By Leslie Kelly
Yes, it’s possible to get around this vast metropolis even if you don’t have a car. The payoff? You don’t have the stress of finding parking and dealing with traffic.
Welcome to L.A.
The nation’s second largest city can seem intimidating to the casual visitor. Where do you even begin to figure out where to stay and what to see and do when the options are endless. If you want to check off a long list of tourist destinations, you’ll probably need a car. And a reliable GPS.
But for a quick weekend trip, I challenged myself to see the city without white knuckling it behind the wheel. Spoiler alert: It was the most relaxing, yet action-packed visit I’ve had in a long time.
I’m doing a stint of snowbirding in Palm Springs this winter and at the invitation of my grownup kiddo — an Angeleno for more than five years — I booked a cheap ticket on the Flix bus and headed into the big city.
This public transportation experience triggered a flashback to my student traveling days when I took the “Magic Bus” from Amsterdam to Paris. Maybe it was the guy who got off at the two stops along the way to frantically suck on his vape of perfectly legal cannabis. Party on, dude.
During the relatively uneventful two-hour trip, I was able to truly enjoy the scenery. Those snow-capped mountains far beyond the strip malls were gorgeous against the bluebird sky.
We pulled into a parking lot across from Union Station and as I was getting off the bus, I heard my name. Small world! It was a long-lost friend of my kiddo’s and after a surprise reunion of the two pals, we said so long and walked half a mile to Chinatown to grab a burger. Yes, a burger.
Since getting hooked on The Burger Show during the pandemic, I’ve been chomping at the bit to try the itty bitty spot launched by Alvin Cailan. A cafe that doubles as a high-end meat market. It did not disappoint.
While breakfast options showcase the chef’s Filipino roots — Longanisa sausage as the on morning sandwich and a house-made Spam bowl — the burgers are the big draw. I ordered the $6 Ordinaire and the golden shoestrings fried in tallow. The combo of the crispy patty — the classic smashburger treatment — and gooey American cheese was an exercise in minimalism, allowing for the maximum enjoyment of meat and cheese on a toasted bun. In an era where food porn means jaw-testing sandwiches star on TikTok videos, this gem quietly delivers big time.
Before slipping into a food coma, we headed to Endorffeine for some of the best coffee on the planet. This stylishly spare shop was a favorite haunt of the late Jonathan Gold, the longtime food critic at the Los Angeles Times. Owner Jack Benchakul, a trained biochemist, makes each drink with the kind of care you don’t often witness using a host of roasters including La Cabra, Drop, Heart, Prolog, Sey, and Cognoscenti Coffee.
I’m really picky about coffee and this was the best cappuccino I’ve savored in forever, perfect temp and velvety foam on top.
After exploring Mom-and-Pop shops in the neighborhood, we hopped a city bus to check into the Wayfarer DTLA, smack in the middle of DTLA. In addition to the excellent location, we appreciated the boutique hotel touches at this venue that’s part of the Hilton’s Tapestry Collection. But hey, there’s no time to lounge on those comfy beds! Magic Mike was calling and we must go.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
This theater chain is going to spoil you for all other movie-going experiences. Classic comfort food like burgers and pizza delivered to your kick-back recliner seat? Check! Craft cocktails and a rotating selection of microbrews? Yup! Excellent pre-show entertainment? Hard to imagine in an era when tired commercials cycle through, but it’s true.
Because we were expecting a huge helping of cheese in the finale of the Magic Mike triology, we shared a giant pretzel with spicy jalapeno cream cheese. Satisfying cheese on both counts, though somehow I doubt this is truly Mike’s Last Dance.
After the credits rolled, we walked five minutes back to the Wayfarer, right on time for our dinner reservation on the rooftop and just as the crowds of beautifully dressed people was reaching critical mass. Clearly, this was THE place to be on a Saturday night, the lit skyline providing a stunning backdrop to so many selfies. Hashtag #soFUN
Bonus points: The food — we split a steak and a Caesar — was exactly what we wanted and our gregarious server was nearly as entertaining as the Magic Mike movie we spent the meal rehashing. Well, when we weren’t people watching.
Slurping oysters at the Hollywood Farmers Market
The next morning, I walked two blocks to the Metro station and rode the train to Hollywood and Vine. The friend I met at the awesome Hollywood Farmers Market rather sheepishly confessed that in all the years he’d lived in Los Angeles, he’d never been on the Metro. Well, okay, let me just say: It was a very good experience.
And how about we start the morning by slurping some Fat Bastards?
These incredible oysters from the Pacific Northwest are tumbled Shigokus, which means they have a deep cup and a clean, ultra-fresh flavor. Those gems are prepped to order on the edge of the bustling market, The Oyster Boys doing a fantastic job on the shucking and the prices are reasonable at $3 a bivalve.
Our casual shopping/catchup visit flew by and soon we went in separate directions, but not before I scored an excellent Americano from Crenshaw Coffee Company. Ahhhh.
Like all fun getaways, this one was over too soon. But I’ll be definitely be back, most likely without wheels.