Tell anyone on the east coast that you’re headed to L.A. and the reaction is – to put it charitably – mixed. While we got the incredulous “why” to the “oh, you’ll love Santa Monica” (from like the only person we knew who had been to L.A.), to us east-coasters, the city is an amorphous concept of sprawl, traffic, and neighborhoods we had only heard of on TMZ. So how do you even plan for 3 full days in L.A.? Let us tell you what one Los Angeleno told us what the “perfect L.A. weekend.”
(Note: this trip was longer than our usual long weekend clocking in at 4 full days and was compulsory rather than our choice of places)
And as we write this, we want to go back!
Arrival and a late night dinner in West Hollywood.
From LAX at 8pm on a Friday, it only takes us 30 minutes via Uber to our boutique hotel – The Chamberlain – situated on a quiet residential street in West Hollywood just off of La Cienega Boulevard. The hotel gives off a perfect West Hollywood vibe: marble pattern floors, warm lush carpet, Art Deco decor. The pool on the roof also helps.
We took in a late dinner at Ink.well just a 15 minute walk from our hotel. (And before you get all – “walk?!?!” – on us, we’re going to tell you below that L.A. is an eminently walkable city.) Ink.well is Chef Michael Voltaggio’s reboot of his restaurant Ink. Set in “hip farmhouse,” the food is served in shareable portions and what we agreed was pretty inventive. Highly recommend the hamachi crudo (hibiscus ponzu), dill pickled shrimp with shrimp crackers, one of the prettiest steak tartares around, and the best gnocchi that tastes like egg yolk-stuffed ravioli in gnocchi form.
Take a walk on the Sunset Strip.
And here begins the 6 mile “urban hike” to Griffith Observatory. Now some locals may scoff at this proposed walk and it’s not done at sunset, but a walk along Sunset Boulevard toward Hollywood takes you past some iconic spots like Chateau Marmont, Sunset Tower, and The Standard. Mid-way along the way – i.e., once you get into the “seedier” section of Sunset – there are two amazing breakfast options: The Griddle Cafe or Elderberries. We opted for the latter to avoid the line and were welcomed into a liberal commune of “pay what you can” veganism. It was awesome and felt quintessential L.A.
The walk continues up to Hollywood Boulevard where the Hollywood Walk of Fame leads you to the Chinese and Dolby Theaters. The mall at Highland and Hollywood is a pretty cool spot to catch the first glimpse of the iconic Hollywood sign, but otherwise Hollywood Boulevard is really shady and you feel violated for even walking along it. But it’s worth seeing…
Hike Griffith Park
Griffith Park is just a half mile up Western Ave from Hollywood Boulevard and into some of the cool parts of Hollywood where you’ll find gorgeous Tudor-style houses across the street from the American Film Institute (AFI). Enter Griffith Park and have your choice of hard or easy trails up to the top of the mountain where Griffith Observatory sits. Griffith Observatory is part of the constellation of California observatories used for extraterrestrial research. The walk up can be tough if you choose to climb the rockslides, but you have to do it (even drive up) for the sweeping views of the Hollywood sign and downtown L.A. Not to mention that the observatory is an educational respite from the urban hike we had been on so we spent time re-learning how seasons work and how eclipses happen.
From the top of Griffith Park, we hopped an Uber and had him take us for burgers. Most will suspect that we went to In and Out, and we would have, except Irv’s Burgers is way better. How way? Way-way. Full disclosure on this point because we actually did a walk-by because it looks a bit shady from the street. But we walked in and were blown away by the hospitality that came from this family-run establishment. The burgers are diner style – think onion-flavored griddle – and served on unassuming paper plates where the owner draws a “bon appetite” picture for you.
They don’t serve beer at Irv’s but across the street is a hip bar called The Surly Goat. It boasts having one of the largest selection of craft beers in West Hollywood (under a goat head). Verified accurate claim.
Escape West Hollywood and head to Glendale
Glendale, which like everything else in L.A., is exactly 30 minutes away from West Hollywood by Uber. Glendale has the feeling of a California frontier town stuck in the 1960s and the showpiece is the Museum of Neon Art. Nearby is why we came, though, for a healthy dose of dumplings at Din Tai Fung. The best of the best is Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings. Little pockets of steamed pork and vegetable soup, they explode in your mouth. We got to check out how they were made because soup is not the easiest to wrap a dumpling around, but the team at Din Tai Fung inserts frozen soup cubes into the formed dumpling and when it steams, the soup comes back to life. Equally awesome were dumplings in spicy shrimp sauce and hand-pulled chewy noodles in sesame sauce. Not to be outdone, the red bean and sesame buns are a delight to share for dessert.
Bowl in Highland Park
From there, its a short ride to Highland Park, which is our evening destination. Highland Park has been getting constant play these days for it’s “renewal” or gentrification (depending on which adjective is your pref); listen to Marketplace’s series York & Fig and hear for yourself. Or head to Highland Park Bowl and see it in person.
Highland Park Bowl is gentrification in real life. Set in a large, cavernous warehouse, it’s a bowling alley and trendy bar all rolled into one. Chesterfield sofas dominate and the bowling alley is inside-out, demonstrating the beauty of the machinery of bowling. The lanes are made with reclaimed bowling alley wood from long-forgotten alleys and the banners of local bowling leagues from years past festoon the walls. There is something so cool about the sound that bowling balls make as they echo off the wooden alleys and slam against wooden pins while one sips a bourbon cocktail made from bartenders dressed like they would have in the 40s. This is an upside on gentrification (old used as new); the downside is in the surrounding neighborhood where the fabric of the community is changing.
Also check out ETA across the street for late night ceviche and jazz.
Skip the hotel breakfast and head to Grand Central Market in DTLA.
The vendors at the market are awesome and plentiful. It’s New Year’s Eve, the day before the Rose Bowl, and game day for both the Rams and the Chargers (yes, both play in LA now) so, expectedly, the market was crowded with a line at Egg Slut that wrapped around the stall. And the folks at PBJLA are slinging PB&J sammies.
At the northern end of the market is great drip coffee at G&B Coffee.
Nearby is Sari Sari Store, which is a Filipino food concept from James Beard award winner Margarita Manzke, the chef-owner of Republique. The line was short and the food looked awesome. The Filipino Breakfast Sandwich did not disappoint with a perfectly cooked egg on top of a delectable moist sausage patty seasoned with sweet paprika.
And, we could not leave LA without trying some tacos. The $3.00 heaping tacos at Tacos Tumbras a Tomas did not disappoint.
A walk around the area near Grand Central Market is a tour of DTLA’s art scene with the Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Broad, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) all within a stone’s throw of one another.
We decide to go into the MOCA (because the line at The Broad wrapped around the block – pro tip: Wednesday morning is better for museum access). Set down are staircase and situated one floor below street-level, the space is still bright and airy, with a collection that triggers your inner creative.
The MOCA has two locations and the $15 ticket for one is good for both locations. The second location is about a mile away downhill toward Little Tokyo and called The Geffen. Set in a reclaimed police car warehouse set in Little Tokyo, it was renovated by Frank Gehry. The space is 40,000 square feet of exhibition space. The special exhibit we saw is best described as “still life in meat refrigerators.”
Just a few short blocks away is the Arts District of DTLA, which is on the easternmost side of downtown and a section of the city newly born that speaks to our inner hipster.
The reason we are here are for two breweries: Angel City Brewing and Arts District Brewing Co. Though they serve beer with creative names, that is about all these have in common. Angel City is huge, airy, and bright. We played battleship (choose your fave board game and sit and have a beer).
Just down the street is Arts District Brewing; darker interior and arcade games (think $1 skeeball).
Finally, check out Wurstkuche, the purveyors of exotic sausages. The place looks like a deli when you enter, but have a close look at the sausage sandwiches and be awed. Just around the inside is a Belgian-heavy bar pouring delights like Corsendonk and Tripel Karmeliet. Ask for raw sausage to go for an un-stated discount.
Buy a lot of sausage. A. Lot. It fits in the plane’s overhead bin just fine.
It’s New Year’s Eve. We went to E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood for dinner, which according to locals was a pretty solid choice for a NYE dinner. The food is Asian-centric and the party takes place on the roof.
We had other plans at the Ace Hotel Theater downtown. We’ve seen Dita von Teese in all forms of pop culture from on-the-runway to her books on glamour. Her burlesque show and the after party did not disappoint; in fact it was an AMAZING New Year’s Eve.
Rose Bowl Parade: bed by 2, up by 7.
Everyone knows that New Year’s Day is Rose Bowl Parade day in L.A. We woke up cursing the liberal east coast media for scheduling the parade to begin at 8am PST, but when the floats start floatin’, it really is a can’t miss event. The best bet is Uber to the parade route and purchase tickets in the stands (approx. $80) to avoid having to spend the night on the street. Also, pack a breakfast and some coffee – food and beverages are encouraged. All in, the parade lasts just over 2 hours from start to finish and we couldn’t be happier to have this experience.
Given that we had only a few hours of sleep, we spent the rest of the day with family in L.A sightseeing, playing games, and, of course, napping.
At night, we dined at Granville in West Hollywood. The place is huge and the menu has all of the comfort food you want. Highly recommend the “uptown mac and cheese” and the roasted beets. Both are big, warm comfort food plates you want at the end of New Year’s Day.
The Getty Center and Museum
The Getty Center and Museum is set on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains just west of the 405 from UCLA. The museum was opened to the public on December 16, 1997 and houses the private collection of J. Paul Getty family trust in a gorgeous complex of buildings and gardens. Open every day except Monday, the museum and gardens are free. You have a choice to ride the cable car to the top or, if the line is long, hike. We arrived at 9:30am for a 10:00am opening and were glad we did. We did not have to wait long for the cable car up to the museum and just strolled the grounds until the main doors opened. When we left just after noon, the wait for the cable car was set at about an hour!
The Getty is a travertine dream boasting 1.2 million square feet of the stone. The California sun makes the entire place glow by mid-day.
The collection includes pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts. There are three “pavilions” separated by glass enclosed bridges. The North Pavilion presents paintings dating up to 1600 as well as medieval and Renaissance sculpture. The East Pavilion features 17th century Baroque art including Dutch, French, and Spanish paintings. The South Pavilion houses the majority of the decorative arts collection including a very large panel room.
Not to be outdone by the art inside, the sculptural works and central garden are art outdoors.
The central garden features a tree-lined meandering walkway that does not allow visitors to just come and go as they please. Instead, the walkway takes you on a journey of sights, smells, and sounds. From the sound of the waterfall to the stones under foot, the garden feels like an oasis even though there many hundreds of visitors strolling around at the same time as you.
Venice and Abbott Kinney Boulevard
Since we are on the western boundaries of Los Angeles, the next step for us is Venice.
Just a short walk from Venice Beach and away from the crazies is Abbott Kinney Boulevard. The street is a mile-long strip of clothing stores, coffeeshops, restos, and public art. It gives off a laid back Southern California vibe that is perfect for our last afternoon in L.A. One of the best parts of Abbott Kinney are the colorful murals on the side of buildings.
A mile and a half walk up the beach is Santa Monica.
To say Santa Monica gives a different vibe than Venice would be an understatement.
We think we’d do better in Venice to be honest, but we came to Santa Monica for one of the hottest restaurants in the L.A.-area: Cassia. While killing time before our reservation, we came across West 4th & Jane, which is a perfect bar for us – local beers, friends, and hockey. We never thought we would find a place in SoCal televising our favorite sport, but this bar had every single game. And the place felt like we walked into someone’s house after a pick up game. Because of the time difference, this was a perfect happy hour spot a few blocks away from our resto.
Cassia is a perfect mix between local seafood and Far East ingredients. The raw bar is super cool and the staff is so friendly and helpful. We highly recommend the Beef Rendang.
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At the end of these 4 days, we looked back on all the great conversations we had with our Uber drivers, that we finally put L.A. in context, that we sort of came here against our will, and the amazing food we ate and in truth, it would be hard to say that L.A failed to charm us. It did. And we’ll come back.