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Every week we'll be asking you to come with us to some of our favorite small towns and cities—and we'll show you the places, secret spots, and nooks we love.
Today: There's more to Los Angeles than bad traffic and celebrity sightings. (Like authentic Korean food, hikes with a view, lots of ice cream, and an abundance of picnic opportunities.)
The Orpheum Theater in downtown, Los Angeles. (Image courtesy of Ryan Vaarsi via Flickr).
Just before I started high school, my parents moved us out of Los Angeles, citing the traffic and the fact that "it just isn't as fun as it used to be." So when I announced years later that I'd be returning to L.A. for a summer internship, they, now fully reformed ex-Angelenos living in Northern Nevada, showered me with 405 horror stories. But, with the exception of an unfortunate black widow situation on the I-10 headed West (I survived; the spider didn't), I hardly had any car-related disasters and ended up falling in love with the city ten years after I'd moved away.
I spent the summer hopping between my apartment in Brentwood, my job in Santa Monica, friends' apartments downtown, and Echo Park for my internship. At night, I'd head to places I'd cross-referenced between restaurant reviews and my friends' recommendations. Even as an East Coast transplant (I now live in Manhattan), I still dream about the taramosalata from Papa Cristo's and use Freehand on West 3rd Street as a gauge of what an amazing store should be. So here's a local-Angeleno-turned-Nevadan-who-went-back-to-Los-Angeles' guide to L.A.:
Left: Artichokes at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Right: The bike trail heading North from Venice to Malibu, where fantastic hikes await.
Favorite places to grab a quick bite:
- Papa Cristo's: Even after we'd moved from Los Angeles to Nevada, my mom would ask her friends still living in SoCal to bring her a container of the taramosolata from Papa Cristo's on Pico. It's one of those rare places where the namesake himself mans the counter, which is filled with fresh Greek food.
- Santa Monica Farmers Market: Working in Santa Monica, it felt like the entire neighborhood headed down to farmers market on Arizona Ave. between 4th St. and Ocean Ave. every Saturday. In short, it's just a really fantastic farmers market with all the fresh produce you could ever ask for. To avoid paying the high prices of the parking garages in the area, park at the garage on 4th St. and Civic Center Drive—because it's only 4 dollars a day.
- Kogi Food Truck: Some of the most devout Kogi followers will stalk down the trucks, which post their whereabouts every day on their website and on their Twitter. If you do manage to track them down, make sure to order a Blue Moon Mulita—a corn tortilla chicken sandwich topped with Salsa Azul.
- Sqirl: A lunch and breakfast place on Virgil Ave. that might have the best breakfast bowls and toast I've ever had—not a bad way to start a day.
- Carmela Ice Cream, Milk, and Sweet Rose Creamery: Carmela Ice Cream's rose ice cream is legendary, Milk serves homemade Strawberry Shortcake bars, and I once had a brown butter ice cream at Sweet Rose that I couldn't stop talking about for months (or, at this point, years).
The interior of A-Frame, Roy Choi's restaurant in Venice (Image courtesy of Catherine Linblom via Flickr)
- A-Frame in Venice: Owned by the same Korean-American food genius behind Kogi, Roy Choi, this funky restaurant in an old I-Hop (hence the name) on Washington Blvd. is worth visiting for its Furikake Popcorn alone. But if you do stay for dinner (which you should), go for the O.G. Ribs. (Or head to his other location, Chego!.)
- Wurstküche downtown: The first time I walked into Wurstküche, I thought it was a random sausage stand in the warehouse district downtown (with rattlesnake and rabbit sausages, to boot). But once I ordered, my friend lead me down a hallway that opened up into an enormous, dark space with disco balls, live music, and picnic tables. It's a fantastic place to take a group, or completely shock a friend.
- Woodspoon downtown: A friend who had recently studied abroad in Brazil found this place in a desperate attempt to find a good Carne de Panela, and it's the perfect example of a whole-in-the-wall treasure. Order anything off of the menu, or ask the owner for recommendations—she'll make sure you don't leave hungry.
- Carneys in West Hollywood: Carneys may be one of the only places on Sunset Blvd. that's acceptable for both tourists and locals to go to, in the name of dining in an old train car, eating fantastic hot dogs, and grabbing chocolate-covered frozen bananas on the way out.
- Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown: About five minutes after watching the Los Angeles episode of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, I talked a friend into joining me in a "Parts Unknown" tour around Los Angeles, starting with this Korean restaurant, which serves soon tofu, bowls of piping hot silken tofu cooked with meat, vegetables, and a lot of chili paste.
- Lemonade, Café Gratitude, and Urth Caffé: These are classic "L.A." places, complete with an assortment of acaí bowls, vegan food, and raw bars—and they're delicious. I'm convinced that Urth's green tea boba tea and breakfast pizza can cure anything—especially hangovers.
- Father's Office in Santa Monica: Home to a lot of beers on tap and arguably the best burger in Los Angeles—just don't ask for substitutions—it's a take-it-or-leave-it kind of place.
Best places to grab a souvenir (or shop for yourself):
- Freehand: Beautiful crafts and jewelry handmade by local artists. It's been around for 35 years, so it knows what it's doing.
- Alternative on Abbott Kinney: Maybe it's the adorable street, or the fact that this store is in an old surf house, but their soft cotton T-shirts seem so much nicer than other soft cotton T-shirts.
- Wasteland in Santa Monica: I've found some pretty amazing things at this thrift shop on 4th St. It's filled to the brim with vintage clothes and barely-worn designer jeans.
Left: The view from Griffith Observatory at dusk (Image courtesy of Coco Mault via Flickr). Right: Malibu Family Wines, the perfect place for a picnic outside of the city (Image courtesy of MalibuFamilyWines via Flickr).
The best things to do with a free afternoon:
- Eat lunch with a view: Hop on the I-10 and head east to Grand Central Market Downtown. Grab a breakfast sandwich from Egg Slut or a Thai sausage from Sticky Rice and drive up to the Griffith Observatory, which has free admission and gorgeous views for a picnic.
- Go for a hike: If you only have a few hours, head out to Runyon Canyon, a trail with a great view of the Hollywood sign, off of Hollywood Blvd. If you have an entire day, head out to Malibu to hike Escondido Falls, a trail that intersects the Pacific Coast Trail.
- Drink some wine: While you're in Malibu, take advantage of some of the wineries. Malibu Family Wines has an outdoor "tasting room" where the cost of entry is one bottle of wine, but you can bring a blanket and a picnic and listen to live music on weekends.
- Head to the beach: Grab a "Godmother Sandwich" from Bay Cities Deli on Lincoln Blvd., then head west to the beach. Rent some bikes, pedal from the Santa Monica Pier to Venice, then finish off the day with a drink at the ocean-side hotel, Shutters on the Beach.
See all of our picks on the map below. Where do you love to go in Los Angeles? Leave your suggestions for us in the comments!
A correction was made to the article on 6/4. The original article said that the sandwich from Bay Cities was a Godfather, but it has since been corrected to Godmother.