Lifestyle

The Birthplace of Marshmallow Fluff Is a Burgeoning Hotspot of Art and Eating

A guide to Somerville, Massachusetts.

Photo courtesy of Bow Market
Photo courtesy of Bow Market
Photo courtesy of Bow Market

Somerville is the Tetris-scape of the Greater Boston area-somehow cramming an unfathomable number of colorful puzzle pieces (over 15 district “squares” and 50 languages spoken)-into just four square miles.

You can eat the globe, shop for vinyl, or try your hand at welding (and kite-making!) all in one day here. At this glorious mishmash of OG neighborhood haunts and fresh riffs, Somerville’s where it’s at. Here’s everything you need to know about the city’s eclectic food, art, and fun.

Photo by Tae Yoon
Photo by Tae Yoon
Photo by Tae Yoon

Spend the day at Bow Market and want for nothing

Nestled in a quiet nook of Union Square, Bow Market is a two-level enclave ideal for outdoor hangs. Located at the intersection of niche and necessity, the small-but-mighty destination has nearly two dozen eateries and retail spots to explore.

Wile away the afternoon in the breezy courtyard, and visit Rebel Rebel for natural wines and viticulture know-how in equal measure. Or for hoppy hydration, the folks at Remnant Brewing are happy to oblige. While there, look for Brewer’s Foods, a local brand that upcycles spent brewers’ grains into tasty AF snacks.

At Adorn Me Africa, shop Ghanaian-inspired fashion and ask about the travel adventures and Supper Clubs that are part of the brand’s Afrovybe Travel Tribe. Head to Saus for legendary vegetarian vittles (hello, poutine with crispy shallots!) and Buenas for a South American-inspired menu. Once you’ve snacked, sipped, and vibed, treat yourself to some fresh flowers at Rococo Floral Co.; culinary zines and must-have cookbooks at Wild Child; and records at Vinyl Index.

Photo courtesy of LEGO® Discovery Center Boston
Photo courtesy of LEGO® Discovery Center Boston
Photo courtesy of LEGO® Discovery Center Boston

Lean into the local brickmaking legacy and dabble in the arts

Experiencing Somerville is more than just a trip to the hallowed grounds of Union Square Donuts. To see what it’s all about, you’ll definitely want to add art to your itinerary.

Second only to New York City, Somerville has more artists per capita than anywhere else in the country, and with that comes oodles of artisans and handcrafted wares like those from Monadnock Glass Arts or Myrth Ceramics, where deeply-hued earth tones reign supreme. For a more hands-on outlet, Artisan’s Asylum has workshops along with classes on figure drawing, welding, or even kite-making.

The city’s creative and industrial roots intermingle at Assembly Row-a shopping, dining, and entertainment hub. Somerville has shifted over the decades-from assembling cars to meatpacking and brickmaking, and in a quirky full-circle moment, Assembly Row is also home to another big name in brickmaking-LEGO┬« Discovery Center Boston.

Courtesy of The Mushroom Shop
Courtesy of The Mushroom Shop
Courtesy of The Mushroom Shop

Relish its heritage of innovative food-craft

When you hear locals muttering, “What the Fluff,” they’re not avoiding a swear jar deposit but chatting about one of their annual events. Marshmallow Fluff was invented here-a feat so sweet, it’s celebrated each fall at the What the Fluff? Festival.

In keeping with its history of edible innovation, the city still celebrates culinary craft. Discover entrepreneurial delights, such as the spiced sunflower butter stuffed dates (drenched in chocolate, no less) from Hot Date Kitchen, which you can get at Forge Bakery & Ice Cream Bar. While there, be sure to grab a Cardamom Bun, which is a croissant bursting with cardamom filling and, quite possibly, the most delicious edible sorcery since flaky dough lamination came along.

Sometimes, the beauty of simplicity makes the vibrant food-craft scene shine. Stop into Q’s Nuts for Chocolate Lavender Almonds. Fans of culinary mushrooms can grab fistfuls of Chanterelles, or take a class, at The Mushroom Shop-where Tyler Akabane and his merry band of fungi friends unearth the Morels of modern-day life. For a pairing, there’s┬áMichette Bakery, where chef Thomas makes sourdough with fanatical French passion.

Photo courtesy of Olde Magoun's Saloon
Photo courtesy of Olde Magoun’s Saloon
Photo courtesy of Olde Magoun’s Saloon

Dine within a shiny rail car, Hollywood set, or farm-to-table restaurant

Over the years, Somerville has navigated many industry shifts-along with alleged associations with organized crime-but, ultimately, shed the nickname “slummerville” to become a popular area. This growth naturally yields discussions of gentrification, but there’s one area, in particular, where old and new blend harmoniously: The restaurant scene.

Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar-a dining car diner around since 1941-has weathered the city’s changes and is still slinging Eggs Benny (but also Prosciutto Fig Flatbread). Then there’s The Thirsty Scholar, which remained humble even with its moment of fame from the movie The Social Network.

The city’s Powderhouse Circle gives a quick glimpse of the depth of the food scene, boasting Tu Y Yo Mexican Restaurant, Mint Indian Eatery, Noor Mediterranean Grill, and Yoshi’s for a hybrid of Korean and Japanese dishes-all within steps of one another.

Those looking for near-endless beers on tap can saddle up to the bar at Olde Magoun’s Saloon to catch the game and devour Street Corn Dip. Fans of Miller High Life, retro vibes, and gourmet hot dogs are quite at home at Trina’s Starlight Lounge. Ah, but then there’s date night, and Union Square’s Field & Vine is a go-to serving a whimsical wellspring of garden-fresh plates and wood-charred goodies. For those living a vegetable-forward life, the mother-daughter duo at Koshari Mama offer vegan Egyptian-style street food, including their namesake Koshari, which-after the first bite-might live rent-free in your head for a while.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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