I had the opportunity to spend a month in California for a work assignment, and, despite having been to 44 states, ended up booking a week of vacation at the end of the month to explore more of California since I’d seen so little of it. After the project ended, I hopped a plane to LAX to begin the adventure. We started our time in southern California with a stay in Laguna Niguel, just off Dana Point Beach. Needless to say, the views were absolutely gorgeous.
On our way from LAX to Laguna Niguel (about an hour’s drive), we also stopped for Vietnamese food in Newport Beach, where we had delicious spring rolls, traditional lemongrass soup, and beef with noodles. We also shared a bahn mi. The staff at the restaurant were a bit confused with how much we ordered, but when in Rome…
Sadly, the hotel was having an event the next day and forced us to check out early so they could prepare, so we stood awaiting our Lyft driver to arrive in a Hyundai while watching the other guests pile their designer luggage into their Bentleys (first time I’ve seen one in the real, outside of the London showroom I walked past many times on the way to work while staffed in the UK). We headed back into the heart of it: Los Angeles, California.
I had 2 goals for L.A.: 1) eat delicious Mexican food and 2) eat delicious Korean food. Thankfully, we accomplished both.
We stayed in downtown LA, which I wouldn’t recommend as it feels pretty gritty and is a relatively far drive from most of the attractions in Hollywood / Beverly Hills / Santa Monica, etc. – however, given that we redeemed a couple free night certificates, I can’t complain. There also was a Phil’s Coffee just next door, so at least the morning wait for a Lyft wasn’t too bad. Fortunately, DTLA does have a great taco culture. We grabbed several at Guisados, and then grabbed an elote from a street vendor while wandering around. Of course, no trip to LA is complete without an exploration of W Hollywood and Beverly Hills, so we headed there next.
In W Hollywood, we went to an open air street fair and then made our way down Melrose Avenue, stopping occasionally to check out murals and different shops. Eventually, we hopped a Lyft and headed for Beverly Hills, where we wandered through the vast malls, coffee shops, and Rodeo Drive.
We also grabbed a drink at the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel ($23 for a cocktail is steep even for a New Yorker, but at least it was delicious and came with rose petals and some type of fancy tapioca beads for texture).
We ended the first evening in LA with dinner at Dan Tana’s – an amazing old-school Italian restaurant, where we got a ton of food (easily multiple portions), huge wine pours, and did some excellent people-watching. Sadly I didn’t take any photos, but it was truly a world-class dinner and I felt like I was rubbing elbows with celebrity locals (no one too high profile while we were there).
The second day, we sought to complete agenda item #2: Korean food. We drove out to Koreatown, which was dusty and had some great malls / Korea shops.
We could even see the Hollywood sign in the distance! We went to Park’s Korean BBQ, which was as good as claimed. We splurged for the combination meal and a large bottle of Hite, and it was the first time in a long time where I have eaten until I’m full and still wanted to continue eating – it was that good!
After our (massive) lunch, we wandered to one of the massive malls / grocery stores, and marveled at some of the beautiful produce / products (I love visiting Asian grocery stores here and abroad). We stocked up on some pastries and Tiger Balm (for a bruise I’d gotten), and then made our way out to Santa Monica.
Santa Monica was about a two-hour roundtrip drive, and I’m not sure I would make my way back. It’s a pleasant neighborhood – clean, lots of shops, and ambiance from street performers; however, the pier itself is extremely touristy and unless you’re into Americana flashbacks, likely the same as any pier you could see on the East Coast (although it comes with it’s own price tag – I paid $7 for a rootbeer float).
After visiting Santa Monica, we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation before dinner at Sugarfish, which was absolutely delicious sushi (they have pre-planned meal options and their own way of presenting / guiding the meal – definitely a must-do in LA). The following morning, we would begin our “California road trip” up the Pacific Coast Highway, a long-time bucket list item of mine.
Reflecting now, I’m happy I went to LA, and feel like there is more to see (and eat!) next time I’m in town. I loved the diversity, the vibrant murals, and the delicious cuisine. I did not love the fact that every Lyft driver, regardless of standard / Black car, seemed to believe meditation / chanting was appropriate to play club volume. Traffic wasn’t as bad as expected, but we did spend a pretty penny getting around given that our hotel in DTLA wasn’t walking-accessible to most of the areas we wanted to see.