Category: Neighborhoods

Watt to do in Watts?

Watt to do in Watts?

Two years ago I decided to apply for an Americorps program called City Year.  It’s a national program with members all across the country who are committed to education and working in schools with a low poverty rate.  The overall mission is that your zip code shouldn’t determine your education.  I was completely sold.  When I was accepted into the program, I eagerly awaited the email that would tell me which neighborhood in Los Angeles I would be serving in.  Finally, in the middle of Summer 2015 I found out: I would be serving in Watts.
To be honest, the only thing I knew about Watts was the Watts Riots.  My family was worried, reminding me to drive right to the school in the morning and right home in the afternoon, but I told them it would be fine and the program would aptly prepare us for what was to come. Two weeks of intense training later and we started our first day. I was placed in a fourth grade classroom on 93rd St. and I pretty quickly fell in love with teaching, with my students, and with Watts.

It has now been two years and that neighborhood I was so ignorant of has become one I am quite comfortable in.  Although I realize I am still an outsider and not a resident of Watts, I wanted to share a few spots that I recommend if you too are an outsider wanting to visit a new neighborhood.

First, if you are hungry, you should absolutely check out Locol (1950 E. 103rd St.): an iconic lunch spot started by renown chef Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson. You’ve probably heard of Choi’s most famous feat: Kogi.  Well, a couple years back he started something new and boy did it work.  Their goal was to develop a restaurant with good, healthy, and inexpensive food choices in Watts, a neighborhood known as being a “food desert” for it’s gaps in healthy choices.   The food is made from the heart with always fresh ingredients and most importantly it tastes GREAT.  They employ people from the community as well, which is obviously so important and one of the main reasons you can tell they care about Watts. Most everything is under $10 and the portions are generous.  Everything I’ve had tastes great so you really can’t go wrong.

To quench that thirst you’re probably feeling after such a great meal, head on over to Watts Coffee House (1827 E. 103rd St.).  This shop is housed in what used to be a community rec room and is now a beautifully decorated space that is a sort of time capsule to Black culture.  The space was re-opened in 1997 after the riots rent-free, granted the owner, Desiree Edwards, keep it geared to the community of Watts.  It is a sit-down restaurant if you want more than just a quick cup of coffee and there is always good conversation to be had.  The food is home cooked and delicious as well.  Something you can’t miss while you’re there is a look at the art and music all around you.  There is a beautiful array of the old and the new; all by local artists, of course.

Interior of the Watts Coffee Shop

Finally, I can’t write about this neighborhood without mentioning one of the most famous art installations in the city: the Watts Towers (1765 E. 107th St.).  The towers are are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural structures within the Simon Rodia State Historic Park in the Watts community of Los Angeles. The tallest of the towers is over 99 feet (30 m)! The towers and walls were designed and built by Sabato Rodia (1879–1965), an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. They are built with steel and wire mesh, and decorated with objects he found in the area including mosaic tiles, rock, glass, and clay.  Today, the Towers stand just as tall and proud as ever with the Watts Towers Arts Center as the curator and guardian.  The Arts Center hosts tours and exhibits, and most importantly promotes social change through supporting local artists and educators.

Echo Park Adventures

Echo Park Adventures

Echo Park Lake

You have made the trek to Echo Park and have completed a loop or two around the beautiful water, admiring the new lotus flowers and the cute turtles, and now what do you do? It turns out that there are a ton of cool and unique places to check out that you might not have heard about before. I’m here to help.

Here’s my plan for what to do once you’re sick of walking and are finished with your elote.

 

First, how about you check out Cactus Store, located at 1505 Echo Park Ave. This little corner store is owned by a man named Carlos and boasts an impressive collection of cacti and succulents alike. The plants range from handheld to taller than me (I’m 5’1 so this isn’t saying a whole lot, but still) and are incredibly beautiful. Even if you don’t want to actually purchase anything, I recommend a visit to learn something new and get some cool cactus pictures.

 

Then, before you’re ready for lunch, head over to Randyland, located at 1648 Lemoyne St. This is actually someone’s front yard, so you can’t always get inside to get a look, but you can get some rad street views nonetheless. What is it exactly? It’s a huge art instillation mosaic made of glass and metal. It’s beautiful in the sunlight and something not many people know to find.

If it’s time for a coffee break, I recommend Eightfold Coffee, located at 1294 W. Sunset Blvd. With it’s all white and marble interior, you might be tempted to take a few dozen pictures. At least I was. Still, you should stay for the coffee. I had the cold brew and it was strong and delicious. They sell books and art here as well and there’s a good soundtrack playing in the background.

Eightfold Coffee

All done and feeling refreshed? You’re in luck! Walk just two doors down and across Sunset to some of the best tacos in Los Angeles, Guisados Tacos. This business is completely family-owned with fresh tortillas made daily and a huge array of taco choices. My favorite is the mole or the carnitas. You must get some lunch here for the upcoming final stop of the day.

 

Last on our list? Head on over to Time Travel Mart, located at 1714 W. Sunset Blvd. This might just be the funkiest little store I’ve ever been to, and I mean that in a good way. TTM is a little vintage shop that sells novelty items from the past (and I mean way in the past). This is a great place to buy gifts or just look around for fun.   There are funny signs everywhere and everything is a big blast to the past. Need more convincing? The shop is home to 826 LA, which is a free tutoring and summer school program for students in the area. Many of the proceeds from everything sold goes to support it, and the people working there do both. A necessary place to visit on your Echo Park Adventure.

 

Let me know if you checked one or all of these spots out! I’m hoping it’ll take you on a fun adventure of good food, fun people, and lots to see.

Larchmont Village: A Quaint Oasis in a Big City

Larchmont Village: A Quaint Oasis in a Big City

Salt and Straw! A famous LA/Portland ice cream spot located on Larchmont Blvd

My favorite neighborhood in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit the “LA neighborhood” stereotype you probably have in your head if you haven’t lived here or barely visited.  Larchmont Village, located in Windsor Square between 3rd and Beverly on Larchmont Blvd., is a small but very cute street full of a plethora of shops and cafes, among other things.

The first time I came to Larchmont Village was largely accidental:  I was going to The Grove (a large outdoor shopping center) and saw a sign along 3rd St. for it.  My boyfriend and I made the turn off and parked along a beautiful tree-lined street with gigantic houses that reminded me of the Midwest.  We walked towards Larchmont Blvd with low expectations but as soon as we turned to the right we were caught by surprise.  It was so cute!  We had come on a Sunday around noon, which meant the weekly farmers market was in swing a block down and there were lots of families and people of all ages.  The farmers market has become a weekly event for us as they have super fresh produce as well as cheese, wine, and Mediterranean foods to boot.  We immediately  noticed a kitten adoption event as well (this may have swayed me just a little).

Larchmont is a small neighborhood that goes just a few blocks but it is jam packed with cute stores.  There are the traditional coffee shops like Starbucks and Coffee Bean, but there are also small businesses like Go Get Em Tiger and Bricks and Scones (which is known for having an entire floor dedicated to studying where you cant take you’re phone out!) There are also a few incredible cafes like Larchmont Bungalow and Village Pizzeria.  What I like the most is the amount of cute shops that sell anything from vintage dresses to handmade cards and candles.  There are also people sitting outside with their cute dogs and cuter kids and lots to see and do.

I would definitely recommend checking it out if you have a free hour or two and are in the area! It doesn’t take long to visit a few shops, grab an ice cream from Salt and Straw and some wine from Larchmont Wine and Cheese,  and you might just tell everyone you know how obsessed you are (not like I’d know or anything)!

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