12/29/2018 - 01/29/2019
The farmers market schedule dictated that the first stop on Saturday morning would be Santa Monica, where there were actually two markets. The first was a very chilled scene at Virginia Beach Park, with a live band playing a trippy instrumental version of "Pumped Up Kicks". It was another very produce-oriented market with some cool varieties of mushrooms and radishes. There was just one food stall but the huge carne asada burrito I bought was the best I'd had in a long time.
The main act on Saturday morning in Santa Monica is the downtown market on Arizona Avenue. It's a busy affair extending for several blocks with a mixture of growers and artisans. Halfway through is the intersection with Santa Monica's famous Third Street Promenade.
The Third Street Promenade is the place to shop and people-watch in Santa Monica. Aside from the cafes and boutiques, there's innovative landscaping and some very talented street performers. It always drives me nuts when people watch these guys for ten minutes and then walk away without giving so much as a buck, so I enjoyed the ingenious ways some of these guys induce people to pay for their entertainment.
The promenade was only three blocks long and was lined with boring chain stores, so we reversed back to Arizona Avenue and walked a couple of blocks to the little strip of park that overlooks Santa Monica beach. To the south we could see the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica pier. In the other direction we could see across Santa Monica Bay all the way to Malibu. On the beach was an array of no less than eighteen volleyball nets, none of which were in use on this chilly December day. We knew that going on the pier would inevitably result in at least a couple of hours lost to rides and games, and there just wasn't any time for that today. We managed to hustle the kids away before they spotted the Ferris wheel, but the catch was we couldn't find a decent place to eat in downtown Santa Monica that didn't have at least a thirty minute wait. I was desperate to get to Venice before sundown, so we bought the kids grilled chicken sandwiches and got back on the road.
We made it to Venice quickly enough, but the kids had passed out after eating and I had to idle the car for a while until they'd slept enough. Then we had to find a place to eat for ourselves, which ended up being an odd little Chinese fusion place called Mao's Kitchen. The food was decent, but we had to practically run to the Venice Canals to see them before darkness fell. As it was, we had about ten minutes of dusk before we were completely enveloped in darkness. It worked out for the best though since many of the houses were still elegantly decorated for the holidays which made for a beautiful spectacle at night. We ended up experiencing the best of both worlds at the canals.
Darkness and cold descended together and we hurried down to the Venice Beach boardwalk. Muscle Beach was already shut down for the night and there was little else to see. We decided to have dinner at Mitsuwa Marketplace, one of Southern California's many Asian supermarket chains. There's a choice of Mitsuwa for Japanese goods, Galleria for Korean, Seafood City for Filipino, 99 Ranch for Taiwanese/Chinese and other smaller markets for Vietnamese and Thai. Many of the larger supermarkets have food courts which can be among the best places to get authentic Asian dishes. We did pretty well at Mitsuwa, which wasn't much different from eating at a supermarket in Tokyo. Spenser especially liked the dried seaweed strips.
I had another special event queued up for the next morning. Smorgasburg LA is a huge gathering of food trucks and food stalls that's held in downtown LA every Sunday. It sounded like a weekly food festival with live music and a general party scene, and I was really looking forward to kicking off our fourth day in a row with a bang. On the way there we stopped by LA's small Chinatown just for a quick look. The neighborhood was virtually empty on a Sunday morning. Unlike other Chinatowns in the US, many of the buildings were painted in bright colors and topped by ornate pagodas so that they looked more like the China pavilion at Epcot than China or the US. One of the central pedestrian streets is named Mei Ling way, so of course we needed a picture of that before we could move on.
When we arrived at the Smorgasburg LA area, I couldn't seem to find the actual spot and there wasn't much pedestrian traffic around. Eventually a security guard confirmed my suspicion that the event was closed for the holidays. We were disappointed, but we knew it could have been a lot worse for us visiting LA between Christmas and New Year's. At least every farmers market and food hall had been up and running. We'd have to mark this one as an incomplete, but we already knew we'd be returning to LA within a few years. This would be just one more way to make the second visit unique. And on the plus side, this gave us the chance to make that return visit to Grand Central Market that we'd been craving.