Best of L.A.

Best Of 2015


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Readers' Choice


Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

Best School for Rock Stars in Training
Neighborhood Rock School
Kylie Krabbe

You're never too young to rock at the Neighborhood Rock School. The school's curriculum is concerned with the transformative and therapeutic qualities of music, particularly the rebel yell that's the hallmark of youth. With a mission to provide every child with access to music education, Neighborhood Rock School offers music camps in the summer, spring and winter, as well as a slew of year-round programs for all ages and experience levels — and scholarship opportunities are available. One-on-one music lessons are taught by professionals whose resumes include The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Green Day and Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Rock the Spectrum program is designed as musical therapy and instruction for people on all points of the autism spectrum, with each student receiving both a music instructor and a licensed therapist for every class. And in the hugely popular Band Coaching Program, students are placed in their own rock band with like-minded peers and are provided with instruments, a professional band coach and songwriting instruction. If they're lucky, they'll also play a sold-out gig at Whiskey A Go Go.

2805 N. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank, 91504
Best Wine and Beach Combo
Rosenthal Vineyards and Topanga State Beach
Mary Bove
Topanga State Beach

Some of the first things that come to mind when outsiders imagine living in California are sunshine, beaches and wine. Pretty much all Californians while away our afternoons with our feet in the surf and rosé in our cups, right? We wish. But we can prove them right every so often with a quick trip to Topanga State Beach and Rosenthal Vineyards. For just a few bucks, you can skip the Malibu traffic and park at this lovely, generally uncrowded patch of shore. Take in a few rays, then duck below PCH by way of an underground passageway and grab a bottle at Rosenthal, where you can lounge on the lawn sipping wine as the sun goes down. Sure, it sounds like a California cliché, but you'll be too wrapped in contentment to care.

18741 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu. (310) 456-1392,

Best Animal Experience With Wine
Malibu Wine Safari
Nikki Kreuzer

When life burdens you with stress or sadness, Malibu Wine Safaris, on winding Mulholland in Malibu Canyon, has some healthy medicine to soothe your soul. A visit with lovable and friendly wild animals, including a giraffe, zebras, water buffalo, yaks, llamas and alpacas, plus wine tasting and breathtaking views is the emotional equivalent of a full-body massage. Ninety-minute tours include six wine tastings and an opportunity to meet, pet and feed the happy animals — along with the chance to see a cave with preserved Chumash pictographs. Family tours are available without the wine. The open-top vehicle tour of gorgeous Saddlerock Ranch, spread over 1,000 acres, with 800 acres of grape vines, is truly a romantic California adventure, full of heart-expanding natural beauty. You can feel the love here.

32111 Mulholland Highway, Malibu, 90265
Best Free International Garden Walk
Gardens of the World
Nikki Kreuzer

If you're looking for a private meditation spot to literally stop and smell the roses, Gardens of the World in Thousand Oaks will help you press your internal reset button. Spread over 4½ serene acres, this privately owned park opened to the public in 2001 and offers a charming and quiet tour through the countries of the world. The grounds showcase gardens dedicated to England, with more than 350 sweet-smelling rose bushes; Italy, with a shady grape arbor, cypress trees and fountain; France, with a replica of an elaborate hillside waterfall found at the Palace of Versailles; and Japan, with a koi pond, a pagoda and a romantic reflecting bridge. It also features a California Mission–themed courtyard, and in the center of a green lawn there's a traditional American bandstand, where free concerts are frequently staged. A picturesque pathway, perfect for solitary reflection, connects the different gardens together.

2001 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 91362
Best Public Garden
Arlington Garden
Lisa Horowitz

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.

295 Arlington Dr., Pasadena, 91105
Best Place for the Birds
Sepulveda Dam and Wildlife Reserve
Kylie Krabbe

If you sometimes prefer the company of birds to humans, the Sepulveda Dam Wildlife Reserve is just the place to decompress. The rare evergreen diamond of wilderness smack in the middle of urban sprawl is known to attract more than 200 bird species, from Western scrub jays to great egrets, American coots to pied-billed grebes, song sparrows to spotted towhees, great horned owls to turkey vultures. There's no better pick-me-up than a delicate heron gliding above the ecologically protected terrain. While generally a place for bird watchers and admirers, the reserve also is a good spot to run or walk without being tripped every 10 paces by the ubiquitous L.A. canine corps. Yes, we love our dogs, but sometimes a park should be strictly for the birds.

6335 Woodley Ave., Los Angeles, 91406

Best School for Rock Stars in Training: Neighborhood Rock School


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