Welcome to the new and refined version of A Californian in Paris, which is now La Petite Californienne. I am, after all, still the 5’2” little half-Asian American with a strange French accent. After a great deal of struggling with some coding and other fine-tuning, you will find my former posts on this new space. I hope you’ll continue to follow my adventures and I’m excited to show you what’s coming up next! As for today's post, we shall discover my other beloved home: Los Angeles.
1. Los Feliz Village
I’m probably biased since this was my neighborhood for over 5+ years. Located next to Echo Park and Silverlake, Los Feliz isn’t as hipster (bobo) as its nearby quarters (it is still pretty hipster). I won't deny it's kind of a polarized place, with the wealthy hidden in the hills of Griffith Park, the middle/lower-class below in 30’s-50’s styled apartments, and a huge population of Armenian and Thai Americans. Still, the way we mingle and live together seems to be (mostly) a communal success here. Los Feliz is in city central and the best part about the neighborhood is that you can walk to many places, unlike Echo Park and Silverlake. The village is also next to a Red line Metro station stop, so getting to and from Union Station is very easy.
Two main streets— Hillhurst and Vermont— offer many restaurants, small shops, and little attractions. There are two divey bars on Hillcrest: Ye Rustic Inn, which boasts of awesome hot wings and karaoke/trivia/sports nights, and the Drawing Room (1800 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027), a sketchy, cash-only little bar that is almost open 24/7. If you’re more attracted to cocktails and socializing outdoors (like the terraces in Paris), you’ll want to go to happy hour at Le Figaro (Yes! A French resto/brasserie!) or the fancy pants Rockwell bar. Check out the schedule for the Rockwell… sometimes there are club nights as well as special concerts (I saw Jeff Goldblum and his jazz band there once!). For some hidden spots, try Good Luck or El Chavito, tiny bars full of big secrets and drink deals.
For shopping, you have a range of small businesses, many of them selling curiosities and novelties. Skylight Books, an independent bookstore, carries a range of eclectic books as well as your every day best sellers. Come in and check out their chapbook area for local writers and artists. I also love Blue Rooster Art Supply, which carries outstanding supplies for painting and traditional arts. For specialty items, Spitfire Girl is a great store to find unique gifts for friends abroad.
As for Los Feliz restaurants, I’ll start from cheap to high end:
One very favorite affordable food stand is Yuca’s (2056 Hillhurst Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027), which is only open during certain hours and days. A tiny little taco stand on the edge of a liquor store parking lot, there’s always a long line at Yuca’s. This is an obvious result of their fabulous food. Another fav will be Best Fish Taco In Ensenada. With a small but precise menu (only shrimp and fish tacos), BFTIE is a heaven for fish and shrimp taco lovers. But if you’re vegetarian, they DO have kick-ass potato tacos as well. Just ask for them. Other amazing things about BFTIE are the varieties of salsas (their crema de queso fresco is delightful), traditional Mexican drinks (hibiscus, anyone?), and the fact that it’s BYOB. So go get your Coronas on the way over here. Both Yuca’s and Best Fish Taco In Ensenada are on Hillhurst street.
You’ll also find middle-end restaurants on Hillhurst street. My mom adores Tropicalia, whose sangria can overcome anyone’s grumpy attitude. Their portions are huge so make sure to come on an empty stomach. It is Brazilian food at its finest and the yuca that comes on each plate is to die for. For brunch/lunch, I like going to Mustard Seed Cafe for a low-key meal. The waiters are friendly and strangely humorous at the same time… you’ll get more entertainment socializing with them than you normally would at any other place in L.A. There is also Home and The Alcove, where you might celebrity spot. I prefer The Alcove’s brunch menu and the nicely made mimosas for people who don’t care about being drunk in the morning (like me!).
Higher-end restaurants can be found on both Hillhurst and Vermont. Little Dom’s is a great place to have a date, but make reservations in advance or else you won’t be able to get in. The menu is always changing and the meals are highly creative if not only delicious and well-cooked. Farfalla and its next-door wine bar are also great places to have an intimate, high-end meal. At their restaurant, it is about $60+ per person, not including wine. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most delicious Italian restaurants I’ve ever been to. The service and atmosphere is impeccable. Save this place for a special date.
For a memorable, affordable snack, head over to Churro Burro on Vermont for a churro-filled ice cream sandwich. Petit Copain LOVES the place and ate half of my sandwich in addition to his own. Horchata ice-cream, anyone?
Lastly, for attractions, I love to go to the Vista Theater. One of the last remaining theaters of the Hollywood Golden Age, its outside is pretty deceiving as its single screening room is an epic Egyptian-styled salon with a huge seating arrangement. The movie watching experience there is also epic, as the locals love to comment on and joke together about the featured movie of the day. Yes, it’s commonly accepted that talking during a film is annoying, but it’s not bothersome at this joint. The comedy that movie-watching at the Vista inspires is reminiscent of watching an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Other Los Feliz attractions include the weekly farmer’s market at the U.S. Post Office and a visit to The Dresden, a legendary, old-school piano bar full of older patrons (60+). Go to The Dresden to get your Norma Desmond on.
2. Check out the ever blossoming Contemporary Art scene
New York always takes the credit of being the art hub of the U.S. and the world. However, it’s hard climbing up that ladder and you’ve got a lot of hierarchy, if not the tight control of wealthy patrons, influencing the art world there. I’m not saying Los Angeles doesn’t have its own share of art drama, but it is a mecca for young artists and writers setting up their own DIY galleries and art shows. Every second Thursday of the month is the LA Art Walk. Although mostly centered in Downtown, other areas in L.A. will have their openings on that night as well. Some hotspots to visit are Highland Park, the Brentwood/UCLA area, and the Gallery Row at La Cienega/LAX.
We are also lucky to have many modern art museums: LACMA, MOCA, the Hammer, and the new Broad museum. If you’re tired of looking at 5 million pictures of Renaissance-styled baby Jesuses, you can instead see what going on in the current art scene (no offense, The Getty is indeed a great museum). MOCA has a temporary exhibition space in Little Tokyo (The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA) that is always showing something new in the art world, often by local artists. If you’re lucky enough to be in town for the city-wide art event Made in L.A., you will get a good taste of the history and future of L.A. based artists.
For other museums, check out the Jurassic Museum of Technology (a museum that critiques and transcends all museums) or see the contrasting exhibitions at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, where you’ll find grand taxidermy halls mixed with more modern displays. A note: the tea is sublime at Jurassic and there’s a nice terrace to hang out in after you finish looking through the “museum”. Make sure to leave a tip!
3. Take the new Expo line to Santa Monica
I am very proud to see that L.A. is finally coming down on its car culture. With many new metro projects on the way, the completed Expo line is a masterpiece. If you end up staying in the Los Feliz area, you can take the Red line metro to the Blue Expo line. And violà! You can stay the day at the beach, get drunk, and take the metro home! Rent a bike through the Breeze Bikeshare program (do not rent bikes at any of the private places… it’s more expensive and most of these places close down before sunset, forcing you to return bikes early). Bike from the Santa Monica Pier all the way to Venice Beach, grab a beer from the Venice Ale House, buy some sketchy souvenirs, see some skaters at the park, bike back to Santa Monica, and finally get back on the Expo line to home.
Another note: riding the metro in L.A. isn’t always nice. The Expo line is wonderful since it’s new, but the Red line can be sketchy after rush hour (7pm onward). Be on your guard with your belongings, always act polite, and try to focus on your own business. Nevertheless, I haven’t encountered too many problems with the Red line. Make sure to check the metro hours as L.A. shuts down the subway earlier than other cities. If you’re stuck or the metro is down, Lyft is a great option to get back home (and considerably cheaper than Uber).
4. Actually talk a walk through Historic Downtown
Historic Downtown has taken a new direction, for better or worse. One of the fastest growing places for gentrification in L.A., it is home to both the richest and the poorest of the city. Unfortunately, L.A. is not known for preserving its historical buildings. A hodgepodge of Hollywood dream buildings (one house will be styled like a Spanish Villa, the next a traditional Japanese zen garden, another a fairytale Cinderella castle), L.A. builds dreams as fast as it rips them down.
However, some history still remains as Downtown Los Angeles was a former Spanish colony and main city hub. Make your way to Union Station, a beautifully built art deco train station with old school charm. It may make you want to recite Casablanca lines.
From Union Station, walk out onto Olvera Street. Although a big tourist trap, you will experience a simulation of Spanish-Mexican Missionary life. There are lots of small vendors selling cheap trinkets and “authentic” Mexican products at a high price. Make your way to the end of the street and get your taquitos from Cielito Lindo (23 Olvera St, Los Angeles, CA 90012). The green sauce they smoother their taquitos in takes you to a new dimension of food heaven. Trust me.
Not too far away is Little Tokyo, where you will find the most coveted ramen place in all of L.A.: Daikokuya. Expect to wait at least one hour to get in. The place is also cash only (luckily, there’s an ATM at the back but with a withdrawal fee). Despite these minor inconveniences, you will taste the best ramen that L.A. has to offer.
Another nearby street is Broadway. You can still see the historical buildings of early L.A. Half of them have been gutted to fit stores, restaurants, and other modern needs but it’s truly interesting to see how history has become recycled or completely ignored here. Step into the Bradbury Building to see where Bladerunner was filmed. You’re not allowed to go upstairs, but you can certainly gaze into the beautiful lobby… complete with old cagey elevators that you have to shut yourself into.
On the same street is Clifton’s Cafeteria (648 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014), a famous site that has been notoriously recycled again and again. First a brothel, then a depression-area cafeteria famous for 1¢ pea soup, the legends surrounding this places are inescapable. The last owner was supposedly murdered for this highly valued piece of historical real estate. But those are just rumors... I haven’t been back to Clifton’s since they remodeled the place, but I hear they’ve kept much of the taxidermy collections and unique objects that the cafeteria has been known for.
If you’re still not tired of walking, you can get over to Los Angeles City Hall (where Occupy L.A. took place) and make your way all over to the Walt Disney Music Hall (111 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012). If you don’t have enough money or time for a symphony, go to the little bar inside the music hall after a concert. Many of the orchestra players will come in and have a drink after their performances. If you’re lucky to strike up a conversation with one of them, it is a special experience to hear about their lives at the music hall.
5. Enjoy red bean cakes and bee venom masks in Little Tokyo
As I’ve shown you in this post how much I love our Asian-American culture in California, you will see why my obsession continues in this section. In Little Tokyo, you will find frozen yogurt, boba, sushi, and other famous Japanese snacks. However, my favorite snack in this particular location would have to be the fresh red bean cakes they make at Mitsuru Cafe (Japanese Village Plaza, 117 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012). In the window of the cafe, you can watch one of the ladies bake the cakes, using chopsticks to carefully pluck the hot, fresh cakes out of the molds and put them into paper bags for eager customers. You can also buy fresh fried octopus balls on a stick and other Japanese street food to go. Mitsuru Cafe also has a full restaurant inside but I embarrassingly haven’t tried it. So now you must go and try everything there!
I’m also in love with the Vietnamese-style coffee at Cafe Dulce (Japanese Village Plaza, 134 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, CA 90012). Their donut varieties are also to die for: bacon-maple donuts, fruity pebbles and milk, mocha-donut hybrids, etc. For another famous coffee shop, you’ll have to head over to the legendary Cafe Demitasse. Their careful crafting of a perfect cup of coffee will make you want to reconsider your L.A. life… you’ll need to stop your busy city life for at least an hour and really enjoy that cup of joe.
Little Tokyo also hosts a lot of Asian skincare stores. While more pricey than what you can find online, it’s nice to actually see the products in person (and if you can’t wait to order these products, you can indulge yourself immediately). I am also obsessed with Asian skincare in addition to my French products, especially the masks. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan make celebrated skincare products. Nonetheless, the ingredients can be a bit interesting (bee venom and snail mucous anyone?). Still, I’ve had good, if not life-changing, results with my Asian products. Some of my favorite brands include Tony Moly, Laniege, My Beauty Diary, and LuLuLan. You can easily find these brands at the skincare shops in Little Tokyo.
6. Make a rite of passage at Olympic Spa
I’m sorry to say, boys, but this is for girls only. But don’t fret! There are co-ed Korean spas. First, I must rave about the legendary experience that is Olympic Spa. I have never felt so pampered in my life, even if some parts of the Korean spa experience can be pretty strange. If you opt to just go for the bare minimum (a spa soak), $15-20 at Olympic Spa will get you into the basic area. You get to access two different hot pools (one that is a soothing tea bath), one icy cold pool (to help circulation, I guess?), and four different types of saunas. There is a certain ritual that you follow, which you then slowly make it your own. Usually what you want to do is to keep cycling a changing temperature slowly, helping to get that blood flowing in order to sweat/wash out toxins.
The first hardest thing to do at Olympic Spa that you must be 100% naked. Since this is a women’s only facility, it’s easier to accept this condition. However, my first time there, I couldn’t help feeling a bit modest and embarrassed. After a while, you realize how much nakedness doesn’t matter… that the act of relaxation becomes a comfortable, communal thing.
The next hardest thing is that even if this a communal spa, you must keep your voice down, if not completely silent. I like to come to the spa with friends, like most women do there, but there are women who do come alone to relax and meditate. You should be doing this too, even with your friends. Still, small little chats are accepted… if not necessary at times.
As for the ritual, you start off with your own private locker, robe, and towels. Once you enter the spa area, you must abandon your robe in one of the cubbies. You can take your towel with you, but make sure to remember where you put it! Once unrobed, you must take a shower to wash off your body. After this preparation, you can enter one of the hot pools. I like to soak there for about 5-10 minutes, or as long as my body can handle it. I usually start with the tea pool and then get into the hotter pool. Afterward, I will carefully climb into the icy cold pool. This is not an easy feat. It is EFFING cold. Your body will get used to the temperature after a minute or two, but the first few seconds is a bit agonizing, if not temporarily weary on your body. Again, I would do 5-10 mins max (usually 5) in this pool and then I’ll get into one of the hot saunas. There’s a steam room, 2 different kinds of charcoal rooms (one super dry, the other moderate), and a Himalayan salt sauna (my fav). Once you’re done with the sauna, you must shower again before entering any of the pools. This is to also wash away any toxins your body has expelled. Then you can repeat the cycle all over again with the pools and saunas, in whichever order you prefer. Though, washing after a sauna is always mandatory. Once you’re down with your ritual, you can lay down on a mat on one of the two heated jade floors and meditate/nap/read. I usually do 3-5 cycles (about 2-3 hours) in the pools and sauna, finally resting on the jade floor for a good 30 minutes or more.
Yes, it sounds complicated at first. Yes, being naked in front of others can be nerve-racking. But really, after this spa treatment, your body feels like it’s 16 years old again. I don’t know anything about toxins or circulation, but I do know for a fact I always feel extremely reenergized and happy after Olympic Spa.
For the spa packages at Olympic Spa, they are intense as they are luxurious. I didn’t know exactly what my body would be going through. Basically, your entire body gets a deep exfoliation that feels pretty rough during the process. The result is skin soft like a newborn’s. BUT there is maintenance that you must do after your session. I didn’t realize this at the time and due to the extreme exfoliation, I got a really bad skin reaction. Basically, you must continue to keep your skin deeply moisturized after your session. Other than that, it is a bit strange for an old lady in black underwear scrubbing the crap out of you and then pouring milk on you. Yes, milk. But in these sessions, you get a nice massage and high quality products rubbed onto your skin at the end. If the exfoliation process at the beginning feels too painful or your have sensitive, you can ask for a lighter scrub.
At the spa, remember to hydrate yourself, especially after the sauna. The locker room offers cold water as well as a very nice, warm buckwheat tea. The facility also has a divine cafe with affordable Korean snacks and meals. So after your long day at the spa, you can eat a refreshing, light dish before your princess-like journey ends for the day.
Another good feature of the spa: free valet parking. You should probably tip, but otherwise, it truly makes you feel like a princess there.
Other spas that offer co-ed experiences: Wi Spa and Wilshire Spa. Basically, both sexes have their private pool/sauna areas with one co-ed room to mingle in (but here, everyone must be fully robed). Some of these co-ed spas are open 24/7 and people are known to sleep there overnight. There is a time limit though (possibly 20 hours) so I’m pretty sure you can’t live there if you really wanted to.
7. Yes, go to a Dodger’s Game!
Even though I lived in L.A. for such a long time, I am sad to say I never had the pleasure of going to a game until this summer. Watching the actual baseball game isn’t really the main focus for locals or visitors. It’s drinking overpriced tall cans (beer), eating Dodger hotdogs, and spending some valuable family time. You can also see who is the most decked out Dodger fan… with jerseys, hats, costumes, and the like. The best Dodger games are when they feature fireworks at the end. If you line up downstairs during the last inning, they allow a certain number of people to walk out on the field of Dodger’s Stadium to watch the fireworks above. It’s truly an L.A. experience. Also, the grass is so soft... like petting a bunny. Seriously.
8. Check out local events like Friday Nights at the Natural History Museum and the all new concert series at Union Station
When I lived in L.A., I would always catch Friday Nights at the Natural History Museum. They usually have great concerts (I saw Tallest Man on Earth and Neon Indian there), late night talks by visiting professors, or live demonstrations by resident archeologists. Also, it’s just freaking cool to walk around the taxidermy halls at night.
I did not get the pleasure to attend the concerts at Union Station, but I hear they’ve been a great success. This is a nice way to admire its architectural beauty while listening to good music.
9. Escape urban life in Griffith Park
Los Angeles is a sprawling city but the constant visitations by wildlife remind us Angelenos (yes, that’s what locals call themselves) that we carved this city out of a desert wilderness that still surrounds us. You will often find coyotes visiting your neighborhood and if you’re living closer to hillsides, you might even get a mountain lion or a bear (however, this is rare). In the center of the city is Griffith Park, a sort of wildlife refuge. Here, you can visit the Griffith Park Observatory and from there, take a long hike to the Hollywood sign. I recommend doing both things if you truly want an L.A. experience. The hike is short (3-4 miles) but pretty steep. Luckily, the path is mostly paved, making it an easy hike. You’re not allowed to touch the Hollywood sign (there’s a big fence surrounding it), but you can get very close enough for a once in a lifetime photo op.
10. Travel to nearby suburbs or towns
L.A. is a huge city with lots of things to do. In all of my years there, I always felt like I could not catch up with what L.A. was always offering. However, city life gets draining and while the metro system is slowly improving, L.A. is still trapped in its car culture. Traffic is long and boring, and driving everywhere without really going anywhere is a total bust. For visitors that want a break, I suggest going to nearby suburbs or cities to free yourself of the 405 to the 105 to the 110 (freeway) woes.
Some of my favorite spots:
Corona Del Mar in Newport Beach
Corona Del Mar is one of the prettiest beaches in Southern California. The surrounding area is quite wealthy (think Laguna Beach and Housewives of O.C.), so if you’re done with sunbathing for the day, you can cruise around the neighborhood and see the biggest, gaudiest mansions you’ll ever see in your life. Corona Del Mar is about 50 minutes away from LA with no traffic.
The Channel Islands
Many Southern Californian children make a rite a passage by visiting one of these islands, especially after reading the classic children’s book, Island of the Blue Dolphins. Catalina Island is the most famous one because you can actually camp or stay at a hotel there. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of tourist traps on Catalina, not to mention the pretty expensive voyage to get there (running up to $200 per person for a roundtrip by ferry). For those on a budget, it’s easier to visit the smaller islands like Anacapa. While you’re not able to rest there overnight, you can have a relaxing day of hiking, snorkeling, and site-seeing around the island. A boat trip won’t cost you $200 either.
A tiny little town up in the hills of Ventura County, Ojai is a place that reminds me of Oakland and Santa Barbara combined. You’ll find fresh organic (bio) foods, a famous farmer’s market (on Sundays), gemstones and alternative healing, quaint artisan shops, and a lot of history (Chumash Indians, Spanish Missionaries, and the Old West). My newest favorite restaurant in Ojai will have to be The Farmer and the Cook— an organic vegetarian/vegan restaurant with affordable prices and delicious meals. Their smoothies are also worth every penny and on a 100F/30C hot day, typical of Ojai, is a miraculous thing to have.
My other favorite discovery in Ojai must be the Ojai Olive Oil Company. Offering tours and tastings every day except Sunday, Petit Copain and I had an amazing experience at their orchards. The owner, Alice, explains the history and science about olive trees, her family’s unique way of processing olive oil, and the attentive care they provide for their trees (such as her special method of collecting ripe olives!). With Alice’s French/British background, she has established a unique olive oil taste that combines European methods/standards with the excellent results of Californian agriculture/weather. Check their websites for hours (Wednesdays are best for tours and tastings). We bought a variety of oils, vinegars, and a unique olive oil lip balm. I regret not buying the olive oil facial cream… after all, isn’t olive oil the reason why Sophia Loren stills looks amazing at her age?
I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you with this in-depth guide. As you can see, there isn’t truly a top 10 list for Los Angeles. L.A. is a city that’s always changing, with new things popping up all the time. There’s also a diversity that you can’t find elsewhere. Even though Paris is having better weather these days (in-between grey and rainy days, of course), I finally really miss Los Angeles after 3 years of living out of the country. However, Paris is my home and I'm glad to be back from vacation.
Go to L.A. Go to Paris. And check back here for travel trips!
Until next time ;)