Greater Los Angeles is known for its urban sprawl—it’s hard to avoid when a place is home to nearly 20 million residents. But within that vast expanse that reaches from breezy sea to sweltering inland valley are some of the state’s most fascinating stops, including museums that can leave your head spinning, warehouses that keep the city’s forgotten histories alive, and communities partially washed into the ocean.
The city is thick with hiking trails, some (like Runyon Canyon) more famous than others. Of the many walking paths that cut through Griffith Park—one of America’s largest urban parks and nearly five times larger than New York’s Central Park—only a handful offer the sight lines found at Vista Viewpoint, the reward for a two-and-a-half-mile hike along the Riverside Trail. On clear days, trekkers can see from the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. to the minuscule (from here) cranes at work at the ports near Long Beach.
The neon-fueled warehouse hides some of Los Angeles’s best bits of ephemera, from defunct restaurant booths and paper menus to light-up signboards and show cars. The focus is on the more suburban San Fernando Valley, but no matter where you’re from, you’ll find something to fall in love with here.
Is this museum even real? The Culver City multistory building certainly is, but after stepping inside, it’s best to take everything else with a heavy dose of humor and skepticism. The museum is part art project and part gonzo preservationism, a home to aging relics packed together in a cluster of tiny rooms and curated as small, wacky exhibits. Once the walk-through is complete, an aviary and complimentary tea await on the rooftop.
Suffice it to say, L.A. has changed a lot since a landslide nearly 100 years ago dropped this San Pedro community into the sea. The concrete remains of what didn’t wash away have been renamed Sunken City, and they have evolved into a monument to enduring urban decay: footpaths, crumbling architecture, and graffiti at the edge of the earth.
Owner John Nese has turned his family’s multigenerational grocery store in Highland Park into one of the West’s foremost purveyors of soda, from the straightforward to the esoteric. Shelves are packed with birch beers, sarsaparillas, butterscotch cream sodas, and all manner of berry drinks. And what about all the retro candy bars and gums? It’s a childhood dream come to life.
East of Los Angeles in neighboring San Bernardino County sits the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a stunning Hindu temple filled with hand-carved walls that showcase religious stories and idols. The house of worship hums year-round with visitors who take in the grandeur of the surrounding gardens on sunny strolls.
In Orange County’s tony Laguna Beach, it’s possible for surfers and rock hoppers to stumble on a stand-alone 60-foot tower built to resemble a fairy-tale spire, right in the salty froth. The appropriately named Pirate Tower is a nearly 100-year-old seaside oddity on Victoria Beach that rises from the surf to the delight of anyone who spots it. The real reason for the tower is innocuous—it was a private staircase for a wealthy homeowner on the cliffs above. But there’s no denying the site feels magical at sundown.•