Meet Me by the River: A Daytrip to Frogtown



Visitors to the L.A.’s Elysian Valley will find eco-friendly businesses, a charming pocket park, and a seven-mile paved walking and biking trail.

If you’re looking for a walking- and bike-powered daytrip filled with vegan food and drinks, bird-watching and outdoor exercise, there’s no better place in L.A. than Frogtown. A walkable neighborhood on the banks of the Los Angeles River, its official name is Elysian Valley. No matter what you call it, though, it’s a natural oasis in the middle of the city. 

“You can almost forget you’re in L.A. when you’re here. You don’t hear traffic. You hear frogs and birds. People actually talk to each other and get to know each other. You can rent a bike and explore the area and get to know it in a much more intimate way than you can in a car.”

“You can almost forget you’re in L.A. when you’re here,” says Laurie Winston, who co-owns Frogtown’s Spoke Bicycle Cafe with Richard Latronica. “You don’t hear traffic. You hear frogs and birds. People actually talk to each other and get to know each other. You can rent a bike and explore the area and get to know it in a much more intimate way than you can in a car.”

Given its location, it’s no surprise that the area is home to numerous eco-friendly cafes, restaurants and shops. Here’s a rundown of our perfect day in Frogtown:

Grab Breakfast at Just What I Kneaded 

This adorable vegan bakery and cafe owned by Justine Hernandez, an Echo Park native and self-taught baker, opened in what used to be a machine shop in 2020. Hernandez sold pastries and cakes out of her Highland Park home for three years before opening the cafe.

Best known for its sweets – think chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, and handmade pop tarts – the bakery also serves breakfast and lunch, including the LA breakfast burrito, with onions, cilantro and housemade salsa, and the popular Joe Cool bagel sandwich, made with vegan fennel sausage and tofu egg. Seating at the cafe is limited, but the charming vine-covered patio makes it worth the wait. 

2029 Blake Ave. #104, Los Angeles; open Thursday-Monday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. 

Take a Walk through Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park

Renamed in 2018 for the poet, activist, and conservationist who founded the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR), this lovely green space is one of a handful of pocket parks along the L.A. River. Shady and filled with native marshland and upland plants, it’s an ideal place to take a post-breakfast stroll. A short paved path meanders through gardens planted with California natives, and a gorgeous pavilion draped in grapevines invites you to linger a while, as do the plentiful shaded picnic tables and kids’ playground.

As you wander through the park, you’ll see bioswales, or earthen drainage ditches filled with river rocks or native plants that naturally clean polluted water that flows toward the river from city streets. They’re especially important here because this section of the river, known as the Glendale Narrows, has a natural soft bottom instead of a concrete floor, which allows native river plants and animals to thrive.

MacAdams started advocating for the restoration of the L.A. River in the 1980s, when his ideas were routinely dismissed. He died in 2020, but a sculpture at the park memorializes his legacy with his quote: “If it’s not impossible, I’m not interested.”

2999 Rosanna St., Los Angeles; open seven days a week, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.  

Have Lunch at Spoke Bicycle Cafe…

Before opening Spoke Bicycle Cafe in 2017, co-owners Laurie Winston and Richard Latronica spent a lot of time riding their bikes around L.A., stopping for food and drinks. “We always thought there should be something along the [L.A. River] bike path, but nothing was there, so we created a place we wished was there.”

The cafe has ample outdoor seating shaded by colorful umbrellas, as well as a massive industrial-style pergola. The menu is packed with options that can be made vegan, including breakfast burritos and tostadas (served until 2 p.m.), burgers, and sandwiches like the California BLAT, a BLT with avocado. The kitchen uses organic and local ingredients where possible and sources its bread from local baker Bub and Grandma’s.

Spoke is proud of its certified green business status. “We recycle, compost, have low water landscaping, and try to reduce our impact whenever possible,” Winston says.

3050 N Coolidge Ave., Los Angeles; open Wednesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. 

…And Rent a Bike to Explore the L.A. River Bicycle Path 

Spoke is more than just a restaurant: It also has an on-site bicycle shop with bike rental and repair services. Winston, who has a degree in environmental policy and planning, and Latronica chose to locate their cafe on the bike path to encourage people to arrive on bikes, rather than in cars. With biking, they said, “You actually get to know the neighborhood you’re in. You meet people. You get exercise. You become part of the city instead of looking at it from the outside.”

The L.A. River bike path is a Class 1 route, which means it’s fully separated from car traffic. The section in this neighborhood is about seven miles long and passes by the bright red Taylor Yard Bridge and Marsh Street Skate Park. The bird-watching here is particularly good; you might spot great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, snowy egrets, and more. 

Rentals cost $15 for the first hour and $10 for each additional hour. If you’d rather ride your own bike and just need supplies, the shop carries locks, helmets, pumps, and more. It also repairs both electric and non-electric bikes. 

3050 N Coolidge Ave., Los Angeles; open Wednesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. 

Grab a Drink From Justine’s Wine Bar 

Bring your day in Frogtown to a close at this new spot, which opened this August right behind Just What I Kneaded. Also owned by Justine Hernandez, the bar pours organic and natural wines, many of which are vegan, to pair with plant-based snacks like potato and cheese croquettes and personal pizzas.

Before becoming a baker and small business owner, Hernandez was a bartender for a decade. “I met such a large community when I worked in bars, so I wanted to bring that to Frogtown, where you can come and have a drink and chat with the bartender even if you’re by yourself,” she says. 

The bar is filled with plants and features a jungle-themed mural hand-painted by a friend of Hernandez’s, and its somewhat-hidden location gives it a speakeasy feel. “I think it’s very surprising to people because the vibes are so different, especially in such an industrial area,” Hernandez says. “When you come in, it’s like a jungle, and it’s dark; it’s just unique in that it provides a surprising oasis.” 

2029 Blake Ave. #104, Los Angeles; open Thursday-Monday, 4-11 p.m.

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Leslie Veliz
Leslie Veliz
Leslie Veliz hails from the sleepy town of Redondo Beach. She currently writes about celebrities and lifestyle trends for The List and previously wrote about true crime for Grunge. When she's not working, Leslie spends her time reading and traversing Southern California. Her passions include learning about weird history and traveling.
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