How to experience a slice of Portugal without leaving California

Two people walk on a beach with surfboards in Cascais, Portugal.
Cascais is just one of the places in Portugal that reminds Californians of their home state.
(Photo by Jose Sarmento Matos / For The Times; illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

Hi there. As you probably know, I typically try to focus this newsletter on the good parts of life: fulfilling adventures to take across California, thought-provoking, beautiful and fun places to visit with friends and family.

We’ll get to that stuff in a minute. But it feels wrong to start Escapes this week without discussing the 19 children and two teachers who were killed by a gunman at a Texas elementary school on Tuesday.

Which followed the shooting that killed one person and injured five at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods earlier this month.

Which followed the 10 people killed in the mass shooting in Buffalo the day before.

And all the while, U.S. gun laws continue getting looser, not stronger.

Once again, parents and teachers must confront how to talk to kids about the killings (I recommend my colleague Laura Newberry’s piece about how to help children get through this horror).

My heart goes out to everyone harmed by this senseless violence, directly or indirectly.


Now, I’ll transition back to the Escapes newsletter we had prepared for you earlier this week. But I think we all know that no amount of travel or distraction will keep these killings from our minds — nor should it. Let’s sit with this unspeakable violence and carry it with us.

We’re in an era of renewed thirst for travel, as some people — weary of being cooped up during the pandemic — have resumed vacationing in earnest.

Although many American travelers have booked trips to Europe, the Caribbean and beyond this summer, you might be concerned about the continued risk of COVID-19. Or maybe you’re not sure you want to splurge on a big international trip right now.

The good news: You can explore the world — or at least experience enriching slices of it — without leaving California.

I was struck by my colleague Jaweed Kaleem’s story about Californians relocating to Portugal in search of less expensive housing and healthcare and a better pace of life, among many other reasons. (Of course, trends such as this have consequences: The surge in newcomers to Portugal has contributed to rising rents in places like Lisbon as well as further inequality.)

Another reason some Californians have their eye on Portugal? With its ocean breezes, mountain views and killer sunsets, it reminds many of them of their home state. “Things were just becoming too much back home, but I didn’t want to leave everything about L.A. behind,” one Portugal newcomer said about Cascais, a wealthy seaside community with “Big Sur-like cliffs.”

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find a few ways you can find a taste of Portugal in California. As always, my inbox is open — let me know if you have any recommendations to share.

Find stunning beaches and cool rock formations on Highway 1

A child walks on a rock formation at the beach
Ten-year-old Sophie Yoo plays in the arches of a rock formation while watching the tide roll in at twilight at El Matador in Malibu.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A steep wooden stairway down to the beach. Deep blue waves, powerful at certain points. A dramatic stone arch dipping into the ocean.

It may sound like I’m describing a faraway destination, such as Portugal’s stunning southern coast. But I’m actually describing El Matador beach, only 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles.


I visited Portugal in 2013 and, like many visitors before me, immediately fell in love with the Algarve, a region of Portugal known for its sandstone cliffs and surf culture. When I first visited El Matador two years later, I felt as though I’d found a small corner of the Algarve in Southern California.

Over the years, I’ve taken lots of out-of-town friends to El Matador for swimming and beach picnics and even witnessed a whale briefly surfacing by its shores (in addition to countless Instagram photoshoots — we are still talking about L.A. County after all).

Part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, El Matador’s parking lot is open from 8 a.m. to sunset at limited capacity. Park officials recommend visiting in the offseason due to crowding in the summer. But even in the warmer months, I’ve had luck when arriving early, right as the lot opens, then would spend the morning taking in the view.

Track down a pastel de nata in the San Fernando Valley

A GIF of a numbers appearing on a hopscotch grid on a city sidewalk next to murals.
A pedestrian walks along a stretch of Ventura Boulevard in the Valley.
(Photo by Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

In a city filled with superb desserts from around the globe, you may be surprised to learn there are only a few places to order Portugal’s famous custard tart in Los Angeles.

That’s what inspired chef Fatima Marques, from Lisbon, to create Natas Pastries on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. Since 2005, Marques has sold pasteis de nata to Angelenos and visitors.

In addition to its desserts, Natas Pastries specializes in petiscos, which the restaurant calls “Portuguese style tapas,” as well as other favorites such as caldo verde, delícias do mar and more.

Already salivating? The Ventura Boulevard restaurant and pastry shop is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

Explore San Jose’s Little Portugal

Although the rush of newcomers to Portugal from California is relatively new, the relationship between the two sun-soaked lands goes back centuries.

“Spain and Portugal claim 16th century colonial explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who was the first European to land on California’s shores, as one of their own,” Kaleem reports. “In the mid-19th century, droves of farmers from the Azores made their way to Central California.”

Little Portugal in San Jose “pays homage to the region’s immigrant history,” he writes.

Marveling at centuries-old cathedrals is a classic part of many European vacations. But those who visit San Jose also have the chance to take in some ecclesiastical grandeur.

Five Wounds Portuguese National Parish, which says it’s “one of the most photographed, sketched, and painted buildings in the city,” is a cornerstone of Little Portugal. The soaring church was founded by Portuguese immigrants in the mid 1910s.

In addition to visiting the church, visitors to San Jose may pop by the Portuguese Historical Museum or enjoy Portuguese dishes and wines at Michelin-starred restaurant Adega.

Of course, there are lots of places to order pasteis de nata in Little Portugal too — Popular Bakery, for example.

Take a selfie at an iconic Lisbon bridge’s twin

A GIF of squiggles dancing in the water next to the Golden Gate Bridge, loaded with cars with headlights on at dusk.
A boy climbs a tree with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
(Photo by Josh Edelson / For The Times; illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

On the banks of the Tagus River in Lisbon, California travelers may be surprised to encounter what appears to be the spitting image of the Golden Gate Bridge.

It’s not a trick of the light (or jet lag). The 25th of April Bridge was modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge and constructed in 1966, 29 years after the iconic Bay Area destination opened. The similarly red bridge spans about a mile, connecting Lisbon with Almada, a neighboring city.

The next time you visit its Bay Area twin, here are a few lesser-known places you can go to get a great photo, from Times contributor Maryann Jones Thompson.

And while you’re in San Francisco, check out my colleague Christopher Reynolds’ list of the 101 best California experiences. From a “semi-secret museum tower” to the Ferry Building’s thriving food scene, you’ll have plenty to enjoy on your trip.

Wandering and wondering

Someone on the subreddit #AskLosAngeles recently was looking for “recommendations for quirky/kitschy activities.”

“We recently went to the Museum of Jurassic Technology, and then this weekend hit up Echo Park Time Travel Mart, Wacko/Soap Plant and Galco Old World Grocery (Soda Pop Stop). I’d love to get suggestions of places along these lines,” they said.

Lots of excellent L.A. suggestions were offered in the comments, including Bob Baker Marionette Theater — a fixture on Reynolds’ list of best California experiences.

If you’re up for a weekend trip, there’s no better place to bask in kitsch and quirk than one of the long-beloved Madonna Inn’s zany themed rooms. For the full experience, book a table at the pink-all-over Gold Rush Steak House.

Road song

This week, instead of suggesting a song, I recommend tuning into the Portuguese Radio Network, which serves “Portuguese and those of Portuguese descent in northern and central California.”