Sunday, November 8, 2009

Obscure Los Angeles

Roadboy's Mini LA Tour

In any city I visit I like to take in more than just your typical tourist traps. Not to say that I don't love some big old tourist traps too, but hitting some obscure places along the way suits me just fine.

Last week my daughter and I spent four great days in southern California.  We enjoyed some  excellent food and spent some time in "behind the scenes" LA.

We made our first stop Indio California. We stopped there to eat. Not just eat anything. No we stopped to eat tamales. And not just any tamales, but the sweet corn tamales found at Indio's Pueblo Viejo Grill. Oh they are wonderful! Word of warning their full meals are huge. For every two people we order one combo and a bit of A la Carte. Another must stop in Indio is for a medjool date shake at Shield's Date Garden (Shield's has been a pesticide-free date growing institution in Indio since 1924).

The Place to Stop For Tamale's in Indio

I had a business appointment which resulted in an overnight stay in Fontana. This provided an excuse to eat lunch at Walter's in Claremont. Claremont is lovely and Walter's has that "only in California" feel to it. Great food, beautiful indoor or outdoor seating, and creative salads and entree's. I had a very tasty lamb pita. Two days, two great meals. 

Lamb Pita at Walter's Claremont

We then traveled on into LA with a much anticipated stop at the Galco Market in Eagle Rock. This little Mom and Pop grocery store features lots and lots and lots of soda pop. They sell soft drinks I have not seen since I was a kid (Nesbitts!) as well as flavors from around the US and around the world. Soft drinks and beer from South America, Europe, and Asia all represented in little old Galco. We stocked up on six packs of real Dr. Pepper in bottles from the plant in Dublin Texas (Texan's out there know what that means). Update 2012: Dr. Pepper's corporate owners have officially closed the Dublin Dr. Pepper plant, so the last plant making the soda so many of us cherished is now history. Shame on you Dr. Pepper!  We also got our Cheerwine from N.C. We got Shandy from Scotland, mint julep soda from KY, and birch beer from Maryland. Frankly, you could sample something everyday for a couple of months from Galco and not duplicate any two favors. They also have all the old time candy. Yep, I bought a big old sugar daddy. It was 45 minutes of pure bliss on a stick. I remembered my childhood and years of dental work squirmed.  

Galco's Market Eagle Rock
(Click to Enlarge)

Day three was spent visiting friends and taking the Sony Pictures backlot tour. While everybody knows about the "get in the tram" tour of Universal's backlot, not many know that NBC, Sony, Paramount, and Warner Brothers also offer intimate, small group walking tours by reservation only. They vary from $8 for NBC to $45 depending on the studio.

Sony Picture's 46 Acre Studio in Culver City
(Click to Enlarge)

For this trip we chose the Sony tour in Culver City. Yes kids many of "Hollywood's" biggest movies were not made in Hollywood. They were made in Culver City! 

The tour was great. It is a walking tour and takes about two hours. It starts with a film highlighting the history of this amazing movie factory. This lot was formerly MGM and is where Louie B. Mayer once boasted he had "more stars than there are in the heavens". One of the gate's still has MGM's trademark lions. The lot was also home to David O. Selznick (Gone With The Wind). It was where The Wizard of Oz was filmed, and in the 50's it ushered in television by housing I Love Lucy's DesiLu Studios. Later the studio became Lorimar and almost lost its soul. It is now officially Sony Entertainment and home to Columbia Pictures. 

Maybe 5 minutes into our tour Will Smith stepped up from behind us and grinned said a big "Hello" and disappeared into the Thalberg Building. He is taller than I had thought and before I could swing my camera up, he was gone.

The studio is immaculate, very safety conscious, and very, very, busy. The current depressed value of the dollar is clearly making it viable to shoot pictures in LA. This lot is 46 acres, so wear comfortable shoes.

For lunch a friend took us to Addi's Tandoor on Torrance Avenue in Redondo Beach. Don't let the strip mall location fool you. I have eaten Indian food in some wonderful restaurants before, but this was a simply exceptional lunch. We started with very hot and very perfect onion kulcha and garlic naan. From there on lunch just kept getting better and better. I had halibut masala and Ms. M had scallops malabar. The portions were way big and again we could have easily shared.

We had dinner at Izaka-ya sushi near Beverly Center on West 3rd St. in LA. This is the hole-in-the-wall casual second cousin to the pricey Katsu-Ya restaurant chain. While not cheap, it is not stratospheric like Katsu-Ya. Service is fast. It is noisy and crowded. But the creamy rock shrimp on spicy salmon roll was just eye-rolling good. Go early!

The next day was spent visiting a college friend of Miss M's at Kazu Kibuishi's Bolt City Studio in Alhambra. Bolt City is the dream factory where the Flight, Daisy Kutter, Copper, and Amulet graphic novels are created. The talent in Kazu's studio is awe inspiring. Bolt City is not open to tours. But you can go to their website to see what they are all about. 

Visiting Bolt City had a nice by-product for us; Alhambra. Alhambra is becoming a very cool city. You can eat just about anything on Main Street or visit Gallery Nucleus ( Hint: a great place for some off-beat web based Christmas shopping. At the far end of West Main Street is another treasure Fosselman's Ice Cream. One taste and you can see why they have all those "Best of LA" awards on the wall.

Our last day this trip was spent doing arguably our one big touristy thing; Universal Studios. On a weekday, in the off season, Universal is such a nice theme park. Meticulously clean, uncrowded, filled with friendly staff, decent food, and then there is also CityWalk Universal's shopping and entertainment district just outside its gates.

Sky Diving in CityWalk
(click to Enlarge)

Next Trip Roadboy is Doing This!

Set from King Kong - Ship Sailing into Skull Island
(Actually a Miniature - Click to Enlarge)

The Life Sized Set From War of The Worlds
(Yep That Is A Real 747)

A Miniature From The Stop Motion Feature Coraline
(Incredibly Detailed Tiny Models - Click to Enlarge)

That evening after Universal closed we were off to Pasadena for a taping of NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me! radio show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. They taped two shows. One on Thursday that was the "live" show broadcast on Saturday. The Friday night show we saw was what they call an "Evergreen". It uses a timeless theme and is meant to be broadcast sometime in the future (when the cast is taking a holiday). They taped for well over two hours straight. The guest was George Takai from the original Star Trek and it was a lot of fun to participate in the taping. If you are a resident of (or plan a visit to) Chicago, consider catching a taping of the show in their native habitat.

After all that fun we slept like puppies. Next morning we drive home with a stop at the Premium Outlet Malls in Palm Springs.

There were about four other restaurants I had planned to try, but they, along with a trip to Hollywood's Magic Castle, and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, will just have to wait for future trips to Obscure LA.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009

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