I just recently spent a week in Orange County and Los Angeles. I’ve been before, and I never liked it. The allure of spotting a celebrity is lost on me – surely there are better things to do in Los Angeles? The endless concrete highways and the extravagant show of wealth are also a total turnoff. But I did find a few interesting sights, and on this trip I did my homework and found some truly unique things to do in Los Angeles that have nothing to do with Hollywood.
Watts Towers (a.k.a. The Towers of Simon Rodia)
Even if you live in LA, you might not even know about the Watts Towers. Here’s a replay of the conversation I had about six times in a week:
Andy: So I’d love to go see the Towers of Simon Rodia.
LA Local: The WHAT?
Andy: The Towers of Simon Rodia. I saw it on an episode of Six Feet Under – very cool stuff.
<manic searching in Google for address and info>
LA Local: It looks like it’s called the Watts Towers. OMG, it’s in Watts? We can’t go to Watts!
Andy: What’s wrong with Watts? It can’t be that bad.
LA Local: Ok, we can go, but I’m not so sure about this.
<take tour of Watts Towers>
LA Local: OMG! That is awesome! Amazing! I’m taking everyone there!
Yeah, so the Watts Towers are (unsurprisingly) in Watts. It’s not a great area of town, and despite the photo above, you need to know where you’re going as these towers are kind of hidden. But they are well worth the effort, as I have to say they are probably one of the best outdoor monuments in the United States. They were built over a span of 30 years by an Italian immigrant called Simon Rodia. This man was dedicated to his trade and his passion was resolute. Consider:
- Simon carried on a full time job while building the towers, working late into the evenings 7 days a week.
- In order import the materials for decorating the monument, he asked for neighbours to bring in materials for recycling. The monument is made up of broken tiles, plates, bottles, and other miscellany from the people who lived nearby. He paid them for their materials, so there was a whole micro-economy going on here.
- Simon had nothing but his simple tools. He climbed up the towers and built each layer one by one. Amazing!
You might call this guy crazy, and you’d be right. You might call him a genius for designing a structure that has so many unique aspects and design features. That’s right too. But most of all, you have to respect Simon Rodia for spending so many minutes, hours, and days for something he felt was his life’s passion and destiny. Remarkable.
Be sure to plan ahead for your visit as opening hours are limited (and the tour is a must, as the guides are fabulous). More information available: www.wattstowers.us
Venice Beach Boardwalk
This is one of those tourist destinations that defies description. Where do I start – by trying to describe the odd assortment of food available, from tasty ice creams to terrifying corn on the cob with parmesan cheese (yeah, really). Then there’s the incessant calls to see a boardwalk doctor and get some legal marijuana, which apparently can cure anything, including problems you didn’t even know you had. Then there are the punk rockers jamming out in impromptu jam sessions, competing with the comedians doing their schtick along the boardwalk too. You can get your t-shirts, sunglasses, shot glasses, hats, sandals, and all other souvenir needs, including tattoos if that’s your sort of thing.
Or you could just sit on the beach and enjoy. Watch out for the flashmobs. No I’m not kidding. Oh, and did I mention that Venice is called Venice because their actually are canals? Oh yeah. Go to Venice Beach. It’s a one of a kind, and just like it’s Italian sister, it too will someday be reclaimed by the seas.
The Getty Museum
I’ve heard about the Getty and now that I’ve seen it up close and in person, it is definitely lived up to all the hype. It is free, but unless you take the bus you’ll have to shell out $15USD for parking – but then you get to ride on a monorail car (not sure if that’s the right word to describe it) up to the top of the hill where the Getty is.
What I love about the Getty is that it is the perfect way to embrace multiple forms of art media. The architecture of the buildings themselves is art, as well as the gardens, which are stunning combined with the views you have over Los Angeles.
Each building has a couple of floors of small exhibits, so a tour of the site alternates between indoor and outdoor. I’m not sure how often the exhibits rotate, but for our visit it was a nice balance between classics and modern pieces, including the most fascinating explanation of how to make a bronze statue – I’ll not be trying to make one anytime soon.
The coffee bar is very good, I must mention, and so is the gift shop. Is this place really free? Indeed. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
The Griffith Observatory
You’ll recognise the Griffith when you arrive, because it’s featured in many films. But the real secret is is the nighttime view – it is incredible. It looks like the avenues of Los Angeles go on for miles and miles and miles, and the LA skyscrapers fill out the picture perfectly. Incredible.
During the day, Griffith Park is a great place for walks and running (and the views are still pretty good). And of course, the Observatory is a great hit with adults and children alike – be sure to catch one of the films in one of the two theatres, and check out the telescopes, tesla coils, and array of other astronomical goodness. See what’s playing at www.griffithobs.org
What are your tips for offbeat, unique things to do in Los Angeles?
Photos by author except Venice Beach (stevecadman)