Sqirl

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Sqirl is a popular eatery on the east side of Los Angeles, and I try to go every time I’m in the area and the line isn’t crazy long. Weekdays are less crazy, and weird times are even less crazy. If you’re going at 11AM on a Saturday then just be prepared to wait.

Everything I’ve tried has been worth trying, including the sorrel rice bowl, the seasonal hash, stewed chickpeas with eggs, and the oft-grammed ricotta toast. It’s all simple and fresh and flavorful. Thumbs up!

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Sqirl

Channel Islands National Park

Last summer I went on a sea kayaking trip at Channel Islands National Park. It was superb! Here’s some info in case you’d like to go this summer (and you should):

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The Channel Islands are located about an hour’s boat ride from Ventura, CA. No one permanently lives there (you can camp) and there is no transportation on the island. All there is to do is kayak or snorkel or hike, and it’s pretty glorious.

You can only get to the islands via a couple of companies. If you want to kayak, you can book your passage to the island and kayak expedition all together. There are different excursions to different islands, including one-day trips and overnight trips with camping. There’s lots of info on the park website.

My husband and I chose Aquasport’s one-day trip to Santa Cruz Island with ocean kayaking. The boat left at about 8AM and we returned around 5PM. Once we arrived, our guide provided helmets, jackets, paddles, and kayaks, along with basic instructions. We spent the next 3 or 4 hours paddling in the sea, nudging into sea caves whenever possible. Our guide was fantastic and, even though it was unusually windy, he was a pro at making sure we saw as much as possible.

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I’d recommend wearing a bathing suit with some quick-drying layers over top and lots of sunscreen. Water socks are also highly recommended. Oh, and a baseball cap. It’ll keep the sun out of your eyes and make your helmet more comfy. You can bring some dry clothes, water, lunch, more sunscreen, etc. and keep it in your guide’s lockbox on land. Store in a waterproof, airtight bag and/or hard-sided cooler.

After kayaking, we had a couple of hours to eat lunch and explore the island. There’s a small museum of sorts displaying the history of the island, and there are a few hiking trails. I made my way up one and took in breathtaking views free of traffic noise.

Note that the dock at Santa Cruz has been out of commission for a few years now, and the crew ferries everyone back and forth from the big boat in groups of 8-10. It takes a while, but it’s kind of fun, and they are working real hard. Just be patient.

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Channel Islands National Park

Vasquez Rocks

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This weekend I visited Vasquez Rocks, a natural area less than an hour from LA and the setting for many-a TV and film productions. I was impressed by the visitor center, free parking, upkeep, trails, and, well, the rocks. It rocked.

There are lots of trails to choose from, with short, flat jaunts leading to impressive formations, to longer hikes to nice views and vegetation. Kid and dog friendly, there’s also plenty of picnic tables for a nice lunch.

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Vasquez Rocks

Smorgasburg LA

Thanks, Brooklyn! My former home borough was kind enough to export their weekly food-centric event Smorgasburg to downtown LA. I’ve been a couple of times and there’s enough good food to keep you occupied for several Sundays straight, as well as a small beer garden and a few pop-up shops. Below are a few of my favorites so far. Take some friends and try as much as you can stand to eat.

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  • Guerrilla Tacos – One of my favorite places to eat in all of LA, Smorgasburg is a great way to catch Guerrilla serving fresh tacos. They are known for using fun and exotic ingredients and their menu changes every week.
  • Paloma’s Paletas – This little popsicle stand typically offers 4-5 flavors, and I liked the watermelon one so much I got it twice.
  • T.J.’s Tacos – Vietnamese tacos with super-fresh herbs and sweet and tangy sauces.
  • Goa Taco – Maybe the best thing I’ve eaten at Smorgasburg so far. They slow-roast pork belly right out there on a spit, and stuff it into a “taco.” The tortilla is super flaky like a scallion pancake.
  • Sus Arepas – I love arepas and surprisingly haven’t found many in LA. The Latin American pockets of beans, cheese, plantains, and perhaps meat are reliably comforting.
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Guerrilla Tacos torta
Smorgasburg LA

Willowbrook Apple Farm

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Every year I insist upon visiting the tiny mountain town of Oak Glen, about an hour and half drive from the middle of LA (as I’ve mentioned before). The elevation makes it a pretty good place to grow apples, and the people of Oak Glen have been doing it since the 1800s. One of my favorite places to stop is Willowbrook Apple Farm, which has Stayman Winesap trees that are over 100 years old and still going strong.

When the trees are ready, the family farm offers u-pick apples on weekends as well as u-press cider. They have a little shop with odds and ends, but the focus is their apples and the whole picking experience. Upon arrival, chances are you’ll get a lovely introduction from the farmer herself before you’re set loose with a bag to fill up. There are some animals here to visit, and all of them are inappropriately sized. A miniature horse and donkey live with a giant pot-bellied pig on one side and a giant rabbit on the other. The farm is lovely and antique (still working) tractors dot the property.

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It’s a great place to spend part of your day and the apples are excellent. They’re crunchy, juicy, and flavorful. They’ll keep for a couple of months in a cellar or fridge, and are great for baking. I always fill up two five pound bags and not an apple goes to waste.

Note: This used to be one of the calmer stops in Oak Glen, but the city as a whole as well as Willowbrook have gotten more popular every year. Come early to beat the crowd, and always check their site or call to see if the apples are ready for picking. We went last weekend and it was their second week. Depending on their crop and how busy they are, they may not have apples for long!

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Willowbrook Apple Farm

Highland Park Bowl

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If you haven’t visited Highland Park latest hot spot, then allow me to extend an invitation. Highland Park Bowl is one of the most impressive interior renovations I’ve seen in Los Angeles, and its worth visiting just to take a good look around. Luckily there are drinks, food, and bowling to keep you there.

The bowling alley, situated on constantly-changing Figueroa, was built in the 20s. It went through a number of changes over the years before being bought by the 1933 Group a couple of years ago. They stripped away drop ceiling, paneling, and junk to reveal the beautiful details beneath—a mural from the 30s (seen in the photo), old bowling paraphernalia, even nearly 100-year-old liquor bottles. The result is awe-inspiring. The original, tall ceiling with skylights and metal beams floats overhead, with bowling lanes beneath and two semi-circle bars not far behind. The bars are lit by the old pin-setters-turned-chandeliers, and the liquor sits on the former ball returns. Old pins now serve as bar lights, and former bowling team plaques and banners adorn the walls.

While you’re there taking a good look around, order a drink and maybe a pizza. The bar/restaurant boasts a large, Italian brick oven that churns out Neapolitan-style pizzas and other fare. Bowling is expensive but fun, and the prices vary based on the day and time.

Highland Park Bowl

My Favorite Places to Eat in LA Right Now

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olive oil pistachio cake from Lincoln

We’ve had visitor after visitor and I haven’t been cooking as much as I like, so I thought I’d write a little round-up of my current favorite places to eat and drink in LA (or really close to LA). This is in no way definitive and is subject to change at any moment, and the list is totally east side-biased. But all of these spots are worth a visit.

  • Lincoln in Northern Pasadena is a revelation in breakfast/brunch/lunch cafe fare. Everything I’ve eaten here has been wonderfully simple and simply delicious.
  • BS Taqueria in downtown has my current favorite happy hour. It’s only on weekdays which is a bummer, but they offer 4 really great cocktails for half price and $2 tostadas, which might be my favorite thing on the menu.
  • ETA is the new cozy-chic cocktail bar in town and is within walking distance of my house in Highland Park. Need I say more?
  • Ramen Hood in Grand Central Market has surprisingly delicious vegan ramen. Skip the vegan egg.
  • Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea serves up breakfast and lunch, including sandwiches on great bread. I had one of the best donuts I’ve ever eaten there (and I really love donuts).
  • China Tasty in Alhambra is worth the short car ride. They serve up huge servings of perfectly chewy hand-pulled noodles at low prices, and you can watch them being made through the glass. Bonus: it’s next door to an old school bowling alley.
  • Block Party is my current favorite beer and wine bar in Highland Park with a killer outdoor patio featuring shuffle board. They let you bring in your own food, too.
My Favorite Places to Eat in LA Right Now