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My Guide to LA

Posted May 29th, 2014

When I first moved to L.A., my dad bought me a Thomas Guide, which was roughly the size of a dictionary, that was supposed to help me navigate the city. I only used it once, in a state of panic, when I had forgotten to print out my MapQuest directions to Union Station and ended up on Skid Row. Since then, I've become a lot more familiar with L.A. and after nine years, I've accumulated a pretty sizable list of go-to's. Last year I shared my top sixteen restaurants, categorized by location, and I wanted to offer something a bit more comprehensive in time for summer. Besides what not to do (i.e. like taking the 405 freeway on a Friday afternoon, or anytime really), here are some of my favorites, along with some definitive L.A. experiences that most visitors would enjoy. 

1. Runyon Canyon - One of my favorite hikes (the loop takes about 45 minutes, but I'm kind of slow) with views spanning from downtown to the Pacific Ocean. Aim to arrive on the earlier side to avoid a parking nightmare and get ready for some seriously good people watching.

2. Biking the Santa Monica Boardwalk - Rent a bike for a few hours or an entire day and ride along a 26 mile stretch of California coastline.

3. Santa Monica Stairs - If you're craving some cardio, walking or running up these local access steps will definitely deliver a great workout.

4. Kayak/paddle board in Malibu - If you don't surf, but want a fun (and exhausting) day in the water, you can rent a kayak or paddle board. I'm pretty terrified of the ocean, so I've never actually tried it, but have watched longingly from the shore.

5. Body By Simone - You don't need previous dance experience to enjoy the Re-Energize class, which is a mixture of pop and hip hop dancing and delivers a great workout.

1. Cactus Mexican Food - L.A. has some amazing taco stands and this is my current favorite. It's hard to go wrong with anything on the menu, but the al pastor and carnitas are a must-have.

2. Sushi Park - Like tacos, there are a lot of great sushi options in the city and this "traditional" spot, nestled in the corner of a Sunset Blvd strip mall is an excellent option. It can get pricey, but it's worth it.

3. Nelson's - Located in the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, this is a bit of a trek, but well worth the drive. Besides the views of the Point Vicente Lighthouse and Catalina Island, it's an ideal place for a lobster roll and beer.

4. Chateau Marmont - If one of your hopes in coming to L.A. is to see a celebrity, this spot is almost a surefire bet. While the Chateau could just as easily be listed under the "Stay" section, the restaurant and bar serve some delicious plates, including one of my favorite burgers with shoestring fries.

5. Joan's on Third - A great place to sit and eat or take things to go (my favorite spot for picking up picnic items). Things you shouldn't miss: their meatloaf sandwich, Chinese chicken salad, marshmallow cloud cupcakes and chocolate-covered gummy bears.

1. Hotel Erwin - Great sunset views, blanketing the Venice boardwalk. It can get packed, so get there early.

2. Tiki-Ti - My favorite bar in LA. Everything from the kitschy '50s-era decor to the strong tropical drinks, perfectly captures a moment in time that most of us never experienced. Note: It's cash only and only open Wednesday - Saturday. Don't forget to ask for their house-made Chex mix that they keep behind the bar.

3. The Varnish - A moody speakeasy in the back of Cole's restaurant. This downtown spot serves perfectly crafted cocktails in an intimate space. 

4. 3Twenty Wine Bar - Buy a card that lets you sample all kinds of wine (from an impressive selection of over 30 bottles). A cute neighborhood joint that also has great food.

5. Eveleigh - One of the prettiest patios in the city. Get a pitcher of their tequila-infused lemonade and spend the afternoon relaxing in the shade.

1. Vintage: Melrose Trading Post - My regular Sunday flea market (I decorated my first studio apartment almost exclusively with items I found here). Honorable mention to the Rose Bowl and Long Beach flea markets, which are open on the second and third Sunday (respectively) of each month.

2. High End: Beverly Hills "Trifecta"- Nearly every high-end luxury designer has a store in Beverly Hills, but I usually find myself walking down Wilshire Blvd, where Barney's, Saks Fifth Ave. and Neiman Marcus sit side-by-side. 

3. Everything in one place: Third Street Promenade - The crowds can get a little crazy, but this outdoor plaza is home to almost every mall-based store and is a couple blocks from the beach.

4. Boutiques: Abbott Kinney - The small stores on this famous street in Venice cover everything from vintage cake stands, to curated, designer clothing. It's also home to one of my favorite restaurants

5. Marketplace: Brentwood Country Mart - A great place for families to eat and shop, the space has a cozy feel, while also housing some amazing boutiques and solid restaurants.

Mani Pedi: Olive and June - If I'm not doing my own nails, this is the place I go. The service and overall experience are second to none (with lots of organic options) and the salon is so pretty you'll want to copy their decor in your own home. Just make sure to book an appointment ahead of time as they don't have many walk-in openings.

Blowout: Drybar - I've been going to this blow dry salon since they opened up their first location. It's such a great concept to go in to get your hair washed and blown out, all the while watching a fun, girly movie.

Korean Day Spa: Wi Spa - Open 24 hours, this spa provides traditional and modern services and is very accommodating for first time customers. It offers the frills of a typical spa, but you can also purchase a day pass to experience their soaking pools and wet and dry saunas.

Pool: Standard Downtown - If you're looking for a scene, this is your spot. Hang out downtown with some great views while relaxing on a waterbed. 

Good Wax: Wax LA - For those times when you find out there's an impromptu trip to the beach and you neglected to get a bikini wax ahead of time, this spot has you covered. 

1. Griffith Observatory - One of the L.A.'s iconic landmarks, you don't have to be into astronomy to appreciate the history and beautiful views.

2. Getty Center/Getty Villa - Showcasing an amazing collection of art, antiquities, and gardens, The Getty Center might be the best overall museum in L.A., and their Villa in Malibu is arguably the most beautiful. Bonus: admission to both is free. 

3. Downtown Architectural Tour - The walking tours of downtown L.A. provides a great view of history, culture and its current renaissance

4. Malibu Wines - A short drive from Santa Monica to a quintessential spot to drink wine and enjoy a picnic. 

5. El Matador Beach Malibu - In order to avoid some of the crowds at L.A.'s busiest beaches, I like to drive a bit further to El Matador in Malibu. It takes a while to get there (especially with summer traffic), but once I arrive, I always prefer the mellow scene.

1. Hotel Cafe - When I first moved to L.A., I'd go to Hotel Cafe on a weekly basis to hear singer/songwriters in an intimate venue. It's still one of my favorite spots and a great place to discover new artists.

2. The Hollywood Bowl - Look at the schedule ahead of time to get tickets to one of the best music venues around. Make sure to bring a blanket/jacket since it's outside and bring a picnic to enjoy beforehand at the Highland Camrose Park. 

3. Upright Citizens Brigade Theater - Everyone from Amy Poehler to Horatio Sans got their comedic start at this classic hole-in-the-wall venue (with its original location in New York City). Go for their improv show ASSSSCAT and hope that a special guest will make an appearance.

4. Harvelle's Santa Monica - A dimly lit jazz club in the heart of Santa Monica. Wednesday night's house band is always a fun time, as is Sunday's Toledo show with burlesque dancers. Grab a spicy margarita and guacamole at Mercado a few doors down ahead of time.

5. Cinespia - The best place to watch outdoor movies in L.A. I love going with a group of friends for a good thriller (which sets the stage nicely since it's in a graveyard). 

1. Sunset Tower Hotel -  A cool art deco luxe hotel on the Sunset Strip with a classic Hollywood vibe. The rooms are classy and the bar/restaurant has breathtaking views. (Rooms start at $295). 

2. Ace Hotel - Located in the old United Artists building, this historic gem got a total makeover when the team at the Ace took over. Not only are the rooms cool, but the brunch scene shouldn't be missed (particularly their avocado toast). The rooftop bar has some of the best views in the city and if you're lucky, there will be a show playing in their old theater during your stay. (Rooms start at $199).

3. Avalon Hotel - A small boutique hotel in a prime location (in the heart of Beverly Hills and walking distance to Beverly Blvd, which has lots of great food and shopping options). I love the pool-side dining cabanas and retro vibe, courtesy of Kelly Wearstler's interior design.(Rooms start at $209).

4. Seaview Hotel Santa Monica - No frills at this hotel, but it's a great price for an amazing location (literally one third of the price of other hotels in the area). There's a casual rooftop deck where you can watch the sunset or you can walk to the beach in a matter of minutes. (Rooms start at $109).

5. Leo Carillo State Beach Camping - Camp near Malibu, go for a hike in the adjacent mountains and roast s'mores while watching the stars. Tent rentals are available at several stores including Adventure 16 and Sport Chalet. (Cost: $45).

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