What to Do (and Eat) During Summer in Los Angeles

June  4, 2015

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).

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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)

Favorite restaurants:

  • 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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gilbert
  • kelly
  • Ashley Hooper
    Ashley Hooper
  • PaigeBakes
  • Spencer Kleyweg
    Spencer Kleyweg
I eat everything.


Gilbert July 29, 2015
I understand but for me it's something to experience it's part of our culture love itnor hate it. Glad to hear you've been to El Taquito Mexicano! Not sure if you've had it but the Al Pastor and Chicharron is out of this world in my opinion. Either way thank you for the article. Even though I was born and raised here in L.A. there are so many gems around the city that I don't know about or we as Angelinos don't know about. One question when will you be writing a New York article? As a transplant I would really look forward to reading your unbias recommendations and opinions on things to do and places to eat. I'm planning a weekend in NY this October and would like some recommendations. Thank you for taking the time to reply.
Gilbert July 29, 2015
One more thing, if your going to mention Downtown you have to talk about Philippe’s home of the French Dip and The Pantry... Iconic places in Angelinos food culture.
Gilbert July 29, 2015
Good morning, I'm a little disappointed that you didn't mention any of the great tacos places we have like El Taquito Mexicano taco truck in Pasadena who's been servicing tje area since 1979. Yoli's Yucatan in Los Feliz for a great borrito. Glendale with its wonder Mediterranean/Armenian food. Pasadena and the DoDah parade and it's vibrant Colorado Blvd peppered with restaurants, bars, and shops. Come further east and and enjoy some wonderful dim sum in Monterey Park or sample some of the best Chinese cuisine on this side of the pacific. Have some ramen in Little Tokyo downtown. Pastrami pizza in Downey at The Downey Pizza Co. And while your in Downey visit Portos Bakery! San Pedro's Ports-a-cal... Make your own beer at Brewbakers in Huntington Beach. Granted this is L.A. County and the OC, but there is much more then downtown and the Westside. I think your were to sheltered for most of the time you were here hahaha. Well when you return I hope you get to try some of these places but if anything at least try the taco truck you wont be disappointed.
Leslie S. July 29, 2015
Not sheltered, just wanted to focus on Los Angeles this time around so I can give Pasadena its due diligence in a future post! And the carne asada is delicious from El Taquito, but I'm not the biggest fan of The Pantry to be honest.
kelly July 13, 2015
FYI: this article has been posted pretty much word for word over at Buzzfeed under a different name.
Ashley H. June 7, 2015
The Hollywood Bowl. Every year, they put on some of the best performances in jazz, classical, rock, and every other genre out there- pack a picnic, bring as much booze as you'd like, and camp out for the night. It's the thing I miss most about LA in the summer.
Leslie S. June 8, 2015
Oh true!! Such a good one—thank you for the suggestion!
PaigeBakes June 5, 2015
As a native-Angeleno this is a nice list, but LA is more than just West LA and DTLA. It's also a very 20-something, hipster view of Los Angeles so for you non-Angelenos, bear that in mind when planning your visit.
Leslie S. June 5, 2015
Since I lived in West LA and interned near downtown, I'm definitely missing some spots! What are your favorite places that you feel I should have included?
btglenn July 27, 2015
I agree/
Spencer K. June 4, 2015
Bay Cities speciality sandwich is the Godmother not the Godfather. I would correct the article!
Leslie S. June 4, 2015
You're so right!! Will correct it now—thank you for noticing that!
Spencer K. June 4, 2015
Anytime! As somebody who is an LA native this list is the most accurate description of what to do here!
Leslie S. June 4, 2015
So glad to hear it! Thanks so much!
Ali S. June 4, 2015
The closest I've gotten to wanting to return to my hometown. My mom should thank you.
Rachel C. June 4, 2015
This is really great—as a NYC snob, this is the kind of thing I read and think, "Why don't I live in a part of the country where there aren't terrible winters?"
Timothy M. June 4, 2015
Because there's no water.