CULVER CITY

Culver City has long been known as a center for movie and television studios (MGM Studios, Sony Pictures), or an area people move to once Santa Monica and Venice become too expensive. But thanks to an up-and-coming art scene, the 2012 opening of the Expo Line at Culver Junction (the light rail from Downtown LA to Culver City), and a thriving downtown full of gastropubs, wine bars and pedestrian-friendly streets, Culver City seems to be morphing into a popular destination beyond movie productions and reasonable rents.

This Westside neighborhood, bordered by Venice, Marina del Rey and Baldwin Hills, may no longer quite be “The Heart of Screenland,” but there’s a lot to do within its five square miles: a multitude of hikes, beautiful bike trails and intimate theatres, as well as a popular downtown and the hip Helms Bakery District.

There’s plenty of quirk, too. The history of the Culver Hotel and the hijinks that occurred during the making of the legendary “Wizard of Oz,” as well as some peculiar sights and museums, make for an interesting and memorable Best LA Day in Culver City.

Stop 1: Conservatory for Coffee, Tea and Cocoa

It was early, and we needed coffee stat. Thankfully, we were within walking distance of The Conservatory for Coffee, Tea & Cocoa, a locals’ coffeeshop that is serious about it’s beans and brewing. They roast all their own coffee beans, and offer a medium cup of drip for $1.70 (a latte is $2.45). Something we can stand behind. Pastries are from the nearby Essential Chocolate (another must-visit in the area).

Insider’s tip: when lines are long and all you want is a cup o’ joe, there’s a “Coffee Only” line in the back, where you can quickly get a drip.

(10117 W Washington Boulevard, Culver City)

Stop 2: The Hobbit's House

Now we love California design and architecture just as much as the next Angeleno – give us a Spanish-style bungalow any day of the week – but when we heard there was a real life HOBBIT’S HOUSE in the middle of Culver City, we had to go check it out.

These “storybook houses,” as they are called, were popular in the early part of the 20th century, and only a few are left standing in LA. This particular compound was built by a former Walt Disney illustrator, and its tallest ceilings are 20 feet high. We half-expected Bilbo Baggins to open the door at any moment!

(3819 Dunn Drive, Culver City)

Stop 3: Culver City Nature Trail

Okay, so we weren’t exactly dressed for a hike. But luckily, the Culver City Nature Trail is as strenuous as you wish to make it. It’s a mere 0.5 mile loop, with a wooden pathway that curves up and back, giving you panoramic views of Culver City, Los Angeles and Marina del Rey (we could even spot the ocean!) We only went up and down once, stopping at the top to listen to a drummer in the small park and take in the view, but we promise to bring our running shoes next time. There’s even a full ropes course!

(9800 Jefferson Boulevard, Culver City)

Stop 4: Jackson Market & Deli

The first time we went searching for Jackson Market, we were sure we were in the wrong place. It’s called “The Secret Garden Market” for a reason – located on a quiet residential street, this charming cafe serves delicious (and fresh!) salads, sandwiches and wraps. There’s also a large selection of bottled sodas and juices (ginger jicama, anyone?) as well as wines, beers, and fresh produce for Culver City neighbors who don’t feel like schlepping to Albertson’s.

The patio out back is only open during the week, and is positively lovely. Place your order on one of the sheets at the counter, then pay up front. We enjoyed our Sausalito Wrap and custom salad with a sleepy cat in the shade of a tree on the back patio, right next to the fountain. Don’t miss the Peanut Butter Crack bar or sweet potato cupcake (or both!) for dessert.

(4065 Jackson Avenue, Culver City)

Stop 5: Helms Bakery District

The Helms Bakery District is a very cool and up-and-coming shopping center just one block from the Expo Line. Its anchored by the historical Helms Bakery building, a family-owned bakery that delivered bread “Daily to Your Door” from the 1930s to the 1960s. The landmark structure no longer houses a bakery, but instead a collection of restaurants, modern furniture stores, and watering holes.

Some of our favorites include:

HD Buttercup – the largest home furnishing store in Los Angeles, this shop is a shiny, happy place full of incredible items. We loved the stainless steel fridge as a cupboard, the stone tree stump chairs, and garlands made of driftwood. Get ready to fall in love with a whole-lotta items.

Father’s Office – the “Office Burger” is world-famous, and almost any Angeleno can attest to its pure deliciousness. 36 craft beers on tap, a bar full of gorgeous people, and all locally farmed ingredients? Even better.

Arcana Books on the Arts – we know next to nothing about art, but this place has more art books than we’ve ever seen and it’s lots of fun to peruse the shelves. Fantastic if you’re looking for a new coffee table book.

(8758 Venice Boulevard, Culver City)

Stop 6: Coolhaus

We have died and gone to HEAVEN. Just the idea of an ice cream sandwich is an amazing one – a layer of sweet, cold ice cream in between two warm, freshly baked cookies. But Coolhaus takes it to a whole new level: creative, mouth-watering flavors with a focus on sustainability (every sandwich is wrapped in an edible, calorie-free wrapper!) Potato-chip and butterscotch cookies, Guinness chip and date rum pecan ice cream, and mango saffron sorbet are just the beginning (just not all together!) Yumminess on yumminess on yumminess.

We were there during ice cream sandwich happy hour (4-6pm, $1 off) and ordered the Nutella almond ice cream between two double chocolate cookies. After that, we pretty much floated out of Coolhaus on a wave of bliss and delight.

(8588 W Washington Boulevard, Culver City)

Stop 7: Culver City Farmers' Market

The Culver City Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays (3-7pm) is one of the best outdoor markets in town. While the produce and goods are beautiful and incredibly fresh, the thing that really sets this market apart from the rest is the food and craft vendors.

We sampled fresh oysters from Shucks (flown in that day from Washington state), bought dried papaya and lemon almonds from The Fruit Patch, learned about South American-style chocolate at Chocovivo, and tasted daikon at Dave’s Gourmet Korean Food. A must-visit in the neighborhood!

(Main Street between Culver and Venice Boulevards, Culver City)

Stop 8: Public School 310

Happy Hour (or “Recess” as they say) at Public School 310 is a fun place to be, even on a Tuesday night. The drink selection is good, and the bar is busy – we ordered an Epic Escape IPA (light and refreshing) and a Red Smoke cocktail (mezcal, jalapeno, grapefruit, agave). We shared the red quinoa salad, dos tacos, and albacore sashimi – a motley crew of food, but it hit the spot. The schoolhouse vibe is cute, the crowd is good, and the drinks are strong.

(9411 Culver Boulevard, Culver City)

Stop 9: The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Disclaimer: we thought The Museum of Jurassic Technology had something to do with dinosaurs. While we didn’t find any dinosaurs, we did discover a museum full of truly bizarre and diverse items. While the term “Jurassic” is never really explained, you quickly forget about it because you’ll be trying so hard to figure out the rest of the museum’s collection. Rats on toast, relics from LA mobile homes in the 1930s, an exhibit on dogs in space during the Soviet Era, and ant eggs that were previously administered as a cure for love (no, we’re not making this up). It’s dimly lit, it’s creepy, and it’s weird. You certainly won’t find a museum like this anywhere but Los Angeles.

The Tula Tea Room, at the top of the stairs, is a lovely place to enjoy Georgian tea and cookies and pretend like you’re in Russia – outside is a garden, a cage full of doves, and more seats to sit and drink your porcelain cup of tea. You might not get this place, but it sure is weirdly wonderful.

(9341 Venice Boulevard, Culver City)

Stop 10: Bigfoot West

After the strangeness of the museum, we were in desperate need of a drink. Thank goodness Big Foot West has a happy hour until 9pm. The cocktails are $5 and we ordered a round of gin gimlets, as well as a few tomato basil empanadas (which come from La Cocina de Llonka next door and are only served during Happy Hour). If you like whiskey, beer, and feeling like you’re drinking in a cool log cabin, this is the spot for you.

(10930 Venice Boulevard, Culver City)

The Details:

We used our own bicycles across longer distances, and locked them up and walked between shorter distances (i.e. Helms Bakery District to Coolhaus). You can rent bikes here. The Culver City Junction of the Expo Line is close to the heart of downtown, and offers bike lockers, bike racks and free parking.

A map of our day looks something like this:

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