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Best of L.A.: Recreation and Self-Improvement

Star Foreman

Click here for "Best of L.A.: Recreation and Self-Improvement" individual winners. 

BEST FOREIGN TONGUE-TWISTING

On a typical weekday evening, students of all ages stream into the Beverly Hills Lingual Institute, pick up some cookies or pretzels and a cup of tea or coffee, and head off to one of several classrooms to learn one of the 27 languages offered, from Arabic to Vietnamese. Classes are small, teachers are native speakers, and the feeling is collegial and warm. West L.A.’s Language Door offers a lower-cost alternative, but BHLI has the aura of a busy international plaza. A two-month term of eight, weekly 80-minute courses is $225 for Spanish, French, Italian and English, and $275 for all other languages. Located on the second floor above a public parking garage (free for the first two hours before 6 p.m., $3 flat rate after 6 p.m.), BHLI also offers unobstructed vistas of the intriguing collection of people who call Beverly Hills home. Priceless. 439 N. Canon Drive, Suite 207, Beverly Hills. (310) 858-0717.

—Tom Christie

BEST PLACE TO CATCH THE ACTING BUG

Always thinking outside the black box, Casa 0101 Theater is living up to its ambitious mission statement of “nurturing the future storytellers of Los Angeles, who will someday transform the world.” Better yet, they’re doing it at incredibly reasonable prices. The Saturday acting class by Eddie Padilla covers commercial acting, improvisation and auditioning. Classes are divided into age groups for children, teens and adults. It’s $10 per class for adults, $5 for Boyle Heights residents and free for those younger than 18. Like all classes at Casa 0101, no one will be turned away for an inability to pay. Gotta love that. Tickets to play performances, mostly by locals, are just $20; Boyle Heights residents pay $12. There’s one surefire way to see the theater productions for free: Volunteer as an usher. Founder Josefina Lopez teaches dramatic writing at the nearby Brooklyn & Boyle Café, also a great deal at $10 per class. Go soak up some Eastside culture. 2009 E. First St., L.A. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org.

—Todd Krainin

BEST OOLTIMATE AHM VORKOUT

Everybody’s heard that you can spar in the same gym where Oscar de la Hoya and Olympic gold medalist Paul Gonzales learned to box. You can also watch lawyers from the D.A.’s office shoot hoops. But what you really want to do at the Hollenbeck Youth Center — don’t be shy — is to lift weights next to an oversize mural of Arnold Schwarzenegger. If sweating underneath the benevolent gaze of the governor isn’t your idea of a good time, you’re bound to find something worthwhile, because within HYC’s gritty exterior is an ambitious place, a kind of Swiss Army knife for athletes and youths. If you’re an aspiring boxer, they’ll provide you with free gloves and a trainer (you buy and bring the mouthpiece). The weight room, while decidedly low-tech, is reasonably priced at $15 a month for adults and free for youngsters ages 15 to 18. There are Wednesday karate classes for just $15 monthly and free basketball leagues (and if you want to play basketball, they supply everything you need). Or exercise your brain at the free computer classes, where high schoolers earn credit while studying with a certified teacher, and everything a student needs is supplied without charge. Couch potatoes are welcome to watch all this lifting, hoop-shooting and karate-chopping. 2015 E. First St., L.A. (323) 881-6565.

—Todd Krainin

BEST MEDITATION AND DRUMMING

With the possible exception of Richard Gere’s Malibu estate, Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights may be the closest thing that Southern California has to a Himalayan retreat. Perched partway up a hill, with grand views of the Eastside, Hsi Lai offers inexpensive classes in Chinese culture, Mandarin Chinese and Mahayana Buddhism year round, and classes in beginning and advanced meditation. Drumming, painting and dance lessons are also offered, as are lectures and celebrations throughout the year. Most lessons are held weekly and cost $10 per class, or $120 for a section of 10 — a very good deal. Call ahead, as class prices vary, and not all are given in English. And you can tour the temple’s Ming-style architecture and sculpture gardens for free. Come for a dirt-cheap vegetarian buffet lunch for a $7 suggested donation. You might want to stay a while. 3456 S. Glenmark Drive, Hacienda Heights. (626) 961-9697, hsilai.org.

—Todd Krainin

BEST DEPRESSING KARAOKE AND BOWLING

If Walter, Donny and the Dude ever get the memo that Hollywood Lanes has gone off to the great bowling alley in the sky, then the fictional Lebowski posse will surely tumble to All Star Lanes. The place possesses all things that make a bowling alley great: dingy ’70s colored carpet, waxed lanes, a room filled with enough ’80s and ’90s video games to satisfy your inner junior high punk, and a bar where old-timers pontificate about how the neighborhood has changed. Best of all, the unsung hero of this stalwart neighborhood staple is the nightly karaoke, mainly because the room is almost always empty. As such, you and your friends can pretty much take over the night without worrying about a reservation. Your party might be sharing the stage with a couple of bar regulars who are just as likely to belt out Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as they are to select the slightly more obscure Zager and Evans 1969 hit, “In the Year 2525.” The stray drunk Occidental student might blow off steam to Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl.” The only patron you might need to defer to is the karaoke host and maestro himself, an older, wobbly, bespectacled gentleman with a thin mustache, who occasionally busts out some Stevie Wonder. The drinks are cheap and food from the attached Chinese restaurant is gross, but don’t be surprised if you wake up the next morning with Kung Pao on your shirt nonetheless. 4459 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 254-2579, allstarlanesbowling.com.

—Nikki Darling

BEST PLACE FOR OLD-SCHOOL CHESS

The game of chess has become a largely digital pastime. Many casual players no longer bother with physical boards and pieces, preferring instead the convenience of online play. For Angeleno chess lovers looking to reconnect with the tactile and social pleasures of the game, however, there’s the Los Angeles Chess Club. From his space in West L.A., founder Mick Bighamian conducts lessons, runs tournaments and hosts a salon for casual games. Don’t let Mick’s “Senior Master” title intimidate you: His joint is hospitable to noobs and chessboard ninjas alike. The first visit is free, and membership fees are only about $10 a month for adults (and less for seniors and kids). For members, tournament fees are usually $10, while casual games and most classes are free. As a break from Internet play and a place to meet others who share a passion for chess, the club is a retro taste of three-dimensional joy. 11514 Santa Monica Blvd., W.L.A. (310) 795-5710, lachessclub.com.

—Dexter Fishmore

BEST NONTHREATENING YOGA STUDIO

Located on a picturesque, tree-lined street in Glendale, Yoga at the Village is for the yoga-curious. Classes are upbeat, full of humor and without the I-can-do-a-headstand pretension that’s common in neighboring L.A. studios. Owner Elyse Briggs ensures an ego-free environment. “Sometimes I have the class give a collective ‘Oy,’ on an exhale . It’s not so serious,” she says. The studio hums with relaxation, enchanced by its high, wood-beamed ceilings and a huge painted “Om” by the entrance. Classes are proletariat-friendly: newcomers can take a full week for $10; after that, regular sessions are $12. Plus, the studio is remarkably well-equipped. There’s no charge for a mat, and that’s rare in the yogasphere. And there’s helpful equipment: a 12-foot pole that creates a limb-expanding experience for four backs when attempting a pose known as “downward dog,” a rope wall that aids in body lengthening, and teacher Carl Dawson’s signature Trestle Horse, which has stretched out a range of students from fit athletes to folks in wheelchairs. Most classes are small enough to be considered intimate, and meditation courses are available. After a final namaste, cruise to the nearby Jon’s Market and load up on Armenian specialties before heading home. 1306 Sonora Ave., Glendale. (818) 265-9833, yogaatthevillage.com.

—Sophia Kercher

BEST PARKING LOT TURNED RUNNER’S PARADISE (SORT OF)

Remember the Forum? You do if you lived in L.A. in the 1980s, especially if you were a basketball fan. It was the site of many a victory for the Showtime Era Lakers. Although today’s championship Lakers have a new home, the Forum hasn’t closed shop. Between revival meetings and reunion rock concerts, the dark-blue building still brings a fair amount of money to Inglewood. But it’s loved by neighbors for a different reason: The vast parking lot is the best place for miles around to power-walk, run or walk your dog — though some prefer pretty Inglewood Park Cemetery across the street. Four times around the lot’s outer perimeter roughly yields three miles, and locals really appreciate the safe feel of the wide-open, unobscured space. Local joggers look out for each other, so it’s got a nice community feel. Instead of deteriorating, the old Forum is more like a valued old friend — still bordered by a street called Kareem Court. 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood. (310) 330-7300.

—Juliette Akinyi Ochieng

BEST INDOOR PICKUP BASKETBALL

Fresh air is nice, but playing basketball outdoors on concrete is bad for your back, your knees, your shoes and even your basketball. Indoor basketball, meanwhile, has become an expensive and difficult proposition. Membership for Sports Club/L.A. is ridiculously pricey, parking at UCLA takes four years off your life (plus, it’s costly) and most other indoor courts simply aren’t open to the public. But Memorial Park in Santa Monica has a wide range of open gym hours, with entry costing $2 for Santa Monica residents and $3 for everybody else. On one court, you’ll find older players running 3-on-3 or just shooting around, but on the other, you’ll come across some of the best full-court games in Los Angeles. The talent level is fairly high, but it’s the quality of play that really makes Memorial: The ball movement is swift, the shooting is crisp and both foul calls and complaints are kept to a minimum. There can be a decent wait for games, but unless you enjoy hearing players argue like juveniles while your back is giving out, this is the court you’ve been looking for. Currently, the primary open hours are Wednesday and Friday nights, and Saturday afternoons (all subject to change). 1401 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 450-1121.

—Noah Galuten

BEST PILATES TO TAP INTO EMOTIONAL ISSUES

You could spend thousands on psychotherapy to find out that your neck pain is directly related to your domineering mother — or, for $20, attend Risa Sheppard’s mind-body mat class at Sheppard Method Pilates Studio, to work out your emotional, spiritual and physical kinks from the inside out. Sheppard begins each hour session with a “treatment,” or affirmation of truth, which you interpret to fit your own life. She proceeds with a series of floor exercises, each designed to “open up,” or “release” inflexibility and tightness, which — according to her methodology — directly connects to body parts that “hold back” emotions. There’s no intimidating equipment, just lots of hands-on instruction for students who range from neophytes to professional dancers. Sheppard has been teaching classic Pilates for 35 years and developed her Sheppard Method to instruct students on ways in which the body and mind can work together to ease pain, and gain flexibility and strength. You’ll perform standard exercises like the hundreds but also apply targeted movement to unlock emotions. 2180 Westwood Blvd., L.A. (310) 470-2828, sheppardmethod.com. Sat., 10 a.m.; Tues. & Thurs., 8 a.m. Also 4789 Vineland Ave., Toluca Lake, (818) 752-2227. Tues. & Thurs., 6:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.

—Heidi Dvorak

BEST EASTSIDE ART, DANCE AND WRITING CLASSES

Annual tuition at Juilliard: $30,500. Annual tuition at California Institute of the Arts: $34,830. Winter semester of conservatory training at Plaza de la Raza: $25 per course. Now in its 39th year of educating aspiring artists, the Community Arts Partnership remains one of the best buys in arts education. Professors and students from California Institute of the Arts intensive, conservatory-style training in fine art, photography, printmaking, graphic design, digital media, animation, video, chamber music, jazz, world music, chamber music, theater, puppetry, dance and creative writing. In the Young Playwrights Project, an instructor leads a 10-week playwriting project for young people. Students create original plays, which are presented in stage readings and at an annual show. The Modern Dance Program includes 18 weekly courses, led by Francesca Penzani of the CalArts dance faculty. Students create original pieces, as well as collaborate with classmates. The Community Arts Partnership boasts a 4:1 student-teacher ratio, giving students an unusual degree of personal attention. Students must be between the ages of 10 and 18 to apply. 3540 N. Mission Rd., L.A. (323) 223-2475, plazadelaraza.org. For a class list, go to calarts.edu.

—Todd Krainin

BEST PLACE TO SCULPT YOUR ASS, SILVER LAKE–STYLE

With their hourlong fusion of ballet barre, Pilates, stretching, light weights and core strengthening exercises, Pop Physique is sculpting Silver Lake into one seriously sexy populace. With short sets performed to (or, in some cases, wheezed through) bumpin’ pop beats, the exercises are designed to tone and sculpt every major muscle group in the body. The Pop Physique experience makes creative use of an exciting array of props, including eco-friendly mats, cloth straps, rubber balls and hand weights. The uniform: Silver Lake who gives a shit? dress-down drab, plus ankle socks with tread on the bottom. Instructors share dance backgrounds and sunny dispositions, and cheer their students on through set after set of excruciating exercises with gusto and enthusiasm. They’re superattentive, remember their students’ names, and circle the room, offering corrections and adjustments, and ensuring everyone gets the most out of every agonizing exercise. Classes are offered all day, every day and there is an introductory special: $100 a month for unlimited classes. In other words, no excuses. 3501 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 665-7777.

—Dani Katz

BEST SPLASH FOR YOUR BUCK

It’s an insult to Angelenos to spend one of our 300 annual sunny days swimming circles in an overchlorinated room. For year-round outdoor flip turns, you can’t beat the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center’s Olympic-quality complex in Pasadena, but you might get your Speedo in a bunch when you have to shell out the $10 per visit. Serious lap swimmers vouch for the Culver City Municipal Plunge: $4 gets you 50-meter lanes plus squeaky-clean locker rooms. Of course, if you prefer pure liquid relief over a workout, you can negotiate the reservation system at the Annenberg Community Beach House with a $24 family pass (two kids, two adults). But we recommend paddling out to Hansen Dam Swim Lake for the best gallons-per-dollar ratio: 1.5 square miles of open aquamarine water, just 25 miles north of downtown, for only $2.50. And there’s a water slide. Culver City Municipal Plunge, 4175 Overland Ave., Culver City. (310) 253-6680, culvercity.org. Hansen Dam Swim Lake, 11798 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace. (818) 899-3779, laparks.org/dos/aquatic/hansen.htm.

—Alissa Walker

BEST QUICK FIX FOR L.A. CLIMBERS

Okay, so you won’t mistake Stoney Point for Yosemite, but this jumble of sandstone formations off Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Chatsworth offers a quick fix of real rock for the climber or boulderer who wants to avoid the dank, chalky hell of the typical climbing gym. Look past the graffiti, broken glass and pissed-off bees, embrace the crag’s rich history (Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, John Bachar, and other climbing legends cut their teeth here), and enjoy the huge variety of boulder problems and top-rope routes. Pick up a copy of Chris Owen’s Urban Rock guidebook and find your fun. The routes range from dead-easy (VB and 5.4) to desperately hard (V10 and 5.13), so grab your crash pad or rope and have at it. Maybe you’ll get scared, maybe you’ll get hurt, maybe you’ll get honed.

—Frank Miles

BEST BLISS GURU

With his electric-purple turban, salt-and-pepper goatee, ubiquitous wad of gum lodged in his cheek, and the chunky circles of silver adorning his fingers and his wrists, Dr. Guru Dev (a.k.a. Dr. Julian Neil) is as much rock star as he is Kundalini yoga teacher. And psychotherapist. And naturopath. In an esoteric yoga discipline bathed in a haze of chiffon-wrapped, rainbow sparkled woo-woo, Guru Dev’s New York accent and down-to-earth rap makes Kundalini’s panting, frog-hopping and chanting accessible. While his classes are laden with mojo and high-vibing yoga magic, his delivery is clear and matter-of-fact, easy on the logical, discerning mind. On Wednesday nights, Guru Dev is joined by master percussionist Julio Moreno, whose tribal rhythms and shamanic beats belie an intuitive understanding of the exercises’ natural rhythms, and lend themselves perfectly to the Kundalini experience. Guru Dev ends each class with a gong meditation that sends his students into deep, deeper and still deeper states of relaxation and extradimensional bliss. Golden Bridge Yoga, 6322 DeLongpre Ave., Hlywd. (323) 936-4172.

—Dani Katz

BEST PLACE TO SKATE AND AVOID SUNLIGHT

On the second Monday of every month, DJ Xian takes over the booth at World on Wheels, armed with classic tunes from Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and the Banshees and the latest hits from the Presets, IAMX and VNV Nation. Wumpskate, now entering its sixth year, is the only roller disco in town that brings together punk families, hipster teens and goth-club regulars for an affordable night on wheels. The $6 cover includes skate rentals. Drinks (nonalcoholic) are $1, and small snacks are often available for free. In the kitchen, caterer Doomie serves $1 tacos. Watch for frequent theme nights, including the popular Pirate Skate, which features a costume contest. With a cool sound and a friendly crowd, Wumpskate has even become popular with those who don’t skate, and regulars brings board games to play on the sidelines. Wumpskate @ World on Wheels, 4645 Venice Blvd., L.A. (323) 933-5170.

—Liz Ohanesian

BEST PRINTING, DRAWING AND SILK-SCREENING CLASSES

For a young visual artist, Self Help Graphics just might be the best deal on the Eastside, if not all of Southern California. Following its historical mission to promote emerging talent, SHG offers classes in printmaking, etching and silk-screening throughout the year. Many classes are free, while others cost no more than $10 per class. The Monday night drawing class ($10) promises a a new model every week, including an “Aztec man” and a “voluptuous rockabilly girl” for the aspiring, postmodern Rubens. The Digital Media Program offers free, weekly classes in video production and computer-aided design. Self Help’s famous Dia de los Muertos celebration is the culmination of a series of free workshops that takes place every Saturday in October. The free November 2 event will be held from 5 to 11 p.m. at the East L.A. Civic Center this year and annually attracts thousands, including those who got their start, or just a great bunch of skills, from Self Help Graphics. 3802 Cesar E. Chavez Ave., E.L.A. (323) 881-6444, selfhelpgraphics.com.

—Todd Krainin

BEST BALLROOM-DANCE STUDIO

With its weathered hardwood floors, mirrored walls and constant soundtrack of waltz and tango music, 3rd Street Dance looks and sounds every bit the classic ballroom studio. Visit some evening, and the West Hollywood space will likely put you in the dancing mood. No worries if your moves aren’t quite Broadway-caliber; that’s why 3rd Street’s expert instructors are there. In group classes priced at only $15 a session (or less if you buy an eight-pack), they’ll steer you through the steps in a relaxed, low-pressure environment. Their curriculum has been thoughtfully crafted and avoids the cookie-cutter approach some of the franchise competitors take. Also available are more intensive private lessons for those who have a wedding dance coming up or who are simply serious about their paso doble. You may attend as a couple or by yourself; either way, your days of dance-floor awkwardness will soon be in the past. 8558 W. Third St., L. A. (310) 275-4683, 3rdstreetdance.com.

—Dexter Fishmore

BEST EXERCISE Rx FOR INJURIES

Less expensive than a chiropractic session and more addictive than Vicodin (in a good way), the healing vibes of Kristen Eykel’s Yoga Emergency class at Inner Power Yoga releases hunched shoulders, lessens back strain, and soothes the aches and pains of pregnancy. And if you’re just a neurotic mess, the soothing incantations of this model-beautiful instructor with 20 years of experience in shamanism, Reiki and Kundalini could even calm the suicidal. Her candlelit class is taught with subtle strains of Indian music playing in the background, accompanying her easy-to-follow instruction; Eykel guides you through relaxing postures that even the tightest of truck drivers can follow. She emphasizes that this is not a “sweat class” (although you’ll probably sweat) but a class to make you feel better. “Its purpose is to bring into your day an energy that you’d like to accentuate, or to release something that no longer serves you emotionally or physically,” Eykel explains. Occasionally, a particular movement can release so much emotion that it’s not uncommon to witness a student burst into tears during the practice. A 75-minute session costs $16. 22233 Mulholland Hwy., Calabasas. (818) 591-2639, innerpoweryoga.net. Thurs., 5:30-6:45 p.m.

—Heidi Dvorak