As an avid traveler whose “been there, done that,” I’m always looking for that off-the-beaten path adventure, even in the most commonly visited cities. Take Los Angeles, there’s the infamous Hollywood sign in Griffin Park, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach- check, check and check. I’m certain there are plenty of unique spots to be found in Los Angeles, but this post won’t be about them. Rather, with only 48 hours for fun, we took on Los Angeles with a local’s approach to show you the most essential tourist sites we explored while experiencing a microcosm of that authentic Cali lifestyle.
WESTWOOD VILLAGE & SANTA MONICA
Our starting point was Westwood Village, which used to have a major nightlife scene in the 70’s and 80’s. Having been previously overlooked, it is now one of the up and coming neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Westwood Village has been revived with a new focus on the arts—hosting UCLA performing arts events and even boasting free one-month’s rent to creative types (we even stumbled upon an Angry Birds premiere while there)! We chose to stay here because of its walking proximity to UCLA, where we were attending the Art & Olfaction Awards as Finalists for our Cod Wild Beach Rose fragrance.
Westwood Village is conveniently located between Beverly Hills and Santa Monica and is a 10-15 minute Uber ride to some major tourist sites like the Getty Museum and Rodeo Drive. Since we arrived at 3pm on Friday, we were just in time for a late lunch and happy hour. With Los Angeles renowned for its authentic Latin and Hispanic cuisines, we settled on a quaint, family-run Brazilian spot called Mesa Brazilian Eatery. Don’t be fooled though, it might look similar to one of those hole-in-the-wall, take-out spots you would be quick to overlook, but everything is made-to-order with only about a ten minute wait. Seriously, the food is worth it.
The hubby and I both ordered the grilled chicken bowl, which comes with rice, fried plantains, black beans, collard greens and pico de gallo on the side. The chicken was so tender and flavorful. Just when we thought the food could not get any better, we spiced up our meal with the Mesa Brazilian specialty sauce and surely it took our food to a whole other level of flavor.
We were also recommended the most amazing Guava fruit juice authentic to Brazil to accompany our meal. All in all, this place is definitely a great lunch alternative to the so-called “authentic” Mexican chains like Chipotle.
Our first tourist spot was happy hour drinks in Santa Monica. Given how beautiful the weather was outside, we decided to take a walk down the famous Santa Monica Pier, and it was the perfect picturesque late afternoon. As I walked down the Pier, I wondered how all the local folks were out and about on the beach, or fishing, or just casually hanging out at 5 in the afternoon. In New York you’d be looking at another 2 hours of work, at the least, but not here it seemed.
Seriously though, how is everyone at the beach!?!?
We grabbed drinks at The Craftsman Bar and Kitchen, which reminded me a lot of a New York-styled speakeasy on the inside…dimly lit, low, worn couches, with outdoor seating, perfect for experiencing that amazing LA weather. This place is top-notch for people watching especially as the bar seemed like the hub for post-work drinks with co-workers exemplified with the crowd of people in business attire that surely filled the place up.
I had their Bee’s Knees cocktail, a sweet mix of vodka, lemon juice and honey — it was so fresh and yummy that a second round was a must. Their happy hour is very generous, $5 for cocktails, $3-$4 for beers, every day from 4-8pm, something almost unheard of in a trendy spot in New York. We sipped while seated outside, people watching and seeing the sun go down over the Pier.
The hubby was in the mood for some spontaneous shopping, so we walked down to the Santa Monica Promenade. We happen to come on the perfect weekend, because the entire long Promenade was enlivened with lavender, fluorescent blossoms from the Jacaranda tree. As it was Friday, there were multiple cultural troupes dancing, practicing, and singing. It was a perfectly blissful night.
Hammer Museum and Rodeo Drive
The next day was the day of the awards, but we had the entire morning and afternoon to ourselves. The hubby and I met up to attend the new AIX Scent Fair, which was located at UCLA’s Hammer Museum. There, we discovered some emerging niche fragrance brands including Maison Anonyme with its first collection titled, Eaux d’ Artifice, which was coincidentally enough the work of my friend, and fellow perfumer, Chris. Chris and I had met back at our Perfumer’s World Fragrance Workshop in Thailand in 2014. It was so great to see him and catch up, and smell his collection of rich and voluptuous scents. I also had the pleasure to get to know Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors, a brand whose fragrances are each based on layered narratives, just like the scents themselves. I sniffed my way through Tigerlily Boutique’s thoughtfully curated collection of best-sellers (if you’re ever in SF, they’re a fantastic boutique for purchasing niche fragrances), and I was particularly taken by the fruity note in Nobile 1942’s Anonimo Veneziano fragrance, and Italian love story of sweetness and sophistication, created by perfumer Marie Duchene.
After an overdose of sniffing, we were both deliriously hungry and the hubby was dying to give In-and-Out burger another shot. He has long pitted the two infamous coastal burger chains of NY’S Shake Shack and Cali’s In-and-Out just as most Californians and New Yorkers do. As a New Yorker, he had inclinations to Shake Shack’s signature flavor but he decided to give In-and-Out another shot, at least give the West Coast a chance to redeem itself. But, truly the flavor and restaurant experience was unmatched to that of Shake Shack’s level.
The glitz and glamour of the Los Angeles air got us in a shopping mood, so we hopped in an Uber and made our way to Rodeo Drive, a 2-mile palm tree-lined stretch of the most luxurious brands in the world and their ultra decadent shops to match. The way to do Rodeo Drive like a local is to actually do some shopping! Even if that Cartier watch is a bit pricy for your taste, go on into the stores and browse, try things on, and maybe you’ll actually find something special to take back home to remind you of your Los Angeles trip. It’s also one of the only places in the country where you’ll see so many pimped out, luxury cars revving their engines, each one trying to outdo the other (think bright yellow Bugatti’s with matching yellow rims and velvet wrapped Bentley’s).
Since we’re all about scented memories and traveling through scent, we were immediately drawn into the brand new Penhaligon’s store—the scented air fluttering out the door was begging for us to come in. The entire store is just precious. Penhaligon’s has been around since 1870, and it shows. Every single meticulous detail has been thought of. The bottle packaging is superb from the intricate designs and colors of the hand-placed labels, each one telling a different story for each individual scent to the classic footman’s handle ribbon hand-tied around each bottle’s neck. Hubby was drawn to the grooming products, and happened to have found a scent he enjoyed so we bought a couple of items in that “flavor.” Even though Penhaligon has 142 years on us, we’re not shy about learning from the older and wiser (and doing some recon at that). In all seriousness though, I would highly recommend checking out this shop. It truly is an experience and the sales staff is extremely knowledgeable. I especially loved the fragrances story based on Turkish Hammams — how divine.
Right at the intersection of Rodeo and Dayton, there’s a female torso statue that you may recall from a scene in Pretty Woman. This is where Rodeo Drive splits off into a short, uphill faux-European cobblestone street—the architecture of the buildings, the outdoor restaurant seating, the golden lined store doors, and the sun beaming on us instantly brought me back to a lovely trip to Capri Island. It’s touristy for sure, but you can’t help but love it.
Just at the top of it we spotted a terrace with lovely outdoor seating (208 Rodeo Restaurant) and we decided to pop in and get some drinks. I had a deliciously (strong) lychee martini and the hubby had a whiskey neat. It was the perfect elegant setting for cocktails and chatter before Awards night. If you’re looking to hit up a tourist site or two in your limited time in LA, I encourage you to skip Hollywood and instead take a stroll on Rodeo Drive. It’s not kitschy/tacky, and you can do stroll leisurely, see all the shops, and even grab lunch and a cocktail in just 2 hours (more if you want to do some serious shopping damage).
That night we got dressed to attend the Art & Olfaction Awards at the Hammer Museum in UCLA.
If you’re not familiar with these awards, they were started in 2014 by Saskia Wilson-Brown under the umbrella of the Institute of Art and Olfaction. These awards are only open to independent, artisan and experimental perfumers from around the world. This year, we were informed, there were submissions from over 26 countries worldwide. Unlike the Fifi awards, which are predominantly for mass/commercial brands, finalists and winners of the Art & Olfaction Awards are chosen in a double blind competition by a pool of judges from the perfumer and creative industries.
This year’s fete was emceed by Zackary Drucker, associate producer of the show Transparent, in the beautiful courtyard at the Hammer Museum, which was lit up in purple lighting with a view above at the clear sky. It was stunning and beautifully orchestrated. Watch the video as they announce us as a finalist here: Finalists Announced
Our Cape Cod Wild Beach Rose was not only a finalist but a fan favorite. It was a treat watching people smell it at the exhibit ooohing and ahhhing of how it reminded them of the beach and their memories on the Cape. All in all it was a lovely event, and it was such a pleasure getting to meet veterans in the niche fragrance industry like Andy Tauer and Sarah Horowitz.
Following the awards, we went out for a late celebratory dinner at The Little Door in West Hollywood. If there’s one restaurant you must go to while in Los Angeles, especially with a significant other, this is it. You can barely see the entrance, it’s this little wooden door (pun intended) that when opened, takes you into a French countryside indoor/outdoor candle-lit hideout overgrown with lush greenery… it’s absolutely magical. It’s no wonder this place is rated as the most romantic restaurant in Los Angeles, and a frequent date spot for the Hollywood elite. There’s nothing like it in New York, which made it even more special. They are also farm-to-table, and use seasonal ingredients, which we love. We went with the Chef’s Selection Prix-Fixe menu, and honestly, everything we ordered was so tasty that I forgot to take pictures. For the more bistro, laid back, economical version of The Little Door, check out Little Next Door, which is conveniently located next door!
Next time you’re in Los Angeles on business or just for a weekend getaway, consider hitting up some of these oldie but goodie spots. We promise, they won’t disappoint.
What are your favorite places to visit when you’re in Los Angeles? Check out our Malibu Honeysuckle scent, which will transport you to the tranquility of this surf site, blended with the warmth of the sun and sweet jasmine and honeysuckle.