So Cal Life

Restaurant Review: Maccheroni Republic

A couple of weeks ago, Matt and I had literally the best meal I have ever eaten. I say that with no hyperbole, knowing that to make such a bold claim is a big effing deal. Well, this was one effing delicious meal. Maccheroni Republic is located downtown on Broadway, between 3rd and 4th. We went to eat there before we saw Something Rotten at the Ahmanson, and walked from the Music Center parking lot to the restaurant (we actually walked around downtown all day, and this is where we ended up). It’s not a short walk by LA standards, but it’s definitely doable and totally worth not having to park downtown twice. The restaurant is not in the greatest location downtown, but it’s tucked away and feels private enough that it doesn’t matter. They do not take reservations, so be prepared for a little bit of a wait (though we went at 5:30 to have plenty of time to eat and get to the theater and there was no wait). The most important thing is to come hungry.

We started out with a bottle of Malbec, which I tend to forget about a lot of the time, but every time I have it, I remember how smooth and delicious it is. I love that it is served in old school glasses, true Italian style.

The menu is very simple, just straight up delectable sounding pastas.

Matt had the Bigoli Della Nonna, which looks like spaghetti and meat sauce, but is so so so much more than that. The sauce was insanely good.

I had the Tortelloni Burro E Salvia and it was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth (don’t be dirty). Guys, this pasta melted in my mouth. Every bite I took was more delicious than the last. The handmade pasta makes such a huge difference in the overall quality of the dish, and when you combine that with the sauce and the cheese…let’s just say I was in pasta-lovers heaven.

For dessert we had the Apple Tart and it was just as amazing as it looks. You can’t go wrong with apples and caramel. Not only was the entire meal so incredibly scrumptious, but our total bill including tip was under $100. That’s a bottle of wine, two entrees, and a dessert, plus tip for under $100. For a meal for two downtown, and one as good as this, that is a freakin’ steal.

This is the one and only time I have been to Maccheroni Republic, but I will literally be going back to this place for every single special occasion I have for the rest of my life. This is my new favorite restaurant, and I am seriously counting down until my next chance to visit. If you are going to be downtown, this stop is a must. You will not be disappointed!

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Restaurant Review: Wood and Vine

One of the built in benefits of having season tickets to the Pantages is that it forces Matt and me to go out on pre-scheduled date nights. We are both so busy that we sometimes go weeks in a row without ever having a weekend night off together, and weekdays as I’m sure you can imagine, mostly consist of Squirt. We don’t go out to eat before every show, but we try to as much as we can, and before our last show, we decided to try a new spot, Wood and Vine. Wood and Vine is located at the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine (hence the name), which is conveniently right across the street from the Pantages (which means you only have to park once, which in Hollywood is a mega score).

The restaurant has a super cool hipstery bar area, but we opted to sit on the back patio, which has a really fun vibe. The patio would be an awesome place for a party. We sat at the firepit table, which is in the middle of the outdoor area and is kind of a communal seating area. Our waitress explained that the concept of the food is American tapas, so they are small bites meant to be shared (though the portion sizes didn’t seem small to me).

We ordered drinks first, obvi. I got the Accomplice, which was delicious. I will be making a homemade version of this all summer long. Matt got the Black Manhattan, which is one of his go to drinks.

We started with the green salad, which was fine, but nothing special. For one of our main dishes we chose the mussels and it might have been the first time we ever ordered seafood still in the shell to share. I was a little hesitant, but they were really yummy. Definitely not what I would have gone for first, but I’m glad I branched out and tried something new.

As soon as I saw grilled cheese on the menu, I knew we would be ordering it because I have the taste buds of a twelve year old. I have to say, this is one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I have ever had and I would order this every time I ate at this restaurant if Matt would let me get away with it. Seriously. So. good.

Matt is not a big dessert person, but I am the dessert person and when I’m in charge of ordering, we’re getting dessert. And this dessert was effing heaven. It’s butterscotch with a bourbon ice cream and a thyme crumble. Sounds weird, but it was tasty AF. Even Matt got down with this bad boy.

The view from the our seats on the patio, wouldn’t this make a great spot for a small wedding?

Overall, our meal at Wood and Vine was perfect for date night. The drinks were great, the food was yummy and the ambiance was super cool. I can definitely see us eating there again and it would be a great spot for a small party.

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LA Times Festival of Books

On Sunday, I had the pleasure and privilege of volunteering at the annual LA Times Festival of Books. I am ashamed to say that I had never even been to the festival before, but I don’t think I will be missing it ever again because it was so awesome. When I arrived for my volunteer check-in, I was assigned to book signings, and since I was there early, I got to choose which area I wanted to work in. I obviously chose the Young Adult signings booth, which was luckily right next to the YA Stage. During my four hour shift, I got to listen to three different panel discussions with some of the top YA authors, including Melissa de la Cruz, Morgan Matson, and Shannon Hale.

After each discussion, the authors came over for book signings, and I was literally standing right behind them the entire time. Listening to the conversations the authors got to have with their fans was so inspiring. I teared up several times throughout the day (seriously, I don’t know how the authors kept it together) hearing these teens talk about how much books mean to them. I don’t know if I can actually put into words the effect the whole experience had on me as an aspiring YA author.

After my shift ended, I headed over to one of the lecture halls on USC’s campus for a panel discussion with four of the top YA authors: Jennifer Niven, Nicola Yoon, Angie Thomas, and Nina LaCour. I reviewed Niven’s first YA book, All the Bright Places, here on the blog, and I also absolutely loved Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star. I have books from the other authors on my TBR list. It was incredible to hear four amazing female authors talk about everything from their writing process to their inspiration and research to the craziest thing they did as teenagers. The panel was absolutely awe-inspiring and I am so glad that I was able to attend.

la times festival of books

I of course focused on the YA booths and event happening at the festival, but every genre of book was well-represented. There was a great kids section, along with horror, romance, mystery, basically everything you could ever want from a book festival. If you are in the LA area, I would highly recommend attending the LA Times Festival of Books if you can because it was an amazing and inspiring day!

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A Day at Descanso Gardens

So if you follow me on Instagram (and if you’re not, get on that and help a sister out!) you probably saw the other day that I have been suffering from a serious lack of motivation lately. Wedding season has just come to a close so I should be able to focus a lot more on the blog and some of my other side projects, but I just haven’t been able to get in my groove. Step number one in getting out of my brain funk is getting out of the house. Squirt and I have a couple of places around town that we like to go and hang out, but we have been spending a lot of time at home lately, which I think makes the days long for both of us. So we are going to be doing a lot more exploring in the coming weeks!

Luckily, we are just a short drive away from Descanso Gardens in La Canada. Just like it sounds, Descanso is a massive garden featuring all kinds of cool plants and flowers divided into different sections. The great thing about it is that it’s wide open spaces that are still contained, meaning Squirt can run around, but still not actually go very far. Now Descanso is not free, but my mom was kind enough to purchase us a family membership so it’s free for us! There is one Tuesday a month when the Gardens are open to everyone free of charge, so make sure to check their website for dates if you plan a visit (though be aware that those free days are really crowded). For today, I thought I’d give you a little tour of some of the cool things you can see at the Descanso Gardens.

My favorite section is the rose garden, which features (duh) lots and lots of different kinds of roses. The only downside is that it is mostly dirt paths here, which makes pushing a stroller difficult. But the flowers are so pretty it’s worth it.

descanso gardens

Squirt’s favorite part is (obviously) the train. The train runs Tuesdays and Fridays only, so if it’s an important feature to you, make sure you plan your trip accordingly.

This is one of my favorite spots in the Gardens, the fountain in the rose section. Probably one of the best photo ops.

Squirt’s other favorite place to visit is the Japanese Garden, which is easy to walk through with a stroller since it has wooden walkways. He loves it because there are several ponds and you can see some koi fish. He likes to lean dangerously over the water and give me a heart attack trying to watch the fish.

descanso gardens

Right near the entrance of the Gardens in the Descanso Cafe. They have a few breakfast items (and coffee, most importantly), but the main attraction is their lunch food.

Last time Squirt had a PB & J and I had the turkey sandwich. I also had a strawberry lemonade that was super tasty and very refreshing on a hot day. The food is good, but can be a little overpriced, so definitely bring snacks or a lunch if you are trying to save some cash.

I have to say, walking around the gardens today gave me a major creativity boost! I felt much more inspired after just an hour walking around. We will be visiting Descanso Gardens all the time over the coming months, as long as the weather allows. It’s a great place for the little ones to run around and explore, plus you can’t beat the beauty of nature!

What are your favorite ways to keep your little ones entertained during the day?

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Odd Nights at the Autry

If you are anything like me as a parent, you are always on the hunt for family friendly, cheap activities that get you out of the house and trying something new. Every once in a while one of those activities falls into my lap and I wonder how I never knew about it before. That happened last month when a mom in my local Facebook group posted about Odd Nights at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles (right across from the zoo). I have been living in LA proper for over six years (and have been in the LA area my whole life) and had never heard of Odd Nights before, but even if I had, the name probably would have thrown me off a little. Luckily, said awesome LA mom included some basic info about the event in her post and it sounded fun, so Hubs and I packed up Squirt and headed out.

Odd Nights is a once a month event (during summer and fall months) held in the lawn area of the Autry Museum. Parking is free, admission is $2.00 for adults (cash only), and kids under 12 are free. It’s basically a big outdoor festival of sorts, with lots of different fun offerings for both kids and adults. When you first enter, you find a row of outdoor booths with local artisans and crafters selling all kinds of goods. We saw everything from jewelry and clothing to home goods. There was lots of cute stuff for sale, and everyone there is a local small business, which makes it even better when you buy something.

There is a small bar set up near the entrance as well, which we obviously hit up as soon as we walked in.

Over on the lawn, there was a live band who played a couple of sets throughout the night. As it got more crowded, there was some dancing happening.

There were quite a few inflatables set up, in addition to a rock wall for older kids. You do have to purchase tickets to enjoy the attractions, but there was a good variety of things to try. We had to steer clear of the Cars inflatable as Squirt is obsessed with Mater and Lightning McQueen.


Parked all around the lawn area are all kinds of food trucks. Seriously, I have never seen so many different food trucks parked in one location before. They had any kind of food you could possibly want and we had a really hard time figuring out what we were going to eat. In the middle of the lawn, people set up blankets and picnic.

We finally selected the LA Wing Co. truck for our dinner, and we were not disappointed. I had a buffalo chicken sandwich, Matt got sliders and buffalo fries (that were amazing) and Squirt had chicken tenders. Everything was delicious.

After strolling around through the craft booths (with wine!) and eating our dinner, we let Squirt run around for a while. There was a bus parked in the middle of the lawn that kids could paint on (what an amazing idea). Squirt had no interest in painting, but he did want to sit at the wheel of the bus and “drive” so he was entertained by that for a good half hour. Overall, Odd Nights at the Autry proved to be a good little excursion for all three of us. Mom got to shop, Dad got to drink, and Squirt got to drive a bus, so everybody wins! There are two more Odd Nights scheduled for this year, Friday September 16 and Friday October 21. Both start at 6:00 pm. If you are in the LA area and are looking for something fun and inexpensive to entertain the fam, you should definitely check it out!

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Trip Report: A Family Trip to San Clemente

A few months ago my mom decided she wanted to take the fam on a beach trip, and found a gorgeous condo to Air BNB for a week down in beautiful San Clemente. San Clemente is about an hour south of Anaheim (sorry for folks who don’t live in California, we measure distance in the time it takes to get there) and is one of the few really small, cute beach towns in So Cal that hasn’t been completely hipsterized/modernized/built up to crazy extravagance. I have spent some time down there because there are two beautiful wedding venues there that I have worked at, plus one of our good friends got married there a few years ago. So needless to say, I was super stoked to get to spend some time relaxing at the beach.

My mom and I caravaned down to San Clemente on a Monday (meaning it took much longer than it would have taken me on my own, due to Grandma driving). We left early to avoid traffic so when we got down to the beach we had a couple of hours to kill before we could check in. We went to lunch on SC’s main street downtown and had some delicious pizza and beer.

san clemente

Then we headed over to our condo to check in and get settled. The beautiful view you see at the top of this post is from the condo balcony. I cannot express enough in words how awesome it is to have a full kitchen when traveling with a little one, and this condo had a super spacious kitchen. My mom and I did a big supermarket trip to stock up on supplies for the week, which is so nice to be able to do so you don’t have to eat out every meal. We grilled hamburgers that night and spent most of our time sitting on the patio and enjoying the view.

The next day was our beach day. So we packed up everything needed for three adults (Matt joined us Monday evening) and one toddler and headed down to the water. It was Squirt’s first time at the beach and that was the best part of the trip, watching him figure out the ocean and the sand. This picture is one of my new favorites…

san clemente

I also rocked my DIY pineapple beach bag during our trip, and fell even more in love with it!

san clemente

That night my mom was kind enough to take over Squirt duty so Matt and I could have a date night. The main strip was about a half a mile from our condo so we walked up to the downtown area and had drinks at a Mexican place and then dinner at a super hipster (but tasty) restaurant.

san clemente


san clemente

The next morning we all walked down to the beach/pier area for some local coffee. This place was awesome and it is literally right on the beach so the location can’t be beat!

san clemente

Before heading home, my mom and I took Squirt around the downtown shops for a little browsing. There are a bunch of cute clothing stores, plus some local gift/home decor type stores that were fun to explore.

san clemente

san clemente

Squirt and I headed out in the early afternoon so we didn’t get stuck in too much traffic. Overall, it was a quick trip to the beach, and I wish we had more time to spend there since it was such a beautiful spot, but Matt was in a wedding that weekend so we had to head home a little sooner than we would have liked. We had a lovely time in San Clemente, and I’m definitely hoping my mom sticks to her plan to make this an annual excursion!

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A Tour of The Last Bookstore in Downtown LA

One item on my summer bucket list was to visit The Last Bookstore in downtown LA. Honestly, I can’t believe I’ve never been there before, but I can officially check it off my list. I really enjoyed my trip to The Last Bookstore, and probably would visit on a regular basis if it weren’t for a couple of factors. The main thing is parking, which as is common downtown, sucks. I know that parking sucks in all major cities in America, but I feel like LA is the only one with crappy parking and crappy public transportation. There is no good way to get from my house to downtown other than to drive, which makes it not such a fun trip. Also, the bookstore itself doesn’t have air conditioning, so I will definitely be waiting for winter before I visit again. Lastly, tourists should be aware that this is not the best location in LA. There is a lot of trash and some unpleasant smells haunting the area (though once inside everything is clean and lovely). But The Last Bookstore should be on every book lover’s list and I really enjoyed exploring the space and all it has to offer.

The first floor of the bookstore is similar to any other used bookstore. You have lots of different sections to look at with lots and lots of (mostly) well-priced books for sale, including quite a few older books that are probably hard to find at Barnes and Noble. There is also a music section on the first floor if that’s your jam. Downstairs is also home to a special kids section and comic book section. The second floor is what The Last Bookstore is famous for, as it has what they call the book labyrinth. You may have seen this book tunnel on Instagram before…

last bookstore la

My favorite part of the upstairs was the rainbow book wall. There is something extremely satisfying about seeing books arranged by color.

From the upstairs, you also have a really cool view of the entire downstairs layout, including the crazy book sculpture up on the wall.

The upper level of The Last Bookstore also contains several small shops curated by local artists and craftmakers. Several of them were closed when we went during the week, but the ones we were able to explore had lots of cute art prints, jewelry, and fun knick knacks. When I went to New York in January, I absolutely fell in love with Strand Bookshop and have since been longing for one of our own here in LA. The Last Bookstore is not quite on the same level as Strand (in my opinion), but it is still an awesome place to check out for book lovers. If I could teleport there and not deal with parking, I would probably go all the time, but instead I will probably save it for special occasions.

What are you reading right now? Any good books I should add to my to read list?

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