Dear Angelenos: Meet Mar Vista, She's Cultured, Creative, and Boasts Buckets of This Little Thing Called Community

I'm always conflicted whether it's a good thing or a disappointing fact when I tell people where I live, and they have that blank stare. No one really knows where Mar Vista is.
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When you mention Los Angeles to people in any other country in the world, immediate references are made to Disneyland, Baywatch, and of course, Hollywood. None of which of really paint an accurate portrait to those of us who actually reside here. I haven't been to see Mickey for over 20 years, Baywatch was never really my thing and I might see the Hollywood sign every now and then on a spectacular Santa Ana condition day from the freeway. Other than that, none of that is my LA.

Los Angeles is filled with so many unexplored surprises, and most of these are nestled in what I call pocket neighborhoods here in Los Angeles. Neighborhoods most people have never heard of, because, let's face it, they haven't been named after an Aaron Spelling TV show.

When I left the streets of San Francisco behind ten years ago for Lady Los Angeles, I knew I wanted to find that same small town feel San Francisco offered. After a little hood hopping,
I landed in a small frontier called Mar Vista.

Ironically, I'm always conflicted whether it's a good thing or a disappointing fact when I tell people where I live, and they have that blank stare. No one really knows where Mar Vista is located; apparently, there's not an "App" for that. Here's the lowdown: It snuggles up to the corners of three local towns you might have heard of, Santa Monica (At the Santa Monica Airport), Venice (At Walgrove) and Culver City (Near Sony Studios). Six years ago, I un-officially labeled Mar Vista as the "Trifecta" because of its proximity to the other three cities. I urged my real estate mom to run with that terminology when introducing the neighborhood to people; it didn't really catch on, but I still use it regardless.

Mar Vista is the land of large yards, beautiful tree lined streets, neighbors who have known each other for generations, and a whole lot of village pride. It's affordable, ethnically diverse, less than three miles to the beach, and a ten to twenty minute drop in to most places you want to visit. As my friend Michael says "It's really everything Venice was supposed to be."

In a city known for it's glitz and glamour, Mar Vista retains this rare old school California charm, along with a very exciting, unexplored feeling -- a sense that not everything has been overly planned and thought out. Creative energy spills out in all directions, the most interesting people live in Mar Vista. It's the gem of the Westside, oozing with possibility and opportunity. By the way, some homes also have a view of the glassy Pacific.

Mar Vista was once known as the "Lima Bean Belt of the Nation"; that lima bean moniker comes from the 1930s, when the temperamental crop thrived in the moist, fertile fields of Mar Vista. Who knew? I wonder if the medicinal growers in Venice know this? Like I said, opportunity. The Farmland was bought in 1947 by developer Paul W. Trousdale. My neighborhood corner store, Beethoven Market, was built on the corner of Palms Boulevard and Beethoven Street in 1949, where it still stands today. By the way, there's a working pay phone out front, and don't think I haven't used it.

Once you land in the Mar Vista you don't really leave. Homeowners model up rather than move out, and it's standard to see small original homes blossom into architectural pieces. If design is your thing, you'll love local design dad Andres Ariza's Pre-Fab projects sprinkled throughout the hood on Grandview Boulevard, south of Palms, as well as nearby Wasatch, Victoria and Butler Avenues. Another note, many of the neighborhood garages have been converted to art studios housing a handful of talented up-and-coming artists.

Let's face it, community can be tough to find in an urban sprawl like Los Angeles, but if you look up neighborhood pride in the Los Angeles guide book, there will be a photo of the locals from the 90066 zip code.

Everyone who lives here wears the neighborhood with great pride. I've actually seen "90066" and "MV" baseball caps. It's great to see the spirit shine through on so many levels in a city, where community can sometimes lost between freeway overpasses and on ramps.

Topping the pride list by far is the Sunday Mar Vista Farmer's Market. This Market was conceived by a handful of younger residents with a lot of vision. Along with City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, they wanted to raise Mar Vista up from its former sleepy state and bring the neighborhood into modern times. And they did just that. As a result of collaborated efforts, the area has received an overdue injection of energy. Today the market is one of the best in Los Angeles.

Another local pride pusher is Sarah Auerswald, who runs the blog She dishes daily scoop on the hood, including weekly Farmer's Market wrap ups, neighborhood business profiles, local events, town meetings, "House of The Week" and other tid bits, such as a recent post about the Mar Vista Historical Society offering walking tours.

There's some green action going on over here and oh, we win stuff. The Mar Vista Green Committee hosted The Green Garden Showcase, the Wise Water Use Expo and the Rainwater Harvesting program this year. The Mar Vista City Council earned two honors recently from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment during their Empower LA 2009: A Congress of Neighborhoods. The MVCC was chosen in the Environmental category.

The strip of merchants on Venice Boulevard between Centinela and Grandview, once a depressed block, is now a viable retail destination. I'm not sure if Abbott Kinney got the memo, but they might want to get their running shoes on. Mar Vista has successfully found a way to bring emerging; contemporary choices to the community, while also maintaining the charming Main Street America feel, honoring the old mom and pop neighborhood shop concept.

The infamous neighborhood landmark Mar Vista Lanes is still up and running. Come get your greasy spoon on at Peppy's Galley Restaurant in the bowling alley and eat breakfast overlooking the lanes.

For their dose of caffeine, locals flock daily to the heartbeat of the neighborhood, the Venice Grind. The coffee shop is run by born and bred locals, the Mavromichalis Family, led by Dad and the "Don of Mar Vista" Demetrios. They serve up hot brewed organic coffee; baked goods and they have best tamales you will ever taste. If you're a die-hard coffee connoisseur, here's some inside scoop -- Stumptown Coffee is now being poured daily. Demetrios has made it his mission that Mar Vista be a force to be reckoned with, and it looks as though things are going as planned.

The Boulevard includes some new friends Floyds Barbershop, Mechie for kids, Peach Tree Pottery, and long time local favorite, Soaptopia. There's an old school dry cleaner and party rental spot across from the post office on Grandview. And for those of you seeking a new identity or just wake up one day yearning to be a Matador, slide into Robinsons's Beautilities, they have been the go to for costumes, theatrical make up and wigs for over 45 years.

Looks like Little Miss Mar Vista has grown up to be quite the Lady.

Next time you hop in the car for that trek to the beach, stop on by, we'll keep the light on.

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