The Billion Dollar Smoothie was, to my relief, only $28.
That’s what LA will do to you – have you saying a $28 smoothie is ‘only’ that much.
The ingredients list of the drink on the menu at Malibu juice bar SunLife Organics was, at least to me, like something from a Bondi Hipsters video: goat colostrum, buffered vitamin C crystals, collagen.
I thought of asking if the smoothie was organic, ethically sourced and sustainable, but I had a feeling I might be taken seriously. I ordered a simple green juice.
The hashtag blessed, clean-eating-as-morally-superior movement is not unique to Los Angeles, but it gets taken to the extreme here. Nowhere is this better exemplified than at Café Gratitude, the eatery-meets-therapy session where waiters ask a probing question of the day to contemplate over your kale and quinoa bowl (‘when do you feel most self-expressed?’) and you must declare “I am bountiful” if you want the blackened tempeh bolognese.
I could speculate on why wellness-as-spirituality is so pervasive in LA – is it an antidote to the vacuous Hollywood obsession with white teeth and plastic surgery? Or a less blatantly superficial way to hone a hot body?
But on a recent visit, all I really wanted to know was this: can you engage with the health and wellness world in LA and still have, you know, fun? Can you eat well and exercise without treating it like a religious experience?
Yes – if you know where to go.
As a visitor to LA, I wouldn’t have the confidence to run through the streets in the dark alone. But I felt the protection of safety in numbers as part of a street art run with BlackListLA, who pound the pavement every Monday night at 10pm in a different neighbourhood, stopping to discuss street art murals along the way.
Halfway through the five-kilometre route we stopped to catch our breath at a mural that stood four stories high on the wall of a car park. Blacklist LA founder Erik Valiente, who was leading the run, explained the piece – a seemingly innocent portrait of a young girl and boy – is actually a comment on the ethical quandary that is facial recognition technology, a point of contention in the LA tech scene right now.
On the few occasions I’ve been forced to run without listening to music or a podcast I’ve found it excruciatingly dull, but when we arrived back where we started, I didn’t want to stop. It turns out all I needed was a side of culture with my sweat session.
A new workout in Downtown LA is the first of its kind in the US and possibly the world. LazRfit, near the Staples Centre, is the opposite of the SoulCycle, if-you-don’t-feel-changed-on-a-spiritual-level-you-didn’t-work-hard-enough school of thought.
If you’ve ever played laser tag, it’s basically that, reinvented as a cardio fitness program. After joining a group class or booking a private session for you and up to nine others, you warm up before putting on the equipment – a small target strapped to your chest and a handset to ‘shoot’ with – and the session kicks off.
The idea is to avoid getting ‘shot’ by your opponents by ducking and weaving through the labyrinth of wooden barriers while trying to land ‘hits’ on others. I felt like a kid in the playground as we ran non-stop, shrieking, laughing and yelling. I also happened to burn 400 calories in two eight-minute rounds, which merely felt like a bonus to the liberating feeling of playing un-self-consciously like a child again.
Malibu Wine Hike
Twenty minutes inland from the Malibu coast, there’s a place where you can hike and drink wine. Well, you can drink wine immediately after the hike, not during – it’s not a boozy cellar door hop, as Malibu Wine Hike guide Shane Semler, whose family has owned and operated the Saddlerock Ranch vineyard for decades, explained.
“Having people drinking alcohol while hiking out here on the property wouldn’t be very safe,” he told our group when someone asked mock-impatiently when the wine tasting would start. “We’ll get some exercise, learn a few things, and then we’ll drink.”
After hiking for 90 minutes through the Santa Monica Mountains just before sunset, Shane telling us about the local wine industry and introducing us to the property’s menagerie of exotic animals (including the giraffe from The Hangover III, who you can stand on a platform to feed and pose for a selfie with) we got our reward: around a fire pit Shane took us through a tasting of cab savs, merlots and viogners.
At that moment, my tired leg muscles relaxing with every sip, I decided: screw a number on the scales or a dress size – a post-workout wine is the best motivator.
Eating nutritiously and indulgently don’t have to be mutually exclusive in LA.
Kali, on Melrose, is a contemporary Californian restaurant where the carefully arranged plates are focused on seasonal produce, and quite rich. There’s the beet and carrot salad with kumquat, dill and cultured yoghurt, or pork loin with parsnip, date, pecan and purlane (an edible weed high in Omega 3). The dishes have the intensity of a tasting menu but come main sized, so you’ll leave more than satisfied.
While vegetarians will find no issue having a meat-free meal at Kali, it’s probably not the best place to take a vegan. That would be Plant Food + Wine in Venice Beach, an upscale vegan restaurant in a light, bright space on cool strip Abbott Kinney.
There’s no meat on the menu, but the vibe here is hardly puritanical. Consider the Roan Mills polenta, with almond ricotta, kale puree, blistered tomatoes and roasted fennel, or the spicy udon with tempeh sausage, roasted cashew, red mustard frill, radish and togarashi (a Japanese spice blend). Then there’s the desserts, which you’d never guess are dairy-free; an ice-cream sandwich, tirimasu and even coconut cream pie. The list of organic and biodynamic wines is also impressive and appreciated. Who knew imbibing could feel completely guilt-free?
The Kimpton Everly, in an ideal location on the north-east side of Hollywood, opened its doors in August 2017. As well as modern furnishings and spacious rooms, the 15-floor hotel has a pool and deck with views of the hills and the Hollywood sign. Jane Q café on the ground floor does avocado toast and lattes to pass the test of any Australian. Book a north Hollywood Hills-facing room to wake up to an iconic view.
Saddlerock Ranch and the other pleasures of Malibu are a good 90-minute drive from downtown LA, two hours or more in traffic (and there’s always traffic). Malibu Beach Inn, a Leading Hotels of the World property is a recently renovated boutique hotel steps from the water. All 47 rooms have an ocean view, balcony and fireplace.