10 Best Ways to De-Stress in L.A. Before the Holidays

We feel you, girl.
We feel you, girl.
Shutterstock

It's mid November, which means you're about to have a tension headache for roughly the next month and a half. The holidays are bright and shiny and fun, but they're also a big pain in the ass, so if you need a break from Santa breathing his sour milk breath down your neck, here are 10 ways to de-stress in L.A., courtesy of our Best of L.A. 2015 issue. 

Visualize a less stressful life at the Best Buddhist Meditation Center
Against the Stream

4300 Melrose Ave., Westwood; (323) 665-4300, againstthestream.org

American Buddhism, for all its go-with-the-flow ethos, can still be a pretty stodgy practice. Not so at Against the Stream, founded by ex–punk rocker and ex-crackhead Noah Levine, a tattooed iconoclast who has become one of the most respected teachers of Buddhism in the country. Against the Stream's ethos is much more casual, much more open to the beginner or even the meditation-curious. There are no robes, no bowing. As such, it tends to draw a younger and more diverse crowd — one class is specifically for people of color. With locations in Santa Monica and East Hollywood (as well as one in San Francisco and 20 affiliated groups across the country) and more than 20 weekly classes — plus special series and daylong workshops — there's something for nearly everyone here, with a special emphasis on recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. —Hillel Aron


Go for a walk on the Best Hidden Hike

Beacon Hill Trail
Shannon Road and Cadman Drive, Los Feliz

Park just south of Griffith Park at the three-way intersection of Cadman Drive, Shannon Road and Griffith Park Boulevard. Walk north on Cadman, past some mansions built on the leafy hillside, and enter the woods. Keep walking and discover a path up a grassy hill overlooking the L.A. River and Interstate 5. Make your way up to a summit with water for humans and horses and picnic tables perfect for a breather or a bottle of wine. You may run into a hiker or two, but you will mostly have it all to yourself. Beacon Hill's 2- and 4-mile loops, with about 500 feet of elevation change, are every bit as challenging and scenic as Runyon's but without the crowds. This hike, the easternmost in the Santa Monica Mountain Range, really is the secret garden of Griffith Park hiking. —Isaac Simpson 

See also: Best Hiking Trail and Best Night Hike


Have a stiff one at the Best Bar With a View
The Castaway

1250 E. Harvard Road, Burbank; (818) 843-5013, castawayrestaurant.com

Burbank probably isn't the first place you think of when you're looking for a romantic date spot with million-dollar views. But that's exactly what makes the Castaway such a hidden gem. Perched above a golf course in the Verdugo Mountains, this vaguely tropically themed bar, restaurant and popular wedding site boasts 180-degree views that span all the way from the San Fernando Valley to the west, past the backside of Griffith Park and the downtown skyline, all the way to the hills of Eagle Rock and Mount Washington to the southeast. The cocktails and bar menu are pretty standard but serviceable, and happy hour prices are a steal ($6 margaritas, $3.50 fries) compared with what you'd pay for a comparable view downtown. Bring an extra layer for the outdoor patio; even though you're still in Burbank, the temperature after dark really can drop to mountainlike lows. —Andy Hermann

     
Aw, shitters. You have a kid. (No wonder you’re tense.) Why don't you ...


Have a cold one at the Best Kid-Friendly Beer Bar

Golden Road Brewing

5410 W. San Fernando Road, Northeast L.A.; goldenroad.la

Parenting is hard work, so you moms and dads are entitled to the occasional cold one. But you can't always get a sitter, and in most bars your fellow patrons make you and your rugrats feel about as welcome as Donald Trump at a Los Tigres del Norte concert. Fortunately, the brewmasters at Golden Road have created an environment in which drinkers and kindergarteners can happily co-exist. The pub's expansive patio overlooks a grassy area filled with games for adults and children alike, from foosball to cornhole to a giant Connect Four set. Parents can keep a watchful eye on the little ones while knocking back a pint of Point the Way IPA and ordering something from the kids' menu, which even includes vegetarian options. The grown-up food is pretty tasty, too, especially the spicy pulled pork sandwich and the fried avocado tacos, which you can wash down with a rotating selection of 20 beers on tap. —Andy Hermann 

Have the Best Facialist rub on your face skin

Facials by Karina

334 N. Mariposa Ave., Hollywood; (323) 663-8382, facialsbykarina.com

First, the facts. In just six sessions, facialist Karina Kara cured my skin, an achievement I'd deemed impossible since, oh, the age of 15. Forget fancy Beverly Hills salons. If you really want to fix your face, head to East Hollywood, park in front of Facials by Karina's unassuming fourplex and go upstairs. (Actually, first make a reservation online — with skills like hers, she's usually booked up for weeks.) While it's tempting to call Kara a miracle worker, her strength is that she's scientific and practical. She offers a handful of great, reasonably priced products (I'm partial to the shark liver night oil, which she credits for her own smooth face), but you'll have to ask — she never tries to up-sell you on untested cures or expensive jars of hope. Kara cares only about your results. When your skin improves, she's proud, which makes an appointment feel like visiting an attentive Russian aunt. Time to add her to my Christmas list. —Amy Nicholson 

Best Public Garden: Arlington Garden
Best Public Garden: Arlington Garden
Lisa Horowitz

Stop and smell the roses at the Best Public Garden

Arlington Garden

295 Arlington Drive, Pasadena; arlingtongardeninpasadena.org

Built on a 3-acre site that once was the garden of a mansion on Pasadena's "Millionaires Row," Arlington Garden is the city's only public garden. Situated between busy Orange Grove and Pasadena avenues, it's easy to bypass, but this hidden treasure is worth a stop. Free to the public, with dogs allowed (on leash), and open 365 days a year, it's a series of garden rooms with a waterwise Mediterranean sensibility. Plantings range from Australian to wildflower, orange grove to Madagascan spiny forest. There's even a classical seven-circuit labyrinth, perfect for meditative walking. Hummingbirds chirp and lizards scurry out of your way as you stroll Arlington Garden's pathways and explore its many nooks and corners. There are benches and chairs everywhere — and they even seemed freshly dusted on a sunny Sunday morning. The whole place is on a small scale, making it perfect for young kids, too. —Lisa Horowitz 


Lounge around with a flaming tube of tobacco in your mouth at the Best Comfortable, Smoky Man Cave

Fat Stogies Cigar Lounge

7306-A Ventura Blvd., Encino; (818) 907-0211, fatstogiesencino.com

Imagine a great, comfortable well-appointed cigar lounge. Now imagine it bigger, more plush and even loungier — if that's a word. Fat Stogies Cigar Lounge in Encino is a colossal emporium of good smokes, casual chatter and decadent seating, a civilized clubhouse for (mostly) men who value an upscale, home-away-from-home vibe as much as high-quality cigars. Brothers Amo and Jack definitely carry a fantastic assortment of fine stogies in their spacious, well-stocked walk-in humidor, including such rare specimens as the La Gloria Serie R No. 6, as well as the best from Rocky Patel, Oliva, Padrón and other top brands. The place has several denlike sitting areas, some separated by glass walls, with TVs and artwork to enjoy. The ventilation system is outstanding, but what pulls it all together is the owners' gregarious, solicitous attitude toward service — they make you feel like a member of the club. —Adam Gropman 

Best Free Archery Lessons: Woodley Park Archery Range
Best Free Archery Lessons: Woodley Park Archery Range
Nicole Kreuzer

Shoot arrows at things with the Best Free Archery Lessons

Woodley Park Archery Range

6350 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys; (818) 756-8060

If watching certain scenes from Game of Thrones has you yearning to unleash your inner archer, head to Woodley Park Archery Range. The free lessons, held every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning on a first-come, first-served basis, cover the nuts and bolts of archery; the neighborhood park where they're held is decked out with its very own range built for Olympic Games training. Experienced instructors fit newcomers with equipment and teach them the finer points of shooting a bow and arrow, such as proper stance, grip, handling and, of course, safety. They then are allowed to join the shooting line, practicing their new skill hitting bull's-eye targets. Donning the equipment and taking aim is a sure-fire way to finally set free the Wildling lurking inside you. —Nicole Kreuzer 


Hide underwater for a little while at the Best Scuba Dive Site

Casino Point

Avalon, Catalina Island

Shore dives are a pain. You have to walk into the surf, battle the waves and crawl your way out. A better option is to head to Catalina. Diving the island's Casino Point is remarkably easy: A convenient set of stairs will lead you down to the kelp forest below, and a gear-rental kiosk is right next to the dive stairs. The park is a protected marine sanctuary, so there is never a deficit of fish to see. You'll certainly spot a smattering of garibaldis and a halibut or two. You might even stumble across the handful of shipwrecks abandoned on the ocean floor (keep an eye out for the Jacques Cousteau plaque down there). And if you're lucky, a pair of sea lions might swim over to play. —Clarissa Wei


Sing like no one’s listening (because they aren’t) at the Best Private-Room Karaoke

Max Karaoke

333 S. Alameda St., downtown; (213) 620-1030, maxkaraokestudio.com

Tucked into the second floor of the Little Tokyo Mall, Max is open every day from 1 p.m. to 3 a.m. — make that 4 a.m. on the weekends — and if you wind down before 8 p.m., you can rent a room for the bargain rate of $4 per person ($5 Friday through Sunday). Bring in your own snacks and the cost ticks up just a dollar — try grabbing some sushi and cold sake from the grocery downstairs. Max Karaoke isn't trying to upsell you with expensive food and drinks. It doesn't even sell beer, but staff politely look the other way if you walk in with a case of Coors Light. Max knows you're here to sing, and its songbook is the biggest in town, including tracks in French, Hawaiian, Russian and Portuguese. Live in Torrance or Sawtelle? They've got a Max, too. Grab a mic. —Amy Nicholson

For more suggestions, see the sports and recreation section of Best of L.A. 2015.


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