Best courtyard to slurp some seaweed: Mitsuwa Marketplace
3760 S. Centinela Ave., Mar Vista, 310-398-2113; mitsuwa.com
If you live on the Westside and Japanese food is among your favorite cuisines, you’re in luck. Thanks largely to Eric Nakamura, who in 2001 opened his flagship Giant Robot novelty store on Sawtelle Boulevard near Olympic, other vendors followed suit with Asian restaurants, markets, dessert spots and more pop culture places. Shoring up West L.A.’s Japanese destinations a short drive south is Mitsuwa Marketplace. Occupying a former Safeway for 21 years now, Mitsuwa is Mar Vista’s great treasure: a supermarket with a food court and a few stores built within it catering to Japanese tastes. A circle of eateries compete for your cash (including Sanuki Sandou, which makes a mean bowl of thin-sliced beef udon) and, for about $7, rewards you with a generous bowl of yumminess, fraught with cooked veggies, roasted seaweed, and meat, tofu or tempura of choice. Other bonuses: the ample free parking lot, and, at the market, you can cherry-pick extras to go with your meal, from gyoza to sushi rolls. There’s also tasty beverages, be it a cold can of Kona or some sickeningly sweet drink with Hello Kitty or a Mario Brother on it. (If your unrefined palate prefers an Arizona iced tea or the like, Mitsuwa is CVS-adjacent.) The market eateries are cash only.
Best sushi house to enjoy ‘dessert’:Hama Sushi
213 Windward Ave., Venice; Hamasushi.com, 310-396-8783.
Hama Sushi is a Venice institution. Next year will mark its 35th year in operation and if you don’t blink, you’ll see it pop up in the original “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo,” the 1999 surprise hit comedy starring Rob Schneider. Since taking over Hama Sushi in 2004 from its founding owner (who used to have a sushi academy located next door), Esther Kim has become a driving engine in her restaurant and in her community, boasting local artists on the restaurant walls, handing over her bar to film screenings, and her parking lot to live concerts. Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Kim has been equally involved in embellishing the menu, which includes adding some Korean touches to the menu, such as the bulgogi. More significantly, she has hired very experienced sushi chefs and allowed them to create (Kenny’s Lobster Roll, Florence Roll) and she has expanded the hours to include daily lunch and happy hours and weekend happy hours that run from noon to 7 p.m. There’s little doubt you’ll find a strawberry sushi roll – comprised of shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, snow crab, spicy mayonnaise and strawberries, and topped with a sweet sauce and sesame seeds-anywhere else. Couple this “dessert sushi” with a ginger martini from the bar and you’re in Hama heaven.
Best 2 in the morning slice of New York: Joe’s Pizza
111 Broadway, Santa Monica, 310-395-9222; joespizza.com
Contrary to conventional thought, the Westside has an abundance of delicious pizza riches. The choices, in fact, are myriad. However, for that fat slice of Manhattan-style pizza, Joe’s Pizza may hold the best hand. Open into the wee hours (midnight on week nights, 3 a.m. on weekends) and smack in the middle of that part of downtown Santa Monica where locals and tourists collide, the no-nonsense shop, not even a block away from the beach, offers the kind of savory, cheesy slices East Coast transplants write home about. You may struggle to secure a table in this tight little space, but at least you’ll be well-rewarded… by the slice.
Best place to pick up a reptile: Brennan’s
4089 Lincoln Blvd., Marina del Rey, 310-821-6622; brennanspub-la.com
They say you’ve got to kiss many frogs before you find Mr. or Ms. Right. Well, you’re on your own searching for amphibians, but we know there’s no shortage of reptiles at Brennan’s Pub, where turtle racing has been a Thursday night tradition since the venerable pub opened in 1972 (only a few years after the creation of Marina del Rey itself).
Here’s the deal: there’s a large circle painted on the ground on the back patio. Just before 9 p.m., you can buy a beer, find a seat on the bleachers, and then cheer on your favorite little green guy like a maniac. The turtle that exits the circle first, wins. (Since they’re turtles, this, of course, might take a while.) And please, this is California, not Nevada, so no wagering!
Of course, there are other reasons to hit Brennan’s beyond rooting on Speedy, Sparky or Flash: The pool table, dartboard, and the live entertainment, featuring such acts as 1970s tribute band Dazed ‘N’ Confused (Sept. 28), pop singer Doña Oxford (Oct. 19), Jack Daniel’s Comedy Classic every Monday at 8 p.m., and The Mandrakes, Brennan’s house band, every Thursday night.
Best place to run the wind through your hair: Drybar
4712 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey, 310-844-0686; thedrybar.com
Let’s be honest: men are not going to get this one, but the ladies understand.
It’s a salon, but not exactly. No haircuts at Drybar, just a place that blow-dries your hair to perfection.
Savvily marketed, Drybar has a menu of $35 blow-outs named after cocktails: the Cosmopolitan (“loose curls”), the Manhattan (“sleek and smooth”A, the Mai Tai (“messy, beachy”), the Straight Up (“simple and straight”), and the Southern Comfort (“big hair, lots of volume”). Pop-ins welcome, wash included. Famously, the line of celebrities who have either frequented or invested in this chain is nearly as long as the wait to get a blow dry: Rose McGowan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Cindy Crawford, Emma Roberts, Zooey Deschanel, Maria Shriver and Nicky Hilton are among the big names endorsing Drybar. “We want to be the Starbucks of hair,” said company spokesperson Hilary-Chan Kent. With locations all over California and nationwide, Drybar is well on its way.
But don’t take their word for it. Ask customers of the Marina del Rey Drybar such as Jenny C., who gushed on Yelp: “This place is so much fun! The stylists are friendly and great with their service. Really, I just love sitting at this place. The bright yellow and white decor. The TV playing my favorite silly girl movie. The mimosas that sit in front of you. The iPod docks or iPhone chargers if your juice is low. I mean, for an hour of $35 pampering, what more can you ask for?”
Best place to catch your breath on an afternoon bike ride: Ballona Creek bridge Playa del Rey
For all the spots one could pull over to take in the sights along the coastal 22-mile Marvin Braude Bicycle Trail, the bridge crossing Ballona Creek between Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey is a worthy rest area. Offering panoramic views of the Marina entrance channel, Pacific Ocean, Ballona Creek and Playa del Rey, this bridge is the perfect place to snap some photos and contemplate the remainder of your ride. Typical sights are cyclists chatting by the curbside, boats sailing by and kids running toward the ice cream truck. Look around and you may even see some birds or other wildlife hovering around nearby Del Rey Lagoon.
Best spot to likely rub elbows with a billionaire cartoonist: Hi De Ho Comics
1431 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-394-2820; hidehocomics.com
Back in 1976, when Hi De Ho Comics opened in Santa Monica, comics’ direct market was nascent and the shop even predated Hollywood’s Golden Apple Comics.
Although owners Saleem Aaron and Cory Ives bought the venerable comic book shop from founding owners Mark and Bob Hennessey a few years back, the young owners grew up patronizing the place back when it was located on Santa Monica Boulevard at Sixth Street.
Hi De Ho has gone through a few changes under Aaron’s and Ives’ watch. The store moved in 2010 to a much bigger space on Lincoln, and they beefed up programming at the shop to include game and comedy nights, film festivals and parties with authentic taco makers.
The cherry on the sundae is that the Hennesseys have continued to help run the shop since selling it, so between the current owners and the Hennessey Bros. on hand, there is always a wealth of knowledge in-house come Wednesday. Centrally located in downtown Santa Monica, Hi De Ho has its share of celebrity customers, most notably Matt Groening, creator of “Futurama” and “The Simpsons,” who has been buying comics there since he lived in the Venice Canals. With no real comics shop in Malibu (Groening’s current address) and his Bongo Comics (publisher of titles based on his TV shows) walking distance from Bergamot Station, Hi De Ho continues to be Groening’s neighborhood store. If it’s good enough for Groening, one of the most successful cartoonists alive, you should be able to find what you’re looking for, too, right?
Best makeover for your bike: Performance Bicycle, Santa Monica
501 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 451-9977, performancebike.com/santamonica
Sooner or later, even your bike could use a makeover from the typical wear and tear, those many miles of the rubber hitting the road or from the dust and cobwebs formed while in storage during the colder months.
Just like a car needs a good oil change or tune-up once in a while to keep it in top performance shape, so does your favorite two-wheel ride. Even a mishap or two like a popped tire will have your bike aching for a fix-up. When these services are needed, look no further than Performance Bicycle in Santa Monica. With a very own maintenance area steps away from the sales floor, this shop will gladly take your bike in for a repair. Whether it’s new tires or a tune-up, the friendly staff are at your service and could have your two-wheeler looking all healed rather quickly depending on the type of maintenance.
Best 9-hole wonderland: Penmar Golf Course
1233 Rose Ave., Venice; 310-396-6228
Of all the public golf courses in the city of Los Angeles, very few are as convenient and well-suited for a few hours on the links as Penmar Golf Course. At 9 holes, this course, which opened in 1962, is just the right size for a game that won’t take up your whole day and will let you test out your swing before heading off to the more advanced courses. You don’t need to be any Tiger Woods to step on this turf, and in fact, you might be paired with some other players around your skill level, which could be a good conversation topic as you move from hole to hole. Penmar is situated under the flight path of Santa Monica Airport, making for good views of planes taking off, and its proximity to the ocean allows for a cool breeze, a nice addition to your round especially during the summer. If you have some time before teeing off, head into the café for one of the best grilled hot dogs around. Best place to live out your hoop dreams near the sand: Basketball court at Dockweiler State Beach
Playa del Rey
This partially hidden gem of concrete just off the beach in Playa del Rey allows hoopsters to enjoy the feel of the ocean while driving for a twisting, Tony Parker-like layup, pulling up to enjoy a Kobe Bryantesque 18-foot dagger or showing off your playmaking skills.
This court combines the best of Southern California: sand, sun and hoops.
Due to its location, it doesn’t attract a lot of visitors, so don’t worry about who’s got next. Just lace ‘em up and watch the sand.
Best place to see traffic light-obeying duck families: Venice Canals
Seeing a family of ducks swim in a lake or pond is not unusual. But watching them waddle along a bike path or even crossing the street as a family unit is another thing.
Near the Venice Canals, families of ducks often go for a leisurely swim before they do things that ducks do in a beachside community. One of them seems to be crossing busy city streets.
A family of these yellow feathered-clad Venice residents was once seen waddling along near the corner of South Venice Boulevard and Pacific Avenue, mom and dad with little ones in tow. As they approached the corner, the light was red and believe it or not, the ducks waited until the light turned green before crossing the street.
So there you have it: Venice ducks are also good pedestrians.
Best meeting place for his and her canines: Westminster Dog Park, Venice
1234 Pacific Ave., Venice; (310) 301-1550
One of the local area’s few dog parks, Westminster has a hill that Fido and Fifi will love going up and down, up and down. (It offers good exercise for their owners, too.) At this off-leash dog area, the canines are allowed to frolic amongst themselves without being held back by their owners. It’s also a few blocks from Venice Beach, where anyone might be wearing a leash on any given day.