Welcome to LA!  We hope that this guide will help you find some cool spots, good eats, and even better drinks in this freakin’ huge city…

If you’re staying in Marina del Rey (or Culver City), you are in the “Westside” area.  This would also include Venice, Santa Monica, and Playa Del Rey.   Basically, being on the “Westside” means you’re closer to the beach, away from the hubub of Hollywood, and the temperature’s about 10 degrees cooler.

If you feel like exploring or doing a bit of touristy stuff, feel free!  We’ve broken the city down into 4 main areas — Westside, Hollywood, Downtown, and Outside of LA.  For recommendations, just check out the sections below…

But first thing’s first, let’s start off in your current hood — the Westside…

*Drinks:

1)  On the Waterfront Cafe (Venice Beach) – Saddle up to this awesome German beer garden, right off the beach and the famous Venice Boardwalk.  Grab a large pint of hefeweizen, a huge German pretzel, and enjoy all the people watching.  You might need to share a table, but it’s James’ favorite bar in LA.

2.) The Other Room  (Venice @ Abbot Kinney) – Well, well, well..it’s where James & Roxy had their very first date!  Prepare yourself for a plethora of wine & beer, with a cool Radiohead & Interpol sort of soundtrack.  Grab a window seat if you can, it’s great for watching the hip vibe of Abbot Kinney.

3.) High Rooftop Lounge (Venice) – Take the elevator up to the roof of this hotel for an amazing view you won’t forget.  Great spot to grab a drink and relax with the ocean breeze.  When you’re done, go a block over and catch the famous “VENICE” sign (on Pacific/Windward).

4.) Library Alehouse (Santa Monica, Main Street) – Be in the middle of Main Street in Santa Monica, without all the bar-hopping chaos.  This spot is great for a craft beer or glass of wine, conversation, and some tasty bites.  Grab a seat on the back patio if there’s a group of you (it’s a little less noisy).

5.)  Sunny Spot – (Marina del Rey/Venice) – Great outdoor atmosphere, drinks, and food — super close to the Marina hotels!  Chill in the large sunny patio and grab a cocktail or bite to eat.  Try their two-fisted burger or go tapas-sytle and share some tasty Caribbean-infused grub.

6.) The Brig (Venice @ Abbot Kinney) – I mean, the name alone sounds cool right?  That’s cause it’s a hip spot bustling with hipsters.  Buy yourself a bottle red stripe, jam out to some tunes, and if it’s outside — snag a taco off the Kogi food truck.

7.) Backstage Bar & Grill (Culver City) – Dive bar and karaoke just goes hand in hand right?  No bar does it better than the Backstage.  It’s located right across the street from the Sony Studios movie lot (where James worked on his first pilot).  Get there early if you plan on singin’ – sometimes there’s a lengthy wait.

8.) James Beach (Venice Beach) – Cool bar and restaurant with world-famous fish tacos.  A bit pricey, but what other bar has boxer shorts hanging around their lights?

9.) Big Foot ‘West’ Lodge (Culver City) – So, you’ve always had this dream about drinking a flaming marshmallow martini while sitting at bar made out of a giant pine log?  Well, Bigfoot Lodge makes that dream a reality.  Pull up a log, and cozy up to the cabin vibe.  Be sure to order a ‘Toasted Marshmallow’ and avoid the ‘Sasquatch’ (unless you want to be hung over for about a week).

 

*Eats:

1.) Cha-Cha Chicken (Santa Monica) –  One of James’ favorite restaurants probably ever — you can’t beat this beachy shack’s awesome mix of authentic Caribbean and Latin flavors.  Try their Jerked Chicken Enchiladas, Ropa Vieja, or even just some fried plantains.   Oh, and bring some booze — this place is BYOB!

2.) Primativo Wine Bistro (Venice @ Abbot Kinney) – Okay, so we’ll be honest that this place is a tad on the pricey side (it’s tapas style, what do you expect?), but it’s just too good to pass up.  It’s got a great wine selection, delicious plates to share, and yeah, you can even draw at your table.  Be sure to make a reservation, this place fills up fast!

3.) Father’s Office (Culver City) – For those of you staying at the Culver Hotel during your visit – THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST.  They have dozens of awesome craft beers on tap, awesome sweet potato fries — and if you’re a burger snob, you gotta try their house burger.  In fact, they’re so confident in their burgers, you can’t have ketchup or make any changes to it!

4.) Swingers (Santa Monica) – An easy-peasy place to go if you’re itching for some good ol’ American diner food.  They’ve got a huge menu and they’re one of the few places open until 3AM (also a great spot to go if you’re hungover the next morning).    Try the vegan chocolate chip cookies– even if you’re not into that kinda thing.

5.) Sonoma Wine Garden (in the Santa Monica Place Mall) – You’ll smell the truffle oil the minute you step off the escalator.  This place has great food, great wine, and a cool outdoor set up that you’ll fall in love with.  Grab a table next to a fire pit, or snag a sofa with your posse.  Be sure to order the ‘Garden Pizza’ & “Artichoke Spinach Dip” – your stomach will thank you!

6)  Irori Sushi (Marina del Rey)– It wouldn’t be LA without sushi, and you’ll see great spots on every corner.  But we wanted to mention one that packed both amazing fish and a cool experience…and where else can you get that but a strip mall?  Take off your shoes and sit in their unique floor-style tables, order up some sashimi, and live the sushi dream!

7)  Joni’s Coffe Roasting Cafe  (Marina Del Rey) – A great spot to grab fresh-roasted coffee or homestyle breakfast, right around the corner from the Marina Marriott!

7.) In and Out Burger  – OK, so you’ve heard a lot about this fast food chain.  And yes, in our opinion, it’s worth the hype.   If you want to be extra cool, order a “secret” off-the-menu item like their grilled cheese, or get your burger “Animal Style” (ie – with pickles, extra spread, and grilled onions).

– Marina Del Rey  “In and Out” – 13425 West Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90292

– Culver City “In and Out” –  9245 Venice Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90034‎

 

*Treats:

1.) The Coolhaus Ice Cream Shop (Culver City) – They named it ‘Coolhaus’ for a reason – because it’s freakin’ cool!  Choose from a festive cookie variety, pick an ice cream flavor, and BOOM…you’re in ice cream sandwich heaven.  They change their flavors frequently so you just never know….but we will say – be brave and maybe go for something you wouldn’t normally get (like fried chicken and waffles, candied bacon, or Maker’s Mark – yes…these are actual flavors!)

2) Manhattan Beach Creamery (Manhattan Beach) – If you ever find yourself a bit south and in the mood for a frozen treat, grab a cone at this Manhattan Beach staple.  Get a couple scoops in a fresh waffle cone, or try their famous homemade ice cream sandwiches and specialty cupcakes.

 

*Activities

1.)  Stroll the world-famous Santa Monica pier – While it can get busy, this is just something you’ve GOTTA do in California.  I mean – how many times have you see than Santa Monica pier signs in movies?  Lots to do and see on this LA beach-side staple!

2.)  Check out the Venice Boardwalk –  “Wow.  Just…wow” – you, after you visit the Boardwalk.  Where to even begin?  Street art, home-made crafts and souvenirs for sale, Muscle Beach, weird people in rollerskates…it’s world-famous for a reason.  Besides shopping and people watching, you can also do some killer activities here — like renting bikes and cruising the 30+ mile bike path.

 

*Beaches:

1.)  Santa Monica Beach  – This famous beach in Santa Monica is about 2 miles long…but no matter where you go you’ll love it.  Under the famous pier is a Boardwalk with tons of little restaurants and shops.  Hit the sand early if you plan on having a beach day – it can get pretty hectic in summer.  Don’t forget your sunscreen!

2.)  Playa del Rey Beach –  Avoid the tourist craziness, and head to James and Roxy’s old stompin’ ground — the Playa del Rey Beach.  In our totally-biased opinion (hey, we lived there for 4 years), it’s the coolest and mellowest beach around.  Grab a beer and a burger at the Shack, get some wine at The Tripel, and chill at the beach until sunset. Getting there is pretty easy too — it’s a straight shot down Culver Blvd — a hop skip and a jump from Marina del Rey.

3) El Matador (Malibu) — If you’re looking for a mini-day trip, this secluded little beach is king (and James’ favorite beach in LA).  It’s about 45-60 minutes from the Marina, so you’ll need some time — but the drive up the coast on the Pacific Coast Highway is beautiful.  Tons of movies and TV shows have filmed here… you’ll see why if you make the trek.

 

*Shop

1.) 3rd Street Promenade & Santa Monica Place –  The famous 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica is a great outdoor spot to shop and people watch, and it’s right near the Santa Monica Pier.  If you’re looking for larger department stores, higher scale shops, and good eats (see Sonoma Wine Garden above), check out Santa Monica Place at the end of the Promenade!   It’s a big tourist spot and it can get a bit crowded – so get there early!

2.) Abbot Kinney  – Go here for anything artsy or handmade.  This unique little strip of shops and eateries in Venice is definitely one of the hippest around.  It’s on the pricier side of things, but you can bet whatever you buy will be a one of a kind.

3)  Main Street in Santa Monica — Another great strip of shops, bars, and eateries in Santa Monica.  Very walkable and happening!

 

*You Don’t Want To Miss

The Venice Boardwalk  – Go here for a corn dog, a pint at James’ favorite bar On The Waterfront, a souvenir t-shirt and…oh ya…that’s right…ALL OF THE CRAZY THAT IS VENICE BEACH.  Street performers, psychics, and tattoo shops fill the stretch of the boardwalk.  We can almost guarantee you’ll see the electric guitar guy on roller skates, the tree man, and/or someone from the freak show trying to get you buy a ticket.  Be a true Californian and be sure to have your swim suit on already, as the beach is right along the boardwalk.  Nothing says Venice like a dip in the Ocean and guy walking on glass.

[images via: Cha Cha ChickenSanta Monica PierWelcome]

 

 

*What You’ve Seen On TV

You’ve traveled a long way, and hell — you wanna see some touristy stuff!  We don’t blame you.  This stuff is about 45 minutes (or more depending on traffic) from Marina del Rey, so plan a mini day trip and bring your camera.

1)  The Hollywood Sign –  You’ve seen this landmark everywhere.  And on a clear day, you can actually see it from a lot of places around the city.  But the main spot to see this would be at the touristy center of it all at Hollywood & Highland. (6801 Hollywood Blvd  Hollywood, CA 90028).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, take a trip up to Runyon Canon (see the “Activities” below).

Along with the Hollywood sign (and weird people dressed in costume), you can also see these attractions around Hollywood and Highland:

  • Walk of Fame – Those infamous stars in the sidewalk, featuring famous people from all generations of TV, radio and film.  See if you can find the movie star you’ve always loved, or stomp your feet on that actress you’ve always hated.
  • Graumann’s Chinese Theater – For over 75 years, Grauman’s has been the home to countless movie premieres, film shoots and a healthy dose of Hollywood history.  Be sure to check out all the amazing celebrity handprints and footprints in the courtyard — from Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe to Jim Carrey and Johnny Depp.

2)  Beverly Hills  — All the shops, expensive cars, fake boobs and weird people.  Beverly Hills is an entire town, but we suggest you start at Sprinkles Cupcakes  (9635 S Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA ) — a famous cupcake shop in the heart of Beverly Hills — and explore the upscale areas around there.

You’ll also see  the infamous shops and eatieries of Rodeo Drive right here.  Once you finish walk around, take your car and cruise through the local hood.  You may think you’re in an episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

3)  The Sunset Strip – Ahh, the strip.  Pretty cool place to drive through on a nice summer night.  Lots of bars and restaurants, some super-upscale, others just loungey and hip.  A note:  Sunset Blvd is a massive road — “The Strip” goes mostly from N. Crescent Heights to N. Doheny Dr.

4)  The Standard Hotel — You seen it on The Hills and other crappy reality TV shows.  This famous Hollywood bar and hotel is right on the strip.  Also, there’s another one downtown with a pretty sweet rooftop bar.

5)  Paramount Studios — One of the many movie studios in Hollywood, this one is one of the oldest and most prestigious (also James worked on this lot for over a year).  While you can pay to do studio tours, it’s also just fun (and free) to drive by the big entry way — located at 5555 Melrose Ave  Los Angeles, CA 90038.

 

*Drinks

1) Drinking poolside @ The Tropicana Bar ( @ Roosevelt Hotel) – This goes first because it’s so LA.  Bring your trunks, grab an over-priced beer and go for a dip in this famous Hollywood spot.

2)  Hemingway’s Lounge –

3)  Lola’s (Martini Bar) –

4)  Library Bar @ The Roosevelt  – Like anything this swanky or “Hollywood”, it’s a bit pricey.  But it’s a classy place with a cool, lounge-y vibe and a lot of history.  Note: this place will definitely be crowded on weekends!

5) Formosa Cafe  – Talk about an ol’ Hollywood dive bar.  Go here for the history and the old-school celebrity headshots on the wall.  This place originally opened in 1939 and was an old movie-star hangout….you can feel that aura still in the place.

6) Saddle Ranch – This bar on Sunset Strip is making the list really for one reason…mechanical bull riding.  Hey, it’s not a bad idea after a few drinks…

 

*Eats

1) The Velvet Margarita –

2) Grub –

3) Fabiolus Cucina 

4) Yamashiro – This unique Japanese spot is on here because of location, location, location.  It sits atop a picturesque hill, overlooking all of LA.  Combine that with cool Japanese architecture and pretty solid sushi, you’ve got a great spot for a drink or date night.  If you’re planning on going, be sure to make a reservation!

5)  In and Out Burger (@ Sunset Blvd) – Yes, this is burger chain was also on our “Westside” list.  But we’re telling you, as far as fast food burgers go, it’s king.

6)  The Milk Shop – If your feeling like having a treat, this is the spot.

 

*Activities

1)  Pick out a vinyl record @ Amoeba Records – One of the last great independently-owned music superstores, and one of our favorite places…ever.  Amoeba has everything — CDs, DVDs, and of course, probably the most massive selection of vinyl records you’ve ever seen.  If you’re a music buff, it’s worth a visit just to see…

2)  Stroll the Hollywood walk of fame and see the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – For a dose of “Hollywood”, walk the famous strip with celebrity stars, weird people in costumes, and visit Grauman’s to see all the celebrity handprints in the concrete.

3)  Hike Runyon Canyon, right near the Hollywood sign – Take a hike or a nice stroll on this cool path that sprawls through the Hollywood Hills.  If it’s a sunny day, you can get amazing views of the city and Hollywood sign here!

4) See a Comedy Show — You know James loves comedy.  And LA is one of the best places to catch a stand-up show in the world.  Lots of great places and stages…check who’s playing at these three legendary Hollywood laugh spots:

 

*Shop

1)  Hollywood & Highlight Center –  We mentioned this above as well, but hey, it’s Hollywood.  This is the touristy mecha–  you’re right in the middle of it all.

2)  The Grove – A huge, pretty-unique outdoor mall and market.  Tons of department stores, a movie theater, and lots of .  It’s a very California-style mall.

3)  Amoeba Records – Yep, we’re putting this in here twice as well.  Because we love this place.  Go and let you’re inner-music lover loose!

 

*You Don’t Want To Miss…

1)  The Griffith Park Observatory – Amazing views of LA and the Hollywood sign, as well as a pretty cool view of the Observatory itself.   This LA landmark has been there for over 70 years, and countless movies have been shot here as well.  Relive a bit of Hollywood film history

2) Eating a “DANGER DOG” (if you find a stand) – In New York, you have pizza.  In LA, we have Danger Dogs.  What are they?  These amazing $4 ‘fat kid’ bacon-wrapped hot dogs, served up with a slue of condiments & grilled veggies.  Problem is, it’s usually one person making them off a random cart (usually outside of bars or venues).  So you’ll need to seek out a Danger Dog on your own.  If you see one, DO IT…it’s so very ‘LA’ of you.

 

[images via: AmoebaHollywood, Grauman’s Chinese Theater]

 

 

*Drinks

1)  Golden Gopher – 

2)  The Edison – 

3)  The Library Bar – 

 

*Eats

1)  Mas Malo –

2)  Corkbar –  This could double under the *drinks category, since this is a killer wine bar with a seriously delicious menu.  Try their mac-n-cheese as a starter…

3)  Church & State – 

 

*Treats

Macaroons @ Bottega Louie – One of Roxy’s favorite treat spots in the city (and believe me, she has a lot).  In addition to a lavish (and pricey) dinning area, this popular European-style eatery has an awesome take out section with fresh pastries, cookies, and of course, macaroons.  Grab a couple if you’re in the area!

 

*Activities

1)  Hit up The Standard for a drink with a kick-ass Rooftop view– Head to the top of this huge hotel high-rise (550 South Flower at Sixth Street, Los Angeles CA 90071) for one of the best views in the city.  Grab a drink, or just plain chill — and check out their new (ish) beer garden.

2)  Olvera Street 

 

*You Don’t Want To Miss….

1) Grabbing a glass of whiskey from the famous Seven Grand bar – If you’re into that kind of thing.  And hell, even if you aren’t.

2)  Getting a taco off a taco truck!  –  ANY OF THEM – and this can really go for anywhere in the city.  Be sure to scoop up some of that green sauce that is most likely in a bucket on the side of the truck.  There’s nothing better than taco trucks in LA!

 

 

*Malibu

There’s no better drive on a sunny day than taking Route 1 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway) along the beach up into Malibu.         Hop in your car and cruise past countless surf breaks, restaurants and beaches…   We also recommend stopping at the hidden little beach El Matador — once there, a 5-minute “hike” (it’s all stairs) down to the sand will put you on one of the coolest beaches in SoCal…

 

*Santa Barbara

A beautiful, Spanish-influenced city about 2-3 hours from LA.  Really awesome place to visit for an overnight stay (or day trip if you leave early enough!).  There’s huge beaches, and tons of great bars and restaurants on State Street.  And if you’re looking for amazing Mexican food, you have to go to Los Agaves.  Enjoy the salsa bar!

 

*Ojai

Great for a nice day trip or a cool overnight stay, this artsy little town is known for it’s spiritual nature, wineries, and quaint little downtown area.  For a true taste of California, stop by our favorite little winery in Southern California — Old Creek Ranch Winery.

 

*San Diego

Ahh, sunny San Diego!  A great city (about 2-3 hours south) with friendly people and so much to see.  From the beachside areas of Mission Beach to the historic and bustling Gaslight District, there’s tons of great areas to stay and see.  If you’re feeling adventurous, check out their world famous San Diego Zoo.

 

We hope this little guide gave you a great place to start with your adventures in the the LA area.  It’s a massive and unique city, so be sure to explore as much as you can!

As you would expect, traffic can be pretty bad at certain times of the day, especially on the freeways.  Be sure to leave a bit more time, just in case!

Enjoy this great city!