Quentin here. I live on the border between Silver Lake and Echo Park, right by what used to be the famous Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign. Echo Park happens to be one of the areas in Los Angeles that has changed the most recently. In an Uber, I was talking with the driver, a young guy about my age who had grown up around there.
“When I was growing up, you did not go to Echo Park,” he said. “It was dangerous.”
Also, I overheard someone at the gym near me say: “My family, we’re into MMA because growing up around here, you had to be able to fight, so that’s just part of it for us.”
Now it’s all hipsters. Which is its own problem. The area has become a natural wine bar mecca. The sort of place overrun with cocktail bars that have outposts at the VIP areas of Coachella. Which is where I ran into… oh never mind. Here’s some fun stuff to do this weekend.
Where to Explore
Los Angeles is home to six officially named ethnic Asian enclaves: Little Tokyo and Chinatown downtown, Historic Filipinotown by Echo Park, Koreatown along Wilshire, and Thai Town and Little Bangladesh just east of Hollywood. The city of course boasts ethnic and cultural diversity beyond these neighborhoods, and one such, unofficial, neighborhood is Sawtelle Japantown.
Dispersed over the street hugging the 405 for about a mile from Santa Monica Blvd to the north and Olympic Blvd to the south, the strip contains a broad array of exciting restaurants and stops of Japanese origin and beyond. Highlights include Tsujita Ramen, which is so popular it also has an annex on the street, Spoon and Pork for Filipino fare, and Hermanito for Japanese-Mexican fusion, the sort of blend only possible in this city.
With many other options, including for sweets, coffee, and shopping, Sawtelle Japantown is a fantastic neighborhood for weekend exploration.
Where: Sawtelle Boulevard, between Santa Monica and Olympic
Parking: Street parking available
During this time of Hollywood labor strife, there may be no better way to support actors than by taking in a show at the one of a kind Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. Not only is it a picturesque amphitheater (and garden!) tucked into a canyon hillside up in Topanga, but it also has a legendary Hollywood history behind it.
The theater was founded in the 1950s by actor and botanist Will Geer, who had to sell his home in Santa Monica when his life fell apart after he refused to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. He then began selling produce to support his family, and also turned the property, along with friend Woody Guthrie, into a sort of artists’ colony. In 1978, following Geer’s death, his friends and family worked tirelessly to turn the property into a proper repertory theater, which it is today.
The theater hosts a variety of programming, including Shakespeare, folk and classical musical, a harvest festival, and more. And with a stunning garden as well, with every plant named in a Shakespeare play, the site is a must visit in summer. Visitors can either bring food to enjoy in the garden before the show, or grab a bite on site from The Elephant.
Where: 1419 N Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga, CA 90290
Parking: Parking is available for free along Topanga Cyn Blvd or in the Theatricum lot for $10 per car. This fee is waived for guests with handicap placards.
What to See
Named for a flower once popular in the region, the former rail depot in Santa Monica has, since 1994, become the largest art gallery and cultural complex on the west coast. The center, then, is Los Angeles’ offering in the ongoing trend of turning former industrial spaces into arts hubs, such as Dia Beacon in New York (formerly headed by Michael Govan, now director of LACMA) and Mass MOCA in Massachusetts.
The campus offers a “series of unique arts environments including fine art galleries, monumental scale installations, live performances, video art, music, educational programs, poetry, comedy, theater performances.” The main draw is the nearly two dozen art galleries, but after a day of gallery hopping, stopping for a bite at either Birdie G’s or Le Great Outdoors will satisfy any culture-loving Angeleno. This is a great (free!) way to remind yourself that this wild metropolis and home to the film industry has more art than just the museums downtown or along the Miracle Mile.
Where: 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica, California 90404
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-5pm, but hours vary with each gallery.
Parking: Available on site. The complex is also adjacent to the Metro Exposition Line Bergamot stop.
Where to Visit
It’s pretty much impossible to explain what this place actually is, which is probably for the best, because the less you know going in, the better. Founded in 1988 by artist David Hildebrand Wilson and his wife Diana Drake Wilson, the institution bills itself as “an educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.”
What “Lower Jurassic” means, I have no idea. But the museum has nothing to do with Steven Spielberg, dinosaurs or ancient history. Instead, it’s more akin to a “cabinet of curiosities,” the early-Modern European proto-museums.
So what do they have at this place, exactly? Well, that includes anything from sculptures made from butterfly wings, to collected artifacts from the magician Ricky Jay, to portraits of Soviet space dogs. Just prepare for it to be unlike any museum you’ve ever been to (not least because it’s basically a house in Palms).
Where: 9341 Venice Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
When: Thursday-Sunday, requires timed, reserved tickets, which cost $12 for adults, $10 for children 13-21, kids 12 and under free.
Parking: Street parking as available