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Marina del Rey: Beach-going made nice and easy

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LA Locals and visitors adore this low-key family friendly waterfront area that offers a little bit of everything

Marina del Rey is one of the mellowest beach communities in Los Angeles. With 600 acres of protected natural wetlands on its southern border, making its landscape unique and everlasting, it is quieter and more calm than its neighbors Venice and Santa Monica. For natives and tourists who discover it, Marina Beach is a sandy gem of a waterfront destination that combines nature, watersports, and family friendly venues, making it a welcome departure from the busier adjacent beaches.

Water Play

The Marina is known as the area’s center for boating and fishing excursions, but it is also popular as one of the best places for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding around Los Angeles. On a typical day, the sandy cove at the end of the Marina is stripped with paddle boards and kayaks lined up by the shore, coming in from outings about the marina and awaiting someone new to rent them.

Paddleboard yoga, a sport which originated in Marina del Rey, created by the founder of YOGAqua, has also taken off as a favorite Marina activity, where sessions begin with a warm-up lap around the Marina and progress to a series of stretches and poses – on anchored boards, ending with the most-experienced participants in headstands on their boards.

The big boats in the Marina and their diminutive paddling brethren exist like sharks and the feeder fish that follow around them. Though occasionally a paddler or boater will get annoyed at the other for encroaching on their territory, mostly they exist symbiotically. Paddle boards and kayaks are available for rental by the hour or day at Marina del Rey Boat Rentals, Pro SUP Shop, and the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center.

Why families love it

At the popular Marina Beach, known locally as Mother’s Beach, children can play in the confines of a roped-in shallow swimming area, or families and parties can enjoy gatherings in the covered pavilion, where community barbeques and tables are available for reservations. If you don’t feel like packing along your picnic, you can get food to go at Beach Eats, and all-summer weekly food truck event with live music on Thursdays evenings.

If you do make a day of hanging at the beach, be warned that the bathroom facilities are not posh by any standards, but they are convenient, just a brief walk from the water’s edge, and there are outdoor shower stations for a quick rinse-off.

Beach cruising

The popularity of the Marina recreation area during peak season can mean scarce parking, with only one major lot by Marina Beach that costs $12 for all-day parking. Another option is to hop on the Free Ride shuttle, which operates noon to 9 pm and offers stops all around the waterfront area. For those who want to cruise at a slower speed, bike rentals are available in Fisherman’s Village, where cyclists can ride along the beach on the Marvin Braude coastal bike trail, all the way from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance Beach.

Water ways

The Fisherman’s Village, a New-England style promenade by the docks, offers a variety of shops and restaurants with great views of the boats.  It is also the launch pad for boating experiences, from seasonal whale watching and hard-core deep fishing tours to gondola rides and pleasure yachting. For those who want a truly high-level look at the area, Marina Del Rey Parasailing offers tours of the Venice and Santa Monica beaches, gliding under a kite from 500- to 800-feet up. Other experiences departing from the Marina, such as private yachting cruises and fishing adventures, are available from private boat owners who loan out their sea vessels, with or without captains, through Airbnb off-shoot Boatsetter.

See food

Dining experiences around the Marina range from the causal to the classy. TonyP’s Dockside Grill, overlooking the Marina, serves up consistently good seafood – including legendary fish and chips, as well as steaks, sandwiches and salads in a friendly, family restaurant atmosphere that appeals to local and tourists alike.

El Torito at Fisherman’s Village offers one of the best views of the Marina, which is why the place is packed at sundown, full of boisterous diners who come for the sundown spectacle and some of the best tequila drinks in town, like the George Clooney strawberry margarita, best enjoyed with the restaurant’s signature table-side-prepared guacamole and fresh-made chips, along with the ultimate appetizer of bacon wrapped jumbo shrimp.

For causal family dining a bit more inland, Fresh Brothers at the Waterside Marina del Rey shopping plaza offers deep-dish, skinny, thin and cauliflower crust pizza and hearty meatball and chicken-parmesan sliders, as well as big bowl salads and delicious fresh garlic bread knots.

Hot dates

Night life is hopping at many of the local bars, but for a truly local experience, grab a cord of wood and some food to grill and head for the firepits on Dockweiler State Beach, where early-birds stake out one of 40 first-come-first-serve concrete pits early in the day for a DIY bonfire parties that go until late at night.

Besides the watersports and dining, Marina del Rey has many other entertainment options and special events, such as the new ARTsea Community Festival, and outdoor free movie nights at the Burton W. Chase Park.

Stay and play

If you are visiting from out of town, there are many accommodations from a variety of price points, including the Foghorn Harbor Inn, Jamaica Bay Inn, Hilton Garden Inn Marina Del Rey, Marina del Rey Hotel, and Marina del Rey Marriott. The premier luxury property in town is the marine-themed Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey, which features the world-class Sisley Paris Spa. Even if you don’t stay overnight, its worth getting a spa treatment, which entitles patrons to use the hotel pool all day.

The low-key vibe of Marina del Rey makes it one of LA’s most endearing waterfront areas, with many activities and experiences that are unique to the Marina, due to its boating and watersports culture and the city’s quaint size, relative to the vast city surrounding it. For beachcombers looking for a seaside destination that is scenic but not a scene, Marina is a the perfect port.

 

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Cooking With Kids: How To Keep Them Safe And Happy In The Kitchen

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Photo via Pixabay by Mccartyv

While it may seem like the last place you want to let a child loose, the kitchen is actually a great place to teach some lifelong lessons and bond with your little one. Baking and cooking can introduce concepts related to science and math and can teach responsibility; it can also boost self-esteem and confidence, two things many children don’t have enough of.

Of course, there are many safety precautions you’ll need to take. Being safe at the stove and around utensils is the priority, and teaching your child what to do in case of a fire–and how to prevent it from happening in the first place–is extremely important. It may seem like a lot of planning for something that may never happen, but knowing that your child has the right skills and knowledge to get through anything the kitchen may throw at them will give you peace of mind and keep everyone safe and happy.

Here are some of the best things to go over with your child before they begin testing out their chef skills.

Practice fire safety

Talk to your kids about the best fire safety practices. They likely know a little bit about the dangers of fire from school, where they go through drills to keep them safe in the event of an emergency. Think of your time in the kitchen together as a similar form of preparedness and go over the best ways to prevent accidents, such as:

  • Never leaving towels or potholders near the stove
  • Knowing where the fire extinguisher is and how to use it
  • Double-checking to ensure all appliances are turned off when finished
  • Unplugging cords in a safe way
  • Never over-filling pots or pans

It’s also a good idea to make sure all smoke detectors are equipped with fresh batteries and that you have a carbon monoxide detector if your stove is gas-powered. For more tips on how to stay safe from fire hazards, click here.

Find kid-friendly recipes

Many recipes require quite a bit of chopping and measuring, so make sure you find some kid-friendly ones to try with your littles. Look for recipes that don’t have many ingredients and don’t require much cutting; when possible, chop up items before you begin cooking and put them in plastic bags for ease of use.

Set up the rules

It’s important for kids of all ages to learn the rules of the kitchen, which will keep everyone safe. This means washing hands before and after handling food, never tasting anything until it’s fully cooked, and using the right tools for the job. Have an assortment of different utensils–plastic, if possible–and make sure all items stay clean and dry.

Make it fun!

Cooking and baking are great ways to bond with your children and teach them about responsibility, but it should also just be plain old fun. Think of some ideas for seasonal recipes and spend some time learning how to wash, chop, and prepare the ingredients together.

Remember to stay patient as your children are learning the right ways to work in the kitchen; things may get a little messy, but for young ones, that’s half the fun. Talk to them about how to clean up after the work is done and keep the area neat and organized in order to start good habits early.

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Making family memories to last for generations at the Greenbrier

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A visit to the indelible resort steeped in tradition, where families come together to enjoy the grandest things in life

Our Greenbrier adventure began with a bit more excitement than our family had anticipated, when we voyaged to the world-renowned resort on a dark and blustery night.

We decided it was best to travel a day earlier than scheduled, since weather forecasters were predicting a windstorm with 50 mph gusts on the day we had planned to drive. Luckily, the Greenbrier was able to accommodate our request for a day-early arrival, so we headed out at 8:30 PM on a three-and-a-half-hour journey through the Allegheny mountains, from Northern Virginia to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The route past my alma mater James Madison University on Interstate 81 and over the alpine thoroughfares was a bit treacherous, with the gale-force winds pushing our car out of our lane several times, but even more frightening was the caravan of 18-wheeler big rigs passing us, swerving on the verge of tipping from the gusts.

A welcoming to remember

After our harrowing drive, the small quiet town of Sulfur Springs was a welcome sight. As we pulled into the gated entrance to the Greenbrier, the magic began. It was the first day of March, but still the resort was dressed in its winter splendor.

Tree branches aligning the gardens in front of the hotel were adorned with tiny sparkling white lights, giving the hotel the appearance of an enchanted palace. As we cruised into the front roundabout, road-weary and wind-battered, we were greeted warmly by the valet, whose energy seemed unaffected by the squall and the late hour.

The check-in staff facilitated a quick registration and off we went, following the valet’s Lincoln Town Car as he led us through the village of white wooden cottages to our accommodations. Upon entering the cottage, we could not contain our oohs and ahhs. The Legacy Florida Cottage, one of the original guest villas on the perimeter of the main resort building, was a spacious and stately yet an inviting home-away-from-home.

Our intergenerational party, spanning eight decades, from two pre-teen boys to an octogenarian grandmother, all found something – in fact many somethings – of delight.

The housekeeping staff had prepared for our arrival by warming the home to a comfortable temperature and turning on lamps in every room, illuminating the charm and hominess of the residence. After the boys did a quick survey of rooms to pick their favorite — a corner king suite with wild jungle-like draperies with a matching bedspread and upholstered chairs, the adults choose their rooms.

Each of the rooms was distinct in its decor, with vibrant colors, like carpets in hues of fairway-green, velvety purple and royal red, paired with bold and bright stripped, plaid and floral bedding and lounge chairs, each with its own strong character and unique appeal.

 

Worth the drive

Even though it was approaching 1 AM by the time we settled in our cottage, the family sat down at the green-lacquered dining room table for a late-night snack of kettle corn and brownies, that my mom had brought along.

The sugar boost was a guarantee the boys would not be going to sleep anytime soon, so despite the night slipping into early morning hours, we sat and chatted at the table, reliving our treacherous trek to the hotel, relieved now that the storm was in our rearview mirror.  We sat up talking and laughing, relating stories of other memorable road trips, and marveling at our surroundings. It was the kind of stuff that family memories are made of, and the preciousness of those moments did not escape me.

The Greenbrier symbolizes this to me, and I’m sure to many. It is a place that families go to spend quality time, to bond, relax, dine out, play, and just be together, sharing and creating  memories in a beautiful and elegant-yet-approachable environment.

Everywhere around the hotel are sitting spaces that encourage gathering and socializing. These lounge spots come in every variety, from sunny alcoves with floral high-back chairs to dimly lit nooks where masculine leather club chairs surround backgammon tables and chessboards.

 

Strolling the grounds and exploring the massive corridors, elegant parlors and ubiquitous lounges and sitting areas of this old-school resort, built in 1778, one feels transported to another time and place.  Here it would not seem out of the ordinary to see a princess ambling in the garden or strolling the hallowed halls, as in fact Princess Grace of Monaco did, when she visited for an impromptu summer vacation, commemorated by a portrait of her in one of the many great rooms of the hotel.

 

The active life

While the Greenbrier is drenched in opulence, it still presents a relaxing environment for its guests, especially for families. As a place where wellness seekers once flocked to bathe in and imbibe the area’s natural mineral springs, believed to contain healing properties, the resort, while giving way to modest modernization, retains its intention to provide a setting for restoration of mind and body.

The activities around the hotel are designed to promote recreation and enjoyment, from the spa, salon and shopping plaza to the seasonal ice skating rink, bowling alley and arcade.

As an ex-pat from Los Angeles, where many ultramodern hotels are steeled in chrome and glass, exuding a hardness and coolness that pervades even the people that inhabit them, I relished the aura of the Greenbrier, where a soul can meld with its beauty and feel at ease, in laid-back luxury.

The small gymnasium overlooking the indoor swimming pool was a place I keenly felt this sense of ease. There a person could exercise and watch children play in the pool, as parents with averagely toned bodies walked comfortably in their swim suits, in a tranquil setting, without the bombardment of loud music and the intimidation of hard-bodied models parading about in bikinis; but, perhaps I am extrapolating too much from my last Palm Springs vacation.

 

Living history

As a historic landmark, there is plenty to see at the Greenbrier, from galleries of fine artwork and portraits of presidents, royalty, celebrities, sports stars and other distinguished Greenbrier guests, to salons designed by the legendary Dorothy Draper and remnants of political and social history, including a cold-war bunker, which is the subject of one of the most popular tours on the property.

On the Bunker Tour, guests can explore the once top-secret fall-out shelter under a wing of the hotel, comprised of spartan barracks and living quarters created for Congress in the 1950s, in the case of a nuclear attack on the nation’s capital.

Among the most popular activities and a Greenbrier tradition since the 1930s is afternoon tea, served daily in the grand upper lobby, where guests can enjoy a sophisticated tête-à-tête while nibbling gourmet pastries and listening to the soft strains of live classical piano music.

Other favorite experiences include rides in a horse-drawn carriage around the property, cooking, painting and knitting workshops, or, for the athletic, sporting activities at world-class facilities for golf and tennis – which have hosted sports greats such as tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams and the late golf legend Sam Sneed, who served at the pro emeritus in his last years.

Other resort activities include adventure offerings, such as horseback riding, falconry, skeet shooting, fishing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. For those who want to try their luck at gaming, the resort hosts the world-class Casino Club, where guests are treated to a champagne toast and a choreographed waltz performance at 10 pm nightly, and guests and bust a move themselves at the 42 Below dance club.

For kids, there’s a plethora of activities, from laser tag in the Bunker space to family friendly movies in the on-property cinema. The Adventure Zone center provides a number of experiences, such as an Alpine Tower for climbing and an Aerial Adventure Course, which we braved as a family activity, tight-rope walking and crossing a series of swinging and dangling challenges 60-feet in the air, with safety harnesses, of course.

In all, there are about 55 activities at the Greenbrier, so it would be hard to find yourself doing nothing at all, unless that is what you choose, which is also a popular option at the resort.

Dining to celebrate

Of course, one of the most celebrated activities at the Greenbrier is dining. The resort features six restaurants and three seasonal restaurants and cafés and five bars and lounges, along with 24-hour room service.

Each day of our visit we enjoyed the lavish breakfast buffet, which included omelet and Belgian waffle stations and just about every breakfast entrée imaginable, from the basics of fruit and yogurt to egg casseroles, keeping trays of bacon and sausage, and a good southern standby of chipped beef gravy and biscuits.

The former Main Dining Room, for which guests must adhere to the resort’s dress code, i.e., jackets and ties for the gentlemen and cocktail attire for the ladies, is known for its exquisite service and menu.  Certainly, the five-star service and the famed Prime Filet of Beef Tenderloin should not be missed in the Main Dining Room, though several other restaurants on the property have outstanding fare.

Our party was most impressed with our delectable meal at Prime 44 West, the high-end sports restaurant and steakhouse named after the legendary West Virginian NBA player Jerry West, who wore the namesake’s number on his uniform. The atmosphere, service and our meal at 44 West was extraordinary from start to end, beginning with the Seafood Platter, progressing to the perfectly cooked Bone-in Rib-Eye and Lobster Mash Potatoes, to the big finish of the flaming Dark Cherry Flambé with Kirsh, prepared tableside.

 

The kids loved the causal Draper’s cafe, not just for the generous frozen scoops of heaven at the ice cream bar, but also because they serve the best Fried Green Tomato Sandwich and Creamy Chicken Pot Pie this side of anywhere. There’s plenty excellent offerings there for adults as well, like the signature Dorothy’s Chicken Salad and the comforting Country Shrimp and Grits. Besides the food, the atmosphere and décor is pure fun, featuring high-backed pink-and-white-striped booths, an homage to Dorothy Draper, the designer whose audacious color schemes give the resort its distinctive flair.

Service with a smile

At the restaurants and at every venue within the resort, the service was exceptional, attentive and friendly. In speaking to the staff, many voluntarily expressed their pleasure to work at the Greenbrier, where they said they were treated like family.

One of the maîtres told us she had been with the Greenbrier just three months, which made her a “embryo” compared to the staff who had been there for decades, some for generations, following in the footsteps of their parents, and their parents before them.

I told her the Greenbrier reminded me of Downton Abbey, the fictitious British castle featured in one of my favorite TV shows, in which the loyal employees-for-life were an intrinsic part of the estate. The analogy made her smile widely.  “I love that comparison,” she said. “The people who work here feel that same kind of love for the Greenbrier.”

A few days at the Greenbrier is not enough to fully explore and appreciate all that the destination called “America’s Resort” has to offer, but it was a good start.

Our last night, after a wonderful, leisurely dinner in the Main Dining Room, at nearly 10 pm, we called up the porter to help light our fireplace. It was late to start a fire, which we would have to stay awake to tend until it burned out, but we wanted to make the night last.  And so, we did.  We stayed up all night, relaxing by the hearth, retelling stories of our adventures of the past days, into the next day.

As we were checking out the next day, I picked up brochure in the lobby.  It described the Greenbrier, as “Life as few know it.” I would have to agree that the splendid experience of a Greenbrier getaway is not something that everyone can do all the time, just as we cannot, and would not want to, eat caviar every day, or it would lose its specialness; but it is an extraordinary treat. 

A visit to the Greenbrier is among those experiences that one can truly call marvelous, and one that our family will always remember, and hopefully come back to enjoy, again, and again.

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Ogden’s small-town charm and big-time skiing

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The amiable Utah city that never stops making a name for itself hosts an epic spring snow sports season

There’s no equivalent to “Indian summer” for a winter that lingers into the next season, but mountain resorts in Utah would be using that phrase a lot this year. Spring skiing, usually when the snow pack melts and ski conditions are marginal, is anything but typical in 2018; in fact, it’s quite a phenom. With heaps of powdery snow amounting in several weeks to the total of what the entire winter season produced, Utah’s ski slopes are experiencing peak conditions that promise to continue through at least late spring.

In order to enjoy this wondrous windfall, ushering in a spring break of epic proportions, I headed to the slopes-less-traveled, in Ogden, the best-kept secret of Utah ski country. This tiny town 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, borders a trio of local ski areas that offer everything Park City, Deer Valley, Sundance and their other better-known neighbors do, and they do it in a charming and humble way.

How now, Pow Wow

My first stop was Powder Mountain, also known as “Pow Mow,” the apt-named high-altitude playground that owns no snowmaking machines and relies completely on nature’s precipitation. The quaint Sun Down Lodge, with only one ticket window, looks more like a family cabin on the mountainside than a lodge, and the staff there treat you like an old friend. Because Powder Mountain limits lift tickets to 1,500 per day, even on a busy day, there is never a crowd or a long wait at their nine chairlifts. And because fewer skiers and boarders means less stress on the terrain, the runs stay preserved long after a dump of snow.

Purists favor Powder Mountain for its dedication to providing a next-to-natural experience, down to its use of CAT snowmobiles to transport skiers and riders to areas of the mountain where chairlifts are inaccessible. Powder Mountain is the place that many of the locals go, because of its mom-and-pop feel, and it’s known for its family friendly atmosphere, where people are courteous to each other, especially the staff, just like a small town where everyone knows each other.

In keeping with their reputation as a family ski destination, Powder Mountain has lots of mellow runs over their approximately 8,500 acres of terrain, with 167 runs with a variety of slopes for learners and skiers and riders of all levels, with 25 percent beginner runs, 40 percent intermediate and 35 percent advanced.

Laid back luxury at Snowbasin

For those who enjoy a more extravagant ski vacation experience, the Ogden area offers Snowbasin. While some of the local mountains are distinguished as ski areas, Snowbasin is unmistakably a resort, and the difference is notable from the moment you drive up. The large luxury Earl’s Lodge resembles an alpine country club, with a flagstone exterior, giant hearths in the entryway, floral wallpaper worthy of a ballroom, and large padded leather chairs under massive chandeliers.

Like its decor, Snowbasin’s service appeals to the luxury-loving crowd, with such amenities as bins for guests to check in their belongings, versus the lockers found at most ski venues. These handy receptacles not only add an element of convenience for visitors, they keep the lounge areas uncluttered with ski jackets, boots and other accoutrement that guests tend to pile up while they are unwinding in the lodge.

Another popular amenity that speaks to Snowbasin’s service orientation is their cell phone recharging service, which allows guests to securely leave behind their smartphones to get a quick battery boost, since most guests don’t come equipped with a chargers or spare batteries. All around, the staff is eager to serve, making everything easier for guests, with full-services touches like loading guest’s’ skis for them on the gondola.

Snowbasin is also renowned for its chef-driven culinary excellence. A far cry from the standards of chili, burgers and fries of many ski lodges, the resort features a plethora of restaurant options, and each cafeteria has their own signature gourmet burger. During my visit to the Needles Lodge, 9,000 feet up at the top of the Needles Gondola, I tried the “Bum Burger,” loaded with corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The burger was a satisfying meal by itself, but I was persuaded to also try an oversized chocolate chip cookie, made with a family recipe of the resort owners, which was well worth the calories.

All the extraordinary service aside, Snowbasin is most famous for its world-class skiing, literally, as the site of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games men’s and women’s downhill, super G and combined races. For Olympics enthusiasts, the gondolas are each named after an Olympic competitor, which can make the ride to the summit a fun game of name spotting.

While there’s plenty of Olympic-level double-black-diamond territory for the brave, for the rest of us, the 3,000 acres of terrain incorporates 106 trails with breakdown of 10% beginner and 60% intermediate runs, with the remainder of 30% designated as advanced trails, covering every level of skier and rider.

Third’s a charm

During my trip out to the Ogden area, the region’s third ski area, Nordic Valley, also known as Wolf Mountain, had called the season early, but this little recreational oasis, renowned for its quaintness and family-friendly atmosphere, along with its legendary night skiing and cross-country ski experiences, is definitely on my list to visit on my next trip to Utah ski country. It’s tiny, with approximately hundred 120 acres of terrain, with just a few chairlifts, but it’s big on heart. It’s also big on accommodating skiers at the intermediate level, with about 50% of its 22 runs designated as blue; but they have plenty of terrain for all levels, with approximately 20 percent of the mountain designed as appropriate for beginners and 20 percent for advanced skill levels.

In town

Ogden may seem like a small town, but there’s plenty of après ski options for those who like to come off the mountain and warm up with a cold beer or a cocktail. And for those who don’t hit the slopes, there’s lots of other exploits in Ogden, for those with a taste for adventure or just those with taste.

For a quick history tour combined with good food and shopping, there’s the 25th Street strip.

The architecture of this artsy area has been well preserved, giving the place the look of an old-style western film set, where one can easily imagine the town’s former gun slinging inhabitants raising a ruckus in the saloons and brothels where now stand fashionable boutiques, restaurants, galleries, bookstores and coffee shops.

Our lunch party stopped into Roosters, which we found was all that Yelpers crow about. Housed in the former Eccles Lumber Company building, this bustling brewhouse offers their own home-brewed beer and root beer and features inventive appetizers, like Beehive Cheese Curds, a variety of hearty Mexican entrees, generously portioned salads and stacked sandwiches, along with pizzas and some signature dishes, like Roosters Beer Battered Fish and Chips. In addition to the flavorsome food, the upper floor offers a great view into the windows of the historic Belle London building, now an ice cream shop, where in Ogden’s early days women of the night tossed beans onto passersby below to get their attention, and maybe their patronage.

For authentic Italian, Rovali’s Restorante Italiano on 25th Street offers homemade pastas, a vast drink selection and homemade desserts from their own bakery. They also feature live music every weekend, with local and national musicians.

Guns and cowboys

The 25th Street district is flanked by Union Station, a landmark holdover from the days when Ogden was frequented by railroad carloads of bankers from all over the US, who flocked there for the liberal lending laws, which made Ogden once notable as the city with the most millionaires per capita.

The old train depot now houses four museums, chock full of exhibits commemorating the town’s history as a hub for gun making, trains, cars and cowboys. The cavernous hall recently began hosting a winters farmer’s market with local sellers offering crafts, foodstuff, collectables and gift items amid a festive atmosphere with entertainment and art displays.

Another notable venue in town is the Eccles Conference Center, a modern and impressive complex that hosts large events, such as a jazz dinner that I attended, where I was served a fabulous steak and lobster dinner that rivaled any five-star restaurant and which was absolutely the best meal I’ve ever had at a convention hall.

Indoor adventure

Ogden’s just the right size town to get around in on foot, if the weather’s decent, or by taking a quick Lyft around to explore its sights. In a small metro area, Ogden is dense with some exciting attractions, all grouped within a radius of a few blocks. The Solomon Center in the middle of town features indoor skydiving at iFly, wave pool surfing at Flowrider, indoor rock climbing at iRock, and an arcade full of activities at Fat Cats, including bowling, billiards and miniature golf.

One local attraction that I was thrilled to discover was Social Axe Throwing, which is everything its name promises. Similar to a bowling alley, but with chain-link cages with a huge target painted on plywood at one end of each lane, this venue offers patrons the opportunity to sling sharp metal hatchets into a wall. With a short lesson in safety and technique, within minutes I was nailing it with a satisfying slice into the wood bullseye.

I was intrigued to learn that patrons are permitted to bring their own alcoholic beverages, which they can imbibe behind the saloon doors in the back of the establishment, but because the range resides within 600 feet of a Mormon temple, serving alcohol is prohibited. This got me thinking that maybe it’s just as well that booze is tightly managed when it comes to hurling razor-sharp implements across a room.

The real deal

If retail therapy is what gets your adrenaline pumping, there are some adorable independent shops along 25th Street downtown as well as the 85-store Newgate Mall and some big box stores in town. Determined to get a fitting Ogden souvenir, I scouted every outdoors clothing store in town for a flannel shirt when I stumbled upon Recreation Outlet, a mammoth discount outdoor war and gear warehouse.

Crammed with surplus goods, including a basement wall-to-wall with boxes brimming with merchandise, on the shelves, tables and floors, this clearinghouse could overwhelm even the most seasoned bargain shopper. Here I finally found a pink plaid women’s flannel shirt, along with a few things I didn’t really need, like four pairs of premium ski socks, a couple face guards, and my best bargain, pliers and a screwdriver for $0.89 apiece.

Another find for bargain hunters, particularly those renting ski equipment is the Outdoor Equipment Rental Center at Weber State University. If you can locate the unassuming shed-like building on the college’s campus, you can get great deals on ski gear packages, for as little as $25 a day, or less if you are a student. The staff is friendly and helpful, though you won’t find experienced professionals like you might get at a resort or a sporting goods rental shop; but if you know what you need, you can save some bucks.

Stay around

Where to stay in Ogden will not be a decision that takes you long to make, because options are limited, but there is some variety in the handful of inns. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, in the heart of downtown Ogden, directly across from the Solomon Center. The hotel has all the amenities a short-term traveler needs, and if you book early you might be lucky enough to reserve one of the seven suites with a fireplace and jacuzzi. Other options for accommodations include the only luxury property in town, the Bigelow Hotel, as well as many offerings of bed and breakfasts, vacation homes, and when in season, RV parks and campgrounds.

Ogden Culture

The town once known as a den of gunslingers and card players has evolved over the last century to its current cosmopolitan state, and as someone who had not traveled to the Salt Lake City region in a while, I was amazed to see how much the culture has transformed.

The Mormon church still has a strong influence on the area, though unlike many years ago, there are now very few restrictions on alcohol consumption. One leftover of the old days however is that on Sundays most establishments are closed. Our party was fortunate to find Sonora Grill downtown was serving dinner on a Sunday night, or else we might have gone hungry.

Besides the remnant blue laws, Ogden resembles and feels like any other small town, where the folks are friendly, and visitors are welcomed warmly. By the end of my five-day stint in the town, I knew my way around, and I walked the streets in the evening without a worry. I got on a first-name basis with some of the shopkeepers and hospitality hosts, and even some of their family members. It was no wonder to me that many of the locals told me they had never wandered far from Ogden, nor did they need to or want to.

For some the appeal of Ogden is the fresh air, the outdoors attractions, and of course the epic skiing and snowboarding. For others, it’s the close-knit community and the low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

It’s a place with a lot of history and a lot of progressive changes, yet it’s a place that very much wants to stay the same. It’s the kind of place where you can leave your front door unlocked and trust thy neighbor, and where the robberies and crimes you read about in Ogden are those in the history books.

 

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleRestaurantsThe Left Coast

Il Picollo Verde offers LA diners small-town Italian with a big heart

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Il Picollo Verde is fine Italian dining that is approachable in price and atmosphere. The restaurant is relatively small, occupying a long and narrow storefront on Barrington Place in Brentwood Village. The heated patio overlooks a relatively quiet street, and is almost as large as the cozy restaurant inside. For those opting for the dining room, The ambience inside is mellow and romantic, with low lighting and tables lit by small oil lamps.

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It was the perfect atmosphere for a date night, or in our case, an intimate family dinner.

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The restaurant and staff are welcoming, and like the menu, very approachable. Chef Pablo Merida prepares the made-to-order from-scratch Italian specialties in an open kitchen, along with his able and friendly crew.

In addition to many traditional dishes, the restaurant features a Verde Naturale menu with a number of health-conscious, low-calories options made with organic, unrefined, raw and pressed oils and organic gluten-free grains and leafy greens and vegetables.

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We first tried a family favorite, the App Calamari Friti, which was lightly fried and not overly greasy, served with a tangy marinara sauce. While it was not an appetizer per se, we decided to have the Ravioli Casarecci before our entrées, because we didn’t want to miss the restaurant’s favorite famous homemade pastas, but we all had our minds set on non-pasta dishes.

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For our main courses, we had the Lemon Chicken Naturale, grilled with garlic, herbs, vegetables, lemon juice, millet Verde, which was very similar to the Petto Di Pollo Al Limone chicken breast, though the former served in a lighter sauce.
My nine-year-old was in the mood for seafood indulged in the Cioppino, a seafood stew of clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, fresh fish, and served with Crostini for dipping. We also had the Salmone, a grilled salmon fillet served with broccoli and roasted potatoes.
Though the restaurant was out of gelato the night we visited, we had two other delicious desserts from their dessert menu of a custard pie with almonds and a ricotta cheese pie.
While we didn’t have the appetite for it the night we visited, the restaurant is known for its New York style pizza, which our table neighbor had ordered and which looked tantalizing. In particular, the Bianca E Neve pizza looked appetizing, covered with mozzarella and ricotta cheese and spinach. For that, we will have to come back, which we surely will.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkThe Left Coast

Downtown LA’s Miro offers a brunch for worth a trip into the city

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The restaurant known for its downstairs whiskey bar gets its early on with a delightful Saturday morning brunch

It used to be that Downtown LA was like Wall Street on the weekends, vacant and quiet, especially on Saturdays, but slowly and steadily, chic and inviting restaurants like Miro are changing that. Because no other premiere restaurant was serving brunch to hungry DTLA dwellers on Saturdays, Miro smartly introduced its upscale late-morning, mid-day meal offerings with inventive dishes that give late-night clubbers something to crawl out for and those outside the center city a reason to drive into it.

Miro’s Chef Gavin Mills has created an imaginative menu featuring pan-Mediterranean entrées, along with some modern Italian regional offerings, such as a pastrami-rubbed Smoked Salmon with pickled beet, ale mustard and crème fraiche, served with fries or a salad. For a heartier lunch, there’s a selection of house-made pastas like the Strozzapreti lamb ragu with dark chocolate, mirpoinx, garlic, mushroom and chili flakes. On the lighter side, there’s Farro Salad with roasted squash, black truffle pecorino, arugula and balsamic.

At the center of the concept for Miro are dishes that are made with locally sourced foods from sustainable farms, and a presentation that invites shared-plate dining style. As the sophisticated new breed of DTLA denizens inspire, the atmosphere is decidedly fashionable, with touches such as hand-made pottery dishes that adorn round brass cocktail table tops and fine wood benches and picnic tables, with a centerpiece in the main dining area of a thick white marble slab bar with chic Saarinen-esque wood tulip bar stools, under modern chandeliers of blown glass balls. The ambiance is swank but approachable and comfortable, like the strains of strains of Marvin Gaye and 80s and 90s tunes that played in the background during my recent, visit, perfect for a lazy Saturday morning.

So far, this Brunch remains undiscovered by the culinary masses, but as more of those working in the city return to it to play, Miro expects this lunch offering will continue to grow, a welcome oasis for those who desire an elegant downtown setting for a relaxing and sophisticated brunch. With the recently opened InterContinental Hotel across the street, the traffic is starting to increase, as Miro is among the first with confidence to build it, knowing that the brunch bunch will come.

While many know Miro as an excellent upscale farm-to-table restaurant with an impressive menu for a business lunch or after-hours dinner, or as a hot happy hour spot with a legendary hidden-away whisky lounge downstairs, -to-impress restaurant, their brunch will be sure to put them on the map for those who find themselves in the city overnight,

Saturday brunch is served 11:30 am to 3 pm. Menu items are subject to change, so check online for the latest brunch menu at http://www.mirorestaurant.com/menu-brunch.php

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Eat & DrinkGiftsLifestyleShopping

Five delicious gift ideas for the foodie on your holiday list

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Give the epicureans on your shopping list something to savor with these tasteful gifts

Belly up

What’s better than bacon? How about bacon as often as you want it? This pork-happy dream can be a reality with Tender Belly, the bacon specialists who use vegetarian-fed pedigreed heritage pigs from sustainable Iowan family farms to create their flavorful, fine-restaurant-quality signature thick slices of yummy bacon – with no antibiotics, no nitrates, now available via a monthly subscription. Order up a three-month subscription ($177) of four pounds of glorious, delicious dry-cured and cherrywood-smoke bacon shipped door-to-door at the beginning of each month. Or, for smaller appetites, order strips by the pound ($14.75).

 

Bake by numbers

The baking beginner on your list will feel like an accomplished chef with Scratch and Grain baking company kits. These color-coded ready-to-bake kits make homemade baking fun and easy. Just follow the step-by-step instructions and whip up delicious treats made with organic, high quality ingredients. Kits cost between $5.49 and $8.49 and include snickerdoodle, classic sugar cookies and limited-edition holiday sugar cookies. Other cookie kits include chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, gluten-free chocolate truffle, and chewy peanut butter gluten-free. There’s also cupcake kits and organic pumpkin markets. Available at www.scratchandgrain.com

Cool beans

Stock up the foodie on your list, with mixes for soups, chili and baking like Old-Fashioned Chili Mix ($5.95) , Chocolate Brownie Mix ($5.95) , Golden Cornbread mix ($3.95) or Gourmet Popcorn kits ($5.95) from the Women’s Bean Project. Each product is lovingly handmade by women who support themselves and their families through their work for this philanthropic-minded company that gives opportunities to disadvantaged women. Gift baskets and other items like dog treats are also available from www.womensbeanproject.com.

Hostess helper

Your hostess with the most-est will appreciate your gift of exquisite desserts and treats from Matthews 1812. Baked in Connecticut-based and shipped nationwide, these delicious serving-size party pleasers, like Bourbon Pecan Minis ($20) or Bourbon Fig Cake )$33), are the perfect hostess gift, or great for serving at your own holiday gathering.

Meat me

Carnivores will salivate for delicious and tender steaks from Greensbury, a dedicated leader in the grass-fed movement, with its origins in the Amish farms of Pennsylvania and now ranching in Texas, Ohio, New Mexico and Illinois. This beef-by-mail company delivers exceedingly high-quality meat products from cattle raised humanely and sustainably, free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics. The taste and quality of the meat comes from careful cutting, vacuum sealing and boxing of the meat, using only natural enzymes and a 21- to 28-day wet aging process. The company also sells premium seafood, pork, lamb, poultry and game products. Two six-ounce fillet mignon steaks cost $43.99. Subscriptions offer a reduced cost for regular customers.

 

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Eat & DrinkEducationLifestyle

The all-nighter survival kit

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8 items that make the grade for studious students

It’s midterm time, and staying up until the wee hours of the morning is an unfortunate reality for hard-studying students, but pulling an all-nighter does not have to be a miserable experience. Here are a few survival items for making the hours go faster and easier when you’re cramming for a big exam or have to finish that research paper due tomorrow.

A+ lighting

Shed some light on your schoolwork with an OxyLED LED desk lamp. The OxyLED T35 (sale priced $10.27 on Amazon) is a sleek USB-powered foldaway lamp that is dimmable by touching it, and its adjustable head allows you to fold it up to save valuable real estate on your desk.

 

                

The OxyLED T36  ($23.99 on Amazon) operates on a USB-charged battery and features a long bendable neck and can clip on the edge of the desk or a bed headboard so you can kick back and shine a light anywhere you choose to study. Both lamps can be dimmed with a touch to the desired light level that is easy on your eyes and can shine just where you need light, so you won’t keep up your roommate.

Yogurt your way

When the dining hall is closed and the vending machine just won’t give you the brain food you need, grab a Siggi’s Triple Cream 9-percent milk fat Icelandic-style strained yogurt for some quick nutrition and energy, without the sugar crash. If a traditional serving container is not your cup of yogurt, Siggi’s drinkable Swedish whole milk yogurt is perfect for imbibing on the go, or for a fast pick-me-up, tuck a Siggi’s tube of strained low-fat yogurt in your backpack to squeeze in some 2-percent milkfat dairy with 5 g of sugar and 5 g of protein and only 50 calories that’ll keep you going when the studying gets tough.

 

 

Think drink

Protein means power, and Iconic Protein Drink has the formula for quick energy that is delicious and nutritious. Iconic’s convenient 11.5-ounce serving bottles can be a filling snack or even a meal replacement if time doesn’t allow for to a bite to eat. You can fuel up with 20 g of dairy protein – from grass-fed cows, 3 g of sugar and 130 calories, with no lactose, gluten, soy, carrageenan, GMOs or BPA. Iconic comes in a variety of flavors including Chocolate Truffle, Vanilla Bean and Café Au Lait. Get a sample pack of each flavor for $12.99.

Instant gratification

Want a great cup of Joe to help you make it through the night, but you don’t have time to hit a café? Indulge in a class cup of caffeine with Kuju Coffee, a one cup portable drip coffee brand that is perfect for brewing up in a dorm room. Kuju’s Pocket PourOver ready-to-brew filter anchors to your mug so you can brew craft quality coffee, without a percolator. Kuju not only tastes good, the brand does good by sourcing its beans from a family farm in Thailand that employs former sex trafficking victims, and Kuju donates 1% of sales to the National Parks Foundation. Travel 5-Pack available for $24.95 at kujucoffee.com,

Clean energy

When your reserves are running low, fuel up with the clean energy of Zevia Energy drinks, the clear carbonated energy drink in flavors like Kola, Mango Ginger and Raspberry Lime that will give you a zing with 120 mg of natural caffeine without slogging you down with sugar and mind-gunking ingredients like artificial sweeteners and coloring. While your party schedule is on hold until the last bell rings, that doesn’t mean you can’t take time for a mocktail happy hour with a Zevia zero-calorie mixer. Enjoy the straight-up flavors of Dry Lemon Lime and Ginger Beer as a deserved refresher on a study break and of course a most-excellent elixir for the celebration after you ace the test. Grab a variety 12-pack of energy 12 for $18.99 on Amazon, or shop for Zevia products at grocers nationwide.

 

Raise the (snack) bar

If a diet of liquid lunch has got you craving something to crunch, try Granola Cups from Nature Valley, a satisfying mix of a dry snack with a creamy filled center. Stock up with a 5-count pack of 6 for $33.63 on Amazon, or pick up a box of five-pouches (each with two cups) at Target. If your snacking style leans more to the leafy and fruity, go for a LÄRABAR Fruit and Greens bar, packed with natural nutrition in flavor combos like Pineapple Kale Cashew and Mango Spinach Cashew. Grab a four-pack for $4.99 on Amazon or at retailers nationwide including Target and Walmart.

                              

 

 

 

An Appetite for appetizers

Begin your exam prep with a trip to the grocery store to stock up the freezer with Hip Chick Farms artisan organic poultry products like chicken fingers, meatballs, and sausage patties that can make quick, hot and hardy meals to get you through a long night of hitting the books. All of Hip Chick Farms’ products contain no artificial ingredients, stabilizers, preservatives or fillers and are picky-eater approved. Available at Target and other grocery stores nationwide.

The full-ride chair

Nothing will make a long night of studying longer than an uncomfortable chair, so invest in your education with a quality seat. The Modway Attainment Drafting Stool is a versatile ergonomic office chair that can rise to the occasion with an adjustable height that adapts to various desks (44” and higher) and is ideal for sit-stand desks. The caster wheels make for easy mobility, and a three-inch thick foam seat cushion, mesh back, padded flip-up arms and a foot-rest ring at the base helps keep you sitting comfy for hours. Available online at Staples.com for $141 or office supply stores nationwide.

 

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Eat & Drink

Locando del Lago roasts up a beast of a communal dinner

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Regulars and newbies make a night of the Northern Italian restaurant’s authentic Morso Della Bestia feast of a whole animal

When you think of Italian hospitality, you think of the kind of warm familia ambience that welcomes guests at Locanda del Lago; and when you think of the heartiness of a satisfying Italian dinner, it is a table filled with generous servings of meat, pasta and wine, like that of the restaurant’s monthly feast, Morso Della Bestia. If you are not familiar with this Italian tradition, translated as “Bite of the Beast,” it is a banquet that is the epitome of Italian cuisine – a celebration of food, family, friends and life, Italian style.

The last Thursday of every month, Lago hosts this communal, four-course dining experience, featuring a different animal roast each month, along with rustic Northern Italian dishes for which the restaurant is known, with recipies originating from Italy’s Bellagio on Lake Como, an homage to the hometown of restaurant’s founder.  Of course, to complement the meal, diners may also select wine pairings.

As is the case with all of the menu items at Lago, the fare is fresh-sourced locally from farmer’s markets and other purveyors with whom the restaurant has long-term associations, as this business places a high value on trusted relationships, doing business the way it was done in the Old Country.

The restaurant usually seats between 30 to 40 guests to this RSVP-required event, at which the main course has featured whole-animals, such as boar and venison, or on occasion lesser daunting beasts, like rabbit, goose, or even tuna. Chef George Pincay endeavors to use all parts of the animal for a variety of dishes, featuring generous portions, served throughout the night, giving time between courses for guests to pace themselves and preserve an appetite while they socialize.

 

 

Guests who come as couples or even solo diners will find by the end of the evening they have made new friends; and in fact, one group of wine aficionados has attended the event together for many years, adding to their club and their friendship circle each year.

The staff have become part of the meal as well, with the owner, West Hooker-Poletti, and his wife, Karin Fumagalli, and general manager Megan Heritage, who is lovingly referred to by staff as the restaurant’s “soul,” often joining the gathering, and many regulars call their servers by name, and joke like family, such as one patron who elbows Lago’s tall, lean and handsome resident mixologist, Mirco Pallotti, in the ribs and teases, “I order the six packs, but he wears them.”

While Morso Della Bestia is one of Locanda del Lago’s most popular events, the restaurant hosts an ample crowd most nights, with the restaurant dining room and outdoor seats filled nightly at the location on Santa Monica’s bustling Third Street Promenade.

If the Bite of the Beast is not your taste, say if you are vegetarian, Lago hosts another night, Meatless Mondays, that may be more your style.  Or if you prefer to stick to libations, check out the bar for local flavor and stocked with a curated wine list of more than 400 vinos from across Italy, along with organic, local liquors. The restaurant keeps a full calendar of events and celebrations and is open to serve its extended family of regulars, tourists and new friends seven days a week.

Locando del Lago is located at 231 Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica. Street parking and several Santa Monica public parking structures are walking distance, with 2-hours free or $3 flat rate on weekends.

 

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left Coast

Fred 62 – They’ve got your number

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Iconic Los Feliz diner serves up everyday, anytime food for everyone

I was afraid my picky, eats-like-a-bird 10-year-old son would not find anything to nosh on at Fred 62.  Trained by his health-conscious dad at a young age to have a taste for only healthy, gourmet food, he generally scoffs a restaurant fare, but we were in for a huge surprise.

For a sure bet, we ordered one of my son’s favorite appetizers, Crispy Calamari, served with sriracha and remoulade; and for the grown-ups we got the Avocado Toast with chili flakes and Chickpea Fritters.  But when the food arrived, the tables were turned, and my son devoured the toast and fritters first, then did damage on the calamari, and that just whetted his appetite.

His eyes lit up as he slurped up the Noo Deli noodles, a steaming bowl of vermicelli, in spicy lemongrass broth with Thai veggies, which was followed by a “freshwich” of seared ahi tuna, wrapped in rice paper and served with a Japanese dipping sauce.

He then began sharing off our plates of “Pastramid” Short Rib combo of short rib slow smoke short ribs with coleslaw, jalapeno pickles and spicy mustard on a potato roll, served with French fries, and Moroccan Tajine Eggs with harissa, Castilian sausage, and green olive tapenade. He polished it all off with a Chocolate Peanut Butter shake.

All of this food was consumed by a boy who basically eats every other day.  He declared, “Let’s definitely come back to this place.” And of course, we will have to, as we didn’t even try the famous griddle treats, like the Bearded Mr. Frenchy, a fluffy brioche French toast with cornflake crust, or the hearty comfort food meals like the Partridge Family, a dinner of pan-friend chicken, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, gravy, sautéed greens and a mini waffle.

 

This 20-year-old funky retro-themed restaurant, easily recognized on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz by its bright lime green exterior and orange awning, is known as LA’s coolest all-nighter diner, open 365 days a year, where hard partiers can get munchie-satisfying delights from the Stoners & Drunkards menu, like F-Bomb Mac n Cheese Balls, Falafel Sliders or Frito Pies, anytime in the wee morning hours.

 

It is a rare diner that has a cook called a “chef” and that promises food prepared “mindfully and with care,” which is what makes Fred 62 an anomaly in the diner universe. Owner and chef, Fred Eric, had a unique vision of Fred 62 when he opened the restaurant with the concept of a diner serving food that people want to eat every day, serving it all day and all night, every day of the year.  Two decades later, he’s still cooking with gas and expanding his menu of enlightened diner food with more healthy menu offerings for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free patrons.  For those who love a surprise, he offers daily “Fred Plate” specials.

After enjoying a meal at Fred 62, make a day of exploring the hood, including a variety of eclectic stores selling everything from clothing and rare books to housewares and jewelry made by local artisans, or stop in for a flick at the vintage cinema house, Los Feliz 3, or see a live production at Skylight Theater.  Fred 62 is located at 1850 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles.

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