Monday, September 28, 2009

Special Program: Saturday Nights at the Getty

The Getty Center (see May 27, 2009 post) is now charging $15 for parking . . . that's the bad news. The good news (yay!) is that the center stays open until 9pm on Saturday nights and--this is the awesome news--parking is free after 5pm. Free parking, free admission . . . could it get any better?

Yes, my friends. Yes, it can. Saturday Nights at the Getty offer not only stunning views of the lights of Los Angeles (including the ribbons of white and red headlights and tail lights along the 405--a healthy reminder of how much we all love LA traffic), but on Saturday nights, you can also enjoy a live performance . . . anything from music to dance to spoken word events, depending on which night you attend.

Food and wine are still available in the evening. Expect a crowd. We arrived at around 7pm; it took quite a while to park and we had about a ten minute wait to get on the tram. I don't know if it's better or worse earlier in the evening, but I plan to attend again, and when I do, I'll certainly let you know. If you happen to know, by all means, share your knowledge.

What I do know for certain is that these events are completely worth it. Even if you don't care for the evening's performance, you can still enjoy the gallery, the beautifully lit gardens, and a stunningly romantic atmosphere. Perfect for a little Recession Dating.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Venice Canals

Just the Facts, Ma'am

What: Canals where we all thought streets were supposed to go.
Where: Venice, California
Hours: Whenever
Cost: If you plan to live there, you'd better have dollars a-plenty. Otherwise, you can stroll the neighborhood for free.
Why: Pleasant atmosphere, cool houses . . . a lot closer than Venice, Italy . . .
More Information: Westland Web Site

My Experience

So get this: in 1904 a fellow by the name of Abbot Kinney (locals will recognize his name from street signs) embarked on a dream--the dream of creating a Venice, America. So he hired a bunch of laborers and dug 16 miles of canals. Most of the original canals were later destroyed with the invention of the "motor car," as they were impractical for modern transportation. As a result, the remaining canals became a small, unique quarter of Venice. In the sixties and seventies, beatniks and hippies partied hardy in the canal area. These days, the area has been redeveloped with beautiful homes, and it is now home to the well-moneyed.

My brother and I took a break from writing to investigate the canal. It was nice; occasionally couples or small children would drift by on little rowboats, friends would gather for wine on canal-front patios, someone's crazy cockatoo would cry out from the balcony of their top floor, separating the tourists from the locals as those of us who couldn't immediately spot the bird reached for our cell phones to report a murder-in-progress.

Looking at the houses kept us entertained long after the novelty of the canal wore off. The houses range from beautiful to repulsive (but in a rich, well-kept sort of a way), from quaint to glamorous, from ostentatious to understated. And, lest we should forget what city we were in, we did happen upon the quintessential Venice, California artist's house, where chandeliers made out of doll heads and bottle caps wafted menacingly on the cool, crazy breeze.

It was a relaxing, fascinating stroll . . . but it was still a stroll. I wouldn't recommend making a big trip to Venice just for the canals, but if you're in the area, don't miss them.

What I missed

The rest of the canals. There were more bends and avenues than I expected, and we had to get back to writing eventually.

Back on the Path

Please forgive the unexplained absence. I am afraid I unexpectedly strayed away from the Back Roads for a few months, as a few incidences (good and bad) have stolen my attention.

I am glad to say, however, that I have not stopped exploring, and you can expect a new outpouring of adventures and destinations over the next couple of weeks . . . including a few "Sidetracks" highlighting my excursions while visiting family in good old St. Louis. This photograph, in fact, was taken outside the front door of Remember When, an antique appliance store along Antique Row on Cherokee Street in Louie. On the other side of that mysterious sign and those lace curtains, one may find sixty-year-old stoves, fifty-year-old refrigerators, hundred-year-old sewing machines . . . and a cautious one-eyed dog of indeterminable age.

But more on that later. Right now, it's time to get back to business, and back to the glory and wonder of the Great West.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Point Dume and the Wonder it Offers

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Point Dume Hiking Trail
Where: Malibu
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
Cost: Unless you're a parking ninja (like my brother who somehow found street parking in Malibu on a Saturday), you can expect to spend about $7 to park in the lot
Why: It's so beautiful and one of the few places I've been in LA where you have no way of knowing that you're in a city.
More Information: California State Parks Website

My Experience

My brother and his girl found street parking, but when my friend Nora and I hiked Point Dume, we took the easy route and paid a ghastly $7 to park in the lot on Point Dume Beach. We got there in the morning hours when there were still plenty of open spots . . . best of luck if you go for it on a weekend afternoon.

We didn't spend much time on Point Dume Beach, but I can at least tell you that that seems a pleasant enough area . . . nice white sand, blue water, those lifeguard huts that make you feel like Baywatch is totally real. Before embarking on our hike we also took a moment to get a few pictures of rock climbers scaling the very cliff we were about to climb.

At the far end of the parking lot, there is a trail head, complete with a little sign indicating that you are, in fact, at Point Dume. The trail itself makes for a moderate hike, as the only real challenge is the initial ascent up a sandy hillside. But I don't think anyone hikes this trail for the challenge. Point Dume is all about the view.

As our dainty little cliffside path wound its way around to the edge of the cliff, we began to hear distinctive "orking." Nora stopped and looked at me.


Seals, indeed. As soon as the trail awarded us with the first broad ocean view, we discovered a little seal friend, taking it easy on a wave-splashed rock near the shore.

The view along the trail (which is actually a boardwalk for a short while) is surreal. The day we hiked, the water was an ethereal blue, waves rushed against the cliffs and sighed away, sea gulls flew overhead, and, as I already mentioned once before, seals lay on rocks and orked.

Point Dume is made all the more perfect by a little hidden cove which can only be accessed by a steep cliff side staircase that forks off from the trail. Once I stepped off the last stair and looked out before me at the semi-rocky beach, I was aware of being in another place entirely. No car horns, no cell phones, no evidence that there was or ever had been anything on the other side of the cliffs.

We spent a few good hours picnicking on our beach blankets, semi-napping to the rhythmic whoosh-shaa of the waves, and doing a little people watching among the few visitors (almost half of whom were surfers) who also recognized that a little effort can go a long way when it comes to finding a nice peaceful bit of seashore.

Nora and I also enjoyed the privileges of watching a couple seals ride the waves very close to the shore and of guessing whether the sleek fins cycling in and out of the water in the distance belonged to dolphins or whales.

We left around 3:30 p.m., and while we didn't catch the sunset (which I'm sure is amazing), we did hike back in time to see the impossibly endless sea glittered with the reflection of the low afternoon sun.

It was an accidentally meditative day.

What I Missed

Rumor has it, you can do some White Whale watching at a deck along the trail in the late winter months. I will definitely be back to give it a go, even if I can't find someone crazy enough to sit by the ocean with me in January.

Paradise Cove
Paradise Cove is one of the more popular quiet beaches in LA (if that makes sense). I'd like to see it to see it one of these days, and I believe it can be reached (or at least approached) by the same trail. I'm in no great rush, however, as I have heard it paired with words such as "celebrity" and "elite."


Nora and I made this visit in the late morning hours, and were at the beach from about noon to 3:30. My brother and his girl made their visit in the late afternoon/early evening (but on a different day), and the tide was too high to safely enjoy the beach. If you want to be sure you can fully enjoy the cove, check out the tide forecast for Point Dume here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Great Wall of Los Angeles

What: The Great Wall of Los Angeles
Where: San Fernando Valley, along Coldwater Cayon between Oxnard and Burbank Blvd.
Hours: Whenever the spirit moves you . . . although the view is better during daylight hours.
Cost: Nada
Why: Half a mile of Los Angeles art and history
More Information: Web Site

My Experience

The Great Wall of Los Angeles is a little-known monument to Los Angeles history painted along the inside wall of a flood control channel in the San Fernando Valley. The mural was dreamed up in the 1970's as a part of a beautification project (a bike path and some foliage surround it), and, as a collaboration of over a hundred youths, artists, and historians, it has become a visual study in cultural relations in this diverse city.

The wall begins at the corner of Burbank and Coldwater Canyon with Prehistoric LA, and the journey toward Oxnard Boulevard takes visitors through the experiences of nearly every ethnic group who has found its way to LA, from the Chumash Indians, to the Spanish explorers, to the Chinese railroad workers, to the post-WWII Jewish immigrants. The Great Wall also acknowledges (sometimes sadly) the philosophies, movements, and minds that have governed Californians over the years.

The mural is bright, beautiful, and enlightening. It is, of course, in a flood control channel, so I could only view it through a chain link fence. I should also mention that it's not in an area that inspires peaceful contemplation. The trees and bike path do add something in the way of atmosphere, but you will not forget that you are sandwiched between an active street and a flood control channel. Nevertheless, it is worth making a quick stop.

Before I went, I read the "about" section of the website, which enabled me to recognize people and events in the mural that I might not have understood otherwise. But even if you choose to make a cold visit, you'll still get a lot out of it, especially if you paid attention in your American History class.

What I Missed

SPARC Walking Tour Guide of the Great Wall

If you really want to know all you can about the scenes in the mural and the work that went into creating them, you can contact SPARC (The Social and Public Art Resource Center) to purchase a Walking Tour Guide.

The 1960's and On
The Great Wall of Los Angeles is already the world's longest mural. But even with half a mile behind them, SPARC still has almost five decades to go. If you fall hard for this little monument of art, you can contribute to the work and restoration of the Great Wall through the web site posted above.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Descanso Gardens

Just the Facts, Ma'am

What: Descanso Gardens
Where: 1418 Descanso Drive, La Canada Flintridge, CA 91011
Phone: 818-949-4200
7 days a week, 9am-5pm
$8 General Admission, cheaper prices for children, seniors, students, etc. Free for members.
160 acres of gardens, Walking tours, Tram tours, Enchanted Railroad for the wee folk, Local history at the Boddy House, Fitness and Horticulture classes, Cafe, Gift Shop, Lots and lots of sprawling beauty
More Information: Descanso Gardens Website

My Experience

I visited Descanso Gardens for the first time ever yesterday. And today, I have not been able to think of anything else.

Okay, that may be a slight exaggerration, but I have fallen hard for this place. I do love a good garden, and this place has several.

Once I was inside the gate, I made my way directly to the Japanese Garden. I had spent enough time on the Descanso website to know about the tea house nestled among the bamboo and angular trees. On weekends, the tea house serves tea, Sake, Japanese beer, and a few modest Japanese dishes. Tea lover that I am, I could not turn down the opportunity to enjoy a pot of loose leaf Sencha Tea in the presence of such calming beauty. I sat in the tea house for about an hour, sipping tea out of a clay cup and listening to a stream trickle its way into the Koi pond. This respite was exactly what I needed to quiet my obsessive mind enough to enjoy the day ahead.

My only regret about the tea house? No bathrooms. Perhaps most of their patrons are not so gluttonous as to claim an entire pot of tea for themselves. But I am, and I was annoyed to have to walk back to the main entrance just for the ladies' room.

Having experience the tea house (my one specific goal for the day) I took advantage of my lack of agenda and wandered as the spirit moved me. I discovered paved roads, dusty paths and a few hidden passages in among rose bushes and camellias. I found myself getting a little unexpected exercise as I wound my way up steep hillsides, and I also came upon several dozen opportunities for rest, as there are countless benches placed unobtrusively throughout the gardens. I turned a corner to find a woman reading a novel in the shade of live oak. I came up over a hill to find a couple sharing the view from a strategically placed bench. And near the end of my visit, I myself sought rest at a swell in the garden stream as I curled up on the bench with a favorite book.

What I Missed

Seriously. These memberships always seem too frivolous for a young writer at the dawn of her career. Nevertheless, I am genuinely considering this. $60 gets a single person free entrance to the park 364 days of the year, discounts on classes, discounts in the gift shop and cafe, and early entrance (8am) every day.

The Boddy House Tour
The Gardens were originally the home of E. Manchester Boddy, publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News. He called his estate "Rancho del Descanso," which means "ranch of rest" . . . a rather appropriate name. Boddy's beautiful ranch house remains on the property, and visitors can get a formal tour of the house any Saturday or Sunday at noon.

Classes and Events
Descanso offers a wide range of classes and events, most of which come with a fee. As far as I'm concerned, the fitness classes offer the greatest appeal, with programs such as Yoga and Fitness Walk, Hula in the Gardens, and Garden Shovel Aerobics. Descanso also hosts fun events like wine tastings and a nighttime tour of the Gardens.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Getty

Just the Facts, Ma'am

What: The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center
Where: 1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Phone: 310-440-7751
Hours: Tues-Fri 10-5:30, Sat 10-9, Sun 10-5:30
Cost: Free Admission, $10 parking
Why: European and American Art, beautiful gardens, outdoor patio, wine, soul-expanding view of Los Angeles
More Information: Getty Website

My Experience

My first (and so far, only) trip to the Getty Center happened purely by accident. I happened to mention to my friend Nora that I had been meaning to go for quite a while, and next thing I knew, we were sidling up the side of a mountain in a tram.

Oh yes. For all you folks who don't know, the Getty Center sits high in the Santa Monica Mountains, and is only accessible by the trams that relay between the Center and the parking lot below. Those of you who have a fear of heights, beware: it is a pleasant, safe, and steady ride, but the trams do travel up the literal side of a literal mountain. Literally.

Once Nora and I reached the Center, I was awe-struck by the enormity of it, the curved architecture, the smooth white stone of it all. The Getty Center is so much more than an art gallery, a fact which we proved that day by never actually setting foot inside the building, except to get lunch.

Needless to say, my report on the art gallery will have to wait for a future post. Today I will tell you that the Getty also boasts a variety of gardens. Wandering the grounds I discovered the cactus garden, set strategically on the edge of a cliff, the spears and spines of the cacti standing out against the Los Angeles skyline. We also admired plants engineered to resemble trees when grouped together and discovered a maze of shrubbery planted in what had been designated a "wishing pond" by several guests with loose change.

Like most museums, the Getty Center has a cafeteria. But oh yeah, this one sells bottles of wine.

I think that must have been where the time went . . . into the bottle of Chardonnay that kept us company on the outdoor patio, overlooking the soul-expanding view of Los Angeles.

What I Missed

The Art Gallery
of course! I will be back for that, so expect an update on the Getty in the future.

The Getty Villa
Well, I didn't really miss it, because it's in a different location. But it's another beautiful branch of the Getty Museum, and it's on my "Must Explore" list. If you're interested, the link posted above takes you to the Getty Museum web site, which includes information for both the Getty Center and the Getty Villa.

As always, if you have anything to add, please don't hesitate to comment!