Apparently, I can only get a blog post up about a summer trip after summer is officially over. (Yes, officially, because the first day of autumn this year was September 22nd). I’m still writing this because I figure it’s better late than never. Besides, it still feels very warm outside.
I flew to Los Angeles in early August, and it was my first time in Southern California in over a decade. My parents and my brother flew in from Chicago and our collective goal was to spend some time with my aunt, my mom’s younger sister who moved to the area from Seoul late last year. Even with her new husband being a longtime local, she hadn’t seen all that much of SoCal, so we spent most of the week sightseeing and eating everything we could.
I want to share the different cities and areas from this trip because the magical thing about Southern California is that you can access a huge city, mountains, and several different types of beaches all within a two hour drive. Buckle up, it’s going to be a long one. Here’s everything I saw, did, and ate during my five days!
Manhattan Beach Pier is the exact kind of beach you picture when you think of California. On the day I went, there was a cool breeze despite nearby areas experiencing pretty intense heat, and the water was a beautiful shade of greenish blue. This was my family’s first stop after getting off our flights, mainly because of its close proximity to LAX but also because my parents were particularly interested in eating In-N-Out on the beach. I still think In-N-Out has unacceptable fries, but having lunch on the beach was a nice experience.
You might find a good handful of people taking casual or professional photos on the beach. If you want to get a few shots to flaunt on social media, this is the place to take those pictures! There’s also the Roundhouse Aquarium at the end of the pier where you can get acquainted with marine life native to the California coast.
I took my family to Long Beach at the suggestion of my boss who grew up in SoCal. Even though our main goal was to see the Aquarium of the Pacific, my brother and I decided we should all go to lunch at Phnom Penh Noodle Shack, a popular Cambodian restaurant just over a mile from the aquarium. I ordered the Student Noodles, stir-fried savory rice noodles with shrimp, beef, peanuts, and pickled cabbage. This dish had a great mix of flavors and textures, and topped with a bit of their house-made garlic fish sauce, it was even more delicious. As a bonus, they served the noodles with a side of pork bone soup that was just as good as the main dish and made the meal feel extra special. It’s easy to see why this noodle shop is a local favorite.
After a hefty lunch, we grabbed some coffee from Recreational Coffee before our timed tickets to the aquarium. Their cortado was bold and slightly sweet, but well balanced and the rest of my family enjoyed their drinks as well. It’s a good local pit stop for a pick-me-up in Long Beach or just a good cup of coffee.
The Aquarium of the Pacific really lives up to its name. They have hundreds of marine life species and offer a look into the animals of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a family-favorite destination—there were many, many families with young children roaming around on a Wednesday afternoon, but my fifty-something year-old mom enjoyed it too. My personal favorite exhibit was one with several species of frogs, which illustrated both their diversity and endangerment. But I also loved seeing the sea otters swim and play, because who doesn’t? Overall, I found the aquarium a great place to spend an afternoon and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys learning about wildlife.
I’m going to start with the main non-food related thing I want to feature from within Los Angeles city limits: The Getty Center. This was hands-down the most unique art museum I’ve been to (and I’m going to apologize in advance to the Met). There are so many interesting exhibitions on display, from Medieval art to 18th-century French furniture to a gallery by LA photographers. A big highlight of the Getty is the architecture. I don’t know much, but exhibits are distributed throughout several buildings, with a beautiful fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Most of the buildings also have terraces in their upper floors where there’s an amazing view of the surrounding areas. I didn’t get to go to the garden, but would definitely do so if I get the chance to go back.
Now onto the food: the best meal I had in LA was at a KBBQ place called the Corner Place. Their Dong Chi Mi Gook Soo (cold noodles) are next level. You’re probably thinking “what the hell, it’s all about the meat at KBBQ” but the noodles are the real star at this place. The broth is refreshing, the noodles are perfectly chewy despite being thin, and overall this bowl of noodles is only enhanced by the grilled meat. The BBQ is pretty good too, I was just over the moon about the noodles. My aunt’s husband brought us here for dinner saying that it is the most consistently delicious place he’s been to during his 30+ years of living in SoCal. The restaurant has been open since the 80s and the food lives up to the legacy.
Corner Place was my favorite meal, but what about dessert? I’d had my eye on Bae in Little Tokyo as soon as I bought my ticket to LAX, so I insisted that we drive the extra 20 minutes from our hotel to try it. I tried all three of the swirl options the shop had, but my favorite was the combination of earl grey and cocoa puffs. Who even comes up with that? Bae is a soft-serve only shop, and their ice cream is smooth and creamy while being relatively light and not-too-sweet (which is key in the Asian dessert world). I liked it so much that I actually went there twice within a two-day span (and I kind of miss it already).
I was very briefly in Santa Monica to see the beach and was very lucky to catch the beautiful sunset on the pier. As much as I enjoy seeing the sun go down in New York, I have to admit that the view from the west coast is unparalleled. I highly suggest getting here an hour or so before the sunset so that you can fully enjoy golden hour or go on a couple of rides at Pacific Park if that’s your jam. Fair warning, the parking here is a bit of a nightmare, but the long-term parking lets you stay parked for the whole day for $15. I also saw plenty of people on the sand and swimming, so those are some options you may be interested in as well.
I enjoyed being in SoCal a lot more than I imagined, especially because of the great views and delicious food. It was a lovely mid-summer vacation and I hope to be back sometime next year. It’s not somewhere where I particularly would want to live (east coast is is still the true best coast), but it’s a great vacation destination!