I don’t spend much time at sea—like, practically none—but I am an explorer. A few years ago, while driving back from a dinner at the old-school Dal Rae steak house in Pico Rivera, I pointed to the Commerce Casino and said to my husband, “We gotta go there at least once, right?” It’s not as if we discovered the Hawaiian Islands or Machu Picchu when we went inside, but we did see a whole other side of the city, where gamblers enjoy huge platters of fresh fruit with their blackjack and gin. I’ve rarely regretted pulling off the freeway to check out a hole-in-the-wall Salvadoran restaurant, say, or taking a new shortcut on the way to work. (How else would I have gaped at so many pristine deco apartment buildings in Koreatown?) L.A. rewards those who meander. The San Gabriel family that hops the Blue Line to the aquarium in Long Beach on a Saturday morning may be surprised by the sunset reflecting off the Watts Towers on the way home. The fitness nut who skips spinning class to bike the Strand may, having tasted the salty air, never renew her membership to the air-conditioned gym.
There are the wonderful experiences you can’t plan—the ones you just happen upon. And then there are those that you can map out. I’ve got a long list of dream trips I’d like to take one day, from ambling the Cotswolds to pontooning around Antarctica to traversing all 5,722 miles of the Trans-Siberian Railway. But I lavish just as much attention on my must-do list of places to see and adventures to have right here in L.A. Our vast city is like a mini universe, and while I’ve covered it my entire career (I used to write a weekly column about quirky spots in L.A.), there are still thousands of unturned stones for me. I’ve never meditated at the Self-Realization Fellowship, or attended a Derby Dolls match, or ridden the Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel, or visited the Playboy Mansion, or…the list could go on and on, even for me. (For the record, Hugh, my pjs and silk robe are on standby for your next soiree, though I hear the grotto is kind of gross.)
This month we offer 50 worthy things every Angeleno should do (at least once), with tips on how to do them. We’ve divided the list into five levels, arranged by degree of difficulty: It won’t take as much advance work to kick back a gimlet at Union Station (level one, and yes, I’ve done it more times than I’d like to admit) as it will to score an invite to Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33 in New Orleans Square (level five, and I’m still waiting), but both are equally worth the effort, I’m sure. What you put in, you get back. That’s what the taut gym class instructor says over the music to get me through my morning exercise routine, and based on my knowledge as a lifelong Angeleno, that philosophy applies to cities as well as to abs.