Yes, I’ll admit I’m a little defensive when it comes to the San Fernando Valley. Unlike most visitors to Southern California, my introduction to Greater Los Angeles started in the vast and forever maligned Valley — that assemblage of suburban communities falling mostly within the Los Angeles city limits where I grew up. I’ve spent plenty of time on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains, in the more glamorous precincts of central Los Angeles, but during a decade’s worth of visits with my wife to both sides of the “hill” — as those mountains, and the perceived cultural divide they represent, are affectionately known — I’ve come to an interesting conclusion: I tend to prefer the Valley. Sure, it’s got strip malls and strip clubs in equal abundance, and it lacks the chic cachet that so many people associate with Los Angeles. But that lack of hipness is exactly its charm.
If coastal Los Angeles is where people strive and achieve, the Valley is where they put down roots and live. And so, as I’ve happily discovered while covering hundreds of miles of Valley pavement over the years, the place is home to dozens of un-self-consciously excellent neighborhood restaurants, old-school cocktail lounges, uncompromisingly authentic ethnic markets and a gamut of overlooked treasures, from hiking trails to architectural landmarks. Here is a selection of my favorites.