Exploring LA: Van Nuys and Lake Balboa

The city of Los Angeles is a vast blanket of neighborhoods, quilted together by freeways and canyon roads. 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.

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The city of Los Angeles, California is a vast blanket of neighborhoods, quilted together by freeways and canyon roads. Sure, you’ve heard of Hollywood, but there are so many more areas to explore, like the valley neighborhood of Lake Balboa.

The enormity of the city has its advantages and disadvantages. Sure, it could take you an hour just to get through the Sepulveda Pass, 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, there are plenty of adventures to be had all over LA.

Here let’s explore the neighborhoods of Van Nuys and Lake Balboa. These areas sit side by side straddling the 405 in the San Fernando Valley. Their neighbors include Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood, and Encino.

Van Nuys is sort of like the downtown of the valley. It’s home to the courthouse (and therefore bail bond shops) and other government buildings, as well as a small airport and industrial areas.

Lake Balboa was once part of Van Nuys, but split off into its own neighborhood about a decade ago. Lake Balboa is primarily residential, with a large park and local businesses popping up here and there. Both have plenty to see and do during your exploration of the giant City of Angels.

So, onward we go! Here’s your guide for what to do in Van Nuys and Lake Balboa in Los Angeles.

Lake Balboa Los Angeles
Lake Balboa

Play Outside in 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 and Lake Balboa and into Encino, but just go with it.)

Lake Balboa Park

Make sure to spend some time at Lake Balboa Park, also called Anthony C. Beilenson Park, located within the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area. 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. 

The park is located at Victory Boulevard and Balboa Boulevard. There is a parking lot off of Balboa Boulevard. The parking lot can get super crowded on certain weekends and holidays, but there’s additional paring on Balboa Boulevard or over on Woodley Avenue. The park’s address is 6300 Balboa Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91406.

Lake Balboa park trail
There are plenty of trails to explore in the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.

Japanese Garden

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 Japanese Garden is open Monday to Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with the last entry at 3:15 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with the last entry also at 3:15 p.m. The garden is closed on Friday and Saturday. It may also be closed on holidays or due to weather. To check if the garden is open by phone, call 818-756-8166.

Tickets to the Japanese Garden are $5, with discounts for children and seniors. It is cash only and there is no ATM available, so come prepared. The garden is located at 6100, Woodley Ave., Van Nuys, CA 91406.

Dog Park!

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!

The Sepulveda Basin Off Leash Dog Park is located at 17550 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91406.

Famers Market

On Sundays, there’s also the Encino Farmers Market (located on the border of Encino and Lake Balboa). Stop by for plenty of fresh produce!

The Encino Farmers Market is located at 17400 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91406.

Golf Courses

If you enjoy golfing, there are several public courses, including the Woodley Lakes Golf Course, which is within the recreation area. The golf course is located at 6331 Woodley Ave, Van Nuys, CA 91406.

Just on the other side of Victory Boulevard from the park is the Van Nuys Golf Course, complete with a driving range and restaurant. The Van Nuys Golf Course is located at 6550 Odessa Ave, Van Nuys, CA 91406.

MacLeod Ale Brewing Co Van Nuys
A pint at MacLeod Ale Brewing Co in Van Nuys

Grab a Beer at MacLeod in Van Nuys

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 in Van Nuys, MacLeod specializes primarily in British style ales. Beers are served from casks, kegs, and bottles, with plenty of variety.

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 delicious 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 often have a food truck outside.

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 spend some time in Van Nuys.

MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. is open Monday through Friday from 4:00 p.m. to midnight and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to midnight. There is limited street parking in the area, so leave your car elsewhere and take a Lyft or Uber over there if you can (particularly on the weekends). The address is 14741 Calvert Street, Van Nuys, CA 91411.

MacLeod Ale Brewing Co beer sampler
Go for a sampler at MacLeod — this one was pourer’s choice.

Restaurants in Lake Balboa and Van Nuys

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.

Salsa & Beer

One of the most well known spot in this part of town is Salsa & Beer.

The restaurant has been featured in plenty of articles and is super 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!

Salsa & Beer is located at 6740 White Oak Ave, Lake Balboa, CA 91406. 

Dough Girl 

For pizza, head to Dough Girl. They make lots of creative pies, including vegan options. Plus, they’re open late on the weekend!

Dough Girl is is located at 16851 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91406.

Farm Table Co.

Farm Table Co. is a cafe right by all the government buildings in Van Nuys. They serve up  coffee, breakfast staples, sandwiches, salads, and beyond in a rustic space.

Farm Table Co. is open for breakfast and lunch at 6209 Van Nuys Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91401.

Siam House Thai Cuisine

For Thai food, Siam House Thai Cuisine is a great spot. The service is efficient and friendly, and the food is always wonderful.

Siam House is located at 16045 Sherman Way, Van Nuys, CA 91406.

Updates for 2018: Some new restaurants have opened up in this neck of the woods, so an update is in order!

Box Thai

For great Thai food, check out Box Thai. The fresh spring rolls, pad kee mow, and yellow curry are personal favorites.

Box Thai is at 16851 Victory Blvd Van Nuys, CA 91406 (in the same small strip mall as Dough Girl).

Duckyard Coffee House

Newly opened Duckyard Coffee House serves up delicious coffee and healthy fare. Try the BLT avocado wrap and, of course, a cup of coffee.

Duckyard Coffee House is at 16935 Vanowen St, Lake Balboa, CA 91406.

Van Nuys LA palm trees
Palm trees lining a street in Van Nuys

Check Out Some Retro Valley Treasures

The Valley Relics Museum houses vintage signs and memorabilia from all over the San Fernando Valley and beyond. This pop culture museum recently moved to a hangar at the Van Nuys Airport. Check it out for some awesome retro pieces of the past!

The Valley Relics Museum is open Thursday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Admission is $10 with discounts for children and seniors. The museum is located at 7900 Balboa Blvd., Lake Balboa, CA 91406, Hangar C 3 and 4 (Entrance on Stagg St.).

Take Flight

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.

Van Nuys MacLeod Ale Brewing Co
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 runs through this area and is connected with the North Hollywood Metro Station.

Additionally, parking is generally available (and free) throughout the valley.

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 the city.

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 and Lake Balboa on your adventure through Los Angeles. Cheers!

Exploring LA: Van Nuys and Lake Balboa

Van Nuys and Lake Balboa, Los Angeles Neighborhood Guide

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