Los Angeles, California
For the past two years we have flown out to San Francisco to visit my brother as my birthday trip. Since we snuck a trip in for his birthday in August, we decided to explore a new part of California. In addition to Santa Barbara and Disneyland, Los Angeles was the final stop on our trip.
After wrapping up our afternoon at Stolpman Vineyards, we drove from Santa Barbara to LA down Route 101 with the scenic coast to our right. We need to make a stop on the way down since our Airbnb informed us that towels were not included in our stay (strange thing to not have for traveling guests) so we swung by Target and Kevin insisted on the In-N-Out Burger conveniently located in the same shopping complex.
As we approached the Ventura area, the traffic went from a slow progression to a parking lot. Where was our La La Land musical ensemble to entertain us through all this traffic? We were told the traffic is always horrendous and while we were prepared, it still amazing us that so many lanes of traffic did not help the hundreds of cars en route.
We dropped the rental car off and made the twenty minute walk with our backpacks to our Airbnb in Koreatown. It became very clear to us that LA was huge- we have been used to walking everywhere in new cities as it has allowed us flexibility to see everything easily. We could tell that a bit more planning would need to go into our days to optimize our daily accomplishments.
My brother made his way from work at Venice Beach and we made our way to dinner at Myung Dumplings (featured on Anthony Bourdain and recommended by several locals). A deceivingly long walk (ok LA, we get it, you are not pedestrian friendly), we were quickly seated and studied the menu photos.
We figured four items would be a good start for the three of us:
- Wang man du: king steam dumpling with pork and vegetables (4) in our dishes, back
- Jjin bbangK: steam dumplings with sweet red bean (4) middle
- Gun man du: fried dumplings with shrimp, pork and vegetables (10) left
- Sae woo bok eum bab: fried rice with shrimp and vegetables right
While I always love pictures to help navigate a menu, these pictures did not show scale. The steam dumplings were enormous- bigger than our hands enormous! Perhaps this is traditional Korean dumpling size but we were completely surprised. The amount of dough from one steam dumpling was filling enough. Everything was very good and reasonably priced, especially for the portion size. While the place was empty when we arrived, it filled up nicely when we left- a great late night snack!
My brother had to work today so we accompanied him to the office at Venice Beach. We gave ourselves plenty of time for the ride to the office and it still wasn’t enough for the LA traffic. Mostly we sat in amazement over irritated as it gave us another perspective on the importance of planning our days- we would not be able to get into a car and travel across town so easily. That being said, we rescheduled the dinner reservations at Perch in Downtown LA as it felt hours away from Venice beach.
Kevin and I left my brother to work after breakfast and we began our exploration of Venice Beach. The scenery simultaneous met expectations and surprised us. The beach was very longer- people complain about Wildwood, NJ having the longest beaches but I have to say that it is quite a hike to get to the water. The stores, both in appearance and function, also reminded us of the Jersey shore- t-shirt shops, tattoo parlors, beach paraphernalia, more t-shirt shops. What sets Venice Beach apart (besides the gorgeous weather and palm trees) are the recreational activities available. We passed one of the proclaimed Muscle Beach Gym though I have to admit, I was disappointed as it was just a gym outside- I recalled in films that it was an outdoor jungle gym of sorts (we found it once we got to Santa Monica beach in a bit!). At Venice Fishing Pier we watched fisherman try their luck with the fish below and observed the numerous surfers that were out trying to catch some waves. On our walk back we passed the Venice Skatepark which provided impressive entertainment.
We met up with my brother to walk Main Street through downtown Venice and stopped into Sunny Blue for omusubi (Japanese rice balls). Having never heard or seen omusubi before, we were not 100% sure what we were ordering. Peeking at the other customers while they ate their balls, it appeared that omusubi was a rice sandwich with different items (meats, seafood, etc) stuffed in the middle shaped into a triangle wrapped by nori (seaweed).
Unsure what the typical ordering style was, none of us was starving so we ordered a total of three items:
- Tokyo Tori- chicken with sweet and sour sauce (2) right, middle
- Tuna Mayo- albacore tuna with mayo sauce left
The rice was completely different than we have had in the past- it was creamy with a buttery rich texture- really delicious rice. The filling flavors- chicken and tuna- were very tasty. Overall this stop was much more than we anticipated (sometimes that risk of trying something new pays off!)- a great unique spot.
Parting ways once again, Kevin and I continued north towards Santa Monica as my brother returned to work. More pristine beaches paved the way as we spotted Santa Monica Pier in the distance. There was definitely a noticeable difference from our morning venture- Santa Monica is the Cape May and Venice Beach is the Wildwood (for all the northeast readers)- and the miles of store fronts disappeared. Then as we rounded a corner, we finally found the real Muscle Beach– an adult jungle gym, just as I had pictured it.
We made it to the very crowded Santa Monica pier and explored the different activities the boardwalk has to offer. There are traditional boardwalk finds including snacks, games, store, and rides but it was to our surprise that the Trapeze School of New York has a location here! It was unfortunate that it was closed (we had a blast doing it in Brooklyn– highly recommend it) and would have definitely took a few swings.
With too many people on the pier to comfortably enjoy ourselves, we headed back up the ramp to The Lobster for more comfortable view of the pier. We sat at the bar but the dining room had floor to ceiling windows peering out onto the pier and the crashing waves. Even though we weren’t hungry, the smell of the food around us was quite enticing.
In addition to the pier, Santa Monica houses an enormous shopping district. Third Street Promenade has just about every and any store you could possibly think of and the streets are full of entertainers. Kevin and I are not big shoppers (as you can probably gather from all of our previous trips) but what we are big on is ice cream (as you can definitely gather from all of our previous trips). Someone had recommended Creams&Dreams for liquid nitrogen ice cream but when we walked in I was blown away by the price- $8 for a scoop! Finding it unreasonable to spend $16 on ice cream (we do not share ice cream on vacation), we walked around the corner to Sloan’s Ice Cream for a polar opposite experience. It was like walking into a Lisa Frank folder!
At under $5 for a generous scoop and a wide array of flavors, I decided to get a scoop of dark chocolate ice cream. Kevin however went back from some $8 nitrogen goodness (cookie dough flavor) which while extremely creamy in texture, I definitely got the better bang for buck!
My brother had emphasized that on our way back to walk through Palisades Park before our return to Venice Beach. At first, it appeared as most city parks but then the best views of Santa Monica pier emerged. Since the park is elevated from the ocean, the vantage point is really phenomenal.
On our way back to Venice Beach we passed a Bulletproof cafe. Kevin- intrigued by the hype- grabbed a cup of coffee, coffee said to be brain food, made with butter. I do not think it was the life changing coffee experience he was expecting, just extra calories in his coffee. In his words, it “tasted like coffee with butter”.
We grabbed my brother and made our way back to Koreatown where we anxiously awaited our first taste of Korean BBQ. Down the street from us was Dong Il Jang Restaurant (also featured on Anthony Bourdain and recommended by several locals) where we were met with the lovely smells of cooking meat. In addition to a full order of a seafood pancake, we got an order of marinated short rib (our absolute favorite) and marinated chicken accompanied by all the Korean BBQ banchan, including soup, salad and rice. Everything here was so delicious- I do not know what is in that marinade but it is divine (short rib is always so yummy)! We thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience here and would highly recommend it.
After a long day of walking (I think we clocked over 12 miles of walking today!) and full bellies, we turned in early after dinner to prepare for Wednesday agenda…
After an exhausting day, we treated ourselves to sleeping in. Since we mostly snacked yesterday, our bodies wanted nourishment when wee woke up- the craving for acai bowls. I love these bowls and could probably eat them for eternity so I was thrilled to find Ubatuba only a few (LA) blocks away. With an amazing online ordering feature, I ordered while Kevin started walking to pick the bowls up and stopping at Document Coffee Bar for his morning coffee (he commented that is was a very good cup). From the bag emerged an enormous bowl- my “large” acai bowl. I have never seen the bowls listed in size increments so while the boys got medium bowls, I opted for the large and yes, it was huge, filled with acai, bananas, strawberries, peanut butter, and granola. Honestly, it was just want my body needed and it was a delightful start to our morning and I finished every bite.
Today was our chance to explore the Hollywood area. We made our way down Hollywood Blvd pointing out all the different stars we recognized- I do not think any of us knew that the stars started so far away from the Chinese Theater. A quick walk got us straight to the Chinese Theater that housed the cement signatures of famous people, which was more entertaining than looking at the stars.
With our 2PM appointment drawing near, we quickly (very quickly) ran to Shin Ramen for lunch. Shout out to the staff for being extremely accommodating of our small gap of time. We order some eel sushi and Ramen Soba (noodles and chicken) which we very tasty- we felt bad we could not spend more time exploring the menu!
Since we were running late, the 2 minute car ride to our meeting point felt like the longest minutes ever. At our instructed entrance to Runyon Canyon Park, we found a group of people with several dogs. This was our first Airbnb experience that popped up as a recommended activity when we booked the room and it was immediately intriguing- walking rescue dogs to help them socialize for better adoption prospects and to give them exercise. All the proceeds go to Free Animal Doctor which covers the vet bills for these dogs. Win-win for us!
We spent the next two hours hiking up and down one of the easier trails while we all took turns with the different dogs in the group. At the top was an incredible view of the city and all its areas, the Hollywood sign, and Griffith Observatory.
Our next stop was exploring Griffith Observatory a short drive away from the park, though I wish we had the time to hike it as the drive was scenic- twisting up the side of the mountain as the building sits majestically atop the cliff. Before diving into the telescopes, we spent time going through the many exhibits showcasing the technology and science surrounding space, including a Tesla coil (though the one we saw in Chicago still remains the favorite). The basement level showcased each planet giving details on what conditions are like in terminology lay people understand, as well as a scale to demonstrate your weight (step on a scale at each planet), which I personally enjoyed.
By the time we emerged from the exhibits inside, the sun was just set below the horizon giving a glow to the city below. I can understand why this are is so popular- the view of LA is amazing.
The lines for the large telescopes where unreasonable for the time we had left (we recently experienced this on a San Francisco trip) but there were several small telescopes set up along the parameter of the building that we took advantage of- crystal clear view of Saturn and the rings.
A quick pit stop at the place before we made our way to Downtown LA for dinner at Perch. The deck situated with heating lamps, we took our seats that gave us an engulfing view of the downtown buildings- it was the first time all trip we felt like we were in a “city”.
- Wine: Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon from Central California Coast
- My brother and I ordered French onion soup with brioche crostini and gruyere cheese top left
- Kevin ordered the Boeuf Bordelaise- braised short rib, roast garlic potato puree, beets, cippolini and pearl onions middle left
- My brother ordered (hilarious name) Little Bunny Frou Frou- ravioli of rabbit, heirloom carrots, parsnip-brioche crumble, salami top middle
- Then we ordered several (not so small) “small plates”
- Wild mushroom risotto with parmesan and mascarpone cheese middle middle
- Truffle poutine with bocconcini, truffle pecorino, bacon and truffle gravy bottom left
- Bacon mac & cheese with black truffle béchamel and bacon lardons middle right
This menu made it incredibly difficult to decide our meal selections, so I think we definitely over ordered but everything was amazing. The small plates could easily be meals on their own and there were still several additional plates we would have liked to have tried. Highly recommend for a night on the town.
Another lazy morning lead us to lunch that finally checked “authentic Mexican food” off Kevin’s LA list. Guelaguetza is an oxacan restaurant that specializes in mole dishes. This was our first experience with mole and our server (awesomely) brought us a sampler of the different types to try and helped us navigate the menu. With a rather strong sangria in hand (Kevin got a margarita and my brother indulged in horchata- cinnamon rice milk), we dived into oxacan cuisine.
- I ordered the Empanada de mole amarillo o verde- handmade corn tortilla, folded and stuffed with oaxaca cheese and corn truffle, squash blossoms bottom middle
- My brother ordered Mojarra frita o al mojo de ajo- fried tilapia served with rice and an enormous salad bottom left
- Kevin ordered the Tlayuda de mole-
We decided (rather last minute) to round our afternoon out with a studio tour. The Warner Brothers Studio Tour began at 3PM with a short video introducing the large production library- many famous films we were unaware resided under the Warner Brothers umbrella. We then hopped into large carts that drove us through various sets while learning the art of production- it was really incredible getting a look at the sets in parallel with video showing real scenes in these exact spots. Stops also included a display of props from Harry Potter and DC Comics, the Batmobile collection, the original Central Perk Friends set, and the Ellen show set.
We spent a long time in the final staging area learning about different production tricks and the techniques on movie making. This tour far exceeded our expectations and we were all amazed that we didn’t plan on this in our original itinerary. It definitely was the feel I was expecting when visiting LA- lights, camera, action!
As we made our way through Koreatown looking for dinner, we noticed quite a bit of activity near our lunch spot- the 44th LA Korean Festival was in full swing. There were so many tents full of fried goodness but unfortunately none of know an ounce of Korean. We were at a loss for what anything was and it was way too crowded and loud to ask. Nestled in the back was a stage where various K-POP groups performed. We wish we knew someone that could have helped us navigate the food scene here cause it seems like it would have been a great opportunity to dive into Korean street food.
We instead fell back to Dong Il Jang Restaurant, I know, a mortal sin to our vacation mantra (always try new things and no repeats!) but hey, it was delicious.
An early flight back east set us off after an incredible week staring off in Santa Barbara, squeezing in Disneyland and ending here in Los Angeles. California always amazes us with everything it has to offer and I know we are looking forward to the next destination out here.