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Leisure alternatives for those who covet the indirect ray

Your friends are heading to the beach - again. Rows of far too trim, tanned bodies in skimpy suits line the shore, chiseled men bang volleyballs into the sand, in-line skaters whisk by, and street performers croon in a language that - though you've traveled the world - even you can't decipher. Amid all this summer lovin' is you, wrapped in your new, white, SPF 30 sweat suit, smothered in sunscreen (non-comedogenic, allergy-tested, fragrance-free, PABA-free, oil-free gel for sensitive skin), squinting over your Jackie O sunglasses at the sea, which is looking less appealing with each foamy, crashing wave. The volleyball must have a sensor on it, because it's heading for you - again. Surely there must be some other way to enjoy the summer, and even the outdoors, without sizzling in the sun or fighting with the coastal elements.

For all you folks who hate the beach and direct, intense sun, but still want to get out and play in the heat, here are alternative activities, along with some of the coolest, shadiest nooks and crannies in L.A.

The surest way to avoid the sun is to wait until it goes down. Work up a sweat while mingling with nocturnal wildlife. The Wilderness Institute conducts Owl Calling Walks (818-991-7327) through the local Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, complete with lessons on how to communicate with these night birds. Learn their calls . . . they just may be the only ones in Hollywood who'll call you back.

Each month, on the Friday nearest the full moon, the Sierra Club leads people on Starlight and Full Moon Hikes (213-848-7004) through Will Rogers State Park. All excursions end up at Inspiration Point, with amazing views of the Santa Monica Bay.

The beach isn't so bad after hours - at least it's too cold for those annoying flip-flops that rip apart your toes. Try Grunion Hunting (3720 Stephen White Drive, San Pedro; 310-548-7562). Five times during the summer, when the conditions of the high tide and new moon are just right, these silver, glowing fish leap out of the water and up onto the sand to mate. The Cabrillo Marine Aquarium knows where to find them.

If hanging 'round a dark beach watching big fish try to make little fish isn't your thing, do like John Wayne and ride off into the sunset. Every other Friday night, at the L.A. Equestrian Center, you can go on Sunset BBQ Horseback Rides (480 Riverside Drive; 818-840-8401) that include an hour-and-a-half wrangler-guided jaunt and an all-you-can-eat barbecue behind a log cabin. Should you choose to venture out on your own through the city's 81 miles of bridle trails, the center will provide maps, horse rentals and lessons.

Or experience all the romance of a sunset sans the saddle sores: Two ideal spots to watch the sun go down are Mount Hollywood, the highest point in Griffith a Park (north entrance of the Observatory parking lot; 213-913-4688), and Sunset Ridge, in the San Gabriel Mountains (Millard Canyon, Angeles National Forest; 818-790-1151).

For some of us, bugs and coyotes are as stressful as, say, a day lying around on the sand. Chill out inside a movie theater. On Wednesday nights, The Los Angeles Conservancy (call for locations: 213-623-CITY) shows classic films the way they originally premiered in L.A.'s vaudeville and nickelodeon theaters, complete with live stage show and music. Or catch a drive-in movie - an AM radio (and a clean windshield) is all you need. Vermont Pacific Drive-In (17737 S. Vermont Ave., Gardena; 310-323-4055); Pacific Theaters Vineland Drive-In (443 N. Vineland Ave., City of Industry; 626-961-9262).

Okay, you're a struggling actor with a dependable night job and don't have time to frolic through the wilderness by moonlight or relive Grease at the drive-in. Do your night-crawling during daylight hours at Bronson Cave (Bronson Canyon Park, 2800 Canyon Drive; 213-913-4688), which actually served as Batman's hideout in the '60s TV series. Remnants of old movie shoots (Gunsmoke and Star Trek also filmed here) are still embedded in the rock walls.

At the Pasadena Ice Skating Center (310 E. Green St.; 626-578-0800), you can deny summer altogether. A few trips around the rink will take you back to those innocent early years - pop songs over the loudspeaker and all.

Greet the day at a swap meet, before the sun hits its apex. There are benefits to rising in the morning: The early bird gets the worn, '20s hand-woven Asian rug. You'll find a mix of high-end antiques, vintage clothing and jewelry. Pasadena City College (1570 E. Colorado Blvd.; 626-585-7906), first Sunday of every month; Rose Bowl Flea Market (1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena; 213-587-5100), second Sunday of every month.

Even in a heat wave, the eclectic terrain surrounding L.A. provides escapes. Here are some of the breeziest, lushest, greenest corners of our metropolis: The Ferndell section of Griffith Park (Ferndell Place, at Red Oak Drive; 213-913-4688) has a moist, tropical feel with a running stream and mossy patches; snag a corner and indulge in the most affordable of vices - people watching. Stairway hikes conjure an era when L.A. was actually a pedestrian city. Originally built as shortcuts to streetcar lines, hundreds of staircases zigzag through hilly residential areas, offering sweeping views, wooded surroundings and one hell of a workout. A web of six shaded, granite stairways in Beachwood Canyon is nestled just under the Hollywood sign (2795 Woodshire Drive to 2872 Belden Drive).

Free outdoor concerts spring up all over during the summer. Some of the coolest: live blues & zydeco music by the sea (Point Fermin Lighthouse, San Pedro; 310-548-7705) occassional Sundays, with lots of trees and ocean breezes; Descanso Gardens (1418 Descanso Drive, La Canada Flintridge; 818-952-4400), showcasing a cross section of ethnic music - including Brazilian, Native American and Celtic harp - in a dense forest in which century-old oak trees surround the stage.

Both Echo and MacArthur parks have lakes you can float on in the comfort of a canopied paddleboat (Echo Park, 751 Echo Park Ave., 213-847-8524; MacArthur Park, 653 S. Alvarado St., 213-368-4160).

Contemplate the sound of one hand clapping at Huntington Library's Japanese garden (1151 Oxford Road, San Marino; 626-405-2100), which has covered arbors, a babbling brook with koi fish, and an adjacent Zen garden.

If there's no way to beat the heat of the day, retreat indoors. Bergamot Station (2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica; 310-829-5854) is the final stop for art lovers and lookie-loos; more than 20 galleries, and the new Santa Monica Museum of Art, are located in this renovated red-car trolley station. Two quarters barely gets you an hour on a parking meter, but at E.G. Roberts Indoor Pool (4526 W. Pico Blvd.; 213-936-8483), 50 cents buys you two weeks of group swimming lessons. All Getty'd out? Check out the other Richard Meier building. The Museum of Television & Radio (465 N. Beverly Drive; 310-786-1000) provides TV all day long and lets you convince yourself you're being "cultural." Its archives include 95,000 programs and, this summer, a marathon screening of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

For even the shamelessly unrepentant couch potato, there is a way to enjoy outdoor activity minus the sun (or really, even the activity.) Play a complete round of golf on luscious greens without ever stepping onto a course. At Holoworld (620 N. Lake Ave., Pasadena; 626-578-0009), a futuristic entertainment complex, players use a full set of clubs and hit real balls into a computerized screen that reflects distance and keeps score. Roughs and sand traps are included; bees not.

Or go scuba diving without ever getting your hair wet. California Science Center (700 State Drive, Exposition Park; 213-744-2014) houses L.A.'s first Imax Theater, a seven-story-tall, 90-foot-wide screen ("size does matter") showing Into the Deep, a 3-D underwater adventure.

When all else fails, the frozen-food section of any Trader Joe's will turn the tips of your fingers blue. And there's no sand in the shellfish.

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