Help me find the really hidden Los Angeles
January 14, 2011 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Help me find some Los Angeles secrets!

I'll be in LA for four says next week, and don['t need advice on the touristy things, or even the stuff locals know about, as I used to live there.

I'm looking for the really hidden stuff. The stuff you need to know somebody to see. The private collections, the things in bottles in basements, the tunnels that lead from someplace surprising to someplace unexpected, and you need a key to open.

Some examples from when I lived there: Forry Ackerman's house was a museum of science fiction and horror films, and he'd show you around, if you asked (I did.) Russ Meyer also had a museum of his old film stuff, and would likewise show you around (regretfully, I never asked.) I've seen collections of antique guns, private collections of shriner photos, and gotten a private tour of New York's Sex Museum from its curator by asking in advance, and now I'm asking you.

Do you know anything surprising, outstanding, and hidden to the outside world that you can access, or know somebody who can?
posted by Astro Zombie to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (23 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: For says means four days.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:58 PM on January 14, 2011

You need a sooper-secret invitation to go to Magic Castle. I don't know anyone, but others might.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:07 PM on January 14, 2011

You might want to check out the Museum of Jurassic Technology... one of my favorite little known magical LA experiences.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:14 PM on January 14, 2011

The Museum of Jurassic Technology is supposed to be funky. I don't live in LA, never been there, but have seen several articles.
posted by ecorrocio at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2011

Roadside America will let you search by city. Sometimes you have to read through a few pages to see what's still there, and it's good to read any reviews - but we never go anywhere without checking this site. And now I see there's an app!
posted by peagood at 2:35 PM on January 14, 2011

Oran Z's Black Facts and Wax Museum is only open by appointment these days. Horace Heidt's Magnolia Estate Apartments is still hiding out in the valley.

posted by infinitewindow at 2:38 PM on January 14, 2011

I haven't been, but have heard the Panorama is cool.
posted by np312 at 2:39 PM on January 14, 2011

I spoke with Russ Meyers years ago about visiting his museum. He said that John Waters had mistakenly wrote in his book that it was open to the public. Apparently people called up all the time asking about it but he never felt inclined to change his phone number and was all too happy to talk to his fans. Seemed like a really nice guy.
posted by cazoo at 2:55 PM on January 14, 2011

Entering Clifton's Cafeteria downtown is like stepping into a David Lynch movie. The food is pretty good, too.
posted by plasticbugs at 2:57 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Center for Land Use Interpretation is next door to the Museum of Jurassic Technology and also worth a visit. The Clark Memorial Library is open to the public but very rarely visited.

But my absolute favorite is the Frederick R. Weisman art foundation/museum/house. It's this strange and wonderful Beverly Hills villa stuffed to the gills with 20th century art, and it has free tours. You have to book them in advance; I have no idea how far in advance this needs to be. Dress up a little; it gets a well-educated international crowd. So much fun.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:40 PM on January 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Huh, that LA Times link doesn't seem to be working reliably. Official Clark Memorial Library website.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:43 PM on January 14, 2011

M Bar on Temple street is a nice little speakeasy if you want to keep on going past 2am.
posted by cazoo at 3:56 PM on January 14, 2011

If you like nature, the Japanese garden owned by UCLA, but some blocks from the campus, is secluded and sweet, and you must make a reservation to hold a parking spot. The Garden of Oz (address) requires a key, but you can peep in from the street, and if someone with a key is inside they might let you in.

Newly restored and open to the public since you lived here is the Parsonage of Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, her house-museum containing the most beautiful bathroom in Los Angeles; Jackie gives a great guided tour, and if you're really interested you might get a look at the church archives in the next building.

This comes too late for you, but the Art Deco Society has a gambling night scheduled in the private L.A. Athletic Club.

If you know someone with a CalTech affiliation, ask them to take you into the tunnels and to the Athenaeum.

If they really like you at the King Eddy Saloon, you might get a peep at the old speakeasy in the basement, but don't count on it. But it is the last Skid Row bar, and worth a visit for that alone. And if you're really ballsy, Skid Row's last gay public bath house is just up the block (SW corner 4th & Los Angeles).

For dangerous, non-public sites, the Infiltration forum is probably a good place to find guides.
posted by Scram at 4:31 PM on January 14, 2011

The Hannah Carter Japanese Garden is lovely; entry is limited and by reservation only.
posted by mogget at 4:33 PM on January 14, 2011

An Esotouric tour: "Bus Adventures into the secret heart of Los Angeles" would be excellent.

And check out Machine Project to see if there are events of interest when you're there.
posted by artlung at 9:22 PM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: I feel like you're looking for more personalized, "Psst, have you heard of ____" rather than "check out this website," so:

Psst, have you heard of Sunken City? I haven't looked around online for its presence so I can't attest to the absolute legality of visiting, but it is a treasure. What I heard about it was that it was a street that collapsed into the Pacific in the 20s or 30s, leaving huge chunks of sidewalk scattered among a cliff in San Pedro. You might have seen it in The Big Lebowski.

It's most fun to go there at sunset. Take the 110 S till it ends at Gaffey. Take Gaffey S till it ends at the ocean. There's a park there. Park there. Walk south along the stone fence at the western end of the park and skirt around the wire fence (may require some maneuvering). Disregard at your own risk the many "Do Not Trespass" signs. Keep walking along the dirt path with the ocean on your right. You'll probably see other souls hiking around.

Follow the well-worn path which winds in a zig-zag down toward the Pacific until you reach the site, and skip among the boulders to your heart's content. There is a lot of good tagging around and plenty of climbing to be done. I've come across clusters of folks hanging out, but it's a friendly vibe. I also remember meandering down to the tide pools around there once years ago, but I could be combining memories. Either way, it's a great place to explore. Sort of LA's Sutro Baths. Do not hold me responsible for any injury or legal woes. Do blame me for any fun.
posted by therewolf at 10:52 PM on January 14, 2011

"You need a sooper-secret invitation to go to Magic Castle. I don't know anyone, but others might."

I'm a member. I can provide you said invitation. You'll need to make reservations for dinner, as that is required unless you are attending *with* a member.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:56 PM on January 14, 2011

Best answer: If you're going to visit the Sunken City, which, by the way, is perched above some wonderful tide pools that are fun to explore, you should also visit the Marine Mammal Rehab Center, which is behind the Korean Bell. If you visit Pt. Fermin Park, which is where the Sunken City is, there's no missing the Korean Bell--it's enormous. Anyway, I used to take dates to the Marine Mammal Rehab Center at night because there's no night watchman and absolutely no security and you can walk right up to the fenced-off pools filled with lazing walruses, seals, and sea lions. You'll hear them barking as you get close, and as you eyes adjust to the darkness, these beautiful animals which are 5 feet away come into view and they're just marvelous. Their eyes twinkle and they flop in and out of the pools and play with one another in the moonlight. I've never seen anyone--humans, that is--there at night, so it's a fun adventure and a true hidden gem.

The beautiful lighthouse at Pt. Fermin Park is open for tours and you'll usually be the only one on the tour. Sweet little old ladies proudly take you up inside the tower and you get a 360 degree view of the entire South Bay, which is spectacular. The lighthouse is filled 100-year old furniture and it'll charm your pants off.

On your way back to the 110 freeway, stop for fish tacos at Baja Fish. Located on Gaffey at 6th St., this place serves grilled catch-of-the-day swordfish, cod, salmon, halibut, and mahi mahi tacos.

I love San Pedro.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:55 AM on January 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When I lived in Los Feliz I'd go hang out in the old zoo in Griffith Park, which seems like it would fit the bill. It's on the valley side of the park, and the path to the zoo starts behind the carousel (which is also by the parking lots). While the zoo is long abandoned, you get to walk through its ruins, in and out of the old-timey-animal-abusey enclosures, and if you've ever wished you had a picture of yourself in an old gorilla cage mission accomplished! As a bonus, there are almost never other people there, so the whole thing has a very creepy and post-apocalyptic feeling.
posted by girl scientist at 5:39 PM on January 15, 2011

Response by poster: These are great! Thanks all!
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:09 PM on January 15, 2011

Oh there's also the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant and Japanese Gardens, which is public with tours but hardly anyone knows about it. And I got to go inside some mostly-closed buildings on a LA Conservancy walking tour of downtown. Not quite hidden, but outstanding.
posted by dreamyshade at 10:00 AM on January 16, 2011

girl scientist - how long ago did you live in Los Feliz. In looking into the Old Zoo I see it was closed to the public in late 2007. Are there still ways to get in?
posted by FlamingBore at 10:58 AM on January 16, 2011

Oh no! I actually moved in 2007, so I don't know if there's another way in. I did find recent reviews on yelp, although they all said to just walk up from the merry-go-round too. Hopefully someone else knows how to get in.
posted by girl scientist at 4:35 AM on January 18, 2011

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