L.A.'s San Fernando Valley is home to a slew of musts—shopping, eats and adventures that will make a ride over Mulholland Drive (or the roundabout 101 Freeway) well worth the effort.
Howl at the Moon
When we're in the mood to brave the crowds at the ever-popular Universal CityWalk Hollywood, we can't help but stop into Howl at the Moon, the metrosexual answer to the gay piano bar. This joint hits all the right chords with not one but two dueling pianos; here, the players entertain with high-brow wit, great comedic timing and—yes!—audience participation a'plenty. Often we've heard a Britney Spears, Shania Twain and Broadway Baby mash-up rocking the stage, and it's music to our ears.
La Loggia Ristorante / Next Door Tapas Lounge
If you've ever craved Italian but your boyfriend is dying for some Spanish Tapas, this restaurant combo was made for you. Sit in La Loggia and you’ll feel as if you've been whisked away to an Italian villa for a genuine home-cooked meal. Saunter into the chic, sexy tapas bar next door and you'll feel as if you've stepped into a W Hotel in Barcelona. However, sit on the beautiful patio between the two and you can order off both menus! Everything here is delicious, and we can confidently say that everything off the tapas menu is 100 percent as-if-out-of-Spain authentic.
The 4300 block of Tujunga is eclectic shopping at its finest. Dotted with trinkets from around the world, art galleries, resale clothing shops, salons and quaint eateries, this strip is the Valley's answer to Robertson Boulevard. You can spend an entire afternoon strolling down this two-block stretch and walk away with pieces to decorate your home and enhance your wardrobe from Africa, Europe, Iceland and beyond—as well as from local artisans. Celebs often stroll this street incognito; yes, Tujunga is truly a place to see and be seen!
Oil Can Harry's
Any gay worth his boots and spurs knows the Oil Can. Open since 1968, Harry's is a country line-dancing bar with an LGBTQ twist. Offering free dance lessons, the occasional karaoke competition and even a disco night for those who are anti-twang, we absolutely love this cedar-wooded, down-home, all-gay-all-the-time gem. Most of all, the cowboys here are always friendly, charming and willing to show any new WeHo residents a two-step or two.
From 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sundays, Ventura Place between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Radford Avenue shuts down for one of the best farmers markets in the Los Angeles area. A nonprofit, organic collective jointly owned by the Studio City Residents Association and the Studio City Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the local artisans, growers and craftsmen gather to sell their quality goods and “make a difference in the community" through net profit donations. Entertainment, delicious eats and kitschy crafts abound—and makes for a great Sunday morning stop-off.
This recently opened gay bar is located in the heart of Studio City's Ventura Strip, and the reviews have been raves. Pitched as the "West Hollywood of the Valley," each and every night holds a different adventure: GirlBar, Southern Rain, karaoke and their signature dance night, Posers. There's an amazing restaurant in the joint that’s always packed. Rain most definitely rains down a classic "WeHo night out" on the other side of the hill.
El Portal Theatre
The historic El Portal Theatre is currently celebrating its 12th anniversary since its artistic renaissance and rebirth, and is a well-regarded hub in the theatrical NoHo Arts scene. Originally built as a vaudeville house in 1926, the theatre has weathered the Jazz Age, the Depression, four wars and the great earthquake of 1994. Today, the theatre is home to a variety of major workshops and readings that will eventually end up on Broadway or the West End—such as Serrano, a mafia-style musical version of Cyrano, Grumpy Old Men, Gladiator and Zorro the Musical. elportaltheatre.com
Deaf West Theatre
North Hollywood is arguably best known for its Arts District—which boasts more theatres than any other city in the Valley. One of the most unique is Deaf West Theatre, the most celebrated deaf theatre in the country. Their mission: "to directly improve and enrich the cultural lives of over 1.2 million deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who live in the Los Angeles area" through theater, art and music, with a unique blend of visual, sign language and staging techniques. With over 45 plays and musicals under their artistic belt, not only is the presentation of the work unique for visitors of all sensibilities, but it's grade-A five-star theater at its finest. deafwest.org
Eclectic Wine Bar & Grille
Sauntering into the Eclectic, you're greeted by a chic bar, water features and high-end art (created by local artisans and for sale) on the walls. The vibe is San Francisco chic, only with a better wine list. The menu is—you guessed it—eclectic but with a high-end twist: seafood, salads, pizzas, chicken dishes and more. A must-try is the weekend brunch; $22 gets you one of their award-winning entrées and free-flowing champagne and mimosas until 3 p.m. eclecticwinebarandgrille.com
Looking for a good ol' fashioned date night? Castle Park is the place to be. A miniature golf/arcade/batting cages mecca in the most Midwest sense of the word, young and old flock here to get their swing on. During the weekend, the Castle is chock-full of kids, so it's perfect for gay moms and dads. Weeknights draw a bit of an older crowd, perfect for some one-on-one putting fun.
Sherman Oaks Antique Mall
It's a fact—gays love antiques. The Sherman Oaks Antique Mall does not disappoint—one of the oldest in Los Angeles, this nearly 11,000 square-foot collective offers up something for all collections. Specialties here include 19th and 20th century, Victorian, art nouveau, art deco, arts and crafts, mid-century modern, kitsch and even oddities. Whether you're a diehard antique lover or just out looking for a uniquely authentic home accent, a stroll through the SOAM makes for a memorable afternoon.
The Boneyard Bistro is barbeque eats and luscious libations at its most high-end hickory delicious. All of the standards reign supreme here: chicken, ribs, brisket, tri tip. If you've seen it at a BBQ joint, you'll see it here—only better. If you get something à la carte, we strongly suggest you splurge on a fried mac n' cheese side and the surprisingly sating potato salad. Our only word of advice? Make a reservation—the wait can top an hour on busy nights. Oh, and wear your eating pants, because you're gonna need them.
Located in the heart of the Sherman Oaks Galleria (also boasting a Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Chang’s and Arclight Cinemas), Urban Home is home goods shopping at its most affordable. Much like IKEA, only—dare we say it?—trendier, these pieces of furniture for your bedroom, kitchen, living room and backyard are not only unique pieces inspired by designs around the world, but the prices are amazingly reasonable. Urban Home is well worth the drive for small accents and large pieces alike.
More meat, please! Kravings is the kind of place where guys walk around with giant skewers of meat and all you need to do is clean your plate. Chicken, steak, beef enthused with bacon, cheese and sea salts—what more could one ask for at this delightfully hip all-you-can-eatery? For vegetarians, an amazing salad bar also comes with the meal price. But don't think of this place as just another Sizzler; Kravings is truly chic skewering, Valley-style.
Yes, it's nearly a 20-mile drive from WeHo. Sure, it's in a strip mall. But we can tell you that Adagio is one of the best Italian eateries we've ever been to in the L.A. area. Not only is the décor inside stunning (think a Cheesecake Factory if it was designed by Gaudi), but everything from the light homemade pasta to breaded chicken and osso bucco makes the 30-minute drive home a breeze. On weekends, we also love the live bands—major crooners and major talents delight through the night.
The oldest and only lesbian-owned bar in LA County, the Oxwood Inn is a delightful dive and makes no bones about it. Every Friday night is lesbian night, and the cover is a mere $3. The history behind the Oxwood Inn is long cherished—the original owner, Betty "Tuck" Sutherland, is still celebrated here to this day. You'll find nothing like the Inn in WeHo, LA or the Valley. Here the vibe is true family, and everyone knows everyone’s name, whether you're a lesbian or just another supportive gal out for a beer.
C Frenz Bar
It's the kind of bar we come to love in the Valley—economical drinks, eye candy and all-gay-all-the-time fabulousness. This bar-meets-nightclub is never at a loss for ways to entertain—karaoke, trash bingo, drag shows, barbecues on Sundays, dancers on Fridays and a DJ every weekend. Offering pool and darts, as well as a mixed-gay crowd, C Frenz Bar isn't WeHo in any sense of the word; it's Valley-inclusive and nonpretentious fun that we love trekking over the hill for.
Flappers Comedy Club
Whoever said SoCal comedy is for the Sunset Strip was lying, because Flappers Comedy Club in Downtown Burbank is chock-full of spot-on LOLs. The talents here are just as hot and ‘big name’ as they are in Hollywood proper; and the joint's three stages, two restaurants and always-packed bar make for never a dull moment. Shows begin as early as noon and run as late as midnight, so there's always something to see—and the price is insanely right, averaging $15 a ticket for mainstage shows.
Bakeries in L.A. are a dime a dozen, but people in SoCal will bet their life that Porto's is the best of the bunch. Not only renowned for their customized wedding cakes and finger-food desserts, Porto's breakfast/lunch/soup/salad café literally has people lining up down Magnolia Boulevard. Also boasting locations in Glendale and Downey, we come for the cakes but stay for the croissants, croquettes, empanadas and puffs.
The motto at Firenze is "Love! Food! Misbehavior!" And if by ‘misbehavior’ they mean some of the most delicious eats in the Valley, that motto is spot on. A casual yet upscale restaurant located on the border of NoHo and Toluca Lake, this osteria is a place where celebs rub elbows with the everyday discerning diner. We would give you a list of the must-trys, but we'll be honest—every single thing on the appetizer menu is to-die-for, and all of the meats are killer. Our only suggestion—don't substitute the potato/fries/risotto for double veggies. These carbs are worth it!
Sweetsalt Food Shop
This gourmet—in every sense of the word—sandwich shop is the brainchild of Top Chef Season 5 contestant and L.A. native Alex Eusebio. With selections at $10 or less—and combinations like a braised short rib roll with onion confit, roasted garlic and goat cheese, and a free-range chicken spicy buffalo ciabatta with celery, onion and Roquefort cheese spread—we encourage you to order it up just as Mr. Eusebio dreamed it up. This place is worth the occasional line out the door.