The more time that I spend in Los Angeles, the more I'm convinced that the Westside is the best side. On this last visit, I didn't leave the Westside -- specifically Santa Monica and Venice -- but one time. It was purposeful. The last few trips I've spent a ton of time in Ubers trying to get around the city. (Like there's no bopping over to downtown for a quick lunch here. It's a day trip.)
I'm lucky that my brother and his fiance live in in Santa Monica, and are extraordinarily generous in letting me stay with them. (Never leave the beach please, Ryan and Jason!)
So I know it's a bit of a bubble. (And I also know there's a long and complicated history surrounding development, preserving these communities' spirit as tech money has come in, and a lot more to the story.) But for the purpose of this post, I'm sharing my experiences through the eyes of a visitor.
That said, I spent a ton of time exploring and honestly, I'm in love with what I found, especially in Venice. Here are some of the highlights:
Shuhari Matcha Cafe (1522 Abbot Kinney): Located on Abbot Kinney, Shuhari Matcha Cafe just celebrated its first anniversary. Shuhari deconstructed means "To savor centuries of tradition" (Shu); "To shake things up, break the rules" (Ha), and "To achieve independence and a new sense of creativity" (Ri). Part retail boutique, part tea shop, Shuhari specializes in selling the best Japanese matcha teas.
All the teas are served unsweetened, with a little sugar bar if one wants to doctor it up. I found myself making multiple trips back to try as much as I could. Among the items I tried: matcha latte, matcha sparkler (with their house made sparkling water), matcha ice cream, and one matcha macaroon. All are made with actual matcha, and were amazing. The atmosphere doesn't hurt either. The shop has a huge open window looking out on Abbot Kinney (the perfect Instagram location -- see above), and a lovely outdoor courtyard.
Gjusta (320 Sunset Ave.)
Bon Appetit called Gjusta "The modern day version of the Chocolate Room in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory." That just about sums it up. Sister restaurant to the Venice staple and the see-and-be seen Gjelina, Gjusta can be an overwhelming experience. If you can find it (it's unmarked and in what was once a residential neighborhood) and figure out how to order (pull a number and take a spot in line) and find a table outside, you're in for a treat.
I had the house-cured salmon with Gjusta-baked rye and homemade limeade. Well worth fighting the crowds for this meal.
Gjelina (1429 Abbot Kinney)
What can be said about Gjelina that hasn't been said? The California-Mediterranean restaurant has been a hotspot since its opening in 2008. Its vegetables, at the center of its menu, are spectacular. Pictured here is the peach burrata. You will want a reservation if you can get one. And if you're lucky, snag a seat on the airy patio. Often named one of the best restaurants for celebrity sightings, don't be shocked if you see someone like, say, Prince Harry or Natalie Portman. Both have been spotted there.
With six restaurants across Los Angeles, Cafe Gratitude served amazing vegan food. And the best part? All the dishes are named after a descriptive, inspiring adjective. So when I ordered a veggie bowl with garnet yams and sea vegetables called "Whole" I had to say "I Am ... Whole." And my watermelon spritzer was called "Wonderful." "I Am Whole and Wonderful!" And it was delicious.
The shopping ... oh, the shopping. It's so good that it could be the subject of an entire publication. Ducking into shops along Abbot Kinney is a visual delight. From the top:
The Grow Store (1136 Abbot Kinney): It's a gardening shop! It's a gifts emporium! It reminds you why the rest of the country looks to LA for design inspiration. The outdoor shop is filled with sweet vignettes -- lawn chairs and dream patio set-ups that will bed you to sit down and imagine if your backyard was that cool. Don't have a backyard? Snag a cheeky gift, like this desk sign below, which literally made me laugh out loud.
Adidas Originals (1349 Abbot Kinney): So one day as I was walking along Abbot Kinney, I was lured into an Adidas shop, where I found a wonderland of classic kicks and an entire dream wardrobe of athleisure wear. As I grabbed my phone to share snaps I was summarily ushered out of the store because it wasn't opened yet. Ooops. Later I went back for the grand opening, complete with a DJ spinning and the unveiling of the brand's new NMD collection. I think I could live in and wear nothing but products from this store, which is sort of the point. "Which ones are for running?" asked one customer to a sales assistant. "None of them," he replied. That's my kind of shoe.
Scotch and Soda (1340 Abbot Kinney): For Christmas, I got my brother a gift card to this store. When I called I asked if I could order clothes online. "Um, no." Which isn't true BTW. Yet my thoughts on them turned around when I ducked into the shop. Based in Amsterdam, Scotch and Soda sells the perfect mix of upscale casual, mixed in with the unexpected. I came home with a lovely dream of a skirt I will be wearing in Italy soon.
Tortise General Store (1208 Abbot Kinney): From their site: "Wife and husband team, Keiko and Taku Shinimoto, who moved to Los Angeles via Tokyo in June, opened Tortoise in October 2003 and Tortoise has been dedicated to introducing and exhibiting works by Japanese artists, or artists using traditional Japanese techniques." Home goods from kitchen to desktop fill this store. I was particularly taken with the beautiful selection of Tenugui (Multi Purpose Cotton Cloths) by KAMAWANU pictured below.
Open The Kimono (1510 Abbot Kinney): laughed when I saw the name of this store, because it reminds me of one of the corniest phrases I've heard in business. But it's a smart name for a shop! They sell luxury handmade kimonos ($275+). While I'm not in the market for a luxury handmade kimono, they sure are pretty to behold.
Two special call outs here. One, the Tom's Flagship Store (1344 Abbot Kinney). I was impressed by how many shops had outdoor spaces where they seemed to encourage people to sit out in the 72 degree weather and just be Conversation, co-working, whatever -- its like shopping is a side activity to these spots. AFAR calls Tom's "less of a shop and more of a grownup Little Rascals clubhouse." Also everyone is gorgeous and they sell these whimsical only-in-Venice Venice patterned Tom's. I showed great restraint in passing these up, but aren't they adorable?
Another flagship on Abbot Kinney is newer to the street -- Asa's Kaftan's. I had no idea of the back story when I walked in, and just learned it a few weeks later. Its owner, Asa Soltan Ramiti, is the star of a reality show called "Shahs of Sunset." She's also married to Jermaine Jackson Jr. I just knew that I was into these lovely short and full-length kaftans. Like the kimonos, they were a bit too rich for my price tag. But I did purchase one gold turban, which I'd actually been thinking about for a while. Modeling one of the longer kaftans is a lovely store associate whose name I think is Amber.
Ceremony Meditation (417 Rose Avenue): Can I tell you about the time that I went to grab my shoes and nearly knocked down an entire gorgeous corner of a lovely Venice meditation studio? Sure did. Aside from my brother screaming "Erin, watch out!" while I reached for my gold Birkenstocks, Ceremony Meditation was the perfect place to relax. We took a meditation class with a gentleman named Peter Opermann, who (from Ceremony's site, "left a promising engineering career in Germany to follow his spiritual path and started a business based on the concept of mindfulness at the workplace." Peter led us in a meditation class called "Meet Your Future Self." It was totally relaxing and I think I met my future self. Happy to report she wears kaftans and lives in Venice and has a super sweet outdoor living space. Can't wait to invite you over to meet her!
Also, Ceremony's boutique is filled with lovely candles and shirts like the one below and crystal infused everything. (Side note: this is way better than what I used to do on vacation, which was drink all of the wine.) Mindfulness for the win.
StretchLab (512 Rose Ave.)
Right across from Ceremony Meditation is the most amazing place on the face of the earth. A place where trained therapists stretch you. That's right, there exists a place where you can pay to have people stretch your aching body. As someone who deals with ongoing chronic pain issues, it was a blessing after getting off a cross-country flight. It works like this: clients choose 20,30,40 or 60 minute stretching sessions. You tell your therapist about areas of concern, and lay back. They are trained in what's called "proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching" -- basically assisted stretching that allows the muscles to release. I first experience PNF as part of two recent rounds of physical therapy, and think it's brilliant there's a place to go without say, having to be rear ended to access this care. Prices are reasonable ($47 for a 40 minute stretch).
My therapist's name was Jennifer. A native of Rome, Georgia (of course I found the only other Southerner on Rose Avenue), she's a massage therapist and yoga teacher (with a Master in Yoga, which is so cool). Can't say enough about how delightful she was -- and how great I felt after.
The birthplace of modern skateboarding (see: Dogtown and Z-Boys) Venice is now home to a $2.4 million skatepark. Situated on prime beach spot property, it's packed on weekday afternoons and weekends. Situated right off the Venice Boardwalk, it's the perfect place to people watch. Can't make it out there? The skate park streams live video. California dreaming indeed.