With the interwebs, you’ll find plenty of places to go and events to enjoy in the Greater Los Angeles area. But here are some things that won’t show up on your social media feeds.
What’s that smell? It’s just San Pedro—my hometown and once the mecca of all things seafood industry and marine life. Marineland (mini Sea World) is gone, the lookout point where I got one of my first BJs is now home to Trump’s golf course, and the Italians and Yugoslavs who bought fishing boats and cheap California apartment buildings are mostly dead, but not before bequeathing their blue colllar wealth on their privileged conservative children.
The good news is San Pedro is still a great place to enjoy the coast with less crowds, eat great seafood and Italian food, and at some point in 2022 be a part of the largest grand re-opening of waterfront property since Pike’s Market in Seattle or Granville Public Market in Vancouver BC. It will be called West Harbor; keep your ear to the ground for that one. I went to Catholic school with the CEO of San Pedro Fish Market (which is remaining open during construction) and one of the West Harbor developers is my client’s husband. That and $6 will get you a nice fried fish sandwich.
In the meantime … You can enjoy San Pedro and other parts of the South Bay for the following things:
1. Wayfarer’s Chapel. Designed by famous architect Lloyd Wright (son of famouser architect Frank Lloyd Wright), this tiny glass chapel overlooks the Palos Verdes Peninsula and sits within a well-maintained garden. I spent many afternoons there after high school let out contemplating what I wanted from life. I imagine there will be days when a connection to something larger than oneself and one’s music school will warrant a similar visit.
2. Busy Bee Market. What, you thought a things-to-do listicle written by me wasn’t going to have a hole in the wall eatery or two (there will be 3 on this list)? It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but that’s part of the appeal. My favorite was always the dipped pork sandwich with melted cheese, but you’ll be back multiple times so just go with your gut. And if you’re in the mood for Eric Family History, drive to 1528 W 15th Street just 5 minutes away to see where my white male privilege began in a Spanish stucco style house my father built. Over on 14th Street is Averill Park, a lovely setting to chow down on the Busy Bee sandwich.
3. Trani’s. Just to be clear, this is an Italian restaurant, not a gender neutral club. If you want classic Italian food the way someone’s Nona made it, this is a great place to go. Google J Trani’s Ristorante (pronounced like train-ease) just in case the old place has moved. I believe there are two locations now. I’d do the original one pictured here, because it looks the way an Italian family restaurant should look. If I can’t picture the execution of a Martin Scorsese character, then I don’t want to eat pasta there. Suggestion: kick it off with some Calamari (fried squid), order a red wine (perhaps a Chianti), and get the Veal Parm. For your choice of sides, go with any pasta in marinara and the house salad (you’ll need the roughage later). Now, if someone is taking you out for a special occasion or if you don’t mind dropping $40 on the entree, make that veal bone-in, and remember no means no. The meal will be memorable, because it’s delicious and it will take you a week to finish it. More Eric history: This is where our football team would have a team meal before games. Take one guess why we were perenially a 4–6 team.
4. The Korean Bell. Also not far from Busy Bee Market is (I think) Seoul’s gift to Port of Los Angeles. Who cares? It’s an amazing place for a great view of both the harbor and the cliffs, fresh air and a nap on a blanket. There used to be a basketball court right there, which has been used multiple times in commercials and may look familiar. Also nearby are old World War 2 fallout and storage bunkers where bands can practice today. Hopefully it all still exists.
5. Slavko’s Harbor Poultry. Still my favorite fried chicken joint ever. But the potato chunks are the must-have side dish. This is not the time to go carb-free. Yugoslavs (they’re probably Croatian not Serbian at Salvko’s but don’t ask) have amazing cuisine. Italians think no one cooks better than them, but they’re wrong. First, there’s the French who are better than everybody. And then there’s the Slavs, blessed with access to seafood, Mediterranean produce, and more amenable than the cocky Italians to influences from Germany and Hungary. This is a culture that has perfected inclusiveness (in their food, not their ethnicity; really DON’T ASK IF THEY ARE CROATIAN OR SERB, nothing good will happen; and don’t say Yugoslav, that’s just as bad; everything went to Hell after dictator Tito died). Now, if they have sauerkraut on the menu, get some. They make it with stewed tomato and slow-cooked pork shank. It’s so good my family stopped making it the German way.
6. Rolling Hills. OK, Karen. Get your white girl on and mount that horse in a summer dress and oversized boots. What could go wrong?! I have no clue what this costs nowadays, but SoCal is pretty amazing that you can be on the beach body surfing in the afternoon after taking a horse ride through wooded trails in the morning. The Rolling Hills Estates is where you can safely ride trails away from South Bay traffic, for the most part.
7. Hermosa Beach Comedy & Magic Club. What do Jay Leno, Garry Shandling, Larry Miller, and George Carlin all have in common? They performed 20 feet away from young Eric at this little club where big names are regulars. This is where they try out their material before launching their shows. Jay Leno would literally read his monologue jokes to the crowd and ask us which ones he should perform the next week on The Tonight Show. It’s another special night out kind of thing, but you can keep it cost effective if you do things like eat at a 24-7 restaurant in Manhattan Beach called The Kettle before or after a show. You’re on the beach, no need to spend a fortune on food. There’s a reason why California has the best burger chains (In-n-Out and Fatburger if you’re keeping score).
8. Body Surfing & Bonfires. All of the beaches from Torrance to Redondo to Hermosa to Manhattan are enormous, smooth-sand beaches excellent for sunbathing, Smashballing or volleyballing, and body surfing. Of course, you can try surfing surfing, but that takes practice before one can truly enjoy it. Body boarding is easy, but then you have to lug a body board around or find a part of the beach not too far from a rental spot. I say go au natural, sort of. Dude in the pic above is “late” on his sprint. In other words, you want to start swimming toward the beach a little earlier and harder than he seems to be doing. The wave will lift you up and push you forward what feels like 10 feet high and 80 miles per hour if you’re doing it right. Stick with it for 30 minutes or so and don’t shy away from big waves, you’ll get the timing of it down and find it addicting and invigorating. This is how I would reward myself for finishing a chapter in a textbook. Yes, I studied at the beach year-round. But by about Halloween, the water’s too cold to surf without a wetsuit.
DISCLAIMER: If you find yourself swimming back to the shore and not making progress, you are in a rip current. There is no need to fret, just scream at the hottest Lifeguard you spotted earlier and follow his or her directions. Just kidding. Stop swimming toward the shore and swim parallel to it. Pretty quickly you’ll be out of the current that was pushing you back and you’ll be able to walk back to the shore since it’s just not that deep. The best way to avoid a rip current is to look for the red flags posted by the Lifeguards. The best way to meet a hot Lifeguard is to ignore the red flags.
The other thing to not panic about but to understand is that sometimes—very rarely—a big wave can hold you under the water and even flip you around. You will float up within seconds if you just stay calm. Just be conscious that when your ride is about over to take a good breath without swallowing water. It will make you feel like you have plenty of time to pop up and you won’t panic. And, you float better with more air in your lungs.
As for the bonfires, just north of Manhattan Beach is Dockweiler Beach, which allows fires in their fire rings during non-pandemic times. It’s where I asked my wife to marry me.
9. Isaac’s Cafe. Hey chiquita, wanna go slumminnnnnngg? Wilmington is to be avoided, mostly. But when your mom and dad bought junkyards on the cheap to later sell for a big profit and use the money to send you to UCLA sans student loans, you inevitably and graciously come across things like Isaac’s burritos which is not too far away from junkyads. This is the place responsible for me knowing how to make authentic tacos and why I can’t bring myself to eat at Taco Bell or Del Taco. But when you’re there, forget about tacos and get the carne asada burrito (pictured above).
10. Belmont Shores. I almost forgot, you’ll be in Long Beach not the South Bay. I’m sure you’ll discover far more on your own there than I could offer since most of my time was spent west and north of the LB. But, a fond memory come Christmas time is Belmont Shores. It’s not a white Christmas, but it can be a wet Christmas with white people. That’s because Belmont Shores has homes along canals. And that means the homeowners are ungodly wealthy. And that means they do some obnoxious but impressive shit to their houses. So it’s become a great place to see holiday lights and walk amongst other God-fearing humans during a brisk, winter night. Make sure you have a proper walking shoe and bring your jacket! It can get as low as 59 degrees that time of year … Fahrenheit!
#Bonus Tips. Laguna Beach. It’s like one big Wyland painting if he ever painted above-the-surface. Perfect views. Clear ocean water. Art galleries and eateries all over. And an arts festival like no other: the Pageant of the Masters, wherein rich white people paint themselves into classical baroque paintings, sit still for a minute, and then break their pose right before you remember it’s not the actual “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, it’s just Ms. Van Coughlin from AP English in nothing but hair extensions and body paint.
It’s a pretty easy drive from Long Beach to the OC, if you’re judging it by SoCal distance and traffic standards. However, heading out early on the weekend is always better than sleeping in, as far as traffic is concerned. While the beauty of the beach is obvious, I always felt the small urban townscape was underrated. At one point, I was a scone delivery van driver for an outfit in Carlsbad (North County San Diego) and I would deliver scones there at 3 a.m. to all the coffee shops and a nice homeless man named Robert, who taught me how to use one’s sunglasses and headphones to sleep overnight in public and be able to fight the ticket in a court of law and win, in case ever the need arose.
The other OC city worth visiting if you have to choose is San Juan Capistrano. There’s a mission there if you want to relish in the accomplishments of Father Junipero Serra who founded about half the missions of California, which—in addition to essentially enslaving the natives and helping spread communicable disease that wiped out about 100,000 of them during his tenure—meant he was responsible for establishing and proliferating agriculture, irrigation, and the very first Southern California freeway (El Camino Real). Not small accomplishments for a middle-aged, half-crippled priest or anyone for that matter, and taken in context, there’s a reason even Pope Francis made this guy a saint. Every October, swallows leave Capistrano for warmer weather in Argentina (which some Nazis and even Pope Francis do). As for the birds, they return in March, usually in time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. He only enslaved white people. In all seriousness, it’s a nice town for good sceneries and eateries, or at least a pee break at a coffee shop when the final destination is San Diego. Look for the scones; the raisin became my go-to. Sounds boring, but with a good coffee, a well-made scone needs only a little sweet going on. “Raisin” also can be used in lots of puns.