Greetings, everyone! I am certain that you have been eagerly awaiting my next blog post, but have been dismayed to see the days tick by without hearing from me.
Right. Well, I do have a darn good reason for my absence, and it eventually ties into my primary topic, so let’s go for a short ride. I was asked to attend a conference in Atlanta last week, so while I was out there I used the free airfare as an excuse to take a rather exhausting road trip. After a red-eye flight from LAX, I left Atlanta on the morning of Friday, October 1st; I returned to Atlanta nine days later, having logged 3500 miles on my rental car and 23 states visited. Over that time, I visited more than 100 cities, first driving westbound through the South, then turning north at Shreveport and loosely following the Missouri River into North Dakota, then heading southeast and around the Great Lakes into Michigan, then heading back in a southeasterly direction through the Appalachians and finally back to Atlanta.
This was by no means my first cross-country trip, but I am always amazed at how many fantastic sights there are to discover along the way. Adorable downtowns. Dramatic parks. Countless historical sites. And of course, there is always an impressive cast of characters: Miss Mary, a waitress at a Waffle House outside Atlanta, and quite possibly the sweetest person I have met in my life; Lee Wonnacott, whom I met in eastern Tennessee and who is on a mission to visit and document as many veterans’ memorials in the United States as possible; the wonderful staff and fantastic confectioners of Roers Family Bakery in Alexandria, Minnesota; the list goes on and on.
Though I largely had very little time to spend in each town, I did come away a rather extensive list of places I decided I absolutely must re-visit someday. So much to see! So much to learn! So many places in which I actually pictured living (though, of course, I am not sure I could part with the Southern California weather and deal with the harsh Midwest winters or the Southern summers again; been there, done that!). Of course, this was from the perspective of someone who had never visited most of these places—knowing so little about many of these various cities and towns, I wasn’t always sure what I “should” be seeing while there, or how I would actually learn about any of them in the highly unlikely event that someday I actually do decide to relocate.
And that brings me, several paragraphs later, to the main point of today’s post: If you’re a new (or long-time) resident to this glorious city called Los Angeles, how on earth do you make sense of your new town and discover what this great city has to offer?
In a city as large and varied as Los Angeles, you will never be at a loss for things to do. If you’re new in town, you will no doubt be compelled to visit the most popular spots in the city—Hollywood, Santa Monica Pier, Griffith Park, La Brea Tar Pits, and the other “big name” attractions. Don’t get me wrong, those are must-see attractions, but those are barely the tip of the iceberg.
This is going to sound corny, but when my wife or I discover some place we want to visit, but our schedules don’t allow us to get there right away, we jot down the name of the place or activity on a piece of paper and toss it into an envelope. Then, when we have a free weekend and want something to do, we randomly draw one of them out of a hat. This helps us be sure to get out and see some of the more obscure museums, parks, downtowns, or other venues we would not be likely to recall. I suggested that to a friend of mine, who loved it so much she and her husband started doing that too. The drawback is that quite often, when I pull up Facebook, I discover that they’re visiting a lot of the places I wanted to see!
Upcoming events. Countless websites listing upcoming cultural and entertainment events exist. A few that I like to use: 1. The Auto Club. If you’re a member of the AAA/Auto Club of Southern California, I highly recommend paying attention to the “Out and About” section in Westways magazine. Their editors have a fantastic capacity for pulling together an eclectic selection of events. 2. The newspaper. Most major newspapers, of course, will include upcoming events in their print editions. The Los Angeles Times has listings of upcoming events on its “Find Local” section online (scroll down to Events). L.A. Weekly is an excellent source. The Daily News usually has a calendar of events in its print edition as well. 3. L.A.-geared websites. There’s LA.com, LAist, Eventful, and the list goes on.
Car shows and auto museums. Southern California is the car capital of the world, and a glance at the sheer number of auto museums and car shows certainly reflects that. The So Cal Car Culture website features a current and comprehensive listing of upcoming car shows—some free, some paid—as well as cruise nights across the Southland. The big daddy of them all is the Cruisin’ for a Cure show, which runs each September in Costa Mesa. The Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake and freshly-rebuilt Bob’s Big Boy Broiler in Downey have recurring car shows and cruise-ins as well, plus have the extra bonus of some eye-popping architecture to boot. Top on the list of museums (at least in my book) are the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Nethercutt Collection, and the more recently opened Murphy Auto Museum.
Other museums. Wikipedia, surprisingly (or not), has an impressively thorough directory of museums in California, including such oddball attractions as the Bunny Museum in Pasadena and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. (However, they omitted the Museum of Death in Hollywood.) L.A. has many more mainstream cultural institutions, of course, including the renowned Getty Center and Getty Villa, the L.A. County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Norton Simon Museum, and so on.
Modernism. I have been an active participant in the Lotta Livin’ forums for several years, and have found out a great deal of off-the-beaten path entertainment options oriented toward mid-century modernism and mid-century culture in general. Check out their “Modern Calendar of Events” section for all sorts of events in Southern California and beyond—many of them more obscure than the next. Retro shows, screenings of old movies, architecture symposia, you name it.
Historical and architectural tours. There are plenty of opportunities to get guided tours of the city, and I don’t mean the cheesy “celebrity tours” you see cruising around Hollywood and the Westside. I mean actual ones where you learn the history of the city. The Los Angeles Conservancy has a wide variety of self-guided and guided tours of Downtown Los Angeles and vicinity; I’ve done nearly all of them, and each one is an eye-opening experience even for those who are familiar with Los Angeles. The Conservancy also has links to many other tours run by affiliated organizations. For a more offbeat experience, Charles Phoenix—L.A.’s King of Kitsch—periodically runs tours of Downtown Los Angeles (and occasionally other sites); his unique and hilarious perspective of the town is excellent. His “field trips” (and they really are, complete with school bus rides) are not cheap, but they are highly worthwhile. For the more macabre among you, Dearly Departed Tours runs some very interesting Hollywood tours from a very unusual perspective.
As a personal plug, I’ve also developed a guided walking tour of Downtown Los Angeles. It’s a long walk, maybe 10 miles or so long, but is a great way to see a great deal of the history of the area. Drop me a note if you’re interested; if our schedules allow it, I’m happy to show you around too. It’s free since I 1) enjoy downtown and 2) could really use the exercise, but I do have to limit it to very small groups.
Hiking/biking. I’ve found that hiking and cycling are great ways to see the area. Localhikes.com has a good (though not necessarily comprehensive) listing of trails to explore. The L.A. area unfortunately does not have an abundance of bike paths, but the L.A. Bike Paths website offers a few to explore.
Geocaching. For those of you who’ve never heard of it, geocaching is essentially a GPS-based treasure hunt game (Wikipedia does a much better job of explaining it than I can). I enjoy it because it helps me discover new, out-of-the-way places I never would have discovered on my own. It’s also something you can combine with other activities, especially hiking or urban exploring (or, one of my favorite pastimes, off-roading) You do need a GPS, but it’s otherwise free to play; check out the Geocaching.com website, where you can find listings of geocaches near you.
And finally… I can’t pass up an opportunity to plug Hidden Los Angeles, which has been a fantastic resource for discovering many things to see and do, even for this longtime Angeleno! You can find almost any sort of activity on this website.
Of course, there is no way I could ever hope to provide an exhaustive list of what there is to do in and around Los Angeles, or even an exhaustive directory of websites where you can find this information. L.A. is a big place, and you can find almost anything to do at almost any time of the day, any day of the year. For those of you who are not yet greatly familiar with the terrain, I do hope this has been of some use to you! I look forward to your comments; let me know what you like to do in this great city!