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Best of L.A.: Recreation and Self-Improvement 

Wednesday, Sep 30 2009
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BEST FOREIGN TONGUE-TWISTING

On a typical weekday evening, students of all ages stream into the Beverly Hills Lingual Institute, pick up some cookies or pretzels and a cup of tea or coffee, and head off to one of several classrooms to learn one of the 27 languages offered, from Arabic to Vietnamese. Classes are small, teachers are native speakers, and the feeling is collegial and warm. West L.A.’s Language Door offers a lower-cost alternative, but BHLI has the aura of a busy international plaza. A two-month term of eight, weekly 80-minute courses is $225 for Spanish, French, Italian and English, and $275 for all other languages. Located on the second floor above a public parking garage (free for the first two hours before 6 p.m., $3 flat rate after 6 p.m.), BHLI also offers unobstructed vistas of the intriguing collection of people who call Beverly Hills home. Priceless. 439 N. Canon Drive, Suite 207, Beverly Hills. (310) 858-0717.

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BEST PLACE TO CATCH THE ACTING BUG

Always thinking outside the black box, Casa 0101 Theater is living up to its ambitious mission statement of “nurturing the future storytellers of Los Angeles, who will someday transform the world.” Better yet, they’re doing it at incredibly reasonable prices. The Saturday acting class by Eddie Padilla covers commercial acting, improvisation and auditioning. Classes are divided into age groups for children, teens and adults. It’s $10 per class for adults, $5 for Boyle Heights residents and free for those younger than 18. Like all classes at Casa 0101, no one will be turned away for an inability to pay. Gotta love that. Tickets to play performances, mostly by locals, are just $20; Boyle Heights residents pay $12. There’s one surefire way to see the theater productions for free: Volunteer as an usher. Founder Josefina Lopez teaches dramatic writing at the nearby Brooklyn & Boyle Café, also a great deal at $10 per class. Go soak up some Eastside culture. 2009 E. First St., L.A. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org.

—Todd Krainin

BEST OOLTIMATE AHM VORKOUT

Everybody’s heard that you can spar in the same gym where Oscar de la Hoya and Olympic gold medalist Paul Gonzales learned to box. You can also watch lawyers from the D.A.’s office shoot hoops. But what you really want to do at the Hollenbeck Youth Center — don’t be shy — is to lift weights next to an oversize mural of Arnold Schwarzenegger. If sweating underneath the benevolent gaze of the governor isn’t your idea of a good time, you’re bound to find something worthwhile, because within HYC’s gritty exterior is an ambitious place, a kind of Swiss Army knife for athletes and youths. If you’re an aspiring boxer, they’ll provide you with free gloves and a trainer (you buy and bring the mouthpiece). The weight room, while decidedly low-tech, is reasonably priced at $15 a month for adults and free for youngsters ages 15 to 18. There are Wednesday karate classes for just $15 monthly and free basketball leagues (and if you want to play basketball, they supply everything you need). Or exercise your brain at the free computer classes, where high schoolers earn credit while studying with a certified teacher, and everything a student needs is supplied without charge. Couch potatoes are welcome to watch all this lifting, hoop-shooting and karate-chopping. 2015 E. First St., L.A. (323) 881-6565.

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BEST MEDITATION AND DRUMMING

With the possible exception of Richard Gere’s Malibu estate, Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights may be the closest thing that Southern California has to a Himalayan retreat. Perched partway up a hill, with grand views of the Eastside, Hsi Lai offers inexpensive classes in Chinese culture, Mandarin Chinese and Mahayana Buddhism year round, and classes in beginning and advanced meditation. Drumming, painting and dance lessons are also offered, as are lectures and celebrations throughout the year. Most lessons are held weekly and cost $10 per class, or $120 for a section of 10 — a very good deal. Call ahead, as class prices vary, and not all are given in English. And you can tour the temple’s Ming-style architecture and sculpture gardens for free. Come for a dirt-cheap vegetarian buffet lunch for a $7 suggested donation. You might want to stay a while. 3456 S. Glenmark Drive, Hacienda Heights. (626) 961-9697, hsilai.org.

—Todd Krainin

BEST DEPRESSING KARAOKE AND BOWLING

If Walter, Donny and the Dude ever get the memo that Hollywood Lanes has gone off to the great bowling alley in the sky, then the fictional Lebowski posse will surely tumble to All Star Lanes. The place possesses all things that make a bowling alley great: dingy ’70s colored carpet, waxed lanes, a room filled with enough ’80s and ’90s video games to satisfy your inner junior high punk, and a bar where old-timers pontificate about how the neighborhood has changed. Best of all, the unsung hero of this stalwart neighborhood staple is the nightly karaoke, mainly because the room is almost always empty. As such, you and your friends can pretty much take over the night without worrying about a reservation. Your party might be sharing the stage with a couple of bar regulars who are just as likely to belt out Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as they are to select the slightly more obscure Zager and Evans 1969 hit, “In the Year 2525.” The stray drunk Occidental student might blow off steam to Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl.” The only patron you might need to defer to is the karaoke host and maestro himself, an older, wobbly, bespectacled gentleman with a thin mustache, who occasionally busts out some Stevie Wonder. The drinks are cheap and food from the attached Chinese restaurant is gross, but don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning with Kung Pao on your shirt nonetheless. 4459 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 254-2579, allstarlanesbowling.com.

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