The fact that I had never been to Paris — let alone anywhere in Europe — was a point of extreme insecurity for me, especially as I approached my fourth decade on this planet. Like probably everyone else, I have had many a fantasy of what this elusive city and my adventure there might be: People watching from a sidewalk cafe with un petit café and a book, browsing les puces for treasures, and spending hours wandering through Musée d'Orsay to marvel at works by Monet and Redon that I’d studied in college. Every dream of an eventual Paris getaway involved me blending in, experiencing the city’s everyday life (the best possible version, of course) the way locals do to see it in its most organic state. So, for my first-ever journey to this hub of culture, beauty, fashion, and food, that’s exactly what I set out to do — thanks to Parisian experts in each of these areas.
To be perfectly clear, I don’t see anything wrong with doing Paris the classic American tourist way (so long as you’re respectful!). One could absolutely have a sublime time simply seeing the glittering Eiffel Tower at night, going for a ride on the Bateaux Mouches, and standing in a pack of people just to catch a glimpse of the surprisingly small Mona Lisa behind a wall of protective glass. But if, like me, you are more excited by the prospect of tucking into an intimate wine bar, picking up beauty products in a neighborhood pharmacie, or nibbling on a freshly baked croissant while strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries, I have the travel guide for you.
Before getting into the nitty gritty of where I ate, drank, explored, shopped, and beautified, I want to share a little bit about how I prepped to get the proper spring Parisenne experience. To mix in effortlessly while feeling both comfortable and chic, creating a wardrobe capsule was crucial. Thankfully I had the incredibly chic Christina Caradona — a style influencer who is native to France but currently resides in Los Angeles — to guide my packing. “The typical French girl will be in jeans and a classic-style coat with a chic sweater and comfy, cool sneakers,” she told me. “I think of all my friends in Paris that send me photos saying they wish I was there and I just stare at their effortless style. Nothing should be over styled.” Based on this wisdom, I packed an off-white pair of Axel Arigato sneakers, black leather Everlane Chelsea boots, Levi’s Wedgie jeans, an oversize white button down, a cropped black wrap sweater, plaid trousers by LACAUSA, a ribbed Find Me Now sweater, 60’s military pants from Fair Season, a tie-dye turtleneck (also from LACAUSA), and a long, vintage wool coat.
Another important part of packing involved what I didn’t bring along. I knew I was going to be bringing back lots of beauty products (France is known for their cult-favorite brands and sensitive skin-friendly formulas, many of which you can’t find in the US), so I strategically didn’t pack anything besides my absolute must-haves. I left it all up to fate and the French pharmacies!
Since we’re already on the topic, let’s just dive right into the subject of French beauty. There is likely no name more synonymous with this subject than Biologique Recherche. I was fortunate enough to connect with the brand before my trip and booked a facial at its famed ambassade in Paris. My esthetician Alisson Dupont gave me the rundown on how the typical French woman’s views on skin care, makeup, and other forms of aesthetic maintenance differ from the typical American’s. “The French beauty philosophy is a philosophy of taking care of oneself, of one's skin in order to preserve a maximum of its quality in a natural way,” she explained. “It is a very sophisticated approach. Always primed, made up, groomed, and natural. No invasive techniques, no injections. French women like to do regular treatments of their skin, their image and general care. This why French beauty is so different and coveted around the word.”
About those regular treatments. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to get an authentic Biologique Recherche facial knows it differs from all others. As Dupont shared with me, the main difference is its personalized and biological approach. My facial began with an in-depth analysis using a patented machine. This shares information like your skin’s hydration level, lipid level, sun damage, and even your elasticity, so that the esthetician can really customize your treatment. Dupont also asked questions about my lifestyle and product/texture preferences. After a deeply relaxing facial (lots of massage, no extractions) I was visibly less puffy, more even-toned, and unbelievably glowy (in fact, I didn’t wear makeup the rest of the day).
On my way out, Dupont also recommended I stop by one of Buly 1803’s Paris locations. This French brand specializes in natural beauty treatments, perfume, and accessories. The stores and packaging are distinctly inspired by old apothecaries, which makes shopping for oils, hand creams, candles, and more so much fun. I stopped into the storefront in Le Marais, one of the city’s most fashionable districts. For under 30 Euros, I got a monogramed lip balm compact with a customized blue leather cover and red velvet case (yes I went full Francophile). This location also boasts a café inside if you’re in need of a quick coffee fix while browsing beauty products.
For something a bit more modern, I was tipped off by photographer, creative director, and Passerby founder Clémence Polès to make a stop by Oh My Cream, which also has a stunning location in Le Marais. The retailer specializes in clean skin care products, including its eponymous line, and concept stores like the one I went to even offer luxurious face and body treatments. I happily left with a kit of mini sizes of some of OMC’s bestselling products, all of which I’ve really enjoyed using.
I would be remiss not to mention the treasures of the French pharmacies. There are several on every block (look for the green cross signs, which mean something else in California!), but several French experts, including Polès, told me that specifically City Pharma was a classic spot for scooping up brands like Nuxe, Embryolisse, Avène, and Biafine. French brands you probably already know are there, too, like Claudalie, La Roche Posay, Klorane, and Bioderma. Not only can you get their beloved products for a fraction of what you’d pay in the US, but you can pick up ones you won’t find in the states at all. I stocked up on it all since, as Dupont suggested, taking care of your skin is the cornerstone of French beauty.
If you’re hoping to come back from Paris with a few more punctures and potentially some edgy new adornments for your ears, neck, hands, and more, Mad Lords aught to be a stop on your list. With a piercing studio and showroom in Paris’ luxurious Rue Saint-Honoré as well as locations in Deauville and Saint-Tropez, Mad Lords is the place to indulge in some glamorous and rock-and-roll-inspired jewels. So, of course, I had to consult with founders Caroline and Serge Muller to learn where else someone looking for the most chic Paris shopping experience ought to visit.
For vintage-lovers like these two, a stop at the Paris flea markets, known locally as Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, is essential. It might take you a lengthy ride on the metro to get here, but you’ll be greatly rewarded with the ability to browse everything from art prints to 1940s dresses to Mid-Century furniture and so much more. This is a sprawling shopping destination with a lot of ground to cover, but if you’re looking for some very specific recommendations, the Mullers have a few favorites. “The first one is A.W. Cooper, which is owned by a father and his son,” the two share. “[Here] you will be able to find a large selection of clothes from the ‘60s and the ‘70s.” If you’re looking for goods for the home, they suggest stopping by Galerie Gustin. “Definitely the best furniture store that offers pieces from the ‘70s,” the Mullers explain. “The owners, Karine and Virginie, are good friends of ours and, on top of having a good eye for interior design, they are excellent curators.”
After spending my own glorious day browsing les puces, I’d like to add my own recommendation, Popular Favorites. This Finnish-meets-French stall is perfect for those looking for some whimsical fashion and decor finds, like ‘80s/’90s graphic tees and sweatshirts, raw denim jeans, and funky tchotchkes and art. It’s pretty much eye candy everywhere you look.
A quintessential Paris shopping destination is the Galeries Lafayette flagship on Boulevard Haussmann. Located near the historic Opéra Garnier, this upscale department stores is a retail dream for locals and tourists alike—even if you’re only window shopping. Those looking for high-end shops should also not miss a stroll down the Champs-Élysées or through Saint-Germain-des-Prés, although you’re likely to encounter storefronts for brands and designers you’re already familiar with.
For more unique, exclusive-to-the-area boutiques, pay a visit to the aforementioned Le Marais. One of my favorite finds here was Merci, a contemporary shop (with a bookstore and café inside) stocked with beautifully designed clothing, accessories, and housewares from more emerging labels — including plenty of Parisian ones.
To imagine consuming all the culture that Paris has to offer — from museums to cinemas — in a span of five days is laughable. You couldn’t even scratch the surface spending a month in this city. That said, the art, film, fashion, and music that comes out of this place (and that has come out of it for the last several centuries) is probably the most defining aspect of it. Yes, there is the deservedly notable Louvre (the property in itself is worthy of awe), but if you want to dig in deeper there are so many other worthy spots to absorb art in the city and perhaps discover something new.
As a a proud art history nerd (I got my BA in the subject and worked as an art critic for several years), I couldn’t miss a visit to the d’Orsay, another iconic art establishment, famous for its Impressionist collection among other things. But there’s also a wealth of modern and contemporary art to behold in Paris. A great start is Centre Pompidou, where you’ll spot pieces by Picasso, Miró, Kandinsky, Warhol, Chagall, Matisse, and Mondrian, among so many masters. However, many accidentally miss one of the museum’s greatest treasures, Atelier Brancusi, a reconstruction of the modernist sculptor’s studio filled with his remarkably forward-thinking works. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this.
Some of Paris’ smaller yet nonetheless charming museums include Musée de l'Orangerie (which includes a stunning panoramic Monet painting bathed in natural light), Musée du Luxembourg, Petit Palais, Musée Marmottan-Monet, Palais de Tokyo, Musée Jacquemart-André, and Musée des Arts Décoratifs (where we saw a Mugler exhibiton). And if you’re game for a little trip out of the city, follow Polès’ advice and stop by Foundation Arp in Clamart, the former studio of artists Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber.
If you’re a film buff like Polès, take a trip to one of Paris’ cinemas while you’re in town. Le Brady is said to have been famed director François Truffaut’s favorite, but Le Champo and La Cinémathèque Française are also very beloved by Parisian cinephiles. St-Germain-des-Prés offers a few others, and Polès loves a classic dinner-and-a-movie night in the neighborhood pairing a screening with dinner at Le Danton brasserie.
Food & Drink
Food is life in Paris. It’s not a stereotype to see people traveling on bikes and trains clutching a baguette still warm from la patisserie, so first and foremost let me recommend doing just that if you want a truly local experience. My mornings always started with some type of fresh pastry, and a few of my favorite bites came from Le Petit Grain in Belleville (the sesame kouign-amann changed me for the better) and Broken Biscuits (the pistachio financier was divine), two cozy neighborhood bakeries. Speaking of cozy, coffee buffs shouldn’t miss grabbing a cortado at Dreamin Man in Le Marais. And if you’re craving a decadent brunch experience on your trip, I cannot recommend Benoit Castel enough: At this low-key spot, you’ll find plenty of French families enjoying fresh carrot juice and a buffet of family-style sweet and savory dishes (like frittatas, pissaladière, riz au lait, hazelnut mousse, and of course pain au chocolat).
Before embarking on my trip, I was lucky enough to connect with chef and cocktail expert Allison Kave, a New York transplant who started Izzy’s Paris (a cocktail delivery company) and who will soon be opening a new spot in Paris (you may have known her NYC cocktail and dessert bar, Butter & Scotch). For a creative and tasty cocktail in place you’re not likely to read about in most travel guides, Kave suggested visiting Dirty Lemon. “Obviously everyone knows that Paris is a paradise for wine, but the cocktail scene here has been growing steadily over the years, and one of my personal faves that I think doesn't get enough non-local love is Dirty Lemon in the 11ème arrondissement,” she shares. “Chef-owner Ruba Khoury has created a chic, sexy, and inclusive environment with a killer menu of Mediterranean food (the lamb confit fries are beyond) to complement their creative cocktails that push beyond the classics found in most Parisian brasseries. The fact that it's an openly queer, welcoming space is the cerise sur le gâteau.”
In the same area (which is perfect for discovering cool, insider-y eateries) Kave also recommends Au Passage, a natural wine bar with artfully plated dishes highlighting seasonal produce, fresh seafood, and tip-to-tail meat. Ducking into this place for asparagus with miso and a soft-cooked egg or roasted sweet potato with oyster mushrooms and feta felt like the most quintessentially modern Paris dining experience imaginable.
Dame Jane, suggested by Caradona, is another unassuming yet locally loved cave à manger, where a rotation of female chefs take residence. It’s quaint but lively once dinner service gets into full swing, and petite plates with seasonal ingredients are perfectly paired with natural wines.
For something a bit fancier, but very much local-approved, make a reservation at Le Clown Bar, a former circus artist-frequented café (they kept the tiles to prove it) that now offers one of Paris’ best natural wine selections and modern takes on classic French dishes like cervelle de veau and Paris-Brest.
Lovers of Lebanese and Israeli dishes will not be disappointed in Paris. In Le Marais you’ll find the Old Jewish Quarter where the scent of falafel and kabab is intoxicating around lunchtime. Of course L'As du Fallefel is one of the most famous places to pick up these dishes, but you’ll also see plenty of Parisians popping into Miznon, where a whole steamed cauliflower (served with tahini sauce) is a staple among other veggie-forward options like falafel burgers and champignons pita sandwiches. Plus you just might find yourself in a shorter line than some of the more touristy spots.
If you plan on cooking while you’re there, Kave suggests stocking up at a local epicerie like Le Zingam, which boasts a few locations in town. “These tend to be one-stop shops for great cheeses, natural wines, seasonal produce, charcuterie, condiments, and more, and often have house-made preserves and prepared foods,” she explains. “Plan on buying your bread daily, if you want a baguette, ask for une tradition. Stock the fridge with beurre de baratte and some champagne and you should be good to go!” For super-fresh organic produce near Belleville, there’s also Altervojo, a teeny grocery store bursting with beautiful fruits and vegetables. I picked up radishes, frisee, and endive for a salad and fresh bread with Comté cheese that made for the perfect snack in my Airbnb after long days spent exploring the city on foot and by subway, reflecting on the delightfully grey weather, impressive collection of street art (so many Space Invaders!), and so many other unexpected wonders — legs aching and so tired, but genuinely happy.