Escaping to Los Angeles from Santa Barbara might be your opposite idea of a vacation, especially during the storms and surging viral rates of early January. But even though we’ve chosen to live here to avoid daily metropolitan chaos, many of us still crave brief blasts of Big City bustle. And when we’ve so far failed to properly show our own children the hullabaloo that is Hollywood, it was about time to write another L.A. story.
So as ominous gray skies framed the Hollywood Roosevelt’s soaring sign above, there I was, ear-deep in the relative warmth of the iconic hotel’s swimming pool, listening to frigid raindrops pitter-patter the surface while my daughter splashed nearby. That rain — and probably the COVID — meant we had the pool and much of the hotel all to ourselves during what would otherwise be a busy post-Christmas season.
Whether it was getting back-to-back breakfasts at The Rosy Café, sipping Italian martinis fireside at The Historic Lobby, or diving into island-y drinks on the eve of my son’s 12-year-old birthday at the Tropicana, the Roosevelt’s often-stacked offerings were a breeze to enjoy. We even landed last-minute dinner seats at the 25 Degrees burger bar when our Musso & Frank plans fell flat, leaving us dressed up with nowhere to go. (Thanks, Omicron!) In other words, follow the rain for relaxation — even the poolside rooms where we stayed appeared mostly unoccupied.
Our adventure began while listening to the top tunes of 2021 on the drive toward the La Brea Tar Pits, where only my wife had been before, but decades earlier. Much of the paleontological excitement can be ingested in the free public park, where ample signage explains how mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and dire wolves came to meet their ends in these inky ponds, and kids can climb on giant sloth statues. But stepping into the museum ups the education tenfold, with detailed dioramas, intact skeletons, a demonstration fossil lab, and archeological nods to the Indigenous peoples of the region.
Lunch was a few blocks away at The Original Farmers Market, where most of the historic produce stands are now serving various foods of the world, from Brazilian barbecue to Singaporean on a stick. We settled into El Granjero Cantina, which looks outward from the market toward The Grove.
As L.A. people paraded by, we sipped on “Naughty” punches and horchatas alongside hard-shell tomatillo chicken and soft-shell crispy avocado tacos. “I think I ordered the best thing on the menu,” said my wife through her avo-stuffed cheeks. Packed with protein, we braved the sugar stacks of Dylan’s Candy Bar before my wife walked down memory lane, picking out decals from Sticker Planet.
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After our hotel check-in, pool-in-storm session, and pre-teen laughs about the Roosevelt rooms’ Lover’s Kits — condoms perhaps useful for those with time and space to tackle the well-stocked booze collection — we walked a few blocks down a dark lane to dinner at L’antica Pizzeria da Michele. Opened in 2019, the hidden restaurant was the first export for this Naples, Italy–based outfit, whose family pie-making history stretches back to 1870.
Melon cocktails led into cauliflower with fontina fondue and Caesar salad before the pizzas arrived, thrillingly fresh with just-smashed tomato sauces. Jazzed by the Italian wine list, I sloshed through chalky greco di tufo and snappy nerello mascalese before picking an amaro to pair with our hazelnut-laced affogato.
We finished by trading photo shoots with a Japanese family, their son and daughter already full-grown but still hanging tight with the parents for birthday dinner. We looked at them with hope to have that same relationship in a decade or so, and they looked at us with friendly envy, their smiles reflecting those good times of their younger kid years.
The next morning’s expedition was uncharted territory for us, and for most everyone else: the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, a six-story ode to cinema that opened in September next door to LACMA, the Tar Pits, and the Petersen Automotive Museum. (The whole corner is like an architecture museum itself.) I worried at first that museuming about movies might be like dancing about architecture, but slowly grew more enthused by the exhibits, taking pictures of the Rosebud sleigh, Tin Man’s oil can, Mookie’s pizza guy uniform, the Dude’s robe, and a psychosomatic zoetrope from Toy Story. Showcasing a diverse Hollywood is the obvious goal, though that sweeping view of Hollywood from the Dolby Family Terrace leaves the strongest impression.
Lunch was at Canter’s Deli, another first, at least for eating-in. My daughter’s soup featured a matzo ball as big as her head, while my beet borscht was sweet, sour, and earthy, a palate-cleansing primer for the classic corned beef sandwich. As the ladies picked out challah and cookies to-go, my son and I plodded up Fairfax to see what the blocks-long line was about: a surprise sneaker drop at Supreme, which we learned from the clerk at the RIPNDIP next door, just another one of the avenue’s shoe-and-shirt boutiques that double as pop-art galleries.
Our educational mission got mobile in the afternoon by dodging Freddy Krueger lookalikes on Hollywood Boulevard to hop on the double-decker bus run by Starline Tour. I figured the tourist tram would be a lazy, stress-free way to show the kids the basics, from Whiskey a Go-Go and the Sunset Strip to glitzy 90210, trendy Melrose, and a peek at Pink’s Hot Dogs. It was freezing, and almost no one was using the hop-on, hop-off option that late in the day. But the earbud-delivered commentary was engaging enough for all ages, leaving my desired lessons efficiently achieved.
We hit the pool again around sunset, the Roosevelt’s tower this time coated in a creamy yellow glow, popping that pink neon sign with appropriate swagger. We weren’t yet aware that our Musso & Frank reservation had been canceled by COVID days before, despite repeatedly checking the website to plot our menu strategy. So sport jackets and dresses were donned, followed by a multi-block walk through the Boulevard’s mostly masked masses, not counting the blunt smokers on Snoop Dogg’s star and end-of-days, in-your-face corner preachers.
My family took the dinner disappointment in stride, settling with wide smiles into their 25 Degree burgers in the Roosevelt’s familiar embrace. I remained a bit bummed, even after my daughter’s first root beer float. I dragged my son to the Tropicana a few steps from our hotel room and lifted my mood with a few citrusy gin drinks.
Then I wondered if the bartender had a special virgin drink for my son, since his 12th birthday was just hours away. Out came a non-alcoholic piña colada, which I christened the niña colada. We toasted the start of his 12th year, the end of a tough 2021, and the beginning of what we all hope will be a brighter 2022.
411 | Book your own adventure by visiting DiscoverLosAngeles.com, or directly through TheHollywoodRoosevelt.com, StarlineTours.com, AcademyMuseum.org, TarPits.org, and DaMicheleUSA.com. See a full photo gallery of this trip as an Instagram Story by @mattkettmann.
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