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This must be Elysian Valley (a.k.a. Frogtown)

Nestled between the Golden State Freeway and the Los Angeles River, Elysian Valley — also known as Frogtown because of the western toads that once inundated the residential streets — often has been described as an “isolated” urban community.

Geographically speaking, that makes sense. But if you spend time in the 3-mile-long neighborhood, where businesses and homes butt against one another, you’ll see people from all over town flocking to the river-adjacent area. And for good reason.

“We used to feel like we were this somewhat remote outpost,” said architect Tracy Stone, president of the Elysian Valley Arts Collective, who has lived there for 20 years. “You have to come here deliberately. When outward-facing places like Wax Paper opened in 2016, I thought, ‘Who will come here?’ Much to my amazement and delight, they proved it’s possible.”

Indeed. On a recent Saturday morning, a long line of bicyclists, couples with dogs and families waited patiently for coffee at La Colombe Coffee Roasters on the Elysian Valley Bicycle & Pedestrian Path, a 7-mile stretch along the L.A. River that serves as a sidewalk for the neighborhood.

Get to know Los Angeles through the places that bring it to life. From restaurants to shops to outdoor spaces, here’s what to discover now.

A few blocks down the street, in an old machine shop, the line is equally long at Justine Hernandez’s vegan bakery, Just What I Kneaded, which specializes in sweet and savory pastries.

“We love it here,” said Hernandez, who opened Justine’s Wine Bar behind her bakery in August. “It is such a creative hub, and the neighbors are lovely. Sometimes it feels like Sesame Street in the best way.”

Later that day, more than 35 vendors set up at First Impressions Dance Studio, Frogtown Brewery, the Pot Shop, Spoke Cafe and Singulier & vintage for the monthly Frogtown Flea Crawl, which debuted in April. Co-organized by Analise Anderson and James Andrews, the walkable event highlights small local brands.

“There’s nowhere else you can find a river, trees and so much beauty,” Anderson said of the unique shopping experience. “There is a feeling that all of these vendors genuinely love what they do. People who come to our market feel a great sense of community.”

Once known for the small factories that provided working-class jobs for the predominantly Latino and Filipino immigrants, Elysian Valley’s reputation as an industrial neighborhood changed when factories closed, and many artists and nonprofit organizations moved in due to the affordable rent.

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When the L.A. River Revitalization Corp. announced a new master plan to redevelop the Los Angeles River in 2015, the neighborhood changed further as rents soared, developers added luxury lofts and high-rise apartments, and artists moved out.

So did many immigrant families.

In an oral history published in The Times in 2015, longtime Elysian Valley resident Daniel Paredes shared how his family was displaced four times when their rent increased. He also weighed in on the challenges of the green gentrification of the river. “Sometimes it feels like things that are ‘green’ don’t take into account the things that people of color may be concerned about,” he said.

It’s a trend that continues today. Although Bauer Pottery, which lost its lease in Atwater in September, plans to open its new showroom on Blake Street the first week in February, the sustainable sewing and production company Suay Sew Shop, which has been in Elysian Valley since 2017, will move to the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles this month after being priced out of its space. Kruegermann Pickles & Sauerkraut shut down its factory at the end of 2022 after 58 years in the neighborhood.

Despite the neighborhood’s growing pains — parking is an issue, and the neighbors have advocated for DASH bus service — Stone has hope for its future.

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“Even with the many newcomers, I can walk into Spoke at any time of day and see a neighbor,” she said. “I can also walk out my door and have a choice of four or five amazing restaurants within a few blocks. It makes the experience of living here rich and wonderful. One of the things I love about the business community in Elysian Valley is the majority of them came here deliberately and want to be a part of the community. A wealth of nonprofits operate in this neighborhood and do great work. Many businesses offer neighborhood discounts and genuinely want to be good neighbors.”

That sense of connection is what makes Elysian Valley so welcoming. Whether you’re sipping a custom flight at Frogtown Brewery, refilling your bike tires for free at Spoke or perusing pop-up art exhibits at the Frogtown Artwalk, it’s a feeling that will stay with you long after you leave.

Love where you live? Tell us which neighborhood we should feature next.

What's included in this guide

Anyone who’s lived in a major metropolis can tell you that neighborhoods are a tricky thing. They’re eternally malleable and evoke sociological questions around how we place our homes, our neighbors and our communities within a wider tapestry. In the name of neighborly generosity, we included gems that may linger outside of technical parameters. Instead of leaning into stark definitions, we hope to celebrate all of the places that make us love where we live.

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People sitting in a coffee shop patio.
Jennelle Fong / For The Times

Get your caffeine fix at La Colombe Frogtown Cafe and Roastery

Elysian Valley Coffeehouse
Soak up some sun and watch the world go by while enjoying an espresso on the patio of La Colombe Frogtown Cafe and Roastery. Located along the Elysian Valley Bicycle & Pedestrian Path, the laid-back cafe offers outdoor lounge chairs and picnic tables, which makes it easily accessible for kids and dogs. And there will be dogs.

The coffee is smooth, with several varieties offered in drip, espresso and pour-over form. A seasonal Frogtown blend, with notes of marzipan, cacao and hazelnut, honors La Colombe’s first West Coast roastery.

The cafe also serves tea and traditional pastries, including croissants, Danish, muffins and chocolate chip cookies. It’s also worth noting that the baristas won’t roll their eyes if you ask for nondairy alternatives.

The space is sleek, with floor-to-ceiling black-clad metal industrial windows overlooking the patio, but the vibe is warm, especially with a wall filled with exuberant artworks by local children.

Parking is limited, but there are a few parking spaces in the adjacent lot if you want to pick up something to go. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
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(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Indulge in a lemon-zested cinnamon bun at Just What I Kneaded

Elysian Valley Bakery and desserts
After years as a plant-based pastry wholesaler to a range of L.A. coffee shops, Justine Hernandez’s homey bakery operation has a bricks-and-mortar cafe in Frogtown. Just What I Kneaded serves some of Hernandez’s most popular items — the lemon-zested cinnamon buns, the pinwheels, the cookies — alongside an expanded menu of savory vegan goods that tend to be produce-forward: quiches filled with farmers market vegetables, breakfast burritos, bodega-inspired breakfast sandwiches on house-made bagels, granola bowls and grilled cheese sandwiches among them, plus a rotation of seasonal pop tarts. There’s ample patio space and a full coffee bar for anyone who needs to take a break with a plant-based pastry, an almond-milk latte and a bit of sunshine. Just What I Kneaded’s menu changes daily; look to its Instagram account for menu updates and specials.
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(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Find your flow inside a former Buddhist meditation center at Roam Yoga

Elysian Valley Yoga studio
Housed in a sun-drenched studio that was formerly a Buddhist meditation center, Chad Dennis and Jennifer Perry’s pretty yoga studio offers a wide variety of Vinyasa-based classes and restorative Yin and Kirtan.

I took a Level 1/2 class with Beatrice Buenaventura, who was thoughtful about her flows and offered good insights into students’ techniques (especially when she offered an adjustment when I did a headstand incorrectly). Many of the students knew one another, which gave the class a friendly, welcoming energy.

Roam offers a good spread of levels, so you can find a more challenging class if that interests you. There are several classes a day, from as early as 7:30 a.m. to as late as 7:30 p.m., and livestream classes are available online. If mindfulness interests you, Nick Thurston offers guided and silent meditations on Monday evenings, which seems fitting for a former meditation center.

Single class, $25. Livestream class, $13 with new student and Class Pass discounts.
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People eat outdoors at Mariscos Za Za Za
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Nibble shrimp aguachile on the patio of Mariscos Za Za Zá

Elysian Valley Seafood Restaurant
In the alley behind Loreto, Frogtown’s newest dinner destination focusing on Mexican seafood plates, you can now sample a slightly more casual lunchtime version with Mariscos Za Za Zá, from the same team behind the Arts District’s Cha Cha Chá restaurant and rooftop bar. Your hot options include an al pastor swordfish taco with grilled nopales and Oaxacan cheese, fries loaded with shrimp and lobster, and a torta on Telera bread layered with calamari, chorizo and Chihuahua cheese. For raw seafood, you’ve got Colima-style ceviche; a seafood cocktail with shrimp, scallop and Mayan octopus; and a tostada topped with yellowtail. Finish your meal with churros or house-made soft serve in flavors like jamaica and horchata. Beer, wine, canned cocktails and boozy slushies also are available.

Open Thursdays through Mondays, noon to 3:30 p.m.

Read more about Frogtown’s new lunchtime marisqueria.
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People shop an outdoor flea market
(Lisa Boone / Los Angeles Times )

Shop small L.A. brands at the monthly Frogtown Flea Crawl

Elysian Valley Flea Market
When the Frogtown Flea Crawl debuted in April, co-founders Analise Anderson and James Andrews envisioned a walkable flea market highlighting up-and-coming small local brands.

“We are not all vintage or housewares but primarily fashion-focused,” Anderson said. “There is something for everyone.”

Once a month, the public can shop for jewelry, clothing and accessories from more than 35 vendors who set up at five bricks-and-mortar businesses in Elysian Valley: First Impressions Dance Studio, Frogtown Brewery, the Pot Shop, Spoke Cafe and Singulier& vintage. The main bazaar is at the dance studio, which offers a DJ and flash tattoos. To continue shopping, look for the signs and balloons along the riverfront that will guide you to sales at Spoke and Singulier& Vintage on Coolidge Avenue.

For now, the flea market is held monthly on Saturdays, but Anderson hopes it will be a weekly event by summer.

“There is more than just shopping,” Anderson said. “All of these people generally love what they do and are there to help people. ... Kiosks and online shopping have devalued the shopping experience, and we have forgotten what it means to talk to a human being and hand your money over to someone to whom it truly matters. We are allowing young people and low-income people to start and run a business. We have seen tremendous growth for a lot of our vendors. Genuinely, when people come to our market, people feel a great sense of community.”

The next crawl will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27.
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(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Try the Terry Gross or the Ira Glass sandwich at Wax Paper

Elysian Valley Sandwich Shop
Just feet from the L.A. River bike path, a small window churns out brown boxes sealed shut with familiar name tags: Terry Gross, Ira Glass, Lakshmi Singh, Audie Cornish, and so on and so forth. Inside each box is a sandwich — all named for past and present NPR personalities, and all absolutely delicious. Wax Paper is like many of the popular shops that round out L.A.’s best sandwich lists, serving up high-quality meats and cheeses with absurdly fresh veggies on Bub & Grandma’s focaccia. But a great sandwich is timeless, and the eternally full tables outside Wax Paper are a testament to how beloved this lunch spot truly is.

Since Lauren and Peter Lemos opened the original Wax Paper in Frogtown during 2015, they’ve added a second location in Chinatown and opened Frogtown’s Lingua Franca. Both Wax Paper locations are open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, though their menus vary (the Ira Glass, Larry Mantle and Kai Ryssdal are available at both locations, but the rest of the sandwiches are exclusive to Chinatown or Frogtown). Sides and desserts include veggies, chips, coleslaw and cookies, but the various flavors of Dole Whip will always steal the show on a hot summer day by the river.
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The patio at Lingua Franca.
(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Watch bicyclists go by while dining at the riverfront Lingua Franca

Elysian Valley American Restaurant
The L.A. River is the city’s most iconic urban waterway, and this restaurant from the Wax Paper team gives you a front-row seat, paired with a menu of new Californian cuisine. Let Lingua Franca’s neon sign of a bowing river crane guide you as you stroll along the bike path to the moss-green restaurant. Inside, you’ll find soothing warm tones and mismatched decor that complements the seasonal menu, including a grilled salad with chopped citrus, root-beer-braised beef cheek and the Jenn Harris-approved cheeseburger and matchstick potatoes.
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(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Bike along the L.A. River and eat at Spoke Café

Elysian Valley American Restaurant
To bike the L.A. River Path is to witness an epic struggle between nature and concrete. Yes, concrete has been mostly winning these last 80 years, but to pause at the Spoke, which opened in 2015, is a simple pleasure. Its laid-back patio includes bike rentals ($15 an hour), bike repair and a cafe space serving breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and bowls. (Sandwiches and burgers are $16 to $20.) There are occasional live events, including a monthly comedy night known as “The Frogtown Show.” The cafe also serves as a beer garden with a rotating list of draft beers from L.A.-based breweries, hard cider and hard kombucha on tap.
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A walking trail at Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park
(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Picnic among native plants at Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park

Elysian Valley City park
Venturing off the bikeway to Lewis MacAdams Park, a 3.9-acre park along the L.A. River, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon photo shoots for quincea?era and wedding parties at the Spanish-style River Pavilion. (I’ve also seen people practicing their dance routines on the Spanish tiles of the 4,500-square-foot pavilion.) During the weekends, the park is a popular destination for birthday parties, picnics and skateboarders who flock to the nearby Marsh Skate Park. You can enjoy a picnic at one of the shaded picnic tables or play on the lawn or the children’s play equipment. An attractive bioswale filled with river rocks and California native plants moves through the park and offers a first-hand look at a natural water filtration system. There is grass, but the park also features environmentally friendly native marshland, upland plants and more than 100 native California trees.

Entrances are at 2999 Rosanna St., 2944 Gleneden St. and 2960 Marsh St.
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The orange bridge over the Los Angeles River
(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Walk or bike across the bright orange Taylor Yard Bikeway and Pedestrian Bridge

East Los Angeles City park
Many people have passed through the Taylor Yard Bikeway and Pedestrian Bridge since it opened last year. Still, it’s generally pretty quiet if you’re up for a hike or bike ride along the roughly 8-mile-long Glendale Narrows stretch of the river. The distinctive orange steel box-truss bridge, which measures 400 feet long, connects the Elysian Valley with Cypress Park. Eventually, it will provide access to the Taylor Yard G2 River Park on the east side of the river, but at the moment, it’s a bridge to nowhere. It’s a pleasant walk or ride from Elysian Valley, with two viewing platforms that allow you to take in the Los Angeles River and the Hollywood Sign.

If you decide to walk, wear a hat because there is little shade along the bike path. Also, be sure to look both ways before you cross the two-lane path because many bicyclists treat it like a freeway and will approach quickly.
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A bed at Quantum Clinic.
(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Soak in a float therapy tank at Quantum Clinic

Huntington Park Medical Spa
Prior to floating in a fiberglass flotation room filled with more than 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts, Quantum Clinic co-founder Maria Ramos, who has a doctorate in professional psychology, led me in a meditation that prepared me for the hourlong soak. She then ushered me into a spotless room with earplugs and antibiotic ointment (the concentration of salt can sting cuts). I showered and entered the flotation room and soaked for an hour. Although I was worried that I might feel claustrophobic in the single tank, I found it relaxing as I gazed at the sparkling lights overhead and focused on the things in my life that bring me joy, prompted by the Ramos-led meditation. An hour later, Ramos sat with me in the expressive arts lounge, where guests are encouraged to sit and relax or engage in activities, and asked me about my experience. She was pleased when I told her that I had focused on joy. “The war in Israel, climate change — all that stuff is still going to be there when you’re done, but it’s meaningful to focus on joy for an hour,” she said.

During the pandemic, Dr. Katelyn Lehman had recurring dreams that guided her to visit the Los Angeles River. “On one of my walks in the area, I encountered the property for lease, and the rest just sort of unfolded from there.”

Lehman and Ramos opened the luxury health spa this year, incorporating immersive flotation, sound therapy and biofeedback to facilitate a restorative experience.

You can float alone for $96 or with a partner for $118.
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A person making pottery.
(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Throw a pot at Claytivity

Elysian Valley Pottery
If you’ve been wanting to dip your toes into pottery, you can start with a beginner’s wheel class at Claytivity’s Frogtown location. (Claytivity also has studios in Silver Lake and Burbank.) During four two-hour classes, you will learn pottery basics from wheel throwing to trimming, bisque firing and glazing techniques. The studio will email you detailed information on how to get into the studio and what to bring (12.5 pounds of clay is included).

Outside of class, the studio is free for you to use from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. as long as no classes are going on. It’s up to you and how much you want to work. That is why some students in the class will have 20 pots, and others will have a few. At the end of class, you will have a piece ready for glazing, which you will pick up after it has been fired. The $195 class is a great way to meet people, as classes have a maximum of eight students.
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(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Enjoy Sonora barbecue on the patio of Salazar, a former mechanic’s shop

Elysian Valley Mexican Cuisine
Long before the pandemic made al fresco dining so popular in Los Angeles, people lined up to grab a seat on the patio of Salazar, a Sonora barbecue restaurant in a former mechanic’s shop. It’s easy to relax on the outdoor patio, which features colorful mismatched chairs alongside cactus and other drought-tolerant plants. Maybe it’s because dogs are allowed. Or the chips and guacamole and margaritas are so good. There is a large table beneath a pergola for big parties and an indoor bar. But most people are happy to congregate outdoors on the decomposed granite while noshing on the Jonathon Gold-approved tortillas and mesquite-grilled steaks, chops, seafood and vegetables, which are the big draw here.

Open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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Glasses of wine on a table.
(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Sample small plates and natural wine at the vegan Justine's Wine Bar

Elysian Valley Wine Bar
Roughly four years in the making, a verdant, colorful bar is pouring wine and serving freshly baked pizzas and local vegetables behind one of L.A.’s best vegan bakeries. Baker-owner Justine Hernandez of Frogtown’s Just What I Kneaded recently launched Justine’s Wine Bar, which serves plant-based bites alongside organic and sustainably made wines.

The wine list offers a blend of Old World Austrian and French wines and funky, fun more-local labels, plus low-ABV mixed drinks. Hernandez believes that blend of old and new, of traditional and experimental, is Justine’s Wine Bar (and Just What I Kneaded) in a nutshell: “That’s kind of what we stand for,” she said. “We have this sort of old-school cafe [bakery] in the sense that it’s almost like a diner with biscuits and Pop-Tarts, but with the new-school way of making it vegan.”

Though the new business is named after herself, Hernandez sees the wine bar as a collaboration by local artists: Her friends designed the lighting, painted the mural and arranged and curated the floral arrangements found throughout the bar. “Everybody had input to create this very unique space,” she said. “It’s kind of transformative: from this industrial neighborhood to a sort of feminine jungle that you step into. It’s a sexy escape.”

Openfrom 4 to 11 p.m. daily.
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Beer glasses on a counter.
(Jennelle Fong / For The Times)

Enjoy a beer with your kids and dog at the family-friendly Frogtown Brewery

Elysian Valley Craft Brewery
If you are a fan of unpretentious, casual neighborhood spots where you can enjoy a beer with your dog, friends and kids, head over to Frogtown Brewery.

Homebrewers Adam Kestel and Mike Voss opened the brewery and taproom in 2016 with business partner Gustavo Rojas with the goal of creating a friendly neighborhood brewery that served handcrafted beers.

Today, the taproom offers a rotating selection of beers that you can sample on custom flights, from the popular Kinky Blonde Ale to the Stratasphere IPA with hints of passion fruit and grapefruit.

The dark, art-filled taproom and bar offer a reprieve from the sun, while the outdoor beer garden includes fire pits for cooler months. There is a stage for comedy, drag and other live entertainment, as well as regular food trucks (the brewery does not serve food). You can also grab bottles and beers from the refrigerators inside the taproom on your way out.
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People walk to an orange building, its entrance under an umbrella and the word Loreto in tall black letters atop the building
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Devour prawn tacos and other Mexican seafood dishes at Loreto

Elysian Valley Seafood Restaurant
Opened earlier this year in Frogtown, Loreto stands out with 90% of its menu sourced from Mexico, with the remaining 10% coming from California and Japan. The seafood-focused spot offers aguachile, ceviche and botanas like a prawn taco and esquites with shrimp and lobster mayo, but columnist Jenn Harris hails the tostada kondo with scallops, shaved fennel, green apple, Maui onion, wasabi aioli and uni that’s sourced from Mexico or Santa Barbara, depending on availability. Large plates include zarandeados like octopus and fish of the day, served with black beans, rice, avocado, escabeche, tortillas, quesadillas and salsas. The drink menu stays on theme with margaritas, beer, Mexican and California wines, plus a selection of agave spirits.
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People sit in the audience for a show on a small stage
(Angella Choe / For The Times )

Catch an eccentric comedy show at Zebulon

Elysian Valley Bar
Tucked behind a generic white fa?ade just down the block from the Golden State Freeway, Zebulon is a cafe-meets-performance venue that draws an eclectic lineup of musicians, DJs and comedians nearly every night of the week. Like many dwellers in this part of town, the club lived in Brooklyn for several years before turning up here in 2017. But with a front area that feels like an unassuming restaurant, a large back room (that doubles as a dance floor) with a stage for performances and a sizable patio off to the side, it’s a great spot to catch a show solo and an even better place to accommodate a large group of friends.

As far as programming goes, past events include music by Sun Ra Arkestra, a “Gumby” screening followed by a Q&A with animator Rich Zim and a comedy night led by “Saturday Night Live’s” Sarah Squirm. Though some of the shows are free, the vast majority of Zebulon’s tickets are less than $30. Most shows are standing room only, and you’ll usually find free earplugs off to the side as you enter the back room. Drinks are reasonably priced (beer cans and bottles are $8 or less) and the food menu includes thin-crust pizzas, chickpea crepes, $5 tacos and classic bar snacks like nuts and fries. Between Zebulon and Salazar — the delicious Mexican restaurant next door — street parking is scarce.
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