Sometimes a change of scene can be all you need to reset. New York and Los Angeles are both within easy reach of Canada and they’re two of America’s greatest cities. To minimize your stress (and schlepping) we’ve narrowed the focus to buzzy Brooklyn on the East Coast, and beachy Venice and Santa Monica on the West.
Let’s take Brooklyn first: Had it not been joined to New York City at the end of the 19th century, Brooklyn would be the fourth most populated city in America. Its fortunes started to change by the end of the 20th century, as Manhattan became prohibitively expensive and artists and bohemian types moved across the East River to inhabit the beautiful brownstones and industrial spaces in gritty Williamsburg, leafy Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene, Red Hook and, now, in formerly don’t-go-there Bushwick. The restaurants and shops that have sprung up in the wake of this migration have set trends, like canning and crafting, for the world at large.
Los Angeles may have been home to the movie industry since 1911, but its food and fashion offerings are only now coming into their own. California is the breadbasket of America, but it took a surprisingly long time before Slow Food took hold in the state’s largest city, whose geographically isolated pockets had already produced the country’s most varied and authentic ethnic food. Now that the passion for good ingredients has met the city’s flair for hybridizing, its restaurants have come alive, threatening even famously foodie San Francisco. Fashion’s on the uptick too, thanks to celebrities becoming the fashion industry’s engine. But if Los Angeles has finally ditched yoga pants and T-shirts, in arty little Venice, right on the Pacific Ocean, no one cares what you wear. Sitting just south of sweet Santa Monica, whose craftsman bungalows and swaying palm trees look even better up close than in the pictures you’re going to post, Venice is one of the few neighbourhoods where almost everything is reachable by bicycle, and where the summertime heat simply disappears over the sea.
BK: A 1901 factory on the waterfront in Williamsburg is now the 70-room Wythe Hotel, a locavore dream house whose warm but minimalist rooms feature reclaimed-wood furniture and whose rooftop bar’s phenomenal views of Manhattan are rivalled only by the sight of the crowds in their skinny-jean glory. 80 Wythe Ave.
A few blocks away, the King & Grove Brooklyn features one of the largest outdoor pools in the city on its roof, and rooms with bamboo flooring, 42-inch flatscreens and Frette sheets. 160 North 12th St.
The easiest way to check out Smith Street, the indie restaurant row of lovely Carroll Gardens, is from one of the Nu Hotel’s loaner bikes. The hotel’s airy, bright Friends Suite comes with both a queen bed and bunk beds. 85 Smith St.
L.A.: The palm trees and mid-century élan of Santa Monica’s grown-up Fairmont Hotel are chic, but its vintage resort-y lounge, the Bungalow, is what brings out the hipsters in droves after dark, especially on Fridays, for Ping-Pong and sangria. 101 Wilshire Blvd.
Just off the Venice Beach Boardwalk, itself a magnet for eccentricity, the retro-poppy Hotel Erwin has spacious rooms (many with balconies) and a rooftop bar with a nice craft-beer list, all at wallet-friendly prices. 1697 Pacific Ave.
The best way to appreciate Santa Monica’s Wednesday and Saturday morning farmers’ markets, the oldest in the city, is not in a hotel but in the kitchen at a typical bungalow. The adorable Venice Beach Bungalows are all walking distance from shops and restaurants, and miles above most dismal vacation rentals, with Sub-Zero refrigerators, Miele dishwashers, hardwood floors and lovely linens, as well as bikes and Boogie Boards for rent.
BK: Most New Yorkers come from somewhere else, which is how Carroll Gardens got the nouveau southern cooking of Arkansas native Robert Newton’s Seersucker. Its biscuit box kicks off an always-packed brunch of hangover-coddling favourites like fried chicken, pimento cheese grits, catfish and oyster po’ boys. 329 Smith St.
At Vinegar Hill House, in northern DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), the line often stretches down the block. Once you’re seated in the tiny, rustic dining room, treat yourself to fried oysters, bacon-laced hot dogs or sourdough pear pancakes, and an extensive, mostly European small-producer wine list. 72 Hudson Ave.
L.A.: When Gjelina arrived on Venice’s Abbot Kinney in 2008, its beautiful thin-crust pizzas and small plates of roasted vegetables upped the food ante on Venice’s most glamorous stretch. Now it’s where Jay-Z and Beyoncé come when they’re looking for a light bite near the beach. Brunch is all creative egg dishes and market salads. 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Just down the street, what was once a fancy market, Local 1205, has expanded to a casual restaurant with Cuban sandwiches, fresh juices and smoothies, and a raw bar offering oysters, crudo, Maine lobster and clams. 1205 Abbot Kinney Blvd., 310-396-6663.
BK: The cement walls and indoor lake at the DUMBO performance space Galapagos see everything from a men’s and ladies’ burlesque show, Floating Kabarette, on Saturday nights, to the monthly Nerd Nite — think TED Talks with cocktails and subjects that have included everything from the psychology of twilight to the science of flatulence. 16 Main St.
Included among the well-rounded collections of African, Asian and American art at the Brooklyn Museum is the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, unfortunately a rarity of its kind, showing exhibitions by Djuna Barnes and Lucy Lippard and offering a permanent home to Judy Chicago’s groundbreaking installation, The Dinner Party. 200 Eastern Pkwy.
A visit to Brooklyn wouldn’t be complete without riding the F train to Coney Island, the vintage amusement park that’s equal parts kitschy and seedy, and whose famous Sideshows by the Seashore have gotten a hipster makeover in the past few years. 1208 Surf Ave.
L.A.: The Venice Beach Boardwalk hugs the shoreline from Rose Avenue on the northern end down to the hilarious Muscle Beach, at the tip of Marina del Rey, where spandex-clad bodybuilders have been coming to flex in public for generations. It’s the perfect bike ride for gawkers. Though most of the serious contemporary art in L.A. is farther east, Bergamot Station has a handful of nice independent galleries (Patrick Painter, Rosamund Felsen) and the jewel box contemporary Santa Monica Museum of Art. 2525 Michigan Ave.
The old Santa Monica blues dive Harvelle’s has been custom kitted out by choreographers Dominic Carbone and Tracy Phillips for their woman-friendly, rock ’n’ roll girlie show, Harlow Gold, which sees dancers dangling from the ceiling, jumping across the bar and taking over your tabletop on Friday nights. Book tickets in advance and watch out for flying heels. 1432 4th St.
BK: DuMont was the first upscale-casual eatery to lure people from Manhattan to Williamsburg in the early ’00s, and its burgers, macaroni and cheese (heavy with gruyère and bacon) and, most importantly, its cute crowd of arty professionals have not lost a step. 32 Union Ave.
Almost overnight, the pizza-crazed masses of New York have anointed Franny’s in Park Slope one of the greats. Grab a thin-crust pie topped with clams, chili and parsley, or a classic with sausage and buffalo mozzarella, and walk a few blocks for a picnic in rambling Prospect Park. 4348 Flatbush Ave.
If you miss your Sopranos, the crowd at Gargiulo’s Restaurant, an old school and seriously delicious Italian-American banquet around the corner from the Coney Island boardwalk, will sate your craving, as will the lobster Fra Diavolo, spaghetti carbonara and osso buco. Go hungry: Portions are huge. 2911 West 15th St.
L.A.: Along with clogged freeways and plastic surgery, there is nothing more L.A. than the roaming Kogi taco truck. It’s the brainchild of Roy Choi, the first chefto combine the street food of two of the city’s best-represented ethnic minorities (Korean and Mexican) into something that feels totally authentic to both. Check the @kogibbq Twitter feed for the West Side location of the day, and join long lines of punks, foodies and random professionals eating kimchee quesadillas and spicy tofu burritos on the sidewalk.
Due to the Brentwood Country Mart’s prime location at the northeast end of Santa Monica, its Reddi Chick stand, serving roast chicken and fries in a basket since 1979, often sees the likes of Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon and Christian Bale. While you’re there, trawl the mart for best-ever swimwear at Malia Mills (they do custom-fitted mix ’n’ match bikinis) and cool-girl separates at Jenni Kayne. Southern California’s sizable Japanese population means ramen joints are a staple. The pork and miso broths at Santouka Ramen, a mainstay at the back of a Japanese shopping centre on Centinela Avenue, are among the best in town. Brentwood Country Mart, 225 26th St.
Hit the shops
BK: Williamsburg was the first Brooklyn neighbourhood to go hard-core hip, and the boutiques and vintage stores around Bedford Avenue have become a shopping destination for all New Yorkers. Bird is a standout for womenswear, with a brilliantly edited collection of designers like Isabel Marant, Band of Outsiders, Loeffler Randall and many more. 203 Grand St.
Just a few years ago, the western stretch of Atlantic Avenue was all dive bars and Middle Eastern bakeries. Now it’s a row of indie boutiques that surround an outpost of Barneys, a mecca for upscale denim. 194 Atlantic Ave.
Cruise the street and stop in for a lamb kibbeh or a piece of baklava at Sahadi’s. 187 Atlantic Ave.
No weekend in Brooklyn would be complete without a visit tothe hopping Brooklyn Flea, in Fort Greene on Saturdays and in Williamsburg on Sundays, a hub for the bearded and creatively pierced, featuring the city’s best crafters and vintage peddlers.
L.A.: You won’t just be eating on Abbot Kinney, you’ll be shopping there too, at Guild, for instance, which mixes better-known designers (Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens) with lesser-known talents like Mihara Yasuhiro and an array of forward-looking jewellery. 1335 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
The Santa Monica outpost of Fred Segal, famous for its twice-yearly blowout sales, is especially strong on lingerie (Undressed by Marlies Dekkers, fancy pyjamas by P.J. Salvage) at its Rocks & Silk store-within-a-store. 500 Broadway.
BK: Frankies Spuntino’s tin ceilings and exposed brick say Brooklyn, as does the locals-only crowd; it’s just that those locals include Michelle Williams and Maggie Gyllenhaal. House-made pastas and puntarella salad, heavy with anchovies, are among the Italianate comfort foods. 457 Court St.
At Roberta’s, an haute pizzeria that pioneered the Bushwick neighbourhood just east of Williamsburg, speck or kale and maitake mushroom pies are accented by dishes like Wagyu flank steak. 261 Moore St.
When a former Roberta’s chef opened the pared-back spot the Pines two years ago in upscale Gowanus (between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope), serving a kale and guanciale salad and pork jowl with freekeh, adzuki beans, braised peanuts, pickles and herbs, a Slow Food star was born. 284 3rd Ave.
On a riverside street in industrial-cute Red Hook, the unlikely combination of authentic northern Thai food (the fish sauce chicken wings are legendary, as are the vinegar sodas) and craft cocktails at Pok Pok NY goes down easy on the back patio strung with fairy lights. The word is out, so expect to wait for a table among fellow diners from all over the five boroughs. 117 Columbia St.
L.A.: Though Santa Monica is right on the Pacific Ocean, it was sadly lacking in solid seafood restaurants until the Hungry Cat came west from Hollywood to this canyon-side location. Cocktails and the raw bar are served all day on weekends; otherwise it’s fruit-laced ceviches, crab-stuffed squash blossoms, braised mussels and lobster rolls in a chic but unfussy setting. 100 W. Channel Rd.
Los Angeles has never been great for authentic Italian, but the pastas at low-key Superba Snack Bar on Rose Avenue in Venice are excellent, which is surprisingfor a spot that’s otherwise a produce-driven, no-tablecloths, new Californian canteen. 533 Rose Ave.
The vegetable-first, farm-to-table menu at sophisticated Axe on Abbot Kinney is best enjoyed at its communal tables (meet the yoga instructor of your dreams), whereas savoury, flavourful plates like duck breast with hazelnuts and kumquat chutney, chicken oysters on a stick or a charred lettuce, date and pancetta salad at Tar & Roses have so captured the love of well-heeled Santa Monicans that advance booking is absolutely required. 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd.; 602 Santa Monica Blvd.