First time in L.A.? Want the local experience?

First time in L.A.? Want the local experience?

San Fernando Valley #1 (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

San Fernando Valley #1 (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

I’m going to run down the beautiful San Fernando Valley for you. Here are some attractions, Points of Interest, good restaurants, and fun things to do. This list is nowhere near complete and things are constantly changing!

Don’t say there’s nothing to do and nowhere good to eat in the San Fernando Valley! Also, you”ll probably find a celebrity sighting or three if you get lucky.

San Fernando Valley #2 (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

San Fernando Valley #2 (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Let’s start at Universal City, CA: Universal Studios Hollywood, and Universal CityWalk with lots of places to eat/drink/shop on the hill, Firenze Osteria (Fabio from “Top Chef”) Italian restaurant,

Universal CityWalk (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Universal CityWalk (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Universal CityWalk Hollywood (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Universal CityWalk Hollywood (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

North Hollywood: Television Academy, NoHo Arts District and it’s many theatre companies, The Federal Bar, Circus Liquor and the giant clown sign on Cahuenga, Los Angeles Valley College, North Hollywood Park, Tiki No Bar, Joe Peep’s Pizza, Bar One: a craft beer bar, Krua Thai restaurant,

 

Atwater Village: Atwater Village Theatre, The Village Bakery & Cafe Proof Bakery, Canele Restaurant,

Burbank: Warner Brothers Studios, Disney Studios, Burbank Media Center, Bob’s Big Boy, Johnny Carson Park, Market City Caffe Italian restaurant, Smoke House Restaurant, Burbank equestriain center, Pickwick Bowl, Colony Theatre, Ribs USA, Arnie Morton’s The Steakhouse – Burbank,

Glendale: The Americana at Brand Shopping Center, Autry Museum, Griffith Park, Forest Lawn (there are two cemeteries, one near Griffith Park and one in Glendale), Jax Bar & Grill, Griffith Park and the Observatory, Griffith Park Travel Town, Los Angeles Zoo, Tam O’Shanter restaurant, Damon’s Steak House, Mori Teppan Grill, Billy’s Deli – Glendale, (continue east on the 134 freeway to Eagle Rock and Pasadena)

Sun Valley: Hansen Dam Park, Georgio’s Pizza and Sports Bar,

Studio City: CBS Studio Center, The Village restaurant, CA DEL SOLE restaurant, Black Market Liquor Bar, Spark Woodfire Grill, Vitello’s Italian Restaurant, Loteria Grill, Du-par’s Restaurant & Bakery, Fryman Canyon, The Six Restaurant, City Wok Chinese restaurant, Henry’s Tacos, Art’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, Firefly Studio City restaurant and bar,

Spark Italian Woodfire Grill in Studio City (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Spark Italian Woodfire Grill in Studio City (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Sherman Oaks: Sherman Oaks Galleria, Sherman Oaks Castle Park, Casa Vega, Westfield Fashion Square, Smoke City Market bbq restaurant, Delmonico’s Steak and Lobster House, Café Bizou restaurant, Blu Jam Café, The Getty Center, Skirball Cultural Center, Bamboo Cuisine Chinese restaurant, Valley Inn restaurant,

Cafe Bizou in Sherman Oaks (copyright 2012 JoshWillTravel)

Cafe Bizou in Sherman Oaks (copyright 2012 JoshWillTravel)

Van Nuys: Van Nuys Courthouse and historic district, Lake Balboa Park, Puro Sabor Peruvian restaurant, Swiss Chef restaurant, Salsa And Beer Mexican restaurant (Papas &Beer), Sepulveda Recreation Center, Japanese Gardens, Woodley Avenue Park,

Lake Balboa Park - Los Angeles, California (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Lake Balboa Park – Los Angeles, California (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Encino: Encino Commons, Okumura Sushi Restaurant, Sushi Hirosuke, Larsen’s Steakhouse, Versailles Cuban restaurant, Taj Mahal Indian restaurant, Balboa Sports Center, Los Encinos State Historic Park, Benihana Japanese restaurant, Yamato’s Japanese Restaurant, Aroma Bakery Cafe, Encino Velodrome,

Oh yeah, we're gonna have sushi. Sushi at Okumura! (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Oh yeah, we’re gonna have sushi.
Sushi at Okumura! (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Tarzana/Reseda: Tarzana Village, Le Sanglier French Restaurant, Fabrocini’s Italian Kitchen, Sushi Ichiban Kan, Bea’s Bakery, Superwok Chinese restaurant, Las Fuentes Mexican restaurant, Sol y Luna Mexican restaurant,

Le Sanglier (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Le Sanglier (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Northridge: Northridge Fashion Center, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC), Pacific Theatres Winnetka 21, A & W Seafood Chinese restaurant, Brent’s Deli, Mandarin Deli Restaurant (soup dumplings), (continue northwest on the 118 freeway to Simi Valley)

 

Woodland Hills: CA: Warner Center, Westfield Topanga Mall, Yang Chow Restaurant, Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion restaurant, Pierce College: Farm Center, Arnie Morton’s The Steakhouse, My Brother’s Bar-B-Q, (continue west on the 101 freeway to Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks)

Drive Topanga Canyon south over the Santa Monica Mountains to Topanga State Park, Saddle Peak Lodge, and down to the Pacific Coast Highway for access to Malibu Beach,

Drive Mulholland Drive from Cahuenga Blvd to the 405 freeway at Sepulveda or vice versa. Great views of the valley day or night!

San Fernando Valley Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

San Fernando Valley Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

OTHER UNIQUE EATS (multiple locations):

In-N-Out Burger in North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, and Woodland Hills

Katsu-ya in Encino and Studio City

Cheesecake Factory in Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills

Cupid’s Hot Dogs in Northridge and Tarzana

Tommy’s Burgers in North Hollywood and Van Nuys

Solley’s Deli in Van Nuys and Woodland Hills, Jerry’s Deli in Studio City and Encino

Mulberry Street NY Pizzeria in Encino and Sherman Oaks

El Torito Mexican Restaurant in Sherman Oaks and Woodland Hills

Zankou Chicken in Tarzana and Sherman Oaks

Dinner at El Torito (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

Dinner at El Torito in Woodland Hills, CA (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

There are numerous public and private Golf Gourses, Tennis Courts and Country Clubs in and around the valley.

The Woodland Hills Country Club (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

The Woodland Hills Country Club (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

There are also numerous city parks, bike paths, small dog parks and urban garden areas. The rehabilitation of the L.A. River is an ongoing project.

 

 

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area http://www.nps.gov/samo has 500 miles of trails and spans 153,075 acres, the world’s largest urban national park!

Paramount Ranch, Agoura, CA (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Paramount Ranch, Agoura, CA (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

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San Fernando Valley Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

San Fernando Valley Sunset (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

San Fernando Valley at night (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

San Fernando Valley at night (copyright 2014 JoshWillTravel)

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02-JUN-13: LAX – Welcome to Los Angeles!

LAX – Welcome to Los Angeles!

LAX - Welcome to Los Angeles!

LAX – Welcome to Los Angeles! (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

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SEPULVEDA TUNNEL VISION!

Sepulveda Tunnel Vision!

Tunnel Vision! - Sepulveda Tunnel (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Tunnel Vision! – Sepulveda Tunnel (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

 

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Dinner & Show: Nan Ban Kan & “Assisted Living” Opening Night @ Odyssey Theater

Friday Night 05-APR-13

Our evening begins with a drive on the 405 from the San Fernando Valley.  A quick shortcut up the hill to Mulholland, and across the bridge at Skirball Center, and onto Sepulveda and then up the new onramp to the 405 Freeway south.  Of course, it’s necessary to mention the MAJOR CONSTRUCTION that is always a potential nightmare for the freeway traveler.  CalTrans and the contractors are widening, replacing and retrofitting the bridges and overpasses.  They are building huge retaining walls, literally moving mountains and rebuilding the on and off ramps between the valley and West Los Angeles.

405 Freeway south - Sepulveda Pass

405 Freeway south – Sepulveda Pass (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

I’m in the passenger seat tonight, so don’t freak out.

405 Freeway south

405 Freeway south – Sepulveda Pass (copyright 2013 JoshWill Travel)

405 Freeway south - Getty Center

405 Freeway south – Getty Center (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

405 Freeway south - Sunset

405 Freeway south – Sunset at Sunset Blvd and the 405 (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

At Hotel Angeleno, a Joie de Vivre Boutique Hotel, every room includes complimentary valet parking, free wireless internet access, courtesy shuttle service, and a complimentary wine hour every evening in the lobby.  This L.A. landmark building, once was a Holiday Inn, and is the last of a vanishing breed of circular hotels from the 1960s. Mixed reviews after the renovation and renaming as Hotel Angeleno, a joie de vivre hotel, because of the high noise level due to it’s proximity to the 405 freeway!

405 Freeway south - new retaining wall

405 Freeway south – new retaining wall (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

The new retaining walls that were recently built and remain unfinished (that’s unfinished interlaced rebar in the picture) are true feats of engineering! Think about the half-mountain and mammoth pile of earth that was once there.  The carpool lane runs the entire distance of the 405, from the valley to the airport and beyond.  They are doing construction on some of the busiest on and off ramps in the nation, rebuilding massive bridges and under/overpasses and widening the freeway on both sides. Maybe someday they’ll be done….

Traffic was light until we got past Sunset Blvd, which was amazing considering it was Friday at 5:30pm and then we hit traffic and it took a little time to get to the Santa Monica Blvd exit.  They are doing construction at Sunset, Wilshire, Santa Monica and Olympic.  The Santa Monica exit was down to only one lane because of the road work, opening up into four turn lanes only at the bottom of the ramp.  I used to work in West L.A. and the traffic was bad with all four lanes open, so I can’t even imagine what it must be like at rush hour these days!

405 Freeway south - TRAFFIC approaching Santa Monica Blvd

405 Freeway south – TRAFFIC at Santa Monica Blvd (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

We exited the freeway, turned west and a short distance down Santa Monica Blvd, in a neighborhood with ample metered street parking, we arrived at our first destination: Dinner at Nan Ban Kan restaurant in West L.A.

Santa Monica Blvd - West L.A.

TRAFFIC on Santa Monica Blvd looking west – West L.A. (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

West L.A.

West L.A. Municipal Building sign on Corinth (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

I’m going to take a moment here to mention Los Angeles’ Homeless Problem, before we get to the foodie stuff.  This neighborhood is adjacent to the V.A. Hospital in Westwood and has a large homeless population and disabled veterans living in crappy motel/apartments. It’s impossible to not be moved by the presence of the less fortunate among us.  I saw a guy in an army jacket sitting and counting a huge stack of one dollar bills, the earnings from a long day of panhandling at his freeway exit.  And I watched a woman in a wheelchair, with only one foot, push herself backwards across an intersection and up the ramp at the curb, and it only took her two traffic light changes and a ton of effort to accomplish this simple task we take for granted.  So, think of these people who aren’t as lucky or blessed as you and do something about the silent problem across “the richest country in the world” (please volunteer or make a donation if you can afford it)

Thank you for your attention and now back to Dinner at Nan Ban Kan.

Nanbankan

Nan Ban Kan – 11330 Santa Monica Blvd, West L.A. (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Nanbankan

Nan Ban Kan Restaurant for Dinner (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Party of six for dinner!  Reservations are suggested because it’s not a very large restaurant and the yakitori grill and sushi bar take up a lot of the dining room space.  They actually fit us in and we had a nice table against the wall, but we promised to finish before 7:30pm because they had a reservation for another party.  That was fine because we were going to the show and had to get to the theater.  We started with drinks. a hot towel, a raw vegetable salad appetizer with dressing/dipping sauce and an order of shrimp and vegetable tempura, which was good, but not great.

I’ll mention the service right now, it was CHAOTIC.  We were served by three waiters, one waitress and the host/owner, and they didn’t get the order right!  It wan’t really bad service, there just wasn’t proper attention to detail and timing.  I had to ask for another coke three times and they didn’t write down the my order of chicken meatballs when I ordered them.

Nanbankan

Nan Ban Kan – Yakitori Grill and Sushi Bar (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Nanbankan

Nan Ban Kan Menu with Hot Sake and a Coke (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

We ordered a lot of different things, it’s a “small plate” experience, from the grill or sushi bar.  On the Menu: spicy yellowtail roll, hot sake, grilled shishito peppers, grilled brussel sprouts, live scallop, chicken meatballs, pork belly, spicy tuna roll, california roll, and a grilled rice ball filled with salmon.  Other people in our party tried the black cod, yellowtail collar, stuffed shitake mushrooms and grilled zucchini.  The food was also kind of “hit and miss”, some things being terrific and other things being just okay.  I recommend the chicken meatballs, shishito peppers, live scallop, (real crab) california roll and everyone loved the stuffed mushrooms.  The pork belly was overcooked and very chewy, like bacon flavored gum (which I actually think might be a great product).

Nanbankan - shrimp tempura

Nan Ban Kan – shrimp (and vegetable – not shown) tempura, remaining cabbage from the raw vegetable salad appetizer, salad dressing/dipping sauce and tempura sauce (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Nanbankan -spicy yellowtail cutroll

Nan Ban Kan – spicy yellowtail cutroll (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Nanbankan - chicken meatballs

Nan Ban Kan – Try the tasty chicken meatballs! (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

We finished dinner and split the check, six people ate and drank for just under $200, including the tip (~$33 per person).  It was a fun dinner with good company, and although it was “hit and miss” on the food and service, we had a great time.  So we paid, and as promised, we were done before the other party arrived.

We got back into our cars and drove around the corner for the “Assisted Living” Opening Night Performance and Party at the Odyssey Theater on Sepulveda Blvd.  Parking $3, Ticket to the Show $45, witnessing a great performance and laughing for 95 minutes straight, PRICELESS. http://www.odysseytheatre.com

"Assisted Living" starring Paul Dooley & Winnie Holzman

“Assisted Living” starring Paul Dooley & Winnie Holzman at the Odyssey Theater (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

SPOILER ALERT! – although not key to the plot, the following may be considered by some as a spoiler, so I will warn you to read at your own risk.  (Thank you!)

“Assisted Living” is a wonderful two person-four character production starring and written by Paul Dooley and Winnie Holzman, and directed by Larry Biederman.  The actors are married in real life and wrote the play over twenty years together.  Both actors play dual roles: In Act One, Dooley first plays Frank Maxwell an aging soap opera actor who has played “Doctor Dan” for his entire career and Holzman plays his long-suffering girlfriend Emily.  And then in Act Two, Dooley plays Edgar, a dying man whose son has put him in an “old folks” home and Holzman plays his long-suffering daughter Heather, a true soap opera fan.  And finally in Act Three, Dooley plays Frank and Holzman plays Heather.  The play runs 95 minutes without an intermission.

"Assisted Living" at the Odyssey Theater

“Assisted Living” Set (pre-show) at the Odyssey Theater (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

The play’s writing and dialogue is witty, smart, touching and funny.  The characters were incredibly genuine, real, and portrayed by two fantastic actors.  The chemistry that Dooley and Holzman have as a married couple is ever present in their acting performance.  He is a great actor and she was terrific.  The set, lighting and technical effects worked great to serve the story, and 95 minutes later without an intermission, they received a standing ovation from the opening night audience.

Full House - Opening Night of "Assisted Living" at the Odyssey Theater

Sold-Out Full House on Opening Night of “Assisted Living” at the Odyssey Theater (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

Following the performance there was a catered reception outdoors next to the theater, with food and drink and many industry friends and other familiar faces.  I was still full from dinner, so I didn’t eat and only drank a bottled water at the party.

"Assisted LIving" Opening Night Party - Charlotte Rae and the director

“Assisted LIving” Opening Night Party – Charlotte Rae and the director Larry Biederman (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

And the high point of my evening was meeting Charlotte Rae again (Mrs. Garrett from “Different Strokes” and “Facts of Life”).  She is such a sweet and wonderful woman (and a cancer survivor).  I had met her a long time ago and we spent some time talking at the party before I asked her if she would take a picture with me.  Of course, she was happy to oblige:

"Assisted Living" Opening Night party - Hangin' with Mrs. Garrett! (the wonderful Charlotte Rae)

“Assisted Living” Opening Night party – Hangin’ with Mrs. Garrett! (the wonderful Charlotte Rae) And yes, that is Dennis Christopher behind me. (copyright 2013 JoshWillTravel)

We hung out and schmoozed for awhile, while waiting for Paul and Winnie to join the crowd.  When they finally emerged, we congratulated them and then said goodnight.

West L.A. Fadeaway!  We’re back on the 405 freeway, dodging lunatic drivers in a hurry to go wherever, and we drove back home to the valley.  It was a terrific Friday night.  Dinner was fun, the show was great and a good time was had by all!  (And big thanks to my designated driver, even though I didn’t drink anymore after dinner)