A.O.C. Wine Bar & Restaurant
Santa Monica Farmers Market
O.J. Simpson's Homesite
Over Memorial Day weekend, we spent one night in Los Angeles before driving down the coast to the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. I’ve never spent any significant time in LA, so I was thrilled to get a little taste of the famed city. The glitz lived up to the hype as we spotted Rolls Royces, Bentleys, and Lamborghinis left and right. The purple-blue blooms of the Jacaranda trees and the ubiquitous palm trees lined the rows of multimillion dollar estates I’ve seen for so long in films and on tv.
We had less than 24 hours in LA, but it was enough to find a few places that I loved. From seasonally-inspired small plates in Beverly Hills to an address forever marked in pop culture history, here are a few stops I’d recommend:
While researching restaurants for our one dinner in LA, I kept seeing “Gjusta” bread on menus. So I did what any good internet researcher would do and googled “Gjusta bread.” There I found the website for this delightful bakery in Venice. I later spotted Gjusta on Eater’s 38 Essential Los Angeles Restaurants list, and that sealed the deal. So we drove to Venice on Saturday morning and crowded into the unmarked, warehouse-like space with all the other in-the-know Millennials. There is a counter for express, grab-and-go service for coffee drinks, bread, and pastries. There’s a counter for cured meats, fish, and cheeses. And then there’s a counter where you pull an old school deli number and wait for your turn to order hot breakfast items.
The breakfast menu has comfortable classics like yogurt with fresh fruit and quiche, inventive items like breakfast pizza, and a few things that are so LA, like the grain bowl with fermented veggies and avocado. Diners can vie for one of the seats on the back patio or can stand to eat at the long, marble counter. Artisanal coffee drinks and matcha lattes are served in handmade ceramic mugs alongside glasses of fresh-pressed juice concoctions. Later in the day, the restaurant serves interesting sandwiches and ingredient-focused entrees for lunch and dinner.
The white brick walls are lined with bags of house-made granola, nuts, Weck jars of pickled veggies, and infused salts. They have everything you’d need for a perfectly Instagram-worthy beach picnic or a thoughtful food gift. You can also pick up a copy of the Gjelina cookbook (affiliate link), written by Gjusta’s chef and proprietor of nearby Venice restaurant Gjelina.
320 Sunset Avenue, Venice
Small parking lot & free street parking on surrounding blocks
One of my favorite ways to discover a place is to visit a local farmers market. It’s so neat to see how their produce differs from what we have at home. I scoured lists of LA’s (many) farmers markets, and the Santa Monica Farmers Market was pretty close to a consensus for the best. Supposedly the Wednesday market is actually the best–it’s a bit larger and many chefs shop there–but the Saturday rendition was by no means a let down! Within view of the ocean, you can shop for anything from citrus and avocados to farm eggs and sustainable flowers. It’s another great spot to stock up on picnic goodies!
Arizona Avenue & 4th Street, Santa Monica
Parking deck on 2nd Street between Arizona & Wilshire (first 90 minutes free)
With only one dinner in LA, I knew I had to pick something special. I couldn’t be more happy with the choice to go to A.O.C. wine bar and restaurant. They serve organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines by the glass and a variety of locally-sourced, seasonally-inspired small plates. I was super excited about the carefully-curated menu of cheeses, which included a selection from my friends at Sequatchie Cove in Tennessee! The small plates were full of creative flavor combinations, like the brussels sprouts with burrata, radicchio, and breadcrumbs or the focaccia with lemon slices, pesto, and goat cheese. And splurging on the dessert platter was not a terrible idea.
The main dining room features cozy booths, a beautiful fireplace, and a communal table by the bar where you can order happy hour specials from 5-7pm. The real gem, however, is the Mediterranean-style courtyard. This outdoor (covered) garden space is lined with wrought iron, decorative tile, and citrus trees. For an hour or two, you might forget that you’re in LA and not in the South of France or the Amalfi Coast. The warm and friendly service tops off the lovely experience.
One of the things I love most about A.O.C. has nothing to do with the menu or the space: it’s owned by two women! Caroline Styne runs the wine program and chef Suzanne Goin (who is Ivy League-educated!) develops the menus. They own and run a group of restaurants in LA–the Lucques Group–and they have been nominated for and won numerous James Beard Awards. They also give back through their philanthropic work for childhood cancer and healthy school lunches, among other impressive resume points. A.O.C. also has one of the coveted spots on LA’s Eater 38.
If you can’t make it to the restaurant, you can sample some of their menu at home with the A.O.C. Cookbook (affiliate link). It features beautiful, seasonal dishes and a dedicated section on cheese!
8700 W 3rd Street, Los Angeles
Valet parking ($8)
O.J. Simpson’s homesite
If you’re like us, you recently binged on both recent O.J. Simpson documentaries: O.J.: Made in America (available on Hulu & WatchESPN) and The People v. O.J. Simpson (available on Netflix). Even though O.J.’s Brentwood estate was demolished after he moved out, the inner detectives in us wanted to go check out the neighborhood where all the madness took place. We drove up the 405 to the Sunset Boulevard exit–tracing the path of the famous Bronco chase–and onto Rockingham Avenue, where the bloody car was found parked the night of Nicole Simpson’s (and Ron Goldman’s) murder.
It’s a quiet neighborhood with large homes, which gave perspective to the whole spectacle in the 90s. Especially after seeing a lot of the actual news footage on the ESPN documentary, it was so cool to see the place in person. (I didn’t get any photos other than a quick snap on my phone because we weren’t the only ones creeping at this address.)
360 N Rockingham Avenue (at corner of Ashford Street), Brentwood