San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, things to do: Tips from expert expats

After growing up on Lord Howe island and Byron Bay respectively, chef-restaurateurs Jaci and Monty Koludrovic moved their young family to Los Angeles in 2020 to set up their Aussie-inspired Strings of Life cafe. "When we first moved here, COVID was raging and the George Floyd protests were hectic, and we needed to work out whether we felt safe," says Jaci. They now live in the San Fernando Valley – known locally as the Valley – because it's so family oriented. Their latest bar-restaurant, Grandmaster Recorders, opened in December 2021 in Hollywood,


At eight and 10, our kids are the right age for the Valley, which has incredible skate parks that really are outdoor community hubs. The North Hollywood Rec Centre is so diverse, with a full roller-hockey court and three baseball diamonds. There are social games of slow-toss softball, with quidditch, drone-fliers, people popping basketball hoops with ghetto blasters, dog trainers and dancing TikTokers all squeezed in between. You could just go there to sit and people watch.


We're not a fitness-first family, but we like being outdoors. Here, people live among the canyons and there are hills and ranges everywhere. All hikes are popular, the Fryman Canyon Loop trail is really close to where we live, with a lovely view of Burbank, while hiking up to the Hollywood sign gives you views of the whole of LA. We avoid Runyon Canyon in West Hollywood, which is full of the beautiful people. Thousands of beautiful people. Avoid if you want to go for a walk without having to deal with instagrammers.


Shanghai Rose reminds us of an Aussie Chinese restaurant, with gaudy decor and fake red leather: the most LA thing to order here is the orange chicken. One of our kids loves the salt & pepper tofu, the other one has snake beans with spicy XO. Shanghai Rose also does a beef roll with shaved, poached cold beef inside a fluffy scallion pancake with heaps of coriander, rolled up really tightly and served with hoisin sauce. See The "Sushi Strip" on Ventura Boulevard must have 200 sushi shops. The first one we tried was the "It place", where we waited half an hour for an avocado cut roll. Afterwards, we found the original Sushi Katsu-Ya, in Studio City, which the founding chef, Katsuya Uechi, retained, separate to all his franchises. See


Our weekly, kid-free go-to is Mirabelle, a little wine bar just around the corner from our house. It's just wine, beer and small share plates. It reminds us of all those small Sydney bars – very casual, with lots of natural wines. We start with a sparkling pet nat, then drink on the recommendation of the sommelier, Cameron. I first tried to get a martini but they don't do that. They have a massive wall of cassettes including the whole discography of AC/DC. They're really leaning into California being on the Baja Peninsula, with new-wave American-Mexican food, and we'll definitely do their Sunday oyster brunch. See



In the Valley, making a spectacle of celebrity is very uncool. You can easily have a normal conversation with a celebrity and it's not a big deal, but to jump in and get a photo would cause a stir. We saw the Kardashians hiking the other day; Monty was at a kids' party with Kelly Clarkson, and our friend's dad is a tennis coach for Zendaya. It's just very normal. These so-called "famous people" are also pushing on from day to day to get stuff done, just like the rest of us. They just drive nicer cars and live in bigger houses. Avoid the celebrity house tours: everyone always looks so bored.


This is a hectic place, and there are more people in California than in the whole of Australia. Sometimes, you need to take a step back and sit in the sun for a little bit.