May 18, 2009

Los Angeles and the Left Coast

It always amazes me that people want to move out to Los Angeles. Okay, so the weather is pretty good, but doesn't anyone ever think about the traffic? My friends that have lived there a long time, all tell me that you get used to driving at least an hour to and from work each day. That's way too much time spent in the car if you ask me, and it's not exactly helping to reduce our carbon footprint. I guess the key is to try and live somewhat close to where you are going to work. But what happens when you want to meet up with friends who live in another area? It doesn't seem uncommon to drive an hour out of your way to hang out with friends at a bar. I'm not saying LA is a bad place, it just takes a certain kind of person to want to live there, and I'm just not that type of person. Sorry LA. I have a hard time living in a place where it seems that everyone either wants to be famous, or hang out with famous people. But this is really Hollywood that we're talking about, so aside from Hollywood, I can manage. I do happen to really like Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice, Redondo and Hermosa beaches, and of course, the jewel that is the city of Long Beach (LBC).

It's actually pretty funny, but if it wasn't for a trip to Southeast Asia in 2005, I probably wouldn't have discovered Long Beach. Strange statement right? I met a group of super cool girls at the entrance to Angkor Wat, and the rest was history. I spent about a week traveling with them in Siem Reap, and the beaches of Southern Thailand. I guess there are just some people who you meet while traveling that simply become family. My friends, or I should say my new extended family in Long Beach are: Erin, Danielle, Nicole, Greg, and Hal. As long as they are living in LBC, I'll always make the trip to visit them, and that's just what I did this past Spring.

I flew from Newark to LAX airport on Continental Airlines, and met up with my friend Jonathan who recently made the move from New York to Los Angeles. He started his own clothing business, and just loves the weather and girls. So he's an example of someone who loves LA. We spent the day driving around downtown LA, visiting some old work colleagues, and taking advantage of some authentic Mexican tacos. Apparently I have an Argentinian accent when I speak Spanish, or at least that is what the woman at the taco restaurant said to me. She thought it was hilarious. I didn't really get the joke. I was just happy that she understood me. After a solid afternoon of touring downtown, I met up with Greg and we drove the forty five minutes south to Long Beach.

Greg and Danielle are two of my favorite people. Greg works at Capitol Records in LA, and Danielle is a real estate agent. If I had to decorate a house, I would hire Danielle. Their place has tons of plants, and art from all over the world. They are always such great hosts, and make it so that I never want to leave. Since we first met in 2005, I think I've gone to visit them about a dozen times. I keep asking them to come visit me so I can return the favor, but I'm still waiting. Hint hint, nudge nudge. But I guess I need to be a permanent residence first!

The next day I spent hanging out with Greg at the iconic Capitol Records building in Hollywood. I visited the studios and got an amazing tour of the building and archives along with my childhood friend Christian (who is also known as the comedic genius behind the blog and NY Times best selling book Stuff White People Like), who recently moved out to LA. The view from the top of the building was stunning, and I was able to see the Hollywood hills, and all the way to high rises of downtown. One highlight was getting to sit in Frank Sinatra's old chair in Studio A where he recorded some of his most famous songs.

That evening I got my first tour of downtown LA at nighttime. I have to say, I was pretty blown away with the diversity of fun bars and places to go. I usually go out in Hollywood, but I'm thinking downtown is the new place to be. We started the evening at the Edison Room, which is probably the largest bar I have ever been to. I'm not even slightly exaggerating. Converted from an old electric plant, you feel like you're entering into the nineteen thirties when you walk down the stairs, and the bar just opens up before you. With massive ceilings, sofas, and old power plant paraphernalia, you feel like you're stuck in a time warp. One of the coolest things about this bar is that they give you a token to buy a thirty-five cent drink at the bar, going back to the depression era prices. They also have a soup kitchen with cheap food on Fridays, and live music on Thursdays. Why can't all bars do this now that we are officially back in a depression? From the Edison room we went to get some food at Wurstkuche. Recommended by Val as the best exotic sausage joint in LA, we drove about ten minutes to a random side street in the historic arts area. Val wasn't lying, the sausages were exotic and damn tasty. I had a grilled rattlesnake and rabbit sausage with jalapenos! I also tried the duck, bacon, and jalapeno sausage, which might have been a little better, but it was too close to call. The place is an artsy hipster style restaurant with a back room filled with modern picnic tables and a huge list of imported Belgian and German beer. It's great for a group of people, and I will definitely go back. After a late night bite, we went to some pirate bar, no joke, with the worst music I have ever heard. It was so bad that I won't even tell you the name or where it is. Actually, I think I blocked it from my memory. From here we decided to go to the Seven Grand whiskey bar, a Scotch lovers dream come true. The decor was amazing with tartan plaid wall paper and rugs, pool tables, and a whole lot of deer heads mounted on the wall. The whiskey menu was long, and we sampled some rare treats. Thanks to Greg for treating. Let's just say the prices were a tad more than in Southeast Asia.

The next two days I chilled with my friend Erin in downtown Long Beach. She is a furniture designer and painter, who is involved in the thriving art scene in LBC. She lives in a converted loft and is involved in a new collective called R U Long Beach, that is doing some amazing and cutting edge work with artists in the city. We spent our days biking along the boardwalk on the beach, and through the downtown area. Most people who visit the LA area will probably never come to Long Beach. I'm guessing that the locals like it this way, but I'll give you a little inside tip. The bar and restaurants are great, there is a great art scene, and it's a little less crowded than the areas immediately surrounding LA. One night we did leave the comfort of LBC, and made the trip to Santa Monica to celebrate my friend Jonathan's birthday at a great bar called Air Conditioned. There are several locations of this bar, Venice Beach being the better spot in my opinion, but we had fun, and seemed to take over the whole place.

In addition to visiting old friends, one of the main reasons I went to the LA area on this trip was to attend the Expo West natural products trade show. Just picture aisles and aisles of every food and beverage company imaginable. The focus is organic, quality foods and products, that you would find in a place like Whole Foods. I spent two days eating and drinking my way to heaven, and also got to check out a free concert by G Love and the Special Sauce, a Philadelphia native who played a mix of blues, soul, and funk music.

If you've never been to LA before, here are my recommendations. For a cool place to stay, check out the Standard Hotel in either downtown LA or Hollywood. It's a boutique hotel where I've stayed many times for work, but you definitely get a sense of the scene that is LA, especially if you attend the pool party on the roof of the downtown location. If you want to stay on the beach, go to the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica. It's a tiny, cute, art deco hotel built in 1933, and has housed some of the old Hollywood royalty back in the day. One of the rooms is supposedly This is usually where I stay when I come to LA, and I give it four thumbs up (two from me, and two from the ghost of the Georgian).

I love walking the boardwalk along the beach in Venice and Santa Monica. The Third street promenade in Santa Monica is great with tons of stores and restaurants. Definitely a place to people watch. It reminds me a lot of Lincoln Road in South Beach Miami. I also enjoy walking the Santa Monica pier with its massive Ferris wheel. I would walk down Melrose Avenue and check out the stores if you're into shopping. Fred Segal has the trendiest of the trendy clothing. If you like to surf, Malibu is good, so is Redondo and Hermosa beaches. If you want to drive a little further south to Huntington Beach, there are usually good waves there as well.

For food, my top pic is the Palms Thai restaurant in Thai town on Hollywood Boulevard. I have to thank David and Chris at Original Penguin for taking me there many years ago. The place moved locations several years ago, and although the old location had a better atmosphere, it's still fun to eat a meal while being serenaded by live musicians such as Thai Elvis, who does a great rendition of Love Me Tender. For burgers I would check out Father's Office in Santa Monica. I also really love In-N-Out Burger. I know it's fast food, but it's damn good, and you can only get it on the West coast. The fact that they have a secret menu makes it that much cooler. I always order my burger "animal style." I'll let you find out for yourself if you don't know what that is. Erin and I got some late night burgers after Jon's birthday in Santa Monica, and they were that much better at one in the morning.

I don't think I'll ever move to LA, but I will always come to visit friends. A big thanks to Greg, Danielle, Erin, and Jonathan, for their amazing hospitality on this trip. Hal, you're on my list next time I visit.

To see a little more, here are my photos from Los Angeles.


Unknown said...

In-N-Out--Double Double Animal Style. Need I say more?

kareem said...

father's office is phenomenal!

and that pirate bar is still around, wicked... it's run by a friend of a friend.