Exploring LA: Van Nuys and Lake Balboa

Updated 2018

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.

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 we’re exploring 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.

So, onward we go! Here’s your guide for the Van Nuys and Lake Balboa neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Lake Balboa Los Angeles
Lake Balboa

Play Outside

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.)

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.

Lake Balboa park trail
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.)

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!

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!

If you enjoy golfing, there are several courses, including the Woodley Lakes Golf Course.

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

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

Eat!

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. 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!

For pizza, head to Dough Girl. They make lots of creative pies, including vegan options, and are open late!

Los Tres Hermanos 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!

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

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.

Updates for 2018: Some new restaurants have opened up in this neck of the woods, so an update is in order! For great Thai food, check out Box Thai. Newly opened Duckyard Coffee House serves up delicious coffee and healthy fare.

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 and is open Thursday through Sunday. Check it out for some awesome retro pieces of the past!

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

Transportation

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.

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!

For more guides to help you explore Los Angeles, click here.

Exploring LA: Van Nuys and Lake Balboa

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