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?