Participating in the Los Angeles Women’s March on Washington with 750,000 people and millions more around the world was an incredible experience that I will never forget. I am proud that I exercised my civic duty in support of protecting basic human rights for all. Today is the first day of the next four years, and it’s time to get to work.
I have a long, long list of things I want to do in Los Angeles that I’m constantly adding to: restaurants I want to eat at, events I’m interested in and neighborhoods I want to visit. I’m so lucky to have access to a place with such a vibrant culture and storied history, and I’m determined to make the most of it. Here are the top items on my LA to-do list.
This Highland Park outpost of a San Francisco-based bakery just opened up a few weeks ago, and every Snapchat and Instagram story I’ve seen features a line out the door and trays upon trays of cruffins and donuts. Since the Metro Gold Line now extends out my direction, it would be fun to make a day trip out of stopping in Highland Park and jumping back on to go to The Last Bookstore in downtown. Also, their “I got baked in Los Angeles” sign is genius.
I follow a lot of LA-based creatives on Instagram, and they always seem to be at Commissary — a restaurant inside the Line Hotel that looks like a greenhouse. I first found out about Commissary when I was working for a food media company in Santa Monica last year, and mentions of the food would pop up a lot. They have a baller Sunday brunch that might be in order for the next celebration — prime rib, bottomless mimosas and made-to-order entrees.
Here’s another spot that I found out about through social media — Block Party. This is another Highland Park establishment, and I really want to take my friends here for a LA night out. Next time we go to Jon and Vinnys, I say we skip the beer and head to Block Party instead. I can’t wait to try the Highland punch snow cone and the Michelada with a watermelon paleta.
I’m planning to cram a lot into my short holiday break in December, and Clifton’s Cafeteria is on that itinerary. This historic cafeteria reopened last year after five years of renovations, and at its height in the 20th century was serving 15,000 diners every day. The idea of going to a five-story cafeteria to have lunch in the 1950s is mind-boggling when you think about the hold fast food has on our eating culture in 2016, and I want to be able to say that I’ve experienced lunch at Clifton’s.
As someone who has visited most of the big art museums in LA, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited the Watts Towers. An Italian construction worker named Simon Rodia built them in his spare time over 33 years, and in every photo I’ve seen of the towers they look magnificent. The project has an incredible history, and one that’s a testament to the importance of preserving public art. The towers remind me of another labor of love that’s just in my backyard.
Cinespia puts on outdoor movie screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and every time I think about going the plan always falls through because of double-booking. There are a couple of things that make Cinespia special: they make a big event out of the screening with photo booths, DJs and special appearances by people involved in the movie. I was hoping to catch a Halloween flick to make the experience extra spooky, but unfortunately didn’t get to it this year. I want to assemble a big group of friends, a few picnic baskets and make a weekend night out of it.
I’ve never seen a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA, but I’m a big Gustavo Dudamel fan. This winter, I’m definitely getting tickets to a December LA Philharmonic performance so my grandmother and I can see them in a different venue than we’re used to. The building is just so gorgeous, and it would be fun to get a little dressed up for an afternoon at the concert hall.
I worked on the West Side for six months, and unfortunately never really got to appreciate my proximity to the cool things to do there. One of the places I still really want to visit is the Venice Canals. These canals also have a really awesome history, and it would be fun to go and see the Christmas Parade.
Do you have anywhere in LA you really want to visit? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
The 48 hours of Saturday and Sunday are the most precious of the entire week. You only have 48 hours to cram in everything you need to do: laundry, running errands and catching up on much-needed sleep. It’s only fair that you devote at least a few of those hours to fun. If you live in or near Los Angeles, you should devote them to Smorgasburg LA.
Smorgasburg started out as an offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea Market a few years ago. It was originally just a way for local food vendors to get in on the weekend flea market crowd, and it became its own very big thing. It still runs from April to November, and hosts some of the most important names in New York food.
This summer, the same team decided to bring the event to Los Angeles. It’s held every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Alameda Produce Market, which is just outside of the Fashion District. In addition to a beer garden and food stalls, some of which only come out for food festival events, there are vendors selling clothing, housewares and other lifestyle products.
Back in July, my friends (Adrian, Czarina, Klarize and Alan) and I braved a hot day to check out what Smorgasburg LA had going on. It’s relatively easy to get there from the 10 Freeway, if you know where to turn in to park — the garage across the way has free parking for the first two hours.
We got there around lunchtime, so we were immediately interested in getting a sandwich or taco. We chose crab sandwiches from Summer Crab. It’s best to take a quick tour of the entire festival first: you can scope out your drink and dessert choices, and you get a better feel of all of your options. Never pick the first vendor you see.
After hanging out under a much-needed umbrella and wandering past a tent that sold art prints (I have to stay away from those or I’ll buy the whole store), we scoped out the ice cream. Smorgasburg LA in general is really big on celebrating the food holidays the Sundays happen to coincide with. We went on National Ice Cream Day, so a bunch of LA ice cream shops came out with their trucks. It was a good choice on a hot day, but I definitely want to go again when it’s not so crowded for the hype of a food holiday. The upside was that I tried Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream for the first time and loved it.
My last item of the day was a cup of strawberry lemonade. Earlier in the day, I had seen an event-goer carrying what looked like the most refreshing cup of fruity goodness. Czarina and I finally tracked down the vendor that was selling it and immediately bought two cups. 12/10, still thinking about that lemonade.
My favorite thing about Smorgasburg LA is that you have a bunch of food options in one place — you get a real slice of LA food culture without having to trek all over. Events like these are a good barometer for what people want out of cultural experiences. To me, Smorgasburg’s rise is saying that the people of LA want somewhere to hang, enjoy the outdoors and eat good food. And it’s easy to get a taco from a truck in downtown, a donut from the West Side and an acai bowl from a popup and not feel all that guilty about driving and wait times. There are only so many hours in a weekend, after all.
Have you been to Smorgasburg LA/NYC, or know of something similar? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Even though I’m really from a suburb about an hour outside of Los Angeles proper, I consider myself an Angeleno. My weekend plans often include a trek to the city, in search of good food and a new cultural experience that I can’t get in the bedroom community I live in. There’s also something thrilling knowing that some of my favorite actors and writers have walked the same streets and been in the same places, and partaking in some of the cultural traditions that the city prides itself on. LA’s pace and vibes inspire me to be more creative, and I start to feel antsy when it’s been too long since my last trip.
In a recent daydream, I thought about what I would spend a whole day doing in LA — regardless of money, time and mileage. I still have a long list of places I want to go to and eat at, but I have spots I return to constantly and some new favorites. Traffic (both foot and auto) and parking would thwart the plan if I tried to make it happen, but a girl can dream. Here’s what my perfect day in LA would look like, from beginning to end.
Start with a quick trip to Echo Park to visit Shout and About. I love this little stationery store so, so much. I usually go here looking for gifts for the ladies in my life, and always come out with something for myself. I’d definitely pick up Compartes chocolate (which has next-level packaging), a few enamel pins for my growing collection and pretty cards.
Hop on the 101 and cruise some surface streets to have brunch at Republique. This restaurant had been on my to-visit list for a long time, and I recently visited with my squad on a pretty Saturday morning. It’s pricy, but it’s 1000 percent worth it for both how good the food is and the atmosphere. It feels like I’m back in Paris, which is always a wonderful feeling. I’d get the breakfast plate with eggs, potatoes, slab bacon and a crunchy baguette.
Drive around the corner to go to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This is my happy place, and I feel lucky that I can visit so often. It’s easy to spend a few hours here, wandering from gallery to gallery. My new favorite thing to do here is enjoy a drink on the museum’s outdoor patio bar.
Go to the Westside to pick up coffee from Philz and sandwiches from Ike’s Place. Philz has a really good mint mojito iced coffee, but the last few times I’ve been I’ve really enjoyed the gingersnap iced coffee. It’s a pretty busy coffee shop, so I’d find an outside bench to sit, sip and enjoy the Santa Monica sea breeze. After coffee, I’d go north to Westwood to get a sandwich to go at Ike’s Place. This is the holy grail of sandwich places, and if you’re local and haven’t been there before you need to go ASAP. I always get the Stephan Jenkins, which has turkey, provolone, pesto and grilled tomatoes. And always, always, always get the dutch crunch bread.
Take the 405 back to the 101 to go to a Hollywood Bowl concert.This place is magical on a summer evening, and they have the best classical music concerts. I’m excited to go for the first time this summer in the next few weeks. Here’s also where the Ike’s sandwiches come in — picnicking in your seat with a cold beer or glass of wine would be the best prelude to a night of music. It would be the perfect cap to a perfect day in my favorite city.
What would you do for a perfect day in Los Angeles, or your own city? Tell me in the comments.
This past weekend, I decided to trek out to Pasadena to experience a true Los Angeles institution — the Rose Bowl Flea Market.
This flea market happens every second Sunday of the month in the parking lots and concourse that surround the stadium, and has been going on for almost 50 years. In total, the market has seven miles of shopping — over 2,500 vendors and 20,000 visitors come every time.
I try my best to take advantage of living just outside of Los Angeles, and this was next on the list. My girl boss inspiration Jen Gotch goes every month and documents it wonderfully on Snapchat, and getting a glimpse of the stuff she’s found there (including but not limited to short sleeve sweatshirts, pin flair and bandanas) fueled my interest. Unfortunately I’m not decorating a new apartment or house, but I went just to see what it was like and see if it really lived up to the hype. It does.
If you’re curious, there’s this whole cache on the Internet that’ll give you tips on how to have the best experience. I got there at 10 and paid $9 for admission, but if you were looking for furniture it would be worth it to show up earlier and pay more on the sliding admission scale. I brought a purse because I wasn’t planning on buying anything I couldn’t carry, but many people bring push carts for their hauls. The weekend weather was overcast and sprinkly, but bringing your own water and wearing a hat/sunscreen are good ideas. And since it’s a flea market, you’ll need to bring a wad of cash.
When I got there, I was immediately overwhelmed. There is just so much to look at, and you swim through a sea of people. I walked through the entire market, looking at housewares, clothing and knick knacks. Half of the market is devoted to antiques and vintage merchandise, which is everything from clothing to furniture to collectibles. The other half is considered new merchandise, typical of what you might see at a county fair: plants, services you can buy, boutique items and general knick knacks. You can find just about anything at the Rose Bowl Flea Market.
My favorite things at the market were gorgeous glass knobs and handles by the trayful, turquoise jewelry, colorful rugs, piles and piles of black-and-white textiles (which I’m trying to brainstorm a DIY project for) and big potted plants. If I was decorating an apartment or house, it would be a great place to go and find home accessories. Some of the furniture is pricy, but it all has more character and style than something you’d buy at a superstore.
If you’re looking for a real LA experience, the Rose Bowl Flea Market is the place to go. Everything screams the true Angeleno aesthetic, from what the vendors are selling to the people who shop there. Vintage and used items are a really significant part of the culture here, for people who aren’t celebrities or multi-millionaires. These people go every month to hang out with friends, pick up something for their wardrobe or house and get a slice of culture, and that’s a great vibe to be a part of. When I was moseying through one of the aisles, I saw Drew Barrymore — bedecked in printed pants and orange-tinted sunglasses — picking out a rug and discussing it with her crew. That’s about as LA as something could possibly get.
I bought one thing at the flea that I was really excited to bring home. I’ve always loved agate slices, but never found one that was reasonably priced. I bought this beautiful purple one from a crystals vendor for $9. I haven’t decided its home yet, but it’ll probably end up on my bedside table or my dresser.
Next time I go out to the Rose Bowl, I think I might get some new knobs for my dresser, or a Himalayan salt lamp. I’m sure that next time there will be even more treasures to find.
Have you been to the Rose Bowl Flea Market, or want to tell me about a flea market you love? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Way back in December, I reserved two tickets to the newly-opened Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles. At the time, the earliest tickets I could get were for a mid-morning Sunday in March. The Broad opened to much fanfare. I knew how hard it was to get the timed tickets the museum preferred its visitors to reserve, so I settled for a reservation on a mid-morning Sunday in March. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know I love art, so you can probably understand my curiosity about a new museum opening in my proximity.
Two weekends ago, I took my grandmother — who I get my love of art from — to downtown Los Angeles, where the Broad has a new shiny building that looks like a square honeycomb. I was already familiar with Ely and Edyth Broad, as they’ve contributed to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other philanthropic causes in the city. The Broads have amassed thousands of contemporary art pieces, and decided to reinvigorate the city’s art scene by establishing a new museum and making their private collection public.
Overall, I was impressed with both the Broad’s architecture and collection. The galleries are on the first and third floors accessible by escalator and elevator, and the museum offices and vault are on the second floor. As you descend back to the first floor to exit you see the vault from internal windows. I thought that was a great design decision, making the vault as important as the work on display. My grandmother and I agreed that the honeycombed structure was a great decision for bringing in natural light and making the museum seem even bigger. My favorite pieces were works from Barbara Kruger, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and El Anatsui. I also loved the Takashi Murakami mural, a John Baldessari painting and this Cy Twombly piece.
People from all walks of life were there to see what this trendy museum had to show, which made me glad that the free admission allowed visitors to see the art. While there, I spotted James Goldstein in the first-floor gallery, a millionaire who recently donated his very famous house to LACMA. If that’s not a good example of how the Broad has permeated several LA socioeconomic levels, I don’t know what is.
What I found most interesting about the Broad, however, was the behavior of the other visitors. I can’t tell you how many young people I saw with DSLR cameras, taking pictures of themselves and their friends surrounded by sculptures and standing in front of paintings. There’s an entire protocol for the line to the Infinity Mirrored Room installation, and it was so long that I decided to skip it. At the time, I was particularly annoyed — I was there to see and experience the art, not for a photo shoot and not for people who were doing it all for the Instagram. I’m guilty of snapping a few photos when I go to a museum, which the photos on this post make clear. But bringing camera equipment seems to suggest that you planned the outing as a photo op to show everyone you had been somewhere, and I wondered whether or not those people actually remembered anything about the Broad’s collection once they left the building.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s just a reflection of the contemporary museum-going experience. The museum’s location, architecture and art is inherently populist, and the hype of the new drives people to want to go and say they experienced it first. (For the most part, if something is free in LA, people will go to it and if something that will make for a pretty photo is free in LA, young people will go to it.) While this isn’t a primary motive, the Broads want you to interact with the art in that way because you posting photos on your social media accounts gives the museum free publicity. Photos of the Infinity Mirrored Room are pretty, but they also cement the Broad’s name as the place to go for the pretty Instagram photo.
I’m not saying any of this is a good or bad thing — if you like to go to this kind of space and wish to have your experience in this way, more power to you. I’m also not really here to judge about the ways in which other people experience the world. It’s just an observation about the current ways in which we interact with each other and the art in the museum space, and how that affects our interpretation of the art inside those museums. I’m excited to see what the Broad has in store for the future, and how the Broads will go about acquiring new pieces to add to the collection.
If you decide to go to the Broad, plan far in advance and get reserved tickets. If you go on a weekend without a ticket, you’ll have to stand in a long line that wraps around the building. For my fellow museum-goers who like quiet spaces, prepare yourself for large crowds in the galleries.
Have you visited the Broad? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
For my entire life, I have lived in the same house in the same Southern California town of about 50,000 people. I can drive from one end of town to the other in about 10 minutes. Just about every local shopping center has a huge parking lot, and I don’t think there are any parking meters or pay-to-park garages anywhere in the entire area. Parking on the street only really happens during the day and on the weekends, because street cleaning happens in the early hours of the morning.
During the week, I leave my house at 7 a.m. to trek to my job in Santa Monica, which I had only been to once in my entire life before this summer. Depending on the route I take home, I drive about 80 miles roundtrip and 400 miles every week. (The reason I do this is because my job is temporary, and it wouldn’t be smart to move closer to work when I’m not sure where I’ll be in a few months.) I also don’t have a designated parking spot or even a parking lot to pull up to, so I either have to pay for parking at a 10-hour meter or find a street spot in the residential neighborhood nearby. Thursdays and Fridays are really tough because each side of the street is blocked off for street cleaning, so I get there more than an hour early to find somewhere safe to park.
The reasons why I’ve drawn this all out for you is to say that this shift has impacted my daily life immensely, and that I’ve become well-acquainted with the working commuter lifestyle. I know people commute regularly like this all the time, but for me in my immediate post-grad life, it has been a pretty jarring experience. Obviously change is a significant part of your twenties, and this is one way that change has materialized itself in my life — and I’m guessing that it’s also happening for a significant part of my peer group.
One of the things that makes post-grad life both great and terrible is that you get to go to new places and try a change of scenery. On one hand, I’m glad that I’m in better proximity to the places I like to go to regularly. On the other, being so dependent on my car really sucks in many ways. In the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about what being a commuter means and how it has changed the way I see Los Angeles.
40 miles makes an incredible difference.
Compared to my sleepy foothill town, Santa Monica is on an entirely different planet in a galaxy far, far away. The people (and amount of people) are different: I had to go to the Santa Monica shopping area to catch up on Christmas gifts, and I felt uncomfortable in a mall that wasn’t “mine.” The streets are different: I couldn’t really tell you what any of the houses look like in the residential neighborhood I park in, and they’re all crammed together to maximize the number of lots on the block. The list goes on: the prices, the weather, etcetera. These differences are borderline alienating, which I think just speaks to the entire life-after-graduating phase.
This isn’t to say that this 40-mile difference is entirely bad — I’m glad that I get the experience of spending time in a place so different from where I grew up, because it’s important to get out and explore. Getting in the car and driving to this other galaxy is just a weird feeling.
What are traffic rules?
This should not come as a shocker to anyone, but in general the drivers in LA do not obey the traffic rules that are supposed to keep us all safe during a relatively dangerous activity. Most people don’t use turn signals to change lanes in dense traffic, and a lot cut across lines they aren’t supposed to. Drivers make complete stops in lanes to try and squeeze their ways onto the freeway, and I’ve never seen so many single riders in non-hybrid cars in the carpool lane. I guess the way people behave in traffic is just an extension of how we treat each other in other areas of everyday life. There have been quite a few times I’ve contemplated merging into the carpool lane for the sake of getting out of gridlock, but I can’t bring myself to do it. It might be naïve, but I’m still trying to follow the rules.
The stress of car culture can really get to people.
I don’t think most people quite understand what a commuter culture does to a person, physically and mentally. Every time I get in the car, I feel like my muscles are slowly atrophying. And I know that if I didn’t have to spend so much time and energy driving, I would feel healthier. It angers me that adults spend most of their days sitting in some kind of transportation or at a desk when we know it’s unhealthy, but that is just #capitalism.
My go-to LA parking story is that one night after work, I drove to Echo Park to take a lettering class. It was after 6 p.m., so I got a spot on Echo Park Avenue. I pulled up to the curb so that the front of my car was about a foot away from the front of someone’s driveway. When I got back to my car at 9 p.m., someone had left a note on my car (using this notepad) saying that I took up too much space and that I shouldn’t be an asshole.
I’ll admit I’m not a world-class parker, but I couldn’t believe that that person had the audacity to leave that note on my windshield. Why did he or she feel an obligation to have that notepad handy, write out the note and stick it underneath my wiper? Why did it matter where I parked if it was legal to park there and parallel to the curb?
I think a lot about space now.
That last question brought me to think about the idea of communal space and ownership, as well as space as a commodity. From the parking angle, I think a lot about space in terms of how limited parking is in cities, especially LA. It’s more valuable to multiple levels of entrepreneurs and government officials to use real estate to make retail space, offices and apartment complexes, and devote as little space as possible to parking lots.
I also see so much trash and debris while I’m driving that it makes me wonder how humans can keep anything nice. My other LA driving story is that in gridlock morning traffic, I saw a group of teenagers deposit a bottle of urine on the side of the 10 Freeway and drive away laughing (I cannot make this up.) I guess because you can throw something out the window and drive away that drivers don’t realize and/or care that they’re making the driving experience even worse. We don’t respect the spaces we share, but we want to exhaust them for all they’re worth.
What do you think? Am I just overdramatic? (Probably.) Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Last night I attended a classical music concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Not only did I get to see one of my favorite shows being filmed (something I didn’t know until the night before), I got to indulge in one of the best things to do in Los Angeles in the summertime. If you haven’t heard of the Bowl before, it’s one of the oldest venues in the city with one of the most storied histories. Set deep into the Hollywood Hills, the Bowl attracts people from all across Los Angeles to come listen to some of the best music in the world. I’ve gone to my fair share of rock concerts and festivals, but there are a few things about the Bowl in particular that I really love.
The calendar is wonderful.
If you look at the summer calendar, you’ll notice that there’s a wide range and selection of concerts to attend. The three classical music concerts I’ve seen at the Bowl — a selection of Gershwin, Yo-Yo Ma performing Debussy, and last night’s Gustavo Dudamel conducting Mozart — rank up there in my personal list of favorites. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is really top-notch, and Angelenos are really lucky to have access. For people who aren’t super into classical music, they also have movie music performances (John Williams famously does shows) and other stuff (This entire weekend, Eric Idle is presenting Spamalot.) Sometimes other artists will come in and use the venue too.
You don’t have to get really expensive seats to enjoy the performances, either. Although I would love to buy a box, just about anywhere in that first tier of seats behind the boxes has an unobstructed view of both the screens and the stage (If you’re really interested, I like K2). The most I’ve ever spent on tickets in that tier is about $60 each, but that was for Yo-Yo Ma and entirely worth it. I’ve never gone and have wanted to, but legend has it that you can attend morning rehearsals for free.
The setup is great.
The Bowl is on Highland Avenue right below the 101 Freeway, so it can be really terrible to get there. Plus, there’s a lot of stacked parking, and I have yet to figure out how people would leave if there was an emergency / I’m sure it costs a fortune. However, the really cool thing about concerts at the Hollywood Bowl is that you can buy a round-trip shuttle pass that takes you there and brings you back. I usually go to concerts with my grandmother who lives in Arcadia, so we jump on the shuttle that leaves from Arcadia County Park. It’s only about $6 per person, and you can buy shuttle tickets on Ticketmaster when you purchase your concert tickets. The first shuttle arrives about an hour before showtime, so you can relax and eat before settling in. And, you feel better about your carbon footprint and saving gas. Win win win win win win.
The Bowl has a few restaurants and table service in the boxes, but most people bring their own food and wine to enjoy before the performances. If you get there early enough you can snag a picnic table (I low key feel like you’d need to get there at noon for an 8 p.m. performance though). However, there’s nothing quite like getting to your seat early and cracking open a feast. Trust me.
The atmosphere is magical.
A lot of people think that classical music is “too cultured” or whatever, which is a phrase I really hate and one that is entirely not true. People from all walks of life come to enjoy the performances and the feeling of being at the Bowl. Music composed and originally performed hundreds of years ago can make you feel the same way as a contemporary song in 2015, and if you dig enough you can find stuff you’ll really like. Sure, the classical concerts are mostly instrumental or sung in different languages, and most of the time you’re watching what the musicians are doing via a large screen. But just sitting there after a good meal, soaking in the immense sound and appreciating that someone was genius enough to think of the beauty and commit it to paper / that there are people in front of you who are masters at what they do is an incredible experience that I hope everyone can have at least once in their lifetime.
Have you been to the Hollywood Bowl before or have questions? Let’s discuss in the comments.
One of my favorite things to do wherever I go is find the museums. In addition to coffee, museums are my thing.
For me, the best thing about visiting these institutions is looking at art that challenges the viewer to confront his or her own perceptions of what art is and what it can do, in both conscious and subconscious ways. It’s really easy for us in 2015 to look at a Picasso and say “that’s great art,” but it was difficult for the audiences who first saw the work to wrap their heads around what was in front of them — mirroring reactions to some of the contemporary art we see today. In the same vein, there are many objects of historical significances that need to be preserved for future generations to learn from. I like thinking about the progression of art history, reading about the artists and coming up with my own interpretations.
However, I know that museums in general sound overwhelming or maybe boring to a lot of people. But I can assure you that you don’t need to know anything about art or art history to enjoy a museum, and that a place you might not think of as a museum can count as one. A lot of people ask me about the best ones to go to in the area, so I present to you Zoë’s Very Official Southern California Museum Guide.
“I haven’t gone to any museums in the area, nor do I know much about art history. What do I start with?”
My initial recommendation is to try some of the bigger museums with big collections you can peruse to find what you like. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as you may already know, is one of my favorite museums. Located on Wilshire Boulevard near the Farmer’s Market and the Grove, it has an incredibly diverse collection spread out over a large campus and fantastic programming. In addition to an extensive European catalog, the museum boasts large Islamic and Asian art collections. Some of the best shows I’ve ever been to, including a retrospective of Tim Burton and the post-impressionists from Van Gogh to Kandinsky, were held at LACMA. If you are interested in art but feel overwhelmed, this is the place to start. If you’re a student, the museum offers a very affordable membership option that pays for itself.
The Getty Center in Los Angeles is also a well-known museum worth attending. The Getty’s collection comprises of a lot of medieval, Renaissance and baroque art — not much in the way of post-1900 works. When I went, I thought the illuminated manuscripts were pretty cool. There are some modern sculptures out on the grounds of the museum, which has a few gorgeous gardens and vistas, but not many. If you don’t like modern art in general, this is your museum. Admission is free for everyone, but you do have to pay for parking. The only thing I don’t particularly like is the museum’s location — it’s off of the 405 Freeway (yikes) and close to UCLA.
Rounding out the category is the Norton Simon in Pasadena. What I really like about the Norton Simon is the diverse range of art on display. From South and Southeast Asian art to Flemish tapestries to contemporary photography, the Norton Simon has it. The museum also has a great sculpture garden and lily pond, which brings back memories for me of Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. The Norton Simon is much smaller in scale compared to LACMA or The Getty, which makes it a good museum to start out with and soak in. It’s also feasible to spend an hour or two at the museum before going down the street to Old Town Pasadena. Admission is free for students.
“I want to see conceptual art.”
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has some pretty interesting, but weird stuff. You can see your standard Warhol or Lichtenstein, but MOCA has a large collection of pieces that incorporate aspects like film and sound into painting and sculpture. I went to a great Rothko exhibit here, but I really enjoyed just walking around MOCA and seeing what was on display. It’s not a big museum, and has free admission for everyone every Thursday.
If you find yourself in Palm Springs, you should definitely stop by the Palm Springs Art Museum. For being a small museum in the middle of the desert, it has an impressive catalog that includes some Warhol, Ruscha and Abramović. Granted, the museum does have a lot of Native American and Mesoamerican art worth looking at. However, the architecture of the museum itself lends for a really interesting postmodern experience. There’s one piece there that definitely freaks everybody out. I highly recommend making it part of your Palm Springs excursion.
“I really love the outdoors.”
The Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in San Marino is one of my favorite Southern California spots. It’s kind of hard to describe the Huntington because of how vast the grounds are, but the beautiful botanical garden envelops buildings that hold true treasures. The Huntington collection is especially famous for Gainsborough’s Blue Boyand Lawrence’s Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie, but also hosts a Shakespeare first folio, a Gutenberg Bible, the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and more. The Huntington offers a really rare collection in a beautiful setting, and SoCal residents are really lucky to have the access.
“I’m not really into paintings or sculpture.”
The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles can be considered a kind of scientific museum. Much like the way traditional art museums educate the public about art history, planetariums and observatories educate the public about scientific history. Check out the observatory’s exhibits about the solar system and devices used for measuring and viewing the universe. Griffith’s public star parties are also fun to attend, but a nightmare for parking. Admission and parking are free.
TheCaliforniaScience Center in Los Angeles is really awesome, and I’ve been going there since elementary school. (Zoë fun fact: my senior prom was held there.) It’s more of a museum of science than a museum of art, which still counts! It’s a great place to take kids because of how many hands-on activities there are and living things to see. My favorite exhibit I’ve seen there is the one they had about mummies from around the world, but I really want to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. You can also see IMAX movies in 3D about science here, which can be pretty fun.
Next door is the Natural History Museum. The museum has a lot of taxidermy, gems and minerals, fossils and insect-related stuff. Again, it’s a really awesome place to take kids — including big kids (you know who you are) — who are interested in dinosaurs or animals. This museum is also part of a group that’s responsible for the La Brea Tar Pits, which is another kind of natural history museum we’re lucky to have in L.A. That spot, which includes a museum I’ve never been to, is next to LACMA.
“I’ve been to all of those places. Where else can I go?”
In addition to some of these big institutions, I’ve also visited some smaller niche museums of note. If you’re interested in learning more about the Holocaust, you should really go to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. (Warning: A trip to this museum can be very emotionally draining, as you might imagine.) The next time you go to the L.A. County Fair at the Pomona Fairplex, walk through the NHRA Motorsports Museum and take a look at its vintage racing vehicles. The Autry Museum in Los Angeles also has a renowned collection of Western art that chronicles the birth and growth of California and Native Americans.
Other museums in SoCal that I have not been to yet (but heard good things about) include the Getty Villa, the Hammer Museum, the Orange County Museum of Art, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the U.S.S. Iowa or U.S.S. Midway and several cultural heritage museums. Once you start going to museums and seeing what you like, you’ll find places all over the world you’ll want to go. And along the way, you’ll build your own knowledge of history and art history. It’ll be great. I promise.
Do you have museum recommendations for me? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
When you’re a literature student, you get to be quite the purveyor of used books. I think my fellow English majors who read this blog can attest that while new books from Barnes and Noble or Amazon are awesome and beautiful, used copies are preferable. They’re already loved, and now they’re in your arms for much less money than a Barnes and Noble price. If you order a used novel for a class and it comes in the mail in the right edition with no weird smell, you’re golden.
My favorite place in Los Angeles to buy used books is The Last Bookstore, hands down. Located on Spring Street in downtown L.A., The Last Bookstore has copies of just about every book you can think of or would want, new and used. Both times I’ve gone to The Last Bookstore I’ve gone with my English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta. We like going because it’s a fun place to buy books while bonding over our love of literature.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel at home in a Barnes and Noble — the lighting / ambiance is horrible, and even the wood the furniture and shelves are made out of bothers me. It all seems entirely capitalistic, in that they’re really not interested in you getting the books you really want beyond you buying them from their store. While I know I’m paying money for these books, I want the experience to be personal.
That’s why The Last Bookstore is different. It’s comfortable and relaxing, which really makes for the best browsing and buying experience. It’s entirely conducive to mellow browsing. The sounds of Spring Street make for perfect background noise, and there’s plenty of room for both the customers to walk around and the books to breathe. The customer service is fantastic too — I had two or three come up to me on Saturday and gently ask me if I was finding everything okay, which I really appreciate. The space itself is really beautiful. They also have some really interesting art installations with books, from book windows to interesting wall art.
Upstairs is what the store calls the Labyrinth. When you go through the tunnel…
…you end up in a room of endless bookshelves. Some of it is color organized, which makes for great photos. All of the books in the Labyrinth are $1, which is entirely justifiable. Most of the books in the Labyrinth are very old copies of books that have obsolete information or very obscure novels, which probably means they haven’t sold well downstairs. It’s the room in the store where books go to languish, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are books that have been there since the bookstore’s founding in 2005. There’s something oddly comforting about it though, knowing that all of the books no one reads anymore still have a place.
In terms of prices for the used books, they’re comparable to what you would pay for a used book on Amazon. I got four books on Saturday — the complete Flannery O’Connor collection, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and a really awesome 1960s copy of selections from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass — for about $30. The new books are slightly less expensive than MSRP.
While it’s pretty far away from me to frequent often, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences at The Last Bookstore. I really do hope it sticks around for a long, long time.
Do you have a used bookstore you like to frequent, or know another one in L.A.? Let’s talk about it in the comments.