When I was growing up, home was two different places. One home was the sunny paradise of Los Angeles, with its beautiful beaches, perfect weather, and well — Hollywood. And my second home was Rome: a breathtaking, timeless city that stays in your heart.
My mamma was the one who immigrated to California. She barely knew the English language or much about LA. But she made sure her daughters knew as much as possible about where she was from. She made it her mission to make LA feel like our home away from Italy, but it wasn’t easy. New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Toronto all have deep Italian roots, Los Angeles, however — that was a different story.
As I desperately searched for pieces of Italy in LA, I realized that living like an Italian is much more than food. There’s a feeling. If you look close enough, you’ll see that there are many places scattered all over Los Angeles that will make you feel like you’re living la dolce vita.
Where to Soak in Italian Culture
The minute you walk through the doors of the Italian Cultural Center of Los Angeles, I guarantee that you’ll forget you’re in Los Angeles. The IIC is a center dedicated to the education of Italian Culture and Affairs in Westwood Village. It regularly hosts events, festivals, art exhibitions from Italian artists living in LA, and even Italian language classes. It’s a cultural meeting place that will make you feel connected to your community back home.
Community is at the heart of Italian life. And, if you’ve ever been to Italy, you’ll know that piazzas are the centerpiece of every city. Piazzas are a town’s heart and soul where locals gather to see daily life play out in the streets. The Grove, an open-air shopping mall, is exactly that: a piazza in a bustling metropolis. Whether you’re dining at one of its restaurants or just sitting by the fountain, it’s a place where you’ll be able to take it all in. You’ll see people going from shop to shop, a trolley passing through, friends meeting up, and a mixture of beautiful languages being spoken around you (the Grove attracts tourists from all over the world).
Getty Villa Museum
Overlooking the California coastline on the edge of Malibu and the Pacific Palisades is the Getty Villa Museum. The Getty Villa was modeled after the Villa dei Papiri in the ancient city of Herculaneum. It’s dedicated to the study of Ancient Roman, Greek, and Etruscan art and cultures. Personally, walking through the villa always reminds me of the Amalfi Coast. Not only do you have views of the coastline and the cool ocean breeze, but you’re also surrounded by gardens, fountains, and neoclassical art. The entire ensemble makes you feel like you’ve stepped into ancient history.
Venice in LA
6,000 miles away from Venice, Italy, you’ll find Venice, California, and the beautiful Venice Canals. The Venice Canals were built in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney who wanted to capture the feeling of La Serenissima in Los Angeles. Here, you can stroll between canals, walk over the idyllic bridges, and watch the paddleboarders go by. You can even gaze at the beautiful beach houses that line the canals. For an even more spectacular view, visit the Canals at sunset when you can pretend you’re sailing along Italy’s romantic lagoon.
Where to Eat and Drink Like an Italian in LA
Food is at the core of Italian culture. Growing up, I vividly remember hearing my nonna say “mangia che ti fa bene.” Meaning, “eat because it’s good for you.” Real Italian food evokes an emotion unlike any other. Whether you’re enjoying a celebratory bowl of pasta with friends or enjoying a pizza and a glass of wine by yourself. There’s something to be said about comfort food that makes you feel inherently good.
Italian Regional Cuisine
L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele has finally opened its doors in the U.S. in the heart of Hollywood. The perfect spot. If you drooled over the pizza from Eat, Pray, Love, then don’t miss this authentic Neapolitan pizzeria. Using the same recipes as the historic location in Napoli, this spot imports the freshest ingredients. Michele Rubini and Francesco Zimone have brought a taste of Campania to Los Angeles county. What’s better than sitting in a shady cortile while enjoying a delicious pizza margherita on a Sunday afternoon in the heart of LA?
For a taste of cuisine from Italy’s heel, try La Puglia in Santa Monica which was recently nominated for a Gambero Rosso award. Owner Valentina Bianco created this authentic Southern Italian eatery serving delicious pastries, lunch, aperitivo, and dinner. If you’re looking to try something new and different, try their stuffed Puccia sandwiches, baked in their wood-fired oven, or enjoy a Spritz with fresh seafood pasta.
If you’re craving something sweet after lunch or dinner, head to Fatamorgana Gelato, located in Studio City. Headed by Chef Maria Agnese, this Gelateria is originally from Rome. Luckily for us, it has made its way to the city of Angels. Fatamorgana offers traditional, high-quality Italian gelato with over 66 seasonal flavors, along with gluten-free, and vegan options.
Authentic Italian Dishes
Have you ever wondered how to tell if an Italian restaurant is authentic? Look at the menu. Authentic Italian restaurants will not serve spaghetti and meatballs, pasta with chicken, or pineapple on pizza. While these are all delicious, you won’t find these dishes in Italy. Family-run and as authentic as they come, Da Pasquale Caffe has been open since 1993. And it serves all-time favorite items like Lasagna Napoletana and Gnocchi alla Sorrentina.
Happy Hour Spots
While there is no shortage of happy hour spots in LA, if you’re looking for the Italian summer feeling, try Back on the Beach Cafe. It’s right on the beach. I love to order a glass of Pinot Grigio and an order of delicious Calamari Fritti. All the while I stick my toes in the sand. After gazing out at the ocean and enjoying the sun, you will truly feel like you’ve been transported to un’estate Italiana.
Where to Shop for Italian Products in LA
Before mega specialty stores like Eataly came to LA, there was Guidi Marcello. Guidi Marcello’s is a family-owned, Italian import and specialty store that opened in 1981. Their knowledge of Italian specialty foods and wines was passed down from 3 generations. Beginning with Marcello Guidi, who left his home town of Lucca in Tuscany in 1945. Any time I feel like I’m missing a taste of home, I pop in and grab my favorite Mullino Bianco cookies (Abbracci).
For sensational sandwiches, try the old classic and highly renowned Bay Cities Deli. This sandwich shop prepares some of the freshest bread and Italian specialty dishes you can imagine. Make sure to order “the godmother” (trust me on this one).
The Italian feeling is something hard to find outside of il Bel Paese but if you know where to look, you can live like an Italian everywhere you are — including LA.
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