Learning to Love Los Angeles
It’s no secret that Los Angeles and I haven’t exactly been fast friends. I had only ever spent a brief few days in the city en route to a friend’s Palm Springs wedding when my dad announced his plan to move to the west coast around this time last year. My trip to visit over Father’s Day weekend confirmed what I’d suspected: I was underwhelmed by the sprawling, freeway-bloated city.
But as much as I didn’t like the city, I do love my dad. I knew I wanted to spend a chunk of quality time with him and introduce him to Ian before we headed back to Thailand for the winter, and so I booked another flight to Los Angeles.
I figured it would be a low key week. Decompressing from Burning Man (I flew in directly from Reno), getting my camera gear cleaned (hence the amount of iPhone pics in this post), securing my visa for Thailand (always an adventure), and smothering my recently-relocated-to-the-west-coast pup Tucker with love (most important aspect).
And we did do all those things. But the universe had bigger plans. Long time readers might remember my friend Kat, who was my partner-in-crime a few years ago in Koh Tao, and whom I’ve visited twice in London since she moved back to England. When she sent me an SOS signal and told me she seriously needed to take a break from her life for a hot minute, I quickly told her to book a ticket.
I have to admit I was a little nervous about hosting two first-time visitors to Los Angeles when I was (A) not the biggest fan of the city myself (B) recovering from one of the most physically and emotionally draining festival experiences on the planet and (C) freaking out about work, as per usual. But in retrospect I’m super grateful they both were there — my obsession with ensuring they had a good time meant that I had fun, too, and by the end of the week I was amazed to find myself feeling a bit of fondness for my new west coast basecamp. Here are a few of our adventures that helped turn the tides.
My dad’s office is in Downtown LA, and he was eager to have me drop by again so he could torment his co-workers by forcing them to feign interest in my blog — what would I do without my #1 fan? I decided to make a day of it, partly thanks to reader Becky’s excellent suggestion that I check out the yoga and wellness center The Springs.
Technically in the Arts District, The Springs is a mere twelve minute drive from my dad’s house and a seven minute drive from his office. See? I’m practically an Angeleno already — qualifying every event and activity’s worth by its distance away on Google Maps.
We enjoyed an invigorating vinyasa flow class before enjoying a beautifully-presented vegan lunch at the restaurant and browsing around the cute onsite boutique. Becky was right — I adored the place, and I’ll absolutely be back to this trendy, hipper-than-thou spot soon. It truly is, in her words, “the most LA thing in LA.”
After our late lunch we popped by my dad’s office to schmooze and sneak a freshen up in the office showers. And then we pried him away from his desk to join us for a downtown rooftop bar hop!
Our first destination was The Ace Hotel, one of my consistently favorite hotel brands. This location didn’t disappoint.
We loved the creative cocktail menu, the art deco building, and the vinyl records the DJ was spinning. We also loved the $7 valet parking, a total steal in this city. It was another spot I predict will make it into my regular Los Angles rotation.
Next up? The Standard, which was more expensive, more rowdy, more crowded, more filled with bros, and just generally underwhelming compared to our previous spot. While I’d be open to giving it another try for a special event, I wouldn’t say it’s as much a must do in my book.
One thing that surprised me was that neither bar really had the panoramic views I typically associate with rooftop bars in big cities. I suppose my search for the perfect downtown perch will have to continue!
“You have to go to Silverlake.” I heard this urgent directive over and over again until I could no longer avoid its call. It didn’t hurt that Silverlake, the Brooklyn of Los Angeles, was a mere seven minute spin from my dad’s driveway — yup, we’re talking about driving again!
Okay, I could understand the obsession. Silverlake was quirky, charming, colorful, and dotted with hip restaurants and cleverly-named workout studios. We could have wandered aimlessly all day, but I had a mission in mind — lunch at the crazy popular Thai eatery Night + Market Song, which my friend Zoe had raved about from an earlier visit.
Waits can push over an hour for dinner, so I highly recommend heading there for a midweek lunch and sailing into a seat like we did. Our favorite dish? The Thai boxing chicken, a dish inspired by the streetfood vendors outside Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Bangkok — a stadium I’ve been to myself! I’m looking forward to checking out their original West Hollywood location someday, too.
After lunch we popped by the beautiful Silverlake Wine to pick up supplies for a poolside BBQ that evening. By this point I was totally enamored — there’s no question that if I was to live in inland Los Angeles, I’d be apartment hunting in Silverlake. I really can’t wait to explore this neighborhood a little more.
Kicking It In Koreatown
When my dad first told me he’d bought a house in Koreatown, I wrinkled my nose. Sure, it’s an up-and-coming area and sure, it’s a crazy short drive into downtown. But ever so slowly, I’ve started to discover its charms. The abundant Korean BBQs and the cheap Korean spas are no secret (I consider it a felony that I have yet to make it to either) but turns out there’s more bubbling below the surface — a growing bar scene, an impressive restaurant array and housing prices that won’t make your wallet weep.
We’d mostly been eating low-key dinners at home for this trip, so for one of our final nights in the city I wanted to go somewhere special. We decided to keep things local and headed around the corner to the uber-chic Line Hotel, where we snagged reservations at the greenhouse-encased Commissary. I was crazy about the place, from the quirky menu to the creative drink presentation to the poolside greenhouse setting.
At this point we hadn’t really been out past sunset in the city, and so after dinner I wanted to give Kat and Ian — and myself! — a good hit of LA after dark. Using various Thrillist guides, I cobbled together a list of speakeasies within walking distance. Our first stop? Right downstairs at Break Room 86, the latest 80’s inspired creation of Los Angeles nightlife legends The Houston Brothers.
I had read hints online about how to get in, and strolled cautiously up to the back of the dumpster to find a stern looking bouncer and a gaggle of overdressed twenty-somethings. Score. The bouncer asked for our IDs and seemed bemused that I’d brought my dad to one of the LA’s most buzzed about new bars on a Saturday night. “Family outing,” I explained, and he smirked as he let us in the service door.
Y’all, this place is a blast. Madonna poured from the speakers, Pacman machines lined the walls, and drinks with named like Cherry Chapstick called to me from the menu. The fun is in the hidden details I don’t want to ruin all the surprises that so delighted us in case you might be heading here yourself someday, but if you’re really curious for a preview you can take a peek here.
Our next stop was R-Bar, a unmarked local dive that occasionally features live bands and karaoke. You’ll have to find the place, knock on the door, and recite the day’s password — found on Facebook or Twitter — to enter, though once inside the gimmick gives way to a friendly neighborhood bar where the bartenders and chatty and the drinks refreshingly reasonably priced.
With last call looming we made our way towards Lock and Key, a swanky cocktail bar hidden behind an unmarked exterior. Once you get past the bouncer, you’ll enter an Alice in Wonderland-like room with a thousand doorknobs — but only one that will lead the path to delicious drinks.
The crowd was rowdy by the late hour we arrived, but we appreciated the unique craft cocktail offerings and even heard rumors of a back patio I’ll have to return to check out. But the best part? We were a $3 Uber ride from home. Who needs Hollywood?
One night when Kat was zonked from jetlag and my dad was at a work event, Ian, Tucker and I walked to dinner at Beer Belly, home of a colorful outdoor patio and as they put it, “craft beer and crafty food.” A dog-friendly restaurant within walking distance? Koreatown was starting to feel like home.
What’s that you said? You want to see gratuitous photos of my cocker spaniel? Yes, Tucker was a big focus of the week. Going for car rides, buying matching ties for him and my dad, checking out half a dozen doggie daycare centers, and terrorizing my beloved munchkin with large pool float purchases. You know. The usual LA tourist activities.
Have you ever seen a more handsome pair?
Up In The Hills
Our final Los Angeles adventure was a very spontaneous one. Kat and Ian were itching for a day at the beach but after every single local we’d mentioned this plan to throughout the week stared at us like we were wide-eyed nutjobs and told us horror stories of being trapped in weekend traffic for hours in both directions, I was losing my enthusiasm. After all, Kat and I were soon headed to San Diego and Ian and I were soon headed to Thailand, both destinations where beautiful stretches of sand would be infinitely more accessible.
I can’t really remember who first suggested it, but somehow we got the idea to hike up the Hollywood sign.
We made one pit stop first, on the way out to the hills — a tour of Hollyhock House, The Frank Lloyd Wright shrine my dad had tried to take my sister and I to over Father’s Day. This time, we found it open, and while I admit that I went along mainly to humor my dad, I truly enjoyed our tour of this historic Hollywood Boulevard home.
Bidding my dad goodbye and turning out of Barnsdall Art Park, we continued on to the hills of Griffith Park. I was a little wary about the whole adventure as my research led me to understand that it’s a controversial and confusing route to the top. After much research, we drive as far as we could up North Beachwood Drive, pointing our GPS towards Sunset Ranch Hollywood, which offers horseback rides to the sign. A private security guard at the gate turned us back and directed us where it was legal to park, which with the amount of cars lining the streets was about half a mile behind us. On the way back toward the gate we passed angry signs from residents warning us to not so much as look at their homes or driveways. What a warm Hollywood welcome!
Once we were up in the canyon we started up the Beechwood Trail, which I knew mostly from Google Maps and the many articles we’d read in preparation and not from any signs on the actual path in front of us. Eventually we connected to the Mulholland Trail and eventually to the Mount Lee Access Road.
Finally, after a hot sweaty slog, we reached the back of the sign. I’ve never been so happy to see the back of a big white letter!
While we didn’t exactly have the place to ourselves, there was plenty of room for everyone to get their precious Hollywood sign selfies. There were even a group of off-duty (I hope!) firemen, who seemed giddy that they’d clearly used their official credentials to get their wheels on the access road everyone else has to walk up. But hey — they very kindly let Kat take silly photos with their firetruck, so no complaints from me.
I loved this adventure! And learning about the history of the Hollywood sign — rife with real estate drama, tragic suicide, and a side of Hugh Hefner — was almost as fun as getting to it.
Alright, LA. You finally got me hooked. I’m already looking forward to my next trip in June.
Okay, Los Angeles lovers! What do I need to check out next?
I actually didn’t know ANY of that about the Hollywood sign, so interesting! I also didn’t realize what a killer view you could get up there.
Yeah, it was a fun surprise! I was totally clueless too…
Thanks for the tour! I lived in Orange County for years, and like your friends, finally gave up on trying to make it to the beach in under two hours. I’ve been to Griffith and have pics of the sign. Once worked as a courier and was making a delivery “somewhere up in the hills”. When I walked back to my truck, I glanced up and there it was! Seemed almost close enough to touch the “H”. But it was a deadend road, so that’s the closest I ever got. Love the ties on your guys!
I’m hoping to make it up to Griffith on my next trip. And thanks — I love those ties too! So cute!
I’m glad you found your love for the city! 🙂 I’ve visited LA once, and spent 6 days playing the ultimate tourist around Hollywood! Can’t wait to go back though, definitely renting a car next time 🙂
I can imagine it would be a tricky city to navigate without one. I guess Uber has probably made it a lot easier, though!
Yay LA! I’m glad you’re learning to love it 🙂 I stayed for a week last year in an Airbnb in Silver Lake – only a few blocks from Night + Market Song (Though I’m now kicking myself for never eating there!) I also really enjoyed Los Feliz and Echo Park. The bonus for me, being a former NYer as well, is that all of those neighborhoods are very walkable! Also if you’ve never been to the Griffith Park Observatory, I recommend that. The hike up is worth it for the view! I’ll be back in LA at the beginning of May, and I can’t wait to check out your suggestions in this post. The speakeasy and Yoga studio especially look super cute!
Let me know how you like them 🙂 Griffith Park is on my to-do list for next time, for sure!
I’ve never considered heading to LA until now! You’ve opened my eyes Alex!
I had never really considered going until I had a wedding to attend in Palm Springs, and then a dad who moved there 🙂 Now I’m glad I did!
Wish our trips could have overlapped 🙂 Love YOU Aunt Linda!
The last picture is truly adorable!
Thanks Miss Erin! Kat is a pretty great photographer 🙂
Funny, I LOVE LA but I pretty much always went as a California resident and something about knowing the state well and driving there from SF just made it feel less daunting, you know? But if you black hawk in via plane after the week you’d had, I can imagine not being super stoked to be there of all place. Though that pool… =)
YES. The pool is on point. I definitely wouldn’t have been sad if my original plan of spending all week in or around it had worked out, though admittedly it would have made for a less interesting blog post….
Silverlake looks awesome. I will add to my LA list for this coming July 🙂 The photos of you, Tucker and your dad are too cute!
Thanks Thuc! They are my two favorite guys 🙂
I’d always avoided L.A. before as well as I didn’t think there would ever be much there to interest me. And although I’m still not sure I’d seek it out (although my husband is talking about going since he’s never been), now I at least know some areas to check out from someone who has the same travel taste as I do. Thanks for the tips!
Absolutely, Jessica! I’m headed there again in June for Father’s Day again, so I’ll keep you posted on any new discoveries!
Okay, those stairs are awesome, and Tucker is SO DARN CUTE in his tie! LA never appealed to me, but I can see that hike pulling me in anyway… the view is phenomenal!
You can always win me over with a Tucker compliment 🙂
Such a funny post Alex!
I’ve only been to LA once on our first-and-only-time-to-America-California-Nevada-Uta-Arizona-Road-Trip!
It was great!
We started off in LA, went to 4 National Parks and ended up back in LA one month later lol! We stayed in a historical 1920’s Financial District hotel and you’re right, $7.00 for valet parking is a steal! We managed to get it for $12.00 in LA and paid a horrendous $48.00 per day for valet parking in San Fransisco. I was shocked!
‘Love your stories and hope to go the West Coast some day again soon. 🙂
OMG! $48 a day for parking?! I think I’d call the police. That’s a crime! 😉
The places you visited in LA look like a lot a fun! It would be hard for me not to like a place when there are such quirky restaurants and bars around. Living there is another story. I’m not a big city girl, and I prefer living outside the big cities ☺
Yeah, Ian especially was really excited about the restaurant and bar scene, and that excitement is always infectious 🙂
Hey, doesnt look that bad ;)Nice post and great to see the diversity that LA offers.
Not too bad at all 😉
Yay happy you are starting to like it more! I agree that the urban sprawl of LA can be daunting for visitors and it’s nothing like being a tourist in NYC or San Francisco.
I have a few more suggestions for ya! Walker Inn, Normandie Club, Honeycut (cocktail bars), Gracias Madre (restaurant), Pok Pok just opened up a location there if you haven’t been to NY/Portland locations (BEST THAI FOOD), don’t remember if you visited Grand Central Market before but if not check it out!
Also, I did a walking tour of DTLA’s architecture which I highly recommend (it’s through the LA Conservancy and only $10). Great way to learn some history about the city and then you finish up by the Ace so you can grab another drink there 🙂 Perch is another rooftop bar around there you could check out.
Anddd of course you should try and build in a visit to Santa Barbara soon!
This sounds awesome Amanda! Thank you for all these tips! I’ve actually been considering Santa Barbara for Father’s Day, since it appears to be a pretty dog friendly city. So I might just be in touch!
Don’t pay any mind to those rude hillside dwellers. Those mountains and canyons belong to everyone. It’s always astounding to me that people buy homes in areas like that and then think people have to stop coming just because they live there.
Your search for the perfect downtown perch may end if you a spot fittingly called PERCH perchla.com
Has anyone told you that from some angles your dad kind of looks like Bernie Sanders?
Since you plan to explore Silver Lake more check out Café Stella.
Ha! I actually hadn’t heard the Bernie comparison but now that you say it I actually do totally see it! Thanks for the LA tips 🙂
Yeah, I was kind of fascinated by the hiking controversy. I can empathize with the frustration of having people pee on your lawn and park in your driveway or whatever, but come on… there has to be a better solution than cutting people off from canyons that as you say, belong to everyone. A few years ago my mom bought one of the famous gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard — the neighborhood itself is literally the number one attraction on Tripadvisor for the whole island. So in the summer months, we get a LOT of tourists peeking in our windows, strolling down our very narrow streets and walking by gawking at our house. Granted we’re only a few years in but we have yet to complain — we still get excited to show off the house and chat to people about what it’s like to live in such a well-preserved neighborhood that dates back to the 1800s, and we still feel honored to get to be a part of that history. I mean yeah talk to me in a few years but somehow I doubt we will be leaving angry signs telling people to back off and petitioning the government to close the neighborhood to tourists.
Perch for a rooftop bar! and the Broad Museum
Perch has come up a couple times in these comments… sounds like I definitely need to check it out! Thanks Andrea!
Honestly I’ve always kind of thought I would hate LA without knowing anything about it :/ That’s pretty dumb of me, and you have inspired me to give it a chance! Especially considering I live in Las Vegas, a 50 dollar flight away. Though perhaps I should drive anyway, seeing as that is apparently how people there do things!
Yup, I definitely think LA is a city best enjoyed with a car! At that distance, I’d definitely check it out… and go to Joshua Tree along the way!
I’d say – go experience further into LA’s food movement. I’d recommend chef ROY CHOI’s eateries. He’s got style and substance, he has all that that and is respected, all round cool guy. His first project many years ago- KOGI food truck started a buzz and cascades to what u see now is a trend among youngsters who jump into this type of business. AND yes, the restaurants in Line Hotel, KOREATOWN is his creation. So go check out CHEGO in LA’s chinatown & KOGI food truck too. Check his places out!
Thanks for the tips Julia! I’ve gotten some great ones for my next trip from this post!
Glad to hear that LA is growing on you. You will definitely have to make it to the beach one time. Yes, weekend traffic is bad, but if you go REALLY early it’s a little less bad…lol. Venice Beach was always one of my favorite places when I lived there. If you park a few blocks out on the side streets it’s free and less congested. There’s a great tea house on Abbot Kinney Blvd called Jin Patisserie. They also have decadent desserts.
I wish that I hadn’t been in such a bad place work-wise when I spent a few days in Venice a few years ago! I loved the little bits of it that I did see. I’ll be back again someday to play tourist 🙂
Oh Alex, this warms my heart!! Thanks so much for the shout out. Glad you loved The Springs — plenty more rec’s where that came from. And now if you’ll excuse me…
I have to go pack for my OWN trip to LA. First time back since I moved to London!! First stop? The Ace x
Nice! Hope you had/are having an awesome trip. I’ll be back in Cali in June so ears are always open for new tips!
Alex, it must have been a fantastic trip. Thank you very much for great tips which are certainly very helpful. I haven’t been a big fan of LA either but am eager to go now.
You’re welcome Liz! Let me know how you like it!
I have never been to LA – San Diego, Palm Springs, sure. I’ve always thought it would be fun for a girl’s getaway weekend to cheese out and go to game shows or talk shows and do the super touristy stuff. Because it’s LA!
That does sound fun! Might have to add that to the list for next time 🙂
I was just in LA, also en route to a wedding in Palm Springs, and I agree it’s a hard city to like! I used to live in Orange County (about ~1 h drive south of downtown LA), and even then didn’t venture up into the city too often. Other things to check out next time include the Venice Beach boardwalk (although the last time I was there ~8 yrs ago it was definitely sketchy at night), The Getty (in the summer they stay open late on some Saturday nights and have live music and drinks!), and the Huntington Botanical Gardens. The La Brea tar pits are also pretty awesome and unique (and close to the LA Original Farmer’s market and LA art museum). Oh, and checking out any and every farmer’s market that you can! The Santa Monica one is supposed to be fantastic (or in Orange County, the Irvine Saturday market was my regular haunt).
I think the best part of being in LA though is getting OUT of the city and into the california wilderness, because there is some awesome nature and fantastic hiking so close! Joshua tree is my favorite place in the winter for hiking, and Anza Borego desert is also fantastic (the latter also has crazy giant metal sculptures scattered all over randomly). There’s a few coastal places with good hiking year round (Malibu, Crystal Cove in Laguna). The mountains around are also beautiful and good for summer hikes (or winter snow sports!). Mt Baldy is very close to LA, and the larger San Jacinto and Gorgonio are also relatively close by (although I recommend sleeping at altitude before doing any of those hikes, and being in good hiking shape!). There’s plenty of fantastic trails in the mountains that aren’t as strenuous as those peaks though!
From LA, you can also head to wine country either south (Temecula) or north (Santa Barbara area). There’s a few good walkable downtown areas around, from Laguna and old town Orange in Orange county to Santa Barbara and the very-Dutch Solvang north. Santa Monica and Pasadena are walkable areas with some good restaurants, but feel a bit like just outdoor malls.
Thanks for these so amazing tips Sarah! I actually have a post coming up on Joshua Tree next week… stay tuned! I’m thinking wine country for Father’s Day this summer, with our pup riding shotgun. My dad is more of a whiskey guy, but I told him I don’t know if there are any distilleries within driving distance 😉
What a great post Alex! As a San Diegan, I’ve spent my time here listening to everyone tell me how much they hate LA. And while I definitely agree on some aspects (the constant traffic!), I’ve been up there a few times and discovered great bars and hiked Runyon Canyon. I even took a Stars Homes tour! …and got stuck in traffic. But overall I’m trying to change my view of what seems like a pretty cool city! Thanks for the tips!
Hopefully I’ll have even more coming up in June, when I return again for a new adventure. Runyon Canyon seems like a must…
I’ve been to LA twice and wasn’t a huge fan, but I feel like it’s one of those places that definitely grows on you the more time you spend there. I lived in San Deigo and a guy from LA told me “LA is a great place to live and a weird place to visit, San Diego is a great place to visit and a weird place to live.” Not sure if I agree since I loved San Diego but most people I know who live in LA tell me it’s much better than I think!
Interesting comparison — I love it! I really enjoyed visiting San Diego and my dad really enjoys living in LA, so so far we prove the theory 🙂
Loving your LA posts! I just found out I’ll be headed to LA/the Santa Monica area and to Santa Barbara briefly this summer, so I’ve been looking for inspiration and suggestions!
Nice, Joy! Excited to discover more to love in LA this summer 🙂
A cool post for someone like me, as I’ve always deliberately avoided LA (preferring to fly into the Bay area) as I can’t reconcile in my mind that I could love a place that is so unfriendly to people exploring on foot!
Some cool little finds, just a shame I can no longer visit the US without forking out cash for a visa…
You’re Australian, right Chris? What has changed about the visa situation? I haven’t heard anything about it…
Australian I certainly am (nice memory), however a certain piece of legislation last year sees at least one destination we’ve been to (Iran) considered a ‘terror’ hotbed, so therefore no more ESTA Waiver for us!
Ah, interesting! Yes, we certainly don’t make it easy…
LA is one of the most misunderstood cities in the U.S. In some ways its everything all the cliches say it will be, and in another sense it’s totally different. Contrary to what most people think, it’s a place that has a lot of depth to it (in some ways more than SF or San Diego, which are more visitor friendly). There is literally something for every taste. Once you get a lay of the land and start exploring, you realize its like a small country. Honestly, it’s not a place you can get a great feel for in only a few days and if you have a friend who’s a local in the know, you will experience a whole side to the city that most visitors will never get to see. You definitely hit some of those in this post, but as other comments have noted, there is much more. I live in Downtown LA, which is like a self contained city within the metropolis that many angelenos are only beginning to rediscover. Next time you’re in Downtown, check out the new NoMaD Hotel (Great bar and dining), the Freehand Hotel (Broken Shaker Rooftop Bar), Bestia (Arts District), Majordomo (Chinatown), Birds & Bees (Speak Easy Bar), Little Sister (Vietnamese Fusion), Maccheroni Republic (Italian), Rossoblu (Italian).
My dad works in DLTA, so I’ve definitely spent more time than I think the average tourist exploring there! Love the Freehand, and look forward to checking out the rest of your recommendations!