Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Hippies still reign on lush Old Topanga Canyon Road, one of the most scenic drives in Los Angeles County. About halfway between the Valley and the Pacific, among all those artsy shacks, you'll come across the decidedly un-hippy Mill Creek Equestrian Center. At this full-service boarding and riding facility, a beginner can learn to handle a horse even if he believes the old New York City adage that the "outdoors" is the place between his front door and a taxi. Private lessons are $80 for 45 minutes, group lessons are $35 per hour — $25 if you bring your own horse. To get your citybound butt moving, check it out in person. You'll find an accepting, low-key scene: giggling girls struggling to pull a 25-pound bag of carrots out of Mom's van, or trainers using a microphone to praise kids who are learning dressage. Beginners welcome! 1881 Old Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga. (310) 455-1116, millcreekequestriancenter.com.
Until I joined Breakthru Fitness, the most challenging exercise I had put my body through was bending to find the remote control under the couch. Its greatest asset — among the 70 classes a week in a fully equipped center with big-screen TVs always airing the Food Network — is the Adult Total Conditioning class. ATC is meant to make an athlete of anyone, regardless of level of fitness: It's great for those who are in shape but looking for something new, and perfect for those who break a sweat brushing their teeth and require a Rosetta stone just to understand exercise lingo. (Seriously, what are burpees?) Unlike any other method, ATC delivers some major results. The cunning use of weights, climbing rope, giant rubber bands, kettle bells and sandbags not only brings out your inner model, but also increases your endurance, metabolism, flexibility and speed. Noel, one of the trainers, who is part stand-up comedian, part fitness gestapo, will make sure you don't finish without drowning in your own sweat. (Which reminds me, ladies, if you're there to meet a guy, don't bother. Your makeup will melt like a pack of crayons left on the dashboard in August.) The workouts are always different, and they beat striding aimlessly on the machines like hamsters. Breakthru is a far cry from the overcrowded gyms that smell like an indoor kiddie pool, and instead of employing high school football jocks has compiled a group of fantastic professional fitness artists who will take the shapeless blob that you are and sculpt you into a thing of health and beauty. 345 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena. (626) 396-1700, Breakthrufitness.com.
Fourth-generation circus performer Richie Gaona has been flying the trapeze since he was 5 years old. He moved to Los Angeles in 1988 to put his circus tricks to use as a stuntman, teaching actors and fellow performers how to fly on the side. Gaona's Trapeze Workshop now has a devoted following of diverse students who attend his trapeze classes, offered three days a week out of a facility boasting a trapeze hung 20 feet high where he, his girlfriend and his son teach thrill seekers how to perform like a pro. Fifty bucks gets you a two-hour group lesson with the flight guru. By the end of the first day, you'll not only be able to soar above the ground without screaming, you might even be willing to let go of the slim wooden bar and let your partner catch you mid-air. 5702 Lubao Ave., Woodland Hills. (818) 710-8191, richiegaona.com.
Believe it or not, for as big and abundantly sunny as L.A. is, it's a town seriously lacking in good options for lap swimmers who want smooth water, regulation-size lanes and backstroke flags. One excellent solution to this problem is the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, where parking is free and the two Olympic-size pools are a welcome sight, especially when you discover that one is kept at a toasty 87 degrees — perfect for chilly nights in the colder months. The center also offers a top-notch master's program, swim lessons, lifeguard training (bonus points if you get asked to pretend to drown during one of the drills) and an on-site pro shop in case your goggles break. Even more amazing to someone who has Googled "seriously Los Angeles rec swim where" is the well-organized website, which offers comprehensive lap swimming and lane-change calendars, closure notices and even a live webcam, in case you want to watch people exercising in lieu of actually doing it yourself. 360 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 564-0330, rosebowlaquatics.com.
You might expect a belly dance class in a yoga studio to be impossibly new agey, or to skimp on the high-velocity, highly specific muscle moves that make the dance such a killer ab workout. But Shannon "Shea Butter" Lewallen's Shimmy Shape-Up at Swerve Studio on Third Street strikes the right balance. Described as a "newly innovated full-body medium-low-impact cardio workout," Shimmy Shape-Up offers solid instruction on the basic elements of belly dance — arm movements, hip and rib cage isolation, traveling steps and, of course, the shimmy — at a pace that's slow enough for beginners to follow, but not so snail-paced that you won't break a sweat. 8250 W. Third St., Mid-City. (323) 782-0741, swervestudio.com.
Funny thing about place names around L.A. — they vary wildly in descriptive accuracy. Studio City does have movie and TV studios nearby, but Panorama City lacks any obvious panorama. While City of Industry does possess a lot of light industry, much of the municipality looks pretty tame, and parts of it are rather leafy and scenic, like the Industry Hills Golf Club, attached to the Pacific Palms Hotel & Conference Center. All in all, it's a spiffy and relaxing suburban resort occupying a commanding, rolling hill in the close-in Inland Empire. The Golf Club has won numerous awards from aficionados and features two full courses: the Ike (Eisenhower) and the Babe (Didrickson), with 160 sand bunkers, eight lakes and access to the resort's spa and two restaurants. 1 Industry Hills Pkwy., Industry Hills. (626) 851-4653, ihgolfclub.com.
Whether you're gearing up to join a baseball or softball league, or just want to blow off some steam and indulge your inner Derek Jeter, take your cuts at Rex's Baseball Batting Cages. This easygoing place is cheaper and less crowded than many other batting cages. It offers cages for 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90 mph pitches. The machines are self-loading, so you can put all your energy and focus into nailing that triple over the second baseman's shoulder into right-center. You can rent a bat or bring your own. Pricing can be per set of eight balls (50 cents) or by cage time (15 minutes for $6; 30 minutes for $10; an hour for $18). Rex's is right off the 105 freeway, convenient from either the 110 or the 405. Warnings: Weekends can get a little heavy with the Little League crowd. 11723 S. Western Ave., Athens. (323) 756-8101; rexsbaseball.com.
The creator of Pop Physique attended classes during her pregnancy and she still thinks the workout's thigh exercises are more difficult than having a baby. Founded by former dancer Jennifer Williams, the rigorous fitness classes combine ballet, Pilates and several rounds of pelvic tucks. The classes began at Pop Physique's flagship Silver Lake locale but, with Williams' tireless energy, have expanded to locales in Studio City, Marina del Rey, the Westside and Costa Mesa. The expanding, distinctly feminine Pop Physique fitness regime includes light weight lifting, squeezing a ball between thighs and standing on tiptoe as if you're wearing high heels. Several of the instructors have a dance background, which may explain why there's a practice of small controlled movements that take center stage each session, along with a careful grace. After-class sore limbs are standard. But devoted Pop Physique–goers report seeing their bums rise into pleasing round shapes and thighs and tummies become leaner. Of course, it's not without effort. 3501 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 665-7777, popphysique.com.
Think high-quality yoga only takes place in Venice, Malibu, Silver Lake and the other usual-suspect chic enclaves? Think again. Yoga has spread like sushi and fixed-gear bicycles. Areas like the San Gabriel Valley and the Inland Empire now are home to enough yoga to allow diverse choices among studios, including such special finds as Yoganette, a studio in West Covina frequented by passionate enthusiasts. It has a cozy, intimate, superfriendly vibe and teachers who make individualized attention, comfort and careful explanation their top priorities. Regulars love the clean, bright, cheerful space and affordable prices. But what sets this place apart is the gentle, sweetly idealistic, disarmingly pure approach of the instructional staff — whose teacher statements are personal and touching, like short application essays to the mellowest college on Earth. 2360 S. Azusa Ave., Suite C, West Covina. (626) 965-4000, yoganette.com.
On a stretch of land adjacent to the Greek Theatre, trees loom, coyotes sniff, rattlesnakes roam — and the Vermont Canyon tennis courts rumble with activity. The spectacular sporting facility is patched into the wilderness of Griffith Park. Here you can escape the growls of traffic and rush of the freeway. Tuck your racket under your arm and warm up with a hike on the nearby trails. You'll want to snag the upper-level courts to admire the picturesque views and witness an extra thrill when your tennis ball flies past your opponent. Classes are available for both novice and advanced players. Expect an $8 fee after 5 p.m. and on weekends for an hour of playtime, but consider it a small price to pay for the opportunity to break away from urban confinement. 2715 Vermont Canyon, Los Feliz. (323) 664-3521, laparks.org.
Entering the Aromatherapy Crystal Steam Room in the spa at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, available to hotel guests and spa customers, is like being transported into a trippy parallel universe. The dark ceiling is covered with teeny, color-changing fiber-optic lights. Bum feel extra warm and cozy? That's because the walls and benches are heated. That delicious scent in the steamy air is eucalyptus. The velvety black room's focal point is a huge, white quartz crystal, lit from below, which is purported to give off "positive energy," to relieve stress and help heal the immune system. Whatever, it's supercool to stare at through the sauna mist and contemplate the mysteries of the universe. Just outside the sauna is an ice fountain filled with crushed ice, which you're supposed to rub on your freshly steamed skin to really get the circulation humming. Finally, step around the corner to the rainfall shower with three settings: Caribbean Rain, Atlantic Storm and Cold Mist. It's better than Superman's Fortress of Solitude. 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 385-3917, fourseasons.com/beverlywilshire.
The Rose Bowl is known for its football games more than anything, but hundreds of people frequent the Rose Bowl Loop for exercise. Some walk, some bike — but most run the 3.3 miles around the picturesque stadium. This nationally known landmark today stands in as a training ground for runners and bikers, so don't be surprised to see a few running, cycling or triathlon clubs gathered there (there's a pool in the Rose Bowl Center), getting ready for an upcoming competition. Morning, noon and night, there are dozens of people around getting in some good cardio at a beautiful location. Surrounded by trees and rolling hills, a lot of the Rose Bowl Loop is shaded from the sun, providing relief from the sometimes-powerful heat in these foothills. You can either try this — or run more circles around a boring track. 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena. (626) 577-3101.