As Bob Dylan said, it doesn’t take a weather man to know which way the wind blows. It also doesn’t take a weatherman to know where to go when it's a "mild" 90 degrees in Austin.
The City of Angels
When we walked out of LAX airport and it was in the low 60s, it was a pretty nice change.
Our destination was San Diego, but not before we got to do a little restaurant tour in LA courtesy of Ryan Abboushi, who grew up in Houston, went to college at USC and is now climbing the ladder at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) — one of the world’s leading talent agencies, built on repping stars like George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, David Beckham, Alec Baldwin… you get the picture.
We’ve got our favorite restaurants in LA, but Ryan was definitely six months ahead of us on the “restaurant of the moment” curve. He said that if we could possibly get into a restaurant in Venice Beach called Gjelina with only a day or two notice, that would be a coup. With a couple of round-about connections, we worked our way in.
Well, it was way-crowded when we arrived. And, of course, all of the doors were open to the outside. It had warmed all the way up to 70 degrees, but with a cool breeze coming off the ocean.
So even if you picked that restaurant up and moved it to Texas, it wouldn’t be the same because of the weather. It also wouldn’t be the same because we seem to expect a different experience in a place where we will likely spend a lot of money; not distressed wood walls, brick floors, Edison-bulb lights and heavy steel doors in a 2,500-square-foot space. The food was excellent as advertised, but not fancy or a big production at all — pizzas, lots of locally sourced vegetables.
But context is everything, and it benefits from being on the bohemian-hipster Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice.
Everyone has been to those faux hometown shopping centers where they duplicate Main Street and have lots of up-market chains with apartments above — all nice, but all the same around the country. This is not Abbott Kinney. There are no chains anywhere, just lots of old houses turned into shops or new modern, white buildings filled with shops and restaurants.
I read somewhere that there are more medical marijuana clinics in LA than there are Starbucks. On Abbott Kinney there were no Starbucks, but lots of places with names like The Farmacy Global Organic Medicine. Far out.
On the way to San Diego we diverted to Manhattan Beach, a once-sleepy beach town that is now brimming with the young and upwardly mobile, at least judging by the number of new restaurants, bars and shops there. And the trend toward locally brewed and other trendy craft beers has totally wiped out the wine bars.
BrewCo, about a block off the beach, had 40 on tap and another 40 available — good stuff with great names like Arrogant Bastard and Stone Ruination from Escondido, Calif., and Karl Strauss' Red Trolley from San Diego.
Once we got to San Diego I remembered why I like it so much. It’s not just the default stuff — like the World’s Best Zoo, Balboa Park, the Bay and all those family-friendly destinations — but the truly one-of-a-kind Hotel del Coronado. It’s more than 120 years old, has an illustrious history (11 presidential stays plus Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh; the setting for the movie Some Like It Hot; and on and on) but not many places in California have a setting right on the beach.
And it may be old, but it just went through a $100-million renovation, which made it much nicer. History with luxury. To get to the hotel, you cross the Coronado Bridge to Coronado Peninsula — itself a pristine destination for shops, restaurants and homes.
San Diego used to be fairly conservative due to the large military presence, and I’m sure much of it still is, but pockets of it have become very boho indeed. In fact, I felt as if I were back on Abbott Kinney at one restaurant in downtown San Diego – Craft & Commerce. I’m not sure it can fulfill the commerce part (too small and non-mainstream) but it had the craft part down well — all the waiters were wearing berets, suspenders and plaid shirts and tattoos were not only allowed, but apparently part of company policy.
Not to leave out the cultural stuff, we caught an exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art, From El Greco to Dalí: Great Spanish Masters from the Pérez Simón Collection. And as if the city hadn’t come far enough, this truly impressive show’s only stop in the United States after its premiere in Paris was San Diego — not New York or LA, Chicago or Houston.
Chalk another one up for the beach town down the coast from LA.