With only one day to experience the best of L.A., one would need to start with a toddler’s eye view and end up at a ripe old age, hitting milestones of a full life in between. A good place to be reborn first thing in the morning is the tall tube slide at West Hollywood Park, where I’d shoot down the plastic canal and probably cry a little upon landing. Needing some de-grogging after that rude awakening, I would then stop at the Getty Center for several brisk rolls down the pristine grassy hills with nary a pine needle or gum wrapper, where the soil beneath the manicured St. Augustine grass — the greenest in the land — is cool and perfectly flat and soft.
Next I’d head over to Live Steamers in Griffith Park, where grown-ups play trains all day on Sundays. They look cute in their overalls, and I decide I will be a train conductor when I grow up. They let you ride on their miniature steam trains if you are as tall as a yardstick.
By midmorning and well into tying my own shoes, I’d want the following: a messy snack, a carousel ride and real starfish I can touch with my sticky fingers. That means the Santa Monica Pier, where bright-blue shaved ice followed by a sugary churro from the Playland Arcade provides the proper hand crust to dip into shallow saltwater terrariums at the Heal the Bay Santa Monica Bay Aquarium.
After a hosedown, I’d have lunch at Bubba Gump, where kids get their meal in a cardboard shrimp boat, parents can drink cocktails with names like Lava Flow and we can all share an onion-ring tower. Everything from the kitchen is deep-fried except the lettuce — which will probably be the next thing added to the menu and they’ll call it Battered Bibb or something with dipping sauces, and I will be the first to order it.
By noon, I’m a teenager looking for boy trouble, so I’d head east to Hollywood Boulevard,where I’d sneak into the Musicians Institute. There, I’d have my pick of bad boys from all over the world. I love that their parents think they’re in college. But what’s it gonna be — drummer or guitarist?
By happy hour, I’d be of legal age to hit some of L.A.’s famed watering dumps — Boardner’s, the Frolic Room, Tiki-Ti, Akbar. Stumbling out, I’d be craving one of my favorite decadent treats (we’re all gonna die, remember?): tacos à la crema at Alegria. Creamy mashed potatoes rolled up in a fried corn tortilla served with various salsas and queso fresco and crème fraîche. Delish.
To clear my head — and arteries — a sunset hike up Runyon Canyon would be in order; it’s the Cheers of L.A. hiking spots, where locals actually converse with each other if they’re not too out of breath from the schlep. From the top, I can pick out the buildings and signs and cars that make Tinseltown seem like the land of dreamers it really is.
As night falls, I’d want entertainment that doesn’t insult my newfound intelligence, so I’d be off to M Bar for Beth Lapides’ long-running Un-Cabaret, where it might be Greg Behrendt, Laura Kightlinger, Taylor Negron, Andy Kindler, Greg Proops, David Cross or any number of people I wish I was one-hundredth as funny as. In the same mini-mall is El Floridita, where the salsa scene is serious, so I’d fake enough dance moves to work up a little sweat before I’m trampled.
At midnight, I’d hop in the car, tune to Stray Pop with Stella on KXLU 88.9 FM, and cruise for the hell of it, now that traffic’s light. I’m old but I still love Stella’s searing mix of original and new punk with an emphasis on fun. Her cool monotone delivery between songs, reminding me that she’ll be with us “till the bars and liquor stores close,” is comforting as I observe the speed limit and all applicable traffic laws all the way to El Matador Beach in Malibu, where I’d sit and listen to the surf until my time is up.
West Hollywood Park: 647 N. San Vicente Blvd., W. Hlywd., (323) 848-6534.
Getty Center: 1200 Getty Center Dr., L.A., (310) 440-7300. Open Tues.-Thurs., Sun. 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Admission free; parking $8.
Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum: 5202 Zoo Dr., L.A., (323) 662-8030 or 661-8958. www.lals.org. Model trains run Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (weather permitting).
SANTA MONICA PIER PLAYLAND ARCADE: 350 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, (310) 451-5133. www.santamonicapier.org. Open May-Aug. Sun.-Thurs. 9 a.m.-midnight, Fri.-Sat. 9 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sept.-April 10 a.m.-midnight, Fri-Sat. 10 a.m.-midnight.
HEAL THE BAY Santa Monica Pier Aquarium: 1600 Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica, (310) 393-6149. www.healthebay.org/smpa. Open Tues.-Fri. 2-5 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 12:30-5 p.m.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.: 301 Santa Monica Pier, Bldg. 9, Santa Monica, (310) 393-0458. Open Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-mid.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-1 a.m., breakfast Sat.-Sun. 8-10 a.m.
Musicians INSTITUTE: 6752 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., ?(323) 462-1384, www.mi.edu.
Boardner’s: 1652 N. Cherokee Ave., Hlywd., (323) 462-9621.
Frolic Room: 6245 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 462-5890.
Tiki-Ti: 4427 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 669-9381, www.tiki-ti.com. Open Wed.-Sat. 6 p.m.-1 a.m.
Akbar: 4356 Sunset Blvd., L.A., (323) 665-6810.
Alegria: 3510 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 913-1422.
RUNYON CANYON PARK: 2000 N. Fuller Ave., L.A., ?(323) 666-5046.
M Bar: 1253 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 856-0036.
El Floridita: 1253 N. Vine St., Hlywd., (323) 871-0936.
Stray Pop WITH STELLA: Midnight Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday, KXLU 88.9 FM. www.straypop.com
El Matador STATE Beach: 32215 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu. Parking $2; lot open 8 a.m.- sunset.