Ren Fuller, courtesy of The Firehouse

The West is a big, big place, and every week our staff is all over it, digging up the shops and restaurants, beaches and trails, performances and, well, phenomena that make the region so vibrant. Here’s the Best of the West this week

Sunset Staff  – April 23, 2019 | Updated April 24, 2019

A Taste of Bay Area History

“I love coffee cakes of all kinds, and I try to have lunch with someone from a different profession every month, so I killed two birds recently with SF native Valerie Gordon, the super-fun owner of Valerie Confections in Echo Park, L.A.. Valerie has a Blum’s Coffee Crunch Cake  that makes you want to rocket into the sky with pleasure. Caffeinated, crunchy, sweet, creamy—it gave me the fuel to trim some trees that afternoon. Though I missed out on the actual Blum’s, a Union Square institution and fond childhood memory for many San Franciscans from what I’m told, the legend lives on in my fridge, where two pieces sit ready for midnight emergencies.” —Dakota Kim, staff writer

Two Brands Are Better Than One

“I’ve been a fan of Danner’s boot line for decades, and the camp chairs made by Helinox are among the lightest, smartest packable systems I’ve tested. Now the two brands have collaborated on a shared product suite including a stylish pair of boots and a chair/table combo. Add in a throwback white-on-black grid pattern and blue anodized aluminum elements and I’m ready to hit the trails.” —Matt Bean, editor in chief

Going with the Grain

“Forget about making the photogenic grain bowl of your Instagram dreams. Edouardo Jordan’s new grain-based restaurant Lucinda Grain Bar is so much more, and rapidly rising to the top of my Seattle bucket list. The cozy bar-restaurant hybrid uses local, heirloom grains as the base of its menu. Think rye negroni, scoops of freekeh topped with lamb shoulder and Brussels sprouts, and einkorn ice cream with cardamom-like grains of paradise and red quinoa porridge.” —Maya Wong, assistant editor

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Millicent Harvey, courtesy of the Annenberg Foundation Trust

Desert Plant Eye Candy

“If you’re looking for a day-trip this spring, look no farther than Sunnylands Center & Gardens in Rancho Mirage, California. The beautiful gardens are filled with over 70 species of native plants as well as arid-adapted varieties from North and South America, Africa, and the Mediterranean. What I think makes this garden so special, though, is how the plants are laid out. Planted in grids, there’s real gravitas to these gardens and organization makes the design look purposeful. Plus, the architecture is gorgeous too. Meander through these water-wise gardens but go soon. They’re closed during the summer months because it’s just too hot. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It’s free and no reservations are required.” —Thad Orr, garden editor

Nicole Clausing

A Safe Place to Sweat

“At The Queer Gym, where I’ve been working out for the better part of a decade, bathrooms are gender-neutral; workout moves with tired names like “man-makers” are rebranded (“homie-makers”); and group classes, which have cheeky names like “Oakland Booty,” all start with a check-in where participants introduce themselves by name and state their preferred gender pronoun. There are no mirrors, either, the better to promote body-positivity. It’s more than a gym; it’s a community where members often organize meal deliveries for sick or injured classmates and are known to go on hikes and bike rides together just for fun. Owner Nathalie Huerta always envisioned the gym as an LGBT haven, but straight/cis members are always welcome, too.”  1243 E. 12th Street, Oakland, CA. Guest passes from $20. –Nicole Clausing, digital producer

The Ultimate Dog Run

“Whether you’re a proud pet parent or just want to ogle some cute canines, San Francisco’s DogFest  is not to be missed. Pups compete for top honors in costume, tricks, barks, and more adorbs categories—and human kiddos can enjoy face-painting, carnival games, and more fun activities. Attendees can watch for free, but if you want your pooch to compete, it’s $20 to register (proceeds benefit a local public school).” –Jessica Mordo, associate digital director

Courtesy of Cornell Lab Bird Cams

An Osprey Family Drama

“Against a parking-lot backdrop, watch as osprey bird pair Iris and Louis dine on fish from the Clark Fork River and raise offspring. Expect no shortage of drama on this nest cam from Missoula, Montana, while fostering a new connection to the natural world. Check out the Montana Osprey Project and follow along for updates on Twitter.” —Zoe Gutterman, associate digital producer

Courtesy of Paper Laundry

Denver’s Toughest Meal Ticket

 “Last year, Bon Appetit named Call, a tiny, Scandi-inspired café in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, one of the best restaurants in America. So you can imagine my anticipation when I learned the chef, Frasca alum Duncan Holmes, planned to open the city’s first-ever ticketed chef’s counter restaurant in a small space next door. With just 18 seats and two seatings a night Wednesday through Saturday, scoring a meal at Beckon takes determination. But my persistent reservation stalking on Tock paid off and I was able to experience the nine-course Pink Moon dinner last week. The food may be some of the most ambitious in Denver, but the experience is far from buttoned up. In fact, it feels like Denver’s coolest dinner party. Pre-meal, I found myself sipping a black negroni snuggled in blankets around a firepit in the front yard. And the horseshoe-shaped bar offers a front-seat view of Holmes and his team as they prepare New Nordic-meets-Rocky Mountain dishes like lamb belly with skyr and green tomato vadouvan and duck with green garlic and morel. Do splurge on the $65 wine pairing. Sommelier Zachary Byers has some true gems on the menu.” —Jen Murphy, executive editor

Thomas J. Story

Cali Coast Getaway

“My kids never get tired of this place—and neither do I, for that matter. Whenever my family is looking for a quick overnighter, our first choice is always Monterey. With a world-class aquarium featuring an amazing jellyfish display, a fun tidepool where you can watch and touch the friendly rays, and some fantastic art galleries, Monterey is definitely a great place to spend a day (or two).” —Thomas J. Story, staff photographer

Frank Lee, courtesy of The Firehouse

L.A.’s Coolest New Hotel

“I found myself in DTLA twice in the last week because I couldn’t get enough of L.A.’s brand new Firehouse Hotel. And I live in Los Angeles. The converted 1927 firehouse is the latest spot from the prolific east side hipster hospitality magnate Dustin Lancaster (he’s the man behind Hotel CovellBar Covell, L&E Oyster BarOrielCrawford’s… oh I give up). It anchors one of the most electric corners of the booming arts district: there’s a Stumptown next door, Bestia around the corner, Guerilla tacos up thataway, Warner Music HQ across the street, Spotify moving in over there…you get the picture. And no I don’t stay there, I eat there: I love that you can get ham-stuffed, herb-flecked hot pocket-like pastries (haute pockets?) in the lobby cafe, that there’s a handsome, marble bar tucked away in the corner should you wish for a grapefruit spritz, and that you can sit in the open-air restaurant eating the best burger ever while watching the pink trumpet trees bloom on thrumming Santa Fe Avenue.” —Hugh Garvey, food editor