What's weird in Los Angeles? For some, the answer might be “everything.” Maybe there's some truth to that. Our obsession with alternate driving routes became fodder for Saturday Night Live and celebrity scandals are amongst our chief gifts to the world. Still, things that might seem bizarre to tourists, like the countless offers for stress tests or costumed characters sitting next to you on the Metro, are just a part of daily life for some in the city.
Weird is relative in Los Angeles. Some might instantly think of infamous murder houses or seedy secret histories, but that's more creepy than weird. Plus, every city has those. For this list, the focus is on the delightful and strange, from the mid-20th century haunts that (shockingly) still exist to more recent phenomena that continue to surprise us.
1. The Proud Bird
The Proud Bird isn't a hip take on retro flights. The LAX-adjacent restaurant dates back to 1967 and its focus is on the aviation advances that took place around World War II. Part museum, part cavernous, old school restaurant, this is the place where you can learn about Tuskegee Airmen before sitting down for a Cobb-salad-and-cocktail lunch. Watch the jets land at LAX while sipping your margarita and when you're done take a stroll through a large yard filled with replicas of fighter planes.
What's weird is that this place still exists. The Proud Bird, in part, tells the story of aviation and aerospace. It's not all pretty — the atomic bomb section might make you cringe — but it's interesting. Moreover, pieces of the tale are important parts of the city's history that are often overlooked in favor of Hollywood glamour. This sprawling documentation of that influence was nearly erased from the neighborhood a few years ago, but a campaign to save the Proud Bird was successful and the restaurant signed on for a 20-year lease early in 2015. 11022 Aviation Blvd., Westchester, (310) 670-3093, theproudbird.com
2. Alpine Village
Long before Rick Caruso was creating fantasy shopping lands, there was Alpine Village. A Bavarian wonderland located next to the 110 freeway, this shopping/beer-drinking complex has been in business since 1968. You won't find mall shops here. Instead, Alpine Village is the place to visit if you're in the market for nutcrackers, beer steins, German pop CDs and bingo markers. Yes, there's a convenience store on site with a large selection of bingo markers. If you're wondering why that's the case, check out the crowds that show up for bingo games.
Alpine Village is best known for Oktoberfest, where you can drink until you're willing to attempt the Chicken Dance and maybe catch a glimpse of L.A.'s own Heino impersonator on stage. While it's commonly associated with oompah bands and German pop, Alpine Village is also part of the setting for L.A.'s hip-hop history; Uncle Jamm's Army used to throw events here back in the day. 833 Torrance Blvd., Torrance. (323) 321-5660, alpinevillagecenter.com.
There is enough art in the tiny lobby of Chinatown's Velveteria — everything from Star Wars characters to Bruce Lee to Walter Mercado, all painted on black velvet — to keep you engaged. However, it's in your best interest to pay the $10 cover and step behind the curtain for the full tour. When I visited, co-owner Carl Baldwin was my guide through the strange and beautiful world of velvet paintings. Each section of the museum has a story, from the wild tales of how he acquired the pieces to the histories of the artists who made them. Baldwin is so entertaining when he gives his hyper-detailed talks on the contents of the museum that one trip is not enough. The collection is diverse, featuring classic black velvet paintings and modern celebrity portraits. Once you enter the black light room, you may never want to leave. 711 New High St., Chinatown; $10. velveteria.com.
4. Clifton's Cafeteria
There's been a lot of buzz surrounding Clifton's Cafeteria since Andrew Meieran (The Edison) remodeled and reopened the classic L.A. eatery. I stopped by with a friend recently and we were immediately smitten. Clifton's knows how to do a holiday window display and that alone is unusual in car-centric Los Angeles. We spent a few minutes drooling over the gingerbread house and candy cane tree before walking inside. Even though it was late and the crowd was thin, it took a while to get our cafeteria meal just because it's so easy to get distracted inside the restaurant. From the animal displays in various corners to the trays of beautifully decorated cupcakes, it's a feast for the eyes. Give yourself time to wander up and down the multi-floor restaurant and bar. 648 S. Broadway, downtown. 213-627-1673, cliftonsla.com
5. Nerdy burlesque
Some of the best burlesque shows you'll catch in Los Angeles are also the nerdiest. Devil's Playground is best known for the frequent Star Wars-themed performances, “Star Girls.” (They're updating the show with new characters for 2016.) Peepshow Menagerie, who you can find regularly at Fais Do Do, has an arsenal of bizarre, nerdy tributes, from “The Incredible Marvels of Burlesque” to “Cherry Potter and the Wizards of Burlesque.” I should also note that their Morrissey tribute night stands out as a must-see in a town that's strangely obsessed with the former Smiths frontman. peepshowmenagerie.com, devilsplaygroundla.com
6. Bruce Lee statue
The Bruce Lee statue isn't necessarily weird. Sure, it's larger than life-size, but so was the martial arts star's persona. What's weird is the attention that the statue, located in Chinatown's Central Plaza, gets. With little hype, the statue has become a local phenomenon, one that I wrote about for L.A. Weekly in early 2015. I've seen guys strip off their shirts and get into character before posing in front of the statue. In a city where people are hardly impressed by living celebrities, this is certainly strange. Chinatown Central Plaza, 950 N. Broadway, Chinatown. oldchinatownla.com.
7. Magic Castle
You'll always know when one of your friends makes it inside the exclusive Magic Castle because they'll document the whole ordeal on their Facebook and Instagram feeds. The private club, which opened in 1963, reserves its memberships for people involved in the magical arts. For the rest of us, we have to wait until we can finagle a guest invitation to attend and find out for ourselves that this is one of the weirdest spots in Hollywood.
Exclusive clubs come and go, their cool cred fading with each name crossed off the guest list. Magic Castle, though, has maintained its allure for decades. Maybe the dress code is part of it. The club bans standard L.A. fashions like jeans, shorts and flip-flops. When you do make it inside the password-protected door, you might feel like you've been transported back in time to an era when people wore grown-up clothes to enjoy drinks and watch magic shows. That's probably the greatest trick of all. 7001 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 851-3313, magiccastle.com.
8. Cake + Art
Last summer, I was walking down Santa Monica Boulevard during Los Angeles Pride when I saw an Iron Throne in the window of a cake shop. It was large and regal and draped with a rainbow ribbon that read “Pride Is Coming.” In the same display, there was a Mad Hatter cake, more Johnny Depp than classic Disney, so intricately sculpted that it almost made me forget that I hated Tim Burton's take on Alice in Wonderland. Far nerdier than either of those, though, was a cake replica of the Getty Villa. Cake + Art makes strange desserts that sometimes make the tabloids, and their website is a time suck filled with cakes shaped like fast food and designer bags. Then there's the gallery of 18+ desserts, filled with frosting scrawled puns and hyper-detailed depictions of the human anatomy. 8709 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 657-8694, cakeandart.com
9. Bob Baker Marionette Theater
Perhaps like plenty of others who grew up in Los Angeles, I went to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as a child. I can still recall the anticipation that set in once the room darkened and the excitement that hit when the puppets danced on the floor. As an adult, the shows are no less special, but the theater's persistence to continue charming young and old is what's truly strange and beautiful about this spot. When I interviewed founder Baker for L.A. Weekly back in 2009, the theater had endured financial struggles that could have led to its closure, but didn't. Baker died a few years back, but the theater that bears his name carries on the tradition of marionette performances. 1345 W. First St., Echo Park. (213) 250-9995, bobbakermarionettes.com.
10. Tio's Tacos
If you're heading out on an Inland Empire road trip, make sure you stop by Tio's Tacos in Riverside. The restaurant is filled with sculptures owner Martin Sanchez made from found objects. Human forms take shape from tree-branch limbs and mannequin heads. Recycled odds and ends decorate walls and clothe recreations of recognizable characters. It's a stunning collection that will leave you wandering the grounds wondering, “What is that made of?” 3948 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, 951-788-0230, tiostacos1.com.