Best Of :: South Bay
Best Place to Go for a Ride in a Corvair: The Automobile Driving Museum
The Automobile Driving Museum is a jewel hidden amid the corporate parks and industrial spaces of El Segundo. Inside this warehouse-like venue, you'll find vintage and classic cars lovingly preserved. The museum's old-school rides go way back — you might find some early Packards here — but also include mid–20th century favorites. The collection has wheels once owned by noteworthy folks such as Howard Hughes and Eleanor Roosevelt. Looking around the showroom is a visual treat, as it's filled with shiny, sparkling vehicles that you rarely see out on the streets: a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, a 1959 Austin Healey, a 1982 DeLorean. But what's more exciting is that you can ride in some of the cars yourself. On Sundays, a rotating selection of wheels is available to hit the streets with you in the passenger seat. You may not know what car you'll get — recent rides included a '39 Oldsmobile and a '61 Corvair — but it's certain to be in the most stylish car cruising the neighborhood.
If you could somehow uproot the entire Warner Grand Theatre and transplant it to Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, the magnificent art deco/moderne structure would fit right in along that street's famous row of architecturally striking vintage movie palaces, which include the Los Angeles Theatre, the Orpheum Theatre and the Theatre at Ace Hotel. But the Warner Grand has been a fixture on Sixth Street in San Pedro's quaint downtown center ever since it opened in 1931. With an ornately detailed ceiling and artfully carved lamps and other extravagant neo-Byzantine fixtures, the 1,485-seat venue is the only surviving theater of the three movie palaces Warner Bros. built in the L.A. area in the early 1930s. The Warner Grand continues to host film screenings, opera performances and occasional concerts, including the late Chris Cornell's final solo appearance in L.A. County, in 2015.
San Pedro is only a 20-mile drive on the 110 from downtown L.A., but it can feel like a world away from the city. L.A.'s most southerly neighborhood (yes, San Pedro is part of L.A.) retains a laid-back, working-class vibe, due in large part to its history as a major shipping center, home to the nation's busiest container port: the Port of Los Angeles. Nestled along the port's main channel sits Ports O' Call Village, a 15-acre open-air shopping complex modeled after a New England seaside town, offering souvenir shops, candy vendors and seafood restaurants. The highlight is the San Pedro Fish Market, where thousands of weekly visitors load up their trays with fresh shrimp, lobster, crab and fish before handing them to a worker who simply asks, "Grilled or fried?" Minutes later, the catch is ready to enjoy with a beer or a side of garlic bread on the sprawling dining patio overlooking the water. The Village's quaint clapboard structures have become a bit ragged over the past 50 years, and a $150 million redevelopment plan calls for the demolition of all buildings. The new complex, dubbed the San Pedro Public Market, is set to be completed by 2020 and will have space for the family-owned Fish Market, but the rest of Ports O' Call's old-school, down-to-earth charm may well be lost at sea.
Have you ever eaten tofu that's actually better plain? Meiji Tofu's just might be. It's delicate, earthy and floral — with none of the chalky aftertaste of supermarket analogs. It has an almost cultlike following. Yelp reviewers rave that it's better than what they grew up with in Tokyo, and Providence chef Michael Cimarusti sources it for his restaurant. It's not weird to eat the tofu straight out of the package here, it's so delightfully fresh and light, but if you can wait until you get home, it's also delicious with the slightest drizzle of soy and a sprinkling of bonito flakes, hiyyako-style. Chef-owner Koki Sato likes his with jam or even crumbled over pasta. He's been crafting organic, non-GMO Japanese tofu for 17 years, waking up at 2 a.m. daily to make it by hand in the smallest of batches. Get there early, because it sometimes sells out before Meiji closes at 1 p.m. Meiji also sells fresh soy milk and okara (that's soybean pulp). Cash only.
This longtime bar in San Pedro that once drew a crowd of bikers and meth-heads is visually unremarkable. Like so many neighborhood hangouts, Harold's Place has a pool table and is adorned with the usual generic poster advertisements for beer, along with an almost sarcastic painting of the sun setting over a tropical beach, which hangs in stubborn contrast to the dive bar's dark and murky ambiance. Fittingly for a dive in Charles Bukowski's old hometown, the drinks are relatively cheap, and the joint opens daily for hardcore barflies at 6 a.m. But what makes Harold's Place truly special are the bands that play there. The bar doesn't host live music most nights, but when there is a show, the tiny afterthought of a stage is often crowded with such South Bay punk, jazz, surf and underground legends as The Alley Cats, Mike Watt, The Last and Saccharine Trust. This little dump packs in a ton of talent.
Beer is made from four main ingredients: water, malt, yeast and hops. At the only do-it-yourself brewery in L.A. County, beginners can learn how to properly combine all of them by making their very own 5- or 10-gallon brew. Like a boozy Color Me Mine, Zymurgy Brew Works and Tasting Room, which opened late last year, removes the stress, cleaning and guesswork from small-batch beer-making by letting groups and small parties take over the in-house nanobrewery for educational three-hour sessions. Under the guidance of experienced homebrewer John Hendrick, you'll be coached through the process; return a few weeks later to bottle and label the results. And a dozen or so of Hendrick's own beers — from black IPAs to chocolate stouts — are on tap at any given time, making the cozy strip-mall spot a valid stop for your next brewery crawl.
One of the great joys of living in L.A. is that you can find a dazzling array of international cuisine within reasonable driving distance. This extends to breakfast. One of the few places to find a traditional Japanese breakfast around these parts is Fukagawa — and fortunately, it's served all day. The breakfast consists of several small dishes served on a tray: Rice, miso soup, cold tofu, a sheet of seaweed, pickled vegetables and an egg prepared one of four ways, are included in every combo. Other combos include your choice of steak or grilled fish (salmon, Spanish mackerel, mackerel) or the notorious fermented soybean dish natto. Combo D includes all of the above for the largest way to start your morning. Tucked in the Pacific Square Shopping Center, the restaurant is a fixture in Gardena, a city with a rich Japanese-American heritage. While udon, soba and a variety of other Japanese dishes are served, it's the breakfast that keeps regulars returning to the humble restaurant that's been around for more than 30 years.
Runner-up: Father's Office