Listed below are some of my favorite Los Angeles spots which, although they are totally cool, are not such well-known travel destinations. Nothing spices up a trip like visits to hidden locales which are not so mainstream and touristy. To see many more places of this ilk, check out my guide Offbeat Los Angeles.
St. Vincent Court (just west of the corner of Broadway Ave and W. 7th St, 90014)
This neat alleyway is full of cafes and delis, mostly featuring Middle Eastern food. The whole place is a real suprise–you are walking down Broadway in the Jewelry District, you turn west onto 7th, travel another half block and BOOM, its like you have been transported to a quaint little street in Europe or something. I really love how disconcerting the whole experience is. The food and coffee selections are good here too. This site was originally the second location of St. Vincents College, a historic school from 1865 that eventually became Loyola Marymount. Then in 1907 the first Bullocks department store was built here. The Bullocks building still exists and is used as a huge Jewelry marketplace (the basement is a Big Lots). Most of the food and drink establishments on this street close on Sunday, though you can still get tea from the tea shop/deli at the mouth of the alley.
Little Tokyo Shopping Center (333 S. Alameda, 90013)
Little Tokyo is a well-known walking district downtown which is full of restaurants and neat gifts shops. Right on the edge of this Japanese area is The Little Tokyo Shopping Center, a big cinder-block complex that is hard to find and easy to overlook. And it would be a shame to miss the stores in this 3-story shopping center! The main attraction is a large Little Tokyo Market Place grocery store, with all the exotic treats that Asian markets usually stock. Near the grocery on the main floor is Yuki’s Discount Store and the very affordable pottery store Utsuwa-No-Yakata (I love this pottery store and often buy gifts here). More businesses in the shopping center include a Beard Papa’s cream puff shop, a Japanese arcade, and a whole host of restaurants.
Galco’s Soda Pop Stop (5702 York Boulevard, 90042)
This historic grocery store was founded at a downtown location 100 years and moved to its current site in Highland Park 50 years ago. It came into its present form when the current owner John Nese was pressured by Pepsi to stock a preponderance of Pepsi products. John Nese did exactly the opposite and created this soda emporium that carries all sorts of esoteric brands and varieties of soda. The store also stocks old-time candy (my favorite part of visiting is seeing what were once vegetable bins filled with candy). If you prefer soda’s made with real sugar over the now ubiquitous corn syrup, then this place is a gold mine. Or if you just love soda pop in all it’s variety and glory (they have hundreds of types of soda here!), then this place is heaven. They also have an excellent beer selection.
Surfas (8777 W. Washington Boulevard, 90232)
Surfas is at once a restaurant supply store (one which is open to the general public!), a shop stocked with fine imported foods, and a cafe that serves drinks and meals. Overall, this place is paradise for a foodie. They even have cooking classes most every day. Everyone will have their own take on this place, with the wide range of products they offer. What really gets to me is the low prices and high quality of their cooking utensils. The prices here really put a place like Crate and Barrel to shame and the stuff they stock is solidly built to take the daily abuse of a professional kitchen. If fine food and kitchenware is up your alley, be sure to check this local family-owned store (open since 1937).
Santa Monica Camera Obscura (1450 Ocean Boulevard, 90407)
This little-known camera obscura was build in 1898 and used to be located on the boardwalk by the beach. The city purchased the apparatus in 1910, it is now housed at the Santa Monica Senior Recreation Center. You ask the attendant there to lend you the keys (and leave something for collateral). The camera obscura consists of a 4ft wide circular disc where you view the image, as well as a wheel you turn to rotate the turret and change the view. This is good cheap and low-key entertainment!
This neighborhood at the tip of San Pedro fell into the ocean in 1929. The slide is attributed to wave action and the presence of bentonite clay here, a material which has a propensity to become very slippery. A broken water main added to this neighborhood’s problems in 1941. What remains today is a bizarre post-apocalyptic landscape consisting of bits of street and sidewalk. This locale is also a tagger’s paradise, the whole place is decorated in spray paint. Sunken City is located on the east side of Point Fermin park. There are some ominous signs to ignore and some fencing to navigate to get into the Sunken City. It is probably not advisable to come here at night, when the place is full of inebriated graffiti artists. (It is notable that the destruction of this neighborhood was NOT due to the oil pumping that has caused so much land subsidence in Long Beach and is now counteracted by constant pumping of salt water into the earth.)
I welcome you to reveal your hidden Los Angeles spots in the comment section below!