Best of L.A. 2017: 92 of Our Favorite Things to Eat, Do, and Buy Right Now

The most important list of the year

What to Do

33. Free After-Hours Museum Programming

The gratis jazz nights at LACMA are good, but it’s tough to beat the panoramic vistas, up-and- coming musical performances, and sun-soaked travertine architecture you get at the Getty Center’s “Off the 405” summer concert series. Sip Agua Fresca cocktails and snap a few selfies while indie bands like Savoy Motel perform (they close out the season on August 26). Aside from the $10 parking fee, this is the best culture money can’t buy.

34. Pool Hall

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The odds of scoring that sole slab of slate at your local watering hole are never great. Atwater Village’s Green Room Billiards is stocked with classic billiard and snooker tables, including the Old Pyramid and Russian varieties, which puts it a cut above other stalwarts like Sherman Oaks’ House of Billiards or K-Town’s Koray Billiard. The beer is cheap, the food is surprisingly good (don’t skip the wings), and the jukebox is packed with current tunes and old favorites. If pool’s not your thing, no worries—backgammon and darts abound.

35. Gallery to See Pop Culture Art

Cultural nostalgia reaches new heights at Gallery 1988, where art is inspired by television, video games, film, internet memes, podcasts, and more. While a slew of local galleries host the occasional pop culture- focused show, none is as dedicated to the conceit as this small but mighty space. Muses of past exhibitions include HBO’s Veep, Zoolander, the oeuvre of Stephen King, and the podcast How Did This Get Made?. Most shows are brimming with prints and paintings—and (bonus!) everything is buyable.

36. Transport To Catalina

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Catalina recently opened an aerial-adventure course in a grove of eucalyptus trees, but you can start the fun on the mainland in an Island Express Helicopter. Lifting off from San Pedro or Long Beach, the choppers can get to Avalon in just 15 minutes. It’s not exactly cheap—a round-trip from Long Beach, say, is $250 (compared with $73.50 for the Catalina Express boat). But it’s unlikely you’ll be grumbling about the cost when you post a high-flying #TBT pic.

37. Magic Show That’s Not at The Magic Castle

Photograph by Spencer Lowell

You know the score: There’s no walking into the Magic Castle unless you are—or know—a member. Black Rabbit Rose is as close as you can get without breaking and entering. The old-timey emporium from the Houston brothers (No Vacancy, Pour Vous) looks like something Houdini might have dreamed up if he’d moonlighted as an interior designer: red velvet upholstery, tufted leather booths, a cozy stage. Craft cocktails and a menu of Thai delicacies from chefs Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip complement a rotating roster of performers, who flabbergast Thursday through Saturday. You may even catch famed illusionist Rob Zabrecky (the Rose’s entertainment director) or Liberty Larsen, a fourth-generation magician and part of the Castle’s founding family.

38. Year-Round Whale-Watching Destination

For some cheaper, Dramamine-free alternatives to whale-watching cruises, visit Dana Point. Meander down the boardwalk at the harbor, grab a seat on the sand at nearby Doheny State Beach, or take a short hike to the Dana Point Headlands. Then keep your eyes peeled. From May to November, you have a good chance of seeing blue whales while they hang in California to feed. (Fun fact: They’re the largest animal to have ever existed—bigger than dinosaurs.) From December to mid-May, spotting gray whales on their migration from Alaska to the Baja Peninsula is almost a given. If you’re not boat averse, though, a cruise ($45 to $65 for adults) is worthwhile—hop aboard to get all up in the whales’ krill.

39. Ping-Pong For Hobbyists

Finally a reason to bust out the Ping-Pong paddle emoji. Hone your game at Tony’s Saloon, the thoughtfully divey DTLA watering hole from nightlife impresario Cedd Moses. While SPiN at the Standard has tables galore and this place has just one, it’s the sceney-but- not-sceney ambience that sets Tony’s apart from the rest. Fans of the game can play (or watch) on the back patio under the glow of twinkle lights; show up between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. to indulge in happy hour drink specials (try the Rye of the Beholder for $7) and discounted bites. Multiple matches are admittedly tough, but you can always test your declining motor skills with darts and billiards.

40. True-Crime Tours

As the husband-and- wife team behind Esotouric, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave have built an empire on exposing L.A.’s grim underbelly with twisted joie de vivre and nerdy zeal. Their Black Dahlia bus excursion is a classic, but consider one of the neighborhood jaunts, like “Weird West Adams.” The tour is a mash-up of history, urban studies, and shocking misdeeds that weaves famous cases (“Machine Gun” Walker, Marvin Gaye) with tales of doomed ditch diggers, tunneling bank robbers, and illegal mansion distilleries. The four-hour outings fly by, leaving you with a dozen open Wiki tabs and a thirst for more armchair sleuthing.

41. Street for Barhopping

Photograph by Dylan + Jeni

Neither downtown’s Broadway nor Hollywood Boulevard can compete with a bar-backed stretch of 6th Street bordered by Western and Normandie avenues in Koreatown. Start with a Royal Hawaiian cocktail (and a show) at the supper club Mama Lion, just off 6th on Western. Veer north for craft beer and shots at nouveau dive Frank ’n Hank, then chow on some alcohol soaker-uppers (read: bacon fat fries) while sipping an IPA at Beer Belly. Down a tiki-tinged beverage at Here’s Looking at You before finishing the night with a classic martini at the Normandie Club—if you’re still standing.

42. Unintimidating Chamber Music Experience

To catch a full-size, world-class orchestra in Los Angeles, you see the L.A. Phil. For a more intimate experience, you can’t go wrong with classical performances by the smaller Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Anything but stuffy, LACO’s repertoire is consistently approachable (next month’s lineup includes a performance of the Amadeus soundtrack), and the peripatetic operation gives you a chance to hear music in a variety of venues (Northridge’s Valley Performing Arts Center, Glendale’s Alex Theatre). Dip a toe into one of the free monthly “Acoustic Caffeine” concerts, staged in the 6th Street lobby of Figueroa and Wilshire.

43. Virtual Reality Arcade

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Of the few virtual reality gaming joints that have emerged in L.A., the IMAX VR Experience Centre is far and away the most polished. Step into a one-person “pod” to battle stormtroopers on Tattooine or gun down baddies in the shoes of John Wick (IMAX plans to tweak the games and the hardware as technology upgrades allow). Ten dollars buys ten-ish minutes of immersive play; for $25 you can get a 25-minute sampler pack, which lets you try a few different simulations.

44. Shooting Range For Newbies

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Exercise, mindfulness, punching a pillow—all can be handy for combatting pent-up stress. When those methods don’t cut it, though, you might find the catharsis you’re looking for at Inglewood’s LAX Firing Range. The two-hour beginner’s class ($120) walks you through proper handling, loading, and shooting techniques, and the staffers are happy to give tips when it’s go time. An hour on the range costs $16 to $20, and gun rentals run another $15 to $22 (plus a $2 first-time setup fee). If you are renting, LAX requires that you bring a pal. Lock and load, baby.

45. Antigravity Yoga

Already perfected warrior pose with your feet on the ground? It might be time to elevate your practice. Climb into a fabric hammock at Culver City’s Aerial Warehouse for a take on traditional yoga that is said to make inverted poses easier by counteracting gravity (and even temporarily easing back pain by lengthening the spine). Beginners learn basic poses in a solo session ($110) or a group class ($40). Test out your circus skills on trampolines and tumbling mats after class.

46. Secret Dog Park

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If crowded dog parks stress out your pup—or you—there’s always Wattles Mansion, a sprawling 50-acre estate a block off Hollywood Boulevard. (You might recognize it from The O.C. and Troop Beverly Hills.) Just beyond the 1908 Mission Revival house lies a full acre of lush green lawn adorned with pillared steps and a traditional Japanese shrine that offers a more chill socialization scene. The area is bordered by a botanical garden and a lightly traveled trail connected to Runyon Canyon, ideal for a post-lounge hike.

47. Immersive Movie Theater

The cushy digs at the Landmark in West L.A. are comfortable enough to sleep in, and if you’re the type who likes to enjoy an order of beef skewers while watching Hulk smash, then iPic is the place. What no other theater in town offers—yet—is the immersive 4DX experience at Cinépolis Pico Rivera. Among the 14 auditoriums is one equipped with blocks of motion-activated seats, each of which is synced to the 3-D flick onscreen. You’ll get special effects like wind, lightning, rain, and scents, too, à la California Adventure’s It’s Tough to Be a Bug! ride. Once you try it, you may have a tough time going back to a regular old AMC—unless you’re prone to motion sickness.

48. L.A. River Kayak Tour

Thanks in part to adventure companies like L.A. River Expeditions, the L.A. River is slowly shedding its rep as a 51-mile concrete gutter. The nonprofit is one of the only outfits to lead kayak tours down both stretches of the waterway that are legally kayak-able ($45 and up). Frogtown’s section features mild rapids and rocks, while the Encino-adjacent Sepulveda Basin offers a dreamy, flat-water drift that showcases a version of the river as it was before we arrived (save for some trash and sunken shopping carts). Birds sing, butterflies hover, and fish flit past your paddle as informed guides (sometimes even the company’s eco-celeb founder, George Wolfe—aka the guy who broke the law to prove that the river is, in fact, navigable) share historical facts.

49. Variety Show

If you’ve already traversed the weeknight comedy circuit, consider adding a little vaudeville to your lineup. Scot Nery’s Boobie Trap, a sideshow smorgasbord staged on Wednesdays at King King in Hollywood, presents 15 performers who aim to impress with magic, music, juggling, or perhaps even a portrayal of a lactating cow. Wondering whether that’s a celeb in the back row? It probably is—Nery’s circus has attracted everyone from Emma Thompson to Steve-O (who’s been known to hop onstage).

50. Laser Tag for Adults

Laser tag is paintball’s pain-free cousin from the air-conditioned future, which gives it the upper hand in the landscape of gun-focused activities. Lost Worlds two-story Atlantis-themed arena is an energetic kid’s Eden, but with 6,500 square feet of space, the over-30 set actually stands a chance. Each round lasts about ten minutes and is packed with various tactical hacks (blast runes for superpowers like “rapid fire” or “invulnerability”), and techie vests let you choose your own pulse-pounding playlist. Spring for a membership and your points will be tracked for a lifetime—which means leveling up is inevitable.

51. Jazz Venue for Up-and-Coming Talent

Opened on the third level of a Little Tokyo strip mall in 2009, Bluewhale is the place to see the next generation of jazz greats sharing the stage with heavy hitters. It’s not unusual to find a veteran like saxophonist Bob Mintzer or drummer Jeff Hamilton playing with emerging talent like trombonist Jonah Levine, and an affordable cover charge (typically $5 to $20) ensures an age-diverse crowd. Doors open at 8 p.m., an hour before showtime; arrive early for a seat or risk craning your neck.

52. Offbeat Sculpture Garden

Sculpture gardens are like junk drawers: Seems like everybody—the Hammer, the Norton Simon, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—has one. But the Hollywood Sculpture Garden makes its contemporaries seem impersonal by comparison. Populated with an intricate steel dragon, metallic orbs, and glossy rainbow mannequins, the outdoor gallery in Dearborn Canyon overlooks East L.A. It’s also the private property of Dr. Robby Gordon, who created the space in his backyard. You can see many of the works from the street; for a closer look, give Gordon a call—he’ll walk you through the grounds and his artfully painted home (he may even spot you a pair of 3-D glasses to take it all in).

53. Stationery Store

Video tried to kill the radio star. E-mail has been on the same crusade with letter writing. But paper reigns at a fleet of local shops. While Venice’s Urbanic Paper Boutique and Larchmont Village’s Landis are two standouts, they can’t match Highland Park’s Shorthand. The sweet, tidy office-supply store mixes utility with luxury; along with deskwares and writing tools of both the graphite and ink varieties, you’ll find cards printed on a letterpress in the back of the shop. Ask nicely and you may be able to see the old-school method in action.

54. Picnic on Mars

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. Agua Dulce, California

Photo by Lisa Corson

As far as the city’s outer limits go, Vasquez Rocks is the only spot that’s hosted Zanti ant men, John Carter’s lumbering Thoats, and a reptilian Gorn slain by Captain Kirk. With its unearthly scenery—sandstone outcroppings jutting into the sky at 50-degree angles—the site, only 40 miles north of L.A., is the 25 million-year- old result of an overactive fault line. Pack a picnic, find a lookout worthy of the place’s bandido namesake (one Tiburcio Vasquez), and dine alfresco in the otherwordly landscape.

55. Hip Bowling Alley

Whether you throw turkeys, get stuck in the gutter, or just want to swig draught old fashioneds amid a cacophony of crashing pins, there’s no better scene than Highland Park Bowl. The Prohibition-era alley was obsessively restored by the bar impresarios at 1933 Group (Sassafras Saloon, Idle Hour), and so of course it is Instagrammable from every angle. It’s chock full of conversation pieces, from the pinsetter chandeliers that hang above the bar to the league placards (ex: Unholy Rollers, Fire Balls), tourney banners, and dusty liquor bottles lining the walls—all discovered during renovation. They’ve also got burlesque, DJ nights, wood-fired za, and an horchata-cream White Russian called The Dude Abides. In short, they’ve got hipness to spare.

56. Live Butterfly Exhibition

A flurry of butterflies seems more in keeping with a verdant paradise than L.A. But butterflies you’ll see—and in droves—at the Natural History Museum’s Butterfly Pavilion. Newly revamped to accommodate dozens of species that call North America home, it’s the only place in town where you’ll serve as a landing pad for monarchs, gray crackers (which look like an airborne optical illusion), and zebra longwings (you’ll know them when you see them). Don’t miss the outdoor Pollinator Garden, which attracts local species that breed well in unrestricted spaces.

57. Distillery Tour

Photograph by Marc Royce

Greenbar Distillery walks visitors through the art and history of its organic spirits—with detours for sips, of course. Cofounder Melkon Khosrovian may even share the story behind their Grand Poppy amaro, a liqueur flavored with local botanicals (in this case, bay leaf, pink peppercorn, artichoke, citrus, and poppy): “It was inspired by our hikes in the hills of L.A.,” he says. “I have a bad habit of picking and eating things along the path. A lot of the ingredients are stuff we pass all the time without realizing they’re food.”

58-61. Monday Night Music Residencies

The Echo

Photo by Neil Krug

Monday nights may be famously slow, but not at these four bar-slash- venues. While it’s only a short drive from one to the next, their musical personalities are miles apart. Which one will you choose? The EchoThe Echo helped launch the career of Foster the People, but not all residency bands are bound to please. The back patio is a solid retreat: Grab a drink, take a seat on one of the benches, and wait out the cacophony inside. The Satellite: When indie rockers Local Natives finished their set, they were able to hit one of two different bars with more than 20 whiskeys and 20 or so beers on offer. That allows for more than 400 boilermaker combinations—best of luck to you on Tuesday. Silverlake LoungeThe Lounge was an epicenter of the early 2000s Silver Lake music scene, hosting powerhouses like Metric. Today it tends to book acts with histories that go back months rather than years. The Bootleg: Maybe you caught Kimbra’s indie-pop/improv performance (aptly titled “Space Jam”)? You can always count on the Bootleg’s residency program to be nearly genreless.