There are so many great places to go for an afternoon, both in the Valley and within an hour’s drive. San Fernando Valley is blessed with location and population, so you’ll find a plethora of fun and exciting things to do!
Day Trip to Downtown Burbank
Downtown Burbank is home to a vast number of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. The main drag is along San Fernando Blvd, between Magnolia and Olive. If you want to stay local, there’s a Holiday Inn right in the heart of town and if you’re going by car, there are a number of free parking garages surrounding the quaint downtown area, so you can park the car for the day and head out on foot for a day of food, finds and films.
Start the day with breakfast at Barney’s Beanery (250 N. 1st St., www.barneysbeanery.com). This quirky, sports bar/coffee shop serves up a lengthy menu of breakfast options with enough choices that you’ll be sure to find something to tempt your tastebuds. Sidle up to the bar in one of the old car seat bar stools, or grab a booth, each one comes with its own TV. Or sit in the “Living Room” if you’ve got a big crowd. Early in the day, the place isn’t packed with rowdy sports fans and kids will enjoy the fun atmosphere.
Once your appetite is sated, head on up to San Fernando Blvd. It’s just a short walk away and is lined with shops, from popular chains like Urban Outfitters to unique gift shops and resale boutiques. You can also head into the mall which is just across Magnolia Blvd. Stop in for a light lunch at any of the many restaurants in the area, like P.F. Changs or Fuddruckers. Everything is pretty close, so if you fill up your arms with too many shopping bags, stop and drop them at your car or hotel room to lighten your load.
Finish the day off with a nice dinner at Granville, if you’re in the mood for California cuisine or Market City Café if you’re craving Italian, and head over to one of the three movie complexes and catch a flick. Better yet, head to the AMC 16, which is right in the heart of town, and see what’s playing on the IMAX screen. And if you need to end the night on a sweet note, there’s a Coldstone Creamery right outside the theater.
Hollywood Day Trip
Just a hop, skip and a jump over the hills from the San Fernando Valley, you’ll find the bright lights and glitter of the world-famous Hollywood. You can easily get there by car or by metro (from the North Hollywood or Universal City Stations). Hollywood has been undergoing some major changes over the last few years, so if you haven’t been in a while, be prepared for an exciting new experience. Be sure to make your first stop at Hollywood Blvd. Stroll down the Walk of Fame and get your photo by the stars belonging to your favorite legends. Then head over to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to see the famous hand and footprints. There’s a new complex there called Hollywood and & Highland and it’s filled with your favorite shops and restaurants, so stop in for a bite to eat and some gifts. Once you’ve seen where it all started, skip the kitschy museums like the Wax Museum and the Guinness World Record Museum and head down to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is a fascinating landmark and is the final resting place of many famous actors, producer,s and directors. On evenings in the summer, movies are projected on the side of the mausoleum and you can bring a blanket and picnic and enjoy a unique outdoor cinema experience.
When it’s time for dinner, you’ll have your pick of any number of great restaurants in the area, but if you want a meal with a view, head up to Yamashiro (www.yamashirorestaurant.com). This hilltop restaurant is designed to look like a Japanese palace and offers spectacular views and succulent food. And of course, since you’re in Hollywood, a trip to the movies is a must. If you aren’t in season for the outdoor screenings at the cemetery, then head to either the El Capitan, which is Disney’s theater on Hollywood Blvd, or the Arclight on Sunset. The El Capitan is a classic old-world theater and when new Disney films first come out, each screening is preceded by a special live show. The Cinerama Dome at the Arclight is one of the finest theaters around, with comfortable, reserved seating, excellent concessions, and an 86-foot wide screen.
Day Trip to Studio City and Toluca Lake
A day spent exploring the neighborhoods of Studio City, Toluca Lake, and their nearby environs will give you a chance to hobnob with the locals, maybe spot a celebrity or two, and experience a little of the Valley nightlife. Start your day with breakfast at Vivian’s Millennium Café (10968 Ventura Blvd, Studio City), a small local joint owned by the Remini family (actress Leah Remini is well-known for her role on the hit TV show, King of Queens). The café offers up great breakfast food, is a favorite of locals and some celebrities, and has a back patio where you can bring your dog.
After breakfast, head on over to nearby Warner Brothers’ Studio for their VIP Studio Tour (http://www2.warnerbros.com/vipstudiotour/). Advance purchase of your tickets is recommended but you can buy them onsite on a first-come, first-serve basis. The tour will take you on 12-person carts through the active back-lots of the studio to see the art of movie-making in action. The tour also begins with a special video presentation and ends with a chance to explore film and television throughout history at the Warner Brothers’ Museum. When you’ve had your fill of the film and TV world, pop over to the nearby Bob’s Big Boy on Riverside Drive (www.bobs.net) for a late lunch. Built in 1949, it’s the oldest remaining Big Boy restaurant in the country and serves up classic burgers and good old-fashioned shakes. Keep with tradition and go for the original Big Boy combo and top it off with a frosty, thick malt.
Spend the afternoon browsing the shops along the main drag in Studio City. The stretch of Ventura Blvd. between Laurel Canyon and Whitsett offers up chain favorites like The Gap and Banana Republic nestled right along with unique clothing and shoe boutiques like Dari, and you park and walk to them all. If you need a little relaxation time, pop into any of the many nail salons along the way for a manicure and pedicure, or one of the local Thai massage places to stretch out the kinks. They all accept walk-ins so there’s no need to plan ahead. Finish the day off with a little taste of Valley nightlife. Head over to either Laurel Tavern, Next Door, or Firefly. All offer up great food and drinks and are often frequented by the celebrities who live in the area. You’ll need a reservation for dinner at Firefly, but it’s well worth it to sit in the outdoor dining room around the fireplace and then retire to the library-themed bar for after-dinner drinks and socializing.
West Valley Day Trip
If you’re in the western part of the Valley, spend a day enjoying an eclectic mix of dining, history, and outdoor adventure. You’ll need a car to get to everything, or a willingness to grab a cab to the last stop, and you should plan this trip for a Sunday to get the full experience. Get the day going by heading to the legendary Sagebrush Cantina (23527 Calabasas Road, Calabasas, California 92403, www.sagebrushcantina.com) for a Sunday brunch you’ll never forget. This Mexican-style Cantina is a restaurant, a sports bar, and sometimes a biker hangout. For around $30, you’ll get an all-you-can-eat brunch buffet with bottomless mimosas and tequila shots. The menu is all over the map, from traditional breakfast and brunch fare to traditional Mexican favorites. There’s even a hot and cold crab leg bar. Head over early and take your time.
When you can’t fit anymore into your stomach, walk down the street to the Leonis Adobe Museum (23537 Calabasas Road, www.leonisadobemuseum.org). A perfect plan if you had a few of those bottomless mimosas! It’s open until 4 pm and is a great place to get a taste of the history of the San Fernando Valley. The home has been meticulously restored and there are a number of exhibits throughout the ranch.
Now that you’ve gotten more familiar with the history and culture of the area, and digested all that food and champagne, hop in the car or a cab and take a short ride over to Lake Balboa (www.laparks.org/dos/aquatic/facility/lakeBalboa.htm), where you can do pretty much anything from walk the path around the park, to cycle, fish, swim at the aquatic center, play golf or tennis, or just hang out and enjoy the weather. The park is open till sundown, so you might want a pack a picnic for dinner if you still have room after your trip to Sagebrush. There are barbeque pits and picnic tables.
No trip to the San Fernando Valley is complete without a day exploring Universal Studios and the adjacent Universal CityWalk. Once you’ve parked in the lots or made your way on foot from the nearby Universal Hilton, head to CityWalk first for a spot of breakfast – there are better options than you’ll find inside the theme park, including a Starbucks, if you need a morning java.
Once you’re inside the theme park, the entrance is at one end of CityWalk, grab a map and have fun! There are several shows that operate on a schedule so you’ll need to make a note of the times to get in line and get a good seat. Waterworld is a must-see, with action, daredevil stunts, and exciting explosions. There are also several exciting rides, including the relatively new Simpsons adventure ride and themed thrill rides like Jurassic Park and The Mummy. Be sure not to miss the Studio Back Lot Tour – a highlight of the theme park, the tram tour takes you through the actual back lots and around the real soundstages of Universal Studios. See the spots where some very famous movies and TV shows were shot. If you’re lucky, you might even see a film crew in action on a live set!
Finish the day by leaving the park and heading back over to CityWalk, where you’ll find a plethora of dining options, including the western-themed Saddle Ranch Chop House, which offers generous portions of down-home fare, and if you’re brave enough to try it, a chance to ride the mechanical bull. Roaming musicians often provide tableside entertainment and the drinks are large and potent. If you prefer something a little less extravagant, stop at Tony Roma’s for tasty ribs, or head to the Carl Strauss Brewery for a burger and a pint. If you’re in the mood to shop, stop in at any or all of the quirky offerings along the walk, where you can find everything from crazy socks and candy to a new pair of Skechers. For the more adventurous or if you’re just in the mood to play, make your way to IFLY, the indoor skydiving tunnel, or head to the bowling lanes at Jillian’s.
There’s no way to see and do all Universal has to offer in one day, so pick your favorites to try first and make a mental checklist of the things you want to do on your next trip. Because you will be back!