In a metropolis this big and fast-changing, learning the lay of the land can take a lifetime. We’re here to lend a hand. In one sitting you can soak up some of the city’s best-kept secrets. We have just one request: Don’t tell too many people
Hidden L.A.: Ruins
From an abandoned zoo to disaster sites to wartime battlements, fragments of the past are scattered all around Los Angeles. You just need to know where to look
Photograph by Sian Kennedy
Tucked away in a Griffith Park dell lie the oxidized remnants of what served as the city’s official zoo from 1912 to 1966. The faux-rock outcropping of the big game exhibit is the most striking vestige, but the cramped iron cages, some with ivy creeping through, will haunt you. At the end of Griffith Park Drive, walk through the picnic area and up the wide path to the Old Zoo picnic grounds. // Griffith Park Dr., 323-913-4688.
Fort MacArthur Gun Batteries
The pair of massive guns that guarded San Pedro could fire 1,560-pound projectiles 14 miles. What remains of the Battery Osgood-Farley are the boomerang-shaped concrete emplacements built in 1919 and the bunker that burrows between them. There’s a claustrophobic military museum inside and, a few hundred yards away aboveground, the enormous Korean Bell of Friendship, which stares out onto the coast. // 601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro, 310-548-2631.
In 1895, Thaddeus Lowe built a railway that carried millions of visitors from Altadena nearly seven miles up the San Gabriel Mountains. They were bound for a pair of hotels on Echo Mountain and Lowe’s Ye Alpine Tavern. He quickly went bankrupt; the railway operated for 43 years before the repeated fires and floods proved too much. Rusted cogs, crumpled metal, and barren foundations are all that’s left. The shortest hike there is a three-mile round-trip from the Eaton Saddle parking area between San Gabriel Peak and Occidental Peak.
It was 1956, and Tressa Prisbrey needed a place to store her burgeoning pencil collection. Retrieving materials from the dump, the 60-year-old would create 13 buildings along with a clutter of sculptures and installations. The gates were locked after the Northridge quake caused several roofs to collapse. But you can still see plenty, from the creepy doll’s head shrine to the mosaic walk to the Rumpus Room. // 4595 Cochran St., Simi Valley, 805-583-1627.
St. Francis Dam Disaster Site
More than 450 people died when the St. Francis dam burst in 1928, loosing 12.5 billion gallons of water onto San Francisquito Canyon near Santa Clarita. It was California’s second most deadly disaster, after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Chunks of concrete litter the site like gravestones. To visit, head a few miles north of Copper Hill Drive up San Francisquito Canyon Road. Or let St. Francis Dam expert Frank Rock lead the way on his annual March tour. // 661-254-1275.
The canyon’s long history of wildfires has left it speckled with vestiges of civilization. From Solstice Canyon Park Education Center, follow the Solstice International Trail, and you’ll pass the stone walls of a hunting cabin from 1903. Farther up, a broad stairway ascends to the concrete pad and brick chimney of Tropical Terrace, an estate that burned in 1982. From there, the Rising Sun Trail snakes past the foundations of a TRW research facility and back to the parking lot. // End of Corral Canyon Rd., Malibu, 805-370-2301.
Squint and you’d think you were looking at a ghost town. A national park today, the ranch has appeared in dozens of films since the 1920s, when Paramount Pictures owned it. In the ’50s, a fan of westerns bought the land and built an Old West town out of props. The spot continues to attract productions with its weather-beaten train depot and mining supply store, its log cabin and dusty streets—ideal picnic entertainment. // 2903 Cornell Rd., Agoura Hills, 805-370-2301.
Hidden L.A.: Food & Drink
Put on your cloak (leave the dagger). We’re heading into the realm of roving supper clubs and not-so-legal speakeasies, off-menu secrets and off-grid eateries. Because sometimes the best place to get a bite or have a sip is the one nobody else knows
Photograph by Sian Kennedy
Based on the name, you might think to look for the brewery somewhere in Eagle Rock. You would be wrong. The new beer maker is actually in an unmarked warehouse on an unscenic stretch of Glassell Park. Push through two doors, and you’ll come upon granite counters, modern bistro lights, and a few dozen scruffy folks playing Scrabble, eating peanuts, and sampling some of the best craft brews around. // 3056 Roswell St., Glassell Park, 323-257-7866.
It’s widely acknowledged that any L.A. bar sporting a sign just isn’t worth going to. Still, this unmarked wine and cheese (sorry, queso) bar in Boyle Heights looks especially unassuming from the outside. The room is dripping with red (velvet wallpaper, chandeliers) and often packed with locals who come to drink (this is not a swirl-and-sip joint) and gawk at the Chicano art and the burlesque dancers who take the stage on Saturdays. // 1835 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights, 323-262-7442.
It’s Top Chef every day on the ground floor of Le Cordon Bleu Los Angeles’s newest building. Under soaring ceilings, the school’s aspiring culinary stars oversee every aspect of the full-service eatery as a sort of final exam. It’s also where, for a $10 or $15 prix fixe, you can dig into a crispy shrimp quesadilla or braised short ribs with spaetzle. // 525 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626-229-1377.
Supper club locations tend to change from month to month, and scoring an invitation can require tenacity. Beyond a dash of secrecy, they offer some of the city’s most adventurous cooking. To them, serving sweetbreads with burned eggplant and bone marrow puree in someone’s loft sounds just fine. The most in-demand table is at Wolvesmouth, the downtown Arts District gettogether orchestrated by Craig Thornton. Several times a month the 28-year-old Bouchon alum whips up avant-garde dishes like the aforementioned for 12 lucky members of his online community, the Wolvesden. Join the mailing list—and cross your fingers.
We’ll have the patty melt, fries, and a side of gunfire, please. Deep within the bucolic mystery of Elysian Park is the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club. And inside that is a timeless greasy spoon with Formica counters, black leather booths, and a decent tuna sandwich. No need to flash a badge to get a table—this place is open to the public. // 1880 Academy Dr., Elysian Park, 323-221-5222, ext. 214.
The Old Place
The false front, the weathered wood, the antlers—the restaurant looks as if it’s been airlifted fromDeadwood. Tom and Barbara Runyon created a country hideout in the hills of Agoura after they bought the building in the 1960s. Before that the building served as a general store and post office for decades. Within are five booths, a snug bar, and the aroma of terrific steak cooked over red oak. // 29983 Mulholland Hwy., Agoura, 818-706-9001.
Mary’s Market and Canyon Café
To reach Mary’s you drive past the turn-of-the-century storefronts of small-town Sierra Madre and into a tree-dense canyon along sinewy streets lined with stone walls. The parking lot sits above a leaf-strewn wash, and rustic homes climb the hill above the café. Anywhere else the waffles, corn dogs, and chicken salad sandwiches would be good enough; here, at a quaint counter in an unsullied swath of old California, they can only delight. // 561 Woodland Dr., Sierra Madre, 626-355-4534.
Arroyo Seco Grill
The coffee shop takes cover in the Arroyo Seco Golf Course, which itself is in a broad riverbed and shrouded by sycamores. Most people only learn about the restaurant when they’re plinking around the miniature golf course or the driving range. It can be pretty crowded at breakfast, but on afternoons you can have the place to yourself as you accompany your perfectly respectable burger with a Bloody Mary or a couple of beers. That’s right: There’s a full bar. // 1055 Lohman Ln., South Pasadena, 323-255-1155.
Brides, beware—Sazerac-sipping hipsters might be lurking beneath the floorboards of the Victorian, a charming wedding venue. On top of hosting all manner of private events, the little yellow mansion dating from 1882 recently opened its nether region as a speakeasy-style bar (hence the mounted deer head and crystal chandeliers) that slings Prohibition-era cocktails. The entrance is around back through the parking lot; look for the chalkboard sign. (We don’t recommend going through the front unless you’re in a tux—or you like free cake.) // 2640 Main St., Santa Monica, 310-392-4956.
Barbara’s at the Brewery
It just feels right, being able to quaff a goblet of craft beer at a former brewery. Now in its 29th year, the converted Pabst Blue Ribbon facility and Edison power plant in Lincoln Heights is the largest live-work art colony in the world. Supplying those creative types with their fuel of choice, Barbara’s restaurant is buried in the middle of the complex at the back of the parking lot, past a loading dock, next to a bookstore. Turn down Moulton and watch for a pink neon heart to your left. Three patios, a dining room, and a bar serve Macho Nachos, meat loaf, and ten primo beers on tap at lunch and dinner weekdays. // 620 Moulton Ave., Ste. 110, Lincoln Heights, 323-221-9204.
Hidden L.A.: Outdoors
It’s a great big playground out there, with sure-thing fishing ponds, four-wall soccer courts, and a little-known ski resort. Who said you can run but can’t hide?
Photograph by Sian Kennedy
Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
Located at the base of a slope on San Pedro’s Cabrillo Beach, the complex is the unsung alternative to Long Beach’s commercial aquarium. Frank Gehry designed the central building during his chain-link phase. The main building leads visitors on a snaking course past tanks of briny weirdness. A newish aquatic nursery and exploration center have made a good thing better. //3720 Stephen M. White Dr., San Pedro, 310-548-7562.
Goals Soccer Center
Soccer meets racquetball in South Gate. The field is shorter than a tennis court and surrounded by walls to keep the ball in constant play. The game is called 5-a-side soccer (teams are limited to five), a fast, kid-friendly experience, and no other spot in the United States offers it. Goals opened last May with 11 fields and a spiffy clubhouse geared to soccer parties. //9599 Pinehurst Ave., South Gate, 877-484-6257.
Rising and falling like a shrunken mountain range, the near-mile of whoop-de-dos that constitute Kenter Coaster are manna for mountain bikers and BMX riders who like to jump. But cyclists with basic trail skills can get their kicks, too, just rolling (nice and slow, our lawyers point out) over them. The terrain park hides in the hills of Brentwood, past a gate at the end of Kenter Avenue.
Hahamongna Disc Golf Course
The Frisbee golf revolution may yet happen. Until then the 24-hole course at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park is in no danger of being overrun by anyone but the kids who come here for summer camp. The oak canopy demands finesse to negotiate, but the relative seclusion of the place provides cover for duffers. After the game, tread a couple hundred yards past Devil’s Gate Dam to the rocky Arroyo. //Oak Grove Dr. and Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 626-744-7275.
Long Beach Casting Club
You could live nearby for years and not notice the shallow pool shimmering on the margin of Long Beach’s busy Recreation Park. Then one day you happen upon anglers arcing their woolly buggers and dragonflies beside a simple clapboard clubhouse, and time collapses: Exotic as the scene can be to nonanglers, the organization has been here 85 years. //5201 E. 7th St., Long Beach, 562-433-9408.
Fewer than 40 miles from downtown, the San Gabriel Mountains ski area has been a secret hooky zone since it opened in 1939. Three antiquated chairlifts scale the 8,000-foot peak, which receives about 150 inches of snow a year (there are plans to eventually install snowmaking equipment). The terrain favors beginners and experts; when the snow’s gone in late spring, hikers and mountain bikers can take to the slopes. //Angeles National Forest, Angeles Crest Hwy., 818-790-2002.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
Two ponds. A Japanese garden. Miles of hiking trails. A small forest. Cinematic views. The hilltop park should be crowded, but it’s not. This is where the 1932 Olympic Village was built and where the Baldwin Hills Reservoir failed in 1963, sending a muddy torrent onto the homes below. The park came into being in the 1980s, owing to the efforts of legendary county supe Kenneth Hahn. //4100 S. La Cienega Blvd., Baldwin Hills, 323-298-3660.
Franklin Canyon Park
It’s understandable: Sitting by the duck pond, a breeze playing through the branches of the deodar cedar, anyone would be tempted to forget they’re in the center of the nation’s second-largest city. To the people who meet by the Sooky Goldman Nature Center for treks, the Beverly Hills-adjacent park is no secret, yet by the time you’ve dealt with the circuitous driving directions and minimal signage and finally landed in the diminutive canyon, you have the unmistakable sense that the city has melted away behind you. //2600 Franklin Canyon Dr., L.A., 310-858-7272.
Hidden L.A.: Green Spaces
Looking for a hit of serenity or a dose of inspiration? These four extraordinary places will please garden lovers and conservationists alike
Photograph by Sian Kennedy
Virginia Robinson Gardens
The humble backyard of Mrs. Robinson and her husband, Harry (the couple founded Robinson’s department store), spreads out across six acres behind their 1911 beaux arts mansion. The landscaping ranges from the murmuring fountains and leaf-shrouded statuary of the Italianate Terraced Garden to the spiky verdure of the tropical section. The only way to experience them or the antique-filled estate is by appointment on a docent-led tour. //1008 Elden Way, Beverly Hills, 310-550-2065.
Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Blue Ribbon Garden
On a quiet day when no one’s up here and you’re looking out past the naked coral trees onto the city below, you can almost believe the garden is your own discovery. Four flights of stairs lead you to the 3,500-square-foot refuge that sits in the back of L.A.’s flashiest building, its islands of flowering shrubs, grasses, annuals, perennials, and mature trees (no less than 45 of them, all told) casting shadows on the pathways. //111 S. Grand Ave., downtown, 213-972-7211.
UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden
The sloping spot is a stunner. It was designed in 1959 to symbolize a person’s transition from rambunctious youth to staid maturity. The shrine, garden house, and pagoda, along with the bridges, were constructed in Japan, then transported to Bel-Air, where they transport you to the landscapes of Kyoto. The university acquired the one-acre plot in 1965 but limits access—including to magazine photographers. To see it you’ll need to book an appointment. //310-794-0320.
Los Angeles River
To get a sense of what the L.A. River was like before it became a 51-mile rut, set your GPS for Anthony C. Beilenson Park. There the concrete momentarily gives way to silt. Just like the real thing. Thick with trees and shrubs and industrious birds, it’s joltingly placid. Enter the park off Balboa Boulevard. From the dirt lot, cross the lawn heading south. //6300 Balboa Blvd., Encino, 818-756-9743.
Myth? The Magic Castle
What is known as Houdini Mansion (2400 Laurel Canyon Blvd.; shown here in 1946) isn’t a mansion (it burned down in the 1950s, though a balustraded staircase survived), and it wasn’t Houdini’s. It belonged to department store owner Ralf Walker. The late illusionist’s wife lived across the street from the home and liked to walk in the garden, which is how the place got its name.
February through August, you can practice your princess wave in the stately Pasadena manse where the Rose Queen is anointed. Tours are held each Thursday. //391 S. Orange Grove Ave., Pasadena, 626-449-4100.
And the dead shall rise. Each September, courtesy of the West Adams Heritage Association, costumed actors portray a handful of notable, all-but-forgotten Angelenos who lie beneath in the once grand graveyard. //1831 W. Washington Blvd., West Adams, 323-735-9242.
JPL Open House
Check out Mars rover prototypes at the home of NASA’s deep space program. The Jet Propulsion Lab opens its well-guarded doors May 14 and 15. You can also arrange a weekday tour throughout the year. //4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena.
Hyperion Water Treatment Plant
See what happens once the toilet is flushed. You’ll be fascinated, despite yourself, as you gawk at the eerie pipes, tanks, and centrifuges. Tours last 90 minutes and must be booked in advance. //12000 Vista del Mar, Playa del Rey, 310-648-5363.
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