Best Of :: People & Places
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
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.—Jill Stewart
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.—Elizabeth Bernheim
The Whittier Narrows Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary has 419 acres of wilderness, featuring trails that weave through dense, dry brush alongside the San Gabriel River. With 300 species of birds, bird watching is a favorite pastime. Mountain lions and bobcats have also been seen roaming, and deep inside the sanctuary, the solitude of the desert can be a liberating experience. With all the paw prints pressed into the sand around you, you have the feeling of never quite being alone. Nearby, the Nature Center Museum has collections of archaeology, botany, history, birds, bugs and reptiles. It occasionally hosts free lectures and hayrides. Unfortunately, part of the area is marred by transmission towers and power lines, and signs advertising Mobil and Shell Oil are visible on the horizon. Even so, this is a quiet, relaxing place, completely free of charge. That much, at least, is the way natures supposed to be. 1000 N. Durfee Ave., El Monte. (626) 575-2253.—Todd Krainin
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.—Libby Molyneaux
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