Echo Park ~ Los Angeles

Echo Park: You could say it echoes Brooklyn’s Bushwick; it might even be compared to nearby Silver Lake (a less developed version of it , anyway). This neighbourhood, located 10 minutes from downtown LA, has that energetic feel so prominent of communities that attract a newly-moved-in younger demographic of artists, foodies, and entrepreneurs.

Take Brite Spot, for example. I’ll admit to having passed it a few time, only to dismiss it as just another old-school American diner. Hey, it’s painted bright blue, it’s on busy Sunset Boulevard, and claims to be Echo Park’s original diner since 1949. Ever since I tasted “the best margarita” in New York, I have avoided places making grand statements. However, my husband was convinced is was going to be a find based on many favourable Yelp reviews, so with a twist of the arm, my tummy gave in. We hopped in the car on one very warm Sunday in May and drove inland for brunch.

I have to say that when I entered the diner, I was quite taken with its cosy interior. Even more promising was that the place was buzzing with all sorts: yuppies huddled in a booth discussing last night’s drinking antics, grandparents feeding grandkids; a lone brunette in the corner reading the paper and eating eggs over easy. The space looks like a 1970s ski chalet crossed with grandma-chic — bronze vinyl booths and large windows that let in the gorgeous L.A. light line one side; perpendicular to it is a wall of mirrors, interspersed with retro-looking black-and-white light sconces. Wooden swivel pub chairs surround the central coffee bar, mood lit by an overhanging orbital chandelier. On the menu: on-trend items like egg-topped kale salad, vegan Garden Burger, as well as modern twists of the usual diner fare: 2 eggs any style with sausage and bacon (note: substitutes include egg whites, tofu, or veggie bacon). But it’s the dessert display case that was the apple of my husband’s eye — I immediately knew that our meal would end with a piece of the sinful-looking Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie, piled high with lashings of freshly-whipped cream. I have to admit that our meal was good. Really good, and fairly priced.

Served by a tattooed, plaid-shirt-wearing waitress and surrounded by patrons of all ages — yuppies discussing last night’s drinking antics, grandparents feeding grandkids; a bookish young lady reading the paper over eggs in a corner — Brite Spot Diner feels like a microcosm of what’s happening in Echo Park today.

So, what is going on in this ‘hood? Here’s what Eric Brightwell wrote in the Los Angeles Times back in late 2011:

All you hipster-haters need to check yourself. Yes, hipsters are offensive to the eyes, ears and nose and yes, they provoke violent urges in me but remember, the Echo Park you grew up in wasn’t always that way either. Echo Park began as a wealthy, white, Victorian neighborhood. Places change for the better and for the worse. I remember El Prado when it was a dive (I liked it then) and like it as a posh wine bar too (certainly there are more women in there now).

I miss some of the old Echo Park but it’s still got the Film Center, Pizza Buona, Echo Park lake, the Baxter Stairs, the memory of Room 8 the Cat, Jensen’s Rec Center (with its cool sign).

My advice? Ignore the haters, the hipsters and (most importantly) the hype. It’s not the Williamsburg of LA, it’s Echo Park… oh, and lying WEST of the LA River, don’t be an idiot and call it the EASTside.*

Today, the facades that stretch along this part of Sunset Blvd look relatively unchanged; the burrito joints, liquor store, and tobacconist have probably been here since the 1960s. It’s easier to make out progress by the new condo developments that have been fitted in between many Craftsman-style homes, standing since the early 1900s. If you take a drive down the quieter Echo Park Ave, you’ll pass newly sprouted coffee shops selling $5 coffee pour overs to a WiFi-dependent clientele, as well as a yoga studio, a quirky boutique, hair salon, a bodega, and a real estate agent.

Based on some research I had done earlier, we scouted a beautiful home on Valentine Street. Designed by architect Raphael Sorriano and built in 1938, it is a salute to Modernism – sleek , simple, and lots of windows. Because the neighbourhood is so hilly, many homes have great views towards the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, downtown LA, the Valley and the 5 Freeway. Some downhill descents are so steep that with the gradual build up of momentum, and a subsequent “woosh,” you feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster.

Echo Park is certainly an area to watch and has the familiar feeling of a community on the verge… It’ll take some time to get there but I am happy about that as things seem to happen way too fast in this technology driven world.

The interior of Brite Spot Diner

The interior of Brite Spot Diner

Stumptown (artisan) coffee

Stumptown (artisan) coffee

A bit retro, a bit old school, a bit ski chalet

A bit retro, a bit old school, a bit ski chalet

Stumptown Americano

Stumptown Americano

Kale Salad: Chopped kale, fried egg, bread crumbs, toasted pine nuts, lemon garlic chili dressing $9.75

Kale Salad: Chopped kale, fried egg, bread crumbs, toasted pine nuts,
lemon garlic chili dressing $9.75

Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie

Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie

The Brite Spot vibe

The Brite Spot vibe

Catering to the DAFT PUNK demographic

Catering to the DAFT PUNK demographic

The view from Fargo Street

The view from Fargo Street – looking toward LA’s downtown

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Steep streets with view that look onto the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory (right)

Steep streets with view that look onto the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory (right)

If you like rollercoasters, you'll like driving in Echo Park

If you like rollercoasters, you’ll like driving in Echo Park

A sunlit wrought iron gate

A sunlit wrought iron gate

Looking onto the 5 Freeway - the Los Angeles River is in the background too

That’s my husband looking onto the 5 Freeway – the Los Angeles River is in the background too

Smelling fresh baby peaches

Smelling fresh baby peaches

Modernist architect Raphael Sorriano designed this home, built in 1938

Modernist architect Raphael Sorriano designed this home, built in 1938

Another view of the Raphael Sorriano home

Another view of the Raphael Sorriano home

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*http://projects.latimes.com/mapping-la/neighborhoods/neighborhood/echo-park/comments/

10 Tips for the Second Time LA Tourist, Calif.

It’s inevitable that, as a first time visitor to Los Angeles, you will be drawn to its better known sights like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, and Venice’s Muscle Beach. I am all for it; the media and motion picture industries are part of Los Angeles’ DNA, and what we might read about, watch on TV, or see in the movies can greatly influence our itinerary choice. It’s on the second trip that you may want to reconsider the Star Line bus tour and tourist-friendly draws however, and explore the layers beneath LA’s celluloid surface.  What you’ll find is a patchwork of cities and neighborhoods that enrich the county’s culture and communities.

Here are 10 suggestions to help you sidestep the well trodden tourist path:

1. Mulholland Drive – Perhaps one of the most appealing things about LA, aside from its warm climate, is its proximity to the ocean and mountains. To see it from top to tail, rent a car and cruise along the 21-mile stretch of winding Mulholland Drive. The road will take you through the Hollywood Hills, over the Valley, and to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Tip: GPS is essential in navigating this road as it is broken up in parts.

An overlook on Mulholland Drive - looking at LA's downtown

From Mulholland Drive, looking over LA’s downtown

2. Hollywood – LA looks different when you look at it through the letters of the Hollywood sign. To get to the top of Mt. Lee, Google: Beachwood Drive and Hollyridge Trail. There’s room for parking and it’s about a 40 minute walk, one way. Tip: Keep on track by staying left of the trail.

My sis and me peeking over the fence at "that" sign

My sis and me peeking over the fence at “that” sign

3. Griffith Park – Los Angeles is home to a variety of architecture; Moby even has a blog dedicated to it: Moby Los Angeles Architecture Blog. A beautiful example is The Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. At once futuristic and historic, the details of its precast building blocks harken to Mayan times; you may also remember the house from the 1980’s movie Bladerunner. Tip: Address is 2607 Glendower Ave, Loz Feliz.

Part of the Ennis House

Part of the Ennis House

4. Echo Park – Echo Park Avenue has the artisan feel. Street art colours the hilly neighbourhood; cafes offer pour over coffees for $5 a cup. Located close to downtown LA, the area feels like it’s on the cusp of something big. Tip: Go to FIX for a pour over coffee – order anything from the “Handsome Coffee Roasters” line. Pazzo Gelato on Sunset Blvd offers $1 scoops during its 4-6pm Happy Hour. The Pear Sorbetto is highly recommended.

Top: European Yoghurt, Strawberry Custard Gelato; Bottom: Pear Sorbetto, Espresso Gelaro

Top: European Yoghurt, and Strawberry Custard Gelatos; Bottom: Pear Sorbetto, Espresso Gelato

5. Silver Lake – More than 500 staircases around Los Angeles used to serve its public transportation system; now they are a good excuse to stairwalk and see a neighbourhood up close. An excellent starting point for the novice is the Music Box Stair Loop in burgeoning Silver Lake, made famous by the movie starring Laurel and Hardy. Tip: Check out Walks @ Secret Stairs-LA for more routes. The website counts the Music Box set to have 133 steps across multiple landings as part of a 2.5 mile loop.

The shaky looking "Music Box" Steps

The shaky looking “Music Box” Steps

6. Downtown LA – Newly built condos in the area have attracted a young entrepreneurial community. The Art District has injected a creative vibe in this part of town, and galleries can be found along Spring and Main Sts between 2nd and 9th. Tip: Check out a couple of the laid back eating spots: go to Urth Caffe on Hewitt St for a Moroccan Mint Latte, or a Belgian Beer at Wurtskuche on East 3rd.

Arts District

Arts District

7. Westwood – In the midst of a cluster of office buildings rests Westwood Village Park Memorial Cemetery. Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, and other stars are buried here. Tip: Located at 1218 Glendon Avenue, the narrow street looks like the entrance to a parking lot – it’s easy to overlook.

Marilyn Monroe is buried in the site at the top right

Marilyn Monroe is buried in the site at the top right

8. Pacific Palisades – For a panoramic scene that spans downtown LA to the ocean, hike to the top of the Los Liones trail. It’s 2 miles each way and not too strenuous but wear your sneakers. Tip: Go on a sunny day for a clear view.

At the top of the Los Liones trail - Pacific to the right, and downtown to left (not seen in this photo)

At the top of the Los Liones trail – Pacific to the right, and downtown to left (not seen in this photo)

9. Malibu – Perhaps one of the loveliest museums in LA is The Getty Villa. High up in the mountains, with the Pacific as the backdrop, it feels Mediterranean – manicured gardens, fountains, and a herb garden surround a villa that houses antiquities and sculpture collections. Tip: Allocate some time to lunch on wine and cheese in the courtyard, but don’t forget to reserve your entry free tickets on http://www.getty.edu prior to visiting.

The grand pool at The Getty Villa

The grand pool at The Getty Villa

10. Venice Beach – The Pacific is alluring, the boardwalk is not. Navigate the Venice Canal Walk in the direction of Abbot Kinney – a retail stretch of road where you’ll build up an appetite as you window shop. Tip: Go to Gjelina for an excellent modern Italian meal, or stop at TOMS for a pair of shoes. Browse as you sip on an espresso made to order from their in-store coffee bar.

Inside the TOMS store

Inside the TOMS store

Intermission III: An Oscar-Worthy Trip to LaLaLand

The final week of a great trip is always tough. Each day seems to pass quicker than that preceding it, and the list of things to see and do inevitably grows longer as one becomes better acquainted with their surroundings; immersing themselves further into the fabric of a place.

This is how it went for my sister, Katya, and I in the last few days prior to her departure. We packed it all in: Universal Studios, LA downtown (we needed to drive by the Cecil Hotel, currently making crime story worthy news), Malibu, as well as a side trip to San Francisco. We made pit stops at all of Urth Caffe’s locations, scattered over different parts of LA, and managed to catch some spectacular sunsets either from the car, or from a prime vantage points.

Though the trip may have started with tourist spots at the forefront, it finished with talk of a UCLA transfer. I couldn’t have been prouder – Katya had successfully transitioned from wide eyed tourist to enthusiastic traveler. Here are some highlights of the final days in LaLaLand, and beyond.

At The Getty Villa, Malibu

At The Getty Villa, Malibu

Seated Hermes, Greek God of travel and commerce

Seated Hermes, Greek God of travel and commerce

Malibu Pier

Malibu Pier

City lights from the Griffith Observatory

City lights from the Griffith Observatory

Sunset from the Griffith Observatory

Sunset from the Griffith Observatory

Lombard St, San Francisco - the world's windiest street

Lombard St, San Francisco – the world’s windiest street

Painted Ladies houses line Alamo Square, San Francisco

Painted Ladies houses line Alamo Square, San Francisco

My sis and I making heart shadows

Me and my sis making heart shadows

Sea Lions at Pier 39, San Francisco Wharf

Sea Lions at Pier 39, San Francisco Wharf

 

Views from Sausalito -  joined to San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge

Views from Sausalito – joined to San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge

Me and my sis - meeting of the minds as we look over the view from Sausalito

Me and my sis – meeting of the minds as we look over the view from Sausalito

Golden Gate Bridge via iphone

Golden Gate Bridge via iphone

Sis taking pics

Sis taking pics

Panorama via iphone

Panorama via iphone

San Fran's Filbert Street at night

San Fran’s Filbert Street at night

Francis Ford Coppola's, Cafe Zeotrope

Francis Ford Coppola’s, Cafe Zeotrope – in San Fran

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My sis with The Simpsons, at Universal Studios

My sis with The Simpsons, at Universal Studios

Sunset views of LA's downtown

Sunset views of LA’s downtown

Tree line from Elysian Park, near Echo Park, LA

Tree line from Elysian Park, near Echo Park, LA

Farewell cake made by my husband for my sis - Raspberry baked cheesecake accompanies by prosecco topped with those red berries

Farewell cake made by my husband for my sis – Raspberry baked cheesecake accompanied by prosecco topped with those red berries