Best Of :: People & Places
Who's the guy in charge of naming Santa Monica parks? Surely they could find some more inspiring moniker than Beach Park 1 for this spectacular swath of buzz-cut-thin grass accented by towering palm trees, a place that solves the age-old "Everyone wants to be near the beach but no one wants to deal with sand" paradox. The north-side strip is perfect for a pickup football game, where you can feel like you're playing near the ocean without the wide receivers slipping around on every play. I had my birthday party here once, and leading up to the party I actually purchased grass seeds and planted them to patch up some areas I was told were created by soccer players in cleats. This is the kind of park that sparks such civic duty. In fact, is there an opening for Santa Monica park namer? How hard could it be? Ocean Park Boulevard at Barnard Way, Santa Monica; smgov.net/parks.
The south side of the Silver Lake Reservoir has long been popular for its playground, basketball court and (stinky) dog park. But earlier this year we finally saw the debut of the Silver Lake Meadow, a mellow, grassy haven located on the east side of the water. The no-dogs-allowed, bare-feet-welcome space is considered a "quiet place," and so far it has lived up to its name. The best part is how empty it tends to be, particularly on weekdays. But even on weekends there's plenty of room to spread out with a picnic blanket, without fear of a stray Frisbee landing in the middle of your feast. In fact, if you're there with your family, you might want to take advantage of another cool element of the location — the breeze off the reservoir. It's an ideal spot for flying kites. Even if you might need to launch it into the air, once it's up, even your kindergartener can keep it high. Silver Lake Reservoir, Silver Lake.
Four miles north of the 210 freeway in Altadena, the Cobb Estate sits at the top of Lake Avenue at the corner of Loma Alta Drive. If you want a quick commune with nature after work, take the half-mile loop around the grounds, filled with eucalyptus, pepper and acacia trees, wild buckwheat and mustard. Your leashed dog is welcome. Enter through the historic wrought-iron gates and ascend the winding paved driveway to the site of what was once one of Altadena's premier mansions, built in 1916 by lumber magnate Charles H. Cobb. The Marx Brothers bought the 107-acre tract in 1960 and planned to sell it for use as a cemetery, but local ecologists stepped in and turned it over to the Forest Service in 1971. There are several side trails you can explore, including a couple that lead down into Las Flores Canyon, a waterfall and abandoned gold mines. If you are more ambitious, take the Sam Merrill Trail to the top of Echo Mountain, 2.5 miles of switchbacks that will deposit you at the ruins of an old hotel where you will be rewarded with vistas of the city of Los Angeles with the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Locals call the spot "the Haunted Forest," so get out of there before dark, when stoner teenagers converge on the estate to get paranoid about "flashing lights" (aka flashlights). East Loma Alta Drive at Lake Ave., Altadena.
Until now, Wrightwood has been a place Angelenos visited only during the winter. Tucked away in the San Gabriel Mountains, a mere 75 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the town's relative proximity to L.A. has made it a frequent destination for skiers, snowboarders, sledders and other people who like snow — or just wanted to be reminded of how it looks. Now, Wrightwood has become a place to visit every season, thanks to Navitat Canopy Adventures' zipline tour. Navitat has recently adapted the winter resort into a year-round destination for thrill seekers, building a network of trails, stairs, platforms and treetop bridges, all connected by rappels and zip lines up to 1,500 feet long. High-adventure addicts have the opportunity to play Tarzan, swinging from tree to tree while soaring hundreds of feet above the canyon. It's not for the faint of heart, but it is a must-have experience for intrepid, nature-loving folks aching to get out of the city. 6047 Park Drive, Wrightwood. (760) 249-9990 or (855) 628-4828, navitat.com/wrightwood.
—Tanja M. Laden
Rededicated in 2008 after a partial closing for Gold Line construction, the Evergreen Jogging Path encircles one of the oldest cemeteries in L.A., home to more than 300,000 departed souls since it was established in 1877. With less drastic upward inclines if the course is taken counterclockwise, the rubber-coated running track has turned a formerly severe section of sidewalks into a recreation area shared by runners, walkers, baby strollers, bicycles and working-class pedestrians. Be wary of countering the health benefits with carnitas at 5 Puntos next door or a carb overload at El Mercadito, both along the eastern edge of the run. The Gothic crematorium and the headstones in every language are must-see jog-by scenery, making the mile-and-a-half loop remarkably pleasant. 204 N. Evergreen Ave., Boyle Heights; latinourbanforum.com/Evergreen_Jogging_Path.html.
The gated and enclosed Lacy Park in swank San Marino is designed for anyone wanting to escape the frustrations of urban life. Run the outer path (about one mile in distance) encircling the park. Or take your racket and partake of some tennis on one of the park's six courts. Put a couple teams together and utilize the baseball field. Take a lover to the gorgeous rose garden located in the southwestern portion of the park. Despite having all these things to do, if you come here to walk your dog (doggy bags provided) or just people-watch, the park's 30 acres and its canopy of lush trees provide enough shaded areas and space to just sit and soak up the scene. Just be aware that on weekends, non–San Marino residents must pay $2 to gain entrance — and it's worth it. 1485 Virginia Road, San Marino. (626) 300-0790, ci.san-marino.ca.us/lacy.htm.
Evergreen Memorial Park and Crematory is the final resting place for more than 300,000 Angelenos, from L.A. mayors and City Council members to Chinese immigrants, Japanese Issei pioneers and, yes, even carnival workers. Also buried at this Boyle Heights landmark are the likes of Matthew Beard, aka Stymie from Our Gang; Charles Price Jones, founder of the Church of Christ; Bridget "Biddy" Mason, former slave–turned–real estate mogul; and Bobby Nunn, original member of the Coasters. But in the midst of all the dead politicians, preachers and performers lie players of a different kind, memorialized within an unassuming minicemetery of their own, affectionately dubbed "Showmen's Rest." In 1922, the Pacific Coast Showmen's Association was established to help out-of-work and retired carnival employees, even after they died. Later, the Vatican appointed "carnie priest" Monsignor Robert McCarthy to look after the circus folk, including candy peddlers, toy makers, carnival barkers, thrill-ride operators and pretty much anyone who made a living at the circus. Now, more than 400 departed carnies rest in peace at the Pacific Coast Showmen's Association Plot, including Emily Bailey, a 300-pound "fat lady," and Hugo Zacchini, the first human cannonball. 204 N. Evergreen Ave., Boyle Heights. (323) 268-6714.
—Tanja M. Laden
If you've always wanted to visit a Chinese Buddhist temple, but you don't feel like going all the way to China, the Fo Guang Shan Hsi Lai Temple is better than next-best — it's the real deal, and much closer to home. The massive complex is a traditional Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monastery on 15 acres in the foothills of Hacienda Heights. The temple's name, "Hsi Lai," literally means "coming west," and it's a satellite of Taiwan's Fo Guang Shan order, whose name translates as "Buddha's light mountain." The monastery was conceived during America's bicentennial and completed in the 1980s, built to advance the mission of an order also known as the International Buddhist Progress Society. As practitioners of Humanistic Buddhism, the Fo Guang Shan monks take a contemporary approach to an age-old faith, incorporating all eight of the schools of Chinese Buddhism. The temple invites the public on self-guided tours, but please, no meat, alcohol or smoking. Remember to dress appropriately (that is, no tank tops, short skirts or shorts), and wear comfy shoes to climb the steps and steep slopes of this modern mountain monastery. 3456 Glenmark Drive, Hacienda Heights. (626) 961-9697, www.hsilai.org.
—Tanja M. Laden
Established in 1862, Congregation B'nai B'rith is the oldest reform synagogue in the city. Its home is the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a striking, stately structure on the edge of what's now a congested stretch in Koreatown. Built in 1929, the temple was designed by A.M. Edelman, son of the congregation's first rabbi, Abraham Edelman. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the temple was the go-to place of worship for scores of movie-industry professionals who wanted to assimilate into American culture without sacrificing their Jewish identity. The building's enormous Byzantine revival-style dome was funded by Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, while Louis B. Mayer donated funds for the temple's art glass windows. Carl Laemmle donated spice box chandeliers, and the temple's biblical murals were commissioned by Jack, Harry and Albert Warner, aka the Warner Bros. The Wilshire Boulevard Temple is in the midst of an ambitious $150 million overhaul, but with such a dazzling history, its future looks just as bright as its starry past. 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown. (213) 388-2401, wilshireboulevardtemple.org.
—Tanja M. Laden
Mention wildflower viewing and people immediately think Joshua Tree or the Lancaster desert. But wildflowers proliferate in our own backyard — in Elysian Park. Spring brings out carpets of wildflowers and flocks of songbirds, not to mention joggers, hikers, dog walkers and the occasional disgruntled Dodger fan. Elysian Park's Wildflower Trail is an easy 2.8-mile hike that loops around the park with only 200 feet of elevation and a small garden halfway through for those who need to catch their breath. You'll walk among sycamore and pine trees and be surrounded by songs from various birds. It's country-meets-city: Bird tweets win out over the dull roar of the 5 freeway, a sound that simply fades to white noise. On a clear day there are great views of the distant Verdugo and San Gabriel mountains, and you can peer down at cars packed on the 5. It gives you an instant lift, knowing you're not down there but up among the wildflowers. 1025 Elysian Park Drive, Elysian Park; park by the Grace E. Simmons Lodge and look for a white fire-road gate for the trailhead.
—Reuben E. Reynoso
Ever want to get away from the city and enjoy a picnic without having to face crowds or a punishing hike? You can toss your picnic in a backpack and walk up the wide, easy fire road in no time to Amir's Garden in Griffith Park. Halfway up you'll pass Water Tank #73 — Amir's Garden is past the next curve. There are tables at the "entrance" to this oasis, where you can picnic while enjoying the quiet and beauty. Or you can explore one of the trails cut down the hillside, winding through greenery planted by the late Amir and more recent volunteers. Benches are spread throughout, so it's easy to find a quiet spot. If you bring some wine, make sure to raise your glass to the park-lover Amir Dialameh (park authorities prohibit alcohol on park grounds, so don't say we told you to do this) and thank him for this beautiful gift. Griffith Park Mineral Wells Picnic Center Fire Road, Griffith Park; amirsgarden.org.
—Reuben E. Reynoso
While the Gold Rush took place mainly in Northern California, Southern California had its share of claims, including the Dawn Mine north of Altadena. The Dawn Mine Hike along Sunset Ridge Trail is a beautiful trek through some of L.A.'s enduring wilderness. You'll cross a creek more than two-dozen times and boulder-hop for three miles while enjoying the sounds of nature and catching glimpses of salamanders playing in pools of water. You'll arrive at two iron beams projecting out of the canyon wall — Dawn Mine is to the left of the beams, hidden behind a small boulder. On the return hike, the true workout begins. To the right of the trail you'll notice a smaller trail cut into the mountainside. It provides an elevation gain of 6oo feet over 1 mile, and will put the burn in your glutes as well as your lungs. You'll arrive at Dawn Station, where you turn right and head down the paved road to your car. Sunset Ridge Trail Head, Altadena.
—Reuben E. Reynoso