TRAVEL GUIDE: The Scenic Route Through The San Fernando Valley
It’s a sun-drenched, hungover afternoon. Dr. Nick Roth, PhD, lifetime resident of Hollywood and all-star contributor here at Bunny Ears, dives headfirst along with his wife Lindsey into the most enviable assignment of the season: take off for the day from their Hollywood Hills home to scout out the quaint strip-mall sushi, charming strip-mall art galleries, and enlivening boutique strip-malls that make it almost worth driving over Laurel Canyon (but not at rush hour, obviously).
The destination is the San Fernando Valley, or “The Valley,” as we locals call it. The ride is Lindsey’s 2004 Prius with a bumper sticker on the back that says, “UFOs are real. The government doesn’t exist.” We have eschewed taking my Tesla Model S in order to “fit in” with the “Valley folk.”
In addition to a freeway that can’t decide whether it runs North-South or East-West, The Valley is famous for one thing above all else: it’s the only neighborhood in LA with ample free parking, which is why we’re in a car instead of taking a Lyft in the first place, even though nothing would make the Valley experience more authentic than a forty-something disgruntled former cab-driver telling us about the time he was background on “The Facts of Life.”
Sailing up the scenic 101 Freeway with all three of the Prius’s working windows down is positively rejuvenating, and we leave behind all the cares of Hollywood, with its better food, actual art scene, and literally any two places that look different from any other place.
The piece de resistance is a dinner as filling as it is ful-filling at Islands Porter Ranch (now basically gas-leak free!). The teriyaki burger, which has fucking pineapple on it, is beyond. The super nachos are inventive and rustic at the same time. And the parking? Ample and free. Lindsey had annoyingly suggested that since Mack was paying anyway we might as well go all out on the famous Omakase at Asanebo, but I was looking for the more quintessential Valley experience: eating at all four Valley Islands locations in a single, glorious day.
Read on for a cozy scrapbook from our romantic adventure-getaway!
The Valley, home to nearly two million people who sort-of qualify as Los Angelinos, is 260 square miles of concrete charm just North of the good part of LA. Long the subject of ridicule from the more creative and intelligent crowd on the other side of the hill, I couldn’t wait to see if The Valley actually had anything “scenic” to check out.
We kickstart our trip with breakfast at Islands. Lindsey looks at me, confused, and says, “So you were serious about the only-eating-at-all-the-Islands-locations-in-The-Valley part?” I laugh, very carefree, and exclaim, “It’s an under-rated chain, babe!” She rolls her eyes and states flatly that there is an Islands in Westwood, but whatever. I gently remind her that Islands Sherman Oaks offers free garage parking and then order a Mai Tai.
Next we kick it up a notch with a round of mini-golf at the less-rundown-than-you’d-think Sherman Oaks Castle Park. This builds up quite an appetite, and with the recent closure of Dupars, where you used to be able to get thirty-dollar pancakes that tasted kind of like Porter Ranch smelled right after the gas leak, we spring for our second of The Valley’s four Islands locations.
Over a “Big Wave Burger” and a “Jungle Caesar,” I say declaratively that there is literally nowhere better to eat in the whole Valley. Lindsey shoots me some side-eye and reminds me that she grew up in The Valley, and I remind her that it kills me a little bit inside every time that comes up.
After that, we take a cruise down scenic Chandler Blvd., The Valley’s only street with trees, and then head deeper into the heart of darkness. We take in the sights: first up is The Cobalt Cafe (Sherman Way and Topanga Canyon Blvd.), closed since 2014 but still a piece of history. Wikipedia describes it as “among the primary musical, artistic, and cultural centers of the San Fernando Valley.” It’s where Hoobastank got their start!
Then we take a trip past the also-closed Oxwood Inn (Oxnard and Woodman, get it?), which used to be a great cash-only lesbian bar with karaoke Thursdays and the only good reason to venture into the part of Los Angeles that is regularly ten-to-fifteen degrees hotter than the nice part where I am from.
It’s sad that The Oxwood closed — much sadder than the more oft-lamented closure of Dimples (Olive and the 134 freeway), where you used to be able to buy an overpriced DVD of your drunk friends singing Foreigner with the guy who played Mr. Belding who for some reason was always there. Ah, memories.
Looking for something less “closed forever,” and not really feeling in the mood to drown our feelings in the world-famous cougar bar Foxfire (Magnolia and Whitsett), we put the Prius into high gear and blaze through Chatsworth, world home of pornography, and past the colossal Aerojet Rocketdyne factory. I joke that if it ever explodes, the whole city will go, and that everyone within ten miles of here for sure has cancer. Lindsey says under her breath that she used to drive this route every day of her life as a child, and then we drive in silence for a little while. So peaceful.
Then we have dinner at the aforementioned Islands Porter Ranch! In my opinion, this is the best Islands bar none, inasmuch as they are all stunningly, almost frighteningly identical.
By now it’s too late to check out the Sepulveda Dam, a magical detour as long as you are in a group and it’s not within two hours of dusk when it’s teeming with muggers, so instead we round the night off at Islands Westfield Topanga with big plastic Pina Coladas that help us pretend we went somewhere that didn’t feel so much like the gear-works of the capitalist death machinery that this place wreaks of.
At this point, Lindsey demands to know why I brought her to the part of town she grew up in just to shit all over it, and I retort that I am not shitting on all of it. She says, “I know. I get it. You really like Islands.” And I say, “Yeah! See, you get it.” She then accuses me of being “impossible” and gets out of the car.
Lindsey tries to call a Lyft, but her phone battery dies, so I laugh at her and tell her she’s trapped with me in the Cube-like maze that is the nightmare grid of Woodland Hills north of Ventura.
She calls me an “elitist asshole,” and I understandably take offense at her lumping me in with people from the 310 area code. I tell her I am a 213 guy and I always will be, and she says, just to hurt me, that she’s always thought of me as more 323, so I tell her we need to stop lashing out at each other with things we can’t take back, but she just says that I’m not even legit Hollywood because I went to a private high school in Santa Monica.
I am stung speechless, but she doesn’t let up. She says she is proud of her Valley heritage and points out that unlike me, she grew up walking her dogs in a real park. Even I have to admit that Runyon Canyon is fucking bullshit, and she rightly states that Chatsworth Park is very nice, even if it did close in 2008 because they had to clean up all the toxic soil.
I break down and tell her she’s right. I’ve been taking out my shame on her by passive-aggressively attacking the place she came from. I tell her, heartfelt and everything, that I’m sorry. She forgives me, and with a gentle smile she reminds me how much we both hate Calabasas and everyone from Calabasas.
Still committed to doing the assignment, we look for a place to stay the night. Lindsey suggests the Sportsman’s Lodge. A friend of a friend of hers is a sex worker who recommends it. We go and it’s actually not bad!
Well, I hope you learned something from this travel guide. Be sure to comment below with your own favorite Valley spots!