Best of L.A.

Best Of 2014

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best Place to Call Me Ishmael

Herman Melville's Moby Dick can be a bear to read, with chapter after chapter of nautical terms and incorrect biology. (Sorry, Herm, but whales aren't fish.) But the beast of a novel is a joy to hear out loud, and there's no better place in town to do that than on the sand of Venice Beach. Every year since 1995, Tim Rudnick and the Venice Beach Oceanarium have hosted a two-day Moby Dick reading marathon, complete with thick blankets and warm seafood stews. The story of Ishmael, Queequeg, Starbuck and Ahab floats past your ears as your eyes watch surfers braving the cold water. You can drop by for an hour or stay for the whole thing — this year, it's the weekend before Thanksgiving. Just be prepared to read when it's your turn, matey. —Keith Plocek

Venice Breakwater, Venice, 90291. veniceoceanarium.org.

Best Beach Yoga
ROGA

The same folks who decided that people should be able to ride a Ferris wheel where they fish have come up with, arguably, an even better combination. The Santa Monica Pier offers ROGA — running plus yoga — workouts on Saturday mornings for free at various times throughout the spring, summer and fall. Come at 8 a.m. to warm up with a two- or five-mile run and stay for yoga at 9 a.m. Yoga is led by a rotating list of Santa Monica's best yoga instructors. Friendly volunteers will hold onto your yoga mat and cheer you on while you run, then offer you refreshments from sponsors such as Clif Bar or Honest Tea when you need a boost of energy. Check the Santa Monica Pier website, sign up for the email list or "like" the Facebook page to make sure you're in the know. It's always nice to wake up to the waves, but having your workout done before brunch is another kind of heaven. —Eve Weston

200 Santa Monica Pier, Suite A, Santa Monica, 90401. (310) 458-8901, santamonicapier.org/roga.

200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 90401
MAP
310-458-8900
Best Eastside Yoga
People's Yoga
Photo courtesy of People's Yoga

A yoga studio for the real Eastside was embraced almost as the second coming. Finally, yoga for the people. And that's almost what Leah Gallegos and Lauren Quan-Madrid call their new space: People's Yoga. Bringing the chi to Chicanos means "Yoga y Luz" classes in Spanish, prenatal yoga, yoga for "baby 'n' me" and family yoga sessions, Gallegos says. For two years the pair traveled around the Eastside and other underserved neighborhoods to bring the practice to the working-class masses. Then, in June, $10,000 — raised in just 60 days with a crowd-funding campaign — allowed them to open the doors of a dedicated studio. So, uh, do Mexican-Americans do the downward dog? "We're seeing new people every day," Gallegos says. "It's going really good." —Dennis Romero

5161 Pomona Blvd., #209, E. Los Angeles, 90022. (323) 739-4018, peoplesyoga.org.

5161 Pomona Blvd. # 209, Los Angeles, 90022
MAP
323-739-4018
Best Kids Yoga

An entertainment producer and mother of three, Antonia King was startled to realize that L.A. had no yoga studios for children. So in 2012, she launched Zooga Yoga, a studio offering yoga classes to kids of all ages, from babies to teenagers. Naturally, the younger ones are not adept at concentration or mindfulness, so the instructors offer something they call "playful yoga," which involves a lot of motion and activity. Before you know it, your toddler will be showing you how to do tree pose and downward dog. Zooga has been so successful that King plans to expand, with two new storefronts opening soon. —Gene Maddaus

4311 Overland Ave., Culver City, 90230. (310) 839-6642, zoogayoga.com.

4311 Overland Ave., Culver City, 90230
MAP
310-839-6642
Best Spin Class

Joe Wolf, a massage therapist and nursing student by day, fills the Hollywood Wilshire YMCA's spin studio Tuesday through Thursday evenings with a crowd ready for a fast, fun and absolutely grueling workout. When he's not making the rounds to personally pump up participants, he seems to channel Andre the Giant's Dread Pirate Roberts from his bike, tracing his finger around the room and challenging the class to "Add more!" in a deep bellow (more resistance, that is). The workout is simple, no gimmicks and little chatter, just steady climbing or quick pedaling to an eclectic playlist — epic heartland rock, swampy industrial trip-hop, classic soul and funk, Top 40 R&B and electro-pop. Even gritty grunge ballads. Whether it's Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" or Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," the right song always hits the speakers just as the crowd is wilting, and the hour simply speeds by. —Jessica Langlois

1553 Schrader Blvd., Hlywd., 90028. (323) 467-4161, ymcala.org/hollywood.

1553 Schrader Blvd, Los Angeles, 90028
MAP
323-467-4161
Best Bouldering Gym

Located in downtown's Arts District, just off the Sixth Street Bridge, L.A. Boulders has become a top destination for bouldering — otherwise known as rock-climbing without ropes. The gym opened in January in a vast warehouse next door to a shooting range in the up-and-coming neighborhood. Inside are three massive walls — "the Barrel," "the Alcove" and "the Wave Wall" — which together offer more "problems" to solve than any other gym in the city. L.A. Boulders also has weights and exercise machines, a good enough assortment that some customers use it as their primary gym. Business is so brisk that the owners expect to open locations in Culver City, Pasadena and Hollywood next year. —Gene Maddaus

1375 E. Sixth St., #8, dwntwn., 90021. (323) 406-9119, touchstoneclimbing.com/la-boulders

1375 E 6th St #8, Los Angeles, 90021
MAP
323-406-9119
Best Jogging Trail

Yes, you are permitted to run on Ballona Creek Bike Path, which stretches from Syd Kronenthal Park in Culver City all the way to Playa del Rey Beach. There will be cyclists whizzing past you, homeless dudes slouched over on the shoulder, and occasional taggers beautifying bridge underpasses. But this path is a Los Angeles urban wonder, an opportunity to escape the traffic, smog and crowded sidewalks and run your heart out alongside a pretty creek. You'll see egrets, herons and, um, a lot of other birds we can't identify, while jogging on asphalt. (Though not as good as dirt, it's easier on your knees than concrete.) The best part is that at the trail's end awaits the ocean. We're not saying you'd be wise to strip off your sweaty clothes and dive in — it's not a nude beach, after all. But we won't call the cops. —Ben Westhoff

Syd Kronenthal Park, 3459 McManus Ave., Culver City, 90232, stretching to the Pacific Ocean. ballonacreek.org/index.php/bike-path-info/.

Best Day Trip

Wanna get away? Catalina Island is closer to L.A. than Ventura or San Diego, and getting there is much more pleasant. Just head to the port at Long Beach or San Pedro and board the Catalina Express, and you'll disembark in our local island paradise about 75 minutes later, feeling relaxed rather than filled with road rage. (Big spenders can travel by helicopter or private plane, landing at the historic Airport in the Sky, 1,602 feet above the Pacific Ocean.) Many make a weekend of it, but you can enjoy much of this compact isle in a day. History buffs can tour the Avalon Casino (no gambling, but there is a first-run movie theater and ballroom); outdoorsy types can indulge in all manner of water sports plus hiking and biking; thrill seekers can try the zip line; relaxers can zone out at the refurbished Descanso Beach Club; shoppers can wander Avalon's touristy boutiques; and nature lovers can tour the rugged interior by Hummer or in a 1950s refurbished Flxible bus, from which you might see the famed bison or a bald eagle. Throw in a tropical drink at Luau Larry's as you meander back to the dock for your ride home and your day is complete. —Lisa Horowitz

catalinachamber.com.

Best Alien-Themed Day Trip
The Integratron
Photo: Sara Rashkin

Beaches, vineyards, mountain towns — there's lots to explore within a day's drive of L.A. But there's only one place where you can rejuvenate your cells using extraterrestrial science. The Integratron is a small, domed structure in the desert, designed by aircraft engineer George Van Tassel based on instructions he received from a Venusian who visited him in 1953. Built from Douglas fir without using nails or screws, the Integratron was to be a machine "for basic research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel." It was never finished, but many visitors claim to feel its beneficial effects. The current owners offer public and private "sound baths," with quartz bowls played in the second-floor chamber. The site's proximity to Joshua Tree National Park, its near-perfect acoustics and its weird history appeal to nature lovers, musicians, UFO fans and others. It is open by appointment only and advance ticket purchase is required. —Sara Rashkin

2477 Belfield Blvd., Landers, 92285. (760) 364-3126, integratron.com.

2477 Belfield Blvd., Landers, 92285
MAP
760-364-3126
Best Place to See Wildflowers
Butte Valley Wildflower Sanctuary
Photo: Suzy Beal

In the high desert of L.A. County, a number of wildlife sanctuaries and open lands let you walk undisturbed, gaze at desert plants and animals, or just enjoy the silence. Butte Valley Wildflower Sanctuary is one of the prettiest of these open spaces. Perched on a plateau above Saddleback Butte State Park, this 350-acre parcel is surrounded by a lush forest of Joshua trees, with trails that lead more or less nowhere. In springtime you can see a wide array of colorful California wildflowers. Travel a little further north, and you'll come to a cliff with views of Edwards Air Force Base; drive along nearby avenues to find two widely used professional movie sets decorated as vintage roadside stopovers, Club Ed (on 150th Street East) and the Four Aces (14999 E. Avenue Q in Lake Los Angeles). —Suzy Beal

Avenue J between 190th and 200th streets East, Lancaster, 93534. (661) 944-6881, parks.lacounty.gov.

Ave. J between 190th & 200th Streets East, Lancaster, 93534
MAP
661-944-6881
Best Four-Story Golf Range
Aroma Golf Range
Photo: Chris Walker

Koreatown may not have a proper golf course, but that doesn't mean K-town residents have to leave the neighborhood to practice their swing. The Aroma Golf Range is a full-service, 150-yard enclosed driving range in the heart of the district on Wilshire Boulevard. The range features four stories from which to whack balls, with 15 teeing stations on each floor. The highest floors are the cheapest, but all are affordable, ranging from 8 cents to 10 cents per golf ball, $12 for a bucket of 111 balls or, for the truly devoted, $18 for 180. A fully automated system returns balls hit down-range through pneumatic tubes and mechanically tees up a new ball for you each time one is hit from your station. Whether you're looking to perfect your drive or need an idea for a cheap date, Aroma Golf Range makes for a fun outing. —Chris Walker

3680 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, 90010. (213) 387-2111, aromaresort.com.

3680 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, 90010
MAP
213-387-2111
Best Secret Hike

Way up in the foothills of far-flung La Cañada Flintridge, you'll find the Cross Town Trail hike, whose prize attraction is a 20-foot-tall teepee erected amidst a tangle of public and private lands and trails. The quickest route to the teepee is from the end of Harter Lane, where a steep trail will take you about two hours round-trip. Proceed with caution, as the lines between public trails and private are quite blurred. Technically, the land beneath the teepee is privately owned, and there's a single, easy-to-miss sign pointing out the dividing line. Even so, once at the teepee, hikers nab a quick picture and take in the breathtaking views, which stretch as far as Palos Verdes Peninsula, downtown and the Hollywood Hills. But if you want to sit in the teepee — bad idea. There's a "KEEP OUT" sign at the front entrance, so don't even try. —Ani Ucar

End of Harter Lane, La Cañada Flintridge, 91011. lcftrails.org/?page_id=118.

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Best Place to Call Me Ishmael: Moby Dick Reading Marathon

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