Earlier this Spring, I decided to escape the dreary East Coast doom and gloom in favor of a month in sunny California. As some of you may remember from my confessions around that time, there was a short while when I thought I could be relocating to Los Angeles for good. When that didn’t happen, and I just couldn’t face another episode of Punked, Mother Nature Edition, I relocated Feed Me Phoebe HQ to Santa Monica for a chunk of March and April.
It was an incredibly productive trip. Especially if said productivity was measured in units of raw fish and tortillas consumed per hour. So I’m excited to finally be sharing the best locations to do some healthy “work” of your own on your next trip to the city of angels.
I stayed with my uncle on the West Side for most of this last trip, but I also included some recommendations from past excursions when Charlie and I posted up at The Line Hotel on the East Side, and ate our way through that neck of the woods.
If you’ve never been to LA before, heed the warnings of pop culture: if you attempt to traverse the city, you may get stuck in traffic for the next six years. To get the most out of your itinerary, it’s best to plan your eating and activities to be neighborhood specific. Two days on the West Side, followed by two days on the East Side would be a perfect mix. If not going the hotel route, you can find great AirBNB’s in Venice and Silver Lake, which will allow you to really experience neighborhoods where there are less commercial hotel options.
As always when I travel, I tried to balance the lauded wellness hot spots with some of the more indulgent foodie destinations. The beauty of California is that many of the chef-y restaurants are seasonal and veggie-oriented, so even if there’s beef tartar on your plate, you can usually rest assured that it’s grass-fed and served with homemade sweet potato chips, heirloom radishes and little gem lettuces that Mark Ruffalo picked from the garden out back.
Read on for some of my favorite places to get a healthy, hedonistic meal that will ensure a delicious vacation without requiring you to experience consecutive Barry’s Boot Camp sessions on your return. Also, I have some recs for other activities to help you stay active in between sushi and smoothie bowls!
From one healthy hedonist, to another,
Kye’s Montana // Lunch // Santa Monica
I am officially a Kyerito addict, and I’m not ashamed. What is this, you ask? Oh, it’s a sushi burrito made with a choice of nori, romaine or collard greens as your wrap of choice. The brilliant packaging separates the filling from the wrap, which ensures that the seaweed and lettuce stays unsoggy, and that you don’t have to send your outfit out for multiple stain treatments at the dry cleaners, as I normally have to do after eating lettuce wraps. My favorites were the Nahm Jim, a combination of shredded veggies and nuoc cham sauce, and the bulgogi, sliced grass-fed beef with crunchy romaine.
Kreation // Lunch + Juice // Santa Monica
It doesn’t get more LA than this healthy juice spot. If you sit down for lunch on the turf-lined patio, the first thing you’re served is a dehydrated hand towel that gets doused in rose water before your eyes. Don’t accidentally try to eat it, a la Amy Schumer in Trainwreck. The juice offerings are elaborate and delicious. They come in glass bottles and are made fresh on site. The food is just so-so, but there are lots of cleanse-worthy kale-y options.
Groundwork // Coffee + Lunch // Santa Monica (among others)
This is a popular coffee chain throughout LA, and a nice alternative to the high fructose corn syrup concoctions at Coffee Bean and Starbucks. On site, their lattes are served in tasteful ceramics, and the pastry case usually contains a good selection of GF baked goods from a shifting rotation of local purveyors. I posted up every morning at the location on Montana, down the street from Kreation and Kye’s. The truffle salt avocado toast was everything I wanted in an avocado toast.
Beaming // Smoothies // Santa Monica
Housed on the same strip of Montana as the above, and directly downstairs from Yogaworks, is this great smoothie spot. It’s nice to see a menu that prioritizes smoothie cleanses over fiber-free juice options. And the combinations are delicious.
Sweetfin Poke // Lunch // Santa Monica
My addition to this poke bowl palace might have rivaled the Kyerito. I couldn’t get enough of all the raw fish and condiment offerings. My favorite combo was salmon, spicy yuzu, kale, crispy onions, cilantro, cucumber and avocado with a side of togarashi sauce, because the more sauces the better. You can get your bowl on their signature green bamboo rice, or for a healthier alternative, atop kale or kelp noodles. I went into such withdrawal on my return, that I immediately recreated my favorite poke bowl at home.
Sugarfish // Lunch + Dinner // Santa Monica (among others)
This affordable sushi feast is usually my first stop upon landing at LAX. And during the 365 days a year in between LA excursions I’m left dreaming and salivating over the warm blue crab hand roll that arrives at the end of the meal. Choose the “Trust Me” menu and if there’s a scallop special, add a piece to your order. And if one toro handroll isn’t enough, as it never is, you can always order more a la carte.
The Butcher’s Daughter // Brunch + Lunch // Venice
This cafe has been a plant-based mecca in NYC for the last few years, and recently launched their West Coast outpost. The airy ambiance, complete with an encyclopedia of succulents, is far more fitting of Venice than the Lower East Side, so I actually prefer it to the original. The gluten-free breads are amazing, as are the croissants (!!) in the front case. They also serve up eggs (like the above sandwich) during brunch hours.
Rose Cafe // Brunch + Lunch // Venice
This warehouse cafe is a nice place to post up during the week for a light lunch and work sesh. You can also get their mixed prepared salads from the case to-go, in case you want to brown bag it at the beach.
Moon Juice // Juice // Venice
I’m not the biggest juicer, but Amanda Chantal Bacon’s flagship store doesn’t disappoint. My favorite of her creative combinations is the carrot, coconut and lime.
Gjelina // Dinner // Venice
You may have to eat at 6pm if you want to get into this uber-trendy Venice restaurant, but it will be worth the hype. They’re known for their wood-fired pizzas and vegetable small plates. Obviously, I couldn’t eat the former. And for once, I didn’t care. The cauliflower and brussels sprouts were heavenly in their simplicity.
Gjusta // Brunch + Lunch // Venice
The casual sister restaurant to the above is equally annoying in its hipster pomp and circumstance, but will lure you there again and again thanks to the food. The countertop format left me unsure of how to get my food, and therefore, feeling self-conscious about whether I was as worthy of dining there as Moby, who was perched at the marble slab next to me. Get a paper menu and order by the front case. Pro tip: if you argue with the woman at the cash register in a pushy New York way, you will eventually wear her down and she will give you three smaller veggie sides for the price of two larger ones. The broccoli rabe, cauli, and antipasti escarole salad were keepers. Find a spot in the back garden or at the counter next to Moby, and the hot food will be brought to you.
Cafe Gratitude // Brunch + Lunch // Venice
Remember when I said there’s nothing more LA than Kreation? I lied. There is. And it’s Cafe Gratitude, where the menu choices are written as affirmations like “I am humble” or “I am accepting.” I am not sure if I’m either of those things, but the resulting vegan bowls were delicious. If you can get past the server asking you to discuss “what makes you feel empowered” amongst yourselves without too many eye rolls, you’ll leave feeling satisfied.
Superba // Brunch + Lunch // Venice
This cafe on Lincoln Boulevard has a great outdoor area where you can bring your laptop and enjoy a productive morning of work and vegetable hash. Their outdoor garden also contains pretty planters where the various greens on the menu are sourced from. Make sure to check out their events page for daily meditations and healing sessions held out there.
Backyard Bowls // Lunch // West Hollywood
Most people opt for the signature smoothie bowls or oatmeal at this West Hollywood fruit wonderland, but I fell in love with the recently introduced savory options. The chopped salad is packed with kale, quinoa, Acai berries, almonds and other crunchy goodness. It sounds basic, but it’s not.
Ink // Dinner // West Hollywood
I used to be a huge Top Chef fan, and the Voltaggio brothers’ season was my favorite. I’ve been dying to try Michael’s cooking in person ever since he won, and his upscale (yet chill) LA restaurant INK did not disappoint. Charlie and I went there for a special date night last summer and were so blown away that it’s become our LA tradition every time we’re in town together. The menu changes seasonally, so you can be sure there will always be something new and interesting to try. I’m not usually a fan of molecular gastronomy, but MV’s cooking style still honors the main ingredient, while adding a few cheeky accents thanks to dehydrated powders and foams. It’s soul satisfying, not fussy food. The smaller veggie dishes are by far his best. And a beet mezcal cocktail washed everything down just right.
Gracias Madre // Lunch + Dinner // West Hollywood
The more relaxed sister restaurant to Cafe Gratitude, you’ll hardly miss the queso at this plant-based Mexican spot, especially if you order the fried cauliflower drizzled with cashew cheese. It’s veggie crack. Also, the cocktails are delicious. Thank God tequila is vegan.
Night + Market // Dinner // West Hollywood (among others)
You can’t go to LA without hitting up some of the authentic Southeast Asian restaurants. If you don’t want to seek out the strip malls in Thai Town, Night + Market serves up some slightly trendier Isaan (Northern Thai) street food. There are locations in Silver Lake and West Hollywood. Try the specials to get a real taste of the region.
Sushi Park // Dinner // West Hollywood
A step up from Sugarfish, if not ambiance-wise, this strip mall not-so best kept secret offers a high quality omakase that would be double the price anywhere else in the country.
Republique // Dinner // La Brea, Miracle Mile
You’ll fall immediately in love with the design at this chic bistro, with raw bar options for days. The neighborhood is kind of no man’s land, but it’s in the center of the city, and worth a trip for the fresh oysters, wood fired veggies, moule frites, and an exceptional grass-fed beef tartar.
Grand Central Market // Lunch + Martket // Downtown
As a food lover, you can’t go to LA without checking out this historic market in the renewed downtown area. Buy some cheese for later, try the falafel, sample a taco or two, followed by a seafood tostada at the Tostaderia, and finish with a coffee at G&B to offset your food coma. Or just go for one of the below.
Egg Slut // Brunch + Lunch // Downtown
I’ve never seen anything like the line at this breakfast sandwich shop, which wraps around Grand Central Market beginning at 9am. It’s worth the wait in instagram food porn points alone.
Belcampo // Lunch + Market // Downtown (among others)
I first learned about this sustainable meat shop a few years ago in a fascinating New Yorker article, and have since been obsessed with their philosophy from afar. If you want to try cooking a meal at home, let the progressive butchers help expand your horizons with odd cuts that make meat eating that much more sustainable. There are also locations on the West Side.
Sqirl // Brunch // Silver Lake
Holy crap. Sqirl. Yet another muse for healthy hedonist sonnets yet to be written. The crispy rice with a fried egg is pretty much my ideal breakfast. If that’s not your thing, the seasonal hash is always a winner, especially with a glass of turmeric elixir on the side. Don’t let the line intimidate you. It moves much faster than Egg Slut.
Little Dom’s // Brunch, Lunch or Dinner // Los Feliz
In addition to the occasional Hambone sighting, this cute bistro in Los Feliz serves up consistent and simple Italian fare. Their Monday $18 3-course supper is one of the best deals in town.
Stamp Proper Foods // Lunch + Smoothies // Los Feliz
Across the way from Little Dom’s is a perfect spot for a healthy lunch or smoothie. They have great WIFI and seating, so feel free to post up for the day.
Commissary at the Line Hotel // Cocktails // Koreatown
After seeing the movie Chef, roughly based on the rise of food truck pioneer Roy Choi, I was psyched to try his signature fusion cuisine. Unfortunately, I wasn’t blown away by the food at Commissary, his rooftop restaurant at the Line Hotel, where Charlie and I stayed. But the cocktails were top notch, and I loved that they were served in plastic quart containers. It’s a creative way to get around the no glass rule in the pool area, and the preferred vehicle of boozing chefs everywhere. The Shiso Leaf Pimm’s Cup was especially delicious.
Ostrich Farm // Dinner // Echo Park
Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to try this neighborhood restaurant. But it was highly recommended by friends as the best spot in Echo Park for a super reasonable, romantical dins. It’s a husband and wife team, and they have some of my favorite LA ladies’ textiles on the walls.
Baco Mercat // Dinner // Downtown
This downtown restaurant is known for its sandwiches, but the creative veggie small plates blew me away. Don’t miss the cauliflower, eggplant and patatas bravas.
Ace Hotel // Cocktails // Downtown
If you don’t mind elbowing past LA hipsters in ripped jeans, $200 sneaks and fedoras, the newly restored Ace Hotel in the historic downtown district of LA is a great place for a rooftop drink. Hit up Grand Central Market, then pop into some of the old movie houses lining the adjacent streets, and end the evening with a glass of wine at the Ace.
Where to Stay
If price is not a concern, there are some beautiful iconic hotels in the center of town, near the Sunset Strip. Otherwise, for a modern option on the East Side, we loved our stay at The Line in Koreatown. It’s pretty convenient to Downtown and Miracle Mile, where most of the modern art museums are. Santa Monica has many options on the water. But you will find the more affordable and comfortable option is an AirBNB in Venice.
Make sure to take advantage of the outdoors in between meals!! The big advantage of LA as a city is all the readily accessible hiking trails around town. If you’re on the West Side, check out Temescal Park or Will Rogers in the Pacific Palasades. Further up the coast, there are some great hikes in Malibu. And if you want to get really crazy, as Charlie and I did on this last trip, go for a pony ride in the mountains! We had a great time with Los Angeles Horseback Riding in Topanga. Our romantic sunset ride came complete with Kardashian gossip and beautiful views. Just be warned: the staff is on cowboy time, which means the experience will take a lot longer than the 1 1/2 hour estimated. We arrived at 5pm and didn’t make it back to the ranch until 8:30. Some people will appreciate the time at the beginning to get to know your horse and watch them saddled up. More experienced riders (and/or New Yorkers), like myself, will get impatient. Especially when it means heading straight to your Saturday night dinner reservation smelling like pony.
If you don’t have time for a hiking or ponies, try out the new Hulu bike share program and go for a ride on the beach in Venice or Santa Monica.
Further East, there’s Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park near Silver Lake. The observatory is a great destination for views of the city.
Finally, LA is becoming an amazing art hub, with new galleries opening up every month. Make sure to look up what’s going on at LACMA, MOCA and The Getty. The latter is worth a visit simply for the architecture and views.
Anything else to add from your own LA excursions? Let me know your favorite healthy hedonist spots in the comments section! I’ll add them to my list for next time. For more healthy hedonist travel guides, click here!