Growing up in Burbank, I saw it evolve from a one-theater town (the Cornell Theatre, demolished in 1980) and the quaint downtown pedestrian Golden Mall to a sophisticated city with mega movie theaters, shopping centers and plenty of dining options. Yet, with pockets of historic restaurants and quirky boutiques, my hometown retains a charming small-town feel.
Burbank is home to major studios (Burbank Studios, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros.) and proclaims itself “Media Capital of the World” (sorry, Hollywood). It’s in Burbank where my husband Bruce Mendelson and I were married, our three kids were born and where we bought our first home. Although we now live in Valencia, we’re in Burbank often to visit my mom (who still lives in my childhood home) and enjoy local attractions.
Bruce and I began our Date with L.A. with the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood (our first time!). This is a popular tour, so it’s important to book at least two weeks in advance. The approximately three-hour tour begins with a short video about Warner Bros. history before guests board small, open-air trams to view the property. “This is your tour, shout out what you want to see,” Walt, our tour guide, told us. While each tour makes similar stops on the 110-acre lot, tours are tailored to guests’ movie and TV interests. Since several in our group liked “Gilmore Girls” and “Big Bang Theory,” we lingered at those film locations.
We made frequent stops at sets, backlots and sound stages. We saw Batman vehicles and the mock French street where Humphrey Bogart courted Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca.” We walked through the WB archive showcasing Harry Potter costumes and props and sat on the “Friends” orange couch in “Stage 48: Script to Screen,” an interactive soundstage with exhibits that depict the film and TV production process.
After our tour, we took a little walk in Wildwood Canyon Park, tucked away in the Burbank hills. I love this hidden, sun-dappled park with picnic tables shaded by oak and sycamore trees. Because it’s never crowded, I bring my mom here for quiet picnics. It’s a calming place to sit, hear birds chirp and feel a warm breeze.
Burbank’s hills hold many treasures. Exiting the park, there’s a driveway to the hilltop Castaway restaurant, which has panoramic views. We’ve celebrated many milestone events at this restaurant. It’s also a good place for a cocktail and to watch a sunset, or for a bite to eat before a show at the nearby Starlight Bowl (think mini Hollywood Bowl).
For dinner, Bruce and I considered Burbank’s diverse dining options, from comfort food to upscale. One of my favorites is historic Bob’s Big Boy (the oldest continually operating Bob’s in America), featuring a weekly Friday night classic car show and weekend “car hop” service. Bob’s cheeseburger, fries with blue cheese dressing and a cherry Coke often call my name.
But on this evening, we opted for La Bamba, a hole-in-the-wall eatery serving amazing Caribbean cuisine. I’ve been eating here since L.A. Parent’s offices were based nearby. Fresh food and generous portions at affordable prices made this a winner with the staff then and with my family still.
Bruce and I nibbled on chips and salsa (three kinds) and shared a beer while waiting for our favorite dish – the Cuban sandwich, stuffed with shredded pork, ham, cheeses, pickles and guacamole on grilled Cuban bread. It’s enough for two meals and easy on the wallet. With tax and tip, our bill came to $27.98.
Burbank is nostalgic for me, and I often wish we still lived there. Since Mom does, I continue to claim it as home. And though I moved away, I will always treat this city like a first date.