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Velaslavasay Panorama
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Juan Monroy

8 secret L.A. spots you need to visit

We found the greatest hush-hush happenings, from seedy soirees and pop-up concerts to hidden restaurants worth the trek

Written by
Michael Juliano
Stephanie Breijo
Patricia Kelly Yeo

There’s no keeping secrets in a city fixated on discovering the next big thing. But Los Angeles always stretches past the horizon: Our megalopolis is so vast that the other side of the 405 feels like unfamiliar territory no matter where you are. And so, we’re turning our attention to L.A.’s superlative secrets—not necessarily its best-kept ones or the spots that will have to shutter as soon as word gets out, but the inventive finds that elude guidebooks and the itineraries of most Angelenos. Read on for a shortcut on one L.A.’s best hikesa beach entrance tucked between mansions and an underground, over-the-top supper club.

Make plans for these standout L.A. secrets

  • Museums
  • History
  • Griffith Park

While billboards, banners and minivans pave the way to Disneyland’s world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy, nothing but an unassuming, mostly unmarked gravel lot leads up to the little workshop where it all began.

In the early 1950s, before the Anaheim theme park started to consume more of his time, Walt Disney toiled away in a rustic red barn on the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, a 1⁄8-scale model train that he built from scratch; in fact, he liked to take his family and friends for a ride on the 2,615 feet of tracks that snaked around his Carolwood Drive estate in Holmby Hills.

The original shed and a bundle of its effects landed in Griffith Park in 1999, after the death of Disney’s wife, Lillian. Once a month (third Sun 11am–3pm) next to the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum, you can visit Walt’s Barn, which houses his original tools, workbench and track control board as well as Disney-themed memorabilia and historical documents.

  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

You never attended one of Salvador Dalí’s infamous dinner parties—don’t worry, our invites got lost in space and time, too—but you can more than make up for it with the Disco Dining Club. An ode to food, art, excess and getting weird, the irreverent, theatrical supper club replicates the mystique and debauchery—and especially the wild costumes and forthright sexuality—of the surrealist’s own fetes. The multicourse meal is prepped by a rotating cast of L.A. chefs, and tickets disappear faster than will your amuse-bouche.

Installments, each centered around a different theme, might include DJ sets, costumed actors, dance parties, open bars, live music, mimes, decadent bites, joint pairings and extravagant gift bags, making it easy to adhere to the group’s motto: “Consume. Everything.”

  • Things to do
  • Pasadena

Eaton Canyon Falls is far from unknown, judging by the trail of ever-present graffiti that abuts the otherwise stunning waterfall. Expedite your access to the site via a covert entrance that cuts a mile from each way of the path’s dustiest, sunniest and dullest expanse.

Chart a course for Pinecrest Drive, where barbed wire and bright-yellow danger signs would have you believe you’re in the wrong place. But ease up to the fence to spot a sliver of a gate that’s swung open until sunset. Follow the footway down the hill and you’ll find yourself on a shaded, creek-tracing homestretch to the waterfall.

A slight wrinkle: Parking is available on Pinecrest only on weekdays, for a maximum of two hours—but that’s double the length of time that you’ll need to trek to the falls and back.

  • Museums
  • History
  • USC/Exposition Park
  • price 1 of 4

The Velaslavasay Panorama is easily one of L.A.’s most wonderfully odd destinations. At the end of an otherwise residential block in West Adams, the turquoise facade and its red-orange “UNION” marquee barely hint at the whimsy housed inside.

It served as a movie theater, a union meeting room and a playhouse in bygone eras, but for the past nearly two decades this early-20th-century theater has been mostly known for its outside-the-box programming and old-timey 360-degree panorama paintings. The scenes change, but since 2019 the Shengjing Panorama has graced the space with a sprawling painting of a pre-revolution Chinese urban scene—and that’s in addition to a recreated arctic trading post.

Out back, you’ll find an absolutely enchanting garden, with an ornate gazebo, carniverous plants and Eastern-inspired pavilions.

  • Shopping
  • Design and interiors
  • West Hollywood
  • price 3 of 4

West Hollywood is well stocked with spectacular rooftop views—that is, if you can shell out for brunch, drinks or an overnight stay. But for seekers of alfresco views who’ve blown their entire budget on parking alone, try Restoration Hardware (yes, the upscale contemporary furniture chain).

Venture upstairs at its Melrose location and you’ll happen upon an open- air patio that’s a perfect spot for some R&R—you know, after all of that decor shopping. Grab a comfy seat under a canopy of twinkle-light–wrapped olive trees and survey L.A.’s poshest hillsides.

To be clear, as a privately owned store, RH’s rooftop isn’t quite a public park, so don’t pack a picnic. But if we were to stroll up there with, say, a cup of coffee from Alfred and a magazine to flip through, well it just seems like an ideal place to… research our new patio-furnishing plans.

  • Things to do
  • Angeles National Forest

Its telescope was once the largest of its kind in the world and it’s where Edwin Hubble discovered that the Andromeda Galaxy exists outside our own—and it’s right in Pasadena’s rugged backyard. 

About 5,700 feet above L.A., the Mount Wilson Observatory offers seasonal tours of its grounds and recognizable dome, both full of still-functioning astronomical instruments (you can also slip inside during a summer concert series). Whether you’ve hiked or driven your way up there, all that science can make an Angeleno hungry, which is why we love the Cosmic Café.

This no-frills snack window specializes in chili dogs, sandwiches, bowls of chili and, in the mornings, breakfast bites. From the perch of its picnic benches, you can nosh while looking out over the San Gabriel Valley below (or some dramatic cloud cover). Just make sure to check the weather and a calendar: Both the Observatory and Cosmic Café close to the public for the winter, typically in late November, and reopen in the spring.

  • Attractions
  • Beaches
  • Malibu

There’s really no such thing as a hidden beach in L.A.: The 70 or so miles of coastline in the county are on mostly contiguous public land with parking often only steps away. But there are some hidden entrances to low-key beaches that only those clued in would find.

Case in point: The picturesque Lechuza Beach, accessible only via barely-marked paths past multi-million-dollar Malibu mansions. All of the entrances here are off of Broad Beach Road, though just a heads up that the streets below that are closed to public car (but not foot) traffic. There are out-of-the-way access points on either end, at the bottom of both West and East Sea Level Drive. But you want to aim for the one across from Bunnie Lane; here you’ll find plenty of street parking and a gate that leads to a short dirt path and staircase.

Once on the beach (all of the dry sand up the coast from here is public), the smooth shore dotted with rugged rocks looks like something more typical of the Central Coast. If you come during low tide, venture up the coast for a visit to the even more dramatic El Matador.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • Angeles National Forest
  • price 1 of 4

The San Gabriel Mountains are full of relics from the L.A. wilderness of yesteryear: the stranded Bridge to Nowhere and the railway and resort remains atop Echo Mountain, among them.

But the Big Horn Mine Trail is one of the most unexpected. Barely two miles off Angeles Crest Highway (just west of Big Pines), you can encounter a bona fide mine that looks more like a frontier relic than something you’d find in a SoCal resort area. Its origin story is shrouded in tall tales of murder and grizzly bear attacks but the reality is this operated as a fuctioning (though not wildly succesful) gold mine in the very beginning of the 1900s. Despite a few revival attempts, it’s been mostly abandoned ever since.

It’s a relatively flat though narrow and gravelly hike over to the remains of the mine; in winter, however, expect some fairly deep snow standing in your way. You’ll need an Adventure Pass ($5) to park in the lot off Angeles Crest Highway (at the Vincent Gulch Divide).

There’s nothing hush-hush about these supposed L.A. secrets

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