves that beg for exploration. What I recommend is bypassing the first part of Topanga, you might be tempted by the overlook at the top, but it’s only a decent, less-interesting view compared to the above mentioned. So, take Mulholland Drive West (Mulholland Drive is not continuous), to Mulholland Hwy and then to Old Topanga Canyon Rd. It’s a much more fun. A virtually empty road that takes you past secluded houses and mini-ranches that joins up with Topanga Canyon after a mix of tight turns and straight-aways. Keep taking it South and you’ll hit the crest of the canyon, and begin a descent, feeling smaller and smaller until it spits you out into Malibu and the Pacific Ocean. Not too shabby.
Where to begin? So much has changed in the last 25 years. A lot of my childhood favorites are actually gone, (rest in peace Weiner Factory) but a couple still stand.
In Santa Monica, you will find Bay Cities Italian Deli and their scrumptious fresh baked bread. A lot of people swear by the Godmother Sandwich, including Susan Feniger on an episode of the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate (a show that has inspired me into a challenge of eating all items that have been featured). Nevertheless, I recommend the chicken salad. But always get the works, always. And don’t be tempted by the avocado spread, you don’t need it.
If you want to go a little fancier Italian, Fabrocini’s in the Beverly Glen Center is a great option. It’s tucked in the corner offering a nice secluded feel, and everything on the menu just tastes great! I recommend the Chicken Fabrocini; it is sautéed chicken topped with eggplant parmesan. Yes!
If lighter fare is what you’re feeling, Hugo’s will satisfy you for sure! Located in, both, West Hollywood and Studio City there are tons of options for every diet imaginable, including a ‘nomnivore’ like me. Get the Pasta Mama if you want to partake in another item from The Best Thing I Ever Ate challenge.
Lastly, I’ll finish off this incredibly difficult list to keep small with one of my favorite new spots:Blue Dog Beer Tavern in Sherman Oaks. Great beers, great food, especially the Good Karma Burger, topped with pulled pork, caramelized onions, double cheddar and coleslaw. Enough said.
Let me warn you: I am not your average ‘night-outter.’ When I join friends at places, it’s usually a bar that’s overpriced and way too loud with jerk bartenders; I have to fork over a day’s salary and end up with a sore throat from the simple challenge of trying to talk. Call me old, call me lame, but I just don’t enjoy that experience that seems to be oh so popular these days. I am sure there are dozens of places that break this mold and I have been to some of them too, so I know they exist. But I most enjoy slightly more unique approaches to a night out on the town, such as grabbing some wine, cheese and crackers (or any favorite picnicking items) and heading to Griffith Park Observatory just before sunset. You can watch the city change colors and light up as the sun goes down and then head into the free museum when you’re done. On certain days, there are observatory workers with high powered telescopes on the lawn showing people the various beauties of the night sky.
If your budget can handle it, a night at the Hollywood Bowl is a must. It’s far and away my favorite venue I’ve ever been to with so many gorgeous memories. I’ll never forget watching a brilliant sea of neon wristbands light up as Coldplay took the stage. Or seeing John Williams on July 4th conduct the LA Philharmonic as they performed his classic film scores with fireworks exploding above our heads. Grab your favorite picnicking items once again, sneak in some booze and get ready for a guaranteed evening of magic.
One of my favorite things to do in LA is to leave. Harsh, I know, but there are so many wonderful spots that lie just beyond its borders, that it’s almost like LA knows it can be a pain in the butt to live in. So it offers some nice escapes as a concession.
I went to UC Santa Barbara for college, I have done that drive so many times, but it never gets old. Just 90 minutes (without traffic) partially alongside the Pacific and you are in a picturesque, perfectly sized town that has great eats, wonderful weather, and good vibes all around. As a bonus favor to yourself, hop over the mountains for some wine-tasting and finish with dinner at the Vineyard House in Santa Ynez, one of my favorite eateries in the entire world.
If you’d like something a little closer, Lake Castaic offers up an interesting opportunity. Grab some delicious Bay Cities or Mendocino Farms sandwiches, some lawn chairs, head up the I-5 past Magic Mountain, and take Lake Hughes Rd. East up the hill. You can park the car, then your keister and enjoy a really nice sunset while overlooking the lake and the hills behind it. Stay long enough and you’ll get to do some great star-gazing as this spot is just out of reach of the ambient light of the city.
If you want a lengthier escape, camping in the Lake Arrowhead area is so nice. And you might even find some old carvings of mine in and around the Dogwood campground that I and some campers made back in the day. If you find yourself struggling to muster the energy to cook up your own meal, try the Cedar Glen Malt Shop for some peachy keen shakes, burgers and fries.
Well…that’s all I got for now. I’m sure I will be kicking myself as I come to realize all of the options that I left off the list but I hope I provided you with some unique spots and ways to experience the City of Angels, whether you’re a newbie, a transplant going on their third year, or a native like myself.
It’s been a pleasure guest blogging for you here on Wild Prestige.Please check out my own blog and podcast at www.sidekickback.com and feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like specific directions/tips/escapes.
Happy trails everybody!