Living Large in L.A.

Published: July 11th 2014
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Well, I mean living large in L.A. for a pittance, if you are as poor as a church mouse by Bel Air standards, yet saved a few pennies. I didn't know what to expect from Los Angeles, California in my first visit. I was in no rush to see California. I am not a fan of car culture, I'm not good at small talk, nor am I that obsessed with my looks (my friends may argue that particular point) nor do I care for material things in general. Somehow Los Angeles wasn't an imperative, like Prague or Amsterdam. I certainly wasn't prepared for it by watching TV shows and movies filmed there. I didn't even recognize the Baywatch set in Malibu. My hotel, JW Marriott L.A. Live, showed promise, a gentrified patch, rising from the rubble of downtown. I was thrilled we could check in at noon (actual check in time is 4:00 pm). My hotel room was what should be expected at these prices, but I want a separate kitchen with microwave, not just a small refrigerator hidden under the desk. I know I paid a stiff premium for being here on a holiday week. But the hotel has a great lobby, clean, spacious rooms, good views and very stylish bathrooms in all rooms. I also noticed that once you leave the L.A. Live fabricated Disneyworld neighborhood, the streets deteriorate quickly.

The spacious hotel lobby housed acceptable restaurants: LA Market, The Mixing Room, Illy Espressemente, and we could bop up to dine at Wolfgang Puck's WP24 on the 24th Floor of the adjoining Ritz Carlton, which we did on our first night. My friends were happier than I with our expensive locally sourced lunch at LA Market (main courses $28.00) I did enjoy the Market Salad, basically a deconstructed Cobb Salad, but I have had better versions in New York City. As a restaurant reviewer, my overall impression of food in L.A. is that it lacks the Wow! Factor that I get in New York City (and more so, Europe). Could palates be more timid in California?

I googled things to do in L.A. the night before my trip and came up with Time Out's 20 Things To Do in L.A. Print and go. My dear Cousin Jessica had a mission to show me everything on the list, which mere mortals would have needed two weeks to cover
Hollywood Blvd.Hollywood Blvd.Hollywood Blvd.

Driving down Hollywood Blvd.
ground like that. She would balance the touristy and tawdry with the upscale and Zen-like coast.

Of course you must check out Grauman's Chinese Theater (with the Hollywood forecourt of handprints of stars of generations long gone and those still around), the Dolby Theater, the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Wax Museum, all on Hollywood Blvd. See the motley crowds, get in and get out quickly, and you can say you've seen it. One day in L.A. and do I already sound too shallow? Jessica coined a phrase for checking out places we didn't particularly feel a need to be: "Let's pull a Hollywood Blvd.", get in, park for 20 minutes, then get out. I am amazed that you pay to park everywhere, even in residential neighborhoods on the street. Some parking garages only take your credit card upon exit, so be prepared.

I am glad Jessica countered the tawdry with a drive through Beverly Hills (and the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel), Bel Air, Hollywood Hills (where I was able to spy the famous "Hollywood" sign through the trees.) Beverly Hills almost seemed Upper Middle Class compared to Bel Air. We drive on Sunset Blvd., La Brea, Wilshire Blvd, with even a pass on Rodeo Drive (which is also residential in parts).

Enough for one day, Time to kick back and relax with dinner at the Wolfgang Puck's Nest at WP24, majestically placed on the 24th floor of the Ritz Carlton tower, dark and dazzling with web like lacing (a nest), a distracting flat screen TV, and spectacular views of downtown. The hot and sour corn chowder with tofu & scallions ($11.00) was original and fiery hot, just right for me. but to my table mates inedible. I've eaten better California rolls ($16.00 for 8 pieces). The salt and pepper short ribs came out after most of us finished our dinner. Service is formal and accommodating as you would expect. Expect snacks to be $8.-$16.00, appetizers $11.-$16., Sushi $16.-$27, and Large Plates ($26-$43). But keep in mind this is The Nest not the formal WP24 restaurant.

Our next day just had to be more Zen-like. How about breakfast in Beverly Hills at "Urth Caffe"? Urth Caffe has been around since 1989 I am told and the first to introduce organic coffees. You can order sensational breakfast burritos, oatmeal with walnuts, and gluten free and lactose free breakfasts are no problem here. My coffee choice was a dark roast mocha, served in a huge mug and was the best mocha I have ever had (and I know coffee). Eat outdoors under an umbrella and share tables with a stylish crowd.

Then we drive on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). Watch for clots of stopped traffic and construction. Traffic can stop for no reason at any time. Shall we coin this the "California clot?" Stop at the Getty Villa (call ahead to reserve a time) to tour the spectacular Italianate gardens, impressive architecture and see the museum antiquities within, which must be seen. The Getty Villa is in Malibu, a beautiful setting.

Then it's off to lunch at Duke's on the water in Malibu. Valet park your car, then try to snag a table by the window and watch the Pacific waves crash onto huge rocks. Our grilled Baja fish tacos ($10.50) made with superior ahi tuna were just perfect. Our waiter, who could have been a surfer or actor, pointed out the discoloration in the water are algae which dolphins come to feed on. Interesting selections include the crab & macnut wantons ($9.00) and the
Hollywood SignHollywood SignHollywood Sign

The elusive Hollywood sign as seen from Hollywood Hills
scallop BLT ($12.50). This is a relaxing place for lunch. And I haven't eaten that close to the ocean since I was in Portugal.

Back on the Pacific Coast Highway and we are headed to Venice Beach, worth a detour to see Muscle Beach, bohos and a motley crowd of characters. Although very crowded, there's enough room on the beach to plop a blanket without intruding on anyone's space, although Malibu beaches provide even more spacious options (and a different crowd). There's plenty of bargain shops and pubs here, I wondered if I could find "The Bank of Venice" on to check out their CD rates, but The Bank of Venice turned out to be a very cool bar and restaurant.

For dinner we decided to head to Santa Monica and also walk on the Santa Monica pier. There's easy garage parking and a short walk to a restaurant of your choice. We chose Zengo, a slick Latin/Asian fusion tapas bar by Richard Sandoval, with plenty of share-able items: salted edamame beans ($6.00), Szechuan eggplant pastel wantons ($10.00), Zengo fried rice with shrimp, duck, pork, egg, peas and carrots ($10.00) crispy tofu with bok choy,
Beverly Hills HotelBeverly Hills HotelBeverly Hills Hotel

The well known sign
bean sprouts and ginger ($16.00) and even ancho rubbed short ribs with mashed potatoes ($23.00) Be careful that all ingredients to each dish may not be listed in the description, so ask for the gluten free menu to be sure.

My friend Judy had a great idea for our next day in L.A.: a visit to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and a surprise, a visit to the La Brea Tar Pits out in back of the museum. I've never actually seen a sloth, and the huge replica at the tar pits clarified my vision. I can smell tar. I loved the signs: "Falling into a tar pit is a horrible way to die, but a great way to preserve fossils." They keep things so light here in L.A., even death.

LACMA had 2 admission fees, one general admission ($15.00) or $25.00 which includes admission into special exhibits. I enjoyed seeing paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky and Matisse that have never found their way to New York City. For lunch you can head for the Original Farmer's Market, adjoining the Grove Shopping Center, where you will find many take away dining options. No need to dine at the same place as your companions, you can bring your food from any of the vendors to any table you can find.

For breakfast options downtown, you can dine a la carte at LA Market in the JW Marriott lobby (main courses $16.00 - $26.00) with the usual suspects of American breakfast options. Don't expect anything like the groaning board Scandinavian breakfasts anywhere in L.A. Even the complete breakfast options just wasn't enough food for this trencherman. And I prefer my breakfasts to be more decadent. It's my vice. Many places offer a "Fitness Breakfast", though you may not get much to eat. Breakfast in LA Market is good, but so was the breakfast we had at Tom's Urban (and it's less of a hit on the wallet). For those who don't mind standing in long lines, head to the Original 24 Hour Pantry, open since 1924, where American food is plentiful and prices low (compare breakfasts prices here, $4.95-$8.95), as my taxi driver pointed out. Their breakfast is a mere fraction of the cost I paid at L.A. Live just steps away.

I must say that I did love my time in L.A., but as a die hard born and bred New Yorker, it will never replace it for me.

JW Marriott/L.A. Live, 900 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA

Restaurants within L. A. Live: LA Market, Mixing Room, Illy Espressemente, Smashburger, Tom's Urban, Rosa Mexicano, WP24 & The Nest (in the Ritz Carlton), The Farm of Beverly Hills, Live Basil Pizza, Boca at The Congo Room, Lucky Strike Lanes & Lounge, Katsuya (Japanese), Lawry's Carvery, Rock 'N Fish, Yard House, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, all in 800-900 Olympic Blvd., Downtown L.A. Live

Urth Caffe, 267 S. Beverly Drive (btwn. Gregory & Charlottesville Blvd.,) Beverly Hills

Duke's, 21150 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265

Zengo, 395 Santa Monica Place (btwn. Broadway & Colorado) Santa Monica, CA 90401 (310) 899-1000

Los Angeles County Museum, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles CA (323) 857-6000 (

La Brea Tar Pits, 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA (

Santa Monica Pier, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA (

The Original Farmer's Market at The Grove, 6333 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA

Grauman's Chinese Theater, 6925 Hollywood Blvd. btwn. N. Orange & N. Highland, Hollywood, CA

24 Hour Original Pantry, 877 So. Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90017 (213) 972-9279

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18



Get your culture fix at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The GroveThe Grove
The Grove

Shopping mall. Also visit the Original Farmer's Market nearby

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