06 February 2014

A Quick Overview of our Los Angeles Vacation

At the end of January, my wife and I spent several days in Los Angeles. We actually were in Westwood Village, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica. We had a great time, and I’ll be writing posts on several of the restaurants that we went to. But here’s a quick overview of the vacation, with comments on the things we did.

First of all, I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of Los Angeles. We had fun. But it wouldn’t be our first choice for a January vacation. I had a board meeting for Mazon (the anti-hunger advocacy organization). So the city and the neighborhood where we stayed was determined by proximity to the board meeting location.

That said, I couldn’t imagine a better location. We were right by the UCLA campus and it was easy to find great restaurants, interesting museums, fun entertainment, and nice walking paths. I have to admit that I had the impression that Los Angeles was not a walker-friendly city. But I was wrong. Our hotel was about a mile from Mazon’s office, and it was an easy 17-minute walk through a very pleasant, quiet, attractive neighborhood. My wife is an inveterate walker, and it’s always very important that she find interesting, convenient, and accessible walking routes. That turned out to be easy.

One of the biggest factors in making our vacation enjoyable was our hotel, Hotel Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood, a Kimpton Hotel. I’ve raved in the past about how much Linda and I enjoy Kimpton hotels. So when started making our travel plans, I looked for a Kimpton near to the Mazon meeting. The Palomar was perfect. As has been our experience at other Kimptons, it was comfortable, not at all pretentious, friendly, and fun. The concierge was fabulous! He helped find walking paths, made recommendations for restaurants and nightlife, and made us feel personally welcomed at the hotel. (Thank you again, Josue!) I’ll write more about how great the hotel was in another post.

Here’s a quick run-down on the restaurants we tried:

La Bruschetta – This was a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Westwood Village, a short walk from our hotel. The food was great and the service was friendly. The ambiance and décor was warm and comfortable. We enjoyed our meal. We made our reservation in advance on Open Table.

Skylight Gardens – Sunday brunch. This is located in the heart of Westwood Village. We discovered it just walking down the street looking for a place to eat. The brunch food was off the menu (not a buffet), and you could order a bottomless glass of mimosa. We did. Very enjoyable. I easily believe that this would be a favorite for parents visiting students at UCLA.

A.O.C. – We actually had eaten at A.O.C. on our only previous trip to LA. (Click here for that review.) We enjoyed that visit so much that we decided to go again. It did not disappoint. We agreed that it was the best meal we had in LA. This was another one that we reserved on Open Table.

Picca – I so much wanted to love Picca. But I didn’t. It’s Peruvian small plates, especially featuring ceviche. We really enjoyed a ‘cebicheria’ in San Francisco (La Mar). Picca is very highly rated in most reviews, and I really had high expectations. The food was very good, and the ambiance was lively and energetic. I guess the main problem was cultural. We just didn’t hit it off with our server. He had is how ideas about what we should try, and it wasn’t really what we wanted. In the end, it was good, but not up to expectations.

The Ivy – I admit that we went to The Ivy in hopes of making a celebrity sighting. No luck. We did have a very good lunch, for which we paid handsomely. We knew it would be expensive. But when I opened the menu, the prices actually took my breath away. Still, it was fun. We enjoyed a sunny outdoor table. The service was formal but not pretentious. And the food was good.

Tar and Roses – This was a recommendation of our concierge. (Thank you, Josue.) It’s a fairly new restaurant in Santa Monica, and we were totally impressed by it. The food was great. The décor was comfortable and attractive. Our server was friendly and helpful. And considering everything, the prices were reasonable. This was a close second for our favorite meal.

During our trip, we went to two music venues. Both were recommended by the Palomar’s concierge.

Montage Hotel Beverly Hills – We told Josue that we wanted to find a place to have a drink and hear some music (after our dinner at Picca). He told us that the Montage has live music in it’s lounge every night. He also said that the hotel attracts a lot of celebrities, and maybe we’d see someone famous. (Nope.) The piano player was very good, and he played a wide variety. It seemed like we were the only ones listening. We chatted with him in between sets. I think he was relieved to know that some was enjoying it. The drinks at the Montage were expensive, as we expected. My Sazarac was not so great, either.IMG_0451 (2)

Harvelle’s – This is where we went after our dinner at Tar & Roses. What a blast! We got there just as the opening performer was finishing (around 9:30 p.m.) There were only a handful of people in the bar, and it turns out that most of them were in the blues band that took the stage. Not to worry; the place rapidly filled up. We were the oldest people in the bar by a couple of decades. The band played blues and classic rock. At one point, a woman took over the dance floor, lite a couple of batons on fire, and did a totally outrageous performance. (I’m not going to do a blog post about it, so here’s a photo.) This was the perfect way to end our stay in LA!

We visited two museums.

The Hammer Museum – The museum is practically across the street from the restaurant where we had Sunday brunch. I didn’t realize it, but it’s affiliated with UCLA. During on Sunday walk on campus, we saw the sculpture garden with is part of the museum. We thought the exhibits in the museum were good, but somewhat limited. Still, we enjoyed it.

The Getty Center – We had visited the Getty Villa on our previous LA vacation, so this time we wanted to see the Getty Center. It is a fantastic art museum with a wide variety of different styles of art, including classical paintings, sculpture, landscaping, and architecture. Unfortunately for us, we planned our visit on the afternoon after our lunch at The Ivy, and we got there a little too late in the afternoon. We had two solid hours and saw as much as we could cram in. But we really needed more time.

So that’s about it for the overview. Over the next few weeks I’ll post reviews of the hotel and some of the restaurants.

And by the way, we never did see any celebrities.

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