Growing up in a place like Maine, Los Angeles always seemed like the stuff of legends, on par with Atlantis. In fact, the only time it ever came to mind was in the tabloid rack at checkout of the grocery store, or in the credits of videos rented from the local movie shop. “Hollywood” seemed like somewhere even more distant than it’s three thousand miles, and as unapproachable as the celebrities who inhabit it.
As we finished packing up the last of a tiny studio apartment just off Sunset Boulevard, we prepared to explore the city of Los Angeles with the same wonder as our childhood selves. In order make some lasting memories before putting this city behind us, we checked out some of the classic destinations, including Griffith Park Observatory, The Dresden, Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach, Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, and many of LA’s yummy vegan restaurants.
Built in the early 1930’s, the Griffith Park Observatory and Planetarium sits atop Mount Hollywood and boasts one of the best views of the city and its iconic Hollywood sign. The castle-like structure holds an astrophysical telescope and attracts tourists from around the world – a list which now includes us! We took an Uber to the observatory about an hour from sunset, predicting that the light over the city would be gorgeous – and it was! After snapping a few photos of the Hollywood sign in the distance, we explored the observatory and its many galactic attractions. On the first floor we found a pendulum, small telescope, and ceilings painted with scenes of early astronomers and alchemists. In the rooftop domes we found the large astrophysical telescope which we could only admire from behind thick glass.The observatory was swamped with tourists taking selfies, and after taking a few more of our own photos, we decided it was time to head back to a lower altitude.
If you’ve never been to Hollywood and experienced the famed Sunset Strip, then it’s nearly impossible to imagine the level of kinetic intensity that pulses through the streets and buildings there. Flashing lights, honking horns, countless costumed characters, and swarms of tourists combine to create complete sensory overload. After fighting through the crowd, we made it to the TCL Chinese Theatre, a historic landmark featuring a courtyard where past and present Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe and George Clooney (Paul’s Doppelganger) left imprints of their hands and feet in cement. The Chinese-inspired architecture, decoration, and sculptural figures make this huge theatre stand out against the more modern office buildings and stores along the strip. We bought tickets for the remake of Stephen King’s horror film “IT”, and were both thoroughly terrified. Remarkably, neither of us had nightmares when we finally returned home for the night.
Featured in the film “Swingers”, this landmark lounge has been open for more than 60 years, and its house band Marty and Elayne have been there almost as long. After taking a little extra time to get dressed up and fancy, we took an Uber to LA’s Los Feliz area and wandered up and down Vermont Ave., window shopping and goofing around until 9pm rolled around. We found the Dresden fairly empty and easily grabbed a table. Paul ordered the “Blood and Sand” the lounge’s signature cocktail. It ended up being a bright pink slushie served in an oversized martini glass, but it was tasty! Instead of starting their performance together, the bassist began to play first, then after a few minutes Elayne began playing her keyboard and singing. Marty was a little late to the party, but after some schmoozing, snacking, and joking around, he took his place at the drum set to accompany his wife. Song choices included classics like “Fly me to the Moon” and “Route 66”. Under the lounge’s low lighting, our night at The Dresden was like a step back in time, and we’ll never forget our night of feeling like old Hollywood bar flies.
Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach
Originally we planned to leave LA on a Saturday morning, but our packed schedule and eagerness to explore the city had left us exhausted and in need of a beach day. Thankfully, the Pacific was just a quick drive away, so we hopped in the Honda and headed toward the sun and sand. Santa Monica pier, besides being more famous, is not very different from any other pier in any other seaside city. We arrived early, so many of the vendors hadn’t yet set up their kiosks. This made for a quieter version of what is normally one of the most highly trafficked tourist destinations in the LA area. After walking to the end of the pier and back, we splashed around in the waves for a while, taking a few photos and a barefoot walk on the beach before hopping back in the car. A 10 minute drive down the road brought us to Venice Beach, a funky area where murals and colorful Craftsman houses border the bustling Muscle Beach boardwalk. There’s so much to see in Venice, so we took our time walking around, buying a few souvenirs, reading up on local history, and snapping several photos of Muscle Beach and the Venice sign before getting lunch. After a day of seaside fun, we headed back into the city for one last sleep before hitting the road.
We Came, We Ate, We Conquered.
Los Angeles is known for having a large and diverse food scene, and we found ourselves with so many vegan food options that we had to eat twice our normal intake to make the most of it. Sandwiches are our favorite food group, so they became our focus as we visited some local spots and a few chain restaurants. Our favorites included the Club and the Tempeh Reuben from Flore in Silverlake, the BBQ sandwich and the Fried Green Tomato Po Boy from Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, the Pesto Meatball sub from By Chloe in Los Feliz, the Magical burger from Cafe Gratitude, and the VG Beyond Burger from Veggie Grill. Pizza is our other favorite food, and the Elote pizza from Mohawk Bend made such an impact that we will be trying to recreate this creamy pie at home. On our last night, we celebrated with a date night at Shojin, a vegan sushi spot downtown. Our favorite roll was called “Pirates of the Crunchy”, and we even sprung for a dessert of the layered green tea cake. Since we’re both donut lovers and LA plays host to some of the country’s top vegan donut shops, we decided to buy extra to fuel the first leg of our cross country road trip. We stopped at Donut Farm in Silverlake and Donut Friend in Highland Park and ordered a big variety. Our favorites were the Fudgegazi from Donut Friend, and the Lemon Poppyseed from Donut Farm. Through all of this eating, Paul stayed hydrated in the LA heat with plenty of craft beers. The food scene is a crucial part of experiencing any city, and we’re glad to have taken a big bite of LA.
Leaving the City of Angels
LA is so expansive and eclectic that it radiates a feeling of catharsis and opportunity; making it the perfect place to begin our cross country adventure. With our bellies full of amazing food and our hearts full of sun-soaked memories, we packed up the car, said one last goodbye to our favorite neon jungle, and drove off into the sunset.