Sunday, February 16, 2014

'Hoods 17, 18, 19: Maplewood St. Andrews, St. Andrews Square and Western Wiltern

OK, I have to admit I'm not always entirely confident in the map I'm using as a resource for Los Angeles neighborhoods, and this is one of those times.  I found it online, and it identifies 137 'hoods in LA—but sometimes it makes no sense to me, like how a place as gigantic as "Hollywood" is one neighborhood, whereas these three tiny little areas get the same depiction.

Still, the goal behind this quest was to discover more of LA and to better learn my way around—and since there's always been disagreement about exactly what constitutes specific neighborhoods, this map seems as good as any.

Anyway, on the way back from Larchmont Village in Central LA, my friend Jenifer and I took a route that took us through three tiiiiiiiiiiny neighborhoods (like a city block each).  They're located along Wilton Avenue between Melrose and Beverly (Maplewood St. Andrews), Beverly and 3rd (St. Andrews Square) and 3rd and 6th (Western Wiltern).

It's funny how adjacent to the west in Larchmont we passed a house like this:

And in these 'hoods, the houses were more like this:

Although we did hit a couple yard sales, I breezed through these neighborhoods.  Seriously, though, short of knocking on a door and asking if I could use a bathroom, there wasn't much else to do.

BTW, as we made our way home along Wilshire Blvd. and back into the Miracle Mile district (which I've already visited), as a bonus we stopped at Whimsic Alley, a Harry Potter store that I've been meaning to go to for more than a year.  From there, we took a side trip to the backside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see and walk beneath an art piece of a giant 340-ton suspended rock called Levitated Mass.

'Hood #16: Larchmont Village & My Future Home if Anyone Has a Spare $2 Mil

I used to "do lunch" in Larchmont Village back in the '80s — when I worked in West Hollywood and people still said "do lunch."  I remember it being real swank.  Today, my friend Jenifer and I set out  to visit the farmers market there and do a bit of shopping along Larchmont Avenue, which is between Beverly and 3rd streets in Central LA.

I'd toyed with the idea of bailing because I'm fighting a cold—I'm glad for this challenge because it got me up and out when all I would have done otherwise is lie on my couch and watch HGTV.

Jenifer squeezing the produce
The farmers market was small but lovely (and free parking on Sundays at the Rite Aid across the street which is big news in LA!).  I'd just done a veggie run at Trader Joe's so didn't need anything, but it was nice poking around.  My friend spent $5.50 for two asian pears, which I'm not going to lie, I found pretty shocking.

It was put in perspective, however, when we walked two blocks down Larchmont to lookie-loo an open house for a $2,399,000 villa. If I had a spare $2 million, I'd be pretty tempted for the back yard pool area alone (plus I did like the 'hood).

Before leaving, we bypassed the cute cafes (and, btw, Larchmont Ave. wasn't nearly as fancy as I remember it being - not sure if it changed or I did).  Instead, we grabbed a quick fish taco at Pinches Tacos - a divey chain that promised "real Mexican food by real Mexicans" and that thankfully had air conditioning because—while the rest of the country is snowed under—we're sweltering from the heat here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

'Hood #15: Mid-Century Homes in Granada Hills & a Hipster Hangout

While I was already  at the northern tip of Los Angeles, I extended my visit of LA neighborhoods to nearby Granada Hills. I'd read that there was a mini-neighborhood there with about 100 homes built by the iconic Mid-Century Modern developer Joseph Eichler in 1963-1964.  He's famous for developing the style of architecture known as "California Modern" and making it affordable for the masses.  Most of his developments are in northern California and Orange County, and this is the only one in LA.

Since it was a Saturday, I was hoping I might luck out and find an open house where I could do a bit of lookie-looing.

No such luck, but it was fun driving around the area anyway.  I was with my Aunt Marcy, and—upon turning on to Darla Avenue (one of the four streets making up the 'hood)—we both immediately made a joke about the house from the Brady Bunch.  It's clear where Mike Brady got his inspiration.

After seeing the outside of the houses (plus an unusual number of vintage cars parked in the driveways), I realized I reeeeeealy want to see the inside of them—it's my understanding they're built with large windows and an appreciation for bringing the outdoors indoor.  I still have other neighborhoods to visit in the Valley, so I made a mental note to revisit and catch an open house or—even better—some sort of neighborhood architecture tour if I can find one.

While in Granada Hills, Marcy suggested lunch at Freebirds, which she described as "a hipster version of Chipotle." It was a bit tricky to find—and Marcy missed a golden opportunity when she called out to a group of people to ask where it was that she didn't just shout, "Freebird!!" Anyway, we found it, and it was very Chipotle-like in that it's a build-a-burrito-the-size-of-a-schoolbus fast food place... only they also serve pot brownies.

'Hood #14: The Northern Tip of LA—Sylmar—to Hike the Aqueduct

Now over a month into my challenge, I decided to tackle the north-most neighborhood in Los Angeles: Sylmar.  A quick look at my map showed that Sylmar is home to the Cascades of the California Aqueduct, where water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct spills into the San Fernando Valley.  If you've ever traveled the 5 Freeway just north of where it connects with the 405, you may have noticed the aqueduct on the hillside.  I have, and it's just the sort of thing I'm dorky enough to think would be fun to visit.

Unfortunately, my big chance to get an up-close peek was last November, during the 100-year anniversary celebration when the Department of Water & Power hosted a few tours.  Since it's again fenced off as usual, I'd have to settle for a walk in the general area—and, happily, I found a spiffy write-up in the Los Angeles Times for a hike offering views of the aqueduct and reservoir.

On a Saturday morning, it was just a quick half-hour jaunt up the 405 Freeway to the 5 to get to Sylmar.  I met my Aunt Marcy at the intersection of Foothill and Balboa boulevards (fyi, there was a bit of confusion because Balboa loops so the streets intersect in two places).  Once we got our bearings, however, it was an easy walk through partially-paved paths.

It's been so dry in Los Angeles that the hills were looking pretty brown, and we weren't holding out much hope for the aqueduct to actually be cascading. Let's just say, it was no Niagra Falls, but it did have a trickle going.  Near the bottom, it worked up to a good gush—which, for some silly reason, was pretty fun to see.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

'Hood #13: Chinatown for Chinese New Year

I timed my visit to the neighborhood of Chinatown to coincide with the Chinese New Year celebration, this year being the year of the horse.  To get there, my friend Jenifer and I drove to Union station, parked for a bargain $6, and walked the half mile or so to where the parade was scheduled to take place.

As a teenager, my son used to take the train to Chinatown all the time to "just poke around" (read: "stock up on fireworks"), but I think the only time I've gone was when my ex-husband's band used to play in some park there about 13 years ago.

When we first got to Chinatown, we walked around the crowded streets to check out the shops.  I'm not into shopping for cheap tchotchkes, but I did like seeing all the teas and dehydrated foods—fruits, mushrooms, flowers, etc.

I stopped to buy a deep fried banana from a vendor because... DEEP FRIED BANANA!  Later, I also had a sesame seed ball filled with bean paste, which was delicious for about two bites, and then got really odd.

Chinese New Year is marked with a parade, which was awesome mostly in how small town it was.  People meandered across the street between floats, bands stopped mid-march to regroup, and at one point, people just gave up on the parade and started milling around—even though some poor group of cheerleaders was still trying to march through.

I especially enjoyed the marching orchestras (it can't be easy marching with a violin), and, of course, all the dragons. 
However, the highlight for me was the very end of the day— we only luckily stumbled upon it.  It's the part of the Chinese New Year celebration involving fireworks being set off. By what I could see through the crowd, I was expecting confetti to be shot into the sky.  I should have been tipped off the the sheer number of firemen standing by.

What it turned out to be: dragons dancing around, painfully loud fireworks, complete with billowing smoke, and a ton of confetti and debris being shot into the crowd to the point where we had to duck, cover our eyes and our faces.  We were literally being pelted with it.  Spectacular!!!

Anyway, the original plan was to get Chinese food, but the restaurants after the parade were packed, so we opted for a taco off a food truck—which we decided was a nod to Olvera Street nearby.

I have wanted to do this since I moved to Southern California since 1984... took me until I gave myself this challenge.