To Los Angeles, with love

By: Kristin Finan
November, 2022

It was sunset at The Grove and scores of people flooded in and out of the trendy shops and designer boutiques that populate the buzzy Los Angeles entertainment complex.

“If you want to see a celebrity,” my friend and recent L.A. transplant advised, “look for people who are wearing both hats and sunglasses inside.”

Not five minutes later, we spied a man in a hat and sunglasses who, upon closer inspection, turned out to be Nathan Lane. In that moment, my fascination with Los Angeles, a place that seemed like it could deliver any surprise with sheer nonchalance, was born.

In the two decades since my initial visit, Los Angeles has never disappointed. I’ve visited myriad times for various occasions that have included the spectacular launch of a dear friend’s nonprofit (Birdbrain – please check it out); an unforgettable long weekend celebrating my daughter’s 10th birthday; and, most recently, the birth of my darling niece.

In each of these visits, I’ve been completely charmed by the City of Angels, which, despite its sometimes superficial appearances and 15-minutes-of-fame-seekers stereotypes, is filled with heart and humor that each time leaves me longing for more. Although most of my October trip was spent playing with my beautiful and brilliant baby niece and watching Netflix while eating delicious late-night Vietnamese takeout with my brother, I did get to experience a few places that are well worth a stop on your next visit to Los Angeles. Even better, fares on Southwest from Austin to Los Angeles are as low as $49 each way for fall and winter travel, making it an ideal time to see all that the city has to offer.

Randy’s Donuts

Even if you don’t recognize the name, you probably will recognize the façade of this popular Los Angeles doughnut shop, which is located in Inglewood only minutes from Los Angeles International Airport and features, well, a ginormous doughnut on top of the building. The concrete doughnut is so iconic that it’s been featured in films and TV shows including “Iron Man 2” and “Zootopia.”

Randy’s Donuts in Los Angeles. Kristin Finan photo

As someone who has a Donut Bucket List – I have a goal of trying to visit the best doughnut shops across the United States – Randy’s has been in my sights for a long time, not only because it is highly Instagramable but also because the doughnuts are rumored to be delicious. The menu is wide, with selections including staples such as sprinkles, glazed twist and cinnamon-crumb as well as more surprising variations including matcha tea, s’mores, Fruit Loops and even Texas glazed.

The doughnuts I sampled were supple and flavorful and fully worthy of an addition to my U.S. Donut Bucket List. The shop got bonus points, too, for its local flavor – on the day I visited they were offering Dodger-themed doughnuts due to that night’s home game.

Info: https://randysdonuts.com/

The Aerospace Valley Air Show

A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I stepped onto the ramp at Edwards Air Force Base for the 2022 Aerospace Valley Open House, Air Show and STEM Expo. Growing up in an Air Force family, air shows were requisite, and no one enjoyed wandering past the stately planes and hearing literal war stories from my dad and grandpa more than I did.

Yes, being at Edwards Air Force Base, which is located a little under two hours from Los Angeles, felt like stepping onto the set of “Top Gun.”  But even more, it felt like home, akin to hearing a favorite old song on the radio or strapping on a beat-up pair of roller skates and heading to the rink after a decades-long hiatus.

You never know what you’ll see at the Aerospace Valley Air show at Edwards Air Force Base. Kristin Finan photo

One of the reasons the show felt so welcoming was because thousands of volunteers came together to bring it back after a 13-year break. The excitement among the crowd, who seemed so grateful to have returned as they munched on barbecue sandwiches and sipped ice-cold sodas, was palpable.

Edwards is known as the “middle of everywhere” due to its proximity to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and the early-morning drive out was, in and of itself, a treat, with vendors selling aguas frescas under rainbow-colored umbrellas amid a stunning kumquat-hued sunrise. It’s no surprise that movies including “Transformers,” “Captain Marvel” and “The Flintstones” were shot here.

Next time, I’m going to Airbnb one of the amazing nearby glamping cabins for a night or two and carve out time to explore the local hiking trails, parks and filming locations. You know those glow-in-the-dark stars that little kids put on their ceilings? I imagine the desert night sky to be something like that.

But for now, I’ll be satiated by the visions of planes roaring overhead and the knowledge that air shows, and our Air Force, will always be there for us, whenever we’re ready or able to return. 

Info: https://avairshow.com/

The Grant

By the time I made my way to The Grant, a newish cocktail bar in Glassell Park, I had been in Los Angeles long enough that everyone was starting to look like they might be famous, or at least vaguely important. There was, however, at least one confirmed celebrity in attendance that night – @lennythecommunitycat. Lenny, who, as Instagram reminds us, is “not a stray, just outdoorsy and social,” creates quite a stir whenever he appears on the patio of The Grant.

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For someone who no longer spends a great deal of time in cocktail bars, the Grant was a fabulous choice due to its intimate yet comfy seating, linger-awhile lighting and, of course, its drink menu, which features everything from twists on old classics to tap wine to innovative nonalcoholic offerings.

Cocktails at The Grant L.A. Kristin Finan photo

Even better was the rare and delightful opportunity to enjoy a perfectly crafted cocktail while catching up with a dear friend who has known every iteration of me since I was 22 and has been there for me and with me for all of them.

Info: https://www.instagram.com/thegrant_la/

Terranea Resort

To wake up at Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, is to open your eyes but still be in a dream. The cerulean Pacific Ocean combines with the azure sky and lulls you beautifully into consciousness. I have had the opportunity to visit this resort property, which is about 30 minutes outside of Los Angeles, on multiple occasions, and each time I am stunned by the beauty that emanates from its 102 acres.

Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Contributed by Terranea

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If you visit from December to May, you’re in for an added treat. During this time, about 20,000 gray whales trek from Alaska to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, passing by the Palos Verdes Peninsula – and Terranea – as they go. Spying whales while sipping a microbrew and nibbling on a pretzel at Nelson’s, which features casual Californian fare and is one of a half-dozen restaurants on the property, has become one of my favorite pastimes.

Time at Terranea, much like time in the Los Angeles area, never seems like long enough. But as I boarded the plane at LAX after my recent long weekend, I acknowledged all that I was taking home with me, from the air-show memories that made me feel even more bonded to my family’s Air Force roots to brand new memories with my darling niece. Yes, there will always be plenty to see and do in Los Angeles, but for me, it’s always been and always will be the people who bring me back.

Info: https://www.terranea.com/

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