This is the start of a California series of blogs that will end with the unfortunate tale of how I broke my wrist in Santa Barbara over Christmas vacation, but the story begins in the Hollywood area with a stroll down memory lane. While my actual trip was December 2013, the memories of California go back further than that.
To give some background on my California experience, my love/hate relationship with Hollywood goes back to 1998. I moved to Los Angeles from Austin after finishing school at the University of Texas. With dreams of making it big as a Hollywood producer, I convinced my roommate that her Accounting degree would translate well in La-la land. And together, we lined up a three-month house-sitting gig in Culver City where we played hard and faxed out a lot of resumes. The first job that I secured was as a receptionist at a super shady, independent production company in Santa Monica. My weekly $250 paycheck bounced regularly, but I loved living in California. I was refreshed every morning walking down the Promenade and loved living near the beach. I also happened to enjoy the company of the runner/errand boy, a Mr. David Tepper.
When our house-sitting gig was up, my roommate, Becky, and I secured a one-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood where the living room became my bedroom. It was an interesting and amazing time. Eventually we upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment with the help of adding Dave to the lease much to the surprise and dismay of our families. For a long time, we were the three amigos in everything that we did. But eventually the time came when living as a couple with a third person did not work, and so we separated. Becky’s Accounting degree actually took her very far and she moved out on her own (she still lives there today). We found our own place near Marina del Rey. And, we lived there for years before deciding that the Hollywood life was not for us long-term.
There are things that I deplored about California – most of them related to working in the Hollywood system. It can be an insincere, shallow, political, sometimes nasty business. Though there were also great perks too – mainly living in California. We love, LOVED living near the water and the mountains. And, the weather is amazing. But, the cost of living was high in California and we realized that our career aspirations would be achieved more swiftly in a smaller market. So we actually moved to Austin together, and I returned to Texas with a boyfriend in my truck this time.
While I do not miss working in Hollywood, I do miss the California lifestyle. Luckily, we get to return a few times a year to visit Dave’s family. His immediate family lives in Orange County and his grandfather lives in Walnut Creek, near San Francisco.
This December, our most recent trip was special because, in addition to Christmas in Orange County, we also drove up the coast to Santa Barbara for the wedding of Dave’s sister. Rather than fly into John Wayne Airport, we decided to fly into LAX and rent a car. This allowed for us to take a little trip down memory lane to some of our old hangouts. And on this visit, I was not interested in the finest dining or the newest hot spot. I was much more interested in the vintage Hollywood atmosphere that you can’t find anywhere else. The classic spots that have stood the test of time and have a history all their own. These are by no means the best places for food and drinks at all, but if these walls could talk, there would be some scandalous tales I am sure.
We were not able to go to as many places as I was hoping, but a quick drive through Hollywood is always fun. If you go to Hollywood, I think it is worth it to get a fun car, maybe even a convertible, because there is so much to see even from the inside of a vehicle. And if you have an interest in classic Hollywood stops then perhaps some of these ideas will make it into your travel itinerary as well.
Here are some of our favorite nostalgic LA hangouts:
The Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax
A meeting ground for the Hollywood community since the 1930s, it is now surrounded by the posh shops of The Grove. But take a step back in time when you enter the Original market. It’s not primarily a vegetable market but rather a bustling bazaar of food stalls and international-themed restaurants. Walt Disney is said to have designed Disneyland while sitting at a table here, and James Dean ate his last breakfast here before his untimely death. The catchphrase “Meet me at 3rd and Fairfax” was long ago popularized as shorthand for the market as a go-to spot, and you’ll still find old-timers gathered around tables playing cards and kibitzing.
Pink’s Hot Dogs in Fairfax
A Hollywood legend, this hot dog stand has won numerous awards for their famous hot dogs. Located by the corner of La Brea and Melrose, the line around the corner is usually unmistakable. There are other locations that might be a little nicer, but this is the ORIGINAL Pink’s. With walls of photos of Hollywood celebrities that frequent the establishment, as well as photos that depict the evolution of Pink’s through the ages, it is an iconic stop where you can expect a wait of about 30 minutes or more during peak hours.
Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood
This funky hangout is as popular today as it was when it first opened in 1920. Take a look at their humongous menu and not only will you find about a million different things to eat and drink, you’ll read stories of its most famous patrons, including Marilyn Monroe. She would make a point of coming here for the chili throughout the years and was here often during the filming of “Some Like It Hot.” (And apparently she did.)
Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Blvd.
A prized hangout for Hollywood aristocracy in the ’40s and ’50s housed in a former trolley car. The brooding film noir-esque interiors are famous for their iconic deep red Chinoiserie booths (you might recognize them from the film LA Confidential; the Lana Turner scene), while eye-catching black-and-whites of famous former patrons hark back to Formosa Café’s own gritty past as a clandestine locale for many an illicit Hollywood affair. Throw back a Mai Tai or Singapore Sling to really get into the scene.
Canter’s Deli in Fairfax
Canter’s Deli is a Jewish-style delicatessen, opened in 1931, in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, California, near the border of West Hollywood. It has been frequented by many notable movie stars and celebrities. The restaurant has continued to serve traditional Jewish food items, including: lox and bagels, corned beef, matzoh ball soup, or challah.
Randy’s Donuts near LAX
You can’t miss this famous LA dessert haunt as it’s just about the least subtle thing in this show town. The giant donut is a familiar sight to those on the way to or from Los Angeles International Airport. It’s made cameos in movies and been around since 1952. Strawberry jelly filled and chocolate raised donuts are on the ‘menu’ and make a delightful accompaniment to a cup of coffee. Or you can just stand there in awe of the giant donut (you wouldn’t be the first).
The Dresden in Los Feliz
Perhaps not as well-known for its dining options as it is for its lounge scene, The Dresden has provided entertainment (and some grub) to generations of Angelinos. It was first opened in 1954. The ‘cool cat’ pad has appeared in movies like Swingers and The Two Jakes. Jazzy duo Marty and Elayne can still be seen there drawing a crowd. The lovebird lounge lizards–who started playing there in 1982–are practically synonymous with The Dresden.
The Apple Pan
In addition to being one of Los Angeles’ oldest continuing operating restaurants (since 1947), The Apple Pan is notable for its hamburgers and apple pies served with vanilla ice cream. It consists of a single, U-shaped counter surrounding the central food preparation area. National Geographic recently bestowed the title of “Best Burger in America” on the L.A. classic Apple Pan.
Greenblatt’s Deli on Sunset Blvd.
This ancient (in LA terms) West Hollywood delicatessen has been going strong since 1926. Unfortunately, so have the prices. But–some might argue–their enormous, chunky pastrami sandwiches are well worth it. The funny thing is, their wines are often a steal. So, all in all it balances out. Besides, some of the chompers that have made their way through those massive sandwiches belonged to none other than Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio and Groucho Marx.
Founded in 1948, In-N-Out Burger is a regional chain of fast food restaurants that started in Southern California. And while the chain has expanded to other states, there is no place better for a fast food burger.