Exploring LA

img_2344We often get asked what else there is to do, BESIDES Disney when in California. Generally, when we do a trip to Disneyland, that’s the main focus of our trip. We almost always do the 5 day pass. We are rope-drop-to-late-night Disney people, so typically on our days off we don’t get very far. The pool, a little shopping, or maybe a beach. We generally just want to relax and don’t get out to explore much. But if exploring is more your thing, and Disney is just a small part of your vacation, here are some ideas. 

Recently our cousin and her husband got a house big enough to welcome guests. This was the perfect excuse for us to get a chance to explore LA. It really helped having tour guides that know all the fun and unique places to go. And now I get to share all those fun places with you!

My cousin’s husband is a huge foodie, and if you know the four of us, food is a big part of the vacation experience. Who wouldn’t want to try out a new coffee shop every day? We packed as much as we could into each and every day.

Santa Barbara

The first day we did a day trip to Santa Barbara. My cousins live in the mountains above Burbank, so it was quite a drive. I couldn’t get over how BIG the greater Los Angeles area is as we usually just pass right through on the I5 to Anaheim… we’ve been missing out! So the drive to the coast took about an hour and a half. We left closer to nine in the morning to avoid the major traffic. The first stop was the Santa Barbara Zoo. It’s a great little zoo. If you have kids, I recommend it. It’s really close to the beach, so once we paid for parking, we were able to stay parked there. The zoo is small so it didn’t take too long to do the whole thing. Maybe two hours from start to finish. The main highlight for us was feeding the giraffes! The kids thought that was really great. It wasn’t too expensive ($5 per person) and made a fantastic experience for the kids. But don’t worry, you don’t just have to be a kid to do it… adults can feed them too!

After the zoo, we walked over to the beach. It was only about a 5 min walk. It was a beautiful day, perfect beach weather. It’s typically a bit cooler by the ocean but it was a warm day so it wasn’t too cold. My cousin had beach toys and blankets so it was the perfect way to spend a couple of hours. 

By this time we had gone through all our snacks and worked up quite an appetite so we Googled places to eat that were close to us. We found a highly-rated taco place which looked great. You can usually find amazing tacos in California, and it’s one food my family of four always agrees on. My husband had their poke tacos and they looked phenomenal. I think I had tacos al pastor (pork with pineapple) and chicken. Nice quick bite, we wanted to save room for some more treats. Right around the corner was an awesome Instagram spot. So naturally, we took a quick photo and went on our merry way.

It was about a 10 min drive to the heart of Santa Barbara where I immediately fell in love with the white buildings and terracotta roofs. It reminded me of some cities I’ve been to in Mexico. Everywhere I looked was a photo op and I really wish we could have explored all day. I loved the beach and the zoo, but next time I think I would spend more time in the actual city. It seemed like there was a little cafe or coffee shop on every street corner. It was such a hot day that we had promised the kids ice cream, so my cousin brought us to Creamistry where they use liquid nitrogen to freeze their ice cream to order. It was really fun for the kids to watch. 

Next up was coffee. It didn’t take very long to find a coffee shop to try. We stumbled across The French Press which looked and smelled fantastic so we popped in, and I ended up getting an Iced Espresso Shakerato. Sweet espresso shaken with simple syrup and ice. It was perfection. Then we were off to explore.

Driving in we had noticed a huge ornate building in the center of town. We decided to head over to see what it was. The building ended up being the town hall. You could walk up to the top to overlook the city. It was already getting late so by the time we walked over, it was just closing. That was a little disappointing but what can you do. There was still a lot to see so it didn’t bother us too much. Just walking around there were so many cute stores to duck into. 

Hollywood Sign

There are actually a lot of different things you can choose to do to explore Hollywood. It’s small enough that you can do a couple or all of them depending on how much time you want to spend. 

First things first… coffee. We went to a little coffee shop called Maru, which has a couple of different locations. We went to Los Feliz at 1936 Hillhurst Avenue and they had really fun and unique options. My husband got the Espresso Tonic and I had the Spiced Cold Brew. His looked prettier than mine, but I liked the taste of the cold brew better. The Espresso Tonic is one of their signature drinks, a shot of espresso over ice topped with tonic water and a slice of freeze dried orange. I am not much of a “fruity” coffee person, and tend to gravitate towards the more nuttier brews, but for some this may be right up your alley. Luckily my husband was willing to trade me for his 😉.  

Next we drove up to see the Hollywood Sign. You can’t actually walk all the way up to it, but the most popular spot is to take Canyon Lake Drive off of Barham Blvd. We parked right by Lake Hollywood Park. It had a really nice green space and kids play area if you want to pack a lunch and make a day of it. The canyon road winds up and around, so if you have anyone in your group that might not be able to walk uphill (like small children) try and find a spot closer to the top. It was quite busy when we went so that might prove to be a challenge. Take a picture and head to your next stop!

For lunch we hit up the most delicious Mediterranean street food restaurant. It started out as a food truck and was so popular they were able to open a brick and mortar location. It’s called Spitz and if you are in the area you will NOT regret going! That is if you like casual, big flavour food like we do. It’s also in Los Feliz close to Maru, so if you need a second coffee after all that fun you can hit it up for a second cup. We had the Street Cart fries with “the works” and let me tell you, they were unbelievable. Fries topped with garlic aioli, feta, cheese, onion, green pepper, tomato, olives, pepperoncinis and donair meat. YUUUUUM! We got a couple other things to share with the table: Doquitos, like a Mediterranean taquito, and fried pita strips with hummus. No regrets. This was my favourite food stop on the trip. My husband, child, and I all shared a plate and were pleasantly full. Yup, we made a stop here too, and couldn’t agree more! It was LEGIT.

Hollywood

On my trip into Hollywood with our cousin we had wanted to take the Dolby Theatre Tour, but unfortunately missed the times, so instead we went and enjoyed the Wax Museum. These normally aren’t my thing, but I had been seeing some really fun posts recently of how botched some of the celebrity wax figures can be, so we made a bit of a game of it. Most in the Hollywood museum are pretty good, but we definitely had some trouble seeing others.

My daughter, who was only 13 months at the time, really enjoyed it though (probably because it was much quieter than on the streets and also air conditioned 🙌🏻). Strollers were allowed, which was great since ours was loaded with all of our stuff and all the things that come with a toddler. Some areas were a bit hard to navigate, but it was definitely so much easier to have it.

We ended up in Hollywood right as they were setting up for The Lion King premiere which is SO fun! I didn’t even think about the fact that you could stop by Hollywood when new Disney movies are coming out… how fun would it be to be there for a movie premiere?

Some highlights for us on the main strip was finding the “Walt Disney,” “Mickey Mouse,” and “Disneyland” stars; as well as exploring some of the shops. My daughter got a Hollywood hat for $5. The Chinese Theatre is also at the end of the strip!

We also found a coffee shop that we order from and ship to Vancouver, so that was a real win! It’s called Intelligentsia, and it’s right on the main strip… and Randy’s Doughnuts was a place my husband wanted to visit.

For dessert, if you are in the Burbank area, this ice cream sandwich place was super fun! It’s called The Baked Bear and you pick your cookie, ice cream and toppings and then they press it into a gooey wonderful mess. We recommend sharing!

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Griffith Observatory

We did this on the same day as the Hollywood Sign, but there is so much to see here I think it deserves its own category. Anyone that has seen “La La Land” has I’m sure developed a desire to see the Griffith Observatory. I know it’s probably ignorant that I didn’t know it was a thing before the movie, but hey, I’m being honest. Parking is something to note here. The parking closest to the observatory often closes early due to being full and so we ended up having to park way down the hill and walk up (It’s a HIKE!). On a hot day with little children it would be a challenge. I’m not sure if a stroller is the best idea since there are a lot of different stairs and levels. Knowing what to expect helps. Other than the cost of parking, it’s a free stop. 

There was so much to see and do here; I had no idea! If you or your kids are into astronomy, this is a must. You could spend hours looking at all the different telescopes and displays. If that isn’t your thing, I still think it’s worth going. The building itself was breathtaking. And there were stunning views in every direction. And actually, if you just want a picture of the Hollywood Sign, you have a great view of it from here so you can kill two birds with one stone (that’s a horrible saying, but it just fits). 

Shopping

My favourite pastime outside of visiting Disney. Who doesn’t love to shop? We went to two notable shopping areas while we were there. The first was The Grove and the second was The Americana at Brand. 

The Grove is located at 189 The Grove Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90036. This shopping centre has more of a high-end feel. You can find shops such as Barneys New York, Crate and Barrel, J.Crew, illesteva, Michael Kors and Nordstrom to name a few.  They also have an American Girl which my daughter always loves to pop into. I was so happy to see Laduree there. It’s a Parisian boutique cafe and their macarons are to die for! Attached to The Grove is a Farmers Market. Walking around and looking at all the different foods was amazing. There were so many things to choose from but we ended up getting empanadas. No regrets! Overall, it was a fun place to look around but a little too bougie for me.  

The Americana at Brand on the other hand was my cup of tea. First off, it had a chandelier in the street. They also had a much better selection of shops and overall I just liked the feel better. I loved the large grass area in the center. People were just hanging out and there were some lawn games and blankets spread out to enjoy. Overall the atmosphere won it for me. There was even a cute trolley! 

Right around the corner there was a huge selection of food and coffee stores. My cousin took us to Eggslut and the Shake Shack for lunch. I think I mentioned it before but we are into casual dining. Nothing pretentious, just delicious food presented in a fun way. Both of these restaurants offered fun, delicious, Instagrammable food. There was also a Philz Coffee which Elisia had told me about going to one in San Francisco. It’s such a fun experience. We’ve since also been to the one in Orange County. You order your coffee directly from the barista, and you don’t pay until you’ve tried your drink. This allows for a really organic conversation about what drink you want to try. We had the rose iced coffee, and it was the best cold drink I have ever had. It wasn’t overly sweet, and had a slight rose finish. The other fave was the mint mojito. Just, yum.

The Last Bookstore is located in Los Angeles at 453 S Spring Street and it is a book lovers DREAM. But more than that, it is an Instagrammer’s dream. It is a multi-level new and used book and record store, and oh my word it was the coolest.

I could easily get lost in here, and not just because of how many books! (It had so many twists and turns and honestly upstairs had a legit maze). In multiple locations there are areas set up for photo ops, and it was honestly just the coolest. However, it didn’t have A/C so I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I could have as my body doesn’t react well to heat and we went after a long day. But it is totally worth checking out!

Art District

The Art District has a really cool vibe. The museum of contemporary art (MOCA) is right around the corner so the area is heavily influenced by local artists. This is expressed in different ways in and around the area. Including amazing murals, painted sidewalks and colourful fire hydrants. Market Row is a fun industrial shopping area (pictures above) with up and coming designers. Unique one of a kind shopping; can’t find this at the mall type of stuff.

We went to a sausage restaurant called Wurstkuche that makes the most unique and delicious blends. I had an apple-pork sausage and my husband tried rattlesnake-rabbit. I was pleasantly surprised to see a large vegetarian selection as well. They were a perfect size and had sauces at the tables to dress it up and yum. This restaurant also had a large selection of beer if that’s up your alley.

Right across the street was a place called The Pie Hole. As a fan of the show “Pushing Daisies” I had to eat here (full or not, I neeeeeeeeded that pie).

They have a nice variety of savory and sweet pies. You can purchase a whole pie, a slice of pie, or pie holes (bite sized). I like to try many different flavours so we went with the pie holes. We tried Mexican Chocolate and Earl Grey pies and both were fantastic. Check it out if you can.

Echo Park and Angelus Temple

Echo Park is a really sentimental area for us. Our parents are Foursquare pastors, and our grandparents were the inaugural Presidents of Foursquare Canada. We have a LONG history with the denomination. Echo Park is a lovely grassy area in the middle of LA; you can rent swan boats, fish, or just take a walk around the water. Fun fact, the lotus flowers that are in the water were brought over from China by Aimee Semple McPherson. That name may not be super familiar to you, but she’s actually in the old Hollywood song (the one they played in “The Great Movie Ride” at WDW). She’s the founder of the Foursquare Church.

One of the most famous buildings in LA is Angelus Temple (the history of which is too long to write about here), but basically it was built in 1923 and was the largest construction of it’s time in North America, with the first unsupported dome ever built.

The church still holds services today, and I really recommend checking out a service.
Beside the temple is the former parsonage of Sister Aimee, which is now more of a history of Foursquare / Aimee museum of sorts. They offer free tours that can be booked in advance and last about two hours. It was one of the most meaningful things I’ve experienced, maybe ever, learning about Aimee’s heart for the people of LA. Looking at the temple and parsonage you may think she just had expensive taste, when really she understood the heart of Hollywood unlike anyone else in her day. If you are around the area, I highly recommend the free tour.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier is a must do stop at least once for me. It’s just one of those spots I really recommend… AND we found mango soft serve by Dole!

Manhattan Beach

If you are staying in the LA area and type in “family friendly beaches near LA” this will be the one that pops up first and it did not disappoint. Free parking, lifeguards on duty, clean bathrooms and showers, volleyball, plus a pier. Solid beach if you are north of Anaheim. To see our favourite beaches closer to Anaheim, check out our post here.

Pastries

Yes, pastries. They deserve a category all on their own. It’s not hard to find good pastries in LA, but here are the two we visited. The first is Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. If you, like me, are obsessed with pastries, then add this to your list. They had the most beautiful flaky croissants with lots of unique flavours; sweet and savoury. The coffee was also amazing, so all around, good stop… put it on your list!

Another amazing pastry shop is called Porto’s. It’s a Cuban restaurant and they make the most delicious empanadas and pastries. My favourite was a cheese and guava pastry. The boys had to go bright and early to snag these goodies. Totally worth it!

The last notable place to mention is Dripp. It’s a coffee shop only 10 mins from the Disneyland area. So if you are doing a Disney trip, I think it’s worth checking out. Their coffee was amazing and they had tons of fun treats to try. 

What’s your favourite thing to do around LA? We’d love to hear from you!

Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle

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