Thursday, December 15, 2011

LA Weekend: No Car, Never Better

Tacos al pastor at Los Campos Tacos
Picture this: Los Angeles with no traffic.  No driving up and down crowded streets looking for parking.  No passing on that third glass of wine in anticipation of a long drive home. Impossible, you say?  Sure it is possible.  All you have to do it leave the car behind.

Is it easy to travel around California’s most infamously traffic-clogged spread out city without the use of a car?  Yes and no.  It really depends on where you are staying and what you want to do.

It was in that spirit a couple of weeks ago John and I spent a long weekend in Venice Beach and purposefully decided to do without a car.  We were looking for a beach hotel with proximity to long, ocean runs.   We needed access to great food and some cool bars.  And everything needed to be no more than an easy walk, bike ride, or taxi away.  

Here’s how we did it.


Pork Cheeks at La Cachette Bistro
Afternoon: Arrived at the Hotel Erwin in time to watch the sun go down from our ocean view room.   Located one block from Venice’s famous boardwalk, music wafted up from the street where someone seemed to be playing Jimmy Hendrix at any hour of the day to the beat of the drum circle out by the sand. 

Evening:  Our friends picked us up for a group dinner at the consistently delicious French bistro, La Cachette, three miles north in Santa Monica.  Pork cheeks, cassoulet, tuna tartar, frisée salad, even a vegan plate for one friend all served with the utmost graciousness from the staff.  They didn’t even seem to mind we closed down the place.


Morning: Walked catty corner to the hotel for lattes, full leaf green tea, and New York Style bagels at Collage Cafe.

Afternoon: Ran up the paved boardwalk past Santa Monica pier and back.  Rewarded ourselves with tacos al pastor and jamaica at Los Campos Tacos next to the hotel- as good as any taco stand in LA. 

Tagliarini Nero with Calamari at Tasting Kitchen
Night: Walked up to Abbott Kinney, Venice’s main artery of hipster life.  Pre-dinner, The Otheroom was unusually empty.  Pulled up a stool for an AllagashWhite and a glass of French Sauvignon Blanc.  Up te street, we scored a table in the main dining room at Portland influenced TastingKitchen after only a twenty minute wait.  Feasted on gnocco fritto and burrata, escarole salad, tagliarini nero with squid, and buccatini amatriciana.  Caught a ride home with our dinner companion. 


Seared albacore with yuzu at Wabi Sabi
Morning: Round two at Collage Café plus the New York Times from Beach Market by the Marina del Rey pier.  Sunday paper was totally worth the 1.5 mile round trip walk.

Afternoon: Rented bikes and pedaled up to The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica for lunch.  The valet parked our bikes in a hidden back area.  No one seemed to mind our slightly sweaty bodies as we tucked into cappuccinos, flatbread pizzas, and towering turkey sandwiches while taking in the epic coastline view from Penthouse, the top floor restaurant.  Continued the bike ride until the sun went down.

Evening: Pretty chilly out so caught a cab ($7) to the far end of Abbott Kinney for a solid sushi dinner at Wabi-Sabi.  Sipped on gold-flecked Bunraku sake while munching on seared albacore sashimi with yuzu.


Morning: Round three of coffees, bagels, and New York Times.  Almost like we were in New York but with better weather and an ocean view.

Afternoon:  Round two of beach run plus tacos and hibiscus drink.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Fluke crudo at Gjelina
Evening: Met up with some old friends for beers at Larry’s,  a slick new beach bar around the corner from the hotel.  Perfectly empty in December, I could see how this joint with its massive tap beer list and airy rooms is probably packed during the summer season.  Caught a ride to Gjelina on Abbott Kinney.  Ignored their hour wait warning based on experience.  30 minutes and a glass of wine later our party settled into seats by a heater on the patio.  Cured meats, mushroom toast, caramelized Brussels sprouts, cheesy arugula pizza- the courses and the wine kept on coming.


Pork and Fermented Bean Curd at Mao's Kitchen
We bid farewell to Venice by shaking it up- our run was followed by lunch at the appropriately Venice-cool Chinese restaurant Mao’s Kitchen, conveniently located next to the coffee shop and across the street from the taco stand.  Dumplings and stir-fried pork with fermented bean curd hit the spot. 

We walked, we ran, we biked, and occasionally caught a ride.  Happy well-fed bellies, plenty of sunshine and open water, LA was at its best and the car was never missed. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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