It's practically in the shadow of the downtown Los Angeles skyline and very nearly surrounded by some of the most talked-about city neighborhoods in North America right now, so why have you never heard of Glendale? A large, varied and diverse city of approximately 200,000 people and yet a mystery to most people who do not live or work there or use it for its conveniently located Costco, this proud but relatively plain city has never been a place you rush to see upon arrival in Southern California. Until now, anyway. A wave of developments in Glendale's once-rather average city center (and some recent stirring on the typically quiet hotel front) are starting to charm more and more travelers looking for a no-hassle base of operations, as they attempt to make sense of Southern California's sunny chaos. Headed to LA anytime soon? Maybe see what Glendale can do for you.
So, is Glendale close to stuff that I actually want to see?
Why yes, it is. Better still, many of the places you want to go will be easily accessible via surface streets, allowing you to avoid freeways at peak times, if you like. Universal Hollywood – newly Harry Potter-ified, if you haven't heard – is barely fifteen minutes away, ditto Pasadena's Rose Bowl and very popular Old Town. Downtown Los Angeles and all its fascinating sub-neighborhoods (the historic mission area, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, the cooler-than-all-of-us Arts District and more) are about the same, Dodger Stadium too. Even closer are LA's residential neighborhoods-of-the-moment: Echo Park, Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Eagle Rock and Highland Park are essentially down the street, each crawling with great cafes, restaurants and interesting boutique shopping. Also extremely close by is LA's massive and wonderfully wild Griffith Park, home to the iconic Griffith Observatory and miles of excellent hiking trails. Really – there's enough around here to keep you occupied for weeks. Best of all? With the shared ride option available from Lyft (Lyft Line) and Uber (uberPOOL) quickly becoming an indispensable resource in the Los Angeles area, one or two people could reach most if not all of these destinations for $10 or less, most times of the day, should you opt to leave the car behind. (You should – it's very relaxing.)
So, like, what's Glendale's deal?
The city's modern history goes back to the mid-1800s, when this was all ranch land under the Spanish crown. (Above town, in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains, is where you'll find the city's oldest building, the rather humble Verdugo Adobe.). Today, Glendale stands out in the region mostly for how little it stands out in one of the most iconic regions anywhere on earth. If visitors know it for anything, it's usually as the location of one of the most important cemeteries in Southern California, the resting place of Walt Disney, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and a cavalcade of other stars. It's not just where Hollywood goes to die, however – a while back, Disney and Dreamworks expanded out of adjacent Burbank and into available lands on the Glendale side of the line. During the 20th century, Glendale became home to one of the largest Armenian populations in the world, making it nearly as important to modern-day Armenian culture as that country's own capital city, Yerevan. (As with many cities in in Southern California these days, Glendale is diverse enough that you'd have to be paying fairly close attention to notice anything much out of the ordinary.) Really, when you say Glendale to most locals these days, they think of two things. Shopping and eating.
Is the food good?
Let's begin with the fact that within a couple of downtown blocks, you will find one of the best-loved Cuban bakeries this side of Florida (Porto's) and one of the most popular places to eat Xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, anywhere in the world (Din Tai Fung, famously Michelin-starred at its original location in Taipei). This would be enough reason to come here – for some Southern Californians, it is the reason they even know of Glendale's existence. But wait, there's more – a wave of new openings includes everything from Tsujita (home to some of LA's best, most hardcore, real deal ramen) to Eggslut (one of SoCal's best breakfast joints, famous for the lines at its Downtown Los Angeles market stall), as well as fun stuff like Shake Shack (one of only three in the state, for now), San Francisco import Philz Coffee, an outlet of Chicago-born, spicy Chinese fave Lao Sze Chuan and a ton more – all within a few blocks of each other, if that. Then there's the Armenian food (go try the dumplings at Tumanyan Khinkali Factory, at least – it's right downtown). The Persian food (Raffi's Place). Myriad taquerias. Oh, and don't forget Zankou Chicken, a simple takeout spot that over the years became a Los Angeles institution for the roast bird served up with vats of garlic spread for dipping.
And the shopping?
Well, there's plenty of it, the bulk spread across two very different but adjacent complexes, the older (but renovated) Galleria and the flashy outdoor Americana, an irony-free "shoppertainment" destination that reels in hordes of locals, particularly on weekends. Glendale's shopping district really doesn't have the cred of, say, Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade or LA's world-famous Farmers Market and Grove complex over at 3rd and Fairfax, but it basically does the same job, minus the sea of tourists – dancing fountains, Nordstrom's, Cheesecake Factory and all.
What's the hotel situation like?
The biggest thing to happen just now is the addition of a Hampton Inn to a busy downtown corner (across from the Shake Shack!), so that pretty much tells you how things are around here. Truth is, most visitors to Los Angeles really aren't that into Glendale. Yet. The Hampton Inn is, quite literally, across the street from pretty much all the shopping and dining you could ever want to walk to during your visit, making it an ideal place to chill out after a day of doing battle with Los Angeles traffic. Right next door (again, quite literally) is the typically cheaper Vagabond Inn. The name may be less familiar to travelers from outside the region, but it offers pretty much what the Hampton Inn can offer (free breakfast, internet), minus the Hampton's $15 parking charge, all in the low to mid-$100 range. Want something a little nicer? There's an excellent Embassy Suites on the far north end of the downtown area. It caters mostly to nearby corporate headquarters, however, driving rates slightly higher than they ought to be. Still – can't hurt to check.
The perfect day in Glendale. Go.
Stroll down Broadway to Highlight Coffee, a terrific corner café newly opened in a historic building at the corner of Glendale and Broadway, not far from both hotels. Next, it's breakfast at Eggslut, followed by a visit to the diminutive but super-neat Museum of Neon Art up the block, before prowling the hundreds of stores across the street at The Americana and in the Galleria just beyond. After eating all of the soup dumplings for lunch at Din Tai Fung (all of them), head down to Forest Lawn to check out the famous headstones and some of the most impressive architecture you'll ever see in a cemetery, including a replica of author Rudyard Kipling's home church in the United Kingdom. If you've still got daylight left, drop by the Verdugo Adobe to see where Glendale began, then go for a sunset walk on one of the many trails in the scenic hills up that end of town – this way, you'll work up an appetite for some of the best Japanese food this this side of the Pacific at Tsujita, known for their stick-to-your-ribs Tsukemen, or dipping ramen. (Note: Both Tsujita and Eggslut were due to open within weeks of this writing – if you can't wait, both have additional locations elsewhere in the area.)