I've been writing restaurant reviews for the past six months and it has been a lot of fun, but what I haven't really done that I've now got an occasion to do is put together an entire cultural tour of the joint. So as I ease into that, I'm thinking of the top ten things you have to do as a tourist in LA. I know the list will grow to 50 but I gotta start somewhere. What things would I just not want to miss?
Any trip to LA is really not complete without a stop by Leimert Park Village. So the first stop has got to be the Lucy Florence coffee shop and gallery. The way to get there is half the fun too. I would recommend the back door side which is to take La Cienega to Slauson and come East on Slauson to Angeles Vista down to the village. That would give you a glimpse of the part of black LA few people know or talk about, my old stomping grounds. Or you could come in the front door from the 10 South on Crenshaw right down the strip. Either way is a tour through the core of Southwest LA, as contrasted with the more infamous and often mis-represented South Central LA. A Sunday afternoon is the perfect time since the drummers will be out in the park.
On a Friday or Saturday night, one absolutely must cruise Sunset Boulevard. Depending on the amount of time you want to spend you can do the Full Cruise, the Eastside Cruise, the Westside Cruise or the Core Cruise. If you're going to do anything but the Core, you need to start at least one hour before sunset, especially if you want to head to the beach. The Full Cruise starts downtown at the LA River. There it's called Cesar Chavez. Head East through Silverlake and begin the right hand side of the Core at Vermont. Then drive through the seedy grit of Hollywood in the Core that gets gradually more cool until you're right in the middle of it at around Fairfax. Then drive west on Sunset to the sea, turn that jungle music up, as you go through Beverly Hills past UCLA to the 405, the end of the Core. If you want to continue on, the Westside Cruise goes all the way through Brentwood to Palisades. Then you can take your final left turn at Temescal Canyon and down to PCH.
The ultimate LA beach experience would have to be centered at Hermosa Beach for eyeballing. That is, if you want to check out the dudes and babes, the culture and the glitz, ground zero will be the Hermosa Beach Pier. This is the get out and walk part of the beach, as opposed to the cruise in your car with the windows down on the coast road part of the beach.There are plenty of joints of all sorts to cater to your beachy needs. If you want to get some authentic high quality beachwear, this is the place to be. Grab a beer at the Poopdeck and check out the volleyballers, or take a long walk on the long pier.
Walking, Shopping, Noshing
For urban sophisticates, (read people from NY, Boston & Philly) who feel like they don't want to get too immersed in doing LA things, one can exercise well-rehearsed street walking skills in crowds at the Santa Monica Promenade. There are bookstores, movie theatres, coffee shops, clothing stores, shoe stores, restaurants, bars, street performers, kids with balloons, babes on roller skates, dudes with tattoos, the entire microcosm of LA urbanity. Now there are alternatives. You could do Citywalk. You could also do the Irvine Spectrum, but my money is on the Promenade.
Speaking of sophistication. You really don't know anything about Los Angeles until you have been to the Getty Museum. The first and foremost reason is the view from the South balcony. It is *the* way to view the city, and (if it's a clear day), you can suddenly see the beauty of this place from an angle you have never seen in any movie, photo or painting. The museum itself is spectacular and relatively uncrowded, but you do need a reservation.
Ports O Call
For a flavor of Latino LA, I haven't found anything to match the Sunday brunch at Ports O Call Village in San Pedro. There's something about ordering a huge amount of fresh seafood to order and sitting down with your family on the large wooden tables in the incredible hubbub of the place while mariachis play. It's a great solution for the big hungry. Plus, if you feel like it, you can take a harbor cruise for a fairly reasonable price.
OK I know that it sounds cliche, and yes it's in Chinatown, but man you simply must experience the Dim Sum service at the Empress Pavilion. If you've never had dim sum served in the traditional style.. well it takes a little getting used to, especially if you're a pushover. Women push carts full of steaming delicacies and seduce you into trying a little bit of everything. It's all good from the simple to the adventurous. If you're really feeling wild, ask for the chicken feet. If not, everybody loves shumai and har gow.
Farmer's Market is right in the heart of West LA and it's a perfect way to waste all kinds of time, walking around and gabbing with your buddies. Some nights there is public karaoke, and it's a great place to watch the big game in one of the open air bars. There is every kind of food on the planet, all fresh and delicious. If you can walk through Farmer's Market without eating, either you have the greatest discipline on earth or your jaw is wired shut.
That's all for now. But there is so much more.