Welcome to Los Angeles 101.
Quick! Spit out the first five words that pop into your head when you think about the city of Los Angeles. Did you say, “Uhh… um… celebrities, traffic, beaches, buildings, and fancy cars.”
Too many words, but fair enough. You will certainly find those things, even if you don’t want to. If it is your first visit to Los Angeles, do the touristy stuff, just to say you did it.
Hike to the Hollywood sign.
Dip your feet in the Ocean.
Watch the sunset.
Visit Santa Monica Pier.
Check out Venice Beach.
…After that, get ready for what’s next: maybe this should be Los Angeles 102 or Los Angeles 103? Or maybe more of an advanced class, like 301?
If you’re bummed out by the littered streets and glitzy billboards, but for some reason can’t escape, there are always more tourist traps (trust me, there are ALWAYS more tourist traps).
I guess everything is a tourist trap, if you’re a tourist… Check out some of these places that offer a little mental stimulation and a breath of fresh air.
Let’s talk about art museums.
Uhh… they have art.
That was extent of my expansive knowledge about art museums prior to my visit to the Getty. So, when someone recommended that I check it out, I shrugged it off as polite banter, and said, “Yeah, sure, maybe if I have time.”
Coincidentally, I soon had more time than plans. Google Maps told me I was only a few miles from the Getty, so, “Why not?”
The internet said, “A quick tram ride from the parking lot to the museum takes about 10 minutes.” What could go wrong?
Security spotted the silver clip of my pocket knife shining as I stood in line to board the tram, and ordered that I return it to my car. (I use it for work; I’m not some psychopath who routinely takes weapons to museums. …Honest!) So, make sure you leave all of your knives, guns, flame throwers, and torpedo launchers in your vehicle.
I fought the urge to accept that I maybe I didn’t belong at an art museum. I could just start the car and leave. Instead, I safely stowed the knife and got back in line. It was late in the afternoon; about 3:30. The Getty’s hours vary by day and season. The day I went, they closed at 5:30 pm. Parking is reduced from $15 to $10 after 3pm. The museum itself is free.
I boarded the tram amidst a small herd of people who seemed to all be speaking different languages to each other, and soon we piled out on the cement by a great courtyard.
Curiosity overtook me when I realized there was so much to learn. So many different buildings to explore! With enough coffee, it would be possible spend a week there and never stop reading.
With less than two hours to navigate the whole museum, I raced through glassware, paintings, sculptures, and even furniture. If you stand close enough to the sketches to study the details, it almost feels like you’re there… until somebody bumps into you and you’re snapped back from your transcendence to ancient Italy.
Make sure to see the the display of old books; it’s fascinating. I got lost in the contemplation of time while staring at these books from 1200-1500 AD. Many of the items in the museum were a lot older than that, but books are such fragile objects. Just reading a book damages it… bent corners and torn pages inevitably show up with no warning.
These books, however, had become old wise warriors. They beat the odds merely by still existing, and silently commanded to be revered.
Being alone in a room full of statues is sublimely creepy…
With that thought, the museum was closing, and I had to leave.
Welcome to Echo Park. Located just north of Downtown, right off the 101, it’s near Dodger Stadium. Admiring any skyline is best done at night, and I know just the place. Park in the neighborhood, and walk here.
Originally a drinking water reservoir in the 1870’s and turned into a park in 1892, Echo Lake has an interesting past; it has claimed at least 60 lives. Don’t think about that though, as you sit peacefully at the water’s edge. The lake was drained in 2011 for a rehabilitation project, and the list of items found included 20 park trash cans, 36 construction cones, 7 shopping carts, 6 skateboards, a parking enforcement boot, a toilet, two guns, and a telephone booth.
The fountain and the buildings held the attention of both my camera and I for quite some time before I sat down on a rock by the water and closed my eyes.
“You want a sip?” I was startled by a scraggly gentleman extending his arm toward me, with a flask in his hand.
A homeless person was offering me a drink. I wasn’t sure if I should be touched by his generosity, or if I should leave quickly and gracefully.
Gracefully isn’t an adverb that pairs well with much of anything I do, so I politely denied his offer. He walked a few steps away to a shopping cart and turned a knob on a small boom box, filling the air with classic rock. I quietly enjoyed the music.
When it’s time to seek out some nature, pack your tent and head to Henninger Flats for a mini backpacking trip. The trailhead is located in Pasadena. It intersects the trail to Eaton Canyon Falls, but don’t park in the lot for Eaton Canyon; no overnight parking is allowed. Plenty of street parking is available near Pinecrest Drive, just make sure to check the signs.
The hike itself is 2.7 miles up switchbacks on the Mount Wilson Toll Road and can hardly be considered backpacking since you can see downtown Los Angeles from your tent.
…And this is probably where most people will stop reading. Sounds terrible, right? (Disclaimer: I actually love this place.)
The trail starts here:
Don’t mind the barbed wire and danger signs. Stay on the trail. I don’t know what kind of crazy stuff has gone on behind this fence, but I assure you participation is neither mandatory nor recommended.
Hiking uphill for nearly three miles on a dirt road seems like paradise after being trapped in the city for weeks. If you don’t have time to camp, it is also a great place to run or to test out that new piece of gear.
You’re still reading? Congratulations, you’ve made it to the sign near the flats by the campground.
The trail looks more like this:
Climb the old Castro Peak fire lookout tower, which was moved to Henninger Flats. There is also a visitor center/museum. The fire tower lookout has several instruments used between 1925 and 1971. There are pit toilets, but they are memorable. Really, memorable pit toilets can’t be a good thing. In my head, I was penning the details of a horror movie on location. Perhaps I visited them on a bad day.
Henninger Flats is named after William Henninger, a prospector from Virginia who built a homestead on the land in the late 1800’s. He planted several trees, testing which ones grew best in the soil. There is still a tree nursery here run by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
The free campground is divided into three sections. The main camp (Lower Camp), Upper Camp, and Fuji Camp. The Lower Camp had been claimed by a local Boy Scout troop, but the Upper and Fuji Camps had plenty of space.
I set up my new Nemo backpacking tent for the first time and took in a relaxing view of the smog.
Los Angeles looks quite pretty from up here. Maybe it’s just the sunset…
Sadly, I had to be back at work in the morning. I woke just in time for sunrise, packed up, and headed back down the trail… stopping of course to take pictures of as many flowers and rocks as possible.
Back in the city, reality set in.
Once you’ve sat in traffic on the 405 at five o’clock in the morning, the 101 at midnight, the 10 at nine o’clock at night, and the PCH on a Sunday afternoon (or well, any street at any time of day), cursing whoever invented pavement and wishing you could levitate… consider yourself ready for the AP Los Angeles test.
If you stop at Dunkin Donuts and find another homeless guy waxing philosophical about religion in the general direction of the ceiling, and he asks you to buy him a donut, and all of that seems completely normal… congratulations, you have graduated from all possible lessons about Los Angeles, and you should leave immediately. By the way, that’s a dirty blanket he’s wearing, and there is a strong possibility that he has nothing else on beneath it…