Our visit to Los Angeles over Thanksgiving reminded me of how fortunate I am, how grateful I feel… And how much there is to see and do in this megalopolis. Since our two boys both play soccer year-round, and we have family in the area, we find ourselves in SoCal frequently throughout the year. Anytime we travel, our goal is to maximize our time and to expose our boys to local culture and sites.
The great thing about LA is that there is so much variety—in culture, in design, and in options for food, entertainment and shopping. The not-so-great thing is that this vast city is so spread out—often plagued by traffic—so you have to drive everywhere to get anywhere. But timed correctly (I rely on the Google Maps app), experiences can be enjoyable while enriching.
It could take a lifetime to get to know the neighborhoods and cities that make up the Greater Los Angeles Area. (For the purposes of this article, I will include portions of Orange County, even though, I know… the OC is separate from LA.) We have spent a good amount of time over the years with our family going to our favorite locales while also discovering new places to enjoy.
SOUTH BAY BEACHES
Beach towns line the Pacific coastline, each with its own vibe. Although we’ve enjoyed others, such as affluent Santa Monica in LA County and artistic Laguna Beach in Orange County, we have spent most of our time in the “South Bay” (what locals call the beaches at the south end of the Santa Monica Bay in LA County). A paved bike path, called The Strand, runs along much of the shoreline for easy access between the beach communities.
Architecture and design in these beach communities are set facing an expansive ocean vista. The weather is great most of the year and the climate allows for indoor-outdoor living, an active lifestyle, and stylish casual attire.
- Manhattan Beach has a trendy, lively atmosphere with upscale restaurants and shops. A 3 1/2-mile wood chip greenbelt trail connects it to mall shopping (Manhattan Plaza, The Point and Plaza El Segundo) on the north end, extending through Hermosa Beach to the south.
- Hermosa Beach provides a quaint atmosphere of locals with yoga studios and shops, cafés and natural foods.
- Redondo Beach has a family-friendly, surfer vibe with a large stretch of sandy beach and a swimming lagoon. Fresh seafood, shops and carnival games are found at the Pier, with boats at the marina and stand-up paddlers and seals in the harbor.
Beach Cafés and Restaurants
Fresh food, attentive service and a well-designed atmosphere are the elements essential to quality restaurants and cafés. I feel drawn to those which provide authenticity, but not may also bring a contemporary twist. Quality, fresh ingredients are a must.
Two Guns makes great espresso drinks and quick breakfast options. Paciugo is a franchise location that has several all-natural gelato options and makes a nice cappuccino. Japonica provides a modern Japanese experience beyond typical sushi with izakaya (small plates) and kunsei (smoked food).
Residential Beach Architecture
The South Bay has an abundance of beautiful homes either along the Strand, which directly faces the ocean, or within the community with ocean views. Single lots tend to be narrow, so some are constructed utilizing multiple lots. Although there are plenty of “beach shack” homes intermixed, the details and quality of the Mediterranean and Contemporary styles stand out.
The Farmer’s Market
This quality market provides fresh seafood and meat, along with gourmet foods from around the world and artisan-baked bread and pastries. Michelina, Artisan Boulanger-Patissier, is my new favorite French bakery café.
This upscale outdoor shopping mall, which sits next to the Farmer’s Market, is magical anytime of the year, but especially when it lights up with Christmas spirit during the holidays. The 3-story-high Nike store is a favorite of my boys, while I could spend an afternoon relaxing with a book at the 3-story-high Barnes & Noble.
The ubiquitous Californian vacation destination—the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim provides fun for the whole family. The holidays provide an extra touch of magic to the whimsy of its two parks: Disneyland and California Adventure.
Disney California Adventure Park
This Disney-Pixar themed parked is set in various California “regions.” The rides California Screamin’ in Paradise Pier and Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land are our family favs. (Although I haven’t been able to go on the new Gardians of the Galaxy, it’s sure to thrill.) We tend to find this park more open, feeling less congested.
This is the original Disney theme park and stays true to its original characters—Mickey Mouse and friends—and to its original ambiance. The whimsy of this park is perfect for our young nieces and nephew, especially at It’s a Small World when it gets decorated for the holidays. Our family also enjoys adventures for us big kids at Indiana Jones in Adventureland and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland. (We also love Space Mountain and Star Tours in Tomorrowland.)
With so many wonderful places to explore, these are just a few of my favorites. More great places to visit in and around Los Angeles are sure to come. I hope you get a chance to visit and enjoy them as much as we have.