Culver City has
always been regarded, if regarded at all, as the armpit of the 10 and 405, a
variable asphalt park that connects beautiful Beverly
Hills with equally beautiful beach towns. Really, most
people can’t quite identify where Culver City’s
borders are, it’s just there¸ this
chunk of land people pass by en route to better places. But as real estate
prices send buyers considering cities halfway to Las Vegas,
Culver doesn’t seem so rancid anymore. In fact, it’s not rancid at all–evident
in the sudden influx of a hip and artsy scene with all the amenities enjoyed by
the disposable income of a middle class. As one Westsider put it, “A Trader
Joe’s in the area puts it in the upper echelon of society.” That pivotal society
landmark is situated on the edge of downtown at Washington and Dunn.
A stroll along the downtown streets of Culver
Blvd. and Washington uncovers some of the charms
that the Culver City residents wish
others knew about while secretly hoping they never do. The biggest: its
location. Close to two major freeways, a quick 15 minutes away from the beaches
in Venice, Santa
Monica, and Manhattan Beach,
and another 15 to Hollywood, and
halfway to downtown. Visitors can tell the local government recently made a
huge campaign to revitalize downtown and attract businesses, with its suddenly
clean-swept streets, freshly painted art-deco lampposts, clearly printed signs,
and restored historical hinges. It was, some might say, a good and successful
public relations stint. As a result, a number of new businesses popped up,
along with refinished residential neighborhoods. After a few days of research,
I’ve picked my favorites of the new Culver City
There’s nothing like sitting down and tasting Culver
City’s new flavors. Beyond the additions of chain
places like Trader Joe’s and Coldstone Creamery, Culver is developing its own
distinctive style that waivers between healthy-light and hearty-comfort.
Everyone except the lactose intolerant loves melted cheese.
And Meltdown is the kind of place that will make vegans wish they had chosen a
different cause. With one of the longest grilled cheese menus in Southern
California, Meltdown offers breakfast options, lunch, and even
dessert. The Classic Three-Cheese is a must, with a combination of sharp
cheddar, Muenster, and fontina. There’s also the L.A. Chick–grilled chicken
breast with goat cheese, spinach, and tomato–and the must-try Italian
deli–salami, peppers and mozzarella. For dessert, the Nutella and banana on egg
bread cannot be passed.
When the organic restaurant makes its debut, we know Culver
City-zens have formed a community of their own. Its menu has very
fresh-sounding items, ranging from a list of “simple” salads to “big” salads
(complicated ones), to grilled meats that were once happy and free-to-roam
animals. The restaurant is airy and light, like its food, and customers seem
content, leisurely eating their salads and chatting away the afternoon.
French food without the fuss. Kind of like Culver
City’s aim to become a hip part of L.A.
without Paris Hilton. La Dijonaise serves up the traditional French fare as we
know it: steak frites and coq au vin (with all the butter and cream!) at half
the price with none of the pretension. If you’re around in the mornings, their
croissants are a fantastique way to start the day.
neighborhood has its fair share of nightlife and daylife, but the ones worth
mentioning give a fun twist on the classics. What’s better than an evening of
jazz and wine, history and art?
Always wished you knew what the wine tasted like before
committing to an entire bottle? Bottlerock creates a solution for this by
offering small appetizer plates to go with the samples. In fact, Bottlerock’s
solution is a hip night joint and great date place with wines by the glass,
artisan cheese and charcuterie platters, olives, smoked salmon and caviar, and
chocolates. It’s like being at a brasserie in Paris
with all the people watching you can soak in, and none of the smoke. And if you
like the wine enough, you can always buy a bottle to take with you.
It’s one of Culver City’s
institutions, and the reason people came to Culver City
for the past 11 years. The Jazz Bakery features many prominent musicians from
around the country and the world, and currently fits in nicely with the
up-and-coming surroundings. The non-profit jazz venue is designed to draw local
interest in jazz, not for the booze and food associated with it, so there’s no
two-drink minimum at this joint.
Though the landmark first put Culver
City on the map separate from Sony Pictures (like Disneyland
and Anaheim), it wasn’t without the
help of dozens of munchkins and other Wizard of Oz cast members who lived there
during the making of the movie. In fact, the old hotel, now a historic landmark
designated by Culver City, pays
tribute to its old guests through window displays and antiques in each room.
Other famous stars, including Clark Gable, John Wayne, and Joan Crawford, spent
many a night there during filming back in the day. (The Lindsay Lohans of
yesterday, sans off-screen drama). The building itself is a fairly elegant and
classic piece of architecture that is often not found in L.A.
The Lion's Fountain
Paying tribute to the landmark hotel and the Wizard of Oz,
the Lion’s Fountain sprays 40 pop jets from the ground around the Lion, who
frolics with the kids in swimsuits. Benches situated around the water feature
lets locals while away an afternoon in Town
Plaza, reading the newspaper and
watching the water spray in intermittent patterns.
Culver has somewhat turned itself into a furniture district,
specifically, the Helms Furniture
District. For some reason Culver City
hangs on to the history of this once thriving bread business, now turned into
furniture row. With baguettes and bread trucks themed throughout the area,
surprisingly not-as-expensive-as-believed designer furniture is sold to the now
wealthier residents of the city and beyond. It’s another reason outsiders
venture to Culver City. There’s
even wine tastings offered through LearnAboutWine at H.D. Buttercup, where tasters can sit on furniture displays and sip
wine as if in their own living rooms. The “mart” is a self-described
“manutailer” which designs and sells its collections. The choices of furniture
and home décor range from modern to rustic to tacky. Even if you’re not in the
market for a new console, it’s a fun and very large place to browse. The Rug Warehouse sells nothing much more
than rugs and rug accessories; the selection is enormous.
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