LA city guide: A day-trip through hip Highland Park

Your must-have LA city guide on where to eat, drink and play in Highland Park, an Eastside microhood with a thriving Latino/hipster community.

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Photograph: Liz Bretz

LA city guide, Highland Park: Pop-Hop Books & Print

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide, Highland Park: Wombleton Records

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide, Highland Park: El Huarache Azteca

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Photograph: Brenda Rees

LA city guide, Highland Park: Galco's Soda Pop Stop

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide, Highland Park: Oasis Ice Cream

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Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

LA city guide, Highland Park: Highland Theaters

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LA city guide, Highland Park: The York

Home to a vibrant Latino community and brimming with young families, Highland Park is one of LA’s hottest emerging ‘hoods. A recent influx of artists and entrepreneurs has helped transform the area into a lively multicultural hub with eclectic shopping (smoke shops and second-hand threads share curb space with art galleries and bookstores) and dining choices (from taquerias and panaderias to gastropubs and urban coffee klatches). Thanks to a recent $100,000 grant, York Boulevard and environs is getting a much-needed facelift, with expanded sidewalks and benches to support the area’s booming café culture and foot traffic. Ready to experience the tastes and sounds of this diverse community? Here’s your LA city guide to a perfect day in Highland Park. Just be sure to call ahead, as some venues close on Mondays or keep odd hours.

9am

Start your journey at corner coffee shop Café de Leche—where the creamy horchata con espresso ($3.75) serves as the perfect pick-me-up—especially for the folks plugged in and typing away at the eight small tables lining the redbrick wall. The airy café features a kids’ nook in the back with tiny-tot chairs and toys to keep the little ones busy while you update your FB page. Walk next door to—gasp!—a bookstore. Browse Pop-Hop‘s wooden shelves for a small but curated collection of fiction, art and new books from local presses. A separate children’s section has kid-size stacks to remind them what a real bookstore—as opposed to the digital kind—feels like. Classes from sign language for babies to zine-making and screen-printing are also on offer. Next, head to funky vintage clothing shop Urchin, a smaller outpost of the popular Los Feliz vintage Mecca Squaresville. Ask for tailor Ramon Lopez who can add a few spikes or studs to your leather jacket. Further up the street, All My Kidz caters to the mommy-and-me crowd with racks of second-hand dresses, shoes and more for both kids and adults. For second-hand—and old-school—tunes, check out the vinyl at the Edwardian-styled Wombleton Records, which specializes in rare and imported used LPs and 12" singles, sourced from the owners' globe-trotting buying trips. Check their Facebook page for upcoming in-store performances with DJs spinning post-punk, Brit-pop, cosmic disco and art rock beats.

Noon

Getting hungry? Lunch options are aplenty. For traditional Mexican eats, El Huarache Azteca can’t be missed. Order up tacos, sopes and the famous huarache (a flat, fried footlong piece of masa bread, piled high with grilled meats and traditional toppings)—all made by hand and served street-style in paper plates. Cool off with a refreshing aguas frescas (flavors include horchata, melon, cucumber, pineapple, hibiscus and tamarind). Highland Café serves a Mexican-inspired menu for breakfast and lunch (think: chilaquiles rojos and tacos) in a casual and loungy café setting. Don’t forget to grab a baked good such as the guava cheese roll, made by one of the owner’s fathers, to snack on while using the free Wi-Fi. For more traditional lunch staples, head across the street to Schodorf’s Luncheonette for soups, salads and deli-inspired pressed sandwiches. Or drive a few blocks to a dowdy strip mall where Fusion Burgers serves 13 different mouth-watering burgers, including Dan’s Inferno—turkey patty, Inferno sauce, thousand island, pepper cheese, roasted peppers and onion ringlets—a spicy favorite. You might as well add on the sweet potato fries or cheesy tots, too. For dessert, head to Galco’s Soda Pop Stop and choose from hard-to-find vintage candy bars such as the Abba-Zaba, Chunky, Rocky Road and Hershey’s bars in nostalgic packaging. Get lost in the aisles stocked with more than 550 varieties of craft beers and vintage sodas, including Coca-Cola that’s truly made in Mexico (not just bottled there) with real cane sugar (not high fructose corn syrup). Escape from the afternoon heat and cool down with a frozen treat at the third LA outpost of Scoops where whimsical flavors (such as brown bread, blueberry mascarpone and burnt sugar pecan) are made fresh daily and may arguably be the best ice cream in town.

3pm

Start exploring downtown Highland Park, where a pulsing Figueroa St is lined with Spanish storefronts and artsy hipster shops. Find psychedelic vinyl records, cassettes, books and clothing at Mount Analog, which also serves as the West Coast outpost for the UK’s Finders Keepers Records. Check its Facebook page for upcoming book readings, music shows and film screenings. Next door, This gallery will satisfy your art cravings with rolling exhibitions of works from local contemporary artists. Cross the train tracks on Marmion Way and head to Oasis Ice Cream for fresh fruit juices, respados (Mexican shaved ice) and more than 50 frozen yogurt flavors from tropical papaya, mango and mixed berries to the more interesting spinach, alfalfa and beet—yes, vegetable flavors!—sweetened with agave. Co-owner Doris Feliz makes fresh batches of her all-natural frozen yogurt and sorbets every morning. Her tip? “The white people like guanabana the best.” The banana-guava tropical fruit flavor is, as promised, pleasing to this white girl, with a creamy, sweet tropical flavor that is somehow mildly tart at the same time. Ready for some entertainment? Skip the bootleg DVDs from street corner vendors and catch a real steal with Highland Theatres’ $3 showings of new film releases on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and $4 bargain matinees, before 6pm daily.

6pm

When it comes to dinner time, the neighborhood offers a plethora of options, mostly drawing inspiration from the surrounding community. For a unique spin on Latin American fare, Cinnamon serves an all-vegetarian menu of traditional staples such as burritos, enchiladas, moles and fajitas. Back on York Blvd, French foodies rejoice over beef bourguignon and duck cassoulet at the quaint Ba, where silver-and-black chandeliers and small side-by-side tables give the room an elegant, cozy feel. Craving homemade pastas and pizza? Maximiliano is the spot for fresh salads, meatballs and risotto by chef-owner Andre Guerrero of Eagle Rock’s popular The Oinkster. Thirsty? Gastropub The York has 12 rotating beers on tap, an extensive wine list and comfort-food favorites such as the pulled pork Cuban sandwich and truffle mac and cheese. If you’re dining with kids, pets or both, Highland Park Kitchen offers a kid-friendly menu and a pet-friendly patio with plush couches. Plates for sharing include pomegranate ceviche and carne asada fries. Looking for to-go nosh instead? Pick up delicious guacamole, salsa and tomatillo sauce at the neighborhood gourmet grocery store, Figueroa Produce. The owner’s father, Don Jose, makes the authentic dips every morning.

9pm

Drive back to where your day started for beers and a game of foosball at Johnny’s Bar. Or, for a more intimate setting, sit at one of the three dark booths or sidle up to the bar at The Hermosillo, a wine-and-craft-beer watering hole helmed by Dustin Lancaster of Bar Covell in Los Feliz. (Midnight snack tip: wait for the late-night food trucks that line up outside.) Night owling it? Then be sure to cruise over to Highland Park Billiards, a giant pool hall (catch its cameo role in Smokin’ Aces) where serious players and amateurs can cue up at one of 17 tables. By 7pm, the hall fills up with locals who indulge in cheap tacos and quesadillas, and a digital jukebox that plays a splashy mix of popular Latino and American tunes.

Why I love Highland Park…

Check out why this multicultural hub is on the rise and ready for its closeup.

John Nese, owner of Galco’s Soda Pop Stop
“I’ve been here since the 1940s, when they were still building houses without locks on the doors. This area has been waiting for a rebirth and the renaissance finally started about 20 years ago with the Gold Line. Young families are moving in and taking pride in ownership, like in 1955, when everyone had their lawn mowed and everything was beautiful.”

Betty Munoz, Highland Park native and manager at Fusion Burgers
“The taco stand that sets up in front of Burger King at night. They make the best tacos in the area!”

Sarah Balcomb, local resident and co-owner of Pop-Hop Books & Print
“There are a lot of work-at-home dads, writers and artists who take a break in the day to come down and let their kids look at books. We hope to have more activities and classes so that people can meet each other and create a sense of community.”

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