Los Angeles is home to many a tourist trap. They are crowded and overpriced and choking with smog. The trouble is that some of them are actually worth it. For all the phoniness there still are some truly neat things lurking in this strange cluster of sprawling towers and hills shrouded in pollutionary haze.
Everybody knows about the Hollywood strip. It’s congested and full of weirdos and people trying to sell you stuff, but you could buy everything on Sunset Boulevard and it still probably wouldn’t be more interesting than just walking down the main hub and taking in all the sights and sounds. You’ll see the famous sign and Griffith Observatory in the distance; the Roosevelt Hotel; the Kodak, El Capitan, Egyptian, and Chinese Theaters (and AFI Fest is free!); and more. Wackos dress up like movie characters and folks try to sell you tickets for ridiculous bus tours and unreasonably priced museums and, who knows, you might even get your thetan levels tested to see if you are indeed a prime candidate for Scientology. Don’t get suckered into buying annoying trinkets and things. Stick your hands in Humphrey Bogart’s prints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and take a walk up in the Hollywood hills. It’s free and fun.
Those are the givens. See them, but don’t waste your money there. There are many great museums and venues, but I will share what I deem to be the five coolest places in LA.
5. Now there are many cool and famous eateries and such in any city and I’m not saying this first place has the best food, but the atmosphere more than makes up for anything else. The Edison is a steampunk pub. The Edison’s charm lies in its brass and Victorian mystique. You do have to dress nice to get in. It is the only bar I’ve been to where pocket-watches, coats with tails, flapper gowns, and welder goggles are not only welcome but encouraged. It has rich, mysterious flavor and the the cinematic works of Georges Méliès (the silent French wizard of the early 1900s) dance and flicker on the brick walls inside this super cool subterranean haunt. It’s a cool place alright and neatly tucked away, but it’s still a little expensive if you plan on ordering anything…just weigh this experience against waiting in line for four hours at Pink’s. The Edison also has music and shows on occasion.
4. After some drinks at a swanky place out of the past maybe you’d like to watch a movie or two. All the new ones look like rubbish and the main streets are packed for a premiere. You want something to rent but you don’t have Netflix and those Red Boxes weird you out. Cinefile Video is the place for the truly fearless movie lover. They have everything so don’t waste your time looking for something ordinary. Here is your chance to explore the classic, wild, and perverse world of home viewing entertainment. Amoeba Music is still a classic, but for movie renting Cinefile is cozier and even more off the wall. Check it out. You will be amazed and overwhelmed by the insurmountable list of obscure titles and directors you’ve never even heard of.
3. I love the cultural towns. Little India, Little Italy, Koreatown, and all the others. They’re great in any city. Maybe it’s the Blade Runner tie in, but I really enjoy LA’s Chinatown. You will pass a grand arch complete with dragons and you will suddenly feel like you are in another country. For several blocks you will forget you are in Los Angeles. It may be more of a bizarre cultural experiment on my part, but I love going there and just walking around. There are shops, restaurants, and everything else. I love how unglamorous it feels and I love how everyone’s Chinese in there. It’s a nice counterpoint to the artificial glitz of Hollywood Blvd. It’s fun and peculiar and the prices aren’t bad. Just check the health grade in the window if you’re going to eat and don’t expect to read anything in English. Also check out Olvera Street while you’re in the area.
2. There are many great museums in the area. The Museum of Natural History (which is almost identical to the one in New York), LACMA, the Getty, etc. For me (and this list anyway) it has to be a curious little establishment known as The Museum of Jurassic Technology. It is cozy, tucked away, and odd. Of course I love it. It sounds like a standard science museum, but it is really a museum about the history of wonky science and superstition. You’ll learn about bizarre beliefs and cock-eyed geniuses who were halfway there to discovering the mysteries of this world as you traverse its dimly lit labyrinthine corridors. Each exhibit is unforgettably strange and kooky. As you navigate this unique structure it feels as though you have stepped into some sort of dream from the past. When you get upstairs you may enjoy some complimentary tea and cookies and pet the dogs. Always changing and very affordable, the Museum of Jurassic Technology is indeed one of the all time coolest places in LA. This place might as well be number one, but I have a longer history with my next choice.
On a side-note, an archaeologist friend of mine got me the backstage tour of the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and it was also very cool, but I imagine a behind-the-scenes tour might be hard to come by. Why is it the secret rooms are always niftier?
1. If my biases have not yet bled through entirely by now here they come. The coolest place in LA is The Silent Movie Theater. Los Angeles is home to many wonderful and specialty theaters, but this is my favorite theater out of all of them. I have had the most magical movie going experiences of my life at the Silent Movie Theater. They put out everything from arthouse to grindhouse cinema; silent classics and new underground flicks; forgotten oddities and the purposely terrible. They always have a program full of fascinating movies and the silent gems are accompanied by live piano. If it is playing in a big theater somewhere they won’t have it. Only enter if you seek something unique and special. In the hushed darkness of this tiny theater you will remember why the movies are magic. In addition to guest presenters and the occasional Q&A, they also sell very large cupcakes. I’ve only ever had amazing movie-going experiences there. Check out the New Beverly Cinema too.
There it is. Everybody goes to Disneyland and Universal Studios and they are fun and exciting, but if you’re looking to experience a different side of LA and you don’t have the cash for big shows check out some of these wonderful places.