Adventures In Lala Land

August 28, 2008

For the last two weeks, I’ve had the honor of being a tourist in my own city. Like so many SoCal folks, I moved here five months ago, seeking somewhat of a new start at life. Settling into my Torrance apartment, I promised myself I’d explore the sprawling megalopolis, taking full advantage of all its wonders. I’d learn to surf in the Pacific, Ski on Big Bear…maybe even plunge into Hollywood’s notorious club scene…where I’d be ::melodramatic gesture:: discovered! Because there _had_ to be parts for a chubby, alternative-looking chick out there somewhere, right?!?

I’m sad to report that I haven’t yet been ::melodramatic gesture:: discovered (to think – the world shall never know my bottomless raw talent). Really, after securing my job in Santa Monica, I’ve rarely ventured outside the general area. A brief dip in the ocean is the closest I’ve come to surfing, and the mountains remain lovely regions experienced from the comfortable climate-control of my car. Yet over the past two weeks, I’ve come a bit closer to discovering L.A. Thanks to the presence of my mom, whose return flight to Cleveland took off this afternoon, I’ve visited some fabulous attractions (unfortunately) likely to be ignored by any self-respecting Angeleno.

Sometimes residents of large, well-known cities tend to take pride in being “too cool” to visit “touristy” neighborhoods and attractions. Being open and comfortable with my utter lack of cool, I had no pretense to cast aside. However, even if you do – forgetting where you live and taking a few days as a tourist in your own city can rock. Below, you’ll find a few of the places my mom and I visited during her stay. Both out-of-towners and temporary tourists should have fun checking some of these out. Besides, in this city, we’re all from _somewhere_ else, right?

Image source: wikipedia

1) If you know a kid who digs dinosaurs, or if you’re into paleontology or geology yourself, you’ll probably love the Page Museum and La Brea Tar Pits. The museum houses no dinosaurs, but it holds fossils from more than 40,000 ice-age mammals, birds, and insects. There’s even a stone-age human! Each member in the museum’s collection was excavated from the surrounding oily pits (“La Brea” means “tar” in Spanish, though the pits really hold asphalt). Kids will walk away with plenty of trivia for classmates and teachers (did you know the pits were usually only a few inches deep, and the animals become trapped in place, rather than slowly sinking? I didn’t either.)

In addition to the reassembled mammoths, saber-tooths and the like, there’s an area where curious parties can watch paleontologists at work sorting, scraping and polishing fresh fossils. The tar pits, scattered about the surrounding park, are a stinky experience not to be missed. If you visit on the right summer day, there might even be an in-process dig in Pit 91. I’d recommend the Page Museum for families first and foremost, but kids of all ages will be awed by the tar pits’ preserved denizens.

Image source: wikipedia

2) Prefer French Impressionism to Fossils? No problem. Next door to the Page Museum stands the first class Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Hidden among its sprawling wings are paintings, sculpture, textiles and other treasures form all corners of the globe. My mom and I came here after visiting the tar pits. On a positive note, after 5 PM there’s a pay-what-you-can admission. Unfortunately, as we discovered, there’s no way to see even a tiny fraction of what this museum has to offer in four hours. What we did explore was the LACMA’s excellent Japanese Gallery. The permanent collection is impressive, encompassing an excellect collection of Ceramics, sculpture, and prints from the Middle Jomon period (c. 2000 BC) through the 20th century.

Image source: LACMA

Through September 14th, 2008, the Japanese Pavilion’s featured exhibit is “The Age of Imagination: Japanese Art from 1615-1868. On display are Edo-period Japanese painted scrolls and screens from the collection of Joe Price. I’d highly recommend the exhibit, as well as the LACMA in general. Next time, I’ll just pay full price and spend the day…!

Japanese Garden, Little Tokyo

3) If the Japanese gallery has you jonesing for more modern J-culture, look no further than Downtown LA’s Little Tokyo. Every conceivable Hello Kitty plushie is available here.

Hawaiian themed Hello Kitty with our Tiki The Monkey toy. Aloha!

Seeking that new Polysics or Hikaru Utada CD? You’ll find that here too, along with anime collections and full Gothic Lolita outfits (be still my beating heart!) The area is also home to the Japanese-American National Museum, which chronicles the history of Japanese immigration to California and delves into the horrors of WWII-era discrimination.

When hunger strikes, why not head to Oiwake? It’s L.A.’s first, and I believe only, karaoke restaurant. Nine dollars buys you unlimited karaoke and access to an all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet that’s sure to soak up your liquid courage. Other nightlife options include Bar C, where you’ll be served drinks and tapas by super-kawaii Japanese “French Maids”.

4) Every city has at least one “Little Bohemia” — an area which attracts artists, intellectuels, and plain ol’ nutcases. As a child, it was a bit of a tradition for me to drag my mom into these cesspools of human waste. This time, however, it was her who discovered Venice Beach. Those seeking a fun time in this city to the north of Santa Monica won’t have to look too far. In fact, to be entertained, one need only choose a spot and watch as the endless multi-hued sea of humanity shifts, flows and dances about. It’s the classic California beach-scene from so many movies: The tanned muscle-hulks pump it at Muscle Beach as perfect-10 bikini babes frolic by and buskers ply their trades.

Yes, Virginia, Venice Beach actually has sand and water…

Cool Graffiti Art seen on Venice Beach.

Actually, the area’s buskers are, in my opinion, the heart of the beach. Their acts are far more varied and interesting than mch of what I see in other area of the country. In the few hours I spent along Venice Beach Boulevard, I noticed a man on stilts, dancing about in African war paint and leaves, a South American spirit-dancer in full regalia, and a piano virtuoso who managed to play beautiful, complex pieces without the aid of sheet music. Even a few homeless drunks got into the act — one referred to himself as the “World’s Greatest Wino”, and offered to tell jokes for a dollar. Far more entertaining than the old pitiful cardboard sign standby! My advice: if you like a performer’s act, tip them! The buskers of Venice work long hours in difficult conditions, boldly display their talents, and depend upon your tips for sustenance. Donating a few dollars will help to keep your favorite busker in business.

Jonathan, a Vendor’s Child at Venice Beach, poses.

5) The Queen Mary enjoyed multiple incarnations and adventures before assuming its current station in Long Beach. Larger than the Titanic, the ship began life in 1934 as a British luxury liner. It served as a troopship for the Allied Forces during World War II, but returned to its cruise ship capacity between 1946 and 1967. The Queen Mary has since been overhauled, and now serves as a floating museum and four-star hotel in Long Beach. Tours are available daily from 10 AM – 6 PM, but watch out! Rumor has it the ship is haunted by the spirits of WWII sailors who died at sea.

The Queen Mary’s Ballroom

6) Royalty of a different sort beckons from Arcadia, in the San Gabrial Valley — specifically, all the majesty of the plant kingdom. The 167-acre Arboretum houses plants from around the world, including some you may have thought existed solely in nightmares (look out for the Carnivorous Plants Greenhouse). Among the many specialty gardens here are an herb garden, a floating garden, and a tropical forest.

Cactus with Mickey Mouse ears.

Juniper Trees

Life is just peachy!

As if those weren’t enough reasons to visit, the park also houses its own extended family of peacocks. The Arboretum is open daily from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. and, along with the LACMA, is my top recommendation.

Father peacock

Mother peacock and chick at play.

Although I enjoyed my brief stint as a hometown tourist, it wasn’t 100% perfect. There are some tourist attractions that I recognize as overpriced and overrated — Santa Monica Pier and Tours of “stars’ homes” being standout examples.

Santa Monica Pier

I mean, this is L.A. — celebrity sightings for us are as common as butchered versions of our favorite songs at karaoke — which, in the wake of my mom’s departure, I must be off to.

Tiger (cat): REOW!

Rachel: AFTER I feed Tiger!

Tiger: Darn skippy. Feed me and maybe I’ll let you pet me.

::Rachel feeds Tiger::

Tiger (running off): Sucker!!!

Rachel: In conclusion, don’t shy away from “touristy” attractions in your own city, people! You may be denying yourself a fabulous time — and in this city, even being ::melodramatic gesture:: discovered!

~~By Rachel~~REOW!! ~~AND Tiger…~~

Rachel, off to discover more adventures in LA.

Room Candy – always yummy!


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