A Day in Venice Beach

Many people that live in LA avoid Venice Beach for its tourist crowds and aggressive street vendors. But whenever visitors come to town, going to the boardwalk is usually their first request. Venice can still hold some charm, if you know where to go, and how to avoid the greasy, overpriced food places and giant cheesy t-shirt stores. (Although your guests will probably make you check those out, too.)

Breakfast: Flake Cafe
I actually look forward to early mornings in Venice, just so I can get a breakfast sandwich at Flake Cafe. My addiction is the Veggie Rad, an english muffin with egg whites, cheese, thick chunks of avocado, and a vegetarian breakfast sausage all smothered in their “secret sauce.” Even vegans can be satisfied with their selection, as they can try “The Happy Hippy” open-faced sandwich, and get their organic coffee with soy, rice, or almond milk.
And I can’t forget the reason that Flake carries its name. A frozen-yogurt style cereal bar gives this place a unique spin. You choose the cereal, the toppings (they have fruit, nuts and grains, and sweet treats like chocolate chips), and top it off with the milk (or milk substitute) of your choice. The decor of vintage cereal boxes adds even more personality to this spot.

Photo by Heidi and Matt

Just be sure to make it to breakfast or lunch, since Flake closes at 3:30pm every day.

513 Rose Ave, 90291
Phone: 310-396-2333
Hours: 7am-3:30pm, 7 days a week

Groundwork Cafe
Right down the street from Flake cafe on Rose Ave. is Groundwork, an organic coffee company. If you want to save your coffee craving for later, there is also a location just off the Venice boardwalk, a bit further south.
There isn’t much space to sit down, so it’s not a set-up-and-do-computer-work type of place. But the coffee is amazing, and the price is pretty good, too. They also offer a HUGE variety of milk-alternatives, my personal addiction is the help milk latte. They also offer baked goods, wraps, and breakfast food. (Try to the breakfast burrito.)

Hours: weekdays: 6:00 am – 7:00 pm
          weekends: 6:30 am – 7:00 pm
Phone: (310) 396-9469
Phone: 310 542-2706
In mid-2009, Intelligentsia opened up a new location in Venice, on Abbott Kinney Blvd. This is a good place to take the guests who are true coffee snobs, as the people at Intelligentsia are serious about their drinks. They keep the beans whole and pre-measured, and don’t grind them until you order. They use specific water temperatures for the different types of coffee and tea, and the owners hand-pick the coffee beans from the different countries of origin. The decor is not very Venice-like, it’s on the upscale side but very nice. But be warned…it is trendy and often very crowded, so don’t expect a boutique coffee experience. They handle the line very nicely, so the wait isn’t that big of a deal, but if you’re not into crowds, then I wouldn’t suggest it. But the drinks will impress the most picky coffee drinker, so try it out if you find yourself on Abbot Kinney.
Hours: 6am – 8pm    Monday – Wednesday
            6am – 11pm  Thursday – Friday
            7am – 11pm  Saturday
            7am – 8pm    Sunday  
 Phone: 310.399.1233
Take a walk on the Venice Canals
The Venice canals can offer a scenic and less-hectic attraction than the boardwalk. Fashioned after Venice, Italy by Abbot Kinney, the canals criss-cross through a neighborhood of beautiful houses, and the walkways and bridges offer solace from standard LA traffic. There are many streets that lead to the canals, but it can be a little confusing to find them. They are between Venice Blvd. and Washington Blvd, two blocks east of the ocean. You can enter them using these intersections, or click the first one to see a map:
Carroll Ct & Eastern Canal Ct, 90293
Dell Ave and Carrol Canal Ct.
Grand Canal and Court A

Check out an art gallery! Or go mural hunting.
Venice is known for its artiness, and there are lots of small galleries scattered in unexpected places. Some are in the back of clothing stores, some in hair salons, and others in back alleys. Since the galleries are often changing, check out this link for the location of some of the recent ones:  http://www.venicebeach.com/article_gallery.php
Also be on the lookout for any openings, since that often means free wine, or at least the artist explaining their pieces.
Also, Venice is littered in many murals. Some are down ally ways, some up high, and some in obvious places. (Like the graffiti walls on the beach.) If you want to go mural hunting, here’s the location of some of Venice’s classic ones. Or, you can go trolling for the lesser known. The Venice Chamber of Commerce even provides a self “walking tour” of the Venice murals, just look for it on Google. (I couldn’t upload the PDF file here.)

Lunch and Dinner:
I have always been disappointed by the lack of good food in Venice Beach. Luckily, in the last few years a couple new restaurants have opened that I actually like. Not only do they have good food, both of my favorites are also organic and offer healthy options.

Venice Ale House:
I was originally scared away by the large boardwalk crowd, but once I ate here I was pleasantly surprised. Besides the good selection of beer, (all from the Western United States to reduce shipping fuel, plus they use brewers with sustainable practices,) their food is far more than pub food.

Everything served in the restaurant is Organic, even the ketchup. The meat is also free range, and one of the owners is vegetarian so their options for veggie and vegan entrees are decently plentiful. Their veggie grilled cheese is divine, and they don’t skimp on the sauteed dark greens stuffed in between organic cheese, all grilled to perfection on fresh sourdough. Since I avoid fried foods, I was blown away by their Sweet Potato rounds. They are baked, not fried, and…I almost went crazy with happiness…they are baked in Extra Virgin Coconut Oil! Their prices are decent for a beach restaurant, averaging between $9 to $14 for an entree, and less for their ale pairing snacks.   

2 Rose Ave, Venice 90291
Phone: (310) 314-8253
HoursMonday – Sunday 12:00pm – 10:00pm


This is actually a macrobiotic vegan restaurant. I know that may sound like an automatic turn off for some people, but part of the LA experience is trying one of the many different eating philosophies that are present here. Macrobiotics uses the 5-element theory, and also fresh, organic whole foods. What I really like here are their house-made “burgers.” They are made of rice, beans, and spices, grilled and placed on a fresh chewy roll. I like the Southwest Style, which adds chipotle sauce and guacamole. Add the sweet potato fries, or try one of their killer desserts. (I like the chocolate mouse, complete with real gold flakes!) It’s about $10 an entree, which is not a bad deal this close to the water. I can’t count how many greasy meals I’ve encountered on Venice Beach for the same price. Plus, if you bring someone to share it with, a side and a burger can easily fill two people. 

Hours: 10am-9pm Mon-Sun 

Abbot Kinney Blvd. 
Abbot Kinney Blvd. is an interesting part of Venice, since it doesn’t really have the “beachy hippy” vibe. It’s a bit more “upscale,” and a lot of places I would consider out of my price range for clothes and nick-knacks. But, it’s an interesting place to go window shopping, especially because of the constantly-changing shops. I’m not sure if it’s the high rent or the lack of shoppers, but the businesses in Abbot Kinney change constantly. So I’m not going to review too many specifics, since every time I walk down Abbot everything is new. But there’s always some interesting stores, (once I saw a Smart Car showroom!) and some things work checking out. (I really like the metaphysical book store.) But there are a few Venice staples that have been around forever, and they usually have the traditional Venice vibe. So if you’re ready to eat again, check out Abbot’s Pizza. I mostly get it by the slice, since there’s just enough sitting room for me to enjoy it. My absolute favorite is the Wild Mushroom…so many wonderful mushrooms…they even have a dairy-free slice, the Salad Pizza, which is inches thick of lettuce, slices of avocado, and other goodies. And if you haven’t gotten your fill of cafes, Abbot’s Habit next door is good place to people watch. 
Also, for dessert, try Nice Cream across the street for a scoop of chocolate in a cone, or for a fancy dessert experience, try anything at Joe’s Restaurant. (How can you go wrong with Peanut Butter Mousse with Chocolate Ganache?) 

Map: Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Night Life:
Venice used to be quite the sketchy area. Although it is cleaned up for the most part, it’s still got some residual sketchiness. So if you’re planning on going out in Venice, I would not suggest the boardwalk. Most things are closed anyway, but the area by the beach is not the best at night. I try to air on the side of caution and stay away once the sun goes down, since there’s great areas nearby. I would suggest going to the bars on Abbot Kinney or Main St. Santa Monica, since both will have more people, more lights, and more patrol. There’s countless bars on Main St. (which I will review in my Santa Monica entry), and there’s often new places to check out on Abbot Kinney. If you go “First Friday” (the first Friday of every month), there will also be food trucks galore, live music, and LOTS of people.

If nothing else, find your inner hippy at the Drum Cirle!
On Saturday and Sunday, going all day is the Venice drum circle. It is on the sand off the boardwalk, and it’s easy to spot. (It’s a large crowd of people dancing and playing different kinds of percussion.) The pinnacle seems to be at sunset, which makes sense. I can’t think of many better things than dancing on the sand and watching a beautiful California ocean sunset. You can come just to dance, or bring any kind of percussion-like instrument. (I’ve seen drum sets, bongos, tambourines, sticks and tin cans, you name it.) Most people aren’t professional musicians, so I can’t say that the tempo is always right. But it’s fun and casual, and really rounds out a Venice Beach experience. 

A Day in Culver City

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Food: Govinda’s
Near Culver City, there is no better deal pricewise than Govinda’s restaurant. But the price isn’t the only reason it’s a deal, (fast food is cheap too,) it’s fresh, homemade, and very tasty. The restaurant is actually in a Hare Krishna temple on Venice Blvd. It’s served buffet style, so you get a plate and dish out your own helpings. I don’t usually like buffets, since I want only one helping, so “all you eat” adds up to one really expensive plate of food. But at Govinda’s you get the best of both worlds. You can pay by ounce or a flat buffet price, whichever is less. If you do decide to get the buffet, it still won’t break your bank since “all you eat” is only $7.50. (And only $6.50 for students!)
The food is a kind of American/Indian fusion, offering dishes from both. (I’ve had pasta with tomato sauce and veggies, dal, curry, butternut squash soup, among many others.) The variety on any given day should satisfy almost anyone. My favorite part is their salad bar. Normally, I’m always torn between getting fresh greens but wanting hot food, too, and getting both is usually pricey at a normal restaurant. So I can satisfy both cravings since it’s all included. Plus their in-house dressings are killer. (I can never decide between the tahini and the spicy peanut, so I usually choose a little of both.) Their hot dishes are really tasty as well, and even their jasmine rice is somehow amazing.
Vegans and people with allergies should be pretty well accommodated. The vegan options are labeled as such, plus it’s easy to get rice with veggies and sauce if you need a gluten free option.
Just be careful to check the time before you go, since they close between dinner and lunch every day, and they’re also closed on Sundays.
Phone: (310) 836-1269
Hours: Mon.–Sat. 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM and 5:00PM – 8:30 PM
Sunday: CLOSED
Native Foods:
I was so so excited when the M Café in Culver City turned into a Native Foods.  This is an “American” style veggie restaurant, but don’t let the veggie part deter you. The chef here is truly talented, and the food is more than filling. (I usually have to split a dish with someone.) The menu is mostly composed of soups, sandwiches, “burgers,” and rice bowls. I particularly enjoy the enchilada bowl, which is layered with marinated kale, saucy black beans, and covered in enchilada and creamy chipotle sauce. With a casual atmosphere, it’s also a nice place to have some comfort food and read a good book. At $8-$10 an entrée, it’s going to be a pricier place than Govinda’s, but for organic fare in downtown Culver City it’s still a great deal.

9343 Culver Blvd. Culver City, CA 90232

Phone: (310) 559-3601
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11AM – 10PM

Hiking? In Culver City?
Believe it or not, there is actually a hiking trail/crazy climbing stairs right in Culver City. Known as the “Culver City Stairs” (or technically named the “Baldwin Hills Overlook”) this little gem starts on Jefferson Blvd. You can park on Jefferson for free, and then just look for the sign to the park. There are two options to get to the top. The first one is the stairs. At 200+ giant stone steps, this climb makes the Santa Monica Stairs look like a casual stroll. I’m 5’4”, and for me some of these steps are at knee height. If you aren’t wheezing and sweating by the time you reach the top, then you’ve probably ran a marathon recently.
If you have knee problems, small children, of if you’re just not in the mood for such a workout…there is a second way up. Starting at the same place is a trail that winds around the stairs all the way to the top. This way is much for forgiving. Once you reach the summit (but whatever means necessary,) the view is definitely worth the sweat. A gorgeous 365 degree view affords a view of the sea from one side, and sprawling LA from another.
Park Hours: 8 am to Sunset daily
See a movie in a theater for $8?
And it’s not a matinee? That’s right, at the Culver Plaza Theaters in Culver City, the normal price for a movie is only $8. (And $6 for their matinee!) This may not be a shocking price for some out-of-towners, but in LA seeing a movie is not a cheap endeavor. The Culver Plaza doesn’t have some of the fancier frills of the other theaters…you won’t find vegan cookies or organic lattes. And they get the movies a little behind the big theaters, so you have to wait a few weeks to see the new releases. But in the days of cheap Netflix, going to the movies is a special treat anyway, and worth the wait for a half-price showing. And a bonus for me…since it’s a less expensive theater; they don’t go crazy with the air conditioning. They still have it, but I don’t have to worry about bringing my winter jacket and gloves just to be comfortable. Plus, they always have some independent and foreign films that are difficult to find. (Meaning I can get my foreign animation fix!) So check it out and make date night more cost-effective.
Hours: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: 10:00am to 11:30pm
              Monday-Thursday: 10:00am to 8:30pm
Have a drink in the historic Culver Hotel
After years of being closed, this unique building has become the symbol of the newly redone downtown Culver City. Its interesting look and cinema history (the cast of Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind stayed here!) makes this a true LA stop. Luckily, you don’t have to rent a room to enjoy the place, as they have a fully stocked bar and restaurant downstairs.
It is growing in popularity, but as of this writing it still has a mellow atmosphere, which is perfect for good conversations with friends. They even have live music some nights, and happy hour deals from 4-7pm.  (But call and check to see which happy hour deals are still current.) I love the vintage vibe, and sometimes I even like to get out my 1950’s skirts to match the mood. 
Phone: 310-838-7963 (Phone)
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday Open after 5pm
              Thursday-Saturday 5pm-2am

When all else fails, drink tea.
Over the years I’ve become quite the picky tea drinker, so any cheap green tea will do for me anymore. Luckily, at the Teaforest in Culver City, there is a wide selection of quality loose leaf teas. The choices are plentiful, so most tea requests should be easy met. (They even have a matcha green tea latte! I scour LA looking for places that serve this, and it’s hard to find.) They also have coffee and coffee drinks if that’s your style. If you’re still hungry, they also have deli-style sandwiches, even with a few veggie options.
The only thing I don’t like is the hours…if you work a 9 to 5 it might be a little difficult to get in. But if you have the chance a Saturday morning, it’s worth the stop for a hot cup of twig tea or milk tea, or simply a latte.

8686 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Phone: (310) 815-1723
Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30 am – 6 pm
               Sat 9am-2pm

The Holy Trinity of Indian Food

There are a lot of good restaurants in Los Angeles, and quite a few Indian ones. A lot of them are tasty, but I knew I had tasted the true pinnacle of flavor when I first visited these particular places. Not only is the food divine, but it’s truly affordable at $8 for a full meal. My three favorites are all connected in a way, and they’re concentrated on the west-side in the “Palms” area, and all in the Southern Indian cooking tradition. They all also have vegan/dairy free options, and gluten/free dishes as well. I’ve listed all the pros and cons, but I would suggest trying them all!
Samosa House-West

This gem is on Washington Blvd near McLaughlin. The best deal (which is the same at all three places) is the $8 dinner/lunch plate. There are usually 8 dishes that day, in hot pans that you can see cafeteria style. You get to pick three of these flavor-filled entrees, and you also get a heaping side of rice (brown or white), raita (yogurt sauce) and a side of Naan (Garlic or Plain). The dishes change daily, so be adventurous! You can’t go wrong with the jackfruit-which isn’t sweet-or the Paneer in red sauce.
A definite plus for the Samosa House is the Naan. It’s made fresh in house, you can see them rolling out the dough. It’s soft, thick, and worth it even if that’s all you order. 
Between the three Indian places, the biggest difference in this location is that it’s a full fledged Indian grocery store. (According to their website, it’s one of the biggest in Southern California.) You can find anything from mango juice to incense, giant spice containers to coconut shredders, and Indian sauce packets. It’s worth it to wander around, and the prices are very decent.

Phone: 310-398-6766   
Hours: Open 7 Days, 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM (Check website for changes)

Samosa House-East

After many years in their “west” location, Samosa House expanded and opened another restaurant a bit further east on Washington. (Right off Overland). It serves the same flavorful dishes of the other location, with the same fresh-baked Naan. The big difference is that it isn’t a grocery store as well. They’ve painted the walls bright colors and given this location a really great ambiance. I see many people stopping by for good food as they read or catch up on work. Try the smoked Cauliflower or the Veggie Korma. The location itself is obviously a “pro” or “con” depending on where you’re coming from, so check out either location for a great meal.

Address: 10700 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232  
Phone: 310-559-6350 
Hours: 7 days, 11 am – 10 pm (Please call to check changes). 


Barwarchi is located on the south-west corner of Venice and Motor, near Culver City. Look carefully or you’ll miss it, it’s in a small strip-mall where you can park. The set up is very similar to Samosa House-$8 for a dinner meal-and you get almost the same amount of food: Your choice of 3 of the dishes present, plus rice (saffron or pilaou), raita, a small salad, Naan, and a crunchy pappadum.
One big difference between either of the Samosa Houses is that there are twice as many dishes to choose from. That’s right…there’s usually 20 vegetable dishes that you can choose from. It’s smart to go in pairs or groups, so that you share among you and try as many dishes as possible. There are similar dishes to Samosa House (like the jackfruit) but with many extra (such as the grilled jalapeno dish.) And believe me, when it comes to flavor, the chef at Bawarchi truly lives up to his title of “Grand Master Chef.” Every dish is bursting with flavor, and the chef is usually around to see how you like his food.
It’s hard for me to make suggestions, since I’m in love with so many dishes there. For a beginner, definitely try the slow cooked Dal with its creamy butteryness, which has simmered in flavor for 24 hours before being served. The lotus root is also fantastic, and I have tried in vain to cook something even partially similar at home with epic failure. Both Paneer dishes are wonderful (the rich bread balls in cashew sauce are really unique), or just try whatever new dish is present at the moment.
The only downside to this place compared is that it’s quite small. I’m really hoping they expand and open the place up to accommodate more tables. Also, the Naan is very good, but I would love to see some in-house Naan in the future. I’m sure they’ll switch at some point, since Samosa House never even had Naan until recently. But this is not a stop to miss, and the great price does not mean cheap food; it’s far better than almost all the expensive Indian food that I’ve ever had.
Also, check out the website for the unique way that the food is cooked. (Hint: the pots are sealed with clay!)

Address: 10408 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232
Phone: 310-836-8525  
Hours: Open 7 days 11 am – 10 pm

Also to note: 

Very nearby to Bawarchi on Venice Blvd. is India Sweets and Spices. It does not quite have the complex flavour notes or 24-hour cooked lentils, but it is still good India food and can be even cheaper than the other three if you order the right meal. But one thing they have cornered are the Indian desserts. There are two cases full of Indian sweets, which are usually changing. So if you want to check out someplace new, or you want to get some sweets after your meal, this place is worth the walk down the street.

Address: 9409 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232-2623
Hours: Open 7 days, 9:30am to 10pm (Check website for changes.)
Phone: 3108375286

A Day in Griffith Park—Oberservatory

Once you arrive in Griffith park, it can be a very relaxing-and cost efficient-day, considering you barely have to move the car from its (free) parking space. Everything you need is right in the park, including food, coffee, cultural fun, nature, and hiking.

When you drive into the park, map out this address: 2333 Fern Dell Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068
There’s spots along the road that you can park your car in without an hourly restriction. (Except that you have to be out before sunset, that’s when they close the gates and the park.)

Lunch/Coffee at Trails Cafe:
At the address above is a cafe right in the middle of Griffith park, right next to the parking spots, appropriately named Trails Cafe. The location is great, and not just for its convenience. It’s a relaxing and unique eating experience, as the seating is all outside surrounded by the trees of the park. Living in a concrete city sprawl, this is a rare ambiance to be had in LA. But the ambiance is not the only reason I love Trails. The food is fresh and wonderful, with options for every kind of eater. They have a full spread of coffee drinks and fresh pastries if that’s all your craving. What gets my attention is their sandwiches. They are vegan and veggie friendly, tasty, and original. My favorite is the avocado sandwich. They do not skimp on the avocado, which is an inch thick and peppered with veggie bacon bits, stuffed between thick slabs of dark molasses bread. Their veggie chili is an equal favorite of mine, served with blue (yes, it’s really blue), corn bread.
Just don’t get too full, because the trail-head to the observatory is right across the road.

2333 Fern Dell Drive
Los Angeles 90068
Hours: Tues-Sunday, 8am-sundown. (Closed Monday)

The Hike:
The trail-head that leads up to the observatory is not well marked, but it’s right across from the cafe, and there’s always plenty of other hikers to ask. The trail starts from one point and splits into two directions, which both join back up at the end. One way is a bit steeper (and usually has less people), and the other is a bit more gradual, therefor more kid-friendly. If your not the exercise type, the hike isn’t that long, but it’s still a good workout for those who want it. And luckily, the trail leads right to the front door of the observatory.

The Observatory:
Although the telescope is a night activity, the observatory is a large museum with lots of things to do. Another bonus? Getting in the museum is completely free. Plus, the view of the city from its high perch is amazing, complete with a clear view of the Hollywood Sign. Once inside, it has several floors of museum activity. There’s some interactive fun, such as seeing your weight on each planet, a real-time video of the sun, and large pieces of meteorites you can touch.
If you want an extra activity to do, they have space-themed movies projected onto a dome in their theater. The prices very reasonable, at the time of this writing it’s $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and $3 for children under 12. The shows are worth it, always with a few different ones to choose from (such as an exploration of the Northern Lights set to the music of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”)
Since the California budget cuts, the museum is closed an extra day, so be careful which day you come. At this time it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Hopefully this will change back soon, budget permitting.
To check any information about the observatory, such as hours and showtimes, check their website:
This is also an excellent night visit, but I will write about the observatory as a nightcap on a different Day in LA.

Once you’ve made the hike back down to your car, my favorite ice cream place is only a few miles away. On Heliotrope, right off Melrose is Scoops ice cream. The owner makes fresh, homemade flavors every day, and he’s always whipping up something new. He has decently normal flavors for the less-adventurous, (like chocolate peanut butter or Caramel Oreo), or some crazier ones (like Yerba Mate, Guinness Chocolate, and Lavender Sour Cream). Even though some of them sound a bit too strange for ice cream, he somehow makes them all taste fantastic. And it is some of the best-priced gelato around…only $2.75 for one scoop, which is two flavors. And for any vegans (or people with dairy sensitivities), he always has a couple of dairy-free flavors, which are just as tasty and exciting.
Just make sure to bring paper money, as this location is CASH ONLY. They don’t have a website (except a blog for their art,) so please see hours and phone number below:

 712 North Heliotrope Drive Los Angeles, CA 90029
 (323) 906-2649
Hours: Mon-Sat 12 pm – 10 pm,   Sun 2 pm – 6 pm

There is also some great self-serve yogurt places very near Griffith Park, for info please see my later post on Self-Serve.

Dinner-Pure Luck:
If the hike made you hungry, and ice cream won’t fill you up, luckily there’s a restaurant directly across the street from Scoops called Pure Luck. Although the sign is hard to read, (it’s an old Korean restaurant, and the new owners kept the old sign), it is a lovely restaurant inside. Don’t let it’s vegetarian menu scare you aware, they have some really great dishes (plus organic beer and wine.) They don’t skip on spices, and the soup of the day will usually please anyone. They’re signature ingrienent is spiced “pulled pork” jackfruit, which they make into a burritos, a BBQ sandwhich, and other creative dishes. They also serve fried plantains as a side, which never fails to make me happy.
Be careful which day you go, as they are closed Sundays. Check our their website to peruse the menu.

707 N Heliotrope Dr.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 660-5993
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am to Midnight (Closed Sundays)

There are also some great South American restaurants in the area, which will be reviewed in this blog on a different Day.