In celebration of nearly ten full years as an Angeleno, here are ten local treasures (outside of the usual touristy stuff) that I highly recommend to those living here or just visiting the City of Angels:
1. Wilderness Travel Course: This is a 10-week course that provides instruction on all major topics related to wilderness travel, as well as adventurous recreational outings to put the information learned into practice. It is offered annually by the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club from January through March. I took the course in 2001; it was one of the first things I did upon moving here, and remains to this day one of the best. The fact that the program is run and taught entirely by a volunteer staff is truly amazing, and is a testament to the passion and dedication of those involved.
Note: WTC is just one of countless offerings of the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter. If you love the outdoors and want to meet like-minded folks, or simply want to expand your knowledge of the wealth of beautiful places available to you to explore in southern California, pick up a copy of their latest Schedule of Activities or search for outings on their website.
2. The American Cinematheque is a nonprofit dedicated to showing new, exciting, unusual, and/or rare films on the big screen. Screenings and events are held in two locations: the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. The thing I love most about the Cinematheque is that they frequently feature live Q&As with the filmmakers at their screenings. We’re so spoiled here in L.A. that the thought of going to see a movie at the theater without one of the filmmakers present almost begs the question: what’s the point? Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Nicolas Cage, Julie Delpy, Danny Elfman, Vincent Gallo, Dustin Hoffman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ron Howard, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Nicole Kidman, John Krasinski, Diane Lane, David Leaf, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Richard Linklater, Laura Linney, Kenneth Lonergan, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, Kim Novak, Mark Pellington, Sean Penn, Maya Rudolph, Kevin Smith, Todd Solondz, Tom Tykwer, Gus Van Sant, and Christopher Walken are just some of the people I’ve seen and heard in person at film screenings around town, most of these being Cinematheque events.
3. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is one of the coolest events around for readers and writers of all ages and genres. Other cities may have book festivals, but the scale of this event is just incredible: tons of author panels and book signings, stages with live readings/performances/cooking demonstrations/etc., a wide array of interesting vendors, and activities to keep the kids entertained – truly something for everyone. It’s a great way to meet a favorite author, get turned on to a new one (this happens to me every year), and otherwise spend a weekend celebrating the written word with a huge community of book lovers. It takes place on the last weekend of April, and admission thus far (it’s been around for fifteen years) has been free. Historically, the home for this awesome event has been the UCLA campus, but it was recently announced that the 2011 Festival will be held at USC. While the future of the L.A. Times (and newspapers in general) is subject to much speculation, it is my hope that this event, under whatever name or sponsorship, manages to go on for a long, long time.
4. Channel Islands National Park: Many of the things you hear about L.A. are admittedly true: the car culture and horrendous traffic, the sub-par public transportation for such a major city, the smog, the widespread obsession with youth/looks/plastic surgery/image/status, the incredible chasm between the rich and poor, etc. (as if these things existed nowhere else!). But…how often do you hear about the mountains, beaches, deserts, and islands? Yes, islands!!! It always impresses me how few locals seem to have taken advantage of these natural gems in such close proximity. Yes, Catalina is a popular getaway (and deservedly so), but the Channel Islands offer a more rugged, less populated, and truly unforgettable island experience that really makes you feel far, far away from life on the mainland – plus, the boat rides out and back are a blast, too!
5. South Bay Bicycle Path: Do you like to cycle, roller blade, run, and/or people watch? Why not do so by the beach with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop? You may find it increases your motivation to work out. And unlike the gym, this public space is free. Go early to avoid the crowds.
6. The Groundlings: Imagine being in the studio audience of Saturday Night Live, only the show is a lot funnier and the cast does not have to worry about being safe for television. This is one of the best entertainment deals I’ve found in L.A. (an even better deal if you purchase your tickets through Goldstar). For little more than the price of a movie, you can see this extremely talented comedy troupe perform sketches and/or improvs (depending on which night of the week you go) that are pretty much guaranteed to be laugh-out-loud funny, even on sub-par nights. Plus, there’s a live band that performs in between sketches as the stage is reset. It’s a small theatre, so there’s not a bad seat in the house. A number of well-known SNL alums got their start as a member of The Groundlings. It’s an L.A. institution (and I mean that in a good way!).
7. Pacific Resident Theatre: OK, I’m not going to attempt to persuade anyone that L.A.’s theatre scene compares to New York’s. That said, there is an abundance of theatre companies here, and of those whose work I have seen, I have been most impressed with PRT, located in Venice. Because of the consistent quality of their productions, I feel comfortable making a blanket recommendation to go and see anything being staged there. The first PRT production I saw was in 2003 at the last-minute invite of a friend who had an extra ticket to a play called Big Love. I was so blown away I attended a bunch of other plays elsewhere in town written by the same playwright (Charles Mee), but none of the other productions of his work even came close to PRT’s. Since then, every play I’ve seen at PRT has held the same standard of excellence in terms of acting, direction, creative staging, and compelling source material. Theatre at its best.
8. The Lake Shrine (located in Pacific Palisades) is a uniquely tranquil, spiritually-flavored refuge, free and open to the public. The grounds, owned and beautifully maintained by the Self-Realization Fellowship, feature a lake filled with koi, turtles, ducks, and two resident swans (which you can feed, per the food and instructions provided), gorgeous surrounding gardens, a meditation room, a gift shop and bookstore, and even a shrine to Mahatma Gandhi where a portion of his ashes are kept. It is a nurturing and peaceful space, regardless of one’s religious orientation or lack thereof.
9. Guitar Shops That Double As Concert Venues: For about the cost of parking your car at the Staples Center for a concert, you can hear great live music in an intimate setting, and even have a chance to mingle with the performer(s) in between sets or after the show. Check out the calendars at McCabe’s (Santa Monica), Boulevard Music (Culver City), Trilogy Guitars (Playa del Rey), The Fret House (Covina), and/or The Folk Music Center (Claremont) for info about upcoming shows.
10. Food! L.A. has one of the most diverse populations of any city on the planet. This allows for a wealth of cultural opportunities, especially when it comes to eating! Some personal favorite restaurants, with food so delicious it’s hard not to moan while partaking, include: Mayura (Indian), La Serenata (Mexican), Nyala (Ethiopian), and Shamshiri Grill (Persian). But if your taste buds prefer Korean, Salvadoran, Brazilian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Israeli, Greek, or nearly any other cuisine you can think of, they are bound to find happiness somewhere in L.A.
I know I have only scratched the surface here, so if you have any other L.A. favorites, please feel free to sing their praises in the comments section below: