By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
BEST FREE PORTAL TO THE GALAXY
God only knows when it will reopen for business following the devastating Station Fire, but the little Astronomical Museum atop Mount Wilson is not only an unexpected educational stop-off in the San Gabriel Mountains, but a portal into the way the galaxy looked to astronomers in the 1930s and ’40s. Built in 1936, its bare-bones displays mostly consist of photographs of the solar system taken at the time, and as such, it’s kind of like thumbing through a very old astronomy textbook – the kind that would dramatically feature a colorized photo of Saturn on the cover. However, since the free-admission museum’s 1997 renovation, updated captions accompany the exhibits, which also include bits of machinery used in the transportation and construction of the nearby observatory’s 60- and 100-inch telescopes. There’s also a small auditorium for lectures. If this all seems like a rather long way to go look at some obsolete astronomy exhibits or to hear a lecture, blame it on the original land-lease agreement, which required the new Mount Wilson Observatory grounds to be open to the public during daylight hours – apparently to satisfy the tourist-hungry requirements of the observatory’s landlord, the Mount Wilson Hotel and Toll Road Company. The hotel and its restaurant are long gone, so pack a picnic lunch for the afternoon. There are plenty of tables near the parking lot. Take the Angeles Crest Highway north from La Cañada-Flintridge to Red Box Road, then turn off to reach the observatory. (626) 440-9016, mtwilson.edu. Open daily from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in November from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., weather permitting.
BEST UNLIKELY ENCOUNTER WITH A MODERNIST MASTERPIECE
In the bar and lounge area on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s mezzanine level is an exceptional work of art: Hanging a few inches above a row of overstuffed chintz armchairs, next to a tapestry in high relief depicting a medieval village stage set, is a Frank Stella 1966 Irregular Polygon, the kind one usually finds only in a major modern art museum. Here, the viewer can get unusually close to the artwork; in fact, the piece hangs so near the armchairs that before performances and during intermission, lounging guests can lean their heads onto the bottom of the painting as a kind of high-end headrest. (Can anyone do something about that, please?) In this unlikely setting, amidst the kitsch, illusion and splendor of décor and operagoers alike, the painting takes on an understated but powerful resonance, operating on its own radical terms of objecthood — paint as flat and as good as it looks in the can. Just the way Stella liked it. 135 N. Grand Ave., L. A. (213) 972-7211, musiccenter.org.
BEST HITCHING POST
Walking down Manchester Avenue near Inglewood, a street lined with car-accessory stores, gas stations and the occasional strip joint, you’ll come upon an out-of-place wedding chapel that invites investigation. Always Forever Yours Wedding Chapel is nothing fancy, to be sure, with its ceremonies advertised for “as low as $49.” But there’s more on offer for that 1970s-era price: It includes the minister, flowers, photos and certificates of marriage. In a metropolis where weddings can easily run $20,000, it’s an intriguing place. The Rev. Don Johnson has been proprietor of Always Forever Yours since 1977, and he’s learned some tricks to keep overhead lean. He picks up his marriage licenses at the county building in Beverly Hills, for instance, a place that requires little waiting time. According to the reverend, who delivers his information without irony, not that many people in Beverly Hills want to get married, but for those who do, the Rev. Johnson will preside over your vows, no matter your religion, location or time of day. He has administered vows in record stores, at motorcycle clubs and at the Greystone Mansion. But his most in-demand service is marrying people in jail. It seems that love does indeed conquer all. 2115 W. Manchester Ave., L.A. (323) 758-8443.
—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng
BEST TIME WARP
Apart from Dodger Stadium, Angelus Temple, completed in 1925, is Echo Park’s most formidable structure, a colossal house of worship crowned by a silver-painted dome. Yet nestled up to the great building is the parsonage home of the Foursquare Gospel movement’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson. Until fairly recently, the parsonage was a gutted shell locked behind a wrought-iron fence, but it’s been cheerfully restored and presents, behind its rose bushes, a time warp to a long-vanished Los Angeles of blind faith. Built as a kind of miniature version of the temple, the parsonage has a classical, cylindrical design. Inside, many of its charismatic tenants recovered belongings are arranged as though McPherson had just stepped out. It’s a little top-heavy on framed letters and testimonials, and the silent narrative that emerges from its walls of photographs, along with its vintage clothing and kitchen appliances, conveniently skirts details of her scandalous “kidnapping,” her conservative political views and her death from an apparent drug overdose. (A short documentary loop and videotaped puppet-theater biography steer us toward McPherson’s more heroic work of feeding the hungry and healing the sick.) Nevertheless, the world seems to stand wonderfully quiet once the afternoon sun filters through the curtains on the lake-facing windows, and the terrible stillness of McPherson’s bedroom, with its hardwood floor and purple drapes, makes a poetic counterpoint to the clamor of the gift collection that awaits the visitor in the parlor room downstairs. The receptionists are very friendly and informative. 1801 Park Ave., Echo Park. (213) 989-6969, foursquarechurch.org. Mon.-Fri., 1-3 p.m., or by appointment; free.
BEST SUBTERRANEAN MUSICAL HISTORY
The Les Paul guitar and the Fender Stratocaster are the most recognizable guitars in the world, (rock-band enthusiasts may have a Les Paul in their homes right now), but Paul’s contributions to studios revolutionized the process of making and recording music. Paul developed multitrack recording and built the legendary echo chambers at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. When Brian Wilson’s harmonies or Frank Sinatra’s voice were piped into these rooms below Capitol’s parking lot, echo produced by the 10-inch-thick concrete walls and 12-inch-thick ceilings was rich and warm. The Beatles reportedly would feed parts of their albums via a telephone hookup into these chambers to get that Capitol sound. 1750 N. Vine St., Hlywd. (323) 871-5001, capitolstudios.com.
BEST TIDE POOLS
Take Western Avenue all the way south until you can’t go any farther; the vast Pacific lays before you — more specifically, San Pedro’s Royal Palms State Beach. To your left is White Point Park and down below its bluffs you’ll find at low tide a shelf of tide pools full of hidden treasures: translucent shrimp, tiny spiny sea urchins, starfish clinging to rocks, sea anemones waving in the ebb and flow like bromeliads in a flooded garden. Crabs scuttle. Waves boom — all an interactive marine science lesson for young minds. For the older set, this is a garden of wonder that makes our minds young again. Park at the metered spots in White Point Park, or pay $6 to drive down the steep road to the tide pools themselves. Don’t be a hater and remove any of the little creatures from their homes. Stay away from the rocks where the waves are breaking; it only takes one rogue wave to ruin your whole day. Look for the low-tide times in the newspaper or online before you go. Or you’ll feel really stupid. 1799 W. Paseo del Mar, San Pedro. Beach open 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
BEST OTHER TIDE POOLS
Abalone Cove Shoreline Park in Rancho Palos Verdes isn’t the easiest spot to access, which makes it a rewarding beach experience. Even during the peak afternoon hours on a holiday weekend, the park is free of the hordes of people seeking an ocean breeze. The park itself sits on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. It’s a lovely spot to picnic. But checking out the tide pools is a workout. Don’t wear flip-flops. A short but very steep hiking trail leads you to the beach, where you will find a small playground, a lifeguard post and plenty of room to lie in the sun. Climb down a few more rocks to reach the shoreline. Amid the breathtaking rock formations are the tide pools. Since this is a State Ecological Preserve, you cannot touch the marine life. Parking is $5 for cars, $15 for buses. 5970 Palos Verdes Drive S., Rancho Palos Verdes. (310) 377-1222, palosverdes.com/rpv/recreationparks.
BEST PLACE TO RECYCLE KIDS’ BOOKS
While you won’t find a double latte or red velvet cupcake at Children’s Book World, readers will wander among its more than 80,000 titles, educational games and book title–emblazoned T-shirts and wonder why they ever shopped that chain megastore. This neighborhood book shop is a throwback to a time when expertise mattered more than a 10 percent discount. Owner Sharon Hearn insisted that two concepts define her shop. “We wanted the feel of library, which means depth of categories of books, so that no matter what topic a child is looking for, he could find something here. We wanted a knowledgeable staff, able to find the book you came in for and to offer suggestions for a complementary read.” Hearn has accomplished that and more. On a recent visit, when asked for a suitable book for an 8-year-old, dog-obsessed boy, staffer Nikki spent several minutes pulling titles about dog-centered stories. While a request for a roller coaster–themed work of fiction momentarily stumped her, she ultimately suggested Bedknobs and Broomsticks, “ ’cuz a flying carpet is like a carnival ride, right?” Satisfied, the 8-year-old left with five other books, including one featuring a dog detective. While it’s easy to steer a child to the day’s popular read, here, it isn’t only best-sellers that Hearn carries. “If we think a book is important but not widely read, we still stock it. For instance, the book Friends by Rosa Guy, for the Young Adult reader; we might sell one a year; but it has so much heart that I still keep it.” Perhaps, as important as it is to purchase a new title, when those gently or once-read volumes are not challenging enough for your child, Children’s Book World will take them off your hands to share with programs and centers where books are less plentiful. “It’s important for children to have their own books, and one they choose for themselves,” Hearn explains. The book-recycling program was started when Ann Martin, author of the Baby-sitters Club books, was doing an in-store reading. As part of her participation, she required that the shop incorporate a charitable aspect, so Hearn set up a donation bin. Today, low-income children visit the store’s adjacent storage facility to choose their special book. Books are also donated to teachers of low-income students, and to homeless and domestic-violence shelters. “We use the Golden Rule philosophy: Is the book in the condition you would accept for your child?” Hearn asks. So, no writing, no torn pages, no coffee-stained covers. Drop your books off on a selected Saturday and your child can enjoy an hour of storytelling! 10580 1/2 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 559-2665, childrensbookworld.com. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
BEST REAL-LIFE COURT DRAMAS
Drop by any courtroom on Temple Street and you’ll hear stories as old as the Bible and characters who’ll remind you of the kids you went to school with, because all our actions in life were predicted long ago by the way we responded to temptation, anger and fear as children. Go to Department 30 before noon to see the parade of just-arrested suspects brought before a magistrate to enter their pleas from inside what resembles a giant terrarium. Or visit Judge Marsha Revel’s court in Department 128, where a stream of people appear and bring the judge up to date on their progress in recovery programs, or explain how they are making restitution to the victims they crashed into while driving drunk. Listen to their promises and excuses, and wonder what you’d say if you stood in their shoes. Finally, there are the courtrooms of the ninth floor, which you must pass through a metal detector to enter, even though you’ve already passed through one in the lobby. Their most compelling moments are not the kind you see on TV shows, where a witness breaks down or a lawyer miraculously produces a lost fingerprint. Instead, it’s those quiet moments when a sad judge tries to talk an accused felon out of acting as his own attorney. The defendant, dressed in bright-orange or somber blue overalls, is almost jubilantly confident in his ability to defend himself. The judge says everything he or she can to dissuade the prisoner, knowing that it is useless to try but that at least the accused will feel hope for a little while longer. Criminal Courts Building, 210 W. Temple St., dwntwn.; Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-
4 p.m. (Check for furlough closures.)
BEST BARGAIN DEITIES FOR YOUR HOME ALTAR
I collect deities, and there is no better place for affordable small, colorful statues of Krishna, Radha, Ganesh, etc. than the gift shop inside the Hare Krishna Temple in Culver City. While the clothing here is beautiful and more then a bit pricey, there are all kinds of other, affordable finds. Good incense and Ayurvedic soaps share shelves with real kohl eyeliner priced at only $2. Even better, when you’re done shopping you can feast on the downstairs all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet for a mere 7 bucks. 3764 Watseka Ave., # 1, Culver City. (310) 836-1269.
While late greats from Hollywood and L.A. rest in cemeteries spread throughout the county (notably at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Forest Lawn Memorial Park), for a taste of the red-carpet Golden Age, a trip to East L.A. and the 136-acre Catholic Calvary Cemetery is necessary, along with a visit across the street to its smaller, Jewish counterpart, the Home of Peace Memorial Park. Calvary’s majestic, Ross Montgomery–designed mausoleum is home to L.A.’s old Catholic elite (the Doheny family has a gated crypt located off the main aisle, near oil man Harry Sinclair and his family), as well as the Barrymore acting clan, Lou Costello (sans Bud Abbott), and early film vamp Pola Negri. Silent-screen legend Raymond Novarro and jazz great Jelly Roll Morton are buried outside. Calvary’s rolling fairways are also the final resting place of local Catholic gypsies, whose graves are marked by wine bottles. Home of Peace is less noteworthy architecturally than Calvary, but offers more shade and is packed with such show-business greats as Fanny Brice (she’s inside the main mausoleum, among the book-shaped urns), Curly and Shemp Howard of Three Stooges fame, movie moguls Louis B. Mayer and Carl Laemmle and, most memorably, the Warner Brothers, Jack, Harry and Sam, who are interred in separate family crypts. Legend has it that Jack, the last surviving brother, asked for his crypt to be located as far from his brothers’ as possible. Calvary Cemetery, 4201 Whittier Blvd., Boyle Heights. (323) 261-3106, Mon.-Sun., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (5 p.m. when time changes). Home of Peace Memorial Park, 4334 Whittier Blvd., Boyle Heights. (323) 261-6135, Sun.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (Closed Sat.)
BEST SWAP AND BYOF
The only thing better than one bargain is two in the same spot. You can shop at the Vineland Swap Meet from early morning until 2 p.m., and by the time you’ve packed your hard-earned treasure into the hatch of your SUV, the Swap Meet will be magically transforming itself into the Vineland Drive-In Movie Theater. By 7 p.m., they’re ready to show Inglorious Basterds on one of four, enormous outdoor movie screens. The Vineland Swap Meet is one of the premier places in Los Angeles to find a great jumble of cheap junk — er, previously owned merchandise, but the food is cheap, too. Last week I saw four pounds of strawberries for $2, six bras for $10 and a Nintendo 64 game console that may or may not work for $12. A quick tip if you take your crowd to see a movie there: Unlike most theaters, it’s OK to bring your own treats to a drive-In. With soda starting at $3 and $3.75 for the smallest bag of popcorn, you’ll save money and avoid the line if you BYOF. Vineland Drive-In and Swap Meet, 443 N. Vineland Ave., City of Industry, (626)-369-7224. Swap meet hours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. Drive-in opens 7 p.m. daily.
BEST ELEVATOR RIDE THROUGH L.A. ROCK HISTORY
That might be your lost copy of Wall of Voodoo’s Seven Days in Sammystown on the wall of the spankin’ new elevator that leads to the even spankier new Trader Joe’s on Sunset and Crescent Heights. The company has long made each of its stores reflect its neighborhood — TV production murals at the Studio City outlet, for example. But they went the extra mile down Dead Man’s Curve to make this new Sunset Strip store reflect the rock & roll history of its street. Inside, colorful giant guitar picks with likenesses of Frank Zappa and Iggy Pop grace the walls. But the best part is the elevator — actually, there are two of ’em — covered with actual rock-album covers you can ogle and even stroke as you ride the three stories from the parking garage. Wait — that has to be my Blondie Eat to the Beat cover! 8000 W. Sunset Blvd., L. A. (323) 822-7663, traderjoes.com.
BEST FREE SCENIC VIEW
Disclosure: The CHP will be displeased to see this published, so please obey the 45 mph speed limit and approach this triple-gulp car ride with caution: Begin in Chatsworth at the Topanga Canyon exit of the 118 freeway with your windows rolled down, heading south, foot off the gas pedal. As you accelerate down the mountain (watch your speed or the motorcycle cops hiding inside the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village will) at about ¼ of a mile, gaze up to the left (east) and take in the magnificent, boulder-embedded Stoney Point Park (gulp 1) — the site of an ancient Indian village — where climbing pros and novices attempt their skills at bouldering, rappelling and downright foolishness. Look right (west) to spot a tiny black hole carved into the Santa Susana Mountains, which is a railroad tunnel built in 1904 (gulp 2). Coast onward (traffic light, hopefully) with the wind blowing in your hair, and pull over. Sit a spell and contemplate the beauty of these historic landmarks you might not have noticed (gulp 3) had you been in a hurry. Stoney Point Park, 11000 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth. (818) 883-8531.
BEST PLACE TO PICK UP HEAD . . . S OF LETTUCE
Ever since its grand opening in July, the Pavilions in West Hollywood has turned into something more than a supermarket — it’s where hot gays and lesbians go to mingle in WeHo. While the old Pavilions had more of a laid-back neighborhood feel, this sleekly designed and reasonably priced market’s new interior decor features soft lighting — essential for any good pickup joint. And the pickup scene is highly charged: Whether you’re selecting apples and peaches near the front, picking out cookies in back or standing in line for a custom-made sandwich next to the in-house Starbucks counter, it seems impossible not to meet someone and strike up a friendly conversation about fresh meat. It almost feels like a trendy nightclub, if not for that plastic bag of bok choy you’re clutching. Pavilions is open 24/7, and it’s a fun spot to shop — for more than just groceries. Pavilions, 8969 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd. Open daily, 24 hours.
BEST OBSERVATORY OF INNER TORTURE
You could always take one of those Hollywood tours past James Dean’s L.A. haunts, but one of the most beautiful and enjoyable ways to commune with the spirit of the young actor who died too soon is to drive to the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park, which was an important location for Dean’s best and most influential film, Rebel Without a Cause. The homage is a three-parter. First, as you walk toward the famed observatory and look to the right, you’ll see a white slab of concrete with a bust of James Dean sitting on it. The actor commissioned artist Kenneth Kendall to create the sculpture just before his death, and Kendall coincidentally began work on the piece the September 30, 1955, night Dean fatally crashed his Porsche 550 Spyder in Northern California. The bust depicts the inner torture Dean’s characters often endured, and it’s situated away from the observatory crowds so you can have a moment of silence with your thoughts. From there, walk to the front, eastern side of the observatory, where you’ll see a small parking lot. Against a white wall, with a beautiful view of downtown L.A., is where Dean’s character, Jim Stark, took part in the famous knife-fight scene in Rebel. No plaque dedicates the site to the actor, but movie history happened exactly at this spot. Few people make it over here, so again, it’s quiet and uncrowded. Finally, head into the observatory itself, where Dean’s Rebel alter ego actually watched the planetarium show in the 1955 film. Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park. Tues.-Fri., noon-10 p.m.; weekends, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST JACARANDA STROLL
“L.A. is the cruelest town,” musician Loudon Wainwright III has said. “You’re in a car all the time and the weather is kind of unrelenting. That blue, California weather.” To live in Los Angeles is to live in ignorance of snow — the experience of white powder descending on a city, urbanity reinterpreted as pianissimo, buried under verses of sparkling ice. Here, the notion of cold is relative; foggy mornings, a brisk October wind, rain in November. In April, when the jacaranda trees bloom like fierce violet fires, the city lets down its hair: Dainty blossoms paint a second draft of the city, which makes you wonder if we’ve been living in black-and-white. The juncture of Hope and Flower — with all the city’s music on its back, running like a scoliotic spine behind The Mark Taper Forum, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Disney Hall — is lined with jacarandas. When in bloom, petals a shade of purple that only recurs in children’s clothing and certain pastel-colored candies, they transform the street into a study of tree figure and form, a Hockney painting realized in the middle of downtown L.A.
—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.
BEST PUBLIC PLACE TO PERUSE YOUR PROUST OVER A PANINO
Who needs pretentious overpriced coffee when you can peruse your Proust with the real intelligentsia — and a panino — at the Santa Monica Public Library, home to the best library café in town. After checking out your reading fare from this borrower-friendly, architecturally uplifting, parking-plentiful institution, visit the library café for a quick snack, late lunch or caffeine kick. And what better place to browse your newest fiction than the tranquil courtyard patio and garden? Walkways flanked by shallow reflecting pools and cacti create a truly inspiring setting — and you might learn something while you’re there. 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 458-8600, smpl.org.
—Mara De Luca
BEST SIDEWALK CACOPHONY
Loads of L.A.’s Latino brethren (and sistren) are flocking to emerging forms of neo-Pentecostal religion because, for many, it eclipses the staid rigorousness of traditional worship in a Catholic church. And how. Catholic mass never got this many feet a’stomping and tambourines a’janglin’. The most musical of the week’s events (and, yes, noise complaints do occur) usually happens on Friday evenings. Catedral de la Fe (formerly the State Theater) downtown is bigger (and louder) than most storefront Pentecostal churches around town, and the folks here definitely make the funkiest ruckus. By day, the rundown exterior of the formerly grandiose theater sits quietly, like a defunct storefront shell — even though some of the original 1921 filigree still shows through — but then the sun sets and the marquee glows, chandeliers flicker on, the house grows crowded, and spare seats are hard to come by. Arms raised, keyboards twinkling, drums crashing and Hallelujahs filling the air: The building practically rocks back and forth on its foundation in the spirit of Jesucristo. Whether you’re passing by outside or stomping inside the church, on Broadway and 7th, it’s hard to ignore the power of the Lord. 703 S. Broadway, dwntwn.
BEST POLITICAL-OBSERVATION PERCH
L.A. City Council meetings will either enrage you or increase your trust in politicians (though we doubt that), but they’re nothing if not entertaining, as the council chronically tries to cut, censor and shush the “public-comment” period. Led by City Council President Eric Garcetti — the young, ever-smiling Golden Boy with an Ivy League education — these often bizarrely comedic meetings take place in a one-of-a-kind, high-ceilinged venue: the ornate John Ferraro Council Chamber. Once inside, you take a seat in a pew, as if you’re attending church, but what unfolds is anything but worshipful. Frequent public commenters such as Zuma Dogg, Noel Weiss and John Walsh let it rip, with television cameras capturing their often witty and noisy protests against political corruption and ineptitude. For first-timers who venture downtown with the notion of commenting in the naive belief that the 15 council members actually listen to citizens who show up, the show is usually a bit of an eye-opener. The newcomers don’t always understand why their fellow citizens are so completely outraged. But the newbies listen, watch and begin to realize that the political system is closed to them, which has spawned L.A.’s version of Speakers Corner. Well, it’s not really on a corner — you stand at a microphone facing a semicircle of politicians who utterly ignore you. The grand-staircase entrance to City Hall on Spring Street is permanently closed (they’re worried about terrorists), so enter on Main Street. John Ferraro Council Chamber, Room 340. Tues., Wed. & Fri., 10 a.m.
—Patrick Range McDonald
BEST VOLUNTEER OP
Finally, a reason for a kid to take a break from texting, hanging at the mall or wasting yet another two hours on an inane holiday blockbuster. Instead, Jewish middle and senior high school–age teens can now volunteer their time as mentors for Jewish special-needs children — befriending, mentoring, teaching and having fun via arts and crafts, Judaic education, sports programming, camps and field trips. The local Friendship Circle chapter (the umbrella organization began 20 years ago and has 70 chapters worldwide) has for the past six years encouraged young people to give of themselves to their community. The opportunities are plentiful and fit most individual schedules, according to Gail Rollman, FC director of public relations. If students can only commit to a biweekly visit, or working on Sundays, or as part of the winter camp program, it’s a match! “Teens choose an activity and program that works for them,” Rollman explains. But once they’ve volunteered with the Friendship Circle, their commitment will likely grow. “It’s contagious. It feels so great to give to another human being that the kids ask, ‘What else can I do?’ I’ve seen kids change their career paths as a result of their volunteer experience, opting for professions as psychologists and speech therapists.” No one sinks; everyone swims, as volunteers are trained to be with children who may have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or behavioral issues, for instance. “Training sessions throughout the year include an expert in the field, who offers volunteers additional tools: How do you respond to a situation with your child? What kind of language, or redirection can they use to enrich the experience?” The program is enhanced by effective communication. “We pride ourselves on keeping in touch with the volunteers. We ask how the match is going, if there are problems or concerns, and then address them,” Rollman adds. The year-end banquets, awards and scholarships to thank the volunteers are indeed rewarding, but reaching out to new friends is probably the icing on the cake. 9581 W. Pico Blvd., #102, L.A. (310) 277-FCLA.
BEST FREE DEAD-CELEBRITIES TOUR
When out-of-towners visit, give them a quick, entirely free, tour of the Sunset Strip and surrounding areas in West Hollywood filled with dead celebrity haunts. Peer at the gorgeous, historic Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, where you can startle people with the grand announcement that John Belushi died there from a drug overdose in 1982. Everyone always wants to know what killed him. Correct answer: “a speedball,” which is a toxic mix of cocaine and heroin. Things go downhill as you drive west on Sunset to the Viper Room, where, in 1993, young River Phoenix also died from a speedball overdose, on the dirty sidewalk outside the famed club once co-owned by Johnny Depp. Then head east and turn down Holloway Drive. Near leafy Alta Loma Road, at 8569 Holloway, you can announce that Sal Mineo, co-star of Rebel Without a Cause, was murdered outside his apartment there in 1976. A man stabbed the actor to death when Mineo was just 37. End the tour on Santa Monica Boulevard at Barney’s Beanery, the friendly, old-time roadhouse where rockers Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin were reportedly regulars. Have a bowl of chili and relax while catching a baseball game on one of the Beanery’s decent TVs. Chateau Marmont, 8221 W. Sunset Blvd. L.A.; Viper Room, 8852 W. Sunset Blvd., W.Hlywd; 8569 Holloway Drive, W.Hlywd.; Barney’s Beanery, 8447 Santa Monica Blvd., W. Hlywd.
—Patrick Range McDonald
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