Call them hidden gems, best-kept secrets or hidden spots — LA has so many nooks and crannies. It’s definitely easy to drive right past them. Kevin and I have lived in Los Angeles for nearly a decade and yet, we continue to stumble across new things. And sometimes (umm, more often than not), it’s a place that’s been there all along!
The past several months, we’ve made it our mission to search out some of LA’s most unusual spots. Check out our list of the top 5 things we uncovered. And soon enough, you’ll be in the know!
5. Explore the Origins of Disneyland in Griffith Park
Everybody knows about the Magic Kingdom. But did you know that Disneyland was conceived inside a barn? Just a few months back, we stumbled upon Walt Disney’s Carolwood Barn. Originally built in 1950 behind Walt’s home on Carolwood Drive here in LA (hence the name), the barn was moved to its current location among the towering hills of Griffith Park right in the heart of LA.
Back in the day, Walt spent hours inside the barn discussing new projects with his Imagineers including what we now know today as Disneyland. Coolest tidbit of all? Walt originally wanted to build Disneyland in Burbank! However, the residents weren’t so thrilled about the potential noise and traffic of a theme park. Well Burbank, now you have Ikea! Whomp whomp…
Crazy as it sounds, Walt’s barn was almost demolished. But his daughter came to the rescue and the place is now a free museum. But be warned, you can’t just show up. The place has very limited hours, open generally on the 3rd Sunday of each month from just 11 AM to 3 PM. And that is subject to change at the last minute (so always check out their Facebook Page).
The museum features a steam railroad built by Disney himself. Plus, it’s home to local LA railroad buffs — mostly a bunch of retired guys who can be found riding around on scaled down versions of trains. It’s quite the scene. And if you love trains and/or Disney history, you’ve found your spot!
Address: 5202 Zoo Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Generally open ONLY on the third Sunday of each month from 11 AM – 3 PM.
4. See Frank Lloyd Wright’s Early Architectural Masterpiece
I’ve been on an architecture kick lately — touring Pasadena’s iconic Gamble House (aka the home of eccentric scientist Doc Brown from Back to the Future), driving all the way to Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Ariz., and flying to Pittsburgh to check out Wright’s Falling Water. Yet, somehow Kevin and I totally missed Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, which is pretty much just 20 minutes from our condo in Weho (and that’s WITH traffic!).
The Hollyhock House was Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Los Angeles commission and an ode to good ol California, perched high up on a hill in Barnsdall Art Park. On a clear day, you’ll get a clear shot of the famed Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory.
The home was built between 1919 and 1921 for Aline Barnsdall, an eccentric oil heiress who asked Wright to incorporate her favorite flower (the Hollyhock) into the home’s design. It sounds easy enough. But let’s just say, the relationship between the two wasn’t exactly diplomatic. In fact, they clashed instantly! Docents are on hand to give you insight (aka the juicy gossip!). Kevin and I toured the place on our own and LOVED hearing all the stories — including how Barnsdall worried about the budget (the house reportedly wound up costing $150,000—three times the original budget). And how Wright demanded near-total creative control. The tour is worth it alone just to see the crazy living room with a fireplace — surrounded by a moat! Now why didn’t we think of this design feature for our condo?
Address: 4800 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90027
Self-guided tours are Thursday–Sunday, 11 am–4 pm
20-minute docent-led tours are Thursday–Sunday, 11:15 am, 12 pm & 12:45 pm
$7 per person (for either self-guided or docent-led tours)
Check out their full schedule online, for summer wine tastings in the park!
3. Ride a British-Style Double Decker Bus on a Neon Cruise
A neon tour of downtown LA? What could be better than that. Well, add in a neon tour where you get to ride in a British-style open-top, double-decker bus, and I’m sold! On select Saturdays throughout the year, LA’s Museum of Neon Art (MONA) offers Neon Cruises — a nighttime tour of classic neon signs, movie marquees and permanent installations of contemporary neon art that can only be found in LA.
The tour is jam-packed with the rich history of LA and of course, you’re in a movie town. So you’ll also get to see the backdrops for such iconic films as Blade Runner, The Terminator and Kill Bill. We went in February for their special Valentine’s Day bus tour, which included plenty of dark chocolate hearts, pink carnations and the occasional sprinkling of red glitter thrown on us (by our enthusiastic tour guide). It’s a blast. And it’s certainly a secret for those LA natives in the know. Nearly every person in our group lived in LA. How many times does that happen?
Tour departs from downtown Los Angeles (sent via email ahead of the tour)
These tours are pretty sporadic. We recommend checking out the MONA website and clicking the tab outlining the Neon Cruise Tours. In general, the tours run on select Saturday nights from 6:30 – 10 PM.
$65 per person
2. Go Deep Underground through LA’s Hidden Passages
Kevin and I were invited by Cartwheel Art to check out one of the most unique tours we’ve ever taken: a trip deep into the underground network of tunnels that thrived in Los Angeles during the prohibition era.
Cartwheel Art offers a wide range of unique tours on the weekends that will take you off the typical tourist track such as paranormal encounters, arts district mural tours and one that involves street art and barbecue (a combo that also sounds pretty good to me!). But as soon as I heard about the Underground Tour, I knew it was right up my alley!
Not only will you get an overview of LA’s sordid past, you’ll get to go deep into the dark tunnels that run under the city. Yes, you read that right — a network of tunnels underneath downtown LA! And some of the tunnels lead to actual underground speakeasies that still have many of the original items left behind. But this tour isn’t for the squeamish. You might see the occasional cockroach, mouse or ghost along the tour. The owners who have access to all the locations on this tour have reported seeing all of the above!
Tour departs from Cole’s at 118 E. 6th Street, Los Angeles 90014
The 2.5 hour tour departs every Saturday at 3 PM.
$85 per person
1. Get the VIP Treatment in Beverly Hills at a Traditional Japanese Spa
You’ve been to LA’s mega-spa Burke Williams, the no-frill Korean bath houses and perhaps you’ve been pummeled in one of the many Thai massage places. But trust us, you might not ever want to go back to a regular massage after going to what we think is LA’s best kept secret — Tomoko Japanese Spa in Beverly Hills.
The nondescript entrance looks like it could be just a regular doctor’s office. But upon stepping inside, it’s like being transported to Japan. But like the fanciest spa in Japan.
The spa has been featured in several magazines, and rumored to be a fave among many of LA’s celebs (like Jessica Alba and Mindy Kaling). Yet, whenever I mention it to friends in LA, it seems to fly under the radar.
What makes the place so unique is the mission that its owner, Tomoko Kurono, set out to accomplish. In 1999, she traveled the world to find the perfect treatment — the type of massage to remove negative energy from the body. I’m not sure what the secret magic is, but Kevin and I signed up for a couple’s massage and it was the best we’ve ever had.
There are a variety of massage packages to choose from — including sessions in traditional Japanese soaking tubs to a full-out sushi feast. But no matter which one you go for, the experience includes a private room that resembles a traditional Japanese ryokan (i.e. a Japanese style inn that incorporates such elements as tatami floors and Japanese style baths).
Everything about the place is soothing. Well, everything except maybe the final bill! There is no denying it. This spa is expensive, starting out at $440 for a 75-minute couple massage (on a week day). Well, at least this perfect massage will help calm your nerves when the final bill arrives. Just think of all the money you’re saving by not having to fly all the way to Japan? That’s at least what I told my husband when he dropped down his credit card!
141 S Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Open 7 days a week from 9:30 AM – 10 PM
All pricing is clearly outlined on their website. But a basic 75-minute couple’s massage (including at 15-minute detox foot soak) is $440 per couple.