Visitors to Los Angeles usually have no shortage of things to do… whether you’re chasing down celebrities through the streets of Santa Monica, stepping into Shirley Temple’s tiny footprints outside the Chinese Theatre, or relaxing beachside and watching the muscle-builders in Venice.
But most visitors, and even many locals, are unaware of some of the most interesting aspects of the sprawling City of the Angels. It’s these lesser-known spots that provide much of LA’s character and history, beyond the bright lights of Tinseltown.
After all, Los Angeles is actually 86 different incorporated cities… and that’s a lot of choices, most of which you’ll never find advertised or in any brochure.
One important note: as any Angeleno knows, it doesn’t matter where you go in Los Angeles, the key question is always parking. So we’ve not only found some offbeat options for your travels in LA, but provided the scoop on how you can find parking there.
Paramount Ranch is located about half an hour from the center of Los Angeles. In 1927 Paramount Pictures purchased 2,400 acres of land to use as a “movie ranch.” The ranch has been used in various films for more than 60 years, doubling as Tombstone, Arizona and Dodge City, Kansas, among many other locations.
A number of popular television series have also been shot here, including Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Gunsmoke, Charlie’s Angels, and The Dukes of Hazzard. Some of the movies that were filmed here include Geronimo (1939), Paleface (1948), Gunsmoke (1931), and Fancy Pants (1950).
Since 1980, the site has been part of the national park system, and has been reduced to 436 acres in size. The Western Town was rebuilt in 1984 and is still used for filming today (besides representing the Old West, it has been transformed into 13th century China, colonial Massachusetts, and the island of Java).
Here, visitors can step inside Wild West, complete with a main street, sheriff’s office, saloon, and Wells Fargo office. Admission is free, as is the parking, and the ranch is open from dawn to dusk. For more help on planning your visit: www.nps.gov
For adventures around the state, visit our California Travel section.
Another offbeat way to get an insider’s view of Los Angeles is to eschew the star chasing buses and sign up for an Esotouric tour.
Esotouric tours cover many of LA’s less well-known personalities and events, like the Black Dahlia murders, the hard-boiled noir of Raymond Chandler, the life and times of author John Fante (a precursor to the Beatnik writers), and even “Riot on the Sunset Strip” about the explosion of the music scene in mid-’60s LA.
Most of the tours have some sort of specific historical perspective and generally focus on one neighborhood. Fante’s tour, for example, covers the Bunker Hill haunts that in many ways defined both his life and his work. The five-hour Chandler tour covers Hollywood hotspots of yore, while the “Riot” tour focuses on the history of the infamous Sunset Strip. Tickets are $55, and tours usually last for several hours. www.esotouric.com
Looking for another quirky tour in the City of Angels? Try Real-Life Ghost Hunters: In the Footsteps of Famous Los Angeles Murders.
The Edison is a trendy nightclub in downtown LA — there had to be one on the list, after all. While chic clubs are beginning to flourish in the once dilapidated downtown area, the Edison has something a little bit special: it’s located in the basement of the Higgins Building, which was once home to downtown LA’s first private power plant.
The club mixes architectural and mechanical artifacts, blending science, art, industry, and whimsy. For instance, faux-faded murals were placed next to the original, old-fashioned turbines and used as decor. The old boiler room is now known as The Furnace, redesigned as a sort of steampunk opium den lit by electric tea lights. This large industrial space is divided into distinct areas, with several dimly lit lounges, a stage, and a spacious dancing area.
The Edison is open Wednesday through Saturday each week until last call at 2 a.m. Free parking is available on a number of side streets, but secured lots are also available for about $10 and are generally a good idea for late-night clubbers. www.edisondowntown.com
Los Angeles is once again a center of roller derby action. For those who weren’t hip to the scene in the 1970s, roller derby involves two teams of women on skates smashing, crashing, and racing as they fly around a circular track. Look for wild costumes, crazy antics, and bone-crushing action.
In fact, the sport has seen such a resurgence that there are actually two types of roller derby available in Los Angeles. The difference begins with the type of track — the Derby Dolls use a banked track while the Angel City Derby Girls (AC/DG) use flat track — but it doesn’t end there.
The Dolls use a former bowling alley on the top floor of a mall in Little Tokyo, while AC/DG occupies a ramshackle warehouse in a questionable neighborhood south of downtown and across the freeway from USC. Both groups sell alcohol at their venues, which means that generally only the 21+ crowd is allowed to attend.
Interested in seeing celebrities playing Frisbee with their pets? How about scoping out one of LA’s hottest singles scenes? You can find both at Runyon Canyon.
Part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Runyon Canyon is a 130-acre park that runs down from the crest of the hills at Mulholland to the bottom of the hills near Franklin and Fuller Avenues, a few blocks from Hollywood.
The park features a large off-leash area for dogs, and you’ll usually find dog owners out in force, especially on weekends. But it’s also a popular spot for walking and hiking. Just be sure to bring water as many trails are quite steep, and there is relatively little shade along the path.
You can park for free at lots at both the top (off Mulholland) and bottom (near Fuller Avenue as well as Vista Street) of the park, but it’s probably easier and more scenic to start at the top. You’ll find a fairly large lot for the park off Mulholland between Outpost and Woodrow Wilson Drives. Just east of the lot on Mulholland, you’ll find superb views of downtown, and scenic outlooks are located in either direction. www.runyon-canyon.com
Looking for places you can take your pet? Visit our Pet Travel section.
MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is certainly one of the world’s most unique museums. Its collections include a vast amount of knickknacks, gizmos, “art,” and outdated technology. It’s an often bewildering array of artifacts that includes permanent collections on household myths of years past, one dedicated to trailer park culture, another of microscopic collages made from butterfly scales, and an entire room dedicated to unusual letters received by the Mount Wilson Observatory between 1915-1935.
The Museum might also be seen as a sort of conceptual critique of modern museums generally, with artifacts seemingly scattered and arranged at random, instead of curated in a more authoritarian manner. The concept of order in any sort of traditional museum definition simply doesn’t exist here. There’s also a tea room and small theater for meetings and presentations. www.mjt.org
Free parking is definitely possible on your visit, as the museum is located along Venice Boulevard, in the Palms district. Side streets off Venice offers some free parking, while the main Boulevard itself has some metered and non-metered parking.
Find more offbeat museums in our Museum Travel section.
THE SILENT MOVIE THEATRE
Located southwest of Hollywood, The Silent Movie Theatre was built in 1942 and was recently restored to its original 1940s art deco design. Here, silent films are accompanied by a piano or organ just like when they were originally shown.
Not only can you watch silent movies, you can reserve the theater for private parties, screenings, concerts, weddings, and more. Upstairs from the main theater is a cappuccino bar and photo gallery. Facilities include a screening room, which houses 210 people and a stage with a state-of-the-art sound system.
Tickets are $10, and like the silent movies of old, often include a cartoon, newsreel, or even live entertainment before, or at the intermission of, the show. Movies are shown regularly on Thursdays, but the schedule for other days is subject to change. www.silentmovietheatre.com
Looking for someplace to eat in Los Angeles? Don’t miss this guide: Three Days, Nine Meals: Restaurants of Los Angeles.
GRAND CENTRAL MARKET
Grand Central Market is located on South Broadway in Los Angeles, in the center of Los Angeles’ Historic Core District on the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building. It is LA’s oldest and largest open-air market, dating back to 1917. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Visitors can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner there from dozens of different vendors, and don’t forget to pick up a snack at the Market Court, which has views of Bunker Hill and the Angels Flight railway. Bargains abound in the many stalls and visitors can choose from a variety of food, including Cuban sandwiches, dried goods and spices, fresh produce, and many others.
Check out Peter’s AOL video below, which includes footage of the market.
The Market offers free one-hour parking with a minimum $10 purchase — keep in mind that parking in the downtown core is often difficult. www.grandcentralsquare.com
SANTA MONICA FARMERS’ MARKET
On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, the streets near the Santa Monica Promenade fill with farmers (and is closed off to cars) between 8:30 a.m. and about 1:00 p.m. Farmers from around the state descend on the area to offer a wide array of fresh produce. And since it’s California, a state with a huge range of climates and growing seasons, the markets operate year-round with a wide variety of fruits, veggies, fresh-baked breads.
The market also offers a variety of educational and cultural programs, classes and festivals. The “Lunch With a Chef” program includes weekly cooking demonstrations with area chefs. Seasonal festivals also occur occasionally and include Cinco de Mayo, Melon Mania in July, and the All-You-Can-Carry Pumpkin Patch in October.
As for parking, street parking in the Santa Monica area is difficult to find, and free street parking might as well be non-existent. Fortunately, there are literally thousands of spaces in the city parking garages, which offer free parking for the first two hours of your visit. For more, check out: www.smgov.net/farmers_market
Want a fun, easy roadtrip from Los Angeles? Try One-Tank Trips: Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County. Another roadtrip option for the LA area is America the Beautiful: Nine Stops, Nine Miles.
HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY
Located on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery becomes a great place to hang out on weekend nights… and not for seances. Here the company Cinespia plays bi-weekly summer movie screenings, which begin in May.
The cemetery is the resting place of many old Hollywood celebrities, including director Cecil B. DeMille, silent film star Rudolph Valentino and actor Douglas Fairbanks. The summer movie screenings have become hauntingly popular, no doubt due to its odd locale. Movie-goers are also encouraged to bring food and drinks to complete the festivities. Classic films are projected onto the side of a large, white mausoleum that contains the remains of Valentino, actor Peter Finch, and dancer Eleanor Powell.
Make sure to arrive early: While gates open at 6:30 p.m., a number of people arrive as early as 5 p.m. to be first in line to stake out the best places in the field. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the cemetery gates. Allow plenty of time for parking, but parking is free within the cemetery grounds.
By Matthew Calcara for PeterGreenberg.com.
For more cities, check out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide Series.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- One-Tank Trips: Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County
- Three Days, Nine Meals: Restaurants of Los Angeles
- Real-Life Ghost Hunters: In the Footsteps of Famous Los Angeles Murders
- America the Beautiful: Nine Stops, Nine Miles