Sometimes the things that represent L.A. are obvious — public art, historical sites, etc. — and sometimes they're the buildings we drive past every day. Both have stories to tell, reflecting our city in different ways. Here are some of the locales that do it best.
Best Urban Folk Art Many Forget About but Shouldn't
Sparkling mosaic spires rising from the well-worn streets of a Southeast L.A. neighborhood, Watts Towers stand tall as evidence to one man's imagination and work ethic, telling his story of sweat, struggle, love and redemption. Italian immigrant Simon Rodia constructed the structure between 1921 and 1954, building it when he wasn't working his day job as a laborer. He used simple hand tools, self-bent rebar, concrete, found objects, broken tile, discarded bottles and sea shells to create 17 detailed, mosaic-covered, steel-based sculptures on the block-long lot. Along with four main towers, the highest almost 100 feet tall, he created walls and a central gazebo that often functioned as a neighborhood wedding chapel. Often overlooked in their cultural importance, Watts Towers are a beautiful piece of folk art and a relevant piece of Los Angeles history. An art center on the grounds features public exhibitions, films, music and art mentorships. Guided tours, full of fascinating lore and intrigue relating to Rodia and his spectacular monuments, are given by the center free from Thursday through Sunday. 1761-1765 E. 107th St., Watts; wattstowers.org. —Nikki Kreuzer
Best Powered Picnic Spot
High atop San Vicente Mountain, just west of the 405 off Mulholland, at the end of a gravel road sits a relic of the Cold War, Missile Control Site LA-96C, also known as the Nike Radar Station, in all its Strangelovian glory. Operational from 1956 to 1968, local U.S. Army Nike radar batteries (named for the Greek goddess of victory, not the sneaker company) would scan the heavens looking for Soviet aircraft, with the intent of ordering counterstrikes before their payloads could be deployed. Yes, Angelenos were living gleefully among hundreds of nuclear missiles, humming along to "Duck and Cover" with Bert the Turtle. Today LA-96C is popular among mountain bikers, hikers and dog walkers. It's a most unusual place to picnic and from which to enjoy a glorious panoramic view of the San Fernando Valley and downtown Los Angeles. San Vicente Mountain Park, 17500 Mulholland Drive, Encino; coldwarla.com/la-96.html. —Roy Jurgens
Best Place to Blimp Out
Spotting the iconic Goodyear Blimp is both fun and lucky, and Southern Californians are fortunate to have one of the three USA blimp docking stations right in our midst (the other two are in Ohio and Florida). Opened in 1968 and covering 27 acres, the Carson base, which can be seen to the east while driving on the 405 freeway, has a large wooden viewing deck and convenient parking built specifically for blimp lookie-loos. The newest blimp, Wingfoot Two, began flying in late 2017, and its impressive inflatable hanger is the largest air-filled structure standing in North America, measuring 337 feet long and nine stories tall. Though blimp rides are nearly impossible to get — a pair of tickets recently sold for $14,000 at a charity auction — the Wingfoot Two usually makes about 10 flights a day, and viewing and photographing it during takeoff and landing can be pretty memorable. 19200 S. Main St., Carson; goodyearblimp.com. —Nikki Kreuzer
Best Place to Bang Your Head (of Lettuce)
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Whole Foods, Sprouts and Erewhon are where yoga moms and overpaid Hollywood types go to fulfill keto needs and buy stuff for their latest organic diets, while Trader Joe's attracts hipsters on the go, snagging salads and unique frozen fare. But most grocery stores in L.A. aren't so easy to peg. Chains like Vons, Albertsons, Gelson's and Ralphs vary widely depending on where they are in the city. One, however, reigns when it comes to evoking a specific slice of life like no other: Rock & Roll Ralphs. Located on Sunset just blocks east of Guitar Center, this mythic supermarket offers lots of eye candy, especially on the weekends, thanks to its proximity to the Strip, but it's the hairspray and leather quotient of its past that gives it nostalgic appeal. Anyone who walks in wondering about the big "rock & roll" entryway sign should know that the place really did live up to the name on late nights in the '80s and '90s, with band dudes, groupie gals and random Hollywood freaks stocking their fridges, hooking up, throwing up and meeting up, sometimes in life-changing ways: Designer Maggie Barry met David Lee Roth in the frozen aisle after he admired her jacket one night, and she ended up becoming his personal stylist. 7257 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 512-8382, ralphs.com. —Lina Lecaro
Best Building Personification on Facebook
Will the Target store at Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue ever be finished? Who knows, but one thing is for sure, those of us who drive past the incomplete structure every day think of it as more than just an eyesore. It's a sad and suffering friend in need of love and attention but caught in limbo due to circumstances beyond its — or our — control. If the big dingy shell of a shopping mecca could speak, what stories would it tell? How would it view the bureaucracy that continually prevents it from growing up into a real store? What kinds of music and books does it like? Is it funny? Thousands of people who follow Target Husk on social media know these answers. T.H. has feelings, thoughts, talents and opinions, and they are shared via its Facebook Page (facebook.com/targethusk) and Twitter account (twitter.com/TargetHusk), created by some anonymous soul with too much time on his or her hands. And thankfully so. Construction was halted years ago due to a legal battle that charged the megastore violated environmental protection law, but as of late last year construction is supposedly set to resume. We should all be writing our council members to let them know we want it, but until the thing actually gets completed, the witty, often wistful words of the Husk are all we got. —Lina Lecaro