clock menu more-arrow no yes

10 hidden gems in Los Angeles

Picks from urban anthropologist and neon enthusiast

View as Map

If Los Angeles were a museum, Eric Lynxwiler would be docent-in-chief. A storehouse of local lore, he has spent the better part of two decades uncovering and illuminating unheralded city treasures via coffee table books and comedy-laced tours. Trained as an urban anthropologist, Lynxwiler’s forte is the neon sign (his nighttime neon bus excursions are a visual and verbal delight). But he has also coauthored books on Wilshire Boulevard and Knott’s Berry Farm, and helped research a volume on Terminal Island.

Below, the South Bay native offers his top 10 "hidden gems" from LA and environs.

Read More

1. Echo Park Lake and the Parsonage of Sister Aimee

Copy Link
751 Echo Park Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 847-0929
Visit Website

A few laps around Echo Park's serene, water-lily-filled lake does a body good—and a cup of coffee from Square One at the Boathouse soothes the soul. Yet I will forever be drawn to the history of the nearby Foursquare Church and one of L.A.'s most unique characters, Aimee Semple McPherson, the woman who singlehandedly turned religious services into theater. Visit Sister Aimee's home, the parsonage, and learn about her multifaceted life, loves and the scandals that persist beyond her death in 1944.

2. Taylor's Prime Steak House

Copy Link
3361 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 382-8449
Visit Website

Red Naugahyde booths, gold-framed paintings glistening in the dim lighting, crusty sourdough bread, a martini, and rare sirloin make Taylor's the best steakhouse in town. Grandpa raised me on steak and potatoes, but it was Taylor's that convinced me creamed spinach has a place on heaven's dinner table.

3. Korean Bell of Friendship, Angel's Gate Recreation Center

Copy Link
3601 S Gaffey St
San Pedro, CA 90731

A green plateau overlooking the Pacific is a tranquil spot by itself, but the intricate and inspiring Korean Bell of Friendship adds a romantic focal point. Whether the blue horizon is clear all the way to Catalina Island or the bluffs are socked in with a chilly ocean fog, hundreds of years of history and natural beauty surround the 17-ton bell and Angel's Gate Park. Footsteps away, underneath a nearby hillside, lies a labyrinth of historic corridors linking Fort MacArthur's WWII big-gun batteries. The spot now houses a war and defense museum. Look for the hidden cemetery, perhaps the first of its kind, dedicated to the military's K-9 Commandos. Add to Angel's Gate the Point Fermin Lighthouse and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and a trip to the southern tip of San Pedro becomes a full-day outing.

4. Chapman Plaza

Copy Link
W 6th St & S Alexandria Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 387-5875

Originally a 1929 drive-in market, the Churrigueresque Chapman Plaza is now a market of restaurants, bars and coffeehouses soaked in the culture of Koreatown. Parking can be a challenge, but it’s worth it to see a city Historic-Cultural Monument that has evolved beautifully with changing times and tastes.

5. Broadway Theater District

Copy Link
800 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014

My heart belongs to Broadway, the soul of downtown LA. For well over 25 years, I've been wandering this time-warp of a boulevard, exploring its unlocked doors and gasping at a wealth of gorgeous early 20th-century interiors. Grab a bite at Grand Central Market or Clifton's Cafeteria — both are staples of downtown's culinary history. Drink up at Precinct, the biggest, baddest, burliest gay bar in town. Then take in the glowing neon marquees of the street’s amazing movie palaces (some accessible on Saturday mornings through the Los Angeles Conservancy's Broadway walking tours). Ask nicely and the security guard at 610 S. Broadway may let you walk up the hand-carved, marble staircase of the 1909 W.P. Story Building to view its original stained-glass skylight. And, perhaps, the folks selling audio and video goods out of the lobby of the shuttered 1910 Pantages Theatre at 534 South Broadway may let you peek behind the curtain into the dark abyss of what was briefly the strip's most noted house of vaudeville.

6. The Museum of Neon Art's Neon Cruise

Copy Link
216 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91204

OK, full disclosure. So I host this little tour of LA called the Neon Cruise, and I've been doing it for 17 years. Of course I'm going to recommend it, because it's the best damn tour of the city! Officially, the three-hour, nighttime jaunt aboard an open-air double-decker bus is all about architecture, culture, history, restaurants, hip drinking spots, and sensational neon signs, but I don't shy away from LA's dirt and grime. This tour isn't for tourists; it's for Angelenos who think they know LA

7. Museum Of Neon Art

Copy Link
216 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91204

I've been with MONA for 17 years and have saved dozens of vintage neon signs, but the museum is so much more than signage. For those seeking electric art, MONA is an institution founded by artists. For those more interested in science, the place is aglow with noble gases, phosphors and electricity. But it's the multitude of roadside-Americana neon signs, such as the newly restored Brown Derby rooftop sign or the enormous Fox Venice theater marquee, that keep me there year after year.

8. Rocketship Park

Copy Link
5101 Calle De Ricardo
Torrance, CA 90510

Considering all the pieces of my childhood that I never care to revisit, I find it miraculous that some memories remain and they're tucked inside a 1960s rocket ship that overlooks a bluff in the South Bay. Grandma took me to Rocketship Park on many a summer day and let me run loose, but I never went far — just to the top of that 28-foot steel rocket. Perhaps I was just a weird, happy loner sitting inside a fanciful piece of play equipment, but I was never solitary for long because every kid in Torrance knew the spot and loved it just as well. When the rocket ship was secretly removed in 1992, the whole South Bay seemed to protest. The powers that be in Torrance listened and the landmark was returned. The towering, kid-friendly rocket remains one of the last of its kind in the nation, but adults best be warned not to get stuck inside this childhood memory when they return.

9. St. Basil's Catholic Church

Copy Link
3611 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 389-3142
Visit Website

Walking the entire length of Wilshire Boulevard with a group of friends a few years back changed my life. We ate breakfast downtown, lunch in Beverly Hills, dinner in Santa Monica, then took a bus back to where we started more than 16 miles and a few blisters earlier. Seeing Wilshire without a windshield in my way completely shifted my view of the city and, eventually, all of the research for the book Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles came out of that long day's journey. One of the boulevard's best surprises was St. Basil's, a 1969 brutalist facade punctuated with fractured towers of abstract stained glass by Claire Falkenstein. Her work is everywhere in Los Angeles but so underappreciated. Pass through St. Basil's front doors, which appear to be Falkenstein's ode to a crown of thorns, and take a seat inside. Sit a bit, as my friends and I did on our Wilshire walk, and just watch the sunlight for a while as its colors play among the Stations of the Cross. Personally, I don't subscribe to one religion or another, but St. Basil's was an inspiration that still makes me tear up — that day changed my life.

10. The Escondite

Copy Link
410 Boyd St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 626-1800
Visit Website

Stuck in a filthy hellhole of a location between Little Tokyo and Skid Row–Skidrowkyo, natch–lies a musically inclined dive bar, The Escondite. It's not very old or necessarily stellar, but it's a comfortable spot with live music most every night and artery-clogging burgers and beer. With Mumford Brewery next door, escape the disingenuous Arts District boomtown and seek out the friendly folks at this lesser-known hangout.

Loading comments...

1. Echo Park Lake and the Parsonage of Sister Aimee

751 Echo Park Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90026

A few laps around Echo Park's serene, water-lily-filled lake does a body good—and a cup of coffee from Square One at the Boathouse soothes the soul. Yet I will forever be drawn to the history of the nearby Foursquare Church and one of L.A.'s most unique characters, Aimee Semple McPherson, the woman who singlehandedly turned religious services into theater. Visit Sister Aimee's home, the parsonage, and learn about her multifaceted life, loves and the scandals that persist beyond her death in 1944.

751 Echo Park Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90026

2. Taylor's Prime Steak House

3361 W 8th St, Los Angeles, CA 90005

Red Naugahyde booths, gold-framed paintings glistening in the dim lighting, crusty sourdough bread, a martini, and rare sirloin make Taylor's the best steakhouse in town. Grandpa raised me on steak and potatoes, but it was Taylor's that convinced me creamed spinach has a place on heaven's dinner table.

3361 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005

3. Korean Bell of Friendship, Angel's Gate Recreation Center

3601 S Gaffey St, San Pedro, CA 90731

A green plateau overlooking the Pacific is a tranquil spot by itself, but the intricate and inspiring Korean Bell of Friendship adds a romantic focal point. Whether the blue horizon is clear all the way to Catalina Island or the bluffs are socked in with a chilly ocean fog, hundreds of years of history and natural beauty surround the 17-ton bell and Angel's Gate Park. Footsteps away, underneath a nearby hillside, lies a labyrinth of historic corridors linking Fort MacArthur's WWII big-gun batteries. The spot now houses a war and defense museum. Look for the hidden cemetery, perhaps the first of its kind, dedicated to the military's K-9 Commandos. Add to Angel's Gate the Point Fermin Lighthouse and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and a trip to the southern tip of San Pedro becomes a full-day outing.

3601 S Gaffey St
San Pedro, CA 90731

4. Chapman Plaza

W 6th St & S Alexandria Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90020

Originally a 1929 drive-in market, the Churrigueresque Chapman Plaza is now a market of restaurants, bars and coffeehouses soaked in the culture of Koreatown. Parking can be a challenge, but it’s worth it to see a city Historic-Cultural Monument that has evolved beautifully with changing times and tastes.

W 6th St & S Alexandria Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90020

5. Broadway Theater District

800 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014

My heart belongs to Broadway, the soul of downtown LA. For well over 25 years, I've been wandering this time-warp of a boulevard, exploring its unlocked doors and gasping at a wealth of gorgeous early 20th-century interiors. Grab a bite at Grand Central Market or Clifton's Cafeteria — both are staples of downtown's culinary history. Drink up at Precinct, the biggest, baddest, burliest gay bar in town. Then take in the glowing neon marquees of the street’s amazing movie palaces (some accessible on Saturday mornings through the Los Angeles Conservancy's Broadway walking tours). Ask nicely and the security guard at 610 S. Broadway may let you walk up the hand-carved, marble staircase of the 1909 W.P. Story Building to view its original stained-glass skylight. And, perhaps, the folks selling audio and video goods out of the lobby of the shuttered 1910 Pantages Theatre at 534 South Broadway may let you peek behind the curtain into the dark abyss of what was briefly the strip's most noted house of vaudeville.

800 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014

6. The Museum of Neon Art's Neon Cruise

216 S Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA 91204

OK, full disclosure. So I host this little tour of LA called the Neon Cruise, and I've been doing it for 17 years. Of course I'm going to recommend it, because it's the best damn tour of the city! Officially, the three-hour, nighttime jaunt aboard an open-air double-decker bus is all about architecture, culture, history, restaurants, hip drinking spots, and sensational neon signs, but I don't shy away from LA's dirt and grime. This tour isn't for tourists; it's for Angelenos who think they know LA

216 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91204

7. Museum Of Neon Art

216 S Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA 91204

I've been with MONA for 17 years and have saved dozens of vintage neon signs, but the museum is so much more than signage. For those seeking electric art, MONA is an institution founded by artists. For those more interested in science, the place is aglow with noble gases, phosphors and electricity. But it's the multitude of roadside-Americana neon signs, such as the newly restored Brown Derby rooftop sign or the enormous Fox Venice theater marquee, that keep me there year after year.

216 S Brand Blvd
Glendale, CA 91204

8. Rocketship Park

5101 Calle De Ricardo, Torrance, CA 90510

Considering all the pieces of my childhood that I never care to revisit, I find it miraculous that some memories remain and they're tucked inside a 1960s rocket ship that overlooks a bluff in the South Bay. Grandma took me to Rocketship Park on many a summer day and let me run loose, but I never went far — just to the top of that 28-foot steel rocket. Perhaps I was just a weird, happy loner sitting inside a fanciful piece of play equipment, but I was never solitary for long because every kid in Torrance knew the spot and loved it just as well. When the rocket ship was secretly removed in 1992, the whole South Bay seemed to protest. The powers that be in Torrance listened and the landmark was returned. The towering, kid-friendly rocket remains one of the last of its kind in the nation, but adults best be warned not to get stuck inside this childhood memory when they return.

5101 Calle De Ricardo
Torrance, CA 90510

9. St. Basil's Catholic Church

3611 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010

Walking the entire length of Wilshire Boulevard with a group of friends a few years back changed my life. We ate breakfast downtown, lunch in Beverly Hills, dinner in Santa Monica, then took a bus back to where we started more than 16 miles and a few blisters earlier. Seeing Wilshire without a windshield in my way completely shifted my view of the city and, eventually, all of the research for the book Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles came out of that long day's journey. One of the boulevard's best surprises was St. Basil's, a 1969 brutalist facade punctuated with fractured towers of abstract stained glass by Claire Falkenstein. Her work is everywhere in Los Angeles but so underappreciated. Pass through St. Basil's front doors, which appear to be Falkenstein's ode to a crown of thorns, and take a seat inside. Sit a bit, as my friends and I did on our Wilshire walk, and just watch the sunlight for a while as its colors play among the Stations of the Cross. Personally, I don't subscribe to one religion or another, but St. Basil's was an inspiration that still makes me tear up — that day changed my life.

3611 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010

10. The Escondite

410 Boyd St, Los Angeles, CA 90013

Stuck in a filthy hellhole of a location between Little Tokyo and Skid Row–Skidrowkyo, natch–lies a musically inclined dive bar, The Escondite. It's not very old or necessarily stellar, but it's a comfortable spot with live music most every night and artery-clogging burgers and beer. With Mumford Brewery next door, escape the disingenuous Arts District boomtown and seek out the friendly folks at this lesser-known hangout.

410 Boyd St
Los Angeles, CA 90013