Hipster Heaven: Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Highland Park and Eagle Rock
There are several neighborhoods east of Hollywood that have a more casual, hipster vibe. They have walkable streets with shops, restaurants, and that all-important artisan coffee. The main streets may look a little gritty. If you’re just driving through you might not realize that you should stop and wander around, but these neighborhoods are definitely worth knowing.
Silver Lake is actually a reservoir named after Herman Silver, a member of the first Board of Water Commissioners in Los Angeles. A lovely community was built around it starting in the early 1900s. Silver Lake was home to a few film studios, including Walt Disney’s first studio which is now the site of Gelson’s Market.
Today Silver Lake is a very cool neighborhood with a hipster/boho vibe. Despite the low-key attitude, don’t expect to find anything inexpensive here, whether it’s food or housing. You’ll find an interesting mix of homes here: modern, Craftsman, Spanish, mansions, and small apartment buildings nestled into hillsides with a riot of vegetation and gorgeous views of L.A. You can see the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory from many of these homes. I’ve stayed in short-term rentals in Silver Lake numerous times. I love this arrangement, as it gives me the chance to be in a real neighborhood where I can walk to the shops and restaurants, and I can be closer to my son and have him over for a home-cooked meal. I also get a little yard to hang out in, which you can’t get with a hotel. Unfortunately, this is getting harder to do as many communities, including Silver Lake, are trying to ban vacation rentals. I hope that doesn’t happen, as staying in a hotel off the highway is not nearly as pleasant, and I probably wouldn’t have had the pleasure of getting to know Silver Lake. The one downside to staying here is that some streets get cleaned every Tuesday and Friday, and all cars have to vacate one side of the street for several hours. As you can imagine, this makes parking difficult. Be sure to watch the signs when you’re here.
The commercial hubs of Silver Lake are Sunset Junction and Hyperion Avenue. There is shopping, yoga, massage, and loads of restaurants. Here are my recommendations:
Coffee: You can get excellent coffee at MorningsNights Cafe and Intelligentsia. I have a slight preference for the lattes at MorningsNights (now closed), which has some outdoor tables. Intelligentsia has excellent lattes as well, but if you want to do some people-watching while you sip, you’ll get more satisfaction here. If you want to wander a little farther, go to Rowena Ave. and get a good cup of joe at the Broome Street General Store. They have a lot of interesting things to look at while you’re waiting for your coffee.
Breakfast: For a full breakfast, go to the Sunset Junction Coffee Shop, which is an upscale diner with really good strawberry pancakes and all the usual stuff.
Lunch: Go to Forage for a healthy, locally sourced casual lunch. Cafe Stella is a French-bistro with a great Niçoise salad. Tomato Pie Pizza Joint has a huge variety of pizzas, either whole or by the slice, and it’s pretty good. Lyric Cafe has veggie fare, but I found it to be just OK. Say Cheese is a gourmet cheese shop and cafe with sandwiches and salads. They also have good coffee. You’ll find it next to Trader Joe’s. Need a sweet treat? Pazzo Gelato fits the bill.
Dinner: Barbrix has very good Mediterranean food including small plates, and a good wine list. Cliff’s Edge has a nice ambiance with a huge tree in the middle and twinkling lights. Night+Market Song is a small, busy restaurant that serves Thai street food. Hyperion Public is a pub-style restaurant where you can get burgers, mac ‘n cheese, etc. You can sit on the patio and have a hearty bowl of pasta and glass of wine at Speranza on Hyperion, or if you’re in the mood for Mexican, try Casita del Campo, family-owned for 54 years. Condor on Sunset is another alternative and has a pretty lively atmosphere. There are so many more — oyster bars, ramen places, etc., and there are lots of new restaurants opening all the time. We recently got to try Kettle Black, and we loved the food, service, and atmosphere.
Groceries: The Trader Joe’s on Hyperion is the highest-grossing TJ’s in the country. The parking lot is crazy, but there’s usually someone there to direct you in and out of a spot. Personally, I prefer to buy less so I can walk and skip the whole parking fiasco. Gelson’s is sort of like a Whole Foods, but possibly even more expensive. Yummy.com is a nice, small grocer near the MorningsNights coffee shop. You can go inside or get delivery. They make sandwiches to order there too. And being L.A., there is of course a Farmer’s Market every Tuesday and Saturday at the end of Griffith Park Blvd., near Sunset Junction. Wine lovers need to go to Silver Lake Wine. In addition to purchasing bottles, they have very popular Thursday-night tastings and once-a-month food pairings.
Staying Fit in Silver Lake
You’ll find yoga studios and gyms, but you can stay fit just walking around. I like to walk up into the hills and admire the homes. Bring your phone with GPS, because the roads are winding and it’s easy to get lost. Some streets are very steep. Another good workout is to walk or run up and down one of the many staircases that cut through the hills, including the famous Music Box Stairs that were featured in a Laurel and Hardy film. These staircases are steep, and some have over 100 steps and offer gorgeous views.
Silver Lake is very close to the Griffith Observatory, so you can drive there (about 10 minutes), park and hike up. Be sure to admire the views, and on the way down, stop at The Trails Cafe for an avocado sandwich and a cold brew coffee.
I didn’t include Echo Park in the title, but wanted to throw it in here. The Echo Park neighborhood borders Silver Lake. I haven’t spent much time there, but I’ve been to the actual Echo Park. It’s a lovely respite. You can walk around the lake or rent a canoe or paddle boat. If you want more of a nature hike, Elysian Park is about 10 minutes away. If you need a snack or your coffee fix, go to Fix. I didn’t eat anything there, but the coffee was awesome. For late-night food, you’ve got to go to the Taco Zone truck at 1342 N Alvarado Street. It’s the best!
First I have to get this out: The one thing that drives me crazy about Los Feliz is all the people who pronounce it “las felluss.” It’s clearly a Spanish word, so at least try to say it right: “los fa-lease.” Anyway, Los Feliz is the next neighborhood down from Silver Lake. My husband and I have actually walked to the Cafe Los Feliz from Silver Lake, which is very long walk, but if you’re a crazy walker like we are, it can be done. Los Feliz has plenty of hipsters and actors, but you’ll also find actual old people here as well. (I’ve seen a smattering of older folks in Silver Lake, but I think my husband and I are definitely the oldest people who’ve walked the streets of Highland Park!) Los Feliz has a mix of beautiful homes, estates, simple cottages, and run-down apartment buildings. There’s something for everyone.
Eating: Vermont Avenue and Hillhurst Avenue are the hot spots here. If you have the patience to wait in line, try Little Dom’s for Italian-American food. The line for Sunday brunch is especially long. The Alcove is another very popular place that gets crowded on weekends. Farfalla is a big hit with locals for old-world Italian. For coffee, my favorite is The Cafe Los Feliz on Hillhurst (not to be confused with the Los Feliz Cafe). They also have very good pastries and sandwiches. Larger grocery stores are Albertson’s and Vons, which are OK, but I like the smaller, Lassens natural food store on Hillhurst.
Entertainment: If you drive down Hillhurst, you’ll get to the Greek Theatre in about 15 minutes. This is a great outdoor venue for concerts and other live shows. We saw Jim Gaffigan there, and it was a lot of fun. From here you are still close to Griffith Park, so hiking there is a good option.
Highland Park is in the midst of a major revitalization and is considered the trendiest neighborhood in L.A. You’ll find lots of hip, new restaurants and shops co-existing with older Latino-owned shops along York Blvd. and Figueroa Street. This is truly a walkable neighborhood, as you can do many errands on foot, including going to the post office, hardware store, nursery, bakery, yoga studio, etc. It even has its own metro stop.
Like most of L.A., Highland Park is very dog-friendy. You’ll find water bowls in lots of places, and dogs are always welcome on restaurant patios, but the difference here is that if you walk your beloved pet pooch on the side streets, you’ll also come across dogs that are kept more as guard dogs and are likely to bark at you. Can be a little unnerving at times. The process of gentrification is not always smooth, and there are some growing pains here and there, but Highland Park continues to attract a lot of new businesses and new residents. Here are some recommendations:
Breakfast: Looking for good, cheap eats? The best deal in town is at Delia’s on York Blvd., close to where it intersects with Eagle Rock Blvd. It’s not fancy, but you’ll get your tummy filled, your taste buds satisfied, and you’ll still have something left over in your wallet. Plus I think it’s important to support the original businesses in addition to the new ones. I can vouch for the breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. There are tables indoors and a small patio outside, with a bright mural.
Want something a little fancier, a little more expensive ($10 – $12)? Try The Highland Cafe. They serve breakfast & lunch all day. Their huevos rancheros are pretty tasty too. There are a few outdoor tables as well as indoors, and there’s water for your pup.
How about a healthy juice? I counted three juice bars on York alone. You can get a $9 juice at a fancy place, or you can get a $4 juice at Jugos Azteca. The super green juice is delicious! For espresso drinks, go to Cafe de Leche, right across from the community playground.
Sometime during the day, you have to go to Donut Friend. They have a huge variety, and you can get a custom-made donut as well. These donuts are extra delicious and worth every calorie. I had a lemon-blueberry combo that was out of this world.
Lunch: you could go back to Delia’s for Mexican, or go to the Highland Cafe for a variety of good salads and sandwiches. Or pop into The York. I’ve had several dishes here, and loved them all: crispy chick peas, sauteed kale, truffle mac n’ cheese, truffle grilled cheese, and grilled salmon. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
Dinner: Maximiliano has delicious hand-made pasta, pizza, salads, and entrees like pan-roasted chicken with marsala. Two different dining companions raved about the pan-roasted pork chop. It was huge, juicy, and perfectly cooked. Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about the wine by glass. We tried three different red wines over two visits, and all were too sweet and syrupy. Hopefully they’ll have better wine when you go. For something quick and easy, you’ll find taco trucks on York most evenings. Silver Lake Ramen (the original is in Silver Lake) is great. I like the veggie ramen with a soft-boiled egg, and the leftovers are even tastier the next day.
Groceries: For groceries you can go to the big Super A on York or the small, Latin market La Tropicana on Monte Vista. My favorite was Fresco on Monterrey. The Farmer’s Market is on Tuesdays.
Drinks: We went to The York for drinks one night. It was trivia night, and they had a full house. It was a good crowd, and we enjoyed our cocktails. I hear that Sonny’s Hideaway is a good place for drinks, but the most interesting place may be the Highland Park Bowl on Figueroa. This 1927 bowling alley was restored to a beautiful bowling alley / restaurant / cocktail bar. I was so busy on York, I never made it over there, but it’s on my list for next time. In fact, I barely made a dent in all that Highland Park has to offer. Let me know about your favorites.
Exercise: If you need to work off those donuts or just relax a bit, I recommend taking a drop-in class at Namaste Yoga. They teach several styles, so you’re sure to find the perfect fit. I really enjoyed my class with Sondra. I also recommend taking a walk to Obama’s alma mater, Occidental College and then walking the grounds. It’s a pleasant, peaceful place with lots of mature trees and a fountain. The campus lies right between Highland Park and Eagle Rock. If you keep walking up, you’ll get to a great view of all of L.A.
Speaking of Eagle Rock, it’s very close to Highland Park, and is another popular neighborhood with hipsters and young families trying to find more affordable living and business space. It has some very pretty streets, as you can see:
The main street is Colorado Blvd. The first time we passed through Eagle Rock, we were starving and stopped at Colombo Italian Steak House and Jazz Club. It was one of those old-fashioned big banquette and white tablecloth places. The food was good. From there we went directly to Swork Coffee, which could be the best coffee in L.A. We’ve had huge sandwiches from the New York Famous Deli and bought all the fixings for a nice picnic at the Italian Bakery and Deli, including delicious, authentic cannoli. Four Cafe has healthy salads and sandwiches. I’ve heard that Little Beast is an outstanding spot for a nice dinner. Like Highland Park, new places are opening up all the time, and there’s much more to explore. For groceries, there are all the California usuals, but I like the Eagle Rock Trader Joe’s. Parking is a lot easier here than at Silver Lake, and it’s not as crowded. Seafood City is an Asian market with fresh food and low prices. It’s a good place to buy whole fish for grilling. There’s a Farmer’s Market on Friday evenings.
Shopping: My son’s girlfriend likes to shop at Native Boutique, so I went there in need of clothing. I found a beautiful dress at a great price, and I also had a very good time. The sales associate and the owner were super friendly, and I really enjoyed talking to them.
If you keep traveling down Colorado Blvd., you’ll find more interesting places in Eagle Rock, and it also leads to the lovely little city of Pasadena. That’s it for now. The next time you’re in Los Angeles, check out these neighborhoods and let me know what you think. Remember, you have to get out and explore and experience. You can’t really tell anything by driving by in the car.