Summer in Los Angeles

I’ve seen quite a few summers in Los Angeles at this point, so this year I decided to try getting off the beaten path to check out some restaurants, bars and experiences that might be hidden gems for a lot of people, and offer a different perspective on a city that never ceases to surprise me.

So here are a few of the most interesting experiences I got to have this summer (and you can see a whole video about them below, too!)

  • Shakespeare in the Park

I had no idea that Los Angeles had its own Shakespeare in the park production (as I’ve since learned, there’s more than one!) , so I was really excited to discover that the Independent Shakespeare Company puts on shows almost every night during the summer. This year’s plays were Pericles and Twelfth Night; we saw the latter, and it was delightful and funny and a great way to spend a Friday night. The plays are free (but be sure to get there early for the best seating and parking!), and you can bring your blanket, food and wine (discretely!) for a pretty magical night of Shakespeare under the stars.

  • Dine LA

Dine LA happens twice a year across the city, during which participating restaurants offer a set menu (usually an appetizer, entree and dessert) for a fixed price at lunch and dinner. I got to do Dine LA twice this summer, and each time was reminded of how nice it is to splurge on a menu โ€“ and venue โ€“ that I wouldn’t normally. Viviane in Beverly Hills offered an all-vegetarian menu including corn fritters and mushroom risotto that was to die for, all served poolside.

Mrs. Fish in Downtown LA felt like dining underwater โ€“ the whole restaurant is basically designed around a giant aquarium โ€“ and the sushi tastes just as fresh. The whole menu is an array of unexpected flavors and pairings, including the cocktails: the Kiri is a whiskey-based cherry drink served under a glass dome of smoke (it’s really hard to explain so watch the video! Just know that it smells like a campfire and was delicious.)

  • High Tide

High Tide has been on my list since it opened months ago, but I only just recently had the chance to attend for a college alumni mixer. It’s hot pink and highly-Instagrammable, but easily the coolest part is the glass-blowing that happens right out on the patio.

Speaking of Instagrammable, here are a few more of my favorite restaurants, bars and coffee shops that didn’t make the video:

  • Barnsdall Art Park

Aside from Griffith Park, most public green spaces in LA tend to be hidden gems, and Barnsdall is the epitome of this. It’s tucked away up on a hill off Sunset Boulevard, and offers a laidback place to eat and drink with friends (or pack a book for a solo picnic) as well as an art gallery, the Hollyhock House โ€“ which also offers wine tastings on Friday nights during the summer โ€“ and a panoramic view of the Hollywood sign and city below.

  • Echo Park Lotus Festival

This is my third (!) summer living in Echo Park, and I’ve made a bit of a tradition out of attending the annual Lotus Festival each July. It’s timed to celebrate the lotuses blooming on the lake, and this year attendees could make paper lanterns to float out on the water, too.

  • Outdoor movies

This is more of a general recommendation, but it definitely doesn’t feel like the official start of summer in LA until I’ve been to an outdoor movie. There are a variety of companies that host these events throughout the city โ€“ Eat, See, Hear; Street Food Cinema, and of course the famed Cinespia in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Check out the video below to see more of these places!

Los Angeles Through the Lens

IMG_20140625_201954Some people will tell you that living in LA is like living in an endless summer. And save for the occasional torrential downpour come winter time, and the often frigid nighttime temperatures, this is a pretty accurate description of life here. But then, there’s nothing quite like actual summer in LA; the golden season, the epitome of life in Southern California. Outdoor concerts, artisan food truck events, summer nights at the Getty, strolling barefoot along the Pacific by twilight; it’s a magical time of year, for sure.

As I was walking along the shores of Redondo Beach the other night with a friend, I was struck by how stereotypically Southern Californian it all was; the warm ocean water, the sandy shores, lifeguard lookout towers and sun setting out over the horizon. This was the beachy, dreamy, sun-drenched life I’d dreamed of for years in rain-soaked Oregon.

And sure, the parking ticket I picked up after the meter ran out that evening wasn’t exactly dreamy and carefree, but up until that point, everything was really quite perfect. And I’ve had an absolute blast exploring LA this summer as a semi-local, semi-tourist. Frankly, I think this sort of in-between stage is a great compromise because by this point I’ve gotten to know my way around LA–where to go and when–but I’m still always discovering new things, and can still snap away like an awe-struck tourist with little to no shame.

Since this is my first full summer in LA, and it was not especially practical for me to be anywhere else these past few months, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite shots of my Southern California summer (through the lens of my trusty Smartphone and favorite Instagram filter, of course: long live Walden!) You can check out a gallery of these below, and I’ll include the location and event in each caption. And hopefully you’re enjoying the twilight of a beautiful summer wherever you may be!

Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing more of LA through my lens, please feel free to check me out on Instagram @losangelesliv!

Chinatown Summer Nights

Whether you’re a tourist or long-time local, if you’re looking for something fun to do in LA this summer, you can’t go wrong with Chinatown Summer Nights! KCRW has been hosting its Summer Nights event series for the past five years, and the Chinatown Summer Nights event is held once a month throughout the summer.

I attended the kick-off Chinatown Summer Nights event back in June, and it was easily one of the most fun events I’ve attended in LA so far! Chinatown was absolutely gorgeous at sunset, and really came alive once the sun went down, with bright red paper lanterns and futuristic neon lights; it isn’t a wonder I took so many photos! What was cool about this event in particular was that it was part social and fun, with live music, food trucks, and vendors, but also part educational, with a lot of really cool, traditional Chinese arts and crafts.

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I would highly recommend Chinatown Summer Nights for anyone looking for an inexpensive, interesting and truly special summer night out in LA. And if you missed the June and July Chinatown Summer Nights, never fear! The final run is August 9, so mark your calendar! If you’d like to learn more about the event, go ahead and check out the little piece I wrote about it for Neon Tommy.

And just a few tips: wear comfortable shoes and bring a light jacket for the evening, make sure to have some cash on hand, and take the Metro Gold Line if at all possible, because parking is almost certain to be a nightmare!

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Oh, and make sure to bring a DSLR, or just make space on your camera phone, for some truly Instagram-worthy snaps of #ChinatownSummerNights! And thanks so much to In the Heart of the City for featuring my Chinatown Summer Nights Instagram over on their Instagram (below) and Tumblr!

Summer Solstice at Griffith

IMG_20140621_194648As this is my first full summer in Los Angeles, I’m making a point to do all of the quintessential LA summer activities, no matter how tired or touristy. To be honest, I consider myself to be something of perpetual tourist; no matter how long I’ve lived somewhere, I still love trying to find new adventures, and I take pictures pretty much everywhere I go. So when the summer solstice rolled around, and I had a friend visiting from out of state that same weekend, I knew we had to head up to Griffith Observatory to take in the longest day of the year.

Sure, I knew everyone else in the city would probably have the same idea, and parking would be an absolute nightmare (and it pretty much was,) but I’d never been to Griffith at sunset, and I’ll do anything for photo opportunity (and believe me, this was a photo opportunity!)

After trekking roughly a mile uphill from our parking spot, we arrived at the Observatory right at Golden Hour. It was crowded, but there was still plenty of room to move around on the lawn and take in the view from the patio and the upper decks, and the museum was open and free (as always.) The only noticeable delay was the rather long line to peek through the telescope so we decided to skip that.

DSC_1073But the view from the platform deck offered a stunning panorama for literally hours as the sun set. Everywhere we looked–from the Hollywood sign, back lit with the fiery, summer solstice sun, to the glittering Downtown skyline, from the cotton-candy clouds to the endless miles of crawling boulevards that seemed to stretch straight into the sky–it seemed as though all of LA was celebrating the solstice, too.

The evening was, without a doubt, memorable, and served as a reminder not to listen to people who have fallen out of love with this City of Angels. Despite the traffic, the taxes, the tourists and the smog, Los Angeles more than makes up for its flaws with a wealth of riches, with stunning sunsets and beaches, palm trees and truly warm, diverse, interesting people, with good vibes in the air and adventure around every corner. And at this time in my life, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Weekend Travelogue: San Francisco

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About to start the trek up to Fort Mason to see the sun set over the Golden Gate.

Somehow, I’d managed to live in California for two years without visiting the City by the Bay, or even the Bay Area, for that matter, so I jumped at the chance recently to take a weekend trip to San Francisco with friends.

A friend of mine from back home in Oregon mentioned once that San Francisco was a happy medium between Oregon and Southern California; palm trees and nightlife and great shopping, but a little more greenery and a lot less pollution. And it’s true; San Francisco is quite different from any other major West Coast City.

Right off the bat, it was immediately clear that the public transportation is far better than Los Angeles. It’s also sunnier (if not quite warmer) than Seattle, more urban than Portland, and even more expensive than L.A. (which I honestly wasn’t sure was possible.) But once I got past the $40 overnight parking, $6 soy lattes (at a Starbucks!) and sneaky city taxes and fees that seemingly get slapped onto every purchase, I was able to have a truly incredible weekend in San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point

The Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point.

Now, I know many people who have left their hearts in San Francisco, so I don’t think I need to reiterate what’s already been said about all of the city’s virtues and must-see destinations. We ate bread bowls of chowder at the Fisherman’s Wharf, ventured to Ghirardelli Square for dessert, strolled around Union Square, took a trolley ride up and down the city hills, and paid a visit to the “Painted Ladies” of Full House fame. And of course, took countless tourist photos in front of the iconic the bridge.

Sure, at the end of the day, the Golden Gate Bridge is just a bridge, but there’s just something about it, I have to admit. We were able to catch a glimpse of it from both Fort Mason and Fort Point on two separate days, and I would honestly recommend both vantage points, though Fort Point offers you the most up-close-and-personal experience possible without actually driving over the bridge (which we didn’t do, as it runs north from the city and requires a toll to get back into San Francisco.)

As cliched as some of these destinations may be, I have to admit they’re time-tested for a reason; there isn’t a single activity we did in our three days in San Francisco that was the least bit underwhelming or disappointing. We really lucked out with beautiful weather, and nowhere we visited was excessively crowded, despite it being Memorial Day Weekend. There were, however, some highlights, which I highly suggest checking out for anyone planning a trip to SF anytime soon:

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The “Full House” houses (and a stunning cityscape) at Alamo Square.

Alamo Square: Home to the Painted Ladies, come to get up close and personal with the Victorian town homes made famous in the opening credits of Full House, and stay for the breathtaking 360 degree views of the city, stunning architecture and gorgeous sunset (if you arrive in the evening, as we did.) Golden Hour here was absolutely awe-inspiring and so peaceful for such an urban environment, with sunlight peeking through the weeping willows, couples picnicking on blankets, dogs running around the park, and twilight slowly enveloping the San Francisco skyline.

Fort Point: You know those great pictures everyone takes right in front of the Golden Gate Bridge? This is where they come for them. You can stand literally right under the bridge, or you can hike a short trail lined with wildflowers to reach that perfect photo op with the bridge, hills and sparkling bay in the background. A short hike down from the bridge, you’ll also find biking paths, a pier, a beach, and recreation area for picnicking and barbecuing. Fort Point was colorful, scenic, and nothing short of an urban oasis.

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Bi-Rite Market and Creamery (across the street) are must-do’s in San Francisco!

Bi-Rite Creamery: Bi-Rite Creamery was suggested as a can’t-miss by a foodie friend, and for such a hole-in-the-wall ice cream shop, it certainly has a sizable and loyal fan base. The line was out the door when we arrived just before closing around 9:30 pm, and with its fresh, artisan ice cream, tasty baked goods, and friendly staff, it isn’t hard to see why Bi-Rite is a hit with tourists and locals alike.

Twin Peaks: Head down Market Street and away from the city center to reach the best view in San Francisco: Twin Peaks. Up here, you can see for miles and miles, all the way down Market Street, to the Golden Gate Bridge, and everywhere in between. It’s truly breathtaking at any time of day, and proved to be the perfect way to end such a scenic three day jaunt to the City by the Bay.

View more of my San Francisco photography over on my Flickr.