Go beyond the glitz and discover this unexpectedly whimsical side of LAFrom labyrinths of books to time travel, here’s how to see the City of Angels in a new light
By Anna Hider
When you think of Los Angeles, what do you picture? The Hollywood sign, probably. Beaches, celebrities, and traffic are likely high on your list as well. But despite its reputation, LA isn’t merely a shallow city for the rich and famous; there’s plenty of depth beneath the glitz. Head off the well-worn paths of Hollywood and Santa Monica and catch a glimpse of the real City of Angels at these memorable spots.
The Last Bookstore
The internet is convenient, but there are some things it can’t replace. Like that magical feeling of browsing a bookstore. Holding and leafing through the pages of a book you never knew you needed, talking to others who share your interests, and even the smell of a bookstore can’t be replicated with an e-reader. Downtown LA’s The Last Bookstore takes that experience to a whole other level.
The massive store, covering 16,000 square feet, also boasts a coffee shop, a record store, and a used books section—but the “labyrinth” upstairs is where the magic really happens. It’s a maze of bookshelves arranged into tunnels of paperbacks, offbeat art installations made of flying books, little shops and displays of art, trinkets and antiques, and rainbow-colored rows and stacks of assorted volumes. To sweeten the deal, everything up in the labyrinth is $1 each, half of which goes to charity. Leave plenty of time to get lost here.
LA has a ton of great food. But if you need a break from the standard tacos and hipster joints, Philippe’s is an experience. This deli claims to be the inventor of the “French dipped” sandwich. As the story goes, back in 1918, a policeman came in to order a sandwich, and somehow the sliced french roll wound up dropped into the liquid of the roasting pan. The policeman took the sandwich and left—and was back the next day, asking for another dipped sandwich.
Whether that’s the full truth or a simplified version of it, it’s a darn good French dip. You can order it with whatever meat you like (turkey, ham, beef, lamb, even pastrami) and watch them make it. Take it to a communal table, top it with Philippe’s signature hot mustard, and dig in. If you’re feeling adventurous, order it double-dipped or even wet. Add a side of pickled pig’s foot and end with a slice of pie for dessert.
The cafeteria-style atmosphere is straight out of 1951, which feels kind of right—like they know better than to mess with perfection.
Deep in the heart of LA’s Chinatown lies one of the most uniquely individualistic attractions in a town known for being over-the-top strange. Velveteria is Los Angeles’ premier (and only) black velvet painting art museum. It displays 420 or so masterpieces from the collection of its owners, who own more than 3,000 black velvet paintings.
From vintage beauties to paintings depicting modern-day scenes, it’s truly kitsch at its finest. Plus, you might learn a thing or two about the shockingly long and illustrious history of velvet paintings, which, though they peaked in popularity during the 1970s, have been around since Marco Polo’s time. It’s worth the $10 admission for the black light room alone.
Bob Baker Marionette Theater
Since this is LA, there’s film history pretty much wherever you look—but it also goes a lot deeper than Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and studio tours. For something slightly more unconventional, take a look at the unexpectedly rich history of marionette puppetry in Hollywood at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater.
Though the theater was founded in 1963, its namesake Bob Baker started dabbling in puppetry at the age of eight, in the early 1930s. He made and sold puppets, served as an animation advisor for prestigious studios, and did puppetry work for film and TV, including “Bewitched,” “Star Trek,” Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” among others.
Though Baker passed away in 2014, the theater still puts on over 300 performances every year. If you’re lucky enough to catch one of the shows, your mind will be blown by what these little puppets can do. Check out this video from our friends at Culture Trip for a whimsical sneak peek.
The theater is currently in the process of moving from its longtime, signature home on First Street, but you can still catch performances throughout the city.
Time Travel Mart
Dreams can come true in LA, even the most outlandish ones. Take a vacation not just to another place, but another time altogether with a stop at Echo Park’s Time Travel Mart. Here, you can pick up Viking odorant, milk from robots, toupees for robots, chunks of mammoth, and other necessities from the past and the future (flux capacitor sold separately.)
The coolest part, though? The Time Travel Mart is actually a front. It raises money for a program called 826LA, which provides tutoring and support for kids looking to work on their creative and practical writing skills, labs and workshops, and tons more.
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