Weekend Getaway: Westwood, Los Angeles

The reputation of Los Angeles as a car-crazed metropolis is well deserved. The city is defined by its massive size, connected by a sprawling network of traffic-clogged freeways that require a personal vehicle (and patience) to navigate. But don’t jump to the conclusion that this town is taboo for the car-free traveler. There are several neighborhoods in L.A. that can be fully explored and enjoyed without a vehicle. Westwood Village is a shining example of a compact, pedestrian-friendly, public-transit-rich area that is the home of UCLA.

The influx of students and faculty make this mini-city a cultural hotbed with a casual college town vibe. It is gaining a reputation as a food lover’s haven, with low-priced dining choices. If you crave tranquility, the campus provides open spaces that are just the panacea for urban stress. If you seek the ultimate in city stillness, Westwood is home to a semi-secret cemetery that is the eternal resting place of the very rich and famous. There’s plenty to do in Westwood, and you’ll never miss the car.

What to do

hollywoodHammer Museum | 10899 Wilshire Blvd. | hammer.ucla.edu
The Hammer’s permanent collection emphasizes contemporary art and offers a rich variety of public programming, including lectures, films and live music selected to inspire discussion on current social issues. Temporary exhibits change frequently and the curators don’t shy away from provocative subject matter.  Excellent use of indoor and outdoor space doesn’t let you forget that you’re in sunny Southern California. Lunchtime art talks and Thursday evening live music are big draws. Free all day Thursday.

Live theater at the Geffen Playhouse | 10886 Le Conte Ave. | geffenplayhouse.com
Noted for its intimate setting and commitment to the development of new work, the Geffen Playhouse consistently garners national recognition. It benefits from its geographic location by employing big name stars like Annette Bening and Beau Bridges, who have homes in the surrounding hills. Acclaimed directors such as Neil LaBute and Daniel Sullivan have helmed productions here.

Stroll the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden | 777 South Tiverton Ave. | botgard.ucla.edu
The lush vegetation and diversity of plant species offers a spectacular place to commune with nature. As you wander the paths of this peaceful gem, you will spy streams brimming with colorful fish and ponds filled with sleepy turtles. Torrey pines, eucalyptus, and weeping myrtle provide shade and beauty. The towering California fan palms are spectacular and the bamboo trees carved with sweetheart’s initials declaring their eternal love add a whimsical, romantic note. Open from 8-5pm weekdays, 9-4pm weekends, enter on the corner of Hilgard and Le Conte. Drop-in tour offered the first Saturday of the month at 1pm. Free.

UCLAFranklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden | UCLA | hammer.ucla.edu
Located in the northern corner of this park-like campus, there are more than 70 works of art here. Sculptors like Rodin, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi are represented. Free.

Fowler Museum | UCLA North Campus | fowler.ucla.edu
The Fowler explores global arts and cultures with an emphasis on works from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. Its mission is to enhance understanding and appreciation of the diverse peoples, cultures, and religions of the world through dynamic exhibitions and public programs. Admission is always free and don’t miss the gift shop, rich in handcrafted jewelry and creations.

The Westwood Village Farmer’s Market | 1083 Broxton Ave. | thewestwoodvillage.com
Thursday afternoons at this market are packed, thanks to the variety of farm-fresh local produce, artisan jams, exotic chutneys and spicy salsas. In strawberry season, Oxnard-grown berries are a scarlet-hued favorite, but expect an edible bounty year round. Live music and an eclectic assortment of food trucks add to the festive flavor.

Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park | 1218 Glendon Ave. | pbwvmemorialpark.com
Your biggest challenge may be finding this pocket–sized, celebrity-filled cemetery. It is discretely located behind a commercial building just south of Wilshire Boulevard. Luminaries such as Truman Capote, Dean Martin, Frank Zappa, John Cassavetes and the biggest draw, Marilyn Monroe, call this place home. Her remains are in a crypt towards the northeast corner of the grounds. It’s simply marked “Marilyn Monroe: 1926-1962.” Some stars plan ahead, like Hugh Heffner, who is reported to have booked his crypt years ago.

Where to eat

Native Foods Café | 1114 Gayley Ave. | nativefoods.com
This fast-casual vegan restaurant serves a made-from-scratch, 100% plant-based menu that will please the palates of vegans and meat-eaters alike. Seitan, tofu and tempeh are prepared in a variety of mouth-watering ways, but save room to end your meal with a homemade Good Luck Cupcake, delicately flavored with cardamom and rose water.

800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria | 110889 Lindbrook Drive | 800degreespizza.com
800 degreesJudging from the continuous line that wraps around the block, this recently opened pizzeria is fast becoming a Westwood staple. Things move quickly here, as the pies are cooked fast in a blistering hot, wood-burning oven. The thin-crusted pizzas are individually sized, but in truth are large enough to share. The traditional Neapolitan-style dough is soft and chewy and forms a slightly soggy center, so don’t expect a crispy crust. You can customize with an alluring array of ingredients, or keep it simple and go for the classic Margherita. Salads and drinks round out the inexpensive menu that is served until 2 a.m.

Stan’s Donuts | 10948 Weyburn Ave. | stansdoughnuts.com
Local legend Stan Berman has been making doughnuts here for over half a century. The picture of octogenarian health, Stan is in the store every day, and will proudly tell you that he has only taken one sick day in his entire career. He consumes a buttermilk raisin twist daily with zero ill effects, so go ahead and indulge. Generations of UCLA students have munched on his famed peanut butter, maple glazed and jelly filled while cramming for finals. Stan points to the slightly salty breeze (courtesy of the store’s location less than five miles from the Pacific Ocean) for giving his doughnuts that extra ethereal lift.

Diddy RieseDiddy Riese | 926 Broxton Ave. | diddyriese.com
Known for their bargain-basement prices and signature ice cream sandwiches, be prepared to wait for up to an hour on weekends. Once you’re finally inside, you choose from ten varieties of home baked cookies and 12 flavors of ice cream for a made-to-order sandwich treat. The cookies are freshly baked and popular flavors include peanut butter and double chocolate chip. Fudgy brownies and refreshing Hawaiian shaved ice are also available.


Where to stay
W Westwood

W Los Angeles, Westwood | 930 Hilgard Ave. | starwoodhotels.com
This stylish luxury hotel in the heart of urban Westwood is a cosmopolitan retreat. The 258 rooms are modern and spacious and the outdoor pool area is a verdant wonderland, complete with private cabanas and the soothing sounds of a trickling waterfall.  The bar scene is a favorite spot for a nightcap, with a ‘trust fund baby meets industry hotshot’ scene.

Hilgard House | 927 Hilgard Ave. | hilgardhouse.com
Located across the street from the W Hotel, this friendly accommodation is the place for savvy travelers who want a clean, simple room that is easy on the wallet. There is a guest computer in the lobby and free doughnuts and coffee each morning.

Getting Around
big blue busYou will see lots of cyclists pedaling the streets of Westwood. UCLA has a popular bike share program, but it is only for students and faculty. Visitors can rent bikes at Bikecology in West L.A. It is a short bus ride from Westwood Village to the store’s Pico Boulevard location.

There is an extensive network of buses that serve Westwood. The Big Blue Bus connects you to the beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu in under 30 minutes, Culver City Bus gets you to points south of Westwood and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority buses can take you all over town. All buses are equipped with bike racks.

Virgin America, Alaska Airlines, American, United and others offer non-stop flights from SFO to LAX. Catch the LAX Flyaway Bus from the airport for $10 and you will be in Westwood Village in approximately 25 minutes.

Photos: LA Biking Coalition, UCLA, W Westwood, Gelatobaby, Big Blue Bus

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Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.