When I lived in Paris, one of my favorite pastimes was being an urban flâneur – a stroller, lingerer, saunterer, if you will. With no hard-set agenda, I would walk around and see where the day took me. For this month’s Date With L.A., I decided to slip back into my flâneur shoes in the most unlikely of places: the San Fernando Valley.
Given the French inspiration for this solo date, I started at Chef Ludo Lefebre’s newest outpost, Petit Trois Valley (petittrois.com). Located near the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Woodman Avenue in Sherman Oaks, this amiable brasserie invokes the old-school charm of certain Left Bank artist haunts. Not too crowded at 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, it was still bustling. The bow-tied servers brought me water (no ice – very French!) and delicious house-made baguettes. This place has a surprisingly unpretentious vibe that belies its $32 entrees.
I did appreciate my server telling me to stay as long as I wanted. It’s hard to find a restaurant that encourages people to linger indefinitely. I noticed that the people around me were actually engaged in conversation with each other, not staring at their phones. I saw just one laptop on a table. As I drank my double espresso after lunch, I felt for a moment that I was on a Grands Boulevards in Paris, rather than Ventura Boulevard.
After finishing my espresso, I headed west on Ventura to a less populated area. I was the only person walking and I found some adorable places. My first stop was a flower store: Mark’s Garden (marksgarden.com). The place was filled to the brim with flowers as they were prepping for a wedding. What caught my eye was the beautiful window display of handmade butterflies and dream catchers, interlaced with white flowers. The staff was incredibly nice and welcoming, and the hydrangeas (my faves) were lovely.
Wafting down the street carrying a lovely batch of fresh-cut roses, I happened upon another gem of a store: Presence (presencefinepaper.com). In a small space, owner Linda Levie and her team creatively curate a charming gift and paper store. With custom-made invitations and personalized gifts, totes, stationary and virtually anything else you want to monogram, this place is a writer’s dream. Presence is an excellent alternative to chain stores, and you get Levie’s 23 years of event planning to guide you with your invitation needs.
I strolled across Woodman Avenue to the more densely populated side of Ventura Boulevard. Here, I found quite a few coffee shops and places to eat, but what really grabbed me was Freakbeat Records (freakbeatrecords.com), where stickers, posters and albums cover the front window. I stepped right into “High Fidelity” (the book or the film – take your pick). Freakbeat has a massive collection of new and used vinyl and CDs, as well as other music ephemera. This place is not for the casual observer. I heard a lot of great (and opinionated) music conversations going on. As I was but a mere flâneur, I stayed out of the mix and browsed old jazz records, not daring to tell the store employees that I just wanted to frame them.
I walked back to my car thoroughly pleased with my urban flâneur experience in the Valley. While Ventura Boulevard may seem like the last kind of place one might want to stroll and explore, even in the Valley we can reimagine the boulevards as places of adventure and community. Just pick a small section to explore, park your car and start walking.