Day two on our LA adventure dawns and we’re itching to get on the road. We’re excited because the particular roads we’re not waiting to get on happen to be two of the most storied roads in the auto enthusiasts lexicon. Today we use the excellent CLA AMG to tame the epic Mulholland Highway. And to get there, we taking the irreplaceable Pacific Coast Highway. So what I’m saying is that it’s going to be a good day.
After a hearty home-cooked egg and bacon breakfast, to fortify our bodies and courage of course, we expectantly plopped ourselves down into our Merc’s firm sport seats. A touch of the starter button, a fiddle with the mirrors, and we’re off to meet our California road destiny. Or so we thought. We all know LA is known for its traffic. It’s freeways are some of the most congested in the nation, but that’s why we’re avoiding them and taking the famous PCH. But someone forgot to tell the locals, because the Coast Highway was just as slammed and slow as the much-cursed 405 freeway. Stop and go. For miles. Our 355 horses under the hood trapped behind an endless beige sea of Priuses and Range Rovers. The PCH is a great road that perfectly winds around some truly breathtaking ocean views. But anywhere within the Los Angeles County line, it’s just another congested road to crawl along. We were solely disappointed. That said, further North away from the city the traffic vanishes and the PCH can be one of the best coastal drives in these United States.
But up North we are not, so we are thankful when we finally spot the sign we’ve been aching for – Topanga Canyon. With a frustration-venting mash of the loud pedal, we catapult off the Coast Highway and onto Malibu’s infamous canyon roads. Mulholland has played host to automotive antics of everyone from James Dean and Steve McQueen, to racers like Richard Petty and Mario Andretti, to the everyday garage monkeys like you and me. It is first and foremost the people’s road. An equal opportunity joy-giver and fender-denter. And most importantly after the disappointment of the PCH, it lives up to its hype.
The CLA AMG is all-too happy to tackle this icon. It positively paws at the pavement below as it rockets from apex to apex. I’m giving the 4Matic all wheel drive – and bucket seats – a workout and they are proving very capable of holding up. This AMG is not a super car or purpose-built sports car; it’s a tarted up commuter sedan. It has limits. But I’ll be damned if I found them during our day in the high desert canyons.
Mulholland has a bit of everything. Long straights, gentle sweepers, and a treacherous length of impossibly narrow hairpins affectionately called The Snake by the locals. The Snake is where the posers stop short. It is a highly demanding and technical. It is also constantly populated with fully-armored motorcyclists pushing their Ducatis and Aprilias insanely close to your fenders. The Snake is for real, and we threw the CLA AMG into it by the scruff of its neck. I’d love to tell you all about the tire smoke and sideways drama we got into. But I can’t. From perfectly executed hairpins to completely botched switchbacks, the AMG handled it all the same – it tightened up, made a terrific noise, and accelerated out with as much speed as I could coax out of it.
Mulholland’s famous twisties proved no match for our Merc, as we tired out well before our Teutonic chariot did. If you’re visiting Mulholland, its obligatory that you make a stop at The Rock Store. Believe it or not, we did not see a geode, crystal, or any other kind of rock for sale there. The Rock Store is the go-to stopping place for the bikers, cyclists, and drivers who claim The Snake every weekend. The food’s not brilliant and its always crowded, but everyone is friendly and there are always plenty of fun rides to check out.
After a full day attempting to get in as much trouble as possible on these narrow roads, we point the Merc West and ride out the remainder of Mulholland back to it’s exit on the PCH – a full 39 miles North from where we entered the canyons. We get to enjoy a few miles of un-trafficked PCH, then it’s back to the grind. You always know you’re near Los Angeles when you hit bumper-to-bumper traffic.
It has been a long and sweaty day, and the FactoryTwoFour crew marches on its stomach. Before getting back to our base at Venice Beach, we detour East to Santa Monica’s Sawtelle Blvd. For about 1.5 miles this strip of pavement is West LA’s Little Osaka. We have come here for some of the best ramen this side of Tokyo. Situated on the far edge of the street right where Sawtelle’s Japanese-ness peters out and returns to burger joints and Best Buys sits Daikoku Ramen. Smack dab in-between a Panda Express (for the unadventurous tourists) and a Marshall’s discount store, this tiny restaurant serves up hearty bowls of happiness. With an interior done up to perfectly mimic a Japanese side street, and a pork broth that is cooked and simmered over 24 hours, Daikoku is legit. Salt is the killer of good ramen. You can spot an inferior product right away if it tastes salty. Next up are the noodles. They should still be al dente even after sitting in the piping hot broth during the coarse of your meal. If your noodles lose their slight bite or you’re tasting more salt than pork, you’re eating like a chump. Daikoku has no worries on either front.
After slurping our way to and past satisfaction, we are well and truly stuffed. We knock off the evening with an enourmous bowl of Hawaiian shaved ice down the block and head home to plan our last day in this town we’ve come to love, Los Angeles. Our final day is going to be a doozy too – with street art, taco stands, open-air markets, and a few hundred miles of criss-crossing this crazy cities neighborhoods. Can’t wait.