Living in Los Angeles means there's always an endless roster of parties, festivals, events and shows happening at any given moment, in every part of town. And when there's nothing on the calendar, the city's beaches, mountains and parks are the ideal spot to spend a sunny afternoon.
But even still, there are days when Griffith Park is too crowded, the Getty is too surrounded by traffic and it's just too cold to go in the ocean. For that reason, we've scoured the pages of our Best of L.A. issue to find ten of the goofiest, most unconventional things you can do on those days when everything else falls through.
Can't find parking at the Grove? Forgot to buy tickets to the Hollywood Bowl? Never fear, you can snatch up tickets to the far less-popular (but always eerie) Crimbo the Clown tour or visit the only zipper factory in Los Angeles. (Because whoever said Vernon isn't cool has obviously never been to this place.) You can take a day trip to Cabazon — where you might come home with a new Facebook profile photo, but accidentally get a lesson in creationism — or just keep driving over the beautiful (really) Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange in South L.A. After all, this is L.A., dammit, and even the freeways are worthy of your time.
Feel up some velvet
We didn’t know we needed one until it came here. Velveteria is a velvet-painting museum curated by Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin, who relocated from Portland, Oregon, to open their new space in Chinatown late last year. This storefront gallery displays about 500 paintings — Baldwin likes to say “about 420 wink wink” — cherry-picked from the couple’s 3,000-piece collection, bringing a welcome note of eccentricity to the growing hip-ification of the neighborhood. “See the ’60s on velvet: black power, JFK, Beatles, Stones, rock ’n’ roll, Vietnam and tiki,” screams the website, and it’s all true — plus a plethora of unicorns, religious icons, Liberace and the Hall of Elvis. More than a hobby, Velveteria purports to make a serious study of the genre as interpreted around the world. Best of all is a special blacklight room, packed floor to ceiling with glowing works of art, where cushions are provided for your hanging-out pleasure, upholstered in (of course) zebra velvet. —Suzy Beal
711 New High St., Chinatown, 90012. (503) 309-9299, velveteria.com.
Tour a zipper factory
We use them all the time, but do you actually know how a zipper is made? Or where they come from? They haven’t all been outsourced to China. At UCan Zippers, the last zipper factory in L.A. and one of the last in the United States, they’ll happily show you around on a Thursday afternoon. Prepare to be amazed, because in this factory of burning bright paints, bobbins, powders, pulls, bottles of chemicals, lightboxes, bizarre thunking machines and strips of toothy material, you’ll learn that more goes into a simple slider than you ever imagined. Your guide probably will be one of the Lai brothers, who run the place alongside patriarch Paul; as teenagers, they lived for Velcro and buttons — before accepting the inevitable. Outside, check your fly: If there’s a UCan on there, it came from here. —James Bartlett
1930 Long Beach Ave., Los Angeles, 90058. (213) 749-2610, www.ucanzippers.com.
Relax in a desert downtown
There’s a desert downtown, and it’s not because the citizens of our drought-ravaged state have been keeping the sprinklers spraying and the cars sparkling. This desert, hidden at the side of the 801 Tower, is one of the more Southern California–inspired spaces decreed by the 1 percent development mandate, which has helped create sculptures, statues and public parks all over downtown. Inspired by the Zanja Madre, L.A.’s original water source for the pueblo, Andrew Leicester’s design features desert mosaics, a compact garden of cacti, paradise-flowering pear and cypress, and a stylized pyramid fountain with an arrowhead on top. You enter through winglike gates alongside lanternlike towers, and can catch humanoid figures and the odd lizard, snake, beetle and goat skull lining the walls and benches. Ignore the office workers and their Styrofoam lunches and visit an area that inspired the early Batman movies, and obviates the need to drive to Palm Springs for some desert style. —James Bartlett
801 S. Figueroa St., dwntwn., 90017.
Spook yourself on a crime tour
“L.A. is very famous for its legends,” says Crimebo the Clown. Crimebo (aka Michael Perrick) is a deranged, Emmett Kelly–type character clown with a passion for urban legends and crime oddities, which he has managed to translate into a successful one-man act. In addition to blind-date chaperone services, bachelorette-party tag-alongs and anti-Santa Christmas party appearances (as well as more conventional private bookings for birthdays, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries and, yes, even wakes), Crimebo leads two-hour weekend crime tours around downtown. At $50 per person, the Urban Legends van excursion takes curious folks on a journey back in time, to when the U.S. military actually stored nuclear weapons in tunnel spaces of the L.A. River and the public believed Lizard People roamed beneath the city. At $30 a head, Crimebo’s downtown walking tour is an immersive primer on the countless murders, suicides, shady dealings and unfortunate accidents that have occurred in downtown’s Historic Core. For anyone dying to take a fun, weird and unique tour of the City of Angels with a red-faced, black-eyed clown, Crimebo’s the man. —Tanja M. Laden
Urban Legends tour meets at Big Art Labs, 651 Clover St., Lincoln Heights, 90031. Downtown walking tour meets at the corner of Spring and Fifth streets, dwntwn. Dates and times: (323) 638-4097, crimebo.com.
Visit a museum of antique printing equipment
Letterpress printing is enjoying a revival, and the International Printing Museum is Mecca for this retro art, boasting the Ernest A. Lindner Collection of Antique Printing Machinery, considered by authorities to be one of the largest, most comprehensive collections of historic graphic arts equipment in the world. Linder regularly rented his antique printing equipment to the movie studios, so there’s a chance you’ve seen some of these presses before, playing a role in Newsies, Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Last Samurai, Catch Me If You Can or Seven Pounds, to name a few. Visit the museum and you can get their autograph — really. Museum volunteers run the presses for you, explaining how they work, and, if you’re lucky, you might take home a souvenir broadsheet. It’s a more personalized experience than most museums around town, and educational too — you’ll leave understanding why we designate letters “uppercase” and “lowercase,” and whence came the oft-bandied about entertainment industry term “slugline.” —Eve Weston
315 W. Torrance Blvd., Carson, 90745. (310) 515-7166, printmuseum.org.
Go to an art gallery in a garage
On a tree-lined hillside west of Santa Monica Airport, one resident has been dealing out of her garage — dealing art, that is. Emma Gray is a curator, editor and impresario who adores unconventional spaces, most recently Five Car Garage, an accurately named, surprisingly well-appointed structure in her alleyway. Previously belonging to a classic car aficionado, it’s tricked out like a Chelsea gallery, with sealed concrete floors and wide roll-up doors. Gray doesn’t so much represent artists as produce projects with them, joking, “I’m a gallery in denial, happy to provide a platform. Fuck convention.” Her crew includes Hammer and Whitney Biennial artists and emerging talent, whom Gray asks for “impossible” ideas — fanciful, site-specific visions a proper gallery couldn’t sell. The in-crowd has gotten with the program of afternoon receptions for shows such as David Hendren’s elaborate, inconvenient mechanical sculptures, and Megan Daalder’s upcoming small-audience “performance-sculpture.” Address provided by appointment, and for events. —Shana Nys Dambrot
Santa Monica, 90405. (310) 497-6895, emmagrayhq.com.
Get fancy at the opera
We have nothing against the trend of high-cultural institutions trying to engage with audiences in informal, edgy ways. Opera at a train station? Love it. Theater in a cave, or dance in a laundromat? Bring it on. But sometimes we seek out culture specifically because we crave formality, because the sloppiness of modern life leaves us cold. At times like that, there is no better treat than a night at the Los Angeles Opera. Even in this flip-flop– and iPhone-obsessed town, everyone at the opera is dressed to the nines and determinedly civilized. In the hushed elegance of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, it feels rude to swear, much less check your email. So you give in to the romance of the evening. Will your heart rise and fall with the passion onstage? Almost certainly. Will you have a glass of Champagne as you eavesdrop on the fancy Europeans at intermission? But of course. And will there be tears in your eyes as the final curtain falls? Only if you’re human. —Sarah Fenske
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., dwntwn., 90012. (213) 972-8001, laopera.org.
Drive out to see desert dinos
Prowling the north side of the 10 on the way into Los Angeles, the Cabazon Dinosaurs are a delight of roadside America. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure wouldn’t have been nearly as big without those oversized apatosaurus and tyrannosaurus rex models. But once you step inside and start reading the placards, it becomes evident something has changed over the years. New owners moved in a while back, and now the (cough) science tells you all about how the fossil record can’t be trusted. Maybe the dinosaurs aren’t so old after all? Maybe humans did ride them? Maybe dinosaurs aren’t even extinct, because maybe the Loch Ness Monster is real? Maybe, indeed. The presentation of creationism as valid science might ruffle your evolutionary feathers, but this attraction is definitely still worth a visit.
50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon, 92230. (951) 922-0076, cabazondinosaurs.com.
Go on your own architectural walking tour
The architecture of Hayden Tract looks like a mix between communist-bloc buildings in East Berlin and the set of Blade Runner. The strange forest of striking postmodern, neo-industrial buildings in Culver City is the brainchild of experimental architect Eric Owen Moss, commissioned through a city rehab project called Conjunctive Points. Structures with names such as the Beehive, the Box and the Stealth are scattered throughout Hayden Tract’s approximately eight large blocks, serving as headquarters for top media companies including Maker Studios, Anonymous Content, Ogilvy Public Relations, PopSugar and MediaTemple. One building looks a supervillain’s aging bunker (8520 National Blvd.), while another has a concrete appendage that resembles a giant slouching wasp’s nest (3534 Hayden Ave.). The walking tour is a simple square. Start at the Jenga block–like Samitaur Tower on National Boulevard and Hayden Avenue. Head south on Hayden, past the unmissable Stealth on your left and Cactus Tower on your right. At Higuera, make a left to see Beats by Dre’s new Apple-branded headquarters, then make another left and walk up Eastham to see the Pterodactyl. Make a final left on National to round out the tour with the Box and the Beehive. —Isaac Simpson
Culver City, 90232.
Appreciate the freeway interchanges
Architecture critic Reyner Banham once wrote, “The language of design, architecture and urbanism in Los Angeles is the language of movement. Mobility outweighs monumentality there to a unique degree.” If you buy that argument, it would follow that our freeways and freeway interchanges should be considered among our greatest landmarks. Take for example the carpool lane of the Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange, which connects the 110 and the 105: More than 130 feet high, it offers drivers a breathtaking view of sprawling, almost oppressively flat South Los Angeles, albeit one that must be viewed quickly to avoid careening off the side. The interchange is named for the New Deal–style, 90-year-old, still-serving activist judge who forced Caltrans into providing housing, jobs and other services to those living in the shadow of the 105, the last freeway built in L.A. Unfortunately, this majestic byway is now a toll lane, which means you need a special transponder from Metro to ride it. —Hillel Aron
Express lane of the 110 and 105 interchange, South L.A., 90061.
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