You’re bound to think of Los Angeles, and when you do from time to time, it’s likely you think of soul-shattering traffic, of untouchable movie stars, of the trendiest restaurants and most expensive boutiques. And while all of that does exist, that’s not my LA, and it doesn’t have to be yours. My LA is raw, filled with spirit, and bursting with endless discoveries. Two years ago, I flew from New York to California with nothing but a suitcase and my cat. So let me introduce you to a weekend in the city I love, paired with a funky rock playlist to match its ever-changing personality. Sit back, relax, and forget about Rodeo Drive.
The Fonda Theatre
The Fonda Theatre is a quirky Old Hollywood venue, dating all the way back to the 1920’s when it was first built. Almost a century later, on the evening of the “torrential” February downpour (which would’ve just been any old Friday in New York), I ventured to The Fonda for the first time to see Galactic in concert. This is one of my boyfriend’s favorite bands, and while they aren’t on the top of my list, they gave an amazing performance which inspired me to explore Funk music a bit further and weave it into the accompanying playlist. The Funk scene in LA is surprisingly prominent; besides the many bands of that genre that got their start here, you can pretty much find a dedicated funky dance party any night of the week. In my neighborhood vicinity alone, there’s Funkmosphere Thursday’s at The Virgil, and Funky Sole Saturday’s at The Echoplex. I highly recommend them both if you’re in town.
Getting back to The Fonda though, on this particular evening, we’d decided to opt for the subway on the way into Hollywood. Parking is generally horrendous in the area, and the heavy rain (while it wasn’t that out of control) wasn’t great for driving conditions. The only possible snafu in taking the subway was that my boyfriend hadn’t had time to drop his backpack off after work, so we were stuck hoping the Theatre would let us in regardless. Me and my silly small-town roots; I was certain they would (he was skeptical), but alas, they didn’t. The security guys at the door were eager to check our bags and frisk us before going in, and while they seemed to be fine with my very large handbag, they immediately turned his backpack away, despite our pleas. I wanted to snidely ask if we could bring it in if we were willing to cut off one of the straps and treat it like a purse, but I’m not that person in real life (…only in my head). So there we stood, umbrella-less like the idiots we were, pulling out our phones in the rain to request an uber to my apartment so we could drop off the backpack. I won’t bore you with the back-and-forth details, but I will say that we had a very jolly driver, who was absolutely stoned out of her mind. Her uncontrollable laughter felt a bit like mockery in our current grumpy state, but when we finally made our way back past the unyielding security guards, she was just a distant smokey memory.
Once in the theatre, everything changed. As we walked through the entrance where the walls were decorated with dimly lit vintage lamps, I felt certain I’d been transported into a David Lynch film. The shadowy ambience, the deep burgundy couches and curtains, the black and white square-tiled dance floor, and the bizarrely painted wallpaper made me wonder if I was about to find out who really killed Laura Palmer. As a side note, I later googled the odd wallpaper and discovered it was done by the Dutch painter, Hieronymus Bosch. Check out the fun painting we spent most of our time by here.
When the show finally started, which was well after we’d arrived (twice), we were entranced. The sound in the theatre was stunning and the opening band, The Bright Light Social Hour ended up being my favorite of the evening. The soulful modern funk tunes, paired with the musicians’ incredible synchronization was enough to make me wonder why I wasn’t at a concert like this every night of the week. Four hours later, well past midnight (with both of my glass slippers intact), we stumbled out of the theatre feeling breathless and alive, but also severely sweaty from all the dancing. After one last Uber ride, we were back in Los Feliz at our designated 24-hour eatery, sucking down water and happily stuffing our faces with food you’d only find at an LA diner (e.g.: freshwiches, and a late-night menu explicitly for ‘Stoners and Drunkards’). Flip through all of Fred 62’s uniquely-named menu items here.
Featured song: I Am Trying to Break Your Heart by JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound
To funk up my playlist right out the gate, I added a soulful tune from a diverse and dynamic band from Chicago, who surprisingly got their start through an ad on Craigslist. You may not recognize it in its current form, but this is actually a cover of an old depressing Wilco song from 2002. Sure, I’d never even heard the original prior to listening to this version, but JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound made this such a quintessential soul jam, I can’t believe if it was ever a slow, subdued, indie rock piece to begin with. “I’m hiding out in the big city blinking, what was I thinking when I let go of you?”
20 miles northwest of congested Hollywood, a majestic rock formation called Stoney Point awaits you. You’ll need to park your car on the side of the road by a horse stable before starting your excursion, but that just makes the place all that much more endearing. Once you’ve made your way to the base of the boulder, you’ll stare upwards in confusion, not sure which semi-path to venture onto. Whichever route you choose, it should be a relatively quick climb once you get the hang of it. I always happen to be wearing a pair of shoes that don’t truly classify as sneakers, so I’m generally that person holding on to nearby branches for dear life. The view from the top makes every wavering step up jagged rock feel a whole lot better in retrospect though. To the west, you’ll see the looming Santa Susana Mountains, and to the East you’ve got a sweeping panoramic of the San Fernando Valley.
Aside from being in the midst of California landscape at its finest, one of the most charming things about this hike is the feeling of camaraderie among the people you pass. Whether it’s the teenage boys painting their names in graffiti on one of the boulders, or a couple huddled together on a lone rock, everyone exudes warmth and genuine acknowledgement of you and the surrounding beauty.
As fair warning, this is also one of those excursions where I’m glad I didn’t read the Yelp reviews before going; it’s riddled with comments about rattle snakes and poison oak. I’ve done this trek at least 5 times now though, and since I’m generally a magnet for anything that causes a rash, I can say with certainty that I’ve come into contact with zero poisonous plants. The same thing goes for snakes, though there are quite a few of those in California, so just be careful that the branch you’re grabbing doesn’t have a face and you’ll get along smashingly.
Featured song: Bohemian Like You by The Dandy Warhols
While they only recently became one of my favorite rock bands to listen to, The Dandy Warhols gained popularity in the early 2000’s; so much so that David Bowie personally requested they open for him during his Fall 2003 tour. This particular song is less psychedelic than the rest of the album it came from (Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia), but it immediately builds with a catchy, yet effortless guitar riff. Not unlike LA, its casual flow and confidence excites, while still putting me at ease; perfect for a late afternoon drive to Stoney Point. “If you dig on vegan food, well come over to my work, I’ll have ’em cook you something that you’ll really love, ’cause I like you, and I’m feelin’ so bohemian like you.”
When I was younger, if you had asked me what I knew about Malibu, I probably would’ve guessed that it was just a beach town for rich people who decided to name a 70’s Barbie doll after themselves. I would’ve been wrong of course, and you probably are too. Malibu is surprisingly understated, and while it does have its fancy shmancy restaurants, they’re not of the in your face variety. You’re much more likely to stumble across Trancas Country Market or Point Dume Plaza, filled with coffee shops, book stores, and a to-die-for Mexican cafe (Lily’s Malibu). While I don’t visit very often in the “winter”, I made the hour-long trek from the east side a few weekends ago, and compiled a few of my favorite places to share with you.
Down a set of cliff-side stairs, you’ll find El Matador, a beach like no other in LA. The rock formations and caves aligning the shoreline are breathtaking, so it never fails to be a perfect photo opportunity; just ask anyone there, if they’re willing to pull their gaze away from their cameras for one second. Despite it being quite popular, El Matador is still spacious and lengthy enough to find your own peaceful rock or private section of beach, which is why it’ll always be one of my favorites. If you’ve never understood what’s so mystical and lovely about the ocean, this is the place to find out. The waves dance around you as if they’re applauding, and the horizon stretches on forever, like it’s worlds away. In the case that it’s too cold to swim, make sure to dip your toes in the foamy sea and inhale the breezy salt air before heading back up.
If you’re in the mood to visit a few more beaches before dinner, check out Point Dume, which requires a bit of a hike, but ultimately leads down to a secluded stretch of sand with turquoise water and towering sea cliffs in every direction. Topanga Beach on the other hand, requires little to no effort, as all you have to do is pull to the side of the road and walk a few steps down to the oceanfront. It’s not quite as awe-inspiring of a view, but it’s still a beautiful spot to take a quick dip in the ocean. It’s essentially a choose-your-own adventure novel, but whichever beach you pick, you still get to end up at Malibu Seafood afterwards.
I’m not a huge seafood fan, but over the years I have acquired a cultured yet picky taste for certain kinds, as long as it’s not too fishy (which sounds ridiculous, I know). Malibu Seafood and Fish Market is one of my favorite places though, because it’s unassuming and serves huge portions at decent prices. It also houses two outdoor decks for seating, one of which is covered, and both allow BYOB at no charge. So bring along a bottle of wine or beer at sunset, and if you have a larger-than-life appetite like me, go with my typical order: 2 fish tacos with cole slaw and fries on the side. You’ll spend about 15 bucks total, and you’ll leave completely stuffeEven though it’s usually dark out by the time you’re ready to part ways with Malibu, the drive back towards Santa Monica is one of my favorite parts. With the windows rolled down, you’ll be driving 60 miles an hour right by the shore, the wind blowing in your face, the sound of lapping waves beside you, and the faint view of city lights in the distance.
Featured song: What Is Life by George Harrison
Released on Harrison’s 1970 hit solo album, this soulful rock song about love and life is an absolute gem. Captured so well within a 4 minute track, you can feel him bursting with effervescence, breaking free from his spot on The Beatles’ back burner. The above music video was created 46 years later, and it stays so true to the whimsical energy and beauty of the song, it is without a doubt, one of the most lovely things I’ve ever watched and heard. To me, this tune embodies the pure happiness and comfort that comes from a quiet moment in a beautiful place; the way I often feel when standing by the ocean in Malibu. “What I feel, I can’t say, but my love is there for you, any time of day.”