Baldwin Hills Overlook – Homesplorin’ Edition 5

It goes without saying that people in LA love hiking up the various hills surrounding the city. Of course, there are many famous spots in Griffith Park and Hollywood Hills for that Insta-worthy photo overlooking the distant downtown skyline and palm-tree lined streets. One such viewpoint is from the peak of Runyon Canyon, which is undeniably gorgeous especially on a clear day. However, this post is not about Runyon Canyon; it is about Baldwin Hills, which I believe gives any viewpoint hike in LA a run for its money.

Where is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook? Well, this gem is located on the westside, technically in Culver City. The surrounding neighborhood of Blair Hills is pretty nice, though the Baldwin Hills area itself does not have the best reputation. This, however, does not detract from the experience whatsoever, as the park felt secure and was very family-oriented.

There are a couple of ways to make it up to the viewpoint – you can start at the Culver City Stairs and step your way up the hill (while getting some great exercise!), or there is parking available near the top where the photo op is a only a short walk away. We parked in the residential area of Blair Hills on Wrightcrest Drive; if you do this be sure to abide by posted signs and be considerate of the neighborhood. There is also a lot near the Community Center on Hetzler Road, which costs a few dollars to park in. 

Here are the highlights:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • Want to experience a cool LA spot for absolutely free? Well, this is the place! I hosted a couple of friends during their stay in LA, and this activity was definitely a winner.
  •  As I’ve mentioned before, the view is breathtaking. Really, I might have to say it a few more times so that the point is really driven home. 
  •  Many active LA locals come here to exercise – most people are dressed in athletic attire and it isn’t uncommon to see dudes and gals doing sit-ups or push-ups at the top of the hill. 
  • Of course, if instead you’re looking for a place to capture some headshots or modeling portfolio pics, you’ll fit right in.
  • The Baldwin Hills Overlook is pretty easy to get to from the Westside, Hollywood, or Downtown (if you have a car).
  • Visiting this spot is definitely not an all-day affair – you can see most, if not all of the park/hill in an hour or less!
  • It’s undeniably beautiful. 

Cons:

  • There aren’t many cons, but if crowds aren’t your thing I would avoid coming here during peak times. Late mornings on weekends are quite popular, as are late afternoon hours as dusk approaches. Probably your best bet would be to go in the early morning to avoid the people, and the heat. 

Price: As mentioned, entry into the hill and viewpoint are free. If you plan to park in the lot, bring a few dollars for every hour you plan on wandering around. 

Is it worth it? Yes, yes, and a third yes! For a free activity with gorgeous views of LA, you really can’t go wrong. This is definitely more of a locals spot, but tourists can enjoy it just the same (I’ll probably face some heat for saying that). Do yourself a favor and go check it out!

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The Original LA Farmer’s Market – Homesplorin’ Edition 4

Any place featuring the word “Original” in its title is worth checking out. Although this wording may inadvertently lead you to a tourist trap, it doesn’t diminish the fact that these places are usually a historical treasure.

I decided to visit Los Angeles’ Original Farmer’s Market one Friday afternoon during my commute home from work. It was quite the spontaneous decision actually – I was working offsite most of that week and drove past it on the new route I was taking. At the end of that week I decided to pull over and walk around; what I saw there was nothing short of magical.

The Farmer’s Market, located in the LA’s Fairfax district right next to the CBS Television studio lot, first opened in July of 1934. Unlike other farmer’s markets, it is a permanent installation open every day of the week. Unbeknownst to myself, it is connected to the Grove outdoor shopping mall by an electric streetcar. I’ve been to the Grove countless times, but never ventured far enough down the mall to see the Farmer’s Market.

Here are the highlights:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • It is a beautiful space hidden away in a type of alleyway courtyard. It may be difficult to find it you aren’t paying attention, but the Market’s isolation within a pretty poppin’ area of LA adds to its allure.
  • The décor and layout gives off an antique vibe, though nothing looks old, run-down, or dirty.
  • There are tons of stands with ethnic cuisines, including a couple of Brazilian BBQ joints. Some stalls also offer fresh produce and seafood; others sell specialty goods and treats.
  • Visiting the Farmer’s Market can be a quick, limited engagement, or an extended event for socializing with friends. I went there to walk around, but there were a lot of friends and families gathered for a Friday evening meal.
  • Parking is free for 90 minutes with validation from virtually every stand in the Market. I bought a baguette from one of the French bakeries and had my validation covered, all for about $3.

Cons:

  • There aren’t many cons, but as a pescatarian the dining options seemed to be limited.
  • It wasn’t very crowded on a Friday early evening, but I can imagine that it would be busy on weekends or during lunchtime. The Farmer’s Market is contained to a relatively small space and the walkways are very narrow. Avoid going during the rush times if you don’t want to brush shoulders with strangers.

Price: Entry to the Farmer’s Market is free. As stated above, 90 minute parking is free with validation. Otherwise, parking will cost $3 for the first 15 minutes and $1 for each additional 15 minutes thereafter, with a maximum fee of $24. It is also accessible through public transportation – take bus 14 or 16 from Downtown LA.

Vendor prices are a little higher than, say, a normal grocery store or fast food eatery. They aren’t outrageous, but keep in mind that these stands are small businesses AND are in a premium location. People sometimes equate Farmer’s Markets with Flea Markets – note that nothing here is a knock-off or offered at a discount. The experience is different than going to a restaurant or shopping at Trader Joe’s; seating is community-style and the selection will be limited. However, I think it’s a worthwhile way to support local businesses and experience a rich part of LA history and culture.

Is it worth it? Absolutely! If I lived closer I would visit the Farmer’s Market at least once a week. It’s clean, it’s safe, and it’s fun. There is no other place in LA like it and it’s worth a visit whether you’re a tourist or a local. Tucked away in a ritzy part of town, the Original Farmer’s Market is a relic of old Los Angeles not to be overshadowed by the Grove and Hollywood glamour. Meet Me at Third & Fairfax!

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Wicked at the Pantages Theater – Homesplorin’ Edition 3

Despite how cool we think we are here in LA, there’s really no competing with the ultra-hip eastern folk in New York. Sure, we have Hollywood and the movie studios, but they have Broadway.  Having seen The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway myself, it’s hard to dispute the quality and excitement of a live-stage performance. 

Lucky for us little people in LA, we have the Pantages Theater which hosts all of the most popular touring musicals from Broadway. Situated right on Hollywood Blvd. and Vine, the theater is accessible from the Red Line metro (shocking, I know) if you’re not down to sit in traffic moving at a crawling pace. You’ll be dumped off right by the Walk of Fame and other kitschy shops and eateries, though the main attraction really is the Pantages Theater.

We took my mom to see Wicked for her birthday at the Pantages. It was the same crowd (sup, fam) with whom I saw The Phantom of the Opera in New York, so the standards were high. Here are the highlights:

 

Experience: 

Pros:

  • Disregarding some of my sarcastic comments above, the Pantages is actually in a great location. You could easily spend a few hours walking around Hollywood drinking, eating, and shopping before a show. Think of it as a mini Times Square, but with weirder people.
  • The theater, although appearing small at first glance, is spacious and beautifully decorated.
  • Even though I personally enjoyed the music and storyline of Phantom better, Wicked‘s touring group was extremely talented and very entertaining to watch. The caliber of performance is comparable to what you’d see on Broadway. Generally, you can always expect to see a quality show at the Pantages.
  • With the ticket lottery system you can score some great seats at a cheap price — more details below.

Cons:

  • Buying tickets outright ain’t cheap. But there are ways to get around this – see below. 
  • It is crowded – as Hollywood Blvd. typically is. I point this out simply because some people hate crowds.
  • The parking situation is out of control – be prepared to circle around for a while to find a reasonably affordable lot if you absolutely have to drive there (i.e. take the metro). 

Price: Pricing for tickets varies the most by seat or section, though prices sometimes are higher on weekend evenings. The Pantages’ ticket vendor is Ticketmaster, which also doubles as a resale market. Usually resale tickets are more expensive for a worse value, so try to buy direct from the vendor. Unfortunately, Ticketmaster slaps on an additional $20 or so of fees, which they don’t include in the price you’re initially seeing. For Wicked, the cheapest tickets were about $85 plus taxes and fees. If you want to go on a specific day and want guaranteed seating with your party, this will undoubtedly be a “splurge” experience. 

For those who have a flexible schedule and are flying solo or don’t care about sitting next to your significant other, there is an option to “win” tickets at a heavily discounted price. The terms of this lottery may vary slightly by show, so be sure to check the Pantages website for the most accurate information. My aunt and cousin were successful at getting these lottery tickets for Wicked – so their experience was as follows: 

To be eligible for the lottery, you have to arrive at the Pantages box office 2.5 hours prior to a scheduled performance, where your name will be placed in the lottery. Thirty minutes later, the winners are announced. Those whose names get called have the option to purchase two orchestra seats at $25-30 each (which are typically side-by-side). If you’re not one of the lucky ones to win the lottery, sometimes the theater will offer single seat tickets for $40 each. You won’t get to sit with your friend, mom, dog, etc., but it’s still a great deal.  

For those of us who would rather not leave our couch only to come back empty-handed, digital lotteries are also sometimes offered. Entries for the digital lottery can be submitted online with Broadway Direct beginning two days prior to the performance at 11am until 9am one day prior to the performance. Winners will be notified via email and will have an hour to pay for the tickets online – same pricing as the in-person lottery.

Is it worth it? Definitely yes, regardless of whether you purchase tickets outright or get them through the lottery. Of course, buying full-price tickets would probably be a special occasion for most people; if you have a lot of free time, then trying to score tickets from the lottery could be a way to enjoy this experience more often. Furthermore, the theater is a gorgeous attraction and Hollywood always provides hours of entertainment. A Broadway musical event does offer a different kind of magic than a movie at the cinema – go see for yourself!

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Why You Should Try Wine and Paint Night

As if any of us ever needed an excuse to drink wine.

All jokes aside (wait…wine is never a joke), paint and sip parties have become a popular nighttime activity for any occasion. It is probably pretty difficult to find someone who hasn’t attended a wine and paint event at least once; however, if that someone is you, then keep reading! If you’re among the majority of us who have attended a wine and paint gathering and are interested in hosting one of your own, I’ll also tell you how to pull it off!

What is Wine and Paint Night Anyway?

I’m sure you’re wondering what is so appealing about painting with a group of strangers aside from the drinking wine part. Well, most people have testified that this experience can be enjoyed regardless of your skill level, making it an accessible way to nurture your artistic spirit! To summarize the itinerary for the evening, you’ll start off by meeting your group and instructor at a restaurant (I’d be willing to bet that it’s at your local Mimi’s Café) or possibly an art studio – if you’re fancy like that. The art leader will have selected a painting to help the group recreate step-by-step. It is pretty easy to follow along, as the instructor gives you plenty of time to complete each portion and sip your wine in between strokes. After all, let’s not forget the real reason why we’re here.

In my opinion, even those who are otherwise artistically inept are able to create something resembling the model painting. The environment is all about fun, and it really is a no-judgement zone. All supplies are included in the cost of admission, so all-in-all it should be a stress-free experience. However, the only downside is that wine or cocktails are usually a separate charge, although many places allow you to BYOB.

Sounds Fun, But What is This Going to Cost Me?

Generally a seat at most established and organized wine and paint nights will cost between $35-50. Remember, this includes supplies but usually NOT ALCOHOL.

Again, as is true for most popular activities in large metropolitan areas, I recommend searching for deals on Groupon. At the time of this post, admission to a wine and paint night in Los Angeles is being offered at $25.

Can I Do This at Home?

Absolutely! To host a Paint Night in the comfort of your own home requires some planning, but there are tools out there to help! For the simplest and most straightforward way to acquire all of the necessary supplies I recommend Social Artworking  as a one-stop-shop. They offer individually sold canvases, brushes, and paint, but you can also purchase a party package which includes all of these. They even provide various paint templates to choose from along with the instructions.

Of course, you can stop by your local Michaels or art supply store to get all of the necessary materials. There are various free YouTube tutorials which provide instructions for paintings of various difficulties; simply search “Paint Night at Home” and you’ll have so many options to choose from.

Whether you use Social Artworking or an art store to prepare for your at home paint night, here are additional things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure you have a large workspace, such as a floor or table, where you and your guests can comfortably spread out and paint.
  • Cover the work stations with a disposable tablecloth or sheet to avoid unwanted spills or damage to your home.
  • Provide everyone with a water cup, small paper plate for paint mixing, and paper towels.
  • Don’t forget the wine!

I’ve Tried Wine and Paint, What Else is Out There?

I get it, there are only so many times you’ll enjoy social painting before getting bored with it (or accumulating too many canvases). Here are a couple of other experiences that play off of Wine and Paint Night, but offer a little bit of a twist!

  1. Plant Nite – Um, what? Yes, plant nite is actually a thing. With the increase in people’s fascination with succulents and other desert plants, it’s no surprise that you can assemble and create your own arrangement to take home.
  2. Taste of Mosaics and Wine – Learn how to create colorful tile mosaics by hand! This is the most hands-on social art experience I’ve had – you select your own tile and focal point stone, which you break apart yourself with some fancy tools! I’m actually surprised our instructor allowed us to drink wine AND break things!
  3. There are so many other social art options out there – I’ve read about woodworking, calligraphy, candle making, and flower arranging workshops in Los Angeles alone! Look around your city for all of the options, pick one, and voila – you have an outing for a date, girl’s night, or any other occasion worth celebrating.

Highland Park Bowl – Homesplorin’ Edition 2

Next on my list of “do you really live in LA if you haven’t been to these epitomes of gentrification at its finest” is… Highland Park Bowl!

Located in Northeast Los Angeles, Highland Park is a historic, yet trendy hipster enclave with smatterings of culturally authentic restaurants and eateries. The entertainment options here are top-notch, and you’re sure to find great night-life and diverse experiences near the centrally located York Blvd. and Figueroa St. One of my favorite spots is the Highland Park Ebell Club, which frequently boasts small, but excellent, productions of world-renown operas. The Pacific Opera Project (POP) has even staged a “hipster” version of Puccini’s La bohéme. If that doesn’t scream fun, then I don’t know what does.

Within walking distance of the Ebell Club is a delicious pupuseria and, you guessed it, Highland Park Bowl! Here are my reflections about LA’s oldest bowling alley:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • I went on a RARE rainy LA day, and spent a couple hours in a warm and welcoming space that was not my bed
  • The interior is beautiful and is reminiscent of similar Prohibition-era themed speakeasies in LA
  • It doesn’t feel like a grimy, stinky bowling alley…it’s bowling with class and sophistication
  • The cocktails are fun, delicious, and old-timey. The beer selection was pretty good
  • Kids 21 and under are not allowed after 8pm (I consider this a pro)

Cons:

  • It is a small bowling alley with 8 lanes. Reservations are recommended, if not practically required, to make sure that you don’t have to wait a couple hours for a lane to open up
  • The food is decent, but not great. The menu is pretty much designed around medium-sized pizzas to facilitate eating slices mid-bowl
  • Parking is tough in the area and is paid (either metered or on a flat-rate lot)
  • The experience is not cheap without a large group – see below

Price: Pricing really does vary depending on the day and time. The cheapest time to rent a lane for one hour is for $25 on Saturdays from 11am-4pm, but be prepared for larger crowds. Peak times (late afternoon and evenings) have an hourly lane rate ranging between $50-$70, and late nights (until 2am) outside of Fridays and Saturdays are $40 for an hour. Reservations come at $20 a pop. Shoe rental is $5 per pair. Since up to 8 people are allowed per lane, this may be a better outing to do with a group of friends.

Is it worth it? I’d say yes, as long as you’re aware of the cons and don’t set your expectations through the roof. The ambience is really neat and the idea of pinky-finger-up bowling is hard to resist. The old-fashioned mechanisms for the pins and ball-return are super cool to watch on their own. But, like any retro experience in a neighborhood like Highland Park, expect crowds and steep pricing.

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LA Zoo Lights – Homesplorin’ Edition 1

I couldn’t put a proper close on the holidays without going to see a spectacular light display. The Los Angeles Zoo Lights caught my attention since it seemed to be one of the places trending on Instagram for this kind of thing. I know what you’re thinking – is the city zoo really the place to go see Christmas lights? What about the animals? Wouldn’t the lights, the noise, and the crowds disturb them? My dear boyfriend presented this kind skepticism when I proposed we go check it out. How romantic, right?

Passive aggressiveness towards my boyfriend aside (totally kidding, I love him and his concern for animals), I found the evening at the zoo to be pleasant and completely tame (pun definitely intended). Here is a breakdown of my opinion of this holiday-specific excursion:

Experience: 

Pros:

  • I went on the last day of the display and found a really great price on Groupon (see below)
  • Parking is free!
  • There were a couple of really great exhibits, such as the Water Laser Show, the Tunnel of Lights, and a nicely lit forest grove with a disco ball
  • Most of the animals were put away or in a location not accessible during the event – it seems like they weren’t really disturbed too much by the guests. The reptile room was open.
  • The zoo sells food, snacks, holiday treats, and yes, alcohol!

Cons:

  • It was crowded. This may have been because it was the last day, but I can imagine it being even more crowded on days around Christmas.
  • Pricing varies depending on the night you go, so if your budget is tight it requires some planning ahead.

 

Price: If you were to buy tickets at the gate or on the LA Zoo website, they cost $21.95 for premium nights (most weekends and holidays) and $14.95 for value nights (typically weekdays that fall outside of Christmas and New Years’ week).

Groupon also offered discounts for specific nights, so if they happened to offer a coupon for the day you were planning on going then a premium night ticket would be reduced to $14.95. I personally went on the last day (a Sunday) of the approximately month-long display. I found a Groupon posted three days before I went which offered admission for the last weekend of the event for $11.25.

Is it worth it? My verdict is that it’s a nice one-time experience. It was fun and festive to walk around and see a concentration of animal-themed bright lights. Since a lot of the zoo was closed off to the public, it did make for a smaller space which made the crowds a lot harder to navigate. There are lots of other places to see holiday lights in Los Angeles (some are free!), so I do think I’ll be going to a different place next year to mix it up.

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Homesplorin’ in Los Angeles

Being born and raised in Los Angeles, you would think that I know this city like the back of my hand. To some extent I do – I know how to navigate the extensive freeway networks and can direct you to most parts of the city (even though it may take you an hour to get across town). Still, I quite often find myself feeling like a stranger from another land in a perpetual state of tourism. With a population of almost 4 million people dispersed across approximately 500 square miles, you’d better believe that the entertainment capital of the world has a practically unlimited supply of cultural, dining, outdoors, and artistic experiences to enjoy. Theoretically, this implies that every twenty-something in Los Angeles should never complain of boredom – but why is it that we still do?

I have my own hypotheses for this conundrum, but I’ll spare the readers most of my criticisms of LA for now. Despite being some of the current trends for millennials to partake in, bottomless mimosa brunches on the cliffs of Malibu or a visit to the overpriced Museum of Ice Cream are not exactly my idea of fun. Sure, they make for whimsical Instagram photos, but I want to believe that there are more creative ways to truly enjoy this historic, vibrant, and cultural city.

One of my friends has coined the term “Homesploring”, which I find perfectly describes the spirit of local adventuring. I’ve decided to adopt her policy of perpetual curiosity and have committed myself to finding off-the-beaten-path ways to enjoy my city and the surrounding areas. This is an endeavor I have already begun and hope to adopt as a habit to further build an appreciation for my surroundings. Here are a some of my recent homesplorations:

1. The Rose – Pasadena, CA. I went to see a performance by a Pink Floyd Tribute Band called Which One’s Pink. They were amazing, and the venue was spacious, but intimate.

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2. Echo Park – Los Angeles, CA. The beautiful Echo Park Lake is a great place to relax next to a backdrop of Downtown. There is also a 1-mile path around the perimeter of the lake for joggers to enjoy!

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3. The Long Beach Playhouse – Long Beach, CA. I saw a wonderful performance of Agatha Christie’s play, Black Coffee. Support your local arts!

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4. Joshua Tree National Park – Twenty-Nine Palms, CA. About 2 1/2 hours from LA is this gorgeous national park. It’s possible to plan a day trip for a few hours of rock-climbing, or camp out to see a sky full of stars in a pitch-black desert.

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5. The Observatory – Santa Ana, CA. Orange County is the home of this small and exciting venue that hosts up-and-coming bands like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. This standing-room-only space provides for a thrilling show among other dedicated concert-goers!

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