Saturday, March 5, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Sometimes I ask people if they are comfortable going places by themselves. In the past year I've grown ever more capable of taking myself on solo excursions. I've discovered places that are satisfying little idylls, either for singular or plural outings. Here are some I can vouch for in no particular order.

1. Tommy's Restaurant, 170 N. Hill Avenue, Pasadena. For a meal under $5, I always choose the chili cheese fries and a small drink. People who know me might be shocked at this pursuit because I am not a fast-food fan. However, Tommy's is clean and bright, perfect for spreading out the Pasadena Weekly and eating with decadent gusto.

2. The Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino. Buy a membership and you can walk the grounds in quiet splendor beginning at 8 a.m. The guards are always affable weather prognosticators. I head to the cactus garden first to admire the crenulated brains and prickly mammaries that stud the landscape. The ducks at the pond have paired off, the camellia forest casts down its showy mantle, the allee to the mausoleum foreshadows more cooling strolls into summer. A visit to the gardens in any circumstance reminds us why we love California. It makes the heart sing its own private aria.

3. Farmers' Market at 3rd and Fairfax. Another venerable destination perfect for a Sunday morning: arrive by 9 a.m. Take your L.A. Times; get your two-hour free parking spot in the lot before all the car sharks start circling the lot. Proceed to the Coffee Corner, buy a cup of joe and have your parking ticket validated NOW. I prefer the communal tables under the heaters, but really any spot is suitable for eavesdropping on screenwriters, families, or wizened regulars. Diners seat themselves with breakfast trays from the surrounding stalls and the place gradually increases its animation. There is still time to wander over to the Grove as shops open at 10 a.m. Although I pooh-pooh the Grove for its artifice compared to my beloved Farmers' Market, I confess to having found some true bargains at the Grove Gap and Anthropologie.

4. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. My own personal screen gem! I subscribe to their newsletter ( and there is a steady stream of offerings for even an ordinary movie fan like me. I recommend the free curated exhibits on the fourth floor. I like to arrive at noon on a Sunday when parking is navigable and foot traffic is nil. Go right into the lobby, take out your driver's license, and approach the desk. Hand over the license and ask to see the exhibit on the fourth floor. You'll receive a pass and off you go via the elevator. Now there's a rarefied space guaranteed to please and teach you about cinema. I've seen collections featuring W.C. Fields, Ray Harryhausen, and Noel Coward. It's a splendid uncrowded foray. When you finish and collect your license, be sure to linger in the lobby where there are historic and changing portraits or posters displayed. The restrooms are coolly elegant too.

5. The Cornfields. For this one I ride the Gold Line to Chinatown station. Just before alighting, you will note a 32-acre evolving park. We used to refer to it as The Cornfields, which harks back to a time when kernels germinated there accidentally, but now it is an historic park of El Pueblo de Los Angeles. It may sound funny to take a train in order to take a walk, but I do recommend strolling from station to park and then walking its periphery. What was once a dusty old trainyard is now a farm lab, a grassy oasis, and a wildflower garden. The park is an exemplary L.A. juxtaposition of nearby buildings from our manufacturing past, our progressive train system, and the greening hope of reclamation. Often I feel that by walking a place, I understand it more. That's my sensation when I walk The Cornfields and look up at the big sheltering sky.