Whether or not you've been to Los Angeles, you probably have certain ideas of what the town is all about — from the seedy glam of Hollywood's Walk of Fame, to Beverly Hills excess to Santa Monica's and Venice Beach's boardwalks to Disneyland (never mind that it's actually in Orange County).
Whether you're coming here on business, vacation or to visit a friend or relative (seriously, who doesn't know someone living in L.A.?), put the San Fernando Valley on your list of places to visit.
Yes, you heard me correctly — that sprawling section of L.A. immortalized, for better and worse, in a variety of pop-cultural landmarks: The song "Valley Girl," by Frank Zappa offspring Moon Unit, and movie "Valley Girl" (starring Nicholas Cage); "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"; the Sherwood Schwartz-produced "Brady Bunch" (the iconic house still stands, neatly tucked into a residential section of Studio City); the 1989 Tom Petty hit "Free Fallin' "; and that mean-spirited, two-part episode of "Sex and the City" that reflected the writers' bias toward New York and against L.A., with particularly telling scenes set in the Valley.
Pop culture notwithstanding, you can have a great time without crossing Mulholland Drive (the local answer to the Mason/ Dixon line), if you enjoy it as a local would.
While there are many neighborhoods here that Jews call home, there is something about the Valley that many of them from cities "back East," such as Philadelphia and Chicago, will relate to.
There is a synagogue for everybody, from Reform and Traditional to Orthodox and Chabad. The flavor of communities dissected by the world-famous Ventura Boulevard range from charmingly mid-century "Father Knows Best"-hued residential enclaves to trendy swaths of boutiques and coffee shops, to colorful blocks that reflect a mingling of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Persian and Israeli culture.
A stretch of Ventura Boulevard in Encino, for example, is referred to as "Little Tel Aviv."
Who's Not Hungry?
For most Jews, the best way to start, of course, is with a breakdown of places to eat and kibitz. Whether you observe dietary law or have hosts that do, the possibilities are nearly endless.
Several tried-and-true kosher and kosher-style restaurants — including Jerry's Deli (Studio City/Encino), Solley's (Sherman Oaks), Orange Delite (Sherman Oaks) and Brent's Deli (Northridge) — are definitive institutions where visitors also get tastes of local color and the occasional celebrity spotting (is that Eddie Murphy over there?)
Other well-established spots — such as Jerusalem Pizza (Encino), Golan's Israeli and Chinese Café (North Hollywood), Café Del Mar (Valley Village), Eilat Bakery, Flora Falafel and Classic Raphy's — offer fare prepared with different ethnic influences.
As man cannot live on matzah brie and corned beef alone, however, we locals have benefited from the fact that some of the city's most adventurous Thai, Salvadoran, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican and Persian dining is there for the taking on L.A.'s back doorstep.
Though our tastes and kosher observances vary, my friends and I have successfully navigated the menus and shelves of the San Fernando Valley for both kosher and vegetarian-friendly spots.
Visitors who have an insatiable appetite for shopping, meanwhile, may prefer the neighborhoody, attitude-free shopping areas along Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Encino, especially as they are far friendlier and less crowded than shopping destinations on the "other side of the hill," including Rodeo Drive, E! Entertainment Television-favored Robertson Boulevard (West Hollywood) and Santa Monica's cute-but-snooty Montana Avenue.
These segments of "The Boulevard," as well as areas along Tujunga Avenue and Moorpark Avenue, serve up a terrific mix of local one-off clothing boutiques, antique shops, yogurt shacks and intimate branches of national chains, such as Urban Outfitters, Lucy's and Banana Republic, which bear the stamp of the neighborhood.
If Hollywood glitz is on the menu when traveling with the family, Universal Citywalk delivers everything one could ever want in an all-inclusive entertainment complex when tacked on to the classic Universal Studios Tour and theme park (made all the better with the new "Simpsons" ride), minus the lengthy trek and crowds of Disneyland.
Making the Valley all the more enticing is that the Burbank area is also home to the Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros., DreamWorks and Nickelodeon animation studios; CBS Studio Center; and NBC (where you can see Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres do their thing live).
While much of Los Angeles' museums and cultural institutions are located downtown — 25 minutes from the Valley by freeway if traffic cooperates — the Valley itself boasts a surprising array of museums, landmark homes and parks that until recently were best-kept secrets among locals.
These include the Discovery Center for Science and Tech; Stagecoach Inn Museum; California Art Institute Gallery; and Windspirit (Native Indian) Gallery in Westlake Village; Los Encinos State Historical Park (Encino); Reyes Adobe (Agoura Hills); The Auto Museum and Valley Institute of Visual Art (Sherman Oaks); and the Burbank Aviation Museum.
And finally, though many of people "back East" have a place to sleep in the Valley, there will always be a situation where a hotel is a better choice.
There are Valley hotels that deliver the comfort and familiarity of your aunt's house, teamed with a good location.
On the border of Universal and Studio City, the Beverly Garland Hotel exudes a quaint old-school charm, even with recent renovations of an in-house movie theater, high-tech fitness center and family-friendly amenities.
So, what are you waiting for? Pack the sunscreen and check out the other coast.
For more information, visit: www.latourist.com.