Picks and Pans – In and Around L.A.

Thanksgiving weekend with friends

I never really thought that L.A. would be one of the spots on the trip that would feel like a temporary home, but thanks to our friends Norbert, Yolanda, Xavier, Michael, Judith, Teddy, Charlene and Aaron, we had a Thanksgiving weekend surrounded by loving, generous, intelligent friends that made us feel like we’d come home for the holidays.

Griffith Observatory

Standing on the bright white art deco observation decks looking at L.A.’s lights come sparkling to life as evening fell, I felt the allure of old Hollywood. I suppose it was nostalgia springing from the national collective memory of a world created on the studio lots of Burbank. Ah, the magic of movies. The observatory itself is also pretty amazing, with two giant telescopes, excellent exhibits on the solar system and the history of astronomy. My favorite were the images of solar flares and the surface of Mars.

Jennifer’s Coffee Connection in Studio City

Comfy neighborhood coffee shop with a dedicated group of customers. We spent three mornings there and, in that short time, recognized several regulars. Pretty reliable wi-fi and decent coffee too.

L.A. Metro

Given L.A.’s reputation for being the hub of car culture, I was surprised to find that their metro system was at least as extensive as the BART in San Francisco. Unfortunately, L.A. is also more spread out than San Fran, so the percentage of the city that can be reached on the train is still pretty low. But if you want to get to any of the major attractions in downtown, it’s a great way to get around. Plus, if you show a Metro ticket at either branches of MOCA, you get 2-for-1 pricing on regular admission.

MOCA Grand Avenue

Los Angeles was the first city on our trip where we found any art museums that could even come close to rivaling our old favorites in NYC. The Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand is the branch of MOCA that exhibits art from 1940-1980 and, during our visit. there was a retrospective from their permanent collection covering those four decades. It was great fun to see a lot of familiar artists and discover a few new ones.

Tarantino’s in Pasadena

A big Italian dinner at Tarantino’s has been a Hill family tradition for many years and, since they pretty much made us honorary Hills for the weekend, we joined in the feast. On an unassuming side street in downtown Pasadena, Tarantino’s is a tiny local Italian restaurant where it would take some effort to pick a less than great meal. Everything we ate, from the garlic knots and antipasti to the spinach and sausage pizza, were delectable.

Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City

All we knew of the Museum of Jurassic Technology was that our friend Aaron, a Los Angeleno of over a decade, suggested and then insisted that we go. In retrospect, I think it best to visit the museum with no expectations, so I will only say that it is an endearingly absurd combination of an intricately executed art piece, a Victorian style cabinet of curiosity and a Wes Anderson film set. And at the end of it all there is complementary Russian tea from a samovar and a plate of cookies.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach stands as a monument to all that is so wonderfully strange about L.A. It is concentrated mayhem of the California kind. And it is spectacular.

Dreamworks Campus in Glendale

Our friend Aaron works on the animation team at Dreamworks and was gracious enough to take some time out of his busy schedule working on Shrek 4 to give us a tour around the Dreamworks campus. The entire place is not-so-vaguely reminiscent of a movie set with the addition of lots of free food, a gaming room complete with pool and foos ball tables and multiple gaming systems, an on site yoga instructor and a stream with its own family of ducks. Oh, and I can’t say too much about it, but the preview we got of Shrek 4 looked pretty darn good.

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA

After seeing one half of the MOCA 1940-1980 retrospective at Grand Street, we had to check out the 1980-present portion exhibited at the Geffen Contemporary. The exhibit, which contained a large number of unfamiliar California artists, was interesting, but a reminder that contemporary art is mostly concept based which often means that the ideas are compelling, but the visual components of the pieces are unappealing to the point of being repellent.

Black Dog Coffee

Reminiscent of a Manhattan deli, complete with small tables, metal chairs and a case full of sundry pre-made sandwiches, Black Dog Coffee has a gregariously friendly owner, fast wi-fi and a stay as long as you like policy (although I imagine around lunch time the crowds may push you out the door before you’re ready).

La Brea Tar Pits

If it weren’t for the huge cement wooly mammoths surrounding it, you might think the La Brea Tar Pits were just a fenced off Superfund site. The fact that they’re smack dab in the middle of downtown just adds to their strangeness. Just when I thought I might have become acclimated to the ubiquitous eccentricity of the place, L.A. threw me another curveball in the form of bubbling ancient tar.

Getty Center

Perched up in the hills high above L.A., the Getty Center’s Italian limestone buildings, perfectly manicured gardens and flowing fountains give the feeling of standing at the cultural center of a golden empire. It’s certainly fun to be a member of the leisure class for an afternoon and the Getty collection is extensive, but it took some effort to fight off the sense that I was standing on the precipice of great collapse.

El Carmen Taqueria

The walls at El Carmen are lined with luchador masks and old Mexican newspaper ads, but don’t let the kitsch fool you, their tequila selection is top notch. We had a great night sipping tequila and Tecate and downing tacos.

2 comments to Picks and Pans – In and Around L.A.

  • Abigail St. Lawrence

    I can’t tell if you liked the Getty Center or not. Although I am not personally a huge LA fan, I did love the gardens at the Getty Center when I was there years ago. In fact, I think it was my favorite part of LA. Oh, and is Dreamworks looking for a water rights attorney? I want to work there!!

    • Well, they do have an extensive recirculating stream system with a family of ducks that returns every year to give birth to the next generation of ducklings….so, yeah, maybe Dreamworks does need a water rights attorney.

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