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, barely knowing the English language nor much about LA but making 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 but Los Angeles — 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 just the food. There’s a feeling. And if you look close enough, you will 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 can guarantee you will forget you’re in Los Angeles. The IIC is a center dedicated to the education of Italian Culture and Affairs in the Westwood Village. It regularly host 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 the heart and soul of a town 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 take it all in. You’ll see people going from shop to shop, a trolley passing through every so often, friends meeting up, and a mixture of beautiful languages being spoken around you (because The Grove attracts tourists from all over the world).
Sitting up top 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 and is dedicated to the study of Ancient Roman, Greek, and Etruscan art and cultures. 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, you’re surrounded by gardens, fountains and neoclassical art, making you feel like you’ve stepped into ancient history.
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. You can stroll through the canals, walk over the idyllic bridges, watch the paddle boarders go by, and gaze at the beautiful beach houses that line each side of the canals. For an even more spectacular view, visit the Canals at sunset when you can pretend you’re sailing along the romantic lagoon in Italy.
Where To Eat And Drink Like An Italian
Food is at the core of Italian culture. Growing up, I vividly remember hearing my nonna say “Mangia che ti fa bene” which translates to “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.
L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele has finally opened its doors in the U.S and found it’s perfect spot in the heart of Hollywood. 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, and importing the the freshest ingredients, Michele Rubini and Francesco Zimone have brought a taste of Campania to Los Angeles county. What is 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 that are baked in their wood-fired oven, or enjoy a Spritz with fresh seafood pasta.
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 served in Italy. Family-run and as authentic as they come, Da Pasquale Caffe has been open since 1993, serving all-time favorite items like Lasagna Napoletana and Gnocchi alla Sorrentina.
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 as it’s right on the beach. I love to order a glass of Pinot Grigio, an order of delicious Calamari Fritti, and 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 Stop 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 the specialty foods and wines was passed down from 3 generations, starting 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 the Bel Paese but if you know where to look, you can live like an Italian everywhere you are — including LA.
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