By Hannah Henderson for A Cup of Jo
Venice has been my home for the past 12 years. It feels like a small town within this huge city, which is comforting. On the west side, the beach is our backyard. Los Angeles is massive and we have the freedom of being on the fringe, not so locked into notorious traffic. On the west side you have everything you need, in a little bubble… a little bubble that happens to contain the Pacific Ocean.
WHERE TO EAT
Gjelina in Venice might be my favorite restaurant. The food is always, always perfect. The pizzas, seasonal burrata dishes (with prosciutto and stone fruit in the summer) and mushroom toast are especially great. If you’re in a group, share a bunch of plates to taste everything! A reservation on the back patio makes the experience even better. If you’re in a hurry, stop by the neighboring Gjelina Take Away and grab an order to go.
Holy Guacamole in Santa Monica is a hole-in-the-wall place that serves quick, authentic Mexican food. Their quesadillas can make any kiddo cheer right up.
For brunch, try Cora’s Coffee Shop in Santa Monica. It’s tiny, relaxed and gorgeous (it has bougainvillea-covered patio!). I like getting the burrata caprese omelet and a cappuccino.
For lunch, stop by Gjusta in Venice. It’s a beautiful, laid-back café by the people behind Gjelina. Order the veggie sandwich (with tahini, avocado and roasted peppers), egg sandwich (with gruyere, bacon and hot sauce) or chocolate babka (made with croissant dough). Even the bathroom is lovely, with rustic styling and French-pane windows. Go at an off-hour or later in the day to avoid the rush.
Consider going to Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica — a resort-style Italian restaurant (think: light pink walls, tropical patterns and fresh flowers everywhere) — at sunset. It’s not cheap, but it’s a classic dinner experience. I recommend the delicious lobster pasta and the Ivy Gimlet made with homegrown mint.
If you’re up for a short drive, Malibu Farm Pier Café, off the Pacific Coast Highway, serves tasty, organic food at the end of a pier overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Try the crab cakes with baby potatoes and arugula.
WHERE TO HANG
Visit the Eames House in Pacific Palisades. It’s the private residence of American designers Charles and Ray Eames, and it’s stunning. Reservations are necessary, and it’s $10 to tour the outside. For adults only, special interior tours are available at a much higher price ($275!), but the fees go toward their 250 Year Project to conserves the site. If you’re into grand old houses like this, take a detour on the way and drive through Rustic Canyon. It’s a magical residential neighborhood that feels 100 miles away from the rest of Los Angeles. With huge eucalyptus trees and mid-century houses, it’s a real estate dream.
Spend a couple of hours wandering up and down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. (GQ Magazine calls it “the coolest block in America.”) There are great shops, like Aesop, Bazar and Urbanic. Opened by a husband and wife after their move from Tokyo, Tortoise has simple Japanese home goods. At the coffee shop Blue Bottle, order the New Orleans, a cold-brew with organic cane sugar, for a sweet jolt. On Sundays, Guerilla Taco Truck sits outside Blue Bottle. Their menu is flavorful and delicious, with items like a sweet potato taco with almond chile, feta cheese, fried corn and scallions. My kids also go nuts for Salt & Straw ice cream. The honey lavender is my favorite.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the Miracle Mile has amazing exhibits — through September, there is a Agnes Martin (an American abstract painter) show. The museum is also next door to the La Brea Tar Pits, which my kids love. A couple years ago, the city discovered thousands of fossils when they were digging to build a new parking structure. You can now watch scientists cleaning the fossils of ice-age creatures that used to roam Los Angeles.
Hiking is big in L.A., and one of my favorite spots is Temescal Canyon. The two-and-a-half mile loop takes you by ocean views and 100-year-old trees.
If you want to hang at the beach, head to Surfrider in Malibu, a classic surf spot. Or go a little farther up the coast to El Pescador for a quieter experience. It’s a secluded cove with tide pools at low tide. Bring water bottles, snacks and some friends to make a day out of it.
WHERE TO SHOP
I’m definitely biased, but my shop General Store in Venice curates a mix of handmade home objects, clothing, jewelry, books and vintage goods. It’s the perfect place to find California gifts.
There are two locations of Lost & Found near each other on Main street in Santa Monica. One has women’s clothing with a sweet kids’ section, and the other one is for the home. Filled with natural light, the women’s shop has Italian sandals and quality clothing in natural fabrics. You find items there that you’ll wear for years.
For those who love flea markets, Los Angeles has some of the best, and they happen every weekend! The Santa Monica Airport Antique Market is open the first and fourth Sundays of the month. If you are venturing east, stop by Pasadena City College on the first Sunday of the month and the Rose Bowl Flea Market, the mother of all flea markets, on the second Sunday of the month. Melrose Trading Postat Fairfax High School is open every Sunday.
WHERE TO STAY
The Rose Hotel in Venice is a low-key, 14-room hotel that’s close to Muscle Beach and the Venice Skate Park. It’s a touristy area, so be prepared to navigate crowds. If you’re willing to brave the crazy boardwalk, my favorite place is the roller disco rink next to the skate park, which is packed with wonderful characters dancing in their roller skates. It’s a time capsule — and incredibly fun to watch.
Or, consider renting a house in Venice. That way, you’ll be walking distance to Abbot Kinney and the awesome shops on Lincoln. You’re close to everything — it’s the best way to experience the town. Make time to stroll down the Venice “walk-streets” (pedestrian-only pathways). The tree-lined sidewalks still have that old Venice charm.
If you want to sneak a bit east to Hollywood, I highly recommend staying a night at the legendary Chateau Marmont. It was built in 1929 as a deluxe apartment building, but the rooms were quickly changed into hotel suites and bungalows. It’s a beautiful Los Angeles landmark with so much old Hollywood history, you can feel the energy when you walk in. It’s been a star retreat for decades — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Annie Leibovitz, Hunter S. Thompson and Sofia Coppola, to name a few, have produced work here.
Los Angeles is a great place to visit any time of year because the weather is so wonderful, but it gets busier in the summer. If you come then, start your days early and do things on weekdays for the best experience. In the winter, sand sledding is a Venice tradition! The city builds huge sand dunes on the beach, and we slide down them in snow sleds. It’s really fun for everyone.