Next up in our LA interview series, Santa-Monica-based creative pro, Sara Francis. In addition to playing host to two of the most charming felines we’ve ever met (shout-out to Baby + Monkey—what up?), Sara was one of our best go-to sources for all things LA when we were there. We thought we’d share the wealth and give you her thoughts on exploratory LA, the (hopefully) soon-to-be-built-out subway system, and get a bevy of recommendations on where to eat + drink in the City of Angels.

What do you do in LA?
When I’m not seeing friends, exploring the city, singing in the shower, and dancing on bars, I’m managing projects for a digital creative agency.

Nice. How long have you lived there?
A whopping 8 years June 1st!

I’m doing that thing where you raise the roof, but you can’t see. What do you like most about LA?
That you can do almost anything outside any time of year. You can drive a short distance, walk up a hill, and not see a building for as far as you can see. You can find snow when it’s sunny at the beach and the snows stay on the mountains well into June. You can explore urban wastelands and random hidden gems. The fact that the city is so spread out actually leaves a lot of room for a lot to explore. I’ve lived here 8 years and I still feel like I’ve only started to scratch the surface of all the things there are to discover.

Wow. Very cool way to look at that. What do you think is most lacking in LA though?
LA has fewer natural spontaneous ways of congregating. In comparison to NY, where you feel community on the subway even if you never speak to another soul, the events in LA that are supposed to bring people together are still somewhat alienating. People stick to the groups they came with and it’s a harder place to organically meet people.

Huh. Yeah, I could see that. Inevitable car question—does it suck to have to drive EVERYWHERE‽
You want to make sure you live near where you work. I love my car but if I was in it for more than 20 minutes a day, I might feel differently. My suggestion, get a book on tape and then you become well read while you drive! Or better yet, I use the few times that I need to drive across town to connect with friends and family who I don’t talk to often. Also, Los Angeles is currently building a Metro Line that actually goes somewhere! LA actually has a subway/train system…what? The Expo Line which currently dead ends in Culver City is actively being built out to Santa Monica and will be complete in 2015!

That’s awesome. Where do you live in LA?
Santa Monica on the Venice border. The West Side of LA.

How would you describe the neighborhood?
Santa Monica is the big sister to Venice. It’s married and has kids where as Venice is still playing the field. I spend my time pretty equally in both places—though my house is technically in Santa Monica it’s on the south side of the city. The West Side also encompasses West LA and Marina Del Rey, all of which have the reputation of being laid back, a little slower, and generally a beach town.

Yes, we have to say—we loved your neck of the woods. Most memorable, life-altering, fucked up, or just funny experience to date in LA?
Most of my memorable, life altering, fucked up experiences relate to dating in LA but if you wanted me to go into my entire history of dating in LA that would take too long. Let’s just stick to: finding out a man that I went on a couple dates with turned out to be a gay porn star, and leave it at that.

Oh, well…um….. Best celebrity sighting you’ve had?
I’ve had a few but my favorite and most embarrassing for me was at Katsuya for a going away party when Patrick Dempsey came over to our table because the person he was with knew someone at our table. I promptly threw all the sushi aside, lunged across the table and introduced myself. There was no way that I wasn’t going to meet McDreamy/Loverboy. Runners up: Jeff Goldblum playing jazz piano and Keanu Reeves.

Wait, you saw Jeff Goldblum playing Keanu Reeves? Favorite:
Not totally vegan restaurant?
The Tasting Kitchen in Abbot Kinney. You should eat EVERYTHING there, both for dinner and brunch. For brunch you should drink the High Noon (a concentrated citrus cocktail that you pour a light Belgian beer into) and in the evening either the Noisy Beau (named after a local who mills about Venice), The Dukes of Hazard or just ask them to recommend something. Then you should go back the next day and eat more. The bar tenders are great, I suggest sitting at the communal tables or at the bar to get the best flavor and to do some people watching of the locals. Runners up include A-Frame, Next Door by Josie, and The Old Place, which is an awesome post-hike spot up in the mountains (pictured to the right). The Old Place is also connected to a local wine tasting room and has the only wood fire grill in LA County. For a stupidly expensive meal—The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel.

Must. Go back. Vegan/veg restaurant?
Cafe Gratitude. Get the dish called “I am Fortified.” Get it with the brown rice and the pesto! Veggie Grill is great too though—you can get fast food vegan in this town.

Best place for tacos in town?
Tacos Por Favor. HANDS DOWN! Not sure about the Vegan tacos but the Carne Asada is to die for!

No, they had THREE vegan tacos. They were so good. Thanks for that recommendation. Favorite bar?
Since it’s walking distance from my house and because it’s awesome, I can’t ignore The Daily Pint. “The Pint,” as it’s better known, has one of the largest Scotch and whiskey menus in the whole city of Los Angeles. It also has shuffleboard and pool as well as usually quite an interesting mix of people. Other favorites are Seventy 7 in Culver City, Seven Grand, Bigfoot West for the Bourberry, The Otherroom, Villains Tavern, Thirsty Crow. OVERARCHING THEME = Whiskey.

Excellent. Coffee shop?
Some mix of Coffee Bean, Intelligentsia, Ground Work and the Toms store. I know, but you can’t really find Toms shoes in your size at the Toms store so you should just go there for coffee and get your Toms at Whole Foods.

I felt like I was in some kind of coffee temple when they served me at Intelligentsia. And yeah, shoes in a grocery store? Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Museum/gallery?
LACMA, The Getty (mostly the outside), The Huntington Botanical Gardens (embarrassingly I haven’t been but it’s a must see!!), Bergamot Station Galleries.

LACMA FTW. Movie theater?
Landmark on Pico. Some of the theaters have couches!

I would totally fall asleep. Shop?
In no particular order: Rose Bowl Flea Market/Swap Meet: Every second Sunday of the month for anything and everything that you could think of ever, furniture, clothes, she-ra action figures, reclaimed wood, etc. Whole Foods for Toms Shoes, see above. Santa Monica Promenade when you really just need to go to the Gap to get some underwear and T-shirts. The Juicy Leaf for succulents and home accouterments.  Melrose Toy Shops—Kid Robot, Toy Art Gallery. Unique LA—All kinds of stuff a couple times a year.

Hiking spot?
For a half day affair for the serious head clearing and amazing views hike to the highest point of the Santa Monica Mountains (don’t worry you don’t start at sea level): Sandstone Peak. Awesome for sunset but bring a flashlight for the way down. For a workout in an hour flat, easy to do after work in the summers when it’s light later: Temescal Canyon. Somewhere in between where you want a nice hike on a weekend, some interesting ruins, a waterfall but don’t want to lose the whole day: Solstice Canyon.

Yeah, we loved Solstice. Beach?
I only go to the beach to sit and read, if I’m going in the water it’s with a surfboard and a wet suit! I do wear that wet suit all year round though if that tells you something about the temperature.

Song, movie, or show that best captures LA?
Do i have to pick just one?! LA Story is a timeless satire on many stereotypes of LA that are still extremely relevant. Sunset Boulevard for the romantic old hollywood feel. A lot of places in LA still feel Swingers because it encapsulates the reason most people move here. Mullholland Drive because there are some dark, strange corners of this town. Music: Death Cab for Cutie’s “Grapevine Fires” always pops into my head when I’m headed to the sierras through “The Grapevine” (move here; you’ll know what that means). Also their song “405” is a winner.

Nice. Tourist trap that’s worth the trappings?
Hollywood Forever Cemetery; Studio Lot Tour (Fox, Warner, Sony are my favorites); Santa Monica Pier; Dodger Stadium.

Thoughts on the whole inescapable retro, mid-century aesthetic in LA?
LOVE IT. Used to think that strip mall after strip mall looked the same but now i notice all the nuances. Driving down any given street you can see 100 different vintage motel signs or auto body shop signs. Though the city is young comparatively speaking, the lack of weather keeps it frozen in time. Any given block of this city has a story to tell.

Totally frozen in time. Well-put. Advice to those considering making the move?
Try to let go of what you expect and don’t compare everything to NYC. It’s not NYC. Don’t take LA too seriously. There are frustrations with traffic and especially if you’re moving here to be an actor….let the sunshine help you loosen up. If you hold on too tight, you’ll move back within a year. Oh and we call road construction Carmageddon, get over it.

Got it. Finally—not that this is a bi-coastal battle of the metropolises…but, kinda, it is—what would you say to all the LA-haters in NYC?
If you’re an LA hater, stay there. We don’t want you. If you are open…come stay for a week. Nuff said.

High five!