If you haven't heard of Frogtown—or have heard of it but never been—you're not alone. Not only is the riverside neighborhood a small and mostly residential part of L.A., but it used to be more commonly known as Elysian Valley. In recent years, the name Frogtown has stuck, getting its alias from the amphibious creatures that hopped throughout the nabe until the 1970s. It's now a hotbed of activity, where visitors and residents bike along the L.A. River, post up at a number of excellent coffee shops, and visit the local brewery. Check out our favorite spots with this handy guide to Frogtown.
Check out our favorite Frogtown spots
The L.A. River bike path is made up of multiple sections, including the Glendale Narrows Elysian Valley Bicycle Path which cuts through Frogtown. It runs from Victory Boulevard and Riverside Drive to Elysian Valley's Egret Park, though you can also access the bike path at various points in Frogtown, like Marsh Park and Rattlesnake Park. The path varies in beauty along the way, but be sure to pass by elaborate murals in Frogtown, as well as popular coffee pit stops.
The Frog Spot is a community center and fundraising project for Friends of the LA River, and serves as a central gathering place in Frogtown—though it's only open during the summer, and only on weekends. The spacious, open air center hosts music performances, art shows and other events, but it's also a great place to stop by during your bike ride along the river for a cup of coffee and a game of bocce. In the summer, a freezer chest full of popsicles is available. Visitors can also sign up for kayak classes at the Frog Spot, and there's a bike repair stand in case you're afflicted with a flat tire.
A tiny, wonderful operation at the end of a circuitous route, Wax Paper makes cutting-edge versions of the most iconic sandwiches (with a few new creations thrown in, too). Out of a small, aluminum shed tucked away on a dead-end street, small-batch sandwiches are crafted and sent out to be eaten on basic Ikea outdoor tables in a dirt lot next door. In true hipster fashion, each sandwich is named after a National Public Radio personality, but regardless of possible pretensions, these sandwiches are the real deal. Try the Audie Cornish, a classic French-style ham sandwich elevated by homemade honey butter.
Events, weddings and banquets are often held at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, but the former site of the Lawry's California Center is an ideal spot for an afternoon stroll as well. Stop by the visitor center, which serves as an exhibit hall celebrating the L.A. River, or walk through the River Garden Park at the corner of San Fernando Road and Avenue 26, where you might see families picnicking or joggers taking a water break.
Elysian is an event space, restaurant and bar adjacent to the L.A. River. As an event space, it serves as a beautiful place to throw a wedding or party—a quaint outdoor garden transports you to somewhere else entirely. Elysian also partners with clockshop, a non-profit that produces cultural events. Chef David Thorne helms the kitchen here, which is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner and serves California market-driven cuisine—think ricotta gnocci, young broccoli with speck and lamb rib. The bar program is managed by Mark Hendrix; stop by for an Elysian hot toddy or an Indian Summer.
Given Frogtown's recent boom in shops and restaurants, the small neighborhood was practically screaming for a microbrewery with a community feel and a bright future. And that’s exactly what Frogtown Brewery offers. Each and every brew in this spacious yet cozy beer house is surprisingly cultivated, even elite. Their seven-beer menu spurns the hoppy-everything craze in favor of an eclectic catalogue, utilizing imaginative flavors in new ways. A standout is the Dark Times American Stout, a super roasty, big headed beer with coffee and chocolate notes, a light mouthfeel and superb balance. Do not leave without trying the Man Da Rin American Pale Ale. That mysterious fruit you’re tasting is actually kumquat. This beer has universal appeal, bold enough for the veteran with a lemony, wheaty finish for the beginner.
Spoke Bicycle Cafe is the quintessential neighborhood hangout, where you can stop and get a cup of coffee and a pastry while having your bike repaired. Large wooden benches serve as centerpieces within the spacious courtyard, offering visitors a place to sit and sip or play board games, peruse used records or chat up the owners. Don't have your own bike? Spoke also rents them out, anywhere from two hours to all day.
There's plenty of space to bike alongside the river, but what about kayaking in it? During the summer, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority allows the public to use two designated areas to walk, fish, and use non motorized and steerable boats such as kayaks. The Elysian Valley zone, between Fletcher Avenue and the 5, is open from May 30 to September 25. The zone resides in the Glendale Narrows, the only channelized section of the river with a non-concrete bottom. As a result, you'll find trees and grassy islands growing in the middle of the river. It's a relatively swift-moving section of the river, with Class I and II rapids; because of the stronger current in the Elysian Valley zone, you can only launch from Rattlesnake Park and take the kayak out at a sandbar down the river, just north of the 5.