Los Angeles Essentials

Discover the best places to do whatever it is you want to do in Los Angeles.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to ...

HAVE FUN FOR FREE

Chinatown Art Gallery Openings, 900 block of Chung King Road
The shopping alley known as Chung King Road has been reborn as a hot spot to catch the rising stars of the city’s art scene. Walk under colorful lanterns and neon dragons as you gallery hop and snack your way through multiple art openings held in former souvenir shops.

Stroll along the canals of Venice and Naples
Venice Canals, Northeast of Washington Boulevard and Pacific Avenue
Naples Canals, South of Second Street, Long Beach
There’s no charge to stroll along the canals of Venice and Naples, two beachside neighborhoods, packed with lush gardens, architecturally interesting homes and charming foot bridges. Better yet, all the crowds are at the beach a few blocks away. While you might spot a celebrity strolling along a canal in Venice, head to Naples in December for holiday displays and an annual boat parade.

Palos Verdes Drive & Point Vicente Interpretive Center, 31501 Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes
Palos Verdes Drive loops around the hilly Palos Verdes Peninsula, where towering cliffs loom above rocky coves and fog sweeps across green hillsides dotted with the red-tile roofs of Mediterranean-style homes. Take a break at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center, a mini museum devoted to the peninsula’s natural history. Stop by between December and April, and you may catch sight of a Pacific Gray Whale during their annual migration.

MEET NEW PEOPLE

Los Angeles Conservancy Walking Tours, Downtown Los Angeles
Want to meet like-minded people interested in the arts, architecture and local history? Then take a downtown Los Angeles walking tour offered by the Los Angeles Conservancy, one of the nation’s largest historic preservation groups. End a tour of the Art Deco masterpieces of downtown Los Angeles by inviting your newfound friends for a drink or a meal at one of downtown’s new hot spots.

TAKE A DATE

Old Pasadena
The renovated century-old brick storefronts and warehouses of Old Pasadena, on the western end of town, provide a romantic backdrop for a Saturday afternoon or a weekday evening of shopping and dining. There is no shortage of outdoor cafes and restaurants to take advantage of warm nights. The sidewalks along Colorado Boulevard are usually jammed, particularly on weekend evenings. Best to stay on the side streets, like Green and Union, which are only a block away but much less hectic.

TAKE THE KIDS

Metrolink train ride from Union Station, 800 North Alameda
If your kids love trains, why not take them on the real thing? Metrolink commuter trains run frequently enough on weekends from L.A.’s historic Union Station that you can spend a few hours or an entire day on a round-trip adventure. Take a morning train to San Juan Capistrano, and tour the historic mission and picturesque downtown. Eat lunch and return home in time for a pre-dinner nap.

Aquarium of the Pacific, 100 Aquarium Way, Long Beach
You can’t go wrong with taking the family to see, and even touch, the marine life that inhabits the huge indoor tanks and outdoor pools of the Aquarium of the Pacific. But kids love things that move, so call the aquarium in advance to reserve some seats on a 45-minute boat tour of Long Beach Harbor, one of the nation’s largest and busiest seaports.

PEOPLE WATCH

The Grove, Third and Fairfax Streets
It shouldn't be too surprising that a mall is one of the best places to people watch in Los Angeles. The Grove, which rises beside the food stalls of the beloved Farmers Market, resembles a Disneyland-like Main Street lined with national chain stores and restaurants. It’s contrived but wildly popular, drawing a diverse crowd of shoppers and scenesters. How can you not love a place where the main fountain shoots up jets of water in tune with songs by Donna Summer and Frank Sinatra?

GRAB A BEER

Father’s Office, 1018 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica
It’s tiny. The beers are pricey, and the wait to get in can be long. But this Santa Monica pub boasts a huge selection of micro brews on tap that keeps the crowds coming. You can expect a shorter wait at their new Culver City location.

DANCE

Akbar, 4356 Sunset Blvd.
Skip the velvet ropes and $10 cover charges of Hollywood dance clubs and nightspots. Drive a few miles east to Akbar, located next to a fast-food parking lot and a late-night diner, and dance yourself silly in a mixed crowd of straight and gay dancing machines.

WATCH A MOVIE

ArcLight Hollywood, 6360 W. Sunset Blvd.
A general admission ticket will set you back $14.50 on a weekend night. But you won’t hear many complaints or see many empty seats in this high-tech movie palace featuring the latest in sound and projection systems. Some of the best seats in the house, however, are in the Balcony Bar, which overlooks the long lines and scene in the cavernous lobby. If you don’t have enough time to sip a cocktail by showtime, don’t worry. You can enjoy a drink inside the theaters on weekend and Thursday nights.

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to ...

BUY GROCERIES

Santa Monica Farmers Markets
Arizona Avenue and Second Street, Wednesdays, 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Arizona Avenue and Third Street, Saturdays, 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Droves of farmers and foodies head each week to the Santa Monica Farmers Markets, which are held near the shop-lined Third Street Promenade a block from the bluffs overlooking the Pacific. The Saturday morning market is jammed with residents as well as tourists. The crowds are thinner on Wednesday mornings, which are popular with many of L.A.’s up-and-coming chefs snapping up everything from organic blood oranges and mission figs to pistachios and lavender (yes, for cooking).

Trader Joe’s, numerous locations across Los Angeles County
Angelenos are always amused when visiting friends and family head home with suitcases packed with Trader Joe’s Mt. Baldy trail mix, pineapple salsa and other specialties. TJ’s, as the locals call it, has retained a quirky feel and a lineup of unique staples (Thai shrimp gyozas, anyone?) that appeals to local tastes even as it grows nationwide. Don’t forget to pick up a Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer on the way out for a fun read.

GET FULL WITHOUT SPENDING A LOT

Zankou Chicken, 5065 W. Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood
The grungy parking lot, the fast food-like interior and the often blank stares from employees behind the counter may find many first-time visitors wondering what they are doing in the Zankou Chicken outlet in East Hollywood. But any doubts about this Middle Eastern restaurant evaporate with the first bite of the juicy, rotisserie chicken smeared with pungent garlic paste.

Making the meals even more attractive are the prices. The half-chicken plate, which bulges in its to-go container, can feed two people with a slab of crispy-skinned chicken, a side of tangy hummus, pita bread, magenta-colored pickled turnips and that garlic paste. That will set you back less than $9. Since you already saved money, you might as well throw in some balls of deep-fried falafel and a container of grape leaves.

SAMPLE ETHNIC FARE

La Serenata de Garibaldi, 1842 E. First St., East Los Angeles, 323-265-2887
It's hard to think of Mexican cuisine as ethnic food in Los Angeles since it is so mainstream, featured on menus in nearly every corner of the city, from taco trucks in the San Fernando Valley to expense account-type restaurants in Century City. But much of it is in the predictable forms -- burritos, enchilada plates, fajitas -- found pretty much anywhere in the country. So, the family-owned La Serenata de Garibaldi distinguishes itself with a refined menu featuring seafood and other dishes not found in a typical Mexican restaurant.

La Serenata operates two other outlets, but the mother ship in Boyle Heights still draws foodies from across the city. Here you will find a fish empanada -- a cornmeal turnover oozing with fish, cheese and herbs -- as well as grilled and sautéed fresh fish specials. But it's the sauces that make the meals come to life: bright-green avocado and chile verde sauce, a fiery molcajete sauce and huitlacoche, an earthy-tasting sauce made out of corn fungus. You might never go back to just red and green sauce again.

ENJOY FINE DINING WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK

Lucques, 8474 Melrose Ave., 323-655-6277
Maybe it's the roaring fireplace in the middle of the cozy dining room or the sun-filled back patio, but Lucques feels much more like someone's comfortable home than one of the city's most well-regarded restaurants. This Westside restaurant is at once sleek and sophisticated but also casual and welcoming, with a menu featuring Mediterranean dishes tailored for California tastes. The restaurant's first-rate ingredients and unexpected combinations -- such as pomegranate salsa and green harissa -- don't come cheap, however.

So, that's why Lucques’ Sunday Supper menu is a popular and relatively inexpensive alternative (for this type of cuisine). The three-course Sunday Supper, about $45, features a changing seasonal menu that could start with a salad of roasted root vegetables, followed by a main course of rosemary-grilled pork tenderloin and end with a dessert of freshly made beignets and banana ice cream. Too bad Sunday night comes only once a week.

GRAB A LATE-NIGHT BITE

Pacific Dining Car, 1310 West Sixth Street
A thick, juicy steak, the specialty of the house, might sound too heavy when you get the midnight munchies. But this legendary L.A. steakhouse, open 24 hours, will gladly serve you smaller, but equally tasty, lighter dishes along with a classic cocktail. Already hungry for breakfast? No problem. The kitchen can cook up the perfect eggs benedict, with buttery hollandaise sauce running over perfectly formed poached eggs, thick ham slices and a crispy muffin.

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