Best Kept Secrets. You can find information about Disneyland, Universal Studios and other Los Angeles area attractions anywhere; I like to reveal the hidden gems of Los Angeles, the best-kept secrets. One of which is riding the Metro whenever possible. The hectic traffic in L.A. is not an attraction that I would recommend. The city has recently completed a network of express busways that easily connect with it's new Metro Subway Stations, which are home to incredible site-specific artworks that are relevant to the history and culture of each neighborhood.
Western Modes Of Travel and Distinctly California Culture
Once a forgotten landmark, now a hub of activity due to the building of new rail systems that crisscross the L.A. Basin, Union Station in downtown L.A. is an impressive piece of Art Deco architecture. Still pretty much in its original glory (sans the quarter-operated TV monitors that used to be at the seats), itâ€™s a wonder to explore this massive, historic structure built in 1939. Try to sneak a peak into the cordoned-off old ticket area near the entrance, and donâ€™t miss a trip to the platform to see the complex interaction of passenger and cargo rail systems. Before you head out on your downtown adventure, have a lunch of Nouvelle Continental Cuisine at upscale, but affordable, Traxx Restaurant or a classic cocktail while soaking in the beautifully preserved Art Deco ambiance of Traxx Bar.
An easy walk across the street from the entrance to Union Station is Olvera Street and Pueblo de Los Angeles, the birthplace of The City Of Angels. Twenty-seven historic buildings still remain on the site, which is adjacent to an authentic and charming zocalo, or plaza. A self-guided tour map of this Historic National Monument is available from The El Pueblo Visitors center, located midway down Olvera Street on the west side. A stroll down the isles of little shops on Olvera Street is like a trip across the border! Here youâ€™ll find Mexican goods, Mariachi bands and one of my favorite Olvera Steet Restaurantes, La Golondrina CafÃ©, which has been serving authentic Mexican dishes alongside Margaritas for the adults and Horchatas for the kids, since 1924. A great finish to an afternoon at Olvera Street is a visit to the El Pueblo Gallery or a quick peak inside the La Placita Church. Maps, information and history can be found at www.olvera-street.com.
Walk a couple blocks north of Olvera Street, across Cesar Chavez to the Chinatown Main Gate. Farther down Broadway in the Plaza, youâ€™ll find The largest Chinese Product store in Los Angeles, Wing Hop Fung Ginseng and China Products Center, at 727 North Broadway, complete with herbs and tea, chinaware, garments, arts and crafts, a pharmacy and, of course, an acupuncturist! At the Plum Tree Inn restaurant youâ€™ll find great Dim Sum and other signature Chinese dishes. Delve deeper past the plaza to find Chung King Road or Bamboo Lane and youâ€™ll discover one of L.A.â€™s most cutting-edge, but inviting, art gallery scenes, an insiderâ€™s glimpse into the art world where the whole family is welcome. Plenty of ideas for your Chinatown visit can be found at www.chinatownla.com.
Union Station is also a starting point for adventures that take you outside of the city. One of the best ways to see the Southern California Coastline is via Amtrakâ€™s Coast Starlight train. With Dining Car, Observation Parlour Car and wine tasting in the evenings, itâ€™s the most civilized way to see the beauty of the Golden State. For tips on traveling California by train, check out my previous posts on this subject.
The Old West is alive and well at Sunset Ranch where you can take a one or two hour horseback ride through the Hollywood Hills. Their famous Dinner Ride is one of Hollywoodâ€™s best-kept secrets and includes a trip past the Hollywood sign through massive Griffith Park and dinner at Viva Fresh Mexican Restaurant before the starlit ride back to the ranch. For more info, go to www.SunsetRanchHollywood.com
Hollywood Magic and Adventure
To get into the L.A. lifestyle, visit the Hollywood/Highland Center, next to the Metro station, where youâ€™ll find one of my favorite dining experiences at Kojiâ€™s Sushi and Shabu Shabu, All ages will enjoy cooking their own food in a shabu shabu hot pot and the adults will enjoy the vibe and the cocktails. For the newbie, Kojiâ€™s servers guide you through this hip and healthy experience. For a listing of all the shops and restaurants, check out www.hollywoodandhighland.com.
If you really want to be able to say that you did one touristy thing while you were in L.A., you can visit the renowned Hollywood Walk of Fame, culminating with the famous hand and foot (and hoof) prints in the sidewalk at Mannâ€™s Chinese Theatre. More than just a step back into Hollywood history, this is also ground zero for street performances and people watching. In front of Mannâ€™s, your family can get in the picture with costumed look-alikes of celebrity like Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe or characters Shrek and Avatar for a small donation.
Hip Hop dancers perform on the sidewalks regularly on the star-studded sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Hollywood Highland Center.
Across the boulevard you canâ€™t miss the Disney Store and the plush, lavish El Capitan Theatre. Seeing the world premiere of the current Disney offering in this painstakingly restored movie palace is like time traveling back to the 30â€™s; an organ player and live performance usually precede the film, which is played on a huge screen with a state of the art sound system. The latest info on this incredible movie-going experience can be found at disney.go.com/disneypictures/el_capitan.
At 7000 Franklin Avenue, just west of Highland and North of Hollywood Blvd. is a very special private club with a different kind of Hollywood Magic. Home to some of the greatest magicians and magic shows in the world, The Magic Castle is a fabulous way to experience some unusual L.A. nightlife, but it's also the site of a uniquely entertaining family experience, Saturday and Sunday brunches at the Castle, the only events there where under 21â€™s are allowed. Since itâ€™s a private club, youâ€™ll have to contact one of the magicians to get invited. Visit www.magiccastle.com to start the pursuit.
Itâ€™s a funky, quirky, uniquely L.A. experience, discovering the New Wave stores and eateries on Melrose Avenue. Hip and trendy and sometimes garish, Melrose Avenue is the place to see the PIBâ€™s, (people in black), the Punks and the Pierced, but there are also some fabulous and famous L.A. restaurants, renowned Comedy Improv at The Groundlings (many Saturday Night Live cast members go their start here) and great shops featuring vintage clothing and nostalgia objects. From 50â€™s memorabilia to Punk clothing, thereâ€™s something for all ages to gape at on Melrose.
From The Getty To The Ocean
The Getty Center is more than just a hilltop cluster of beautifully designed Travertine buildings, itâ€™s a calming environment that magically incorporates out of this world, impeccably maintained landscaping, focused and directed natural light and monolithic water features. As you board the futuristic tram that takes you from the parking lot up the hill to the center, you realize that a visit to the Getty is an experience not to be missed. Explore the Surrealistic river that winds through the Robert Irwin garden and watch the sun set over the ocean, enjoying fabulous views of the city from this strategically-placed hilltop location. Cap off the day by having dinner at the fabulous, casually elegant Restaurant At The Getty Center. Families can also find less expensive fare at The CafÃ©, in the Courtyard, or your tribe can grab box lunches and eat on the lush grounds.
If you do decide to go to the exhibits, there are usually some first-rate multi-media experiences to be had, as well as a treasure-filled gift shop. The Family Room has great hands-on activities including mask making, sculpting and an art treasure hunt. More than just a museum, a visit to the Getty Center is an exciting indoor/outdoor experience that gives the visitor a look into a wonderful side of L.A. life and one of the best views in the city. www.getty.edu/visit
The Picturesque Pacific
The next stop is the Pacific Ocean, where Wilshire Boulevard meets Ocean Avenue, at a little park on the bluff with a spectacular view of the California Coast from Point Dume, to the right, to the Santa Monica Pier on the left. Home to Pacific Park amusement park and the historic Carousel, as well as restaurants, fishing and a wonderful view, Santa Monica Pier is another best kept secret in Los Angeles. For more info, check out www.santamonicapier.org. Stroll down the pier or follow the beach-side path south to Venice Beachâ€™s quirky shops and bizarre street performers.
"View Of Pacific Palisades and P.C.H. From Santa Monica" original oil on canvas, 40"x30" by Warren Keating. For more info, go to KeatingArt.com.
No trip to Southern California is complete without a trip up the coast from Santa Monica to Malibu and beyond. There are several restaurants on the Ocean and some great shoreline parks (Zuma Beach is our favorite) where you can park the car for a fee and have a day at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Check out Chevy Chase andÂ Beverly D'Angelo in the Griswolds' funniest travel mishaps ever at http://www.homeaway.com. Watch their new Hotel Hell Vacation short films and discover why a HomeAway house or condo is the best option for your next vacation.
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Gorgeous Home in Los Angeles in Ideal Location
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Warren Keating is an artist living in Los Angeles. His work can be viewed and purchased at KeatingArt.com. Fine Art Prints of his work can be found at KeatingArt.imagekind.com. For more information, go to WarrenKeating.com.