We went to LA earlier this month, over Ben’s spring break. We figured that I, too, should take advantage of this vacation prompt, a key perk of being and/or partnering up with a teacher. It was my first time to LA, if you can believe it, and there was so much to eat and enjoy. I only scratched the surface of my list of restaurants to visit, but I ate my way through enough that I feel confident saying that LA is full of really fantastic, thoughtful and creative food. I was thoroughly impressed.
We took the long and most beautiful way there, down the epic coastline of Highway 1. This, of course, meant that we stopped at Big Sur Bakery along the way for a pastry and espresso. I love Big Sur, with its stunning coastline, thick forests and enchanting views. I am blown away every single time I’m there—it’s one of the most beautiful places I know.
On the recommendation of our pals Celia and Joe, they of the most impeccable taste, we stayed one night in Santa Barbara wine country, by the little towns of Los Olivos and Solvang. We drank some delicious wine, ate grilled artichokes at the very charming, very rural Hitching Post, tasted Danish aebleskiver in Solvang and fell in love with the tiny and utterly adorable intersection that is downtown Los Olivos.
And then, LA! What a city. Growing up far away from California, most of what I heard about LA was negative or at least hyperbolic, focusing mainly on traffic, Hollywood and fanciness. Obviously, I know enough great people who’ve lived in LA to recognize that there’s a whole lot more to this city than that, but not until this visit did I experience the nuances myself—the varied neighborhoods, the gorgeous canals in Venice, several stunning bakeries (I ate some damn fine carbohydrates for a city so famous for its juicing), the wild ocean. It’s a huge city, after all, and so here is a place where one can find a bit of everything.
We stayed in Venice and kept most of our exploration to that neighborhood and Santa Monica alongside it. Venice was darling—weird, sure, but not more so than our own quirky Oakland.
One of our first meals was at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen, which had first crossed my radar when Zoe Nathan’s cookbook, Huckleberry, came out last year. It’s a lovely book with flawless recipes. I was charmed by Zoe’s story, too, which I heard when she did a book event at Omnivore: she and her husband, Josh Loeb, met when she was working at Rustic Canyon, his restaurant. On top of this, I’d been hearing great things about Jeremy Fox, Rustic Canyon’s chef. His Instagram account is a stunner, and I was incredibly compelled by the excellent story about him recently published by Lucky Peach. All that considered, it’s not surprising that this meal was one of our best. The food was flawless—inventiveness and simplicity perfectly balanced. Highlights included the Marcona almonds with lavender sugar, a beet dish with charred strawberry, avocado and pistachio “soil” (below) and clam pozole verde.
Our bellies full, we made our way toward the water, wandering through the fancy Third Street Promenade, then down to the pier, where we made a split-second (and excellent) decision to ride the ferris wheel. We ended the night drinking our whiskey cocktails of choice on a fancy rooftop bar. We probably could have gone home right then, vacation bliss achieved, though I’m glad we didn’t.
My favorite mornings were the ones that began at Gjusta Bakery, the only place we visited twice. The first time we went, I was saving room for lunch and couldn’t eat nearly as much as I wished, so I insisted we return. From the pastries to the smoothies and juices to the savory breakfast options, everything was wonderful. On our second visit, we shared a plate of beans, greens and fried eggs with green harissa and toast, a simple dish similar to what I might make at home but absolutely perfect, and not made by me, and consumed on the patio in the sunshine while on vacation…and therefore glorious.
We ventured well into the city just once, so that I could go to the LA Good Eggs hub and work with my usually far-off coworkers for a day. For lunch, the lovely gals on my team brought me to Sqirl, which was all I had hoped for and more. Everything I tasted was amazing: turmeric tonic, the famed toast (thickest I’ve ever seen!) draped in ricotta and strawberry-thyme jam, kabbouleh and a slice of raspberry olive oil cake. I am rarely happier than when I eat a big salad and cake for lunch, so I was quite pleased indeed.
Other great stops included Pizzeria Mozza, where we ate the most perfect white bean bruschetta I’ve yet to taste (as well as pizza, chopped salad and butterscotch budino, of course), Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe (as sweet as I’d imagined), Superba Food & Bread and Gjelina (pictured all the way up top and classy as all get out).
While the food was epic, I’d have to say that the best day of our trip was spent biking the boardwalk all the way from Venice to Santa Monica, then splashing around in the Pacific and collapsing on the sunny beach. There’s nothing like the crashing waves of the ocean to make a girl feel wonderfully small, with problems not nearly so overwhelming as I usually think. I’m trying to bring that calm home. Everything is better when I take a breath and really enjoy it.