I want you to close your eyes for a second and imagine a landscape of tangled roads, half-lit cigarettes and really pretty people. It’s a dirty place. Here, the smell of hairspray lingers in the air, and in the distance you can almost hear the sound of dreams shattering. Or maybe it’s just a Tesla bursting into flames.
Who can say?
This was more or less our first impression of the Golden State. After landing at LAX, the first two objectives on the agenda were 1) find our Airbnb and 2) consume as much ramen as possible. We’re smart, professional women who know how to use Google, so accomplishing the former was a breeze. The latter, however, proved a bit harder.
This was not because there weren’t any solid options—there were just TOO many options. We eventually decided on a spot near our place called Tatsu Ramen. It was small and low-key, tucked away between two large commercial buildings on Ventura Boulevard.
It was a pretty good choice, too. I mean, look at this bowl of ramen. You can almost taste it through the screen, can’t you?
(If you can’t, just trust me. It was very good ramen. 10/10 would eat again.)
The Holy Grub
Our second day in L.A. brought celebs, rain (??) and a taste of the West’s fast food cathedral, In-N-Out Burger. Of course I’d heard whispers of In-N-Out before. Mostly incoherent mumblings from drunk Taco Bell patrons at two in the morning. Secret scrawlings of double stack burgers and something called “animal fries” scribbled on a napkin lost in time. It was never really real to me.
Until now. There we were standing under the neon red and yellow lights surrounded by a crowd of UCLA undergrads and “musicians.” The line was out the door, and a man wearing a white paper hat was barking numbers into the crowd. It was a burger stock exchange.
Trays of food swung past us: Shakes. Heaps of fries drenched in cheese, sauce and grilled onions. Burgers of all sizes with thick onion slices hanging out. We had no idea glory came in so many different flavors.
By the time we made it to the counter, our order had grown considerably. People in line threw out suggestions after learning it was our first time. The Animal Fries made the list, of course, along with an Eiffel-style double-stack—a two-pattied burger with a central layer of fries.
The burgers were definitely worth the hype—big, juicy and satisfying after a long day running the roads. The fries on the other hand … were not as thrilling. Maybe it was the time of night or the horde of youths at the door, but these fries could only be described as stale sadness. Next time we’ll just stick to the burgs.
Brunch in the Hills
Hello, day three. Hello, nightmare traffic. Hello, Chateau Marmont. By the time we finally made it to the infamous hotel, we were in desperate need of alcohol. Luckily for us, we had come to the right place.
Home of the OG bad and boujee breakfast, Chateau Marmont is probably most notably known for John Belushi’s death, killer mimosas and general celebrity debauchery. The entire place has a “ghosts definitely live here” vibe, which is something you’re either into or you’re not.
We were hoping to peep some celebs enjoying brunch, but the place was completely empty, leaving the entire courtyard to us and our picture taking. Probably for the best, though. (Fun fact: you’re not allowed to take pictures when celebrities are present. Just ask A.J. Daulerio of Gawker’s Defamer.)
With or without celebs, the brunch itself was AMAZING. Eggs benedict plus two perfect mimosas equals one solid way to start a Friday.
A Corndog Tragedy
By the middle of our first day in San Francisco, we had jelly legs and hangry tummies. You’ve seen the movies. You know the drill: You’re strolling along in sunny SF and your stomach’s rumbling so you get … a corndog! It’s steaming hot, sporting a perfect drizzle of mustard and it tastes like heaven. Before you know it, you’re done. But no worries, right? Corndogs are cheap, right? You can surely spare another three bucks for an encore. Right?!
Wrong. Because none of this will happen in San Francisco. First of all, forget the sundress and board shorts—pack winter clothes. If you’re not prepared for the coldest wind you’ve experienced in your damn life, then at least be prepared to shell out some pesos for warmer clothes.
Secondly, at six dollars a pop, San Franciscan hot dogs will wreck your bank account faster than Nicolas Cage at a dinosaur auction. Of course you want more than one. We all want more than one. But can you afford more than one? No. You cannot.
Now, you might ask what’s the most tragic part about all of this (and yes, there is a tragic part). Real sadness comes from paying for your six-dollar hot dog, taking one amazing bite, then having heaven stripped from your hand by some hell-sent seagull. This is a real thing that happens, people. You’ve been warned.
The Taco Lounge
If you’re visiting the Bay Area for the first time, most people will tell you that you HAVE to see the Redwoods. And they’re right. The forest is beautiful, and quite honestly, it might not be around for the next generation. Definitely add it to your list.
With that said, there are a lot of other things they DON’T tell you about visiting the woods—like making a parking reservation months in advance. This, we did not do. What we did do was drive all the way up this terrifying two-lane cliffside road (in a Toyota 4Runner, I might add) only to find out there were no more available parking spots. We were left with the appalling prospect of driving all the way back down and missing out on the Redwoods entirely.
We had come so far to see these damn red trees. This is not how we were going out. We hastily parked the 4Runner on the side of the road and started marching back up the hill on foot. It took much longer than we expected (about 3 miles), but what we found at the top was well worth the wait.
After our herculean climb, we were both emotionally and physically exhausted. We were also very, very hungry. We returned to our vehicle and drove around Mill Valley until we stumbled upon a packed little cantina. The painted sign out front read “Joe’s Tacos and Salsaria.”
We snagged the last table in the corner and huddled over the single-page menu. The tacos arrived quickly and were objectively fantastic. Hot, seasoned and packed with fresh ingredients. They were also surprisingly cheap, which was a word I had long forgotten at that point.
A Kitchen Story
Our last night in SF was spent at a hidden gem located just outside the Castro. Known simply as “Kitchen Story,” the restaurant offers an eclectic mix of Thai and traditional Californian cuisine with menu items like Pacific Pad Thai, Short Rib Kimchi Tacos and Mom’s Coconut Soup. The atmosphere was inviting, and we were soon joined by an old high school classmate who relocated to the city after graduation.
Our drinks were topped off, and our phones were on silent. The only status updates shared were sent in bursts of laughter between bites of Korean BBQ ribs and kimchi fries. Sitting there, surrounded by good friends and delicious food, I was reminded of how nice it is to put the phone down and enjoy a good meal with someone.
Have your own tales from the table? Send your favorite road trip food stops to [email protected]