Exploring California: Los Angeles

Exploring California: Los Angeles

Here is the three in the series of my family road trip down California. From the last post in the series, we sent off from Monterey for our long trip down to Los Angeles for a few days only. A city I have visited a few times over last decade, still having fully got to see all it has to offer and always enjoy.

The trip down from Monterey is  is about a five to six hour journey. Yes, there are parts which are long the coast and are stunning but others are just highway. However, my sister and brother were very excited about our pit-stop as they have visited a great restaurant on their honeymoon that they wanted to return to, it was in Moss Landing along the way. Phil’s Fish Market, which is legendary and brings lots of people into they small town just to come and get food. It was truly buzzing with people, it has every type of fish you would want, a lot of them fried (welcome to America) but that is fine every now and again and not really geared to someone living plant-based diet. I can understand why it was so popular looking at all the great fish dishes coming out. For me, I went for the fried artichokes hearts (as steamed came with prawns – should of asked without but didn’t order, but have lots of artichoke options) which was very nice, I love artichokes and they are so good for you. It was such as sweet little hidden gem of a place and it held so many memories for my brother and sister it was lovely going and seeing it with them.

Now we move onto a slightly dark part of the road trip, so I am going to make it very quick and more on but do feel like I need to cover it to give a bit of context. Similar to San Fransisco we were going to stay in a nice Airbnb in West Hollywood, and due to traffic we didn’t get into LA until very late, close to 10pm. The house looked nice enough but as soon we walked in there was a horrid (and I be rancid) smell, one you couldn’t stay in. We were stuck for one night (never felt so unclear) and first thing in the morning moved into the lovely Sofitel Beverly Hills. The staff were very friendly, hotel lovely and clean and full of fun characters to people watch. It was also so centrally located.

The first point of call was to take my sister to one of my favourite brunch places Blue Jam Cafe  in Hollywood, on Melrose. As you would expect with a popular brunch place and unless there as the doors open there was waiting list.IMG_2303Therefore with our name down we went for a nice walk in the sun down Melrose Avenue and across our travels we came across a juice bar we had driven by earlier and I had wanted to try, Juice Butchers (love the name). I wanted some greens so went for the Sexy Beast (again love the name) which had kale, spinach, ginger, lemon and a great kick of jalapeño to it. It was massive and in a glass jar which I love as so much more environmentally friendly, so we ended up sharing it. However my nephew got a cacao smoothie which was a bit more popular to share. Finally our names were called and time for brunch. Last time I visited I wasn’t fully plant-based but remembered it was very vegan/veggie friendly (as is most to LA – one of the reason I love the city so much). The menu has everything you could want from world-famous french toast, Mexican breakfast eggs, to health & fitness options. IMG_2305I started with a wonderful almond milk spiced chai latte – it was warmed mild chai spice and great smooth almond milk – was so good had to have two. I went for the Spicy Vegan Tex Mex Tofu Hash along with my sister (but she did it with a side of bacon). It was for die for and massive – welcome to American portions but we typically had a big breakfast no lunch and then a nice dinner. It included spicy Tofu with black beans, onions, chipotle, cilantro, grilled potatoes, tomatoes, pico de gallo, and quarter of an avocado, with corn tortillas to make your own wraps if you wish (but too much filling for wraps). It was all scrambled so small that you got a bit of everything in each bite. Until this holiday I haven’t had tofu hash (need to get in the UK) and now had two brilliant version, annoying both so good is very hard to replicate.

IMG_1298When in California and it is sunny what else are you going to do but go to the beach So head to Santa Monica and the Pier, a first time for me. So we headed straight for the pier and as the weather turned slightly cold by the time we got there we headed straight for a very busy Pier. We did you typical activities, playing games (all of which we lost not cuddly toy owl for me) and going on rides. As part of my role as the Aunt on this trip, I am the designated adult for rides (which is fine with me as like a ride or two) so I took my nephew on a few rides and watched him on a few. I wish I could of taken a video of his reaction on the rollercoaster which for a 5 year is pretty big, which range from pure excitement, freaking out/scared to nervous to pure pleasure. We then stopped by The Independence to get my nephew some food and the adults a cocktail and small tapas food to snack on before a late dinner. I had a lovely Paloma cocktail and the roasted rosemary potatoes and blistered shishito peppers (they had this great ginger soy vinaigrette with charred lemon) we so good, and we split an avocado on toast – as can never say no to avocado toast.

Unlike most cities in LA if you haven’t booked somewhere for dinner you can’t just walk up without expecting a waiting a minimum of an hour wait time. However, I find that happenstance alway means that on holiday when plans don’t go exactly to plan you always end up in an unexpected but better situation. So we were able to book via Opentable a great Italian restaurant called Ago. We found out that is actually owned by Robert Niro which was pretty cool. This restaurant was very busy and it was it your old school more New York style restaurant. We shared a lovely bottle of local red wine again and they were very accommodating to my plant-based diet. I started with a wonderful Carciofi baby artichoke salad with frisée, which was so good as you can tell it was really fresh produce and really clean flavours. Then they were very kind and offered to make me their own freshly made gnocchi pasta with one of the best tomato sauces I have every had – it was so balanced with sweetness and tartness. Some of the best Italian food outside of Italy. I will not lie, this food wasn’t cheap and with it location I didn’t expect to be. Nevertheless it was a very nice meal and if I had the budget would definitely go again, just don’t order the Espresso Martini it was shockingly bad.

IMG_2311The day was the Sunday and we of course, if you haven’t figure out by now started the day with Brunch. We got given a recommendation to go to Kings Road Cafe, which oddly enough when we got there we remembered we had been before on another trip and loved. It is very laid back, had great seats out on the sidewalk etc. I have to tell you that I very much leaned into the stereotype millennial and had Avocado on toast but did have a twist as was seasoned with smoked paprika and came with red cabbage and lemon olive oil on the side. In addition, I had a matcha almond milk latte, which was one of the best I have ever had. Was just the right level of sweetness and cleanliness of green tea and not too thick or watery either.

IMG_2322Then it was time to take ourselves up to Griffin Observatory, which has been on my list of places to visit for a while, as much as I have visited LA a few times I had never made it up there. The views on the drive up through Griffin Park are amazing; it was such a hot day and if we had more time I would of done the actual hike up the hill as the trail looks so good. There are two reasons to go up to Griffin Observatory one is to view the IMG_2324observatory itself and the other are the views looking over LA. As you can see you get a brilliant view of the Hollywood sign (you will see everyone taking pictures but more impressive for me was from the back of the Observatory the view of LA and you really can see how far it stretches. I encourage you all to actually go inside and go through the exhibits, I learn even more than I did before about seasons, stars, tides, the moon and comets. There is also little kids shows where they make a comet which was really cute to watch all the children get involved and ask questions. IMG_2326It is all pretty impress to think that it is still very much an active observatory and they are still finding out new things about space and the wider universe. We went on a very busy day, and I would happily go back again and try to learn more. We also paid to go to the planetarium show where you lay back and the talk you through the beginning of time and space. I nearly fell asleep it was so calming and the women who was narrating was very dramatic (LA is filled with struggling actors) and it was very funny at times with the way she decided to stress certain phrases. There is a lot to do, both inside and outside. IMG_2344I have to say one of aspects I also truly enjoyed was just the architure of the building, with the very iconic (not just due to LA LA Land) art deco white of the buildings which you see looking over LA but there is so many little details from the great statues outside to the arches and corridors inside. I wish I had time to walk further up the Griffin Park and the trails but it was a very hot day and had a nephew who to be very fair to him probably is a bit too young to get too into physics and astronomy.  I am very happy to say that I have now been and I would definitely tell anyone visiting LA that it should be on their list of places to visit.

As we were in the Los Feliz area of LA I suggested that we did a quick stop at one of the  recommended hot spots and sold it to a very tired bunch of people with tales of how long the cake menu alone was. This place is Alcove Cafe & Bakery, it has a great outside patio area, as to be expected being so popular it was a little busy but not too crowded. It also great as it has a full bar but also the little cafe serving so many variety of cakes and the slices I warn you are the size of your face. I got a little carried away as I didn’t think they would have anything plant-based/vegan but how could I forget that I was in LA. So I had to buy the vegan chocolate-chip cookie and also one of their whoopee pies. The cookie was one of the best cookie had, especially being vegan, as it wasn’t too dry or too sweet. They also make a very mean ice-tea. The atmosphere was also so nice, it was sunny laid back and in such a lovely patio with such greenery. I can completely get why it is legendary. So a top tip is go for Brunch (but know that will be popular) before going to the Griffin Park or afterwards but definitely a winning combination for the day.

Now, I cannot tell you who was more excited for what we had install for the Monday, my sister or my nephew. Nevertheless, the car was very much a buzz by all of use when we IMG_2352drove up to Universal Studios Hollywood. I will put my hands up I do love a good theme park and as I got older I seem to enjoy the bigger faster rides more and I, like many my age were right in that Harry Potter world so very excited to finally see Hogwarts (already done the studio tour in the UK). My sister being a seasoned pro also was very kind and got us VIP passes which meant we go on the fast pass line which made a world of difference, never queued for longer than 5mins compared to 45/60m queues.

We had to start in Wizarding World of Harry Potter and I cannot tell you how surreal it was being in bordering on 40 degree heat and then walking into the  IMG_2392snow covered Hogsmeade village from all the Harry Potter movies you watched and your visions when reading the books. Even as a grown adult (I use that term very loosely in reflection to myself) it was magical and you do get taken into that wizarding world. The power of movies at its best. The other power of movies, which is the commercials is also clear, with some of the main attractions for being walking through actual village, is being able to shop all the stores in the village – from wands, to clothing, to the sweet shop – where I did get my sister a bag of Bertie Botts every flavour beans and got myself a pumpkin juice (as was the only vegan drink – butterbeer wasn’t on my list of things to do). Then we moved onto the rides, the flight of the Hippogriff which was really fun and goes so fast the ride is over before you know it which was sad, is just a little ride. Then we went into the castle for the Forbidden Journey ride, it is pitch black (no joke) as you queue for this ride – that alone was enough to frighten my nephew so ended up just me and my brother-in-law – you get on the ride where you are strapped in with your legs dragging and it is as if you are on a broom alongside Harry and the gang. We did have the fun of the ride stopping just after a spider had sneezed on us (much to the horror of my brother) and we were lucky enough though when frozen to be laying on our backs looking up at a death-eater. It was only for under 5mins and we did the rest of the ride. It was very well done ride really taking you though a lot of the highlights of the different movies.

After this ride it was time for a nicer, easier ride to get everyone settled and it was getting pretty hot, so we decided was time for the Universal Studios Tour, which personally I found really interesting. You got through the back lot and see all the sound stages and if you are lucky a few stars (we didn’t). A top tip if you want to get wet (yes there are simulators and they get you wet and not a little) then sit on the outside by the windows in the middle you get a little less soaked. We then moved on to some of the other rides, including the Mummy (which is in the dark, lots of spiders, is very fast and you go backwards so not for those who don’t like rollarcosters – I loved it), Transformers which is again a virtual ride but you do move around a fair amount and is faster than you think it going to be,  Minions which is just a very cute little ride where they pretend to make you a minion and Simpson ride which is again faster moving that you think but a good giggle. My sister was most excited about going on the Jurassic Park water ride and as I had been in the middle on tour I got told I had to be on the outside to make sure I got wet. We were also sat at the back so wasn’t expecting to come away dry but was I in for a shock. You start with a very nice easy ride along the jungle with dinosaurs all around it and scenes as if they have escaped, a few sprays of water along the way. The you start climbing and they make you think it isn’t that high, even have a mini drop, where I did get wet to my brother-in-laws enjoyment. Finally you are faced with the wide open jaws of a dinosaur and a significant drop (all of us were shocked) and when you land it is (no joke) like literally multiple buckets of water have been poured over you from above – a wall of water is just unceremoniously dumped on you in seconds. As it was a bit of shock, it did have my poor nephew in tears but he was fine after he dried off and the shock wore off.  However, my sister loved it (always have) so I went on it again with her, and was kind enough to warn the friends who sat with us. We were there for hours but the time fly pass, we covered nearly every ride and really enjoyed ourselves. It isn’t a must do but it definitely if you have the time and money a great way to spend the day.  One downside is there isn’t really any good food options all doughnuts, fries and burgers, so nothing really healthy so was very hungry and excited for dinner.

As I had said earlier in this post, if you haven’t booked you have to wait, well I knew of one place that I really wanted to go to whilst in LA so we booked for dinner after Universal. I had heard lots about it; whilst many might go as it is in West HollywoodIMG_2400 and meant to be a good place to spot a star, I was most excited about what I had heard about the food. Gracies Madre, a plant-based Mexican restaurant, which is best situated in LA  with the marriage of those two cuisines. We started at the bar whilst we waiting for a table on the patio, and for course my sister and I need a cocktail. I do love a good tequila & mescal and this cocktail was with turmeric and rosemary was so nice and you felt like it might be good for you too (always best type of drinks). There is a great atmosphere was very happy to sit outside which is a bit more rustic with lovely large trees and fairy lights. Processed with VSCO with au5 presetWe started on chips and guacamole which was so good we had to get another as my nephew loved their ‘guac’. The menu was so good that we decided at least for the starters that we would sharing (there is a tasting menu but none of us were hungry enough for that but next time). We starter with roasted brussel sprouts (these were to die for – love anywhere that does brussel sprouts) , ‘Crab’ Cakes (hearts of palm, chipotle aioli, bread crumbs, micro cilantro, bay laurel – very light and fresh), and Quesadillas de Calabaza (butternut squash, caramelised onion, cashew nacho cheese, pumpkin seed salsa – green and so good). As I said I do love a good tequila so my sister and I went for a pitcher of Spicy Margarita which was so good and smooth. It just reminded me that in the US they actually put good quality alcohol and don’t water down unlike in most of the UK restaurants. Processed with VSCO with au5 presetWe also had mains but I was so fully from the greater starters, where I had a great Enchilada with a rich dark mole sauce on top and packed with black beans. The food was really good, and I would go back again without a doubt, they need open on in London.
Now I will say on this trip we did go in search of truly authentic Mexican food but did get recommendations for some good local places, one was via Phil Rosenthal’s documentaries which was to try Loteria Grill, which is a great little Mexican right in the middle of the Grove’s Original Farmer’s Market.IMG_2350I really enjoy the farmers market anyways, I got myself fresh watermelon and there is a great nut shop too that you have to go to. However, we went to Loteria for breakfast and it is a basic go order sit down and pick up from the counter style. As it is pretty authentic most of the dishes did sadly have meat or dairy in them, however they did make me a great Mushrooms with Epazote and Zucchini and Roasted Corn Succotash tacos with a lovely fresh Agua Frescas which was the seasonal with hibiscus. I also have a large serving of tortillas and guacamole one of the best I have ever had – there is something about Californian avocados I think. I am happy however that we had this as our last breakfast in LA as it was a very Los Angeles location and it helped with my guacamole fix.

Before I know it, it was time to leave LA but we all wanted to go to the beach one last time before we drove down to San Diego. I have been before and really loved it as it is such a nice clean and calm beach is Laguna Beach. We just got there, sat in the sun for a big having a drink and a nice big salad, then walked along the shore. My nephew and brother-in-law watched some volleyball, whilst my sister went shopping. We were in search of a shop we went to the last time we were there, Sunny Days which a great little independent shop with lovely clothes, jewellery and shoes etc. It a really good hidden gem of a store.

I love LA, it is one of my top cities and I really don’t think I have truly touch the surface of it, as there a large parts I haven’t seen and it is constantly changing. I will be back for certain, but hopefully this blog gives few recommendations for someone who has never been or a few ideas for someone who like me has been a few times but hasn’t been where I have.


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