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LA Trip Report - The Next Installment: Frogtown, Sockerbit, Wat Thai Food Court, Wi S

LA Trip Report - The Next Installment: Frogtown, Sockerbit, Wat Thai Food Court, Wi S

Old Feb 21st, 2024, 05:32 AM
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LA Trip Report - The Next Installment: Frogtown, Sockerbit, Wat Thai Food Court, Wi S

February 2024

View of LA from the heights of the Getty Museum

Last April (2023) I posted a trip report when DH and I visited our DD in LA. (see LA Trip Report: Art Deco, Dinosaurs and our self-directed Asian Food Tour). This time I flew down solo for a 5 day mother-daughter visit. The two of us have been keeping an “LA Wish List” of new and different things to do and see and EAT. We lucked out with the weather - managing to catch probably the only sunny days in between runs of atmospheric rivers that literally have been inundating California for the past couple of months.

A word of warning - though some of our stops were classic LA favorites, if you are looking for what to do and see as a first time visitor to LA this report may not be for you.

Day #1
My daughter picked me up at Burbank Airport around lunchtime and whisked me off directly to Frogtown, located next to the LA River. According to the LA Times: “the name comes from the frogs that used to emerge from the grassy banks of the [LA River].” Previously a somewhat dangerous area, Frogtown has been undergoing gentrification with the appearance of a mix of small cafes, bars, creative spaces, and condos popping up amongst the single family homes.

Wax Paper in Frogtown

As you might remember from last year’s trip report, we love to eat. So we first stopped to order sandwiches at Wax Paper. The fun menu lists the sandwiches which are named after NPR reporters. I ordered the vegetarian “Lakshmi Singh” and DD ordered the ham and cheese “Audie Cornish”. Located on a tiny corner wedge, the restaurant has a pop-up feel with a small outdoor seating area. The sandwiches were delicious though just as we started to eat, a large flat bed truck pulled up right next to us and began unloading bags of concrete - complete with all kinds of loud thuds and warning beeps when the loader backed up. Despite the busy activity this did not seem to stop the ever increasing flow of customers coming through for lunch.

Spoke Bicycle Cafe

Next we walked over to Spoke Bicycle Cafe and rented bicycles for an hour long ride along the LA River. I was a little nervous as I have really short legs and wanted to make sure I could get a bike that I could comfortably control as well as a bike helmet. The woman working in the shop hilariously told us, “Don’t worry, everybody says that they have short legs and a big head.” She fitted us up and yes, they had a bike that worked great for my short legs and a bike helmet large enough for my big head - LOL. DD and I biked along the bike path (shown in green on the map) which runs beside the LA River. The river itself runs through a concrete culvert and most of the time it is pretty much just dry. But courtesy of those atmospheric rivers there was an actual river with quite a lot of water rushing through it. The sky was blue, the sun was out, the path was paved and the bike ride was very relaxing. It was a little weird as at times we would approach major highways though I felt as if we were tucked away into our own little pocket of peace and quiet. Along the way we passed cafes, art and maker spaces, some small industrial yards, single family homes and newly built condos as well as other pedestrians enjoying the afternoon.

Bike path along the LA River marked by the green lines.

Biking along the LA River - note the freeway in the background!

After returning our bikes, we drove over to the Hollywood Reservoir. Parking on the street we walked down towards the entrance. A car pulled over and a couple of guys with cameras asked us if this was the way to the HOLLYWOOD sign. DD shrugged and said she didn’t really know. After they continued up the road, she commented, “What does that even mean?” Did they actually want to drive close to the sign - which would mean Mulholland Drive and not anywhere near where we currently were. Or did they want a view of the sign which would be completely different. We spent the next 90 minutes walking the 3.5 mile relatively flat loop which circles around the reservoir - again enjoying the sunny, quiet day and stopping to grab some photos with a great view of the reservoir AND the HOLLYWOOD sign in the background. Sorry, no photos to share for this part though I'm sure you can find plenty on social media - or better yet, make time to visit in person!.

Green chutney pizza at Pijja Palace.

Feeling justified that we had exercised enough to deserve dinner, we drove to Pijja Palace - a self-described Indian sports bar. Winning a Michelin Bibb Gourmand designation, this restaurant offers an Indian fusion cuisine. We managed to get in line just before the doors opened at 5PM and were seated as walk-ins. Looking at the menu we wanted to try everything, but with just the 2 of us sadly we couldn’t. We asked our server and he proclaimed that he was not into “food shaming” and that we could always take home leftovers. So we took his advice and ordered almost everything that we wanted to try including the onion rings coated with dosa batter, the chicken wings, the tomato masala rigatoni, and the green chutney pizza. It was all delicious but we had no room for dessert and we took home enough leftovers to last several days!

Pijja Palace: Dosa Battered Onion Rings

Pijja Palace - Tomato Masala Rigatoni

DD and I then headed over to what we thought was the KCRW Valentines & Vinyl event at Zebulon. As a KCRW subscriber, the member event was held annually to let people bring in their own vinyl selections to share and to just hang out. Despite the fact that I am over 50 yrs old I was still carded! But once we walked inside we found out that the event had happened the night before! . So we turned back around and went home. I was pretty tired anyway and DD had another busy day planned for Day #2.
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Old Feb 21st, 2024, 12:21 PM
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Spoke Bicycle Cafe has some really good food, too. Looking forward to Day 2.
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Old Feb 21st, 2024, 02:00 PM
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Day #2 - “Art Day”

The next morning we drove down to central LA. After parking we walked over to Union Station - built in 1939 it is quite beautiful on the inside. I particularly liked the art deco features. We ended up grabbing Starbucks coffee (it seems a shame they don’t have a cute coffee shop inside to match the interior). After viewing a nicely curated historical exhibit about how LA’s original Chinatown was claimed through eminent domain so that Union Station could be plopped down squarely in the middle of it, we started a leisurely walk through Olvera Street. We didn’t actually stop off anywhere but strolled through the Mexican Marketplace. Because it was a weekday, we saw groups of children on field trips lined up outside La Placita Church and The Avila Adobe. Older citizens were eating breakfast at some of the food stalls. Overall, it was relatively quiet and relaxed - another beautiful LA day.

Union Station

Cool interior design inside Union Station

We continued on to Chinatown, where we again saw multiple groups of school field trip groups. The decorations for Chinese New Year were still up. I was surprised at how well maintained the various buildings appeared. Compared to the Chinatown in SF or NY, I felt as if we were walking around a movie set piece of what most people envision Chinatown should look like. We looked around at some of the cute shops. Eventually we made our way to the Charlie James Gallery. Located within Chinatown the gallery shows contemporary art with a political focus. When we first arrived we thought it was closed but the door opened and we were able to view the current exhibitions: Ozzie Juarez’s OXI-DIOS, Angelitos De Plata (a curated exhibit of over 20 LA artists working in a variety of mediums) and The Poetics of Place. I find these exhibits fascinating but also somewhat exhausting as they demand your participation - what do you think when you first view a piece, what was the artist trying to convey, do you agree with their message? And last but not least - do you like the piece?


Cute shop in Chinatown

This is how I felt to have the opportunity to spend time with my daughter.

An homage to the actor Bruce Lee - Chinatown

Charlie James Gallery - Chinatown

Afterwards we took an Uber to Hauser & Wirth Downtown Los Angeles. The group has a chain of art galleries and their LA site is situated in a former flour mill. It is a pretty cool space though our timing wasn’t the greatest as most of the galleries were closed in preparation for the next round of exhibits. We browsed through their artbook& bookstore which has a huge collection of books and magazines related to arts and culture. While waiting for our lunch reservation we hung out in the peaceful garden space. Manuela, the onsite restaurant, with what I would characterize as farm to fork cuisine, was excellent, which was why it was also super busy. The Cara cara salad was delicious (cara cara is a naval orange which has a reddish tinge). We also shared and enjoyed Hen of the Woods mushroom served on polenta and Bub and Grandma’s ciabatta (essentially a fancy BLT).

Manuela - Cara cara salad

Manuela - Hen of the Woods mushroom and Bub and Grandma's ciabatta

Afterward we took another Uber over to the ICA - Institute for Contemporary Art. Located in a somewhat gritty part of the up and coming Arts District, the facade of this museum definitely blends in with its surroundings. The current exhibit: Scratching at the Moon is a curated exhibit showcasing Asian American artists. It was another thought provoking exhibit, but I have to admit that my brain was pretty tired by the time I finished viewing the exhibit.

We took Uber one last time and visited The Last Bookstore. I had found a book titled: Best Bookstores in California and the West. When I mentioned this to DD, she already knew about these bookstores and added a couple to visit into our itinerary. This particular bookstore is located in a former bank. If you have ever been to Powell Book Store in Portland, it kind of has the same vibe, but in miniature. Both new and used books, graphic novels (what I would call sophisticated comic books), records and magazine are spread out across 2 floors. However, they also have a very tongue in cheek design with a “book tunnel”, a horror vault filled with crime and horror books, as well as a book labyrinth. This was a super fun place to explore.

The Last Bookstore

Entrance to the Book Tunnel

Inside the Book Tunnel

Afterwards we drove home to rest up before heading out to our dinner at Yang’s Kitchen. Located in the San Gabriel Valley, this restaurant is billed as a Taiwanese-Chinese fusion restaurant. Again we had another delicious meal - this time ordering the Dan Dan Campanelle, Hainan Fish Rice and for dessert the Black Sesame Cake! We did not have any leftovers this time since we didn't over order.

Yang's Kitchen - Dan dan campanelle

Hainan Fish Rice

Conked out back at DD’s place.
Additional note - before posting I looked over the photos and I realize that despite this being an Art Day, I have a lot of shots of the food we ate, but I posted practically none of the art we viewed. While I found much of the art very worthwhile, these contemporary pieces are being shown in current exhibitions (not permanent collections). The pieces are not really self-explanatory and I didn't think would have been well served presented out of context or more detailed discussion. However, I did want to mention these art spaces as very interesting places of interest to visit outside of the more well known museums.
Next up: Day #3 - West Side Day.
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Old Feb 24th, 2024, 09:02 AM
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Day 3

Day #3 Westside Day

Entrance to the Getty Museum

Between getting a somewhat later start than intended start and dealing with LA traffic our primary activity for the day was visiting the Getty Museum. The museum is located on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains - which gives you great views but makes it somewhat of a chore to access. Though admission to the museum is free, there is a $25 fee to use the parking garage. Its pretty much mandatory since there is no street parking available. You are then whisked up the hill in a Disney-like tram. We had visited as a family when it first opened and I remember that at that time the landscaping was still in the developing phase and that critics thought the art collection itself did not quite measure up to the beauty of the site and the buildings they were housed in.

By the time we finished lunch, this lawn was filled with people.

We had stopped on the way at Clark Street (a popular bakery located somewhat to the south of the Getty) to pick up sandwiches to bring along with us up to the museum grounds. This ended up being a great plan on DD’s part. Arriving at the top we walked up the marble steps and around to the side where there were a number of open lawns leading to the landscaped gardens. My concern that we were supposed to stick to the paths was immediately dispelled when I saw the ubiquitous troop of school children skip and race across while a museum security guard walked by without a second look. We set our blanket down and sprawled out to enjoy the sun, the view of downtown LA and our lunch! By the time we finished, almost the entire lawn was taken up with other museum visitors - though most sadly had not thought to bring a lunch.

Central Garden Getty Museum

Cactus Garden

I was so comfortable I almost did not want to get up but we brushed off our crumbs and went to explore the gardens. These were very beautiful, especially the Central Garden which has a maze-like walkway that meanders through. This garden was just in its infancy at my previous visit and it was wonderful to see that it had matured into a spectacular and lovely oasis.

Drawing on Blue exhibit - Getty Museum

Drawing on Blue exhibit - Getty Museum

"A Muse" Rosalba Carriera - just a piece that I liked

Next we went inside to explore the museum itself. We viewed a current exhibition: “Drawing on Blue” which explored the drawings and paintings from the 15th to 18th centuries utilizing blue paper formed from the scraps of blue rags. This was surprisingly quite a compelling exhibit. It was interesting how the blue tinted paper lent a different mood to the art. However, I have to admit that I didn’t find the rest of the museum to be as amazing. While the architectural design of the Getty is interesting,

Interior plaze space at the Getty

I couldn’t wrap my head around its basic layout. It was pretty confusing to try to walk through in an organized way. We did get our steps in between going up and down the stairs and backtracking in a confused pattern. I also found that despite a beautiful interior space, that for the most part, the art in the collection was not as notable or consequential to match the grand surroundings. Maybe it was a leftover bias from that long ago visit. Maybe I was just tired and a bit cranky from viewing too much art? I am definitely not an art expert so take my comments with a grain of salt! I rested on a bench while DD viewed the photography galleries which both she and online reviews highly recommended. (Have you ever noticed how many online stock images are credited to “Getty Images”?)

Sockerbit - So many choices!

...and even more choices.

This is only a 1/2 lb of candy

After our 4 hr visit, we got back in the car to check out Sockerbit. Somehow DD had discovered that there was an LA branch of this Swedish candy company. Sockerbit makes gummy type candies - think Swedish fish and then multiply the variety to about 30 different types (as well as marshmallow, chocolate and licorice candies) and tasting infinitely better. It is pretty expensive - $15/lb. We bought a half pound, getting 2 each of a variety of the gummy candies. Of course we started to eat them as we were driving back to DD’s place. So delicious - very soft and full of flavor. We agreed that we should have bought an entire pound.

After a bit of rest we hit the road again for our dinner reservation at Yangban Society, located back in the downtown Arts District. Yangban is an old Korean word to describe the aristocratic class during the time when Korea was an independent kingdom. We were a bit early and waited for our table to be ready. The restaurant is kind of an “it” place as I noticed that every customer would rush up anxiously to check-in for their reservation. The Korean fusion cuisine was interesting and fun. We ordered too much again but DD was happy to have leftovers to take away.

Hot smoked trout schmear

Banchan - upscale version of Korean side dishes

Tofu Mole - lightly fried Meiji tofu, "mole" of fermented black bean, dry chili, toasted almonds, peanuts, and golden raisins

Lobster Congee Pot Pie

Yangban Wings

Back home again and we decided to relax instead of going back out to visit the Baked Potato Jazz Club. Earlier in the day, we had also had to pass on hiking the Topanga Lookout Trail and visiting the Venice Canals. I was running out of steam. DD and I agreed that we would put it on our “LA wish list” for another time. So far we had experienced excellent weather, but the next day was projected to be mostly cloudy and possibly windy. We had been considering a day trip to Catalina Island but I was relieved when DD decided that weather conditions would probably not be that conducive to a fun time out on the water.

One thing to mention again about visiting LA is that you really have to think about the locations, distances, time of day and expected traffic patterns. Living in LA, DD had a pretty good idea but even she would get over ambitious trying to fit in too many stops in too short a time. Also, it was great that she has her own car as the public transportation system is just too slow to get you back and forth in a timely fashion and you definitely don’t want to pay for Uber every time you go on to the next thing.

Tomorrow: Day 4 - hanging out in Los Feliz, pigging out at Wat Thai Food Court
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Old Feb 25th, 2024, 01:25 PM
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Days 4 and 5

Day 4 - hanging out in Los Feliz, pigging out at Wat Thai Food Court

Hanging out at Maru Coffee - Los Feliz Village

Though we had initially planned on taking the ferry to Catalina Island, we shelved this for another day/another visit. This was the better decision since for most of the day the sky remained overcast and the wind was a bit chilly - definitely would not have made for a good day on the water. Instead, this turned into a leisurely day of exploring a few different LA neighborhoods. We walked over to Los Feliz, checking out Hillhurst Ave (part of Los Feliz Village). After standing in a long, but fast moving line outside of tiny Maru Coffee, we ordered coffee and a pastry each. We managed to snag seats in the tiny corner to just people watch - a couple on their first app matched date, a young family with the cutest little baby, a Gen X group meetup for their Sat AM coffee. Strolling back we stopped at various shops, including Skylight Books - yet another cool and interesting bookstore. I’m dating myself but I miss the days of Borders, Books and Music. Even though it was criticized as a big box store, I miss the opportunity to actually hold books in my hands and to leaf through them as I try to find new authors.

Skylight Bookstore

A couple of hours later we headed back out to drive to the Wat Thai Food Court. Located In North Hollywood at the site of a Thai Buddhist temple, the food court is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8AM to 5PM. We found easy street parking probably because we arrived at 3 PM after the lunch rush. We walked into a square open area where the food stalls are set up on 2 sides of the square facing each other with picnic tables filling the center. You buy plastic tokens with cash only and then purchase whichever food items take your fancy. They make it easy with large signs and almost all of the food items are $8. It was fun to walk around all of the stalls to see the large variety of delicious food on offer. DD bemoaned the fact that there were just the 2 of us. She felt that it would be ideal to come with about 15 friends so you could order and try everything. We each ordered only one food item - chicken curry for me and a blue crab papaya salad for DD. Afterward, we ordered but could not finish our desserts and ended up taking home our leftovers of mango sticky rice and coconut cakes - so yummy! We also resolved that the next time I came down with DH we would go back with DD to try out more of the choices on offer. We spent some time viewing the onsite Buddhist temple which seemed so familiar from those that we toured on a past trip to Thailand.

Chicken curry (already half finished - I couldn't help myself!) and blue crab papaya salad at Wat Thai Food Court

Mango sticky rice and coconut cakes for dessert

Buddhist temple at the Wat Thai Food Court

Next DD insisted on driving over to Pacoima (in the San Fernando Valley) because she wanted to do some more serious walking and to view “Mural Mile” located along Van Nuys Blvd. Despite the online hype, we were less than impressed. Still within LA city proper, Pacoima strikes me as a somewhat industrial area. Maybe it was because we arrived close to sunset, but the area seemed kind of sketchy. We parked on the street and started walking the 4.3 mile out and back loop. We did see some cool and vibrant murals, but they were few and far between. The overall vibe of an off hours isolated industrial area without other pedestrians was off putting. After just a quarter mile of walking we mutually agreed to turn around and called this activity a fail. If you read the AllTrails reviews, many posters mention the same issues. I do wonder whether starting earlier on a sunny day might have led to a better experience. To console ourselves, we hung out at Tonga Hut, ordering tropical drinks and just spending some good mother-daughter time together. Afterward, we went home and had a late dinner of the various leftovers that we had accumulated from the previous days.

Day 5 - Relaxing at Wi Spa

For the last day of my visit, DD designated this the “spa” day. She had wanted to do this the first day of my visit but didn’t want to waste our window of good weather for an indoor activity. I was happier to visit the spa on the last day - I was tired and it started to rain that day. So it turned out that the planning was spot on.

Located in K(orea)-town, we arrived at Wi Spa just before lunch and used the valet parking. I am not sure how familiar you might be with the Korean version of a spa, but jjimjillbangs (Korean bathhouses) are a one stop spa complex - there are separate areas divided by gender for soaking in hot and cold tubs and wet or dry saunas. You can make an appointment to get a scrub by an “ajumma” (female) or “ajusshi” (male) depending on your gender. And when I say a scrub, I mean a deep, intense scrub that will take off all the dead skin cells everywhere on your body (did I forget to mention that you must completely strip nude and shower before you enter the baths). The scrubbers really mean business. It can be ticklish, or even painful, but afterwards your skin will be so incredibly soft and clean. DD and I just did the hot and cold tubs as by the time we checked in, the reservations for the scrubs was booking into the late afternoon. After you finish you shower again and then put on these gym uniforms issued by the spa and head upstairs to the actual jjimjilbang. There is a small cafe to order food. The main area is a large open space with a heated wooden floor. You take one or more mats provided by the spa and drag it to any open space to lay down and take a nap or to hang out with friends just relaxing and chatting. Surrounding the open space are a number of dry sauna rooms - a salt sauna (where you lay on large salt rock crystals), clay sauna (large clay balls), a jade room and the Bulgama - a wooden sauna which is heated to 231 degrees. Finally, there is an ice sauna that feels incredibly wonderful after sweating in the heated sauna rooms. Since Wi Spa is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can rotate through all of the offerings for as long as you want. We actually spent so much time at the spa we ran out of time to go get dinner before DD had to drop me off at the airport.

Now if only the traffic wasn’t so off-putting! On the other hand, the sprawling nature of Los Angeles is also a blessing that allows for the development of so many diverse and fascinating neighborhoods - both geographically and culturally. Hoping you get a chance to experience it too!

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