After nearly 14 years living in the heart of the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA, Gregory and Emily Han relocated a few miles eastward into the hillside community of Mt. Washington. In search of nature and solitude, the couple admits that even lifelong residents of Los Angeles are often unaware of this section of the city, one which houses a cultural nexus of seven distinctly different neighborhoods just an earshot away from each other. Collectively known as NELA (Northeast Los Angeles), Mt. Washington, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Cypress Park, Glassell Park, Atwater Village, and Montecito Heights all share a mutual spirit of creativity, community, and diversity that continues to attract artists, designers and musicians to the area (which can also be attributed to the friendlier rent)!
In addition to the panoply that their rugged, wild property and 1920s home offers, the amenities surrounding them were also a deciding factor for Gregory and Emily when they considered uprooting: “All in all, NELA is a little country, a little rock ’n roll, with a whole lotta cumbia mixed in,” they add. Affording the best of both worlds, Gregory and Emily are proud and excited to join us today to share their guide to an action-packed 24 hours in NELA — and they were also kind enough to provide this Google Map, which includes all of the mentioned destinations and more! –Sabrina
Our late-1920s home sits in a remarkably wild section of Mt. Washington, where coyotes, raccoons, possums, skunks, and squirrels are common backyard visitors, and some of the narrow roads leading to our doorstep remain unpaved. In many ways we have the best of both worlds: nature at hand, and the city underfoot. Here’s how we’d thread 24 hours through an area deserving of 24 days of exploration:
What’s a morning without a cup of coffee? Answer: a sad one. Civil Coffee is one of the newer spots and perhaps the most beautifully appointed and comfortable local coffee purveyor to meet friends for a pre-morning-workout cup of “good morning.” Check out the deep, gentlemanly blue wainscoting and handmade Mexican tiles within; it’s a former dress shop reborn into a spacious place for enjoying coffee and conversation without anyone intruding on your space.
After coffee we’ll meet up with our friends kozyndan to hill-sprint and climb the Eldred Stairs – aka “El Dread.” This is the steepest street in Los Angeles and the reputed third steepest in the world. The incline is so abrupt, it requires its own special miniature garbage truck! When you first look up at the 33% grade incline, you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry…we cry afterward.
Of course, there are times when we’d rather work on our calm rather than our quads, and on those days we’ll stroll over to walk through the peaceful gardens of the nearby Self-Realization Fellowship of Mt. Washington. Situated atop of Mt. Washington, the solitary sanctuary once played host as a hilltop getaway for early Hollywood movie stars; later it became a cloistered monastery for the father of yoga, Paramahansa Yogananda, and it continues today as monastic spiritual center where public hours permit followers and the public alike to find calm amongst the well kept gardens. It’s a hidden gem and everyone we’ve taken there says, “Why didn’t I know about this?”
Amara Kitchen is where we’ll end up for a healthy breakfast. The menu is quintessentially Californian, where the kale is well massaged, the pancakes are paleo, and vegan/gluten-free/ vegetarian dietary restrictions aren’t a problem. We recommend the Avotoast, avocado-topped toast with two poached eggs and prosciutto, making for one fancy, open-face breakfast sandwich. Weekends can be a test in patience, but weekday mornings are easy-breezy.
When we need to do a little shopping, we like to keep it local, and we’ll head down to York Blvd. in Highland Park. First, Matters of Space – part boutique, part design firm – the retail space is basically our Pinterest board manifested into a tasteful selection of furniture, art, and home accessories befitting of an architect’s eye. This is not only where we’ll go for friends’ gifts, but for designs we’d welcome into our own home.
Afterward we’ll wander over to Meridian Mercado Diseno next door to admire the collection of vintage typewriters, objects of curiosity, and other designs with a slight industrial character.
A block away and around the corner is our local pet store, Rosie Bunny Bean. We’ll drop by to pick up food and treats for our two feline troublemakers at home. Co-owner Michael Baffico is the sort of friendly and helpful pet store owner everyone should hope for, and the store’s aisles are stocked with only the best brands that almost make you believe they’re fit for human consumption.
Across the street is Arroyo General, our go-to spot for groceries and gifts made by local artists. Hosted by Morning Glory Confections, Knotwork LA, and Pop Produce, the store is imbued with a creative, community-oriented feel. Alongside fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll find handmade ceramics and wood kitchen tools, artisan sweets (don’t miss Morning Glory’s fantastic brittles), prints and cards, body care products, and more. The work of friends like Chaparral Studio stocks the shelves, so the store feels especially close to heart.
Jugos Azteca hits the spot when we need a refreshment — a Mexico-style juice shop which prescribes fruit+vegetable combinations to treat ailments. We’re not sure about the efficacy of the drinks, but they taste good, and that’s enough to warrant a visit.
We’ve been known to plan our whole day around lunch at El Faisan y El Venado because we know we’re going to overeat. The slow simmered cochinita pibil makes our mouths widen and eyes roll back in pleasure and the queso relleno often makes us wish we had worn stretchy pants. The panuchos are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
After lunch we’ll drop by at our two favorite vintage furniture shops, The Hunt and Sunbeam Vintage. We recently scored a serene lithograph by an Austrian surrealist at The Hunt, and Sunbeam is where some of our mid-century furnishings were sourced. Prices at both are fair and open for favorable discussion (tip: go with cash in hand and you’ll save on tax).
If it’s a Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, it’s time to visit the Heritage Square Museum. This is the closest you’ll get to a time machine: a small block of eight Los Angeles Victorian buildings that were saved from demolition (LA has a horrible habit of demolishing its past).
Before the sun disappears we’ll head over to Elyria Canyon and plant ourselves down on a bench to watch the sunset, the sky tie-dyed with pastel oranges and yellows streaked with fluorescent pinks — with the Griffith Observatory visible in the distance. Elyria isn’t your typical park; it’s 35 acres of hillside protected and permitted to remain wild with native flora and fauna.
When we take friends there we’ll point out the edible wild radishes flowering, the spicy wild mustard blooms, and the occasional appearance of mushrooms along the trails. There’s supposedly a cute and shy bobcat now hiding along the canyons, which we’re hoping to catch a glimpse of.
We are senior citizens at heart, so we’ll head into Sonny’s Hideaway a little after 5 pm for an early dinner and some cocktails before the hoi polloi arrive. The drinks here are fantastic, with the deviled eggs and bacon-infused roasted brussels sprouts elevating their menu beyond the typical neighborhood joint fare. But we’ll skip dessert because…
Once we’re fully sugar-satiated, we’ll waddle out to enjoy Second Saturday, a monthly event with Highland Park stores and art galleries staying open late to celebrate creativity and community into the late evening. Our current favorite gallery of the bunch: Slow Culture (currently exhibiting the hilarious Earth People exhibition).
In conclusion, we’d like to mention what Robert Marsh, one of the first developers of Mt. Washington, said of our neighborhood back in 1909:
“Mount Washington appeals intensely to those of artistic tendencies, to the dreamer, to people of imagination, it also appeals to hard-headed, wide awake, “everyday people,” because it has been transformed from a somewhat isolated (because of its unusual height) miniature mountain, into a practical city residence subdivision.”
Today Mt. Washington appeals to those Angelenos seeking a little peace and quiet…but not too much — the miniature mountain is a great spot to look out to the expanse of Los Angeles and wonder, “where should I go to next?” Probably for donuts…for sure, donuts.