20+ things to know about Westchester/Playa in 2020

As we enter a new decade, we got to thinking about all the great things that make up the Westchester/Playa area. With so much to appreciate about our community, we started compiling a list, but since every month we share what we love about “our small town in a big city” in the pages of the HTN, we decided to reach out to longtime residents, small business owners and Westchester/Playa super fans to learn their go-to spots, favorite hidden gems, tips they share with people new to the area and events and places that can’t be missed. Below are their picks for what everyone should know about Westchester/Playa in 2020!

We hope you learn something new, revisit some old favorites and see some picks you’d put on your own list. If there’s a tip you’d like to share, please email us at westchesterhometown@yahoo.com. Happy New Year!

John Sharpe

John Sharpe has lived in Westchester since 1993. A huge fan of music and outdoor events, he created the Westchester Arts & Music Block Party to bring his love of art and community together. John is active with the Playa Venice Sunrise Rotary Club, and when he’s not volunteering with worthwhile causes, he enjoys traveling with his wife, Irene.

Check out the Westchester Family YMCA. I’m a huge fan of the Y, as it provides great programming for kids, families and seniors and services for the entire community. My kids learned to swim there, we participated together in the Guides & Princess programs over eight years, and I’m a regular part of the early morning cardio group now. I was very involved as a volunteer there when my kids were growing up, and through those experiences, made a number of friendships that have lasted over 20 years.

Participate in community events like the WAM Block Party and the Fourth of July Parade. Block parties are a thing here, from low key get-togethers to full-on blow-outs that have been going on annually for decades. Active neighbors make a stronger community and provide kids with great memories. Now we have the WAM Block Party every third Saturday in September on Emerson Ave. at Wright STEAM Magnet, a community-wide, community funded and community run day of live performances, food trucks, art and commercial vendors, a beer & wine garden and activities for all. And it’s free! Like the WAM Block Party, the parade brings out thousands of people to Loyola Blvd. to celebrate community and connect with friends and neighbors. It’s a great way to experience the “small town in a big city” vibe Westchester is known for and to kick off your Independence Day celebrations.

Shop at “Little Vons.” The Vons store on 80th St. and Emerson Ave. not only provides most of what I need in groceries, supplies and sundries, it is rare that I’m there and I don’t see someone I know! It’s so close and accessible that I end up there four times a week.

Get a new do at Francisco’s Barber Shop. Tucked into the southern end of the Westchester Square Parking lot at the entrance between Office Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond is a tiny barber shop/kiosk run by Francisco. He’s been cutting hair for more than 25 years, first in Santa Monica, and now, here. There are two chairs and usually only Francisco, or one other barber. Wait times, if any, are minimal. They are quick, friendly and efficient at their work, and a cut will run you $22.

Michele Cooley-Strickland

Dr. Michele Cooley-Strickland is Vice President of the NCWP and has lived in Playa del Rey for 15 years. When she’s not working as a Research Psychologist at UCLA, she enjoys being with her family and empowering women by co-hosting the “She Built It Podcast with Melanie & Dr. Michele.”

Head to Playa del Rey for great restaurants. I love great food, ambience and variety. No matter what you’re in the mood for—the price range, feeling totally casual or completely upscale, want a quick bite, a drink or a full meal—you can find it in lower Playa. There are so many choices…plus you get to top it off with a stroll on our beautiful beach.

Check out Cinemark when you’re in the mood for movies. I’m a fan of going to the movies, and I already admitted that I love great food. What’s better than combining the two? The Cinemark theater at Playa Vista has a dine-in service so you can be served a delicious meal while enjoying a good movie, all while seated in comfortable recliners. My tip: book days in advance since there’s limited seating. The upstairs bar is great for post-movie discussions and drinks too.

Research education options when it’s time for school. We in Westchester/Playa are blessed with fabulous local schools from preschool through high school and even college. They are public, charter, private, parochial and range in price from free to…well, let’s say definitely expensive. Find the best fit for your children and your family. Don’t go by reputation or what you’ve “heard,” but interview and visit schools yourself. My tip: start looking early as some schools have wait lists. Check out the LAX Coastal Chamber and the NCWP Ed Committee for resources and guidance.

Try exercising outside. Health and fitness are important to me, so I was a gym rat before I moved here from the East Coast. I automatically joined a gym when I moved here. However, I eventually discovered how amazing it is to run outside in the community. I wish I’d done it sooner. The fresh air, hills, Westchester Parkway, neighborhoods and beach help develop a closer connection to nature and our amazing community— but beware of cracked/uneven sidewalks! Argh!

Get involved with the NCWP. We’re lucky to live in a very civic-minded community with many generous organizations. The Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa (NCWP) for years has represented and advocated for the best interests of the residents and stakeholders of Westchester, Playa del Rey and Playa Vista. The City of Los Angeles created Neighborhood Councils to promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs. There’s much important work being done, so attend a meeting and get involved! Visit ncwpdr.org for more info.

Tracy Thrower Conyers

Tracy Thrower Conyers and her family have called Kentwood home for almost 18 years. As a Realtor, community activist and early blogger, Tracy has been closely watching our community for a long time and has lots of tips and insights to share. Tracy closely follows local politics and social chatter relevant to Westchester. Join her for more conversation about the community on her Facebook page at facebook.com/living90045.

Join local Facebook groups. The moms’ groups on Facebook have been an invaluable resource for me as I’ve navigated parenthood. We have several super active groups where families can get all kinds of info about schools, kid activities, doctor and dentist recommendations and post questions for specific feedback. Due to their popularity, they are mostly hidden on the platform. I belong to all of them. Email me for invites at tracy@living90045.com.

Check out some hidden gems. Two of my favorite hidden gems in our community are Emerson Ave. Community Garden and the Nardian Way holiday lights. It was hard to narrow my list of hidden gems, but these are definitely two of my favorites. I’ve never gardened in my life, but on a whim I signed up for a plot at Emerson. Two years later, I’m growing more zucchini than I can give away, and I’ve joined the garden’s Board of Directors! I encourage everybody to check out the garden’s programs (eacgc.org) and visit. The holiday lights, my other favorite, come courtesy of a number of houses on Nardian Way that do it up big at Halloween and Christmas. Find them just northwest of Fordham and 83rd.

Get the warm fuzzies with these local favorites. Four things that give me extra warm fuzzies about my community are the Westchester Arts & Music Block Party (“WAM”), the Fourth of July Parade, the Hometown News and our farmers’ market. All four make me feel like I live in a real community in the middle of our sprawling city. And a special shout out to the BID for the holiday lights this year on Sepulveda! Talk about feeling like I live in a special community!

Support local restaurants. We have great food in our community. My hope is that we support these establishments with lines out the door, so more will be attracted to our area. Favorites at my house (in no particular order) are Kanpai, Royal Donut, Ayara, The Ramen Joint, Olive It, Cafe Solar, Alejo’s, Cinco, K.C.’s Crepes and Playa Provisions. There are others I haven’t even gotten to yet and look forward to trying (looking at you Aliki’s and Courtyard Cafe!).

Check out my favorite tips. Our City Councilman Mike Bonin has a huge district and only two field offices. One of them is right here at Manchester and Lincoln. Stop in and meet our Westchester Field Deputy Matt Tecle! Another tip is Tanner’s Sewing & Vacuum in the Triangle. It’s a great place for classes and equipment.

Quantrell Wiley

Quantrell Wiley is a Westchester/Playa local who has called the area home for more than 25 years. As the owner of Tarpy Tailors in Westchester, he helps outfit the aviation industry with uniforms. In his free time, he loves hanging with his wife, Brooke, and their dog, Beau.

Head to The Shack…now! It’s my absolute jam. They’ve got great food and an amazing staff to make sure you have the best experience possible. The Shack has preserved the real feel of beach life and that which I love. They also have the best karaoke in town! Don’t miss the Joey Show on Friday nights!

Order lunch at Olive It. I’ve heard it called a sandwich shop, but it’s way more than that! Leslie and her crew make soups, chili, salads and lasagna from scratch. You can get a full on meal there. They are the absolute best. You really get a slice of home when you walk in the door.

Shop small and shop local. I like supporting all the “Mom & Pop” places in town. Our family has a small business here in Westchester–Tarpy Tailors, located in the historic Paradise Building—so I know the ups and downs that come along with owning a small business. The support of the community, however, makes it all worth it.

Be a good neighbor. I’ve seen Westchester really change over the past 25+ years. My tip is simple: Let’s remember community and let’s remember to say “hello” to our neighbors. And neighbors aren’t just an eye shot from your home, they make up this wonderful community whether they’re around the corner or five blocks over.

Jennifer Dodez

Jennifer Dodez is a Westchester mom that loves supporting her kids’ school. She balances a demanding career as Executive Director of Revenue Operations for a leading car information website, with supporting Kentwood Elementary School’s PTO and is always ready to watch a Little League game at DRALL field.

Take a Hike along the bluffs. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a hidden gem, but the bluffs are such a treat for our community. When you need a taste of the outdoors, the hike along the bluffs and Playa Vista is a quick walk away, and you can spend hours in nature. We are so fortunate to live in a neighborhood where we have easy access to a nature hike.

Tour multiple schools. If you have school-age children in Westchester/Playa, you know the pain that is choosing the right school for your child. We are lucky to have many great options, but it also makes the decision harder. My tip is to tour as many schools as you can and make your own decision. Schools that are a good fit for one, might not be for others–every family is different. I toured more than 5 schools to make an informed decision and am so happy that I ended up at Kentwood Elementary and falling in love with our local school option!

Take advantage of what LMU has to offer. I wish I would have known about all the cool things LMU has to offer sooner. Our family takes regular bike rides to the campus where we take in the amazing view, grab a burger at The Habit or a coffee at Starbucks and enjoy the campus life. We have lived in Westchester for eight years, and last year was our first time at the Holiday Tree Lighting night. It is such a great community event with so much for kids and families.

Support the local restaurants. I try to support all the local restaurants. Most of them also do a great job supporting our local schools. Our family is big supporters of The Good Pizza. Many people don’t know, but Alejo’s has a great weekday happy hour. Hacienda is a lot of fun on Friday nights and you are bound to run into your neighbors. And, of course, Tower Pizza is the place to be after baseball and soccer games.

Enjoy the upgrades at American Field. I love the DRALL field at the end of Emerson Ave. The DRALL board recently remodeled the field, made it bigger and better with views of the city, umbrellas, and more places to sit and enjoy your child’s baseball games. It has such a community vibe, and we are so lucky to be able to walk to our local baseball field!

Peter Mikhail

Peter Mikhail is a longtime Westchester resident and has a medical practice on Sepulveda Blvd. A strong supporter of youth and education, Peter has been active with Wright Middle School, Westchester High and the Westchester Family YMCA. He feels blessed to have found such a great community to raise his family alongside wife, Maria.

Enjoy a morning walk on the beach. My absolute favorite place is Toes Beach. An early morning walk with my green tea, the sounds of the ocean waves crashing, the birds singing and the sun rising over the horizon is the absolute best!

Take a shortcut. The best tip I can give everybody, when trying to avoid traffic and reach different parts of Westchester, or even gain access to other streets in order to go east/west and then head north or south to other cities, is take Westchester Parkway. Westchester Parkway will get you from one side of Westchester to the other within three to five minutes with little to no traffic…shhh! Don’t tell anyone.

The community is full of amazing businesses, organizations and people. The local YMCA is involved in every aspect of children’s lives within the area. I think everybody learned how to swim at the Y. The YMCA’s mission of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility has given the community an added sense of purpose for each other. The Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation has been a blessing to the entire community. Their generosity not only helps local children and adults, but has definitely positively affected the entire city of Los Angeles. The local Scouts have given my children another amazing experience. These organizations have true leaders and continue to support and encourage the young people of our community to be their best!

Check out these delicious local restaurants. Cafe Milan in Playa del Rey is a favorite weekend morning breakfast spot for my daughter and I. If you want a great whiskey and cheese platter or other great smaller meals, then the Playa Provisions Whiskey Bar is an amazing date night spot. For Mexican food, my favorite is Hacienda Playa (the one on Pershing) because it is fairly quiet and the food is authentic and amazing! The best thing is many of these places that I enjoy and support, also help and support the local community in many ways!

Gabrielle Zacuto

Gabrielle Zacuto loves connecting with her Playa Vista community, where she lives with her family. The Playa Vista mom runs the Silicon Beach Parents’ group, which holds meet-ups and events throughout the year including the Playa Vista Fun Run, Silicon Beach Fashion Show and “Community PlayDates.”

Visit the “hidden restaurants” in Playa Vista. There’s a handful of amazing restaurants nestled in the campus section of Playa Vista that offer breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s even a live-entertainment scene at Silicon Beach’s coolest lounge: Conference Room. There’s also Tocaya, which is part of the Madera Group, and offers modern organic Mexican dishes. Then there’s Hash that offers a brunch menu that’s worth the wait in line! Rodini Park has fresh Mediterranean fare and is a sister restaurant to both Hash and Conference Room. Big Mango Cafe and Homestate are both known for their high quality and quick cuisine. The community’s food truck line up offers a rotating pick of the best trucks in L.A. on a regular basis as well.

Phase 1 has great pasta. On the westside of Playa Vista, known by the locals as Phase 1, is another one of my go-to spots, Ritrovo. Dishes and classic Italian pastas like Agnolotti Casarecci, gnocchi and spaghetti carbonara bring back childhood memories from being in the kitchen with my Nana D’Addario, who migrated from Italy to America in the 1900s.

Head to the Runway for great eats. Another one of my longtime favorite restaurants is ROC. Their Taiwanese cuisine is so good, it’s packed every night of the week! If you’re looking for something different, check out other restaurants in Runway, including the upscale burger joint across the way, Hopdoddy, or Da Kikokiko, the Hawaiian Poke restaurant next door, owned by celebrity Chef Brooke Williamson.

Stay tuned for what’s next at Playa Vista. With Playa Vista continuing to gain attention as the hottest zip code for millennial tech families, I’m expecting our dining scene to continue growing with more desirable hot-spots like Bull & Butterfly, which is rumored to open here in late January!

Corrina Murdy & Tim Edwards

Corrina Murdy and Tim Edwards love Playa del Rey, where they’ve lived for the past 10 and 22 years respectively. As small business owners, they serve up some of the area’s most delicious subs at the Del Rey Deli on Pershing. Finding it important to give back to the community that supports them, Corrina is active with the PDR Trash Fairies and Tim with the Westchester Elks Lodge.

Corrina’s tips:
Check out these hidden gems. The Turkish Coffee at Playa Pita is a treat. If you like the outdoors, try watching the sailboat races at Sunset on Wednesdays or watching the airplanes take off from In-N-Out or the overlook in El Segundo. Joining the Elks Lodge with your friends means you have a private bar (mostly) to yourselves.

Take a closer look at the local mini marts. Howe Mart is not a liquor store. It’s a mini grocery store and they have everything, except liquor. The alcohol they sell is beer and wine, and they have a spectacular selection. Dales Jr. has an incredible grocery selection as well.

Head to the beach at the right time. Download a tide chart and go watch the sunset when there’s a low tide in Playa del Rey. It gets really flat and glassy and when there’s a pretty sunset there’s also a reflection, which creates an ethereal look. And yes, I can provide great photo examples! Don’t go to your favorite viewpoint to check it out; go right to the water’s edge or you’ll miss out.

Watch Playa del Rey wake up. Sit on the Jetty in the early morning to watch the sunrise, and you’ll experience Playa del Rey wake up. For an added treat, go do yoga on the beach on Saturday mornings with @YogaKase. She’s an amazing teacher, and sometimes you get to see dolphins cruise by during class!

Find things that contribute to your sense of community. I like the Elks Lodge, Jungle Clean Up, Tanners Coffee (it’s so central) and the freshwater lagoon in the Ballona Wetlands. It’s so close by, and yet it’s easy to forget it’s there because there isn’t much of a view of it from the street. It’s very quiet and peaceful, and you get these great views of all these birds in their natural environment.

Support local businesses. Some of my favorites include Playa del Rey Flowers, Tanners, Flowers By Felicia, Cantalini’s and Real Fitness. I got the fastest results I’ve ever had from working out there. The teachers are a lot of fun, too. For pet sitting, contact my friend Sara Kay @tailsoftheaccidentalpetsitter because I like it when my petsitter sends me pics and updates while I’m away!

Tim’s tips:
Enjoy a trip to Dockweiler. The fire pits at Dockweiler Beach are one of my favorite places in Westchester/Playa. It’s the only place in L.A. you can have beach bonfires.

When it comes to fireworks, PDR is the place to be. The dirt road from Nicholson to Cabora is the best place to watch the Marina’s Fourth of July fireworks. There’s also Vista Del Mar Park, which is a great park that is usually empty.

Sand berms are lots of fun. With the creation of the sand berms every winter comes the start of berm sledding season! Once they go up, you’ll see people of all ages sledding.

Support cool businesses and organizations. For amazing Playa swag visit Clean Aesthetic. Give a shout out to PDR Trash Fairies for keeping our home clean and nice. Some of my other favorite businesses to support are Tripel, Bacari, Cantalini’s and Howe Mart.

Posted January 2020.