TMZ Stalks on the Westside
When was the last time you saw a motley crew of paparazzi shouting at celebs on the Boulevard? The Valley is jam-packed with the biggest names in the biz, yet you’d never know it along our main drag. Forget about celebs sporting conspicuous, big sunglasses (at night) and face-shielding hats that scream “I’m famous.” We don’t make a big deal of celebs—and neither do they. Alert the paparazzi? Not a chance.
We’re Sushi Ground Zero
The nation’s sushi craze was born—and still reigns supreme—here. Some three decades ago, Kazunori Nozawa opened Sushi Nozawa (the so-called “Sushi Nazi”) in a nondescript strip mall in Studio City and did something verboten. He put plates of his choice in front of diners. Turns out they didn’t mind omakase-style service a bit, and lines formed around the block. Today you can find sushi virtually anywhere, but if you’re looking for some of the world’s best, stay close to home.
Norman’s Rare Guitars
If a rare guitar is rumored to exist, Norman Harris will hunt it down. Norm has been buying vintage instruments and selling them at his Tarzana store since 1975. Clients, some of the biggest names in rock and roll, have included George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Richie Sambora, Joe Walsh and Eddie Van Halen. Norm got an offer to do a reality show but declined. Why would he? He’s got his own show going on in the shop. Just check out the 200 or so videos—many of them impromptu performances—posted on the store’s YouTube channel.
Yankee Bad-Ass Giancarlo Stanton
A mountain of a man at 6 feet 6 inches, 245 pounds, Giancarlo Stanton graduated from Notre Dame High School, and they trained him well. Last year’s NL MVP and a four-time All Star, Stanton signed the richest contract in baseball history in 2017. He made his major league debut with the Miami Marlins and today is an outfielder and designated hitter for the New York Yankees. When he hit 59 homers last year, it broke a 16-year record. Now that’s swagger.
Augustine Wine Bar
This tight little wine bar and eatery is the most exciting place to drink vintage vino in LA. Where else can you get rare bottles like a 1968 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon? Proprietor Dave Gibbs often serves bottles from his personal collection. If it’s unusual to find a wine bar pouring treasures like this by the glass, it’s unheard of to find one owned by a lifelong collector. Another draw: the “Rare and Vintage” list on a chalkboard hanging near the bar. Each night eight different vintage wines are poured by the glass. We’re talking legends here—like a 1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Lakeside Golf Club
A golf club on a cool list? Not likely. But when an establishment has been able to draw some of the hippest guys to its membership for nearly 100 years, there’s clearly something noteworthy going on behind those gates. What gives Lakeside its swag is that it’s so unapologetically itself. Sure it’s a great course, but there are better in LA. The clubhouse is simple, and the locker rooms aren’t fancy. It’s just a place where members and guests can be themselves (even when not on their best behavior). The Lakeside bar—dark, dice on the countertop and decidedly unfussy—may be one of the greatest in the golf world. Cocktails with the generous “Lakeside Pour” have been drawing imperturbable guys from Hope and Crosby to Nicholson and Timberlake for generations.Park Your Own Damn Car
Whether you’re downtown or on the Westside, paying to have someone park your car is de rigueur—with prices in some cases exceeding 10 bucks. Here in the Valley, we can still find spaces and park on our own. And we don’t mind a bit.
No Such Thing as “Socked In”
On average, there are 288 sunny days per year in the San Fernando Valley. (US average is 205.) When we’re geared-up for a day at the beach, we know to call someone out there first. Otherwise you risk that colossal downer of passing through the Sepulveda pass or Malibu Canyon only to be greeted by a thick, nasty layer of fog. We have sun-soaked pool parties at our houses at the height of “June gloom,” thank you very much.
Founded more than 60 years ago, this white stucco eatery, responsible for bringing celebs like Jennifer Aniston and Matt Damon over the hill, is a Valley stalwart. Daughter Christy has taken the helm from father Ray (now in his 80s), tweaking a few recipes; these days you can get a “Skinny Margarita.” But for the most part, Casa Vega remains true to its roots and its employees, some of which have worked there for more than 50 years. Casa Vega is old school and proud.
Nike Missile Site
In the hills of Encino, you can actually hike to and explore a relic of the Cold War era. Along Mulholland Drive, just west of the 405, high in the San Vicente Mountains, the pavement turns to dirt road. If you walk to the end of it, there is a tall metal tower with steps leading up to a big observation deck with a 360° view of the Valley. It is the former Nike Missile Control Site LA-96C. The U.S. Army operated the site from 1956 to 1968 with one purpose in mind: to be a last line of defense from Soviet planes that were coming to drop an atomic bomb over LA. The idea was to intercept enemy bombers flying into attack. Although 16 Nike Missile Control Sites were operated by the Army in LA from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, many have been bulldozed. LA-96C was eventually incorporated into the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and opened to the public.
That great, classic song from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Déjà Vu album gets to the root of the coolness of why we all live here. We’re gonna call it domestic bliss. As the story goes, Graham Nash was living with then girlfriend, Joni Mitchell, up in the hills of Studio City around 1970. They went to Art’s Deli in Studio City for breakfast. It was a chilly, drizzly winter morning and Joni bought a grey vase at an antique store on Ventura Boulevard. They went home to their “very very very fine house … I’ll light the fire while you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today.”
George and Amal Clooney may have estates in England and Italy, but the world’s most glamorous couple call the Valley home. Clooney bought his 7,300-square-foot house, in the hills of Studio City, in the‘90s from Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. The three-story villa has been the site of epic A-list parties and political fundraisers (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton). It’s also where George raised his pet, pot-bellied pig, Max. (This was way pre-twins, back in the days when the actor swore he’d never marry.)
The Valley is one of only two spots where you can kayak in the recently restored LA River. Kayakers can paddle their hearts out in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area from Balboa Boulevard to just west of Woodley Avenue—from Memorial Day through September 30. The only other place you can do that in LA is in Elysian Valley. The lower LA River may one day be open to kayaking, but currently it’s closed.
Our neighborhoods butt up to some serious cat habitat. They are some of the most fierce, rare creatures on earth—yet we live harmoniously (for the most part). And we’re working to keep the dwindling mountain lion population alive here; there’s an effort underway to fund a bridge to offer the animals a safe way of crossing the freeways. Here in the Valley, we like our cougars.
Maui Sugar Mill Saloon
Why do musicians like Rikki Styxx, Slash and Dave Grohl want to do gigs at a 120-capacity space, with only a 13-by-9-foot stage, buried deep in the Valley? And why do guys like Rolling Stone drummer Ron Wood want to be part of the audience? The Maui Sugar Mill Saloon has been showcasing live acts since the ‘90s in a divey space, complete with copper-topped bar, ‘70s-style oak paneling and booze-brand neon signs. With the weekly “Cadillac Zak’s Blues Jam,” it’s one of the only places in LA where you can hear live blues on a Monday night. All shows are no cover, with a two-beverage minimum. Music is loud. Drinks are strong.