Nestled in the mountains 35 minutes north of Santa Monica is Topanga, a vibrant, creative community where, according to local Bethany Halbreich, you're apt to find a mix of "old money" Californians side-by-side with "new, young, hippy, granola-esque" types.
When popping into its quirky shops, sitting down for a meal at one of its many restaurants, or winding your way through the canyon along one of its many hiking trails, it's all too easy to forget that you're just a short drive from LA—but then again, that's part of its allure.
"It's very calm," says Halbreich who, in 2015, founded the nonprofit, Paint the World to spark spontaneous creativity and bring communities together around collaborative art experiences. "And it doesn't feel like you're in LA at all."
We caught up with Halbreich to get the inside scoop on her 10 favorite spots in and around this underrated Californian city—a city that makes for the perfect day trip or weekend escape from LA.
For a breakfast and brunch that skews towards the healthier side, Topanga Living Café is the place to be—especially when you can snag a table in the outdoor area. Don't miss their rendition of huevos rancheros, which comes with handmade corn tostadas, fried eggs, avocado, beans, cilantro, onions, cotija cheese, and charred cactus salsa molcajete. There's also a wide selection of salads, sandwiches, "toasties" and, yes, smoothies (you are in the LA area, after all).
Located just five minutes up the mountain is a small pottery studio that Halbreich loves. Even if you haven't signed up for a class or workshop, it's worth popping by to peruse the owner, Kirsty Iredale's collection of works for sale.
Of all the trails in Topanga, Tuna Canyon is Halbreich's favorite. "You get the best views of LA from here, and there are tons of options, so it can be a 20-minute hike or a three-hour hike. This is where all the locals go to walk their dogs in the morning."
This outdoor amphitheater has been recognized internationally for its interpretation of Shakespeare works. It puts on five repertory plays during the summer season, in addition to hosting live music concerts and offering year-round acting classes.
COVID-19 update: The 2020 repertory season has been cancelled, but there are still distance learning opportunities.
This French-American bistro in the heart of Topanga dishes out stellar, no-frills brunch, lunch, and dinner dishes. The menu is extensive (think starts, salads, soups, shareable plates, pasta, sandwiches, fish...), but for Halbreich, the Triple J Burger—doctored up with guacamole, jalapeño cheddar, smoked jalapeños, crispy onions, and jalapeño aioli—is always the way to go.
COVID-19 precautionary measures:
- Increased frequency of employee hand washing (every 15-30 minutes)
- All employees are formerly questioned about their contacts with others
- Employee temperatures taken on a regular basis
- Strict physical distancing measures enforced tables (both outdoor and indoor)
People flock from around the world to Hidden Treasures, a quirky vintage shop that carries clothing dating from the Victorian era to the 1980s, along with antiques, festival wear, costumes, shoes, purses, and old movie props. Founder Darrell Hazen strategically located his shop amongst what he calls the fittingly "hippie vibe" of Topanga.
7. Cafe On 27
Halbreich loves the recently refurbished Cafe on 27 for its "beautiful, quiet outdoor seating area that overlooks a little river through the mountains." That, plus the food, of course. "They have really good omelettes," she tells us—like the Incredible Omelette, which comes with three eggs, avocado, asparagus, broccolini, spinach, garden herbs, salsa verde, home fries, and toast. You'll also find salads, sandwiches/wraps, tacos, and sweets.
Corazón Performing Arts is located in the heart of Topanga's "Old Center." They host one-of-a-kind concerts, classes (Halbreich recommends their Scottish dancing classes), workshops, and events.
Just outside Topanga, in Calabasas, is Saddle Peak Lodge, a spot that Halbreich frequents as much for their food as for their cocktails. "A local referred it to me," says Halbreich. "Their whiskey tasting room is incredible, and they have really delicious food, too. Things like elk, buffalo, and bison."
COVID-19 precautionary measures:
- Limited capacity
- Only accepting parties of six or fewer
10. Pedalers Fork
Also in Calabases is Pedalers Fork, one of Halbreich's favorite local-scratch restaurants that also happens to be a bar, 10 Speed Coffee Shop, AND boutique bike shop (hence the name). Pop by for breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour, or weekend brunch. And whatever you do, don't miss the house-smoked BBQ cooked over oak, pecan, and cherry. We're partial to the Chuckwagon (1lb brisket, 1 full rack ribs, ½ chicken, ¼lb tri tip, ½lb wings).
For more Southern California inspiration, discover three ways to see the Hollywood sign and five places to people watch on Sunset Strip. And for all the movie buffs out there, here's your La La Land-inspired LA date.