Eastside & Central LA
Retrace key scenes from Swingers and find yourself at the Dresden, settling in for an evening with the inimitable musical duo Marty & Elayne. A beacon of genuine, unironic kitsch, nothing has changed at this storied local watering hole in umpteen years, from the corkboard walls to the wrought-iron lighting fixtures. The famed musical duo have been holding court in the lounge since 1982. Cozy up in an oversized booth, sip a martini and take it all in while they're still around.
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Local Hollywood historian Philip Mershon’s entire tour of Hollywood takes place within a quarter-mile radius of Sunset Blvd and Gower St and makes no mention of the Walk of Fame or the Hollywood Sign. Yet by the end of the tour, you’ll have visited the origin of nearly all the major Hollywood studios and their immortal works of pop culture.
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Witness an 80-year old LA tradition—and hear some great music—at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, just east of Downtown. Since the 1930s, mariachi bands have gathered here, decked out in their charro (traditional Mexican horsemen) suits, waiting to be hired to play at parties or restaurants. Take note of the historic 1889 Boyle Hotel, better known as “Mariachi Hotel,” where many of the musicians live.
Otherwise known as "danger dogs," these heart attacks waiting to happen are LA's official late-night snack. Street vendors abound outside bars and music venues, enticing the tipsy masses with aromas of sizzling pig, peppers and onions. Follow your nose 'til you find one. (Tip: They're always outside Lakers, Clippers and Dodgers games.)
There's a thrill that comes from seeing a movie inside the Chinese Theatre, home of seemingly every major movie premiere ever. While everyone else congregates around concrete footprints and brass names, you can admire the real star here: The auditorium's architecture is simply stunning, as is the picture quality on one of the biggest—now IMAX—screens in the country.
There is truly no better motivation to get your high kicks right than having Richard Simmons (quite possibly in drag... or a cat costume) screaming in your face. He'll cheer you on, give compliments that would make the most brazen flirt blush, and may even shed a tear or two while reminding the class to drink enough water and eat healthy foods. It's by far the best and most bizzare time you'll have working out. (And he'll pose for photos with you post-workout!)
The Case Study House Program drew up 36 sets of plans for low-cost, modernist houses from some of the greatest midcentury architects. Some were never built, others were demolished, and of those left standing, most are tucked away on private property or behind invite-only events and exorbitant admission fees. That makes it all the more amazing that you can visit Pierre Koenig's Bailey House (Case Study House #21) for free and on a whim (walk-ups are welcome, though appointments are preferred).
LA's equivalent of the Cinemateque Francaise responds to Truffaut's inquiry—"Is the cinema more important than life?"—with a wholehearted "yes." Fairfax's historic Silent Movie Theater still screens early archives—and, yes, talkies from classics to more modern picks complete with Q&A's, live music and potlucks. You'll find everything here at Cinefmaily, from kitschy B-movies to punch-proud masterpieces—with fun concessions such as giant cupcakes and free coffee—plus lots of special guests and parties out back on the patio.
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The Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Baldwin Hills has somehow managed to fly under the radar of even the most park-happy locals. One of the largest open spaces in the greater LA area, the park offers hiking trails with some of the city’s best views, as well as all sorts of leisure amenities. Don’t know where to start? Try an Audubon Society bird watching walk, offered monthly.
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And you thought there were major cultural differences between the people of Brentwood versus the people of Silver Lake: The Annenberg Space for Photography consistently breaks down cultural divides with seasonal exhibitions that have focused on everything from rock and roll to National Geographic.
At Duff Goldman's Cakemix in West Hollywood, Martha Stewart wannabes can pipe, stud and sparkle cakes with frosting, fondant, sprinkles and even edible air-spray paint and glitter—all with the help of on-site professional pastry chefs. If you're feeling hungry, the on-site bakery has cake slices and cupcakes in flavors like lemon-poppy seed and red velvet, along with beverages for sale.
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Downtown LA & vicinity
Buried in the heart of Downtown LA is this European-style food hall, which has been operating on the ground floor of the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917. It's still a great place to great cheap pupusas, carnitas tacos and aguas frescas, but recently the market has emerged as a haven for handsome, trendy eateries like Sticky Rice, Horse Thief BBQ, Eggslut and G&B Coffee.
Cruise along Grand Avenue and you can't miss the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a twisted metallic explosion of Frank Gehry’s imagination. You may not realize, though, that the acoustically impressive hall harbors a lush garden in its shadows. Bring a bagged lunch or a climb along the building's lustrous exterior.
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Permanently expunge those memories of instant noodles with a trip Downtown. The best noodles in Little Tokyo are as varied and numerous as the shops that serve them. In this neighborhood, it's not hard to find a modern version of Southeast Asian dishes, the best ramen bowls from tsukeme to tonkatsu or a tasty plate of noodles.
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Gaze upon the ocean, mountains and Downtown skyline from this grand government tower. Whether you're begrudgingly stopping at a government building or just rolling by on a clear day—public hours are weekdays 8am-5pm—you owe yourself a visit.
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Take a walking tour of DTLA, led by docents from the Los Angeles Conservancy. Choose from eight different themed tours, including the popular "Historic Downtown," "Art Deco," and "Broadway: Historic Theatre and Commercial District" tours.
Visit the Original LA Flower Market, in—where else?—the Flower District, Downtown. Restaurateurs, wedding planners, florists and botany geeks (and okay, some tourists) make up the early morning hustle and bustle among rows of flowers, plants and “floral accessories” from around the world. Come out later during public hours to grab a bouquet for a friend, take some great pictures or just indulge your senses. Insider tip: Avoid Wednesdays and Fridays if possible—they’re busiest.
LA Opera continues to impress each season under the direction of Spanish tenor and conductor Plácido Domingo. Never been to the opera before? Don't worry, you won't be too lost—English translations of everything sung onstage are projected on a screen for your understanding pleasure. Show up an hour early and catch the free pre-performance talk, which will make you an expert well before the curtains part.
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The undisputed standout at the California Science Center is also the museum's most recent acquisition: Endeavour. The final ship to be built in NASA's space shuttle program, Endeavour inspires a reach-for-the-stars ambition unlike any other exhibit in the city. And its story is distinctly rooted in LA: Endeavour was built in Palmdale and, almost 123 million miles later, rolled along our streets to its permanent resting place in the museum.
San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys
Los Angeles is a beautiful place, and it's not afraid to flaunt it. Case in point: Eaton Canyon. The Pasadena area park is one of the most accessible and easygoing trails where you'll truly feel like you've slipped into the wilderness. On weekdays only, you can cut out the most boring part of the hike and park just barely over a mile from a waterfall.
Find your inner Katniss with beginning archery classes on Saturday mornings—first-come, first-served—at the Pasadena Roving Archers Range at the Lower Arroyo Seco Park. If it’s your first time, show up no later than 7:15am to get fitted with equipment—returning archers can sleep in and show up at 9:45am. Your first lesson is free, and a small donation is suggested for each one thereafter. You'll find similar promos in Westwood and the Valley, as well.
Avid hikers will recognize this spot as the Sam Merrill trailhead, "a quiet refuge from people and wild life forever”—so reads the dedication on the cobblestone gate of the Cobb Estate. But to ghost hunters, it's the Haunted Forest. At night, you're more likely to find curious teens than ghosts, though many report ghostly noises and the feeling that they're being watched in the dimly lit forest.
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Go for a morning walk through this 1,600-acre park—including a five-acre rose garden. This delightful tribute to the horticultural magic of Southern California includes more than 600 varieties of camellia (best seen in the spring). Have lunch at the Cafe and then peruse the gift shop for botany-related books and trinkets to inspire your own garden.
Reserve an afternoon tea for you and your lady-in-training at the kid-friendly Huntington Library Rose Garden—kids aged 2 to 3 nosh for $7.50, kids 4 to 7 for $14.99. The spread includes a buffet of scones, tea cakes and sandwiches. Those looking for a day's itinerary can begin with a guided tour of the rose garden and finish with a mid-day stop in the tea room.
Join the weekend biker crew at Neptune's Net, where the outdoor patio affords views of surfers, kite boarders and fellow diners, many of whom will be large, hairy and leather-clad. Dine with locals at Malibu Seafood, where the long line is worth the wait for fresh fish and seafood (grilled or battered and fried) and outdoor picnic tables. Or drop in at the Reel Inn, an oceanside fixture for fresh grilled fish served with fries and slaw. Grab a beer and head to the outdoor patio at sunset, then go back in to savor the nautical kitsch.
Soak up the sun, spy on surfers and bring your fishing gear to catch dinner, or let the experts handle all that messy fish-cleaning and indulge in the best sushi in Malibu at the expanded Nobu next door.
Start at the bottom of PCH and hike alongside the shady sycamore-lined Santa Monica mountains of Malibu. If you need to cool off, take a dip in the natural pools and stake out a spot on the rocks nearby to dry off in the sun.
With a variety of terrain, flora and views of the Pacific and city, Pacific Palisades' Temescal Canyon Park is great for trail runners, hikers, and dog walkers—while it's technically illegal, dogs roam off-leash here. You'll experience vast, breathtaking views that span from Catalina to Downtown and enough varied terrain to keep you and your furry friend going—all the way to the Valley, should you dare.
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The Sunken City is L.A. County’s very own ancient ruins, minus the ancient part. A 1929 landslide caused a few blocks of seaside San Pedro to crumble the ocean. Today, you'll graffitied slabs of concrete that once functioned as streets and house foundations. The once semi-secret site has become a popular spot since the rise of social media. It's technically illegal to access the site and decidedly unsafe—let's not forgot how it became sunken in the first place—but you can walk along a fenced in trail to peer in from steady ground.
Around & Beyond LA
LA is famous for its semi-secret network of public staircases, reminiscent of a time when residents actually walked (!) up and down hills to get to school, the supermarket and transit lines. More than 275 individual staircases—some neglected, some leading to hidden parks or bungalows, all a good workout—lace the Los Angeles area, from Pasadena to the Palisades. Pick up a copy of Charles Fleming's Secret Stairs—one of our favorite books about LA—to find a route near you.
Don't get us wrong, we love the Getty and LACMA, but some of LA's best art is plastered and wheat-pasted over billboards and onto the sides of buildings. Some of the world's most notorious street artists have dropped in on our fair city to behind their unmistakable marks.
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Make your landlocked city friends jealous and do a legendary one-day surf-and-snow itinerary. Hit the slopes of Mountain High for some early morning runs, then head to Malibu Surf Shack (across from Malibu Pier) and rent a board or buy a lesson. If you're super ambitious, you could try to sandwich the desert in as well—the Mojave National Preserve is close and beautiful.
LA is home to a hell of a lot of ink, and these tattoo artists and their shops are masters of their craft. Thirty six percent of young adults in America have been inked, and that statistic is undoubtedly higher in a city home to Venice's skater punks and Hollywood Boulevard's rockers-to-be.
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So you're looking to get your sports fix, but basketball tickets are too expensive, Nascar is bad for the environment and you're ethically opposed to horse racing. Don't worry, you don't always have to resort to Derby Dolls. Watch cyclists race instead at the LA Velodrome Racing Association (or get in yourself!).
On the same site as the awe-inspiring Watts Towers themslves, the Center offers (often free) classes in music, dance and visual arts. There's also a rotating gallery of art and instruments on display, if the towers aren't feast enough for your eyes. Call 213-847-4646 or email email@example.com for class info.
This unique American tradition, often called Sacred Harp, brings people together to sing four-part hymns and anthems. While many of the songs have religious themes, the Fa-So-La LA group is purely secular—the only book they’ll push is the songbook. Meet-ups happen fairly regularly, all over the city, and newcomers are always welcome. Instead of singing regular music notes, you’ll sing shape notes, making it easy for first-timers to read the sheet music and participate fully. And we do mean fully—once you hear how beautiful a room full of shape note singers sounds, you’ll be hooked.