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!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Malibu Creek State Park

Just The Facts, Ma'am

Malibu Creek State Park
Where: Calabasas, four miles south of Hwy 101
Phone: 818-880-0367
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
Cost: Free Entrance
Why: Hiking, Swimming, Fishing, Rock Climbing, Biking, Horseback Riding, Bird Watching, Camping, Picnicking, Creek Splashing, Bouts of Explosive Joy
More Information: Malibu Creek State Park Website

My Experience

My brother and I took the first trailhead off of Mulholland Highway. Our introduction to Malibu Creek State Park was through the Grasslands Trail: a beautiful, simple hike through wild grasses and wild flowers and wild mountains. This is an easy to moderate hike, depending on your fitness level, and only continues for a fraction of a mile before dumping you off at a crossroads. My brother and I opted for the path to the right.

This new trail led us under the shifting shade of knotty tree branches and along the wide Malibu Creek. The terrain gradually changed, from hard, dry dust to a scattering of loose pebbles and huge rocks. Before we knew it we were in a world completely unlike the Grasslands Trail. We found rock climbers scaling huge boulders, children splashing after frogs in the creek, families tucking themselves away behind trees for private picnics. And eventually we found the greatest surprise in Malibu Creek State Park:

A swimming hole.

For those who plan to head out there, this swimming hole is called "Rock Pool." It is aptly named, as the pool's main draw is the enormous rock rising out of the water. We were there on Memorial Day, so the rock's peak was crowded with young adventurers waiting their turns to leap off and into the pool below. Some parents watched their children in the shade of the trees at the water's edge, calling out their encouragement from lawn chairs.

The only disappointment of the day was that I did not have my bathing suit.

What I Missed:

Century Lake. If there's one thing Missouri boys and girls love as much a good creek and a nice swimming hole, it's a fine lake for fishing. While there's not a lot of brag-worthy fish to be caught in Century Lake, fishing is allowed as long as you have a California state fishing license. The park rangers may ask to see it.

Paramount Ranch. This is farther down Mulholland Highway. Paramount Ranch has served as the set for several of the Western films put out by Paramount Studios. I do love playing a little pretend in the old west from time to time.

Several Other Trails Patiently Awaiting My Attention. This is why I will absolutely be back.

Has anyone else been to Malibu Creek State Park? Do you have anything to add or amend? If so, please do not hesitate to comment.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Welcome to the Back Roads

I do not care for the main roads. I prefer the quiet avenues, the residential mazes, the back alleys. I suspect I learned this inclination from my mother, who has always been set on finding the Road Less Traveled, whether she's mapping her route to work or exploring unknown territory. If it's a freeway, she won't be entering. If it has a stoplight, she'll look for other options. If it's lined with trees, hidden houses, and a little windy, it's my mama's road.

It took me a while to love LA because when I first moved here, all I could really see was the beaten path: The Walk of Fame, the studios, the ocean, the overwhelming presence of celebrity and hype. But gradually, through the help of friends, family, and my own growing urge to explore, I have found the back roads. Now I'm not sure I ever want to leave.

I am writing this blog in part as a tribute to my beautiful LA County, with it's limitless possibilities. I am also writing it in the hopes that it will aid others. LA stereotypes aside, not all 20-somethings here are zeroed in on "LA's hottest" this and "Hollywood's hippest" that. And not all travelers find celebrity hand prints cool enough to merit the cost of the flight out here.

So bring me your maps, folks. I'll highlight the back roads.