Los Angeles Part Two – Weekend in L.A.

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My husband and I had an event in L.A. and decided to steal away for a long weekend.  The trip was a whirlwind but I would feel remiss if I did not share a few highlights with anyone headed that way and looking for some tips. Read on for details and see my older, more complete post under “LA” for a fuller itinerary, reachable from my home page.

Flight – Delta from JFK to LAX.

Car – Rented from Hertz. Pre-arranged a car drop-off at our terminal. Great convenience since car rental area is a busride away from the terminals.

Hotel – SLS Beverly Hills. Hip, trendy, luxury hotel. Not recommended for kids.  Great rooftop pool. Centrally located.

 

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Restaurants – Gjelina (see the mouth-watering pizza below), Ink, Bazaar (at the SLS), Urth Caffe (casual, local lunch spot), Croft Alley, Katsuya LA Live location

 

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Shopping – Melrose, 3rd Street near Robertson and Abbott-Kinney in Venice are great spots.

Other – If you are not going to be on the coast, you can get your fill of nature in central LA with a hike at Runyon Canyon Park or Griffith Park!

 

We went directly to Venice from the airport for laid back shopping and a delicious lunch on Abbott-Kinney.  We pre-arranged with Hertz to deliver our rental car to the terminal – a huge timesaver given that the car rental area of LAX is a bus ride from the terminals.  Of course, Uber is a good and widely used alternative in L.A. if you don’t feel like navigating your way around the city on your own.  The drive to Venice is only about 15 minutes from the airport so the instant gratification of immersing ourselves in the L.A. state of mind so quickly was a welcome relief after a six hour flight.  Don’t miss Gjelina for lunch, brunch or any meal for that matter (gjelina.com).

We eventually made our way to the SLS Beverly Hills (http://slshotels.com/beverlyhills/?ES=Thayer_SLS_BEVERLYHILLS_3171_cpc_google_brand_us_booktoday&gclid=CIWW2rue98QCFerm7AodLEAA3Q).  The SLS is a centrally located, trendy, upscale hotel. No detail was spared in the decor, which we loved, although we would not have minded a bit more light throughout the dimly lit common areas and our chic and spacious room….but then I guess the lighting (or lack thereof) is part of what gives the SLS its sexy vibe.  I don’t think we spotted even a single child here and I would not recommend this hotel for families-the rooms, restaurants and amenities don’t appear to be set up for the youngest generation.

We were impressed by the friendly service throughout the hotel as well as the rooftop pool area.  While the rooftop becomes a party on Friday-Sunday afternoons, with a DJ and full bar, it is quiet and incredibly dreamy early in the day.  Breakfast on a lounge chair under the morning sun was sublime.

 

After an extended winter in NY, we were eager to spend as much time outdoors as possible.  Luckily, the SLS is just a short (15 minute) drive from Runyon Canyon Park, where my husband and I enjoyed a terrific hike one morning.

 

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Griffith Park is a bit further but I understand it too offers a plethora of trails, including one that goes right past the HOLLYWOOD sign.  The popular shopping areas of Melrose, 3rd Street, Robertson, the Beverly Center and the Grove are all very close to the hotel if you feel like making a fashion acquisition.

 

LA has no shortage of good food.  By dinnertime on our first evening, we were pretty  beat so we ate in the SLS at Bazaar (http://sbe.com/restaurants/brands/thebazaar/). We were pleasantly surprised by a feast of inventive tapas dishes.  The happening vibe and open kitchen are a draw as well.  We were blown away by our dinner at Ink, on Melrose Avenue (http://mvink.com/).

 

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Since we had to be at LA Live for an event one evening, we reserved right next door at Katsuya (http://katsuyarestaurant.com/lalive/) for dinner afterward.  The famed restaurant lived up to its reputation for Japanese fare, even if it lacked the intimacy and authenticity we typically gravitate toward.  Speaking of which, Croft Alley (http://croftalley.com/) is a shoebox size restaurant on Melrose Avenue with an equally tiny menu of delectable-looking farm-to-table options.  It’s on our list to try out next time.  Urth Caffe is also a local and casual favorite lunch spot with several locations around town (http://www.urthcaffe.com/) (gorgeous coffee and breakfast, below).  Thanks for a great weekend, LA.  Totally worth the cross country flight!

 

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Los Angeles

Welcome to my first official post. Why is now THE moment, I sometimes ask myself, that I am starting this blog? Well that’s a loaded question, but the catalyst was the response I got from people when I told them I was going to Los Angeles with my family for winter break – a confused face followed by the question “do you have family there?”. The answer is, “we have very little family there” (who, incidentally, we only saw one day during our 8 day visit). We simply wanted to take a vacation and after discovering that the Caribbean and Mexico (more typical choices for us at this time of year) were out of the question due to ludicrous airfare and hotel rates, we thought L.A. would be a great option. So I am here to report that we had an incredible time. And to share…..

Immediately below is the skinny on our trip. For the uncut version, read on.

Duration: 8 nights over December break from school
Airline: Delta nonstop to LAX – approx. 6 hours going; 4.5 hours coming home
Hotel: Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows, Santa Monica (http://www.fairmont.com/santa-monica/) – great option for our family, would go back in a heartbeat…though not where I would stay if I were going sans children. Breakfast was a highlight each morning at their restaurant, FIG. It was included in the price of the room and the menu and service could not have been more ideal.
Activities:
Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Boardwalk and Beach (http://www.downtownsm.com/)
Venice Canals, shops and restaurants
Malibu Country Mart (http://malibucountrymart.com/) and Point Dume Beach in Malibu (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=623)
California Science Center (http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/) – Cleopatra Exhibit (closed in 01/13) and Space Shuttle Endeavour. Check out web site for current exhibits –
Hollywood – Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Walk of Fame
Getty Center (http://www.getty.edu/)
Skirball Cultural Center (http://www.skirball.org/) – Excellent Jewish-American cultural institution/museum.  Don’t miss the Noah’s Ark exhibit with children.
Brentwood Country Mart (http://brentwoodcountrymart.com/) – Wonderful assortment of high-end boutiques around a great little courtyard with all sorts of fresh takeout on the perimeter and seating in the center, including picnic tables and counter-style seats around a central fire pit. Also a gourmet market and rustic style restaurant for table service.  Quarter rides for the little ones, plus a gourmet ice cream shop.
Noteworthy meals with kids – Zengo in Santa Monica (http://www.richardsandoval.com/zengosm/index.php), Malibu Country Mart Taqueria, Brentwood Country Mart ((http://brentwoodcountrymart.com/)) assorted takeout, Urth Cafe (http://www.urthcaffe.com/) – don’t miss their coffee
Noteworthy meals without kids – Tar & Roses in Santa Monica http://tarandroses.com/) Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica (http://www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com/), Gjelina in Venice (http://www.gjelina.com/)
Activities we did not have time for but would have liked to do – Griffith Observatory, Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, La Brea Tar Pits, Farmer’s Markets, which I hear are terrific and fun for all ages, Zuma Beach in Malibu, Getty Villa, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Surprising Perk – despite rumors of L.A. traffic nightmares, we did not hit any traffic on any of our multiple excursions. NONE!
Critical Perk – sun was almost always shining and the weather was mid 60s…..refreshing departure from subzero temps back home

Uncut Version below:

It’s always my goal to plan a vacation that will be fun for the kids but not child-centric. This trip really hit the spot. After looking into a bunch of hotel options, we decided on the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows in Santa Monica. Perfect Choice – we got a great rate on our room, very friendly staff, nice, clean rooms (though not my ideal style), and it’s almost directly across the street from the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, which provides constant entertainment. Almost any time of day or night on the Promenade you can find street performers that appeal to kids and adults alike. If you packed for the wrong weather, you can pick up a sweater or a t-shirt at one of the many big box stores on the promenade. And no matter what you feel like eating, you’ll find it on (or within steps or blocks of) the Promenade…though “foodies” will not be impressed. Also directly across the street from the hotel is the beautifully manicured boardwalk that follows the Pacific Coast highway and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. If it’s the sand you’re looking for, you’ll have to make your way across the PCH which is not far, but a bit more of a walk – still doable with kids ages 4+, and with a stroller for younger ones. The beach is lined with playgrounds from Santa Monica southbound to Venice, as well as a boardwalk with a biking and walking path. The Fairmont has complimentary bikes for its guests. Also along the path between Santa Monica and Venice is the Santa Monica Pier, which features all sorts of amusements and rides for kids and adults.

Day 1

We spent our first full day between the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica promenade and beach. While there, we grabbed lunch at Blue Point Oysterette (http://blueplatesantamonica.com/bpo/home/), which we liked for its cool, casual, almost beachy vibe (we ate outside at a picnic table). The food was more than adequate and given its proximity to the hotel, Third Street and the beach, and its kid-friendly vibe, I would definitely return there for another meal. That evening we brought in California Pizza Kitchen (right across the street from the hotel) for the kids’ dinner and my husband and I met friends at Rustic Canyon just a few blocks down from our hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica (http://www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com/). We were seated in a cozy booth and had a wonderful, farm-to-table dinner. The service, lighting and well curated wine list added points to the restaurant’s great menu.

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Kids playing at Santa Monica Beach

Day 2

We woke up on Christmas eve and due to popular adult request (did I mention that my in-laws were there with us?), we headed back over to the Third Street Promenade in the morning for a few hours and within seconds of our arrival, the kids were engaged by a woman playing silver bells and a young man with a balloon stand. After a while we went to meet old friends in Venice.

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Silver bells at the Third Street Promenade

Venice. What a cool little enclave – it has style, great food and even European culture. Our first order of pleasure was to get to the “European” side of town where developer Abbott Kinney built the “Venice of America” in 1905. Think beautiful man-made canals surrounded by some of the most interesting and eclectic homes you’ve ever seen in one small area. We walked alongside the canals and over the foot bridges in this area until we had seen it all. The sun was shining, the water was glistening and even the ducks were out and about to greet us as we walked through. It was a wonderful few hours. After that we ventured over to Abbott Kinney, a street aptly named for the developer, which is chock full of chic boutiques and several top notch restaurants. We got a snack at Lemonade, a healthy, immaculate “fast food” cafe (http://lemonadela.com/) and then strolled along Abbott Kinney for some window shopping.

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The Venice canals

We returned to Santa Monica for dinner at Zengo (http://www.richardsandoval.com/zengosm/index.php), at the corner of Third Street and Broadway. We loved it! Menu was great, service was polite and the food was yummy, as long as you’re okay with an Americanized, trendy interpretation of Latin-Asian food. Given our 5pm reservation (the benefit of going with young children), we took the kids and had a terrific meal. Zengo is a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant with a dark, sexy vibe. However, the edamame, noodle dishes, chop sticks, roomy booths and super cool fireplace made it perfectly suitable for the children.

Day 3

Despite the overcast sky, we crossed our fingers and headed north to Malibu hoping we would find the sun there, perhaps hiding on a beach. A scenic 15 minute drive up the Pacific Coast Highway brought us to the Malibu Country Mart where the high-end, luxury boutiques were closed but the taqueria (Howdy’s Taqueria) and playground were open. We had a yummy lunch of assorted tacos, guacamole, salsa and chips at the outdoor picnic tables smartly placed around a central playground. The kids had a ball climbing, sliding, swinging and petting strangers’ dogs while we alternatively joined in the fun and relaxed on the sidelines. Next we drove to Point Dume for a beach visit but by the time we arrived the clouds had turned to rain and two of our three children had dozed off. Oh well, good to know where it is for our next visit, which would happen a few days later.

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“Hangin'” at Malibu Country Mart

Day 4

Shortly after breakfast, we headed to the Getty Center. I had NO idea what a treat we were in for. The sun was shining as we arrived at the foot of the tramway just after opening at 10am. After waiting on a short line we took the tram up the mountain to an impressive cluster of modern, yet classic, buildings designed by famed architect Richard Meier. Modern for its clean lines; classic for the Italian travertine square tiles that make up the majority of the buildings. The setting was majestic, set high on a hilltop overlooking the Santa Monica mountains and Los Angeles. The gardens on the property, made possible by landfill used from the dirt that had to be dug up to build the Center, were exquisite. My seven year old son, my mother-in-law and I took a one-hour tour of the grounds, led by a volunteer docent who led us around the property with such enthusiasm I would have thought she was new to the position except that she had such a wealth of information to share I knew she must have done this many times before. The tour covered the history of the Getty Center, including how it was constructed, and pointed out many of the intentional details used by Richard Meier. We visited a few of the exhibits very quickly, but given that we had three young children in tow and the weather was so perfect, we spent much of the afternoon outdoors. We had lunch at the Center on a veranda, basking in the sun and taking in the city views. The food was easily the best, freshest food I have ever seen offered at a museum, with a nice selection of wine to boot. After lunch we spent the balance of the afternoon strolling through the gardens and playing tag with the kids on the pristine lawn. There was also a children’s activity center that I hear is interactive and enticing for the younger set, but we did not make it there.

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A bird’s eye view of and from the Getty Center, and a tiny glimpse of the gardens

In the evening, the kids were thrilled with CPK again, while my husband and I went to Gjelina in Venice, which was excellent. The restaurant has a dark, sexy vibe with a gorgeous garden in the back. Amidst trees, a slate wall, tons of candles and space heaters to keep us toasty, we dined on some of the freshest and most delectable locally sourced fare I’ve had in a long time. Even my husband was salivating over the grilled radicchio, which is saying A LOT for a meat and potatoes kind of guy. The menu was filled with creative vegetarian small plates as well as plenty of seafood and meat options for pescivores and carnivores. The wine was equally enticing. The service, while prompt, was the only service in L.A. that was snooty. It didn’t matter though, because one bite of dinner wiped away the bad taste left by our waiter. If you want to go here, reserve early. They book up to a month in advance.

Day 5

We went to the Skirball Cultural Center (http://www.skirball.org), which is one of the most captivating, easily navigable museums I have ever visited. It melds Jewish heritage with American culture in an extremely didactic, yet approachable manner. It is meant to appeal to people of all backgrounds and while its signature exhibit traces Jewish history back thousands of years, it also has some great American cultural exhibits, such as its First Amendment room which contains interactive exhibits meant to get visitors to question what limits should be placed on First Amendment rights. The “piece de resistance” of this museum for us was the Noah’s Ark exhibit, which recreates the story of Noah’s Ark in a 6,000 square foot interactive exhibit that is meant to be touched, climbed on and played with every step of the way. It is eye candy galore for children and adults alike. Every space of the exhibit is filled with details from the story of Noah’s Ark. For example, with a twist of a wheel or push of a lever, even my two year old was able to create the wind, rain, thunder and lightning that came before the flood. And in the same moment, the adults can marvel over the sophisticated animals made from recycled materials (also meant to be touched by the kids) and the evolution from animals entering the ark “two by two” to making friends with animals of different species. There is a two hour time limit in the Noah’s Ark exhibit, which was about the time it took us to get through it. Pretty impressive that an exhibit can keep young children busy for that amount of time. That afternoon we went to a friend’s house in Brentwood and then to Brentwood Country Mart for dinner (http://brentwoodcountrymart.com/). I love this “country mart” concept they have going in L.A. – sort of like an outdoor mall, except with great, high-end boutiques organized around a square rather than in a strip – with terrific little takeout food options, including several healthful alternatives. We ordered from a Mexican taqueria, a rotisserie chicken stand and a burger joint, and all ate around a fire. The kids loved the quarter rides and the homemade ice cream for dessert.

Day 6

Today we headed to the California Science Center. Our purpose was to see the Cleopatra Exhibit, which most of us were able to visit at least for a little while between taking turns to stroll outside under the warm sunlight with our sleeping toddler. The exhibit was incredibly well curated for both adults and children age 8 and over, with an informative and captivating audio self-tour to accompany the visitor’s tour through Cleopatra’s life. My husband took the older kids to see “The Blue Planet” at the IMAX on site, which they all enjoyed.  They also got a quick glimpse of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, but did not spend as much time as they might have had everyone not been so tired. The Science Center took up most of the day. We picked up sandwiches from Urth Cafe (www.urthcaffe.com) in Downtown L.A. for a late lunch. Love that place – healthy-ish, yummy, homemade sandwiches, salads, desserts for everyone and the BEST coffee I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Day 7

On our last full day we headed back up to Malibu for playground time and lunch at the Malibu Country Mart. This time we ordered over-priced but tasty Mediterranean food and ate at the picnic tables around the playground once again. Then it was off to Point Dume for the afternoon. WOW! The beach was vast and clean, and the water, though cold, was sparkly and blue. We began our adventure with a little hike up to Point Dume, which took 30 minutes, including a 15 minute stop at a rest area with a stunning lookout where the kids had snacks and we spotted a whale out in the Pacific.  Once we reached the top of the “Point”, we were surrounded by views of mountains, beaches and cliffs, with the bright sunshine above.  We took our time getting back down to the beach, where we spent hours playing in the sand and watching in awe at the people climbing and repelling from a huge, perfectly vertical cliff just a few feet away. If it were not for the early evening pangs of hunger calling our attention, we could have stayed until the sun went down. The kids were content for hours playing in the sand and enjoying their surroundings.

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View from Point Dume hike and the cliff at Point Dume – thrilling!

Day 8

We woke up at the crack of dawn and headed out for LAX to return our rental car and catch our flight back to New York. As far as traveling days go, this one was seamless. Kids were great, flight was smooth, and we were back home before dark, filled with excellent memories.

Malibu-tiful

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Malibu-tiful

We spent several days of our Los Angeles vacation in Malibu. The beaches were irresistible, the hikes ideal for our 2.5 year old, and the drive from Santa Monica was so easy and convenient. This picture is taken at Point Dume. We loved our entire vacation in L.A. but I must say that Point Dume transported us. Peering out from atop Point Dume, we could have been in Italy or South Africa. Read on for tips about the rest of our vacation and why L.A. is such a great place to travel with kids.