Best of L.A.

Best Of 2010


  • + Beverly Hills
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  • + Malibu
  • + Melrose/ Beverly/ Fairfax
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  • + Northern California
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  • + Pasadena and vicinity
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  • + Southeastern Cities
  • + Venice/ Marina del Rey
  • + Ventura County
  • + West Adams/ Crenshaw/ Baldwin Hills
  • + West Hollywood
  • + West L.A./Sawtelle/Brentwood
  • + Westchester/ LAX
  • + Westlake
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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Place to Look Around (1920s)
Union Theatre

The Union Theatre in West Adams was originally a silent-movie house dating back to before the 1920s. Erstwhile screen siren Louise Glaum temporarily turned the theater into an acting school and playhouse in the 1930s, but by 1939, it had returned to showing films. After the war, it was the headquarters for the Tile Layers Local 18, and in the 1970s, a USC student used the theater for an after-hours film series, screening cult and underground films and Saturday cartoon matinees for neighborhood kids. The space was abandoned in the early 1990s, and intermittently used as a storefront church until 2005, when the Velaslavasay Panorama moved in. Now, the Union Theatre features a circular image in its rotunda as part of the Velaslavasay’s mission to revive the 19th-century tradition of panoramic painting. The brainchild of founder Sara Velas, the Velaslavasay Panorama continues to use the historic Union Theatre as a venue for presentations, live performances, illustrated lectures and as an exhibition space for a 360-degree work of art. 1122 W. 24th St., West Adams. (213) 746-2166, —Tanja M. Laden

1122 W. 24th St., Los Angeles, 90007
Best Spot for Graffiti Spotting

L.A. is a city with a skeleton of concrete. For graffiti artists, this corpse can be a canvas. In some urban corners, often left untouched (and unbuffed) by the powers that be, graffiti murals spring up like trees planted by invisible arborists. But these areas, like old-growth forests, are becoming rare. The mouth of the Belmont Tunnel — where the city’s first subway ran — was once the premier guerrilla gallery for urban artists. Today, lofts stand in its place, but one classic, old-school graffiti spot remains: the bridge at the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River. Murals, scrawled in the imaginative typography of the street, span the gray walls, sometimes extending down into the green waters of the basin. And on the undersides of the bridges, markings of the original graffiti artists, early-20th-century hobos, are written in coal swiped from the engine rooms of freight trains. Past meets present, forever etched on the urban walls. Under the Arroyo Seco Parkway, in the L.A. River. —Drew Tewksbury

Best F-U NEW YORK Museum
Hammer Museum

Billionaires covet eponymous museums like starlets pursue bigger breasts, then stock them with established names like rappers flashing their bling. Yet time often transcends such vanities, and a good museum becomes a presenter of breakthrough or unsung work. So beckons the Hammer Museum. Start with architecture that interacts with the street, making its shows Wilshire Boulevard–visible. Add programming that thinks bigger — say, discourses on global politics or surfboard design or a talk with artist-provocateur Paul McCarthy — none of which gets it too far from its primary mission. As well as internationally acclaimed artists, the Hammer consistently reveals new L.A. talent and respects established ones. Mark Bradford showed here five years before he appeared in the Whitney Biennial. Elliot Hundley’s first museum show was here. Meanwhile, retrospectives for the illustrious Richard Hawkins and Llyn Foulkes are in the works, as is an L.A. biennial. And all of it is an easy walk to three bus lines. That’s cosmopolitan. 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Wstwd. (310) 443-7000, —Tibby Rothman

10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood, 90024
Best Japanese Garden
Suiho En

Suiho En, or the Garden of Water and Fragrance, is a stunning, traditional Japanese garden at the center of the San Fernando Valley’s vast watershed that reminds us of the beauty of water and nature, in poetic contrast to the adjacent reclamation plant that removes tons of sludge from our water system daily. Visitors are urged to walk, sit, “emulate Lord Buddha ... in silent contemplation of the human condition” (and to also view the wastewater filtering process up close). The cost of pursuing spiritual enlightenment at the garden is $3; call in advance for docent-led tours. 6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys. (818) 756-8166, —Suzy Beal

6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys, 91406
Best Inhospitable Hospital (1904)
Linda Vista Community Hospital

Abandoned places have their own energy — or seem to, at least, if you watch any basic-cable pseudoscience-channel filler programs about hauntings or the paranormal. The abandoned Linda Vista Community Hospital in Boyle Heights is used these days as a shooting location for everything from episodes of ER to music videos to assorted horror movies dripping with that dull post-Saw decay for effect. You can wander through for a fee. Founded in 1904 as the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital, it served railway employees who got sick of working on the railroad all the livelong day. Closed in 1991, it’s been the focus of intrepid urban explorers who are either too principled or too cheap to pay the admission fee charged by the on-site guard. So why would ghosts choose to haunt places with very little life left in them? Psychoacoustic feedback loops, unexplained penance and just plain spectral loneliness have all been offered as guesses at ghostly motivation, but the faithful and the skeptical can agree that the building currently crumbling away slowly in East Los Angeles resembles a ghost because it’s just sad. 610 S. St. Louis St., Boyle Heights. (323) 526-4222. —David Cotner

610 S. St. Louis St., Los Angeles, 90023
Best Host to Toast a Ghost

It doesn’t take much more than decent eyesight to see a celebrity in L.A. But a ghost? That might take some doing. Fortunately, Richard Carradine and G.H.O.U.L.A. are here to help. Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles hosts “Spirits With Spirits” gatherings, on the 13th of each month, in a haunted locale. Their slogan: “Let’s put the ‘Boo!’ back into ‘booze.’” G.H.O.U.L.A. gatherings bring together kindred spirits to swap ghost stories and hunt for specters in a congenial atmosphere. In August, on Friday the 13th, the group visited Santa Anita Race Track’s Derby Restaurant, said to be haunted by Seabiscuit’s jockey, George Woolf. In September they moved on to Echo Park’s 1642, in a Deco building that opened in 1914 and has been a neighborhood bar since at least the 1940s; its ghost reportedly is a happy, tippling type of spirit, prone to bumping bartenders and patrons alike. Skeptics welcome. —Lisa Horowitz

Best Other Malibu
Charmlee Wilderness Park

When you think of Malibu, you think of the coastal area made famous by mellow, surfable beaches, spacious seafood-and-cocktail emporiums and the estate of Barbra Streisand. But there’s a whole other Malibu up in the hills that’s wild, dramatic and full of untrodden nature. If you go way up the Pacific Coast Highway, far into Malibu, and then turn north and go up into the mighty Santa Monica Mountains, amongst the craggy peaks and plateaus, steep, dramatic canyons and general Wild West–meets–Alpine scenery, you’ll find a special, magical place called Charmlee Wilderness Park, where you can hike or walk 500-plus acres of wooded footpaths, wide-open fire trails, scrubby hill areas and wild grassy fields. The sensation at Charmlee is of being on a pristine, rolling country landscape raised high up above it all. Here one will find amazing huge trees, colorful wildflowers (in season), odd rock formations, amazing views back out over the Pacific and lots of wildlife. So watch out for rattlesnakes, mountain lions and ticks. 2577 S. Encinal Canyon Rd., Malibu. (310) 457-7247. —Adam Gropman

2577 Encinal Canyon, Malibu, 90265
Around the World in 80,000 Plants (1956)
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden

Joyce Kilmer wrote: “I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree.” What about an entire huge place full of trees, huh Joyce? Amazing, inspiring trees from around the freakin’ world. Old Joyce would have flipped her proverbial wig if she’d ever visited the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia. Opened in 1956, the 127 acres feature specifically re-created vegetation zones — Australia, Africa, Asia, the Americas — each a large enviroment unto itself, with beautiful, exotic, towering trees. There’s also turtle-filled Lake Baldwin, placid Tule Pond, greenhouses with smaller plant species, the Queen Anne Cottage (a ridiculously ornate and luxurious 1885 Victorian house), orchids, desert succulents, citrus gardens, a bamboo forest, a waterfall, the picnic-friendly Bauer Lawn and fountains, a horse barn, an old rail station and the Catawampus, an art installation/structure made within a tree’s twisting branches. Oh, and don’t miss the colorful and hyperaggressive peacocks and other big birds, who will chase and peck you as you run for your life (a great aerobic workout). 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. (626) 821-3222, —Adam Gropman

301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, 91007
Best Place to Daydream (1920)
Warner Bros. Theatre

The Warner Bros. Theatre, in the downtown jewelry district, is easy to pass by without a second glance. Only the faint outline of the familiar Warner Bros. emblem, a soft-edged diamond breastplate, is visible outside, giving only a tiny clue to what lies hidden inside. Despite the Great Depression, when the masses couldn’t find food to eat or work to report to, somehow the movies flourished. The Hollywood studios built some of their most beautiful and lavish theaters during the Depression to play host to their biggest premieres. The Warner Bros. Theatre, opened in 1920 by Alexander Pantages, was built nine years before the Wall Street crash of 1929, but after Pantages sold it to Warner Bros., it really came sparkling to life. Designed by architect B. Marcus Priteca, the theater boasted modern, Art Deco design from its ornate ceiling features to its signature lush red curtains and intricate carvings. Among the Steinbeckian squalor of the era, the entrance from West 7th Street must have been something to behold. Today, it houses a jewelry mart and most of the chairs have been ripped out to hold jewelry booths, and its Deco its luster has worn to a dull throb. However, it’s still breathtaking to come in from the noisy street and enter into its cavernous vacuum of nostalgia, and, as you push around busy jewelry vendors, imagine that the spirit of those old Hollywood greats whispers in with the breeze. 401 W. 7th St., dwntwn. —Nikki Darling

401 W. 7th St., Los Angeles, 90014
Wood nymph — there’s a fairy in my tea!
The Bourgeois Pig

The Bourgeois Pig is a late-night café with a hippie-Moroccan twist. Set on the Franklin Avenue strip in Hollywood, this bohemian café offers the usual coffees, chai lattes, herbal teas, croissants, muffins, sandwiches and smokes. But we’re not reviewing the food; it’s the ambience that’s the real draw here. Blue walls, large mirrors with gold frames, a gold cupid and other eclectic art on the walls, a comfy coffee bar with barstools. But go deeper inside and you’ll discover a pool table and an incredibly cozy back room designed as a magical enchanted forest. Stepping within, you find yourself among giant acorns, stools that look like logs, a small treehouse with two chairs, a small table, a window with curtains and life-size “pine trees.” Comfy beige couches and pillows encircle the room. For a moment, you expect to be served tea and crumpets by a hobbit or a wood nymph. The room is the brainchild of one of the baristas, a visual artist and set designer. According to a customer, the barista used leftover giant candy canes from the set of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to make his ceiling-high trees, to which he’s added bark and leaves. Or so they say. 5931 Franklin Ave., Hlywd. (323) 464-6008.—Christine Pelisek

5931 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles, 90068
Best Hidden Fountain Rendezvous

Those who don’t know downtown are missing an oasis amid the skyscrapers atop Bunker Hill: the California Plaza’s sunken Watercourt, set in a small amphitheater where the big building owners annually sponsor the summerlong free arts events known as Grand Performances. During fall, winter and spring, it becomes a place of quiet, drawing migrating birds and people reading books or enjoying bag lunches. It’s especially great for a relaxing interlude after visiting MOCA, which is on the back side of the same block. When you go to the Watercourt, buy a casual lunch from the yummy Famima Japanese convenience store (about 100 feet away from the fountain’s edge), sit down and relax. Or come shortly before sunset, take the stairs one floor up, and order a signature martini at the spectacular Omni Hotel bar that overlooks the fountain — a swank spot to take a friend, or just yourself. 350 S. Grand Ave., dwntwn. (213) 687-2159. —N. Jenssen

350 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90071
Best Ship of Ghouls (1936)
Queen Mary

You think of Long Beach as the home of Snoop Dogg, Warren G and the band Sublime, but it’s also the adopted home of the Queen Mary. Nothing’s more gangsta than a luxury ocean liner featuring nightlife opportunities, Art Deco opulence, a history of undercover service in WWII (under the maritime nom de guerre Grey Ghost) and inclusion as a place of interest in paranormal/ghost-hunter literature. Built in 1936 in Scotland and then docked into restful retirement in Long Beach harbor in 1968, the Queen sits anchored off a sylvan spit of land, looking back onto surprisingly scenic downtown Long Beach. Dine in style at Sir Winston’s or the Chelsea Chowder House, buy gifts at the various shops, take in a jazz or blues set at one of the cool, opulent, Deco-themed lounges, and play shuffleboard or croquet. Or just amble this enormous seagoing vessel’s endless rooms, corridors, passageways and staircases and absorb the museum-like historical displays while hanging in the company of some salty — but good-hearted — old seafaring ghosts. 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach. (562) 435-3511, —Adam Gropman

1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, 90802

Best Place to Look Around (1920s): Union Theatre


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