Ian had to go to LA for work, and it was the perfect opportunity for me to join the trip for a quick vacation. The timing proved to be impeccable as well: we missed one of the coldest weeks of the Toronto winter, so no complaints here!
I had visited LA previously in 2011 and again in 2014. I can confidently say that, upon returning from our most recent trip, I like LA more and more with each time I visit. I can truly appreciate it for what it is.
Our trip was action-packed and brimmed with plentiful meals. We spent most of our time in LA, but visited Malibu and Santa Monica as well. Below is a review of each place we visited, and I’m also including a curation of the recommended restaurants we didn’t make it to this time, but will be on our “next time” list. (Quick tip: click on the name headers of each spot for the hyperlink!)
We lodged at the Roosevelt because of its proximity to Ian’s LA office, and I was excited to stay there since it’s so legendary. Our room was very close to the famously haunted Marilyn Monroe suite, and the vibe at the hotel was cool and relaxed. We stayed in a cabana room and all of the cabana rooms surround the outdoor pool in the middle of the resort. It was gorgeous and is said to be quite hot spot in the summer months.
The hotel is located on Hollywood Blvd, but since we were there in January and during the week, it wasn’t as jam-packed as I had experienced it my first couple of times in LA. I actually loved leaving the hotel room around 9 AM to venture across the street to the Starbucks attached to the TCL Chinese Theatre, as I felt like the only person out and about on Hollywood Blvd. at that time.
The Library Bar is closed most of the time now that they have the Teddy Bar, but Ian and I did enjoy some delicious cocktails in the dimly lit lobby bar. Last time Ian was there for work, he saw Danny DeVito! This time, while he was working out of the lobby bar one morning before his training, he saw Richard Kind.
Food & Drink:
Our first night started with a David Chang favorite in Koreatown, some delicious galbi jim (bbq beef short rib) at Sun Nong Dan, as seen on Ugly Delicious. It was brought to my attention by my fellow galbi-loving friend, Lauren, and it didn’t disappoint. We ordered the medium-sized galbi jim with rice, cheese and rice cake add-on’s with medium spice (as David Chang recommends), and the side dishes were plentiful as well. (There was a favorite Korean side dish of mine served: onions and jalapenos in a vinaigrette too).
When the galbi dish was brought out in a hot stone pan, a torch was used to melt the cheese on top of the dish. It was incredible! I will say that we brought a lot of food back to the hotel with us as leftovers—there are only two sizes of this dish and we found medium too much for just two people. If you plan on going, be prepared and go hungry!
I feel silly even mentioning this in my review, however it is a West Coast staple, and a must-visit spot if you’re craving fast food. We dropped our bags off at the hotel, and were happy to find that an In-N-Out was in close proximity. We ordered a Neapolitan shake off the “secret menu”, along with chili’s (also on the secret menu) for our cheeseburgers. Knowing we would be having a big Korean meal later that night, we opted not to get the animal fries (we were warned they get cold and kind of gross quickly anyway!) and shared a regular fry. The milkshake was thick and tasty, and the burgers were delicious. The fries, in my opinion, are mediocre and not worth the calories.
The best Thai food we have had since, well, Thailand. (And that’s saying something since we eat a LOT of good Thai in Toronto). The vibe in Night + Market is hipster, neon and moody. Inside the restaurant, we were surrounded by pink walls and fun, colorful décor, and it’s in a cool, accessible area in West Hollywood. Ian and I ordered crab meat + corn fritters off of the special menu, and also ordered the chicken Pad Thai and roasted duck green curry. The Pad Thai has a smokey-sweet and spicy flavor to it and was, quite possibly, the best Pad Thai I have ever had (in recent memory, at least). The only thing that potentially beats it is street Pad Thai on Khao San Road, in Bangkok, Thailand. The green curry was flavorful but not overpowering and the roasted duck added a delectable richness. We didn’t have any room for dessert but I wish we did- the desserts looked mouth-watering as well! This restaurant requires reservations unless you get there right when it opens—it’s a hot spot!
Note: There are no amendments or substitutions on menu items, however they withheld nuts from the Pad Thai for me.
Speaking of Thai food, I continued on my Thai mission the following day. Naomi and I met on Wednesday afternoon and headed to Sapp Thai Coffee Shop, only to find it was closed on Wednesday. I quickly pulled up a Thrillest List of the best Thai places in LA (which Night + Market Song above is listed as number 1, and Sapp was listed as Number 2) and found that we were very close to Bhan Kanom Thai Store + Bakery on Hollywood Blvd. We ordered grilled rice + taro wrapped in banana leaves, crepes, Thai iced tea and another little custard + rice pastry dessert to try out. Our favorite was definitely the grilled rice + taro: it was warm and sweet, and melted in our mouths. The little bakery is deceiving: it looks like a simple convenience store in a plaza, just as Sapp does, but those are often the best places for authentic food.
Located in a multiple story building, Soho West Hollywood looks discreet on the outside, as most Soho Houses do. The staff was friendly, and the building was beautiful. The club floor houses a Mexican restaurant called Maya, along with a pool table and beautiful bookshelves.
Up the stairs is the main bar area, which was dimly lit and surprising sprawling. Ian and I, along with our friends Alice and Robb, found a table along the large windows, overlooking a beautiful view of LA. We had the eggplant dip (which was delightful) with pita and meatballs, along with some divine cocktails. This floor also is home to a Bosco photo booth and a beautiful garden-inspired patio (it reminded me of The Secret Garden) and offered another incredible view on the opposite side of the building.
Note: You must have a membership, or be with a member to access the House.
Sigh. Bestia. I have such fond memories of Bestia from our 2014 trip to LA. It was so fantastic the last time I visited, in fact, that I went twice (Once with Ian, once with Kieran). I can still remember the squid ink pasta I had that first time, and that was over four years ago.
Four years later, Bestia is still an Italian downtown hot spot. (Though, I am interested to check out Baval, a new restaurant by the same owners on my next trip to LA). The bone marrow, which is a dish Bestia is known for, did not disappoint. It was served with spinach gnocchetti and was prepared tableside. It was our friends, Alice and Robb’s, first time there, and they were thoroughly impressed. We shared a kale pizza and three pastas as our mains, and my favorite pasta was the cavatelli, while Ian preferred the potato and leek ravioli. Alice got the “coffee and donuts” for dessert (I sadly could not try them because the donuts were infused with chestnut) and she said they were delicious, especially the coffee ice cream.
While the dishes this time around didn’t compare to the first time I went to Bestia, they were still delectable and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves hip, trendy spots and has a love of Italian food.
Note: I made our reservations 3.5 weeks in advance and could not get an earlier seating than 9:45. Get on top of those reservations!
“Get the Zombie” was the advice our friend Kieran gave me. That we did. You’ll have to try it for yourself. (It’s a maximum of two per person). Ian and I shared that and the Nui Nui and enjoyed both as we sat at the bar in the vibrant tiki-themed environment.
Walking to Lono bar from the Roosevelt, we didn’t know what to expect. We passed a few Tiki-style bars that seemed quite touristy, but we knew we arrived at the right place when we saw the understated, unmarked door that led us into Lono.
The drinks were fantastic and the vibe was great; I didn’t feel like we were in a tourist trap on Hollywood Blvd. We were tucked away and it even felt a bit romantic. Thanks for the recommendation, Kieran! We’ll definitely be back.
This was the only dinner reservation made that hadn’t come from a personal recommendation, but from strictly online research. That worried me, but I am happy to report that the food was fantastic.
Our Thursday night dinner at Broken Spanish was a special night: we were meeting up with Beth and Naomi, our two friends we taught in Korea with 12 years ago. We have seen them every time we have been to LA, and it brought the two of us (me + Ian) so much joy to see them again and reminisce. We also were finally able to meet Lee, Naomi’s husband, whom we had heard so much about.
Broken Spanish is located downtown LA and the service and food were both impeccable. We ordered an array of botanas, entrees, tamales and other dishes. While I didn’t love the first cocktail I had (it was called The Dirty Martinez), the wine consumed afterwards worked out just fine.
I would recommend Broken Spanish to those who love upscale Mexican and Spanish food- there were definitely things I hadn’t tried before that I loved from our experience there! I’m glad it worked out.
Another return visit for me! Ian and I loved Umami Burger back when we had it in 2014, so I was eager to return with my friend Naomi. (I know it is a chain, and maybe Californians are rolling their eyes at me, but whatever! I like what I like). Umami Burger is known for their epic burgers and truffle fries. I got a truffle burger and truffle fries. You can never have too much truffle. (Ian totally disagrees with this statement, for the record, haha). Naomi also ordered the tater tots which were delicious and a nice addition. The server also suggested we get the UFO for dessert, which of course we did. (I’m on vacation, okay?!) It was an oatmeal cookie covered in dolce de leche and ice cream- absolutely delish and TOTALLY INSANE.
We went to the Umami in The Grove, but they are everywhere.
I’ve had the famous ‘cookie shots’ from DA in New York with clients (See my blog post about them here), however I have never experienced the world-famous cronut. Naomi decided to get me one (you are really trying to beef me up, lady! haha), and I shared it with Ian on our last morning before heading out. I only needed a few bites (it is very rich!) but the icing was so sweet and perfectly countered the rest of the cronut and its marmalade filling.
I know DA is from New York, but don’t worry, they make their pastries just as good on the West Coast. 🙂
Alfred’s was a gem of a find, located in West Hollywood! I had a yummy breakfast of coconut milk + date + overnight oats called MUSH, and a vanilla latte made with coconut milk. The coffee and Mush were both fabulous, and the staff was super friendly on a rainy, dreary morning.
I didn’t do much shopping this trip, and if you are heading to LA you probably already know the usual suspects: Rodeo Drive, Robinson, and The Grove. Shockingly I stayed away from Rodeo Drive this time around!
I also stumbled upon The RealReal, a designer consignment store on Melrose. I knew of The RealReal online store + app, but was unaware of a storefront in LA until now. While I didn’t buy anything it was fun to walk around the aesthetically beautiful shop.
Naomi needed some groceries, so we stopped at Gelson’s- a market at the bottom of the Hollywood Hills. Naomi told me she has seen a celebrity every time she had been there, and of course this time was no different. We saw Malin Akerman, which I was pretty excited about!
I sought out a trendy workout class, in hopes of finding a style of workout that hasn’t yet made it to Toronto. Rise Nation was exactly what I was looking for. It was a High Intensity 30-minute workout on a climbing machine. It looks similar to a stair climber, but is meant for a full body workout. The objective is to pull and push while climbing in long and short stints while following fast choreo to fun, quick-paced music. The instructor, Brittany, was awesome (and praised me on doing a good job my first time!) and super motivating. The staff was so nice and encouraging; it was refreshing.
Added bonus: Brittany also played a Britney Spears track, which was obviously super energizing. I will definitely be back my next time in LA.
On Wednesday Ian had to go to training, so I was on my own. I bought my ticket in advance for the theme park, with my main intention to head straight to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Buying your ticket in advance online is a no-brainer: You get 30-minute early access to the park, $20 off your ticket price, and no lineup to get in. I could have taken the subway easily from the Roosevelt but opted for a 9 minute Uber ride and it dropped me off right at the gate.
I got there for 9:30 on the dot and was so happy I did. There were only a handful of people entering HP World at that time, and I was able to get some photos without anyone else but staff in them! I offered to take a photo of a girl who looked like she wanted one and we quickly became friends. Her name was Talia and it was her birthday, and we ended up heading to the Hogwarts ride together, entered the single rider line and rode the ride twice, back-to-back times, together. We then headed to the roller-coaster (it’s quite tame) and didn’t wait in line once.
We then headed to Ollivanders to check out the “wand show” and then went into the wand shop. Our wait was about 10-15 minutes, but neither of us had done it before and it was great. The actress that worked the wand shop did a fantastic job and it is a really great activity for kids.
The wand shop was neat, and the store carries wands of main characters in the series, as well as wands made of various woods and materials, so participants can select their own wand if they choose. There are descriptions of each wand to help muggles choose which wand best suits them.
I had a frozen Butter Beer, bought some treats and laughed at Moaning Myrtle’s voice playing in the restroom. It was a magical morning at HP World, and I am so happy I decided to go on my own. The single rider pass was definitely a great experience.
Once exiting HP World, I went on The Mummy roller coaster. Because I was a single rider, there was no wait, and I got to go in the front. It’s a great rollercoaster and takes you forwards AND backwards in pitch black!
Timing Note: Wednesday in the “winter” seemed like the best time to go to Universal. Even those not riding as a single rider only had to wait 5 minutes to go on the Mummy coaster. There was a longer wait for the Simpsons ride, but I opted not to go on it since I have been on it before at Universal Orlando. There was a short wait for the Studio Tour as well, which I will most likely do next time I am back in LA. (I opted not to do it this time since it is about a 70 minute tour and I wanted to have an afternoon by the pool at our hotel).
Universal Studio Hollywood vs. Orlando Note: If you are choosing between heading to Universal Orlando vs. Universal Hollywood, I would recommend Orlando for an extreme Harry Potter experience. I went to the Orlando HP World in 2013, and while it was before they built a lot of the new elements that are currently there, it was still bigger and offered more rides than HP World in Hollywood. Regardless of which one you end up at though, HP World is a magical experience, not only for fans of the series, but for any muggle who likes to exercise fun and imagination.
I get why Miley Cyrus wrote a song about it!!! Malibu is just magical.
We weren’t there while the fires were blazing, the sky was filled with smoke, and the town was in a state of chaos, and I cannot imagine what that must have been like. I know people lost their homes and many things that were important to them during that tragic time, and my heart goes out to them. We didn’t see or feel any of the aftermath during our visit, but were aware of it when talking to a few friends, Mel and Jobi, who reside there as they recapped what it was like.
Here’s what we did in Malibu:
A big thanks to Libby, a friend and Soho employee from my Grey Goose France trip, who put Ian and me on the Malibu House list so we could experience a delightful, relaxing day at the House.
The House is beautiful; white with pops of color and framed art. There are large windows and patios overlooking the beach, and even a fireplace nestled in the corner for the cooler days. Little reading and eating nooks can be found on each floor, and there isn’t a bad view in the House.
We ate from the Garden Table, and drank some delicious cocktails. (I also had my first Dirty Chai and it was yummy!) The weather was about 73 degrees, which was perfect for sitting outside to eat, while listening to the ocean waves crash below us.
We later walked the beach to the Malibu Pier.
The Malibu Pier was –surprisingly– not super-touristy. The few shops that aligned the pier were vintage-y and unique. One, for example was an airstream selling jewelry and another was an old vintage trailer selling CBD-infused products, apothecary items and custom designed belt buckles. At the store on the end of the pier, we bought Xavi an old school VW Beetle with two surfboards on top of it. We think he’ll love it.
The view from the pier was breathtaking from all angles, and I was able to take some cool panoramic shots.
The PCH and Car Rental
On the advice of many, we rented a convertible and drove along Sunset Blvd. to hit the PCH. It was a true California drive. (We even made a little pit stop outside the Playboy Mansion!) It was so fun to have a car, a Fiat Spider Convertible, to drive along the PCH with. The view and curving roads were made more spectacular by our choice in rental car.
We rented our car from a company called Turo, which essentially is like Air BNB for cars. It was super easy to do a 24 hour rental: we picked the car up in a car garage. The keys were hidden in the unlocked car, and off we went. After filling the gas tank, we returned the car the same way we found it, took photos of the car once dropped off and uploaded them to the app, and hid the keys. It was very turnkey. (Pun!)
Our day in Malibu felt truly magical. I was so relaxed and happy, and I felt as though a weight was off my shoulders. I am sure that has a lot to do with work and personal stress; being away from that to experience some Vitamin D and doing something new and exciting would surely make me feel invigorated. But at the same time, I think my relaxed state had a lot to do with the environment I was in: waves crashing around me, the soft sun beaming down, cheers’ing cocktails with my hubby, feeling my toes in the sand and my feet in the ocean, eating ridiculously fresh food, and relaxing in an inspired beach house for artistic people with my shoes off and sun hat on.
Who wouldn’t feel relaxed while staring out at the ocean while curled up on a couch? I was sad to leave Malibu, but we’ll be back.
Santa Monica Promenade and Pier
At the suggestion of my friend Neild (I had met Neild, along with Jobi and Mel mentioned above on my Grey Goose adventure to France a couple of summers back; click here for details), we made a stop at the Santa Monica Promenade and the famous Santa Monica Pier. Besides, I had always wanted to go there. It was a smart idea to stop there on our way back from LA too, so we didn’t have to deal with crazy commuter traffic.
We parked at Parking Structure 6, at the advice of Naomi, and were delightfully surprised to find that parking is subsidized. We only paid $2 for our few-hour parking. The structures are also a great way to meet up with people, which is exactly what we did: we met up with Naomi and her daughter for a quick stroll.
The sunset view from the Promenade was exquisite; a red and orange glowing sun beyond the ocean. We walked the Pier and it was exactly what I expected: touristy, over-priced churros, and lots of games and neon signs. I compared the feeling of it to Niagara Falls. But still, I am glad we went and experienced it. And Promenade is definitely the best part.
While our trip was divine, there is never enough time to fit everything in! We are so happy we got quality time with one another, and a special day to ourselves in Malibu. I was so fortunate to spend so much time with my friends Naomi, Beth and Alice.
Ian and I went to some incredible restaurants, had some challenging workouts, relaxed by the pool (well, Ian was working while I did that!) and went to a magical theme park. It was a trip for the books and I cannot wait to go back.
That being said, see below for a curated list of recommendations that came from foodies and LA folks that are in-the-know. If you get to any of them, shoot me a note and tell me how they are!
Until next time...
Other (most likely epic) Recommendations:
Quarters Korean BBQ (Of course my friend Lauren Shum supplied me with this reco)
Dan Tanas (suggested as a MUST from Neild; Old school Italian with an awesome Hollywood vibe).
EP and LP (rooftop bar)
Elephante (Santa Monica)
The Farmhouse by the Grove
Felix– homemade pasta (takes resos three months in advance).
Exchange– Israeli meets California
Bavel (same owners and chefs as Bestia) go at 4:48 go to the chefs table (hot tip from Jobi!)
NoMad Hotel + Bar– go have a drink (downtown)
Botanica– in silver lake (California fare)
One-Eyed Gypsy (downtown, Alice’s old fave)
Gracias Madre in WeHo (Neild’s reco)
Santa Monica Pier and 3rd Street Promenade (shopping) good way to burn some calories will enjoying the sights!