Photos by Karrie Kwong
AMMENDMENT: Sweets4EpiGirl sent me the list of restaurants she visits in Laguna Beach, California. Try Laguna Beach Brewery & Grille, Romeo Cucina, Cava, Chipotle, La Sirena, Starfish Dana Point
In June, my friend Karrie and I visited Los Angeles. For me, it was a first visit, while LA holds a special place in Karrie's heart and will likely become her home someday. Now that I'm a full time writer I am opening myself up to more opportunities both in business and in life. I was invited to the premier of a food allergy documentary produced by the founder of No Nuts For Me, and I thought, well this is an unusual opportunity - I'm in.
Where we stayed - Culver City
We left Toronto on the Thursday night, returning from LA on the Monday night red eye which would land us home early Tuesday morning. For this duration of stay we chose to book an Airbnb for the convenience of having a kitchen. We booked a trendy loft space in Hollywood off Yucca street that was large and stylishly decorated with west coast flare and old Hollywood charm.
When we arrived around 11 pm we quickly realized it was not quite as advertised online, and felt it was not the best place for us to stay. The interior of the building looked as though it had withstood an earthquake but no one bothered to clear the rubble. I turned on the TV but it didn't have cable or Netflix; it might as well have been a cardboard box affixed to the wall. That was the last straw. What else do you travel for if not to watch television in your underwear in bed at night?
Airbnb was really good about refunding our money for the remaining nights and we booked a coach house in Culver City. Slightly thrown off by the experience, we decided to do a full reset the next day; a do-over.
A quick load up on groceries (damn those west coast avocados are delicious) and we were on our way to Culver City to check in to our new accommodations. Karrie and I tend towards lunacy to begin with, but we were literally jumping with joy and hysteria when we saw the place. A big, bright outdoor space with a table and lounge chairs greeted us, sheltered by an umbrella of bougainvilleas and neatly trimmed hedges.
The house was cozy, clean, and had everything we needed to fully vegetate. We made a bountiful breakfast and ate outside on the patio, patting ourselves on the back for having found such a gem. Our hosts stepped outside to greet us, the husband wearing a light weight summer scarf that led us to believe he must work in film. How else could you pull off such a look? They were very hospitable and even had a separate laundry facility and an outdoor shower that we were welcome to use.
We spent many hours on that patio every morning, achieving awkward tan lines and avocado-induced nausea. Too much of a good thing in regards to both.
A life post about food allergies would not be complete without mention of non-food something or other. Being a vacation, we did a number of non-food activities. Culver City is a hub for artists, galleries, and aspirational hipster shopping. I nearly spent $10 (USD!) on a cheap plastic light pink and royal blue ballpoint pen in a design store before Karrie suggested I keep looking for something better to spend my money on. But I needed this pen, it could be my autograph pen, and I still regret leaving it behind.
We spent a full day wandering through several local galleries, each offering a very unique atmosphere and showcase of artists. Blum & Poe had wonderfully massive art, big art, and a greatly tempting room of artwork separated by glass doors that was marked "private". Who thought to put the private artwork behind glass, I have no idea, but I did find it highly amusing.
Shopping is also a must because LA has way more clothing shops than we do in Toronto. Clare Vivier was a huge temptation for me but fortunately/unfortunately the shirt I liked was not available in my size. Melrose was easily my favorite excursion of the trip.
Go for a hike! Seriously. We hiked a small portion of Runyon Canyon and despite my aversion to exercising, I really enjoyed it. The sights are beautiful.
Visit the observatory late at night. It's gorgeous. James Dean did some famous scenes there. It is not, unfortunately, as empty and somber as it is in Rebel Without a Cause (there are tons and tons of people) but you can watch one of those night sky movies that I really love.
Dining in restaurants
Ha! We tried, we did not succeed. I naively had this idea of California in my mind as a wonderland for food allergies. Is it not the birthplace of veganism and eating gluten-free? I always thought that California would be a haven for me, and I didn't stress about the food beforehand at all. This was stupid.
Fortunately we did a big load up at Trader Joe's in Culver City.
I used the Allergy Eats app, which I love tenderly and use whenever I am on vacation in the US. It was difficult to find any recommendations from people with my list of allergies - peanuts, nuts, dairy, soy, legumes, but I managed to find some that were close. We tried a meal at Il Cielo, and they gave us the all-clear when we called ahead. The manager had food allergies himself and was very empathetic, but the chef was unable to work around the dairy allergy so I sipped a (free) Peroni while Karrie enjoyed a delicious-looking bowl of pasta. I was fine with this. I ate at the Airbnb when we got home.
We scheduled a cook at home dinner on the night of the film premier, because we knew we'd be pressed for time.
One night we attempted a nice sushi dinner at Katsuya in Hollywood. The server was very diligent and the chef was on display behind the sushi counter, but somehow I still had an itchy mouth while eating and ended up not finishing my dinner which was an absolute shame. There must have been some cross-contact at some point before preparation.
Cognoscenti Coffee was a cute little coffee nook we visited in Culver City. Karrie got an iced coffee drink and a pastry, and I brought some banana bread that I had packed from home. We enjoyed our treats on the sidewalk.
In Santa Monica we found a restaurant with a raw bar, which is my go-to dinner option. An oyster in its own shell, and don't even think about garnishing it with anything please. Usually very hard to mess up. But this place found a way. They had raw pistachios behind the bar for a scallop platter, highly unnecessary in my opinion. The manager couldn't guarantee anything because it was the same guy touching the nuts that was handling the seafood. I was a little annoyed and ended up eating a bag of sliced peppers for dinner before we left to catch our flight. They had offered to grill me a piece of fish but after their uncertainty with the raw bar I didn't want to take the risk.
I hate to admit that I did not have a successful restaurant experience on this trip despite my optimism. I brought lots of pre-packaged and home baked snacks from home and loaded up on healthy and nourishing foods (like sweet potato, avocado, and grapefruit) from Trader Joe's. Vegan food culture is heavy on legumes and nuts, which are a no-go for me. General American cuisine is heavy on dairy and often, nuts. And I fall somewhere in no-man's land. Our lazy brunches at home were a blessing because I tend to eat more in the first half of the day anyways, and stay full well into the evening.
Rent a car
I'm an east coast-er (southern Ontarian) to the core and love to walk everywhere. LA is not the place for this. Literally no one walks anywhere, ever. It was us and the tumbleweed, and a $250+ Lyft bill by the end of the trip. Everything is so far and spaced out that you should plan your days geographically by excursion. I could see Karrie grinding her teeth at me as she explained for the millionth time that we could not go to the LA flower market and Santa Monica in the same day.
As usual, Air Canada was very good about creating a buffer zone around me for peanuts and nuts. I never bring up my other allergies because I figure, what's the use? There's no possible way everyone could abstain from those allergens anyways and I never eat plane food.
To conclude this very long-winded post about traveling to LA with food allergies, it is not going to be smooth sailing if you have the same allergies I do. Rent a place with a kitchen. Go to the grocery store. Accept the fact that you might not get to eat a nice dinner in a restaurant, but you will get to enjoy a trip with family or friends in one of the most pleasantly colour-blocked places in America.