Sometime back in August, I caught a fare sale on American direct from O’Hare to Los Angeles International for $77. Seventy-Seven dollars! We didn’t particularly need to go on another trip, we had been parents for less than two months at that time, but a bargain like that was tough to pass up.
Before we left O’Hare, we stopped into the United Club using a couple of one-day passes, but now I’m not sure I can go back to waiting at the gate again. With lounge access we had free domestic beer (also well drinks, house wines), a breakfast bar (oatmeal, eggs, sausage, fruits and things) and a quiet, relaxing place to unwind. We left 20 degree Chicago and landed in 75 degree Los Angeles in just under four hours, and our west coast adventure began.
LA’s public transit system, while improving, isn’t quite what we’re used to as Chicagoans. With that, I decided to rent a car from Silvercar, a new car service with an all-Audi fleet and very competitive pricing. While you’re at it, if you use my promo code MTQCXLRB you’ll get a $25 e-gift card (and I will too) as soon as you pick up your first rental. We ended up paying only $96 for three and a half days in an Audi A4 after FIRST30 promo code and the $25 referral bonus I took from a stranger online. The process was a tad wonky- the location didn’t have an office, just a guy in a parking garage surrounded by about 50 Audis, but he did a great job explaining the processes for the rental and the gadgets in the car before we drove away.
We stayed with a buddy of mine from college who is also an Airbnb host, so it was nice savings some dollars, having friends close, and still living in the comforts of an experienced host. If you were looking for a review of the Intercontinental Hotel, you’ve come to the wrong place. Personally, I’d rather spend more on the experiences while I’m traveling and less on where I am when the lights are off. Staying locally also immerses me more into the culture and the vibes of that neighborhood, instead of spending nights and mornings with other travelers in a cookie-cutter hotel.
After a few drinks on their roof deck and a little catching up, we walked to Siampang Asia for our first Indonesian experience. The restaurant is an unassuming spot that doesn’t serve alcohol (though you can bring your own) and shares its space with a grocery store, but if you’re in the area you MUST stop in. Everything we had was fantastic, and while this isn’t a food blog, the Roti Paratha might be the best ‘bread’ dish I’ve ever had.
Saturday morning we grabbed breakfast at the half-price happy hour at Figtree’s Cafe & Grill, overlooking Venice Beach. It was a pretty typical California breakfast menu, but with a view of the Pacific and getting out of there for $25, it wasn’t a bad place to start the day.
Venice Beach is home to all kinds of vendors, skaters, runners, marijuana partakers- you name it, they have it. People-watching is the cheapest thing to do on any vacation, and this place is crawling with characters…and guys who ask you if you like hip-hop.
We went to Santa Monica next, stopping first at Abbott Kinney (technically in Venice but felt much more like SM), known as “the coolest block in America.” While it is actually a series of blocks, Abbott Kinney is chock-full of independent clothing stores, vegan restaurants, leather retailers, sunglasses shops, and anything else the yuppies of 2018 need. Very cool indeed, though we did more window shopping than anything else.
We had lunch at Bruxie, a quick-serve chicken and waffle spot in the Third Street Promenade, just a few blocks from the famed Santa Monica Pier. One of my favorite activities before a vacation is check out the travel shows for the city and pick my favorites. While Guy Fieri certainly has his annoyances, we’re more of a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives family than five-star restaurant, so we took his suggestion and grabbed chicken and waffle sandwiches for lunch. There are a few Bruxie locations in the LA area, but if you decided to go to one of the more old-school establishments (Roscoe’s) you’d be just as happy.
The Santa Monica Pier, while one of those painfully touristy places, has a 300-ish-degree view of the Pacific at its end, so it is absolutely worth wading through all the people to get there. There were sea otters swimming around the fishermen’s lines on the lower level and it was actually much quieter and calmer than one would expect. Lean on the rail for a great spot to relax and catch your breath, without question.
Jennifer is much more into pop culture than I am, but I was having fun driving the Audi so I obliged when she wanted to take a ride through the Hollywood Hills and look at the beautiful homes. We never picked up a “map to the stars”, just drove around Beverly Hills and a few neighborhoods in awe.
Our intention was to catch sunset from the Griffith Observatory, but after a few laps trying to find Julia Roberts apartment in Pretty Woman (as well as a few other detours), we ended up with a view of the city at night. From the parking lot it is a solid ten minute walk up a steep incline, but a worthwhile venture once you’re at the top. Aside from the observation deck, they have exhibits, telescopes, a planetarium and a theater. One could definitely spend a few hours here (and most of it is free!).
We grabbed doughnuts at COFAX, a Dodger-themed doughnut and coffee shop on the way to Hollywood on Monday morning. The doughnuts weren’t anything to write home about, clearly cooked in small batches and I think we walked in near the end of the current batch, but certainly tasty.
Hollywood Boulevard has certainly seen better days. We parked near Highland and Hollywood and they were setting up for the Black Panther premiere, but a block or two away we walked past countless shuttered (or soon to be shuttered) businesses, tour guides every twenty feet, and homeless folks on the sidewalk. It was cool to see the stars on the Walk of Fame, but I don’t expect to head to that area again if I’m back in LA. We spent some time in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, seeing the hand (and foot, and some knees) prints from the stars from the 91 years the theater has been open.
For lunch we went to Grand Central Market, a mix of 20 or so mini restaurants under one roof, much like the Mercado de San Miguel we loved in Madrid. The first booth handed us a mini carnitas taco while we perused the menu, but we ended up just getting beers to go. Delicious, but much like a casino, you don’t sit down at the first table you see. There seemed to be many delicious options, from oysters, to sandwiches, to seafood, tacos, tacos, and more tacos, but settled on wood-fired pizza from Olio. Worth a stop, cheap (for LA) beer and quick service.
Our farewell meal was at Roy Choi’s Alibi Room. The last time I was in Los Angeles our host turned me on to this great Korean-Mexican fusion lounge, and I just had to go back. A few drinks, laughs, and delicious bowls of food later, we wrapped up the night and then our trip the next morning.
We’ll be back soon, California!