Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

New York You Make it Happen

May 21, 2015

There’s something about New York that stays with me long after I’m back home in San Francisco, something that doesn’t get washed away once I’ve fallen back into my usual day-to-day routine.

New York gives me a renewed appreciation for San Francisco. It reminds me why I live in a city, why I love cities, and it motivates me to treat San Francisco the way I treat New York — with more of a sense of adventure and a willingness to go out of my way to experience more of what a city has to offer.

nycskyline

During our four days in New York, we hit up six coffee shops (eight if I count each Blue Bottle location separately). Blitzed from the red-eye, we stumbled into a tiny Cafe Grumpy location in the Lower East Side and then had more coffee on the High Line (where we saw our dentist). We had macchiatos in Brooklyn where we sat in front of the actress Hope Davis, and we had coffee in the East Village next to a mural of MCA. On our last day, we got coffee at a little espresso outpost located in the back of a working barber shop.

parlorcoffee
And it got me thinking about some of the coffee shops in SF that I rarely get to. Sightglass, for example, has a seriously gorgeous cafe in the Mission. It serves good coffee and carries excellent pastries from Neighbor Bakehouse, and yet, I’d been there just once because the location isn’t particularly convenient for me, and I tend to get turned around in that part of the Mission.

When we were hunting down sandwiches on our last day in New York, I thought about Cane Rosso in the Ferry Building. I’d loved their sandwiches, and I thought they were some of the best sandwiches in SF. But I hadn’t been there in at least a year, even though it’s walking distance from work. I put off going to Cane because I didn’t want to brave the crowds of tourists in the Ferry Building, and I’d have to go early in order to avoid the lines.

Being in New York helped me get beyond these excuses and think beyond my well-worth path between work and home. It made me realize that by only going to places that were convenient or familiar, I was limiting my experience of SF and my life here.

And so on our first week back from New York, we went to that lovely Sightglass cafe in the Mission and had coffee and pastries among the techies and yoga-mat toting customers. And then we crossed town and got more coffee at Andytown in the outer Sunset where there were parents and kids inside and three dogs tied up outside.

We took the dog to Ocean Beach — easy access to the ocean is another thing I appreciate about SF after being in New York — and then we stopped at Outerlands, which had expanded over a year ago but we’d yet to check out the new space. (The design was better than the food).

And last week, I took an early lunch break and went back to Cane Rosso, where I confirmed that the brisket sandwich is still delicious.

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36 Hours on the California Coast (from San Francisco to Santa Cruz)

March 30, 2015

The coast of California from San Francisco to Santa Cruz is particularly gorgeous in the spring when the hills are still green and the weather tends to be better. In just a quick overnight trip, you can eat well, spend time at the beach, take a hike, and visit a farm.

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Saturday Morning

Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco

Start at the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building. Go early so you can shop for shelling peas, fava beans and tiny artichokes without dealing with tourist crowds. Pick up some provisions for your road trip, like Della Fattoria’s fig-and-walnut baguette and Andante’s herbed goat cheese. Buy a few of Blue Bottle’s new, adorably packaged iced-coffees (god knows when you’ll have good coffee again). Have breakfast at Primavera and take in the view of the sparkling bay and the Bay Bridge while you eat.

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Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Hopefully you’ve remembered to dress in layers because there’s a cold wind blowing at Ocean Beach. Stick to the north side of the beach so you can walk your dog off leash. If you happen to be at the beach around 10am on Saturday mornings, you’ll see the weekly small dog beach walk (less upsetting than expected).

oceanbeach

Saturday Afternoon

Downtown Santa Cruz

There are now a handful of casual restaurants in Santa Cruz that are taking advantage of their proximity to terrific local farms. Have lunch at Assembly on Pacific Avenue downtown. It’s a more modern space than you’ll usually find in Santa Cruz, but the menu has broad appeal, with more typical lunch options like a burger and an enormous fried chicken sandwich, as well as less common options, like a wheatberry salad with kale, feta, and dates.

Walk down Pacific Avenue and take in the usual Santa Cruz mix of crazies and surfers. Pop into Bookshop Santa Cruz for something good to read (or to use the restroom). Stop at Verve, another relatively new (and essential) addition to downtown Santa Cruz, for a coffee, or opt for a milkshake at The Penny kiosk in front of Bookshop.

Costanoa

From Santa Cruz, it’s a spectacular 30-minute drive up the coast to Costanoa, one of the few lodging options between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (and one that doesn’t require a two-night stay).

costanoa-beach

Costanoa has a few lodging options, including rooms in the two-story lodge, cabins, tent cabins, and RV camping. There’s also a general store, a restaurant and a garden.

Stay in a Doug Fir cabin, which are farther from the general store and restaurant. Sit on the porch swing while the lodge’s handyman fixes the door knob that came off in your hand and take in the view of the green coastal hills and, in the distance, the ocean. When the door is fixed, head out on an easy 3-mile loop hike down to the beach.

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Take a Hike

There’s a fair amount of poison oak near the trail, but the views are extraordinary. To the north, you can see the Pigeon Point Lighthouse and to the south, the gorgeous and rugged Northern California coast.

costanoabeachpath

You’ll be back at your cabin in time to open a bottle of wine (there’s a wine opener and two wine glasses in the cabin) and snack on the bread and cheese you bought in San Francisco. You’ll want snacks since the Costanoa restaurant isn’t particularly special. Hit the hot tub early if you can; it gets crowded after dark.

Sunday

Farm Tour

It only takes about 15 minutes to drive from Costanoa to Harley Farms in Pescadero. Sign up for a tour before hand (they usually fill up quickly, especially in the spring when there are baby goats to see) or just show up to enjoy the scenery, peek in at the goats and buy some of the cheese in the farm’s shop.

harley-goats

You’ll be back in the city before dinner, but it will feel like you’ve been far away.

3 Days in Oaxaca

March 16, 2015

Oaxaca has been on my travel list for years, mostly because of the food. So while I was prepared to eat well in Oaxaca, I was completely unprepared for its beauty.

oax-santodomingo

Oaxaca is a lovely city with cobblestone streets and candy-colored buildings. In the distance, there are green mountains with big white clouds covering the top, which gives it the feeling of being both in the mountains and the tropics.

It’s also a city that manages to be historic and modern at the same time. Behind a traditional-looking exteriors, we found some modern courtyards and landscaping. One museum had a metal-and-glass library built right into the old stone building (second photo below). And while the city is well known for its traditional handicrafts, like ceramics and textiles, it also has a thriving street art scene.

oaxaca-flag

oax-modernold

But what I really loved about Oaxaca is that it’s the kind of city that comes to you, and those are my favorite kinds of cities to visit. We didn’t have seek out anything in particular in Oaxaca — it seemed like where ever we went, there was something interesting to do or see, and usually something good to eat or drink, too.

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Our first day in Oaxaca was just one example: we didn’t arrrive until around 3pm, and on that first afternoon, we walked through two markets (20 de Noviembre and Benito Juarez); had a great meal at La Olla; discovered a Oaxacan beer that was so delicious that we sought it out all over town; wandered into a photography exhibit; and popped into a small mezcal shop where the owner led us through an extensive tasting.

On our walk back to the apartment we’d rented (which was perfectly located right behind Santo Domingo, pictured at the top of the post, and near a charming pedestrian-only street), we passed a parade of people in traditional Zapotec clothing, and by the time we were home, there were fireworks going off around us — and not little Piccolo Petes, but big Fourth-of-July fireworks. We’d only been in Oaxaca for a few hours, but we were already talking about coming back.

And that feeling was confirmed the next morning when we walked to the Reforma neighborhood for breakfast at Casa Oaxaca Cafe, where we had Oaxaca’s famed hot chocolate, a very good concha, and chilaquiles (although I’m still disappointed that they were out of the costillas, or pork ribs, that morning).

oax-beer

We ate pretty well in Oaxaca. Thanks to our obsession with Primavera, the Mexican food stand at the Ferry Plaza farmers market, some of what we ate was familiar (tinga, jamaica, molotes, garnachas, enfrijoladas). But we also found new things to try, like tasajo, a thin, grilled piece of beef that was served with the enfrijoladas, and tetelas, filled tortillas that are folded up in a triangular shape. We had estofado at La Teca, a restaurant that operates out of a home just outside the center of town and specializes in food from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the skinny southern part of Mexico.

But I didn’t love everything we tried. The cream in Oaxaca, which was in the tetelas and in the sauce served with the molotes, made me gag. (Mr. WholeHog later described it as having a “blueberry yogurt” taste, which made me gag again).

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On our last day in Oaxaca, we went to Monte Alban, the ruins of what is said to be one of the first cities in the Americas. There was so much we still wanted to do in Oaxaca that we wondered if spending half of the day at the ruins would be worth it, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our week in Mexico.

oax-monteview

Climbing the ancient stairs and wandering around the old stone structures gave us a chance to see birds (black vultures and gorgeous vermillion flycatchers), wildflowers, fruit trees, butterflies, as well as Oaxaca’s famed chapullines (grasshoppers). It was a reminder of the things that still live up amid the ruins of the old civilization. And a reminder to me that an ideal vacation often includes both time exploring a city and time outside the city.

oax-montevulture

And soon enough, we were back in the city, eating tacos in an bustling, smoky corridor in one of the markets, and thinking once again about how soon we could get back to Oaxaca.

At Last, a Good Dog-Friendly Hike

March 7, 2015

It took about a year, but we finally discovered a great dog-friendly hike. And it’s on Mt. Tam, of course.

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Mt. Tam is one of my favorite places to hike (particularly in the winter and spring — it’s just unbelievably beautiful). But many of my favorite Tam hikes, like the Steep Ravine or Matt Davis trails out of Pantoll, don’t allow dogs. In fact, dogs aren’t allowed on any of the trails in Mt. Tam State Park.

beaTam

But what I had failed to notice until recently was that Mt. Tam State Park only covers some of the trails on Tam. Most of the other trails are part of the Marin Water District, and these trails allow dogs on leash. This wasn’t mentioned in my book on dog-friendly hikes, and it wasn’t obvious on the online trail maps of the area (it’s not like the maps of Point Reyes, which specifically highlight the two areas that allow dogs). But once we were on Tam, the trails were very clearly marked.

TamSign

We made a roughly five-mile loop out of Water District trails: heading up to the West Point Inn via the Nora trail and looping back via Old Stage road to the Matt Davis trail. This loop had nearly everything I like in a hike. It took us across wooden bridges, over creeks and up stairs that had been cut into the rocks. It went through damp, shady redwood groves and along drier, exposed trails lined with manzanita. It had views of the Pacific and across the bay, where we could see the white sailboats by Sausalito.

tamdogtrail

This is not what most dog-friendly hikes are like, at least from what I’ve experienced so far. The other dog-friendly hikes I’ve taken were often on fire roads or even paved roads rather than actual trails. These hikes didn’t go by creeks, and they didn’t have such beautiful views. They were perfectly fine hikes, if you just want to take your dog somewhere new, but they weren’t what I was looking for.

tamdog-trees

I wanted the sort of hike that really feels like you’re in the woods. The kind of hike that makes you feel like you’re finally taking deep breath, that unwinds something in you that you didn’t even realize was tight until you were out on the trail. I wanted the kind of hike that drew my attention to the way the sunlight cuts through the trees or glints off the ocean or to the sound of water moving along a creek even during the drought. That might sound strange coming from someone like me who really loves living in a city, but I’ve found that as much as I crave the energy and beauty of a city, I also need time outdoors — and these days, ideally, time outdoors with my dog.

 

Rave: Mexican Pastries

November 21, 2014

Given that the best thing I ate in Paris was falafel, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the best thing I ate in Mexico City was a concha, a seashell-shaped pastry with a quilted sugar top. (I took almost no food pictures on this trip, but I do wish I’d taken a picture of a concha.)

I’d expected to come home from our week in Mexico dreaming of tacos al pastor, but I was disappointed by the pastor we had in Mexico City. (At both Huecito and Califa, the pastor was dry; Huecito’s tacos were saved by their salsas.) The conchas, on the other hand, were like nothing I’d ever had before.

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Before this trip, the Mexican pastries I’d had were dry, dense and sandy-textured, but the concha I had at Duo on our first day in Mexico City was light and airy, which contrasted beautifully with the crackly sugar top.

And it wasn’t just Duo. We had many good pastries in Mexico, mostly from places that seemed to pair French technique with Mexican ingredients.

Mr. WholeHog had a fantastic snail-shaped pastry from Panadería Rosetta in Mexico City (I didn’t think their concha was anything special). In Oaxaca, I had another concha at Casa Oaxaca Cafe and this version was almost doughnut-like — different but just as delicious as the one at Duo. At Pan y Co, a bakery with two locations in Oaxaca, we had a very chocolatey pain au chocolat, and a small, snail-shaped pastry that turned out to be full of nutella.

panyco-chocolatePicture from Pan Y Co.’s Facebook page

Since we had a very early flight out of Oaxaca, we brought Pan Y Co’s pastries with us to the airport for breakfast, and that chocolate croissant and nutella-filled pastry were our last tastes of Mexico.

3 Days in Austin

October 14, 2014

I knew we were in Texas when we walked out of our hotel and saw someone riding a horse down South Congress, a busy four-lane road in Austin. There were other clues as well: the traffic lights hung horizontally rather than vertically, and the butcher shop on the corner advertised “quality smoked meats and deer processing.”

texsflag-austin

Last November we’d headed to Austin for a short vacation. We like visiting cities, and Austin sounded like the kind of city we like to visit — a progressive, walkable place with good food, hip hotels and independent bookstores. Although it was tempting to visit Austin during one of the city’s many music festivals, I wanted to see Austin first in its normal state, the way (I hoped) a local might experience the city.

Cities often offer clues about what they’re about, what they’re interested in and where their priorities are. And it was clear that music is a big deal in Austin. Generic-looking downtown restaurants had open-air second stories that were set up for live music with professional-looking lights and sound equipment. These venues also seemed like a way that Austin made the most of its mild climate. (We were in jeans and t-shirts at 11pm in November.)

austin-river

Outdoor dining, particularly food trucks, were another way that Austin seemed to take advantage of its nice weather. Food trucks (and trailers and school buses and shacks) were just about everywhere we went in Austin — even in areas that didn’t seem like robust neighborhoods or places that didn’t seem (to me) to get much foot traffic. There might be a group of food trucks set up in an empty lot (and there were a fair amount of empty lots), or there might just be one truck parked out on its own or tucked behind another business. We walked by a hair salon one night that had a ravioli food truck out back.

Along with the ravioli truck, there were doughnut trucks, taco trucks, chicken trucks, coffee trucks, pizza trucks, Thai food trucks. (The aptly named Short Bus Subs made me laugh.) In SF, most food trucks move around to different areas of the City on different days, but in Austin some trucks weren’t mobile. They had infrastructure set up — dedicated seating areas with strings of lights hung over ahead, and even serious signage like the chicken truck (pictured below) near our hotel.

austin-chickentrailer

Austin has its own food obsessions, too — something I really appreciate in a city. Breakfast tacos are one of their obsessions, and I much preferred the eclectic, freshly made tacos we ate outside at Torchy’s (a food truck) to the gummy, pre-made ones at Jo’s.

Barbecue is another obsession, and here is where we made a grave mistake: we flew into Austin on a Sunday, arriving after most of the barbecue places had sold out or closed for the day, and most of the barbecue places we’d hoped to try were also closed on Mondays (John Mueller is now open Thursday through Tuesday). This gave us just one day to eat barbecue. I do not recommend this.

austin-barbecue

With limited time, we didn’t want to risk waiting and not getting into Franklin so we took the bus to John Mueller Meat Company, on the eastside of town, and Mueller’s delivered: we worked our way through terrific barbecued brisket (I really appreciated Texas’s focus on brisket) as well as barbecued ribs, a stack of white bread and a pickle. It was definitely one of the more memorable meals we had in Austin.

Austin also has a pretty good coffee scene. Traveling with a coffee fiend like Mr. WholeHog often involves a lot of coffee drinking, and we hit at least four coffee shops and one coffee truck. (Houndstooth was our favorite, despite its drab financial-district location).

austin-sign

With travel, there’s often some friction between the way I think a place is going to be and the way a place actually is, and that was true for me in Austin. The things I expected to like about Austin turned out to be pretty underwhelming (see: Book People, Hotel San Jose). And while I got the sense that Austin is very different than other Texas cities, compared to San Francisco, it didn’t stand out as particularly liberal or “weird” or even that walkable.

But Austin also impressed me in ways that I didn’t expect. To me, Austin felt a lot like another capital city built a long a river — Sacramento. And yet Austin has become a destination in a way that Sacramento can only dream about at this point. Austin has figured out how to be a place for people to come to music festivals or to meet with their state legislators; a place that supports both yoga studios and shops that sell only cowboy boots; a place where, within a few blocks, you could buy some fried chicken from a truck and then walk over and get your deer processed. There’s something to be said for that.

 

Fogust

August 29, 2013

August — or Fogust, as someone cleverly put it on Twitter — is a rough time to be in San Francisco. (Even The Daily Show agrees: “It’s August and it’s always fucking cold there!” John Oliver said earlier this month.)

Of course it’s not news that SF has terrible summers or that I have a hard time in the dark days of August, but this year, I finally realized that I need to have a better plan of action.

sf-gray

In my dream life, I would leave town for July and August. But while my long-term plan may be to find a job that allows me to leave town for months at a time and pays me enough to buy a summer home (ideally with a pool), in the short term, I need to come up with some better day trips that get me out of the fog. (My current six-day a week work schedule doesn’t give me enough time to go away for a whole weekend.)

wunderlichtrail

Almost every August, I end up taking day trips in search of sunshine, but these trips come more out of desperation to get out of the fog than a real desire to be somewhere in particular. One year, I read the Sunday New York Times on a bench in Sonoma. Another year I picnicked on the grass in Ross.

This year, after waiting until 2pm for the fog to clear one Sunday, I drove south and ended up at Wunderlich Park in Woodside, a moneyed town west of Highway 280. (I parked between a BWM and a Mercedes and a Tesla passed me on the road). The hike I took wasn’t very exciting, but it was easy to get to, it was warm, and I could look up and see a bright blue sky through the trees. That was enough.

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But I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been nice to have a few more places to go, to spent a little more time in the sun. It would have been nice to pair the hike with a stop in at a new ice cream shop, for example. For me, my ideal trips usually include a nice place to walk and something nice to eat or drink so my goal for next year is to have fleshed out a few more options. I’ve been collecting ideas — bookmarking a brewery near Santa Cruz, a bike trail in the East Bay, a new bakery in Marin — so that when the fog settles in, I can head out.

Ranch Dinner

August 1, 2013

As much as I like the idea of farm-to-table events, in reality, they can often be a bit precious. At times, they seem to be trying to be more than they need to be, and this leads to farm dinners that are upscale in a way that seems at odds with the realities of farming, or events that feel more like places to see-and-be-seen rather than the chance to enjoy a meal close to the source.

So when I went to one of Della Fattoria’s ranch dinners in Petaluma last weekend, what stood out for me was that it was exactly what it claimed to be: it was dinner at the Weber family’s ranch.

della-dinner It wasn’t a showcase for some new chef from the City, and it didn’t appear to involve a bunch of Chez Panisse alums. The space was beautiful, but it didn’t look like it was vying to get on Pinterest or catering to the latest design trends. And the dinner wasn’t used a marketing opportunity for Della. We weren’t urged to buy anything extra. We were welcomed, fed, and left to make the rest of evening what we wanted it to be.

We got there late, driving up (and trying to stay awake) after the farmers market, and when we arrived, everyone seemed to be doing their own thing. Some people sat at their table drinking wine and socializing with their friends, while others walked around the grounds, checking out the sheep or the chickens or the nearby gardens. Since Della’s bread bakery is right on the ranch, some people watched the bread come out of the ovens, while others snacked on the bread over at the appetizer table. A group of people sat on an upholstered sofa and chairs that were set up outside around an outdoor fireplace. Dogs of all sizes ran around (one came up and licked my arm during dinner).

della-ovensEveryone was drawn back at the table when the food started to come out: first, a green salad full of summer produce, then a platter of roast pork surrounded by grilled peaches and an enormous dish of potatoes au gratin. We passed around cutting boards that held loaves of still-warm bread from the bakery. (Meals are always an issue at my family’s annual Tahoe trip and the meal at Della was a reminder of what group meals can be. Of course professional cooks and staff also help).

After dinner, slices of galette were put out (with a bowl of extra whipping cream) as well as the fixings for s’mores.  Most people left soon after they’d had dessert and coffee, but Mr. WholeHog and I had been invited to stay overnight in one of Della’s adorable little cottages (yet another example of how all good things in our life seem to come from the farmers market), and eventually we were the only ones still sitting outside in front of one of the fireplaces. The staff urged us to finish up the s’mores (like we need much encouragement) and after the tables were cleared, one of the servers came by to make a few s’mores and to keep the fire going for us.

della-accomodations

The evening was full of moments like this, full of small gestures that made me feel like family rather than a visitor. And it continued even as we prepared to turn in for the night. One of the Weber’s reminded us to get some eggs and a loaf of bread at the bakery so that we’d have something for breakfast the next morning.

What I’d Been Missing

July 31, 2013

My family’s annual Tahoe trip has really changed for me over the last few years. Although I still enjoy getting some time in the sun (especially in July when SF is often gray and cold) and I still love swimming in the lake (especially taking evening swims under the stars), the trip has become a vacation I take each year, not the best vacation I take each year.

And this year at the lake, I felt like doing something new, so on Monday morning, after the chumps left, Mr. WholeHog, my dad and I headed around the lake to hike up Ellis Peak.

tahoe-ellishikeIt had been a very long time since I’d done any hiking in the mountains. The coast is easier for me to get to and it’s available year round, while the Sierra often feels inaccessible– cold and snowy in the winter, and dusty and buggy in the summer. But the Ellis Peak hike showed me what I’d been missing.

The six-mile out-and-back took us through the often-strange beauty of the Sierra. It took us through alpine meadows full of wildflowers and butterflies, alongside craggy rock formations and under the shade of tall lichen-covered pine trees. While so much of California is dry and yellow by July, the Sierra was still blooming.

tahoe-ellistrees

We’d chosen this hike because we’d read that it offered memorable views of Tahoe, the views of the lake weren’t nearly as memorable as the views from a ridge we reached just a mile into the hike. We could see down into Desolation wilderness, with its granite slopes and its dark-green lakes. Beyond that, we could see a line of snow-touched peaks, which my mountaineer dad identified as the Crystal Range.

My dad has spent a lot of time in the Sierra and he pointed out Pyramid Peak and Price Peak. He told us how back in the 1970s, he and an old friend got snowed in at Loon Lake, one of the largest lakes we could see from the trail, and the rescue team showed up with a bottle of whisky and a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

tahoe-ellisview

From that first magnificent ridge, we descended into the forest again and soon ran into another new sight: dirt bikes. Thankfully we only had to dart out of the way of oncoming dirt bikes twice, but they were definitely a downside of this particular excursion.

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But I’d wanted to do something new and this hike – even with its noisy, dust-spewing dirt bikes – fit the bill. It gave me some distance from the usual family Tahoe experience. It took me to a different side of the lake, up a new trail with new views. and it reminded me how beautiful hiking in the mountains can be.

Look Over the City

May 31, 2013

Did you know that LA is gigantic? I knew this in theory, but I didn’t have a real sense of how big LA was until I noticed that we would be driving 15 miles from Highway 1 (“the PCH” as they say in LA) to the flat we were renting in Silverlake. This was notable to me because you can’t drive 15 miles across San Francisco without ending up in the ocean, in the Bay, or in a different county.

griffithparkviewview of LA from Griffith Park Observatory

Getting a better sense of LA was one of my goals on this trip. Although I’d been to LA before, I didn’t know it very well. I didn’t have a real sense of LA as a city  – its size, its smells, its neighborhoods, parks, or streets. I’d never given LA the time or attention that I’d given to other cities.

Like many northern Californians, I’d long dismissed LA. I thought it was polluted, car-centric and generic — a city made up of strip malls and chain stores that you could find anywhere. And there were parts of LA that still felt that way to me on this trip.

la-ugly
what so much of LA looked like

We had coffee and pastries at Single Origin, which was in an outdoor area full of food stands called the Farmers Market. It’s a place could be (should be!) cool, but it’s surrounded by big parking lots and giant big box stores that lend it the feeling of a mall food court. We went to a Santa Monica café that’s owned by someone who’d trained at Tartine Bakery in SF. But while Tartine is in a neat, old building, this cafe was in a totally non-descript building that could easily have been a location for the Gap.

But the majority of LA that I saw on this trip wasn’t generic or mall-like at all. We had coffee at two different, (mostly) independent coffee shops in Silverlake. On tree-lined North Vermont Street in Los Feliz, we went to an indie bookstore and admired an ornate old theater. We went to 826 LA in Echo Park. (826 has locations across the country and they’re all different and absurd in their own special way: 826 SF is a pirate shop, 826 NYC is a superhero supply shop, and 826 LA is a time-travel shop that sold items like cans of mammoth chunks, shown below, and travel posters for Pangea.)

LA-826
Across the LA River in Atwater Village, we ate croissants from Proof, a great local bakery, and checked out the old Beastie Boys’ G-Son studio. We also ate really well in the industrial-looking Downtown Arts District, where we had coffee at Handsome Coffee, fantastic tacos from Guerrilla Tacos (a weekly pop-up at Handsome) and a slice of pie at the adorable Pie Hole (pictured below).

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And while we certainly spent our fair share of time in the car, we also took long neighborhood walks through Silverlake and spent time exploring the many little stairways in the hills around where we were staying. I’d mapped out one stairway walk before we left (The Music Box steps, which are featured in the classic Laurel & Hardy movie; we roughly reversed the directions posted here), but we stumbled on all kinds of other stairways, like the Landa stairs that we happened on one night and led us to a great view of the city lights.

la-stairwayStairs at Micheltorena and Sunset Blvd

We barely scratched the surface of the city on this brief trip, but it was enough to counter many of my assumptions about LA. Yes, there was the glossy mall-like experience of LA, but there were also grungier areas full of old warehouses and unique neighborhoods that felt like small towns. As expected, we did a lot of driving on long, four-lane boulevards and many, many freeways. But we also walked a lot and spent time on suburban-feeling streets lined with single family homes, down sidewalks that were often plagued with dog poop, and up bougainvillea-covered stairways in the hills.

And I left LA this time wanting to come back so I could see more.