Los Angeles, California has long been one of my favorite American cities, for a number of reasons. Weather, of course tops the list, but one of the things I love the most about L.A. is how at home it feels, because it actually feels like MY home, Toronto. The population in Los Angeles is so diverse it rivals Toronto’s mosaic landscape, there’s literally something for everyone to do at any given time, be it shopping, food and beverage experiences, arts and entertainment, sports and more. It wasn’t my first time visiting L.A., but what I loved the most on this particular trip was discovering all the ways I can explore and enjoy one of my favorite cities while doing some good at the same time. From choosing restaurants to eat at that focus on sustainability and the community, venturing out of the city to explore, and being more conscientious with my shopping choices, it was easy to be an angel in Los Angeles.
Now let me show you how easy it can be for you to do the same.
Get around using…
Public Transit, taxi or ridesharing
One of the new things I learned on this trip is why Los Angeles is so filled with cars, and by extension, smog. Back when highways were being built and cars were beginning to be mass manufactured, those in charge decided that instead of investing in large-scale public transportation systems, they would instead bolster the automotive industry and focus on turning Los Angeles into car-based city. Fast forward to 2018 and gridlock, pollution and road rage are synonymous with the city of angels. Normally when I go to L.A.I rent a car to get around, but this time I decided to go carless, and it was totally doable. I picked an area to stay in that has everything I needed within walking distance (West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice Beach work well), and I spent the money I would have on a car rental on ridesharing when I needed to go further. Uber and Lyft will even come to the airport to pick you up, further reducing the need to book a rental. L.A. is also working on improving its public transit system, so give it a shot when you’re there next, and do your part to reduce automotive-related pollution.
Located in the heart of Venice Beach, which just happens to be one of my favorite L.A.neighborhoods, Hotel Erwin became my home away from home. I have a soft spot for Venice because it reminds me so much of my home hood of Queen West in Toronto. It has the same balance of eccentricity and exclusivity and the same divey chic vibe that Queen West does so well, except it’s on the beach! As mentioned above, everything is within walking distance in Venice; the beach, restaurants, shopping, bars and other landmarks worth exploring, so you can start your mission to reduce emissions right from your hotel.
Founded in 1975 by Erwin Sokol, Hotel Erwin is perfectly situated seconds from the Venice Boardwalk, nestled between the beach and the city behind it. Remodeled back in 2017, Hotel Erwin boasts 33 suites, 86 rooms and a rooftop bar and 2 restaurants, all showcasing a modern bohemian vibe that only a beachside hotel can rock so well. Original photography lines the hotel hallway walls, and the staff are all smiles and ready to help with anything you may need, whether it’s a bike to borrow for a boardwalk ride or a beach towel for when you want to catch some rays, and even just making sure you love your room as much as I did. Thanks to concierge Miguel for hooking me up with a beautiful suite for my stay.
Aside from its incredible location and fantastic feel and level of service, I loved Hotel Erwin for the efforts it makes to give back to the community that surrounds it. Through its aptly named “Erwin Gives Back” program, Hotel Erwin supports initiatives like Venice Community Housing, Venice Arts and the Boys and Girls Club of Venice, so you know the dollars you spend through your stay go further than the walls you spend them in.
Enjoy the beach vibes at…
The Waterfront Venice
This welcoming establishment is just down Venice Beach from Hotel Erwin’s door and features a vibrant yet homey atmosphere, simple and satisfying California pub food fare, and a focus on giving back to the community it serves. The Waterfront’s roots in Venice go back more than 20 years. When it reopened in October, it was one of the new team’s priorities to honor that heritage and return the new Waterfront to the mainstay status it once knew. Today, the Waterfront boasts its namesake restaurant, an oceanfront beer garden, a lush lounge area, a to-go shack and surf shop, and the walk up Boardwalk Tacos Taqueria. The walls of the space are filled with the work of emerging local artists in true surf tradition.
Beyond the food and beverage offering, the Waterfront makes it its mission to support the original Venice Beach lifestyle and those who live it, a challenge considering the rapid gentrification going on around it. Surfers, the homeless and every other part of the bohemian community that makes Venice Beach what it is, are welcome at the Waterfront. The space serves as a haven for surfers, newbie and veteran alike. With partnerships with the World Surf League and Airbnb, the Waterfront curates experiences for traveling surfers, including access to the gear they need to surf safely. When it comes to the homeless community, the Waterfront welcomes buskers, encouraging them to entertain guests on the patio. They even help to create employment and housing opportunities wherever possible. So when you’re looking for a spot to grab a beautiful beachfront meal in Venice, pick the Waterfront Café and do a little good with the good eats you get.
Grab a bite or snack from…
Homegirl Café and Homeboy Industries’ other locations
The cycles created by the current state of the American justice system can be vicious, especially for people of color, those with less education and from lower socioeconomic groups. Homegirl Café is one of the many projects run by Homeboy Industries, a training and support organization for formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated young people. Up to 2/3 of those young people are at risk of rearrest, and 1/3 of returning to prison. Homeboy Industries works to create viable educational and job training opportunities, along with a wide variety of services including counseling and tattoo removal, to provide hope, guidance and the chance at a brighter future. Nearly everyone I spoke to while in L.A. had heard of Homeboy and its founder Reverend Gregory J. Boyle aka Father Greg and the amazing work they do. Each year they help more than 10,000 former gang members, and you can too, just by having lunch at one of their awesome spots.
Farmhouse Beverly Hills
Located in the Beverly Centre, Farmhouse is a great place to grab a bite and a cocktail after a day of shopping or before a night of whatever BH has in store for you. With ingredients supplied from Executive Farmer Nathan Peitso’s family farm, the team at Farmhouse prepare everything in the freshest and most sustainable way. Dishes are inspired by what’s in season for a farm traceable seed to plate culinary experience.
Sample Sustainable Seafood at…
There is no shortage of seafood restaurants in California, but you can be kind to the environment depending on the one you choose. Best Girl, located in the Ace Hotel in Downtown L.A., is one of the restaurants supplied by Dock to Dish L.A., California’s first-ever Restaurant Supported Fishery program. Founded by Best Girl’s own Chef Michael Cimarusti and run through his Cape Seafood and Provisions company, the goal of Dock to Dish is to provide sustainably caught seafood to L.A.’s best restaurants. Chef de Cuisine Brandon Gray, who works closely with Michael both at Best Girl and at Cape Seafood, came by the table to chat about the importance of sustainability in seafood, and how ethical food literally just tastes better. Check out some of the dishes I sampled, including one of the best shrimp cocktails I’ve ever had.
Indulge your sweet tooth at…
Salt and Straw Icecream
Salt and Straw is family-run, west coast ice cream shop boasts multiple Los Angeles locations, innovative and delicious flavors and dairy alternatives for the conscious eaters among us. And when you’re escaping cold weather back home, it makes even more sense to sample some sweet frozen treats that won’t leave you as cold on the inside as you are on the outside in Canada.
Have a drink at…
Upstairs at the Ace Hotel
Upstairs is the stunning rooftop bar of the Ace Hotel, and the perfect place for an after-dinner cocktail when you wrap up downstairs at Best Girl. Cheers to one of the most beautiful views in Los Angeles.
This cozy and welcoming whiskey bar was a pleasant surprise discovery in DTLA. With a vast array of brown spirits to satiate the curiosity of even a seasoned whiskey drinker such as myself, Seven Grand is a great place to grab a bar side seat at and sample flight after flight of whiskeys from around the world. And if you’re also a hockey lover, it’s almost walking distance from the Staple Center for a warm-up bevvy after watching the Leafs destroy the Kings on the ice.
Founded by former footwear industry power couple Shannon and Sean Scott, Comunity is a shoe company with a heart of gold. $10 from every pair of shoes sold goes right back to the community (get it?) to support the arts, education and the fight to end homelessness. The shoes are amazing, and handcrafted right in the heart of Los Angeles. The showroom and retail store doubles as an event space and community center. Shannon and Scott open their doors to private citizens hosting parties, artists showcasing their work and city hosted events to raise awareness for community issues. I got the chance to meet Shannon and tour the space, and was blown away by her warm, welcoming spirit and her passion for what she does. The shoes are amazing too – and you’ll feel better with every step knowing your money is going to help the city you’re visiting.
Crossroads, or one of L.A.’s other amazing vintage and consignment shops
Did you know that the fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters? It’s primarily due to the waste byproducts created by fast fashion lines that produce lower quality mass market items at low prices. Instead of spending your hard earned money at one of these environmental abusers, check out one of L.A’s fantastic vintage or consignment shops. Considering L.A. is one of the fashion capitals of the world, these places are goldmines for great clothing, shoes and accessories (think stylists, models, and celebrities unloading their unwanted, sometimes unworn items that can be yours for far less!). I always luck out at Crossroads on Melrose, and the Melrose Trading post on Sunday afternoons can be a fashion finders’ paradise. Pick a neighborhood, find a shop and explore away while doing good at the same time.
Go out of your way to visit…
I spent the most magical day exploring Gentle Barn, the animal sanctuary located less than an hour drive outside of L.A.
Founded by Ellie Laks, an animal lover turned activist, Gentle Barn’s mission is to save animals from abuse, neglect and violence, and to give them a safe and happy place to live the lives they were meant to. Animals of all shapes and sizes are brought to Gentle Barn, from the smallest birds to the biggest GMO affected cattle. Injured or sick creatures convalesce at the barn’s nearby medical facility, while healthier residents are cared for on the grounds by individual volunteers. Animals receive acupuncture and massages, have music played for them and eat the best food while being worshiped by staff and visitors alike. Visitors are welcome to visit Gentle Barn every Sunday, where they can take a tour of the property and meet the animals and their individual docents. I toured the barn grounds with Operations Manager Jennifer Wampler, and got up close and personal with more than one resident.
The volunteers were incredibly kind, attentive and knowledgeable, sharing details of the animals’ stories and giving visitors tips on how the animals like to be fed, pet and adored. If you can’t get out to L.A. any time soon, show your support of the amazing work of Gentle Barn with a donation (you can even sponsor individual animals) through their website here.
One last note, as I’m sure you know, Los Angeles and California have been struggling against what some are calling the most devastating fire season ever. If you’re ready to not just be an angel in L.A. but to be an angel to this beautiful city, donate to one of the following organizations:
Learn more about everything Los Angeles has to offer here, and safe travels!