Posts Tagged ‘los angeles’

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class="post-8753 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-food tag-los-angeles tag-photos tag-travel">

Grand Central Market

October 26th, 2019

On my last visit to LA I kept kicking myself for not taking any photos of Grand Central Market, the big local food hall downtown. It’s also one of the best food halls I’ve ever been to and I have some recommendations. So here we go.

 

Grand Central Market Grand Central Market Grand Central Market

 

Opening at 8 AM, a handful of vendors serve coffee and breakfast. Although I’m not much of a morning person myself the weirdly named Eggslut chain has a popular outpost here with their various egg-based sandwiches, and long lines to show for it.

Lunch is the main attraction at Grand Central Market when everything is open. Aside from made to order lunches from pasta to tacos to salads, you can also buy ingredients from tiny grocery stores to cook your own food.

Snack foods and beverages are also available. I’d recommend trying La Fruteria, a Mexican street food joint with spiced fruit cups and aguas frescas.

 

Grand Central Market Grand Central Market Grand Central Market

 

Grand Central Market closes around 10 PM, but many of the vendor stalls close after the lunch rush and the crowds thin out.

One solid place for dinner — also open for lunch, but is usually slammed — is Olio, an Italian place. Though they offer salads as well, the real focus is on small thin crust pizza. It’s a better bet for dinner just because there will be open seats and you won’t have to wait as long, though if you’re willing to take it to go lunch works too. The dough is a little chewy for my taste, but the perfect tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings more than make up for it.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a “foodie” Grand Central Market is located between two Los Angeles landmarks: Angel’s Flight and the Bradbury Building.

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class="post-8747 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-los-angeles tag-pershing-square tag-photos tag-travel">

Pershing Square

October 26th, 2019
Pershing Square Pershing Square Pershing Square

 

Just like my last visit to Los Angeles I’m staying near Pershing Square, a public plaza spanning an entire city block. I’ve also found it’s a convenient orientation point when I’m not quite sure where something is located in downtown LA.

The square is named after American WWI general John J. Pershing. Though he was a famous general in his day, as far as I can tell he has no direct connection to Los Angeles.

In its current incarnation the square features a mix of boxy and curvy concrete structures, mostly painted in pastel purple and orange. It should come as no surprise this design is the work of the late Ricardo Legorreta, whose designs are notorious for this style and color scheme.

But what surprises me most about Pershing Square is just how similar it is to Union Square back home in San Francisco. Aside from being public squares in California, consider these similarities:

  • Both are named to honor wars that have very little to do with their respective locations, let alone the west coast.
  • Both are in historic neighborhoods, surrounded by hotels, shops, and restaurants.
  • Both were rebuilt on top of underground parking garages in the mid 20th century.
  • Both are located downtown on one city block and are about the same size.
  • Both have a subway station located located nearby.

Obviously there are many, many differences between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but I think anyone who spends time in both California cities would be surprised by the similarities in their respective downtown squares.

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class="post-8740 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-los-angeles tag-photos tag-the-last-bookstore tag-travel tag-videos">

The Last Bookstore’s upstairs labyrinth

October 25th, 2019

The Last Bookstore: Upstairs

 

On my last trip to LA I just sort of stumbled across The Last Bookstore, a large bookstore selling new, used, antique, and rare books and comic books as well as vinyl records.

Both times I wandered in I was a little distracted by well-attended events they were holding in the store with authors and poets. Not a bad problem to have for The Last Bookstore by any means, but it meant I couldn’t explore the space as freely as I would have liked.

As it turns out I’d missed two key aspects to the store. One I knew about: the upstairs. The other took me by surprise: the bank vaults. Yes, the building was once a bank, and the open bank vault doors now reveal small rooms lined with books.

So what’s upstairs? Balconies on each of the four sides of the building are roughly half devoted to art gallery spaces, and half to a quirky “labyrinth” of oddball book decor and oddly arranged shelving.

On those shelves you’ll find a strange blend of genres from science fiction to identity politics. A few bookshelves are devoted to single topics — Sherlock Holmes, for example.

Here’s a short video I put together of the crazy upstairs labyrinth at The Last Bookstore. I had to remove the ambient audio due to copyrights.

 

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class="post-8732 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-history tag-los-angeles tag-photos tag-trains tag-travel">

LA’s Union Station

October 25th, 2019
LA Union Station

 

It’s been almost two years since my last visit to Los Angeles, a trip I accidentally over-planned to the point where I had three times as much stuff to do as I did time to do it. So today I’ve returned for a few nights in an attempt to cross a few more of those items off the list.

But my first stop was actually a new item for me: Union Station. I’d become interested in the grand train stations of yesteryear during my Ameritrip2019 excursion on Amtrak. Many of these classic stations are named “Union Station” since they served a group — or union — of different passenger train services, like the one in LA still does today.

As it happens Union Station was the closest stop to my Airbnb on the LAX Flyaway “express” bus — which in reality has to share the same clogged freeways with everyone else.

The bus stops at a bus area behind the station. A short walk down a ramp leads into the newer half of the station, with the LA Metro’s subway downstairs, and both the regional Metrolink as well as Amtrak and Amtrak California on the outdoor upstairs level.

 

LA Union Station LA Union Station LA Union Station

 

The main passageway continues straight into the old part of Union Station. Unsurprisingly it’s the most interesting part of the complex, the uniquely beautiful interior in particular.

The building was completed in 1939, combining the Mission Revival style with Art Deco — a combination that sounds objectively terrible on paper, but the designers somehow fit it together perfectly. It’s worth noting the LA City Hall was designed by the same team.

Today the old half of the station is mostly waiting areas with shops, cafes, and a pair of outdoor courtyards. Still, my favorite feature in today’s 98F weather was a little more modern — the air conditioning.

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class="post-5714 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-griffith-observatory tag-los-angeles tag-travel tag-views">

View from Griffith Observatory

February 21st, 2018

Griffith Observatory
 

Before leaving Los Angeles last night I figured I had to take one last look at the city. Although Griffith Observatory was technically closed, the area around it was as open as ever.

According to everyone I spoke with the main attraction is not the observatory itself, but rather the view from the area on the hill around it. So it didn’t bother me that the observatory was closed, but the DASH bus service up to it was concerning. Not only did it run infrequently but I’d barely heard of DASH before. As it turns out my concerns were unwarranted — DASH service runs in weird spots, costs very little, and they accept LA Metro’s TAP card as payment. Not knowing this I paid far more for a Lyft ride up to the top of the hill.

Griffith Observatory
 

From the hill on Griffith Observatory one can easily spot many landmarks. The Hollywood sign is in the distance, as is downtown Los Angeles. On the way up the hill I began to worry about the views — the city had become engulfed in clouds. Yet from such a high vantage point, those clouds only served to frame the city down below as an contrast to the weather patterns above.

As a T-Mobile subscriber I’m used to the occasional odd spot where there’s no coverage. Griffith Observatory proved to be one of such spots; at first I wondered if it would be best to wait for the DASH bus down the hill, but eventually I discovered that even while closed, Griffith Observatory provides a free wifi hotspot. Using this I requested a Lyft from there to LAX. It’s a long ride but my driver was cool about it. Better for him than those short, cheap rides anyway.

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class="post-5690 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-bruce-lee tag-chinatown tag-koreatown tag-little-tokyo tag-los-angeles tag-travel">

LA’s Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Koreatown

February 21st, 2018

Los Angeles has three Asian neighborhoods you’ll find on the map, and I decided to give them all a visit. For starters I booked a tour of Chinatown and Little Tokyo from Downtown LA Walking Tours (same company that runs the Haunted Tales tour.)

New Chinatown, LA
New Chinatown, LA New Chinatown, LA
 

The tour started in Chinatown, where the central plaza was covered in confetti from the previous night’s celebration of Chinese New Year. A group of janitors were out trying to clean it up and fish it out of the fountains, but the wind wasn’t being terribly cooperative. It was pretty dead in the area as it was not only Monday morning but also President’s Day.

This is technically New Chinatown, as the original Chinatown was located where Union Station is today. For a variety of reasons it had fallen into decline, and was moved to the previous site of Little Italy after most of the Italian community had migrated away to the suburbs. To say ethnic minorities weren’t treated well in America back in the day would be a huge understatement. Although significantly smaller than San Francisco’s Chinatown, both were given a stereotypical Chinese-ish theme that looks like something you’d find at Epcot in Disney World.

Various movies have been filmed there including Chinatown (well, duh) and more recently Rush Hour.

Going back to the theme, a new modern looking housing development nearby had some elements of theming including hanging lanterns and a color scheme dominated by the color red. Sure it’s whimsical but it felt like a tasteful departure from the older parts of Chinatown.

New Chinatown, LA
 

One last thing before moving on — Bruce Lee fans will appreciate the statue in his honor located in Chinatown.

The tour then boarded a Gold Line train on LA’s Metro. We only went two stops so you could probably do this on foot without much trouble. Then again, Metro tickets are relatively cheap.

Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo Little Tokyo
 

Little Tokyo seemed more varied than Chinatown, with a museum, a Buddhist temple, a couple of shopping centers, and various public art including the “Friendship Knot” of two metal poles tied together. That said my tour guide’s wife was Japanese and he clearly knew more about Japan’s culture as a result — perhaps we skipped some obscure but interesting parts of Chinatown.

One interesting takeaway from the tour is Los Angeles is the birthplace of mochi ice cream. These balls of ice cream wrapped in a rice-based dough are now sold in grocery stores across the country, but were once an unusual fusion cuisine you’d only find in LA.

Little Tokyo
 

A model of a Space Shuttle isn’t something I would have expected to see in Little Tokyo, but it’s not just any Space Shuttle — it’s the Challenger, which exploded seconds after launching, killing everyone on board. Among the seven dead was Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force test pilot who became the very first Japanese-American astronaut.

I realize that’s a depressing note to end the tour on, but I can’t go into detail on the final stop because it’s a secret location. Sorry about that — you’ll have to go on the tour yourself to find out, but trust me it’s a tranquil and unexpected place you’re extraordinarily unlikely to find on your own.

Koreatown
Koreatown Koreatown
 

I asked the tour guide about Koreatown. He suggested taking a bus or car ride as it’s pretty far from Little Tokyo. His advice was completely on the mark; I took the Metro’s Red Line subway and it still involved a fair amount of walking to get to the heart of Koreatown.

Unlike Chinatown and Little Tokyo there’s virtual no theming to Koreatown. It’s a typical LA neighborhood near downtown with a weird mix of large and small buildings. You know you’re in the right place when you find people speaking Korean, see Korean writing on various buildings, the occasional Korean flag, and of course many Korean restaurants. Unfortunately being a holiday and a Monday not much of this was open.

Koreatown’s architectural styles vary wildly and large churches/temples fill the area more than anywhere else I found in Los Angeles. It was early in the afternoon by this point and I needed a coffee — which wasn’t hard to come by at all. There was also a lot of construction going on.

As I wandered eastward out of Koreatown I wound up in MacArthur Park. The west half of the park seemed fine with kids playing soccer and such. But heading to the east side there were some sketchy dealings going down. I requested a Lyft out of there and it couldn’t have come soon enough.

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class="post-5655 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-dianetics tag-frank-lloyd-wright tag-hollywood tag-l-ron-hubbard tag-los-angeles tag-scientology tag-travel">

Barnsdall Art Park and a curious encounter with the legacy of L. Ron Hubbard

February 19th, 2018

View from Barnsdall Art Park
 

Once I’d finished sipping my little cup of espresso at Blue Bottle, I hopped on another bus; this time to Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood. It’s a unusual park on the top of a hill, featuring a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

There’s a not particularly large patch of lawn outside the fence around the house though it seems to be a hot spot for young couples to sunbathe and picnic. The best feature of the park is the view. On one side you can see Griffith Observatory and the iconic Hollywood sign in the distance.

On the other side of the park you can make out the top of the big blue Scientology building with the gold cross thing on the top. It’s a little hard to see as there are a few trees in the way, but it’s unmistakably the back of their Fountain Avenue building.

After leaving Barnsdall Art Park I had to make a choice — soldier on to Griffith Park, or head back downtown. Ultimately my legs were getting tired so I went with the latter and headed to the Metro’s nearby Red Line station. As I took the second escalator I noticed something out of the corner of my eye — a small book or pamphlet with an oddly cult-like design on the front. Thinking quickly as the escalator descended downward I reached back and grabbed it.

The little book turned out to be The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living by (who else?) L. Ron Hubbard. In that spontaneous moment I felt the universe winking at me, as though someone had left this artifact for me and me alone to discover.

"The Way to Happiness: A Common Sense Guide to Better Living" by L. Ron Hubbard
 

The cover features what appears to be an oil painting of a path through greenery leading to a sunrise in a relatively clear sky, with the ridiculous long title floating among the clouds. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares for any competent graphic designer.

On the back cover is a sort of reverse warning, a claim that the book presents a completely secular moral code, presumably there to disavow any connection with Scientology, and claims to be “based wholly on common sense.” Do people need common sense explained to them? Apparently L. Ron Hubbard thought so.

Whereas the Ten Commandments managed to sum up a moral code with only ten bullet points (well, sort of) Hubbard needed twenty one items in his list with detailed short essays for each and often multiple subheadings. Say what you will about the man, brevity wasn’t his strong suit.

Hubbard goes so far as to provide definitions of many words he uses in footnotes, even rather simple words such as “example” and “practice” where it’s unclear how someone would be able to understand the definitions but not the words themselves. This concept comes directly from Scientology’s Study Tech which places an emphasis on readers understanding words correctly. While building your vocabulary is a pursuit most of us agree upon, Hubbard’s insistence that it’s always the reader’s fault for not understanding written text is awfully convenient for authors such as himself; it provides a form of inerrancy where authors cannot be wrong, only readers for misunderstanding written text.

As for the advice in the book, most of it seems pretty reasonable. Don’t harm others, brush your teeth, follow the golden rule, set a good example for others, etc. That said much of the advice is weirdly specific and seems purely reactionary to events Hubbard himself despised such as the rise of Communism and the American hippie counterculture movement.

For a book about common sense it contains two sections that are absolutely shocking. First, in section eighteen titled “Respect the religious beliefs of others” it starts out preaching tolerance, but by the end swings in the opposite direction instructing readers not to respect atheists and agnostics. To call this section self-serving for a man who started his own cult (with the express purpose of profiteering) self-serving would be a massive understatement.

Second, the book’s first full page titled “How to use this book” instructs the reader not only to give the book to a friend who needs the advice, but to order additional copies and give them to that friend so they can distribute them to others. This is a classic pyramid scheme.

But in the end, you know what the best part is? Scientology’s lawyers cannot threaten to sue me for any of these criticisms. After all, this book is completely secular and therefore unrelated to Scientology in any way.

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class="post-5641 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-1262 tag-los-angeles tag-robots tag-time-travel tag-travel">

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart

February 19th, 2018

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart
The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart The Echo Park Time Travel Mart
 

After spending the morning gorging myself on a food tour, I plopped my bloated ass down on a bus seat for a ride to the Echo Park neighborhood so I could visit a store aimed at time travelers.

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart sells items for a variety of time traveling use cases, such as a Viking odorant (the opposite of deodorant), a device for disabling evil robots (a magnet), soap from the Soviet Union, a gel that prevents cloning (the shopkeeper explained it must work because he uses it and there’s only one of him), as well as robot milk which is inexplicably some type of powder.

Now, obviously there’s an ulterior motive at work here. The store is a front for a local branch of children’s writing workshop 826, also known as the people who run the pirate store in San Francisco at 826 Valencia Street.

In exchange for a purchase and small donation, I was allowed to spin The Wheel of Fortunes. Apparently a lot of candy will be coming my way tomorrow!

Before leaving for the Blue Bottle next door, I was encouraged to step into the garden in the storefront, which was built for its photogenic properties.

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class="post-5632 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-bookstores tag-los-angeles tag-max-headroom tag-nba tag-the-last-bookstore tag-travel">

The Last Bookstore

February 18th, 2018

The Last Bookstore
 

Late this evening I stumbled into The Last Bookstore, a large downtown LA store selling books as well as music, DVDs, and various other items. Much of the store was somewhat inaccessible due to author Rowan Blanchard speaking about her new book. This took up most of the main floor thanks to a sizable audience — a good thing for the store but it also meant I couldn’t explore all the shelves.

Their selection goes all over the map; including classics, books on LA and California (several books on Oakland caught my eye) and even photography coffee table books which had their own separate room.

The place is immaculate and mostly well organized, though some mischievous acts led me to discover unexpected books. For example on a shelf of new books about entertainment I found a used copy of Max Headroom’s Guide to Life from 1986. It’s a silly book and doesn’t attempt to reproduce Max’s digital stutter (how could you in book form, really?) but does a decent job of replicating his arrogant ignorance.

Mostly I was glad to find a late night reprieve of the insanity on the streets from the NBA All Stars game. What kind of bookstore is open late? The Last Bookstore is your answer. I was glad to stumble in and find this quirky LA landmark. It served as a welcome reprieve from the chaos on the streets outside.

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class="post-5626 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-ghost-tour tag-haunted-house tag-horror tag-los-angeles tag-serial-killers tag-travel tag-true-crime">

Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours

February 18th, 2018

Pico House, Los Angeles
 

This evening I took the Haunted Tales tour from Downtown LA Walking Tours. Their website kind of spoils many of the locations — but it also undersells the tour.

First problem: all the photos of buildings and locations were taking during the day, yet this is a night tour. Everything looks creepier at night so why show the daylight photos? Second, while it mentions “parental guidance” regarding “graphics…” that’s not exactly accurate. Let’s just say this tour probably shouldn’t be offered for kids.

Of all the haunted tours I’ve been on this one really kicks things up a notch and there’s a pretty simple reason for that; California has had some horrific acts over the past 50 years or so and downtown LA was ground zero for many of them. Unlike events from way back when, modern forensics leaves much less room for doubt even when someone isn’t found guilty (spoiler alert: OJ Simpson is mentioned a few times.)

I don’t want to spoil this last bit because the tour’s website doesn’t mention it, and I don’t mean to make light of sad and tragic events, but a certain hotel on the tour was the base of operations for two serial killers and also a relatively recent case where a woman disappeared only to be found dead in the hotel under mysterious circumstances. You’ve probably heard of these cases but had no idea they occurred in the same building — which by the way is currently closed. Turns out that sometimes bad publicity is still bad publicity.
 

My recommendation: This tour ratchets up the concept of a haunted tour by including terrifying events in recent history as well as in the past. I found it fascinating but would not recommend bringing young children as newspaper photos of dismembered bodies and faces are shown.