Head to the Santa Monica Senior Center (of all places) to find a tiny room containing a camera obscura apparatus that’s more than 100 years old. Sneak a kiss in the dark as tiny strangers stroll across the disk, oblivious to your PDA.
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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.
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.
Dotted with fountains, picnic lawns, bright pink benches and plenty of nooks from which to sit and people-watch, Grand Park is a bright urban oasis that proves the city has a sense of romance.
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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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Go for an early morning or evening jog, play a game of bocce or laze away on the soft, grassy lawn. Silver Lake Meadow may be modeled after Central Park's Sheep Meadow, but LA Eastsiders have an outdoor playground year-round. Note: No pups allowed.
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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.
Get lost in your thoughts at one of LA's best kept secrets: the mystical Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine. Set on a 10-acre site that was used as a film set during the silent era, its lovely gardens evoke old Hollywood. Look out for the Dutch windmill chapel, the Mississippi houseboat and a number of gliding swans.
Food & Drink
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.
See the city in a whole new way in the Westin Bonaventure's Bona Vista rotating cocktail lounge, where comfy plush chairs face rounded glass walls and an almost imperceptible rotation allows for a 360-degree view of Downtown and beyond.
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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.
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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Let Wine & Cheese Night—every first and third Monday at the Larder at Tavern—guide your date-night agenda. The evening is hosted by Caroline Styne, who runs beloved LA institutions like Lucques, AOC and Tavern with her partner Suzanne Goin. It's a steal of a meal: $29 for three courses of seasonal plates paired with local, small-production wines.
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Find up-for-grabs fruit, berries and other edibles throughout the city with Fallen Fruit's maps, showing trees that grow on (or overhang) public property—which means the goods are free for the taking.
Music & Nightlife
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.
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.
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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Take a comedy workshop at Groundlings Improv School. If laughing at jokes (not making them) is more your thing, check out one of the sketch comedy improv acts. Alumni who got their start on the Groundlings stage include Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph, Kathy Griffin, Jon Lovitz, Will Forte and more.
Arts & Culture
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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Though Bob Baker has passed on, this enchanting bit of LA history is still alive. First opened in 1963, the kitsch factor is high here—original (some worse for wear) puppets, cheesy old songs and ancient decor—but it's good fun. After the show, guests are treated to free ice cream and coffee and a backstage tour.
How to categorize this space? Installations have included a magical woodland and a picturesque shipwreck; activities range from a group weeping-and-laughter ceremony to a clothing-optional film screening to a gourmet ham bar—and that’s all in a single event! Machine Project provides support for its artist collaborators to throw all manner of happenings (stay informed via its website). Events happen around twice a week, usually in the evenings. Past workshops include bookbinding, MIG welding, millinery (a fancy term for hat making), sewing, and sauerkraut and homemade soda making.
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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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Ditch the crowds at LACMA and cross the street to the Craft and Folk Art Museum for modern crafts, workshops, screenings and quirky handmade pieces from local artists. Shows could take in anything from Venetian glassmaking to American printmaking, the circus-themed dioramas of Sonny King to a retrospective of work by Hungarian designer Eva Zeisel. Show up on Sundays for "pay what you can" admission.
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.
The center of Santa Monica's art scene is Bergamot Station, a former trolley stop that's now home to 30-plus galleries. If you head here on a Saturday night, you're likely to find more than one gallery owner uncorking the chardonnay as they launch a new show.
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).
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.
Shopping & Style
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.
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Head to one of the city's many Korean spas (Wi, Natura and Olympic are the big three) for a steam, sauna or massage. Like tough love? Get a proper (albeit painful) Korean body scrub and leave with baby soft skin.
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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.
SoCal’s first large-scale permanent craft marketplace, Crafted is housed in—you guessed it—a warehouse at the Port of LA. One of the city's best craft fairs, Crafted is comprised of a patchwork of stalls housing local designers and food outposts every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the year. Also on offer are craft demonstrations, live music, food trucks and special events, such as an Etsy craft party—call up your knitting circle!
Explore the food, drink and vendors at the Sunset Strip Market—Thursdays from 5pm to 9pm—one of the city's only evening farmer's markets. Tip: Want to do a little shopping or dining post-market? Drop your produce at the Veggie Valet for a suggested donation of $1.
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 Stockroom in Silver Lake is the place to go for fetish items like whips, ball gags and butt plugs. It's also a great place to take a class, as long as you don't mind live demonstrations. Classes at the Stockroom University are usually around $20, last for three hours and are "inflicted by" experts in fields such as hardcore sex, anal play and bloodletting (yep, you read that right). Stockroom classes make the Pleasure Chest look PG—so make sure you're ready to really get up-close and personal before signing up.
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.
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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Having a little film knowledge is practically a prerequisite for living in LA. Take a film class at the Echo Park Film Center and be a novice no more. Learn digital editing, documentary filmmaking, even stop-motion animation. Already know your stuff? Volunteer to teach adult or neighborhood youth/senior classes.
See Hollywood's upcoming features at UCLA Extension's Sneak Preview. The $275+ class gets you screenings in the comfy Writers Guild Theater, plus rare movie previews and smart Q&As with the filmmakers and actors.
Walks, Hikes & Tours
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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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.
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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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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.
It may not be as pristine as the beach, but the river is increasingly becoming a worthwhile outdoor destination. During the summer the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority allows the public to use two designated areas—one in the Elysian Valley, the other in the Sepulveda Basin—to walk, fish, and use non-motorized and steerable boats such as kayaks.
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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