By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
—Erica Zora Wrightson
MEJORES MARIACHIS PARA CONTRATAR
Mariachi Plaza is quieter these days, thanks to a slowing economy and ongoing Metro line construction that has corraled the charros into a muraled corner along First Street. But as the largest mariachi exchange to be found north of the border, there are good values to be found. With so many musicians offering their services, how do you find the band that’s right for your wedding, quinceañera or birthday? Ask the people milling around. Many of them are regular customers familiar with the styles and abilities of each band and can help you find the most talented players. Don’t be shy about bargaining, preferably in Spanish — though English will do in a pinch. If you find one grupo too expensive, there’s probably another across the street at the right price. Everything is flexible in Mariachi Plaza, and the “right price” is all about expectations. A good rule of thumb is between $40 to $60 per hour, per musician. This rule held up when I requested a lone singer, or a mini-philharmonic of 12 musicians. A lone Mariachi singer can create a big splash at your party, for only about $80 to $120 for a two-hour gig. Or you can pay about $325 an hour for the traditional six-man band. Corner of East 1st and Boyle streets, L.A. Sat., 12-3 p.m. is prime time, and it can extend into the evenings.
BEST HOUSE OF DICK
The best way to truly experience the work of great architects is to step inside the home they’ve designed for themselves. Unfortunately, Schindler’s home was left unfurnished, and the best view most of us will get of Charles and Ray Eames’ place is with a nose pressed up to the window. But tucked into the shore of the Silver Lake Reservoir is Richard Neutra’s residence and studio, the Neutra VDL Research House, an elegant stack of glass and beams, its signature louvers plunging down into an entryway pond. For $10 — all of it contributing to the ongoing renovation — you can see it much like it was when Neutra lived and worked here, beginning in 1932. (A renovation after a 1963 fire was completed by Neutra’s son Dion.) Every Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Cal Poly Pomona students give 30-minute tours. Take the last one of the day and position yourself upstairs to catch the afternoon light on the penthouse reflecting pool, which appears to fade imperceptibly into the water of the reservoir beyond. 2300 Silver Lake Blvd., L.A. (323) 644-5480, neutra-vdl.org.
BEST AND PRETTIEST CANYON PICNIC PARK
You could live here for 25 years and easily miss the most charming, are-we-really-in-L.A.? scenic drive imaginable. We almost did. Red Rock Canyon is a geographic marvel tucked just off the beaten path in Old Topanga Canyon. It’s practically a secret, yet it’s L.A.’s own miniature of Arizona or Utah, with its huge, iron-tinged boulders and red sandstone river walls carved by eons of rain and wind. It’s a very easy, thoroughly relaxing drive from the belching, stinking city. If you go shortly after a rain, the crystal-clear and seasonal creek will be up and running, alongside a dirt road that ends at Red Rock Canyon Park. The tiny picnic area is one of the most delightful places in L.A. County. Bring your own food and beverages, plus blankets to spread on the litter-free ground, because there are no kiosks, concessions or taco trucks — thank Christ. A trailhead leading into spectacular sandstone formations is situated right near the picnic area, but it took us years just to explore Red Rock in our car, so we’ll have to work up our energy for the four-hour hike in the upcoming decade. The very leafy drive into Red Rock Canyon takes you along quiet, insanely charming Old Topanga Canyon Road, an idyllic community of woodland homes and cabins set among California live oak, pine and native sage. Gulp in the air and get drunk on it. Red Rock Canyon Park, 23601 W. Red Rock Road, Old Topanga, lamountains.com.
BEST VIEW FROM A ROCKET SHIP
Officially known as Los Arboles Park but tagged “Rocketship” Park, the greenery covers the southern edge of the great hump of Palos Verdes. While the kids play on the eponymous steel rocket ship or the swings, take in the panoramic sweep of the L.A. Basin spread out before you, stretching from Santa Monica Bay to downtown, the San Gabriels, the San Bernardinos and, depending on the weather and air quality, beyond. Easiest access is to take PCH and then head south (uphill) at Vista Montana. Turn right (again uphill) at the T-intersection with Paseo de las Tortugas. When this levels off and bends to the left, it becomes Calle de Ricardo, at which point Rocketship Park is the six acres of green on your right. 5101 Calle de Ricardo, Torrance.