Hidden Gems in the San Fernando Valley

SuihoEn (“Garden of Water and Fragrance”) in Van Nuys
SuihoEn (“Garden of Water and Fragrance”)  |  Photo:  Yuri Hasegawa

To the north of the Los Angeles Basin lies the San Fernando Valley, a bastion of suburban living with network and movie studios, parks, art galleries, shopping centers, sushi restaurants, theme parks and much more. Often referred to simply as "The Valley," it's a good idea to go beyond the stereotypes and visit a few lesser-known attractions to get a more intimate picture of the 260 square-mile region. We’ve gathered some great locations that fly under the radar in dining, recreation and culture, so you can get a good feel for what The Valley is really all about.

Momotaro Tomato with Alaskan snow crab at Asanebo
Momotaro Tomato with Alaskan snow crab at Asanebo  |  Photo: Joshua Lurie


Like most sushi restaurants in Studio City, Asanebo is located in a nondescript strip mall on Ventura Boulevard. Of course, a humble location is not indicative of the amount of money you'll pay for high end sushi. Indeed, quality fish requires a financial commitment from the diner, but it's well worth it at Asanebo. Inside the warm, comforting dining room, you'll find both traditional and innovative, fusion-style Japanese cuisine, where the omakase, or chef's choice, is recommended. Thankfully, there are three different tiers so there's some flexibility. Named the 2014 Zagat Guide's top food pick in Los Angeles, Asanebo is a dining gem that's not to be missed.

"The Brady Bunch" house on HGTV
The Brady Kids reunite for a renovation of their famous TV house | Instagram: @hgtv

The Brady Bunch House

One of the most famous houses in television history can be found at 11217 Dilling Street in Studio City - with civilians living inside. The Brady Bunch began shooting in 1969, and exterior shots of the house were used for 115 episodes. A newly widowed Louise Weddington Carson lived in the house at the time, and set designers attached a phony window to make it look like the two-story structure to match the interior set design. The house was revisited for a couple sequel projects, such as A Very Brady Christmas and The Bradys, a dramatic series on CBS. A fence and new shrubbery somewhat masks its immortalized TV image, but the house will forever live on in reruns of The Brady Bunch.

Eclectica Vintage
Eclectica Vintage | Instagram: @livinonluv

Eclectica Vintage

There are some great vintage shops in the San Fernando Valley, but Eclectica Vintage is your go-to whether you're looking for a bike, furniture, clothing, camera or other classic decorative items. With past experience at local studios as set designers, owners Mike Lis and Ron Lis will help you find anything you might need. Just be sure to bring cash for your purchases.

The Great Wall of Los Angeles in Valley Glen
The Great Wall of Los Angeles | Photo courtesy of The City Project, Flickr

The Great Wall of Los Angeles

At 2,754 feet, The Great Wall of Los Angeles is one of the longest murals in the world, located on Coldwater Canyon between Burbank Boulevard and Oxnard Street. The half-mile-long mural is regarded as one of the city's most successful depictions and examples of ethnic and cultural cooperation, conceived by Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) founder, Judith Baca as part of a beautification project in the area. The Great Wall of Los Angeles was begun in 1974 and completed five summers later, involving over 400 employed youth and their families from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, as well as artists, oral historians, ethnologists, scholars and community members. Each year was dedicated to depicting a different decade in California history from the viewpoint of different ethnic minorities. Ongoing maintenance efforts are made through donations and grant funding.

Sleepy cat on a ladder at Iliad Bookshop
Photo: Iliad Bookshop, Facebook

Iliad Bookshop

So-named because the original location was next to Odyssey Video, the Iliad Bookshop offers over 125,000 titles at its home on Cahuenga Boulevard in North Hollywood, where the 20-year-old bookstore has been located since 2006. Specializing in used books, Iliad Bookshop buys and sells hundreds of books daily and even has a table of bargain books for less than $2 each. There are also rare books for sale, and autographed first editions can run for hundreds - sometimes thousands - of dollars. Regulars are often found scouring its shelves for hidden treasures. The hardest part of a visit to the Iliad is leaving without spending several hours there.

Lake view at SuihoEn (“Garden of Water and Fragrance”) in Van Nuys
SuihoEn (“Garden of Water and Fragrance”)  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Japanese Garden

Constructed over a three-year period and dedicated in 1984, the Japanese Garden at Woodley Park in Van Nuys is an oasis of serenity designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana. Ranked tenth out of 300 public Japanese gardens by the Journal of Japanese Gardening, it's a treasure of the San Fernando Valley complete with a Zen meditation garden, Three Buddhas arrangement of stones, chisen (wet strolling garden with waterfalls), Shoin Building, Crane Island and a Weeping Willow Tree. 

Cherry blossoms at Lake Balboa
Cherry blossoms at Lake Balboa | Photo: City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation & Parks

Lake Balboa

In 2007, a large part of Van Nuys was renamed the Lake Balboa district. Shortly after, in 2008, the district's 80-acre Anthony C. Beilenson Park, formerly Balboa Park, received a million-dollar revamp in the form of a Maritime-themed Universally Accessible Playground, interactive drum play area, and more. Lifeguards are on-site at Lake Balboa, which is located in the park, making it an attractive place for boating and fishing. There are also barbecue pits and picnic tables, ensuring your entire family a whole day of activities. And if you're visiting at the right time of year, you'll get to enjoy a stroll around the lake with cherry blossom trees in full bloom. But at all times, don't forget to enjoy the miles of trails that line the park, which branch off from the trail around the lake. Keep an eye out for nearby bike rentals.

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Doner platter | Photo courtesy of Sako’s Mediterranean Cuisine,

Sako's Mediterranean Cuisine

You don't visit Sako’s Mediterranean Cuisine in Reseda for the decor, but for their outstanding Armenian dishes. Open since 2002, Sako's has the same name as it did upon opening, although its current owners, John and Ani Panosian, have owned the restaurant since about 2006. The kebabs are quite special and luscious, and if you go with Sako's Special, the Iskender Kebab, you'll be treated to a wonderfully seasoned ground beef sirloin sliced straight from the spit. Thick yogurt, browned butter and fresh tomato sauce accent the dish beautifully. Of course, you'll also find standbys like hummus, baba ghanouj and tabouleh on the menu - all served with warm pitas - but adventurers will love the Mediterranean spice treasure hunt all the way down the menu. 

"The Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard" at Tonga Hut Tiki Lounge
"The Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard" | Photo: Tonga Hut Tiki Lounge, Facebook

Tonga Hut

Part of the unmatched charm of this Tiki Bar is that this little hideaway - and much of the current decor - dates all the way back to 1958, when it was opened by brothers Ace and Ed Libby at the height of the mid-century Tiki craze. After a period of being run down, the bar was thankfully restored to its former Tiki glory in 2005. Now, the original fountains are running, there’s new, period-appropriate artwork, and vintage, eclectic tunes in the jukebox. If you're a local barfly, you can join The Loyal Order of the Drooling Bastard by ordering every drink in the Grog Log (which runs over 80 drinks deep) within a year. Whether you want a $2 PBR or a classic 1934 Zombie made according to Don the Beachcomber's original recipe, the Tonga Hut is your Valley watering hole.

Dining room at Vitello's in Tujunga Village
Photo: Vitello's, Facebook


The restaurant known as Vitello's has changed hands a couple times since Sal Vitello, a baker from New York, opened the restaurant in Tujunga Village. The Rat Pack was known to hang out here, with many industry types swinging by for a plate of pasta and a drink, thanks to its proximity to the CBS Studios Radford Studios Lot and the Universal City soundstages. You'll have good reason to stop by too, thanks to the contemporary food and drink menu. Gone are the canned tomato sauces and overcooked pasta, and here to stay are fresh seasonal ingredients and al dente pasta. Check the Upstairs at Vitello's calendar for live performances on select nights, including jazz and stand-up comedy by special guests like Dana Carvey and Arsenio Hall.