Close your eyes and breathe. Deeply. Smell those bulk whole grains commingling with the aromas of spirulina, alternative pastas, sprouts of all types, and freshly juiced wheatgrass? Now take a look around. See the earnest hand-painted signs promoting health tips? Notice the knotty pine and exposed wood surfaces that were installed in the days before “reclaimed” wood became all the rage?

So, where are you? In an old school health food store, of course. We're not talking about these newfangled, traded on Wall Street, passing-for-enlightened mega grocery stores. We mean ones that were byproducts of communes, 1960s counterculture, and actual places that could have inspired Woody Allen to come up with a few well-targeted anti-Los Angeles digs. When Whole Foods is based in Texas and is OK with Monsanto tinkering with plant genetics, those wacky California stereotypes hardly apply. But good to know we have some independent markets that are still going strong while promoting “natural” lifestyles. Must be all the wheatgrass. Turn the page for our favorite Top 5 Old School Indie L.A. Health Food Stores.

An authentic specimen of exposed wood use from the pre-Dwell mag days.; Credit: J. Ritz

An authentic specimen of exposed wood use from the pre-Dwell mag days.; Credit: J. Ritz

5. VP Discount Health & Food Mart, Beverly-Fairfax:

The name doesn't do much to class up the joint since Erewhon (see #2) left the dark exposed wood-clad spot. But at least VP keeps it real with the O.G. health food store look, which is all the better to contrast with the cool, barely-there color tones at Bistro LQ next door. The shop has a good supply of vitamins, snacks, plus a sandwich counter and juice bar.

8001 Beverly Blvd., Beverly-Fairfax/Mid-City; (323) 658-6506.

4. One Life Natural Food, Santa Monica/Venice:

One Life certainly has location on its side. Take your pick of many popular yoga studios within walking distance. And then there's the healing energy of the beach just a couple blocks away. This place has been doing its groovy thing for many years now, before kombucha took over a chunk of the refrigerator shelf space.

3001 Main Street, Santa Monica/Venice; (310) 392-4501.

The Nature Mart parking lot: a great place to check out late-model Subarus and Priuses.; Credit: J. Ritz

The Nature Mart parking lot: a great place to check out late-model Subarus and Priuses.; Credit: J. Ritz

3. Nature Mart, Los Feliz:

Nature Mart at the corner of Hillhurst and Ambrose in Los Feliz is divided into two storefronts: the main grocery store that contains the vitamin shop, and the bulk bin and juice bar next door. This market might be small, but it provides a big dose of that authentic, classic Health Food Store Smell many of us crave — or quite possibly actively avoid — from our childhoods. We love going to the bulk section because we can stock up on items like yogurt covered malt balls and carob covered raisins, and convince ourselves that these junky foods are still healthy. For a real kick order a Green Machine smoothie, which combines kale, cucumber, celery, ginger, lemongrass, and apples. Whoa! Adrenaline rush! Bonus: the bulk section has household cleaning supplies with which to refill your plastic bottles.

2080 Hillhurst Avenue, Los Feliz; (323) 667-1677.

Credit: J. Ritz

Credit: J. Ritz

2. Erewhon, Beverly-Fairfax:

It's a reference to Samuel Butler's novel, the title of which is an anagram of “nowhere.” That is just SO deep. And like, literary. Anyway, when Erewhon picked up from its original digs on Beverly and Edinburgh (see # 5) to move a few blocks east to the ground floor of the relatively glitzy Broadcast Center apartment at Stanley Ave. (now “Grove adjacent,” as the Realtors would say), it seemed like a total sell out. At this point in time, any such accusations have been quieted by other developments in the world of health(ish) food retailing. With a full salad bar, prepared food and deli case, large vitamin section, ample produce and such, it fulfills all your shopping needs while keeping its indie creds intact.

7660-B Beverly Blvd., Beverly-Fairfax/Mid-City; (323) 937-0777.

1. Co-opportunity, Santa Monica:

Get it? This store is managed as a co-op, and participating in it opens up all sorts of opportunities. Like one for this punny name. Which, after all, is hard to resist, because who doesn't love a good pun? At least Co-opportunity on Broadway in Santa Monica has been doing its all-organic, non-GMO, whole-self, integrated approach thing for decades, and has managed to expand and thrive despite growing competition from The Man. Staying active and engaged within the community rather than being managed by a distant HQ in some depressing, soul-depleting office park certainly helps maintain customer loyalty. And if Santa Monica can't support a longstanding, kick-ass, non-chain health food store, then we don't know what town can. Thanks for keeping the faith, all you co-opportunists.

1525 Broadway, Santa Monica; (310) 451-8902.

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