The city of Los Angeles is a vast blanket of neighborhoods, quilted together by freeways and canyon roads. With an area of about 503 square miles, you could fit San Francisco inside Los Angeles ten times and have some room to spare (some maps have shown seven major cities, plus Manhattan, tucked within the City of Angels). The enormity of the city has its advantages and disadvantages. Sure, it could take you an hour just to get through the Sepulveda Pass during rush hour, but in a city so extensive and diverse, simply spending an afternoon in another neighborhood can feel like a day trip out of town. Whether you’re a tourist who wants to see more than the big attractions or a local who seeks to see every inch of this town, Papers and Airplanes Exploring LA aims to guide you in your adventures.
Let’s begin with the neighborhoods of Van Nuys and Lake Balboa. These neighborhoods sit side by side straddling the 405 in the San Fernando Valley (check out a handy LA Times neighborhood map here). Now, some in LA dismiss the valley as some out of the way, lesser part of the city. This is a mistake. The valley is home to large, green spaces and plenty of free and available parking, not to mention any kind of restaurant you could dream of, plus activities for all ages. To truly know Los Angeles, it’s important to celebrate each part of this town for its contribution to the fabric of our city.
So, onward we go! Here’s how to spend a wonderful day in Van Nuys and Lake Balboa.
Above: Lake Balboa
When you’re going for some outdoor activity in this part of town, look no further than the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area: a sweeping 2,000 acres of parks, bike paths, sports facilities, golf courses, gardens, and a wildlife reserve. (This area may technically reach beyond the limits of Van Nuys & Lake Balboa, but just go with it.)
Make sure to spend some time at Lake Balboa Park, also called Anthony C. Beilenson Park. The park is centered around Lake Balboa, where you can rent paddle boats, go fishing, or simply walk the path surrounding the lake. There are also play areas and plenty of barbecues and benches available for lounging.
Above: There are plenty of trails to explore in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.
Just on the other side of Woodley Avenue from the lake is the 6.5-acre Japanese Garden (SuihoEn, “Garden of Water and Fragrance”). The area includes a dry Zen meditation garden, a Chisen or “wet-strolling” garden, and the Shoin Building, which features a teahouse and tea garden. (The garden is open Monday through Thursday and Sunday. Tickets for adults are $5, while seniors and children are $3.)
The recreation area also has a couple of dog parks, including the Sepulveda Basin Off Leash Dog Park off Victory Boulevard. It’s separated by dog size, so it’s a great place to bring your pup!
If you enjoy golfing, there are three courses, all of which are 18-hole: Encino Golf Course, Balboa Golf Course, and Woodley Lakes Golf Course.
Grab a Beer
After you’ve gotten good and thirsty from all that outdoor activity, head to MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. Situated within a row of auto body shops along Calvert Street, MacLeod specializes primarily in British style ales. Beers are served from casks, kegs, and bottles, with plenty of variety.
If you’re after a beer that really packs a punch, try the recently released The Dodgy Geezer, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout coming in at 11.4% ABV (available in bottles). If you’re a fan of stouts, try the Cut And Dry (Nitro) Irish Dry Stout, smooth and flavorful, it’s a great easy drinker. If the British style ales aren’t your thing, they have IPA options as well. Better yet, if you’re feeling adventurous, go for a taster and find out which you like best. Whatever ales you choose, you’ll enjoy them. As far as food goes, they have a big bin of peanuts for snacking and usually have food trucks outside in the evenings.
MacLeod serves as a favorite neighborhood spot, with friendly staff and regulars alike; plus, the dog-friendly brewery has plenty of board games and dart boards, making it a perfect place to pass an afternoon in Van Nuys.
Above: Go for a sampler at MacLeod, this one was pourer’s choice.
OK, so you’ve played outside and had a couple beers (and maybe a quick bite), but you need a full meal. Here are some options:
One of the most well known spot in this part of town is Salsa & Beer. On White Oak Avenue at Vanowen Street, it’s been featured in plenty of articles and is very popular. You’re pretty much guaranteed a wait, but it’s worth it, the food is delicious and budget friendly. Don’t forget to sample to your heart’s desire at the salsa bar!
Los Tres Hermanos on Van Nuys Boulevard at Sylvan Street (they also have a location in San Fernando) has its fair share of appetizing options as well. It has more of a bar vibe with live music and drink specials. Try the fajita burrito and you won’t be disappointed!
For Thai food, Siam House Thai Cuisine is a great spot on Sherman Way. The service is always efficient and friendly, and the food is always wonderful. Try the yellow curry and spicy noodle pad kee mao for a winning combination. (Update: Recently opened Box Thai is also delicious!)
Alternatively, if you’re an early riser and looking for breakfast in this part of town, head to Beeps, a Van Nuys institution. The ‘50s diner is great for breakfast, burgers, and fountain treats.
Above: Palm trees along a Van Nuys street.
If you’re interested in aviation, plan to stop by the Van Nuys Airport area during your time in this neighborhood. Adjacent to the airport is the Airtel Plaza Hotel; grab a drink at their Clipper Club and Lounge and enjoy the hotel’s retro aviation decor. On the northern side of the airport is the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant, another fun option for an aviation-themed locale.
Above: Wall decor at MacLeod
It’s also worth noting that a number of the places mentioned in this post are easily accessible on the Orange Line, the bus rapid transit line that is connected with the North Hollywood Metro Station. So, whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, craft beer, or simply a place to grab a bite, make sure to spend some time exploring Van Nuys & Lake Balboa on your adventure through Los Angeles.