Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Peaceful Times at Heritage Square

April 18, 2016

The historic buildings of Heritage Square can be glimpsed from the 110 Freeway, a quick blur of patterned brick chimneys and Queen Anne turrets as the car whizzes by Avenue 43 north toward Pasadena. But to really experience this living history museum, it’s necessary to exit the freeway and follow the signs past a long row of tract houses and chain-link fencing to its formidable entrance gates.

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Behind the gates sit a cluster of beautifully restored 19th-century houses, along with a Southern Pacific train depot and a steeple-topped 1897 Gothic church that was moved here, piecemeal, from Pasadena in 1981. Framed by mature trees and well-tended gardens, Heritage Park is a sweet respite from L.A.’s busy urban landscape and a reminder that there is a strong preservation effort in this city working to protect its past, rather than replace it with McMansions and high-density condos.

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This past weekend, Heritage Square hosted its annual vintage fashion show and tea,  one of many events it throws throughout the year. I was lucky enough to be invited to sell my books along with other exhibitors like the Grier Musser Museum, Sew Cranky, and the International Printing Museum. It wasn’t hard labor, sitting in the shade with a view of the church’s massive stained-glass window, a blooming rose garden, and what is perhaps L.A.’s only remaining octagon house.


Docents cloaked in period costume lead tours of the grounds and homes every Friday through Sunday. Also coming up on May 15 is Museums of the Arroyo Day, when admission and tours are free all day at Heritage Square and other nearby museums like the Lummis Home and the Southwest Museum.

One more thing: Heritage Square is surprisingly kid-friendly — there’s lots of wide-open space, a red boxcar rescued from the Tucson, Cornelia, & Gila Railroad, and a turn-of-the-century pharmacy with a marble-topped soda fountain and fascinating displays of snake-oil potions, leech pots and vintage tools.

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How Trails Get Their Names

April 29, 2015


Ever wonder how a trail got a name like Devil’s Chair or Walter’s Wiggles? The answer is simpler than you might think…

In honor of the baseball playoffs, a hike through Elysian Park

October 6, 2014


Nothing is blooming on Elysian Park’s Wildflower trail right now, but there are plenty of friendly dogs and hopeful flashes of Dodger Blue. The day after the Dodgers came back to win Game 2 of the baseball playoffs, the trail across the street from their home stadium was business as usual, hosting hikers, picnickers, and regular dog walkers.


The trails that wind through Elysian Park don’t get as much attention as other urban hikes in L.A., but every moderate hiker in L.A. should make a point of exploring them. Like the city itself, the trail that winds through the park is an unsettling mix of natural beauty, concrete freeway, and payoffs that will leave you energized and reinforce the reasons you chose to live in this crazy town.

Check out my extended post on to learn more about this hike.


Books and the Beach

October 31, 2013


I’ve been spending more time at the beach these days and discovering all kinds of new places that don’t involve surfboards or bad pina coladas. The latest is a great little bookstore about four blocks from the Hermosa Beach pier. Known as Bard Street bookstore (it’s at 1309 Bard St., just off Pier Avenue), it sells leftover inventory from the local library and is run by volunteers. It’s everything you would want in a used bookstore — well-organized, pleasantly cluttered and full of great finds. So far, we have scored big with several Calvin & Hobbes books (for Jack), a Barbara Pym hardcover (for me), and a ridiculous amount of dinosaur books for Theo. Prices average 50 cents for paperbacks and a buck or two for hardcovers, plus there’s a rack of free books for the taking just outside the door.

The only downside is its limited hours: Mondays from 9 am to noon and the third Saturday of every month. On a recent visit, customers included locals who seems to consider a stop here a Monday ritual and a couple visiting from Saskatchewan, Canada, who were preparing to take an armful of books back home. I like to think that as temperatures hit freezing up there, they are huddled under blankets reading their books and thinking of Hermosa Beach and its charming little bookshop.


From Apollo to Endeavor: L.A.’s Rich Space History

November 18, 2012

There was no better time to be an Angeleno than the day the space shuttle Endeavour flew over the city. Whatever our neighborhood, job or family ties, we all shared equally in the thrill of watching Endeavour’s final flight over our homes, schools, offices and favorite landmarks. I think it’s impossible to truly recapture the joy of that day, but you can come pretty close by stopping by the California Science Center to see the 85-ton orbiter up close and horizontal. We went on a whim after school one day. It was more crowded than expected, but manageable and so cool to walk under Endeavour’s belly and see every ding and scratch it picked up in its amazing travels.

Here’s how a visit works: Timed tickets are required (free, but there’s a $2 per-ticket processing fee whether you get them online or on site). We sailed right in, but soon found ourselves surrounded by several after-school groups. You enter from the 2nd floor of the Science Center, walk through a brief but thorough exhibit on California’s space industry that includes a film about Endeavour’s history and a simulated shuttle ride ($5 a person), then you are given a purple chip and told to walk down a separate flight of stairs to enter the actual pavilion. For now, the shuttle is horizontal and housed in a temporary hangar, but the plan is to someday move it into a ready-for-takeoff position.

P.S. While you are in a cosmic frame of mind, consider visiting the Columbia Memorial Space Center in Downey. Built on the former NASA site that developed Apollo spacecraft, it is one of the last remaining vistages of a round-the-clock space hub that also oversaw assembly of the entire shuttle fleet after the Cold War. The complex closed in 1999, and it’s now a film studio (“Christmas with the Kranks”), medical center, and soon-to-be mall. The Columbia space center does make for a fine afternoon with the kids — interactive exhibits include a paper airplane-making station, rocket launcher, and design-your-own solar system. There is also some information on Downey’s role in space exploration; that may expand as preservationists and former employees voice their concerns that it is all disappearing with the demolition of so many buildings.

Take a Hike through Old Hollywood on King Gillette’s Ranch

September 23, 2012

Looking for a new moderate hike? The LA Times has an article about a good one in Calabasas, calling the property, once owned by razor-blade mogul King Gillette, “a step back in time to the Southland’s golden age.”

Another New Yorker falls for Los Angeles

September 17, 2012

Writer Emma Straub tells the L.A. Times about her new-found admiration for the city:

“As a New York City native, I was raised to look down on Los Angeles. You know, Biggie vs Tupac, etc. I think the biggest surprise for me, over the course of the last few years, is how much I really love it. My older brother is smart and has lived in L.A. since he was 18. If my husband had his druthers, we would be living somewhere near the Arclight. Or maybe living at the Arclight.”

(There’s more):

“I didn’t get to as many of the old-school L.A. restaurants as I wanted to, but blame that on Gjelina and all the different kinds of avocados at the farmers’ markets.”

Ah, the Jacarandas…

June 4, 2012

I still remember the first time I drove down a Los Angeles street with the jacaranda trees in full spring bloom. The endless lavender canopy lifted my mood for the rest of the day and left me giddy about the approach of summer. It’s most fun to let the jacarandas take you by surprise, as you turn down a street lined with them on your way to a dentist appointment or errand, but a few places in L.A. are worth a special detour, like the street in Claremont pictured above. One of the best places to sit and relax under the jacarandas is the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA’s Hammer Museum, where the trees complement dozens of abstract sculptures placed around a sprawling lawn.

Enjoy them now, because their blooms are as fleeting as an actor’s career.

Hiking in Solace

November 4, 2010

I was looking for a little down time Sunday before the Halloween activities reached full tilt. So I snuck away for a walk through one of my favorite neighborhoods, Mount Washington. Its Jack Smith Trail isn’t really a trail so much as a very pleasant nature-meets-city walk, but I included it in my book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Los Angeles. It’s a great workout if you start at the steps on Marmion Way. They used to follow a funicular railway that carried Mt. W residents to and from their hilltop homes.

It was as nice and tranquil as I remembered it, but what made the walk even better was a detour down Seaview Lane just past Mt. Washington Elementary School. Follow the road until it ends, then continue on the dirt path.

You won’t be disappointed; when I saw the bench, I really wished I had brought along coffee and the Sunday papers.

Keep following the dirt path around and you will see that it reconnects with San Rafael Ave. From here, you can follow Moon Avenue, then noodle your way downhill to the Southwest Museum and Marmion Way. Next time I’ll take the kids (and skip the steps)…but on this day, I had the clear views and incredibly clean post-rain air to myself.

Finding peace at Disneyland

September 21, 2010

It may be the happiest place on earth, but it certainly isn’t the quietest. Yet Disneyland came pretty close to being downright peaceful this past weekend. I think we hit it at the right time — just after the start of school and before the Halloween festivities rev up. Lines were short for most attractions (except, of course, Peter Pan!) and we walked right up to the 9 p.m. World of Color show and found a pretty good viewing spot near the Rocketships ride.

I also found a peaceful place to hide out in California Adventure when the crowds do get crazy. During my book presentations, I sometimes get asked if I know of any tranquil spots to seek out at Disney. To be honest, I usually just write off the whole day as decidedly UNPEACEFUL, but I do like the alley near the exit to Pirates of the Caribbean for a quick breather. There’s a small nook with a staircase that leads to a Cast Members Only sign, and the area below the stairs is usually deserted.

This weekend I discovered an even quieter place: the waterfront sitting area under the Silly Symphony Swings ride. You can’t see it easily from the main thoroughfare, but it’s spacious with lots of benches and has a terrific view of Paradise Bay. Theo and I had the place to ourselves (except for one furiously texting man) while Jack and his dad rode the swings. A nice respite from Goofy, et al.

p.s. Jack took his first ride on Thunder Mountain Railroad, and deemed it “just a little bit too scary.” He seemed proud that he survived though.