Escape to Los Angeles, amid storms and surges
Escape from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles might be your opposite idea of a vacation, especially during the storms and virus outbreak of early January. But even though we chose to live here to avoid the daily metropolitan chaos, many of us still crave brief bursts of big city bustle. And when we’ve so far failed to properly show our own kids the hoopla that is Hollywood, it was time to write another LA story.
As ominous gray skies framed the rising Hollywood Roosevelt sign above, there I was, soaked in the relative warmth of the iconic hotel’s pool, listening to the freezing raindrops pattering across the surface as my daughter was wading nearby. This rain – and probably COVID – meant we had the pool and much of the hotel to ourselves during what would otherwise be a busy post-Christmas season.
Whether it’s having back-to-back breakfasts at the Rosy Café, sipping Italian martinis by the fire in the Historic Lobby, or diving into island drinks on the eve of my son’s 12-year-old birthday at Tropicana, the Roosevelt is often-stacked offerings were a cinch to enjoy. We even landed last minute to dine at 25 Degrees burger bar when our Musso & Frank plans fell through, leaving us dressed with nowhere to go. (Thanks, Omicron!) In other words, follow the rain to relax — even the poolside rooms we stayed in seemed mostly unoccupied.
Our adventure began listening to the best tunes of 2021 on the road to the La Brea tar pits, where only my wife had gone before, but decades earlier. Much of the paleontological excitement can be ingested in the free public park, where plenty of signage explains how mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and direwolves got their way in these ink ponds, and the children can climb on giant sloth statues. But stepping into the museum boosts the education, with detailed dioramas, intact skeletons, a demonstration fossil lab, and archaeological nods to the area’s indigenous peoples.
Lunch was a few blocks away at the Original Farmers Market, where most of the historic produce stalls now serve a variety of world foods, from Brazilian barbecue to Singaporean on a stick. We settled into El Granjero Cantina, which looks out of the market towards The Grove.
As the Los Angeles folks paraded, we sipped “naughty” punches and horchatas alongside hard-shelled tomatillo chicken and crispy soft-shelled avocado tacos. “I think I ordered the best thing on the menu,” my wife said through her avocado stuffed cheeks. Filled with protein, we braved the sugar piles of Dylan’s Candy Bar before my wife browsed the past choosing decals from Sticker Planet.
Sign up for Indy Today to get fresh Independent.com news delivered to your inbox every morning.
After checking into the hotel, the pool session in the storm and the tweens laughing about the Roosevelt bedroom lover’s kits – maybe useful condoms for those with the time and space to s tackling the well-stocked liquor collection – we walked a few blocks down a dark alley to dine at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele. Opened in 2019, the hidden restaurant was the first export from this Naples, Italy-based company, whose family history of making pies dates back to 1870.
Melon cocktails led to cauliflower with fontina fondue and Caesar salad before pizzas arrived, thrillingly fresh with just-mashed tomato sauces. Dazzled by the Italian wine list, I perused the chalky greco di tufo and crisp nerello mascalese before choosing an amaro to pair with our hazelnut affogato.
We ended by exchanging photo shoots with a Japanese family, their already adult son and daughter still clinging to the parents for birthday dinner. We looked at them with the hope of having the same relationship in a decade, and they looked at us with friendly envy, their smiles reflecting the good times of their younger years.
The next morning’s expedition was uncharted territory for us, and most others: the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, a six-story ode to film that opened in September next to LACMA, the Tar Pits and the Petersen Automotive Museum. (The whole corner looks like an architecture museum itself.) At first, I was worried that the museum on movies would be like dancing on architecture, but I slowly got more excited about the exhibits, taking pictures Rosebud sled, Tin Man’s oil can, Mookie’s pizza. guy’s uniform, the guy’s dress and a psychosomatic zoetrope of toy story. Showcasing a diverse Hollywood is the obvious goal, though this panoramic view of Hollywood from the Dolby Family Terrace leaves the strongest impression.
Lunch was at Canter’s Deli, another first, at least for eating there. My daughter’s soup featured a ball of matzo as big as her head, while my beet borscht was sweet and sour and earthy, a palate-cleansing primer for the classic corned beef sandwich. As the ladies were choosing challah and cookies to take away, my son and I walked to Fairfax to see what it was: a surprise sneaker drop at Supreme, which we learned from the RIPNDIP clerk at next door, just another of the avenue’s shoe and shirt shops that double as pop art galleries.
Our educational mission got mobile in the afternoon avoiding the Freddy Krueger lookalikes on Hollywood Boulevard to hop on the double decker bus operated by Starline Tour. I thought the tourist tram would be a lazy, stress-free way to show the kids the basics, from Whiskey a Go-Go and the Sunset Strip to glitzy 90210, Melrose fashion and a peek at the Hot Dogs of Pink. It was very cold and hardly anyone used the hop on hop off option this late in the day. But the feedback provided by the headphones was engaging enough for all ages, leaving my desired lessons effectively realized.
We hit the sunset pool again, Roosevelt’s Tower this time covered in a creamy yellow glow, making that pink neon sign pop with appropriate swagger. We were still unaware that our Musso & Frank reservation had been canceled by COVID a few days prior, despite repeatedly checking the website to map out our menu strategy. So sports jackets and robes were donned, followed by a multi-block walk through the mostly masked masses of the boulevard, not counting Snoop Dogg star’s blunt smokers and corner preachers of the end of days.
My family took the dinner disappointment in stride, settling with wide smiles into their 25-degree burgers in the Roosevelt’s familiar embrace. I was left a little disappointed, even after my daughter’s first root beer float. I dragged my son to the Tropicana just steps from our hotel room and lifted my mood with a few citrus gin drinks.
Then I wondered if the bartender had a special virgin drink for my son as his 12th birthday was only hours away. What came out was a non-alcoholic piña colada, which I called niña colada. We toasted the start of its 12th year, the end of a tough 2021, and the start of what we all hope will be a brighter 2022.
411 | Book your own adventure by visiting DiscoverLosAngeles.comor directly through TheHollywoodRoosevelt.com, StarlineTours.com, AcademyMuseum.org, TarPits.organd DaMicheleUSA.com. See a full photo gallery of this trip as an Instagram story by @mattkettmann.
Sign up for Matt Kettmann’s Full Belly Files, which features multiple food and drink classes every Friday, popping off the menu of our regularly posted content to offer tasty nuggets of restaurant, recipe and refreshment wisdom in your inbox.