Sunday, January 31, 2010

#105: The Santa Monica Stairs

One of my new years resolutions was to start exercising. So far so good--I've been sticking to my plan and I've been feeling great! And while Fit TV has become my favorite channel, sometimes you need to feel the sun, breathe the fresh air (or somewhat fresh air...) and just be outside.

My friend Kelly brought me to this wonderful spot--the Santa Monica Stairs--nestled just south of the Pacific Palisades. These stairs are busier than those at Baldwin Hills and they're smaller too. Don't let that fool you though. Go up and down two or three times, and I'm sure your legs will feel wobbly.

There are two sets of stairs--concrete and wooden. We did the wooden stairs. The woodsy smell, the shade from the overhanging foliage and the ocean breeze made it an enjoyable work out.

The stairs are located on 4th St and Adelaide Drive. Street parking is free and plentiful (just read the signs) so put on your workout shoes and feel the burn!

Friday, January 29, 2010

#104: The Groundlings

Photo from daily bruin

Phil Hartman, Kathy Griffin, and Cheryl Hines
are just some of the many notable alumni of The Groundlings, an improvisational comedy troupe based here in L.A.. This is where Paul Reubens first showcased his Pee-wee Herman character, and where cast members and writers of SNL, Reno 911 and MADtv tested their comedic wings.

Looking at all of the pictures of notable alumni on the walls of the lobby, I was in awe of the talent that performed on that small stage. There was also an article on the wall that was interesting. It was about the rules of improv---"always confirm what your fellow actors say, never negate anything" was a good one. Another one--"never play a child... they don't know a lot and thus the person playing the adult has a heavier burden."

The show we saw was "Hold Me Closer Tiny Groundling" which featured a number of hilarious skits and improv scenes. What set this evening apart from the Upright Citizens Brigade show (#103) was the live band that added to the scenes (especially the finale improvised musical scene) and filled in the dead space between skits. The comedians were top notch and you could tell they really gave every performance their all. Check it out--the show is Friday and Saturday evenings. Tickets are $18, but you might be able to get them on Goldstar for a discount.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

#103: Upright Citizens Brigade

Photo from likeme

Comedy improvisation is a foreign subject to me, so when I read an article in a recent L.A. Magazine about the study of it, I was blown away by how complicated and difficult it really is.

I went with some friends to the Upright Citizens Brigade show a while back on a Friday evening. The UCB is founded by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh. They had their own show on Comedy Central which ran for three seasons. The location in Hollywood (there's also on in New York) offers classes as well as nightly shows.

The show that night was free although they asked for donations at the end. Because there are no reserved seats in the 92 person theater, it's first come first seated and there was a loooong line already 30 minutes before the show. I don't think there's a bad seat in the house though since it's so small.

The show started with the comedians asking audience members about themselves and riffing on that. Then the real show began... The invited guest was a crime writer, and they asked her questions about herself and then performed scenes using that information. The show was great and I guess there was even some guy from Reno 911 in the audience, although I didn't recognize him.

I also want to check out their Wednesday show "Facebook" and their Friday show "Soundtrack"--comedians improvise by looking at audience member's facebook pages or listening to ipods that audience members bring. Both shows are $5.

Note that for their paid shows, it's cash only.

Friday, January 22, 2010

#102: Walt Disney Concert Hall

A field trip brought me to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a shiny metallic futuristically gift wrapped space in Downtown. I went to hear the L.A. Philharmonic for a special family concert and fell in love with the interior and acoustics.

Click here for a calendar of upcoming shows. Past shows:

Emanuel Ax and Yo-yo Ma
Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk

Thursday, January 21, 2010

#101 The Hollywood Bowl

Decemberists with the L.A. Phil

The Hollywood Bowl is quintessential L.A.. Sitting under the stars in beautiful weather, listening to music drift out from the half-domed stage, and feasting on picnic food and wine, you feel that this is what living in L.A. is all about.

I saw the Decemberists perform at the Bowl with the L.A. Philharmonic a while back. As you may know, the Decemberists have a song called "L.A. I'm Yours" which paints a rather sarcastic picture of L.A., but which the audience absolutely loved. It was pretty cool seeing everyone singing to this song.

I returned again to the Bowl with some of the students from my percussion class at SMC (#33) to see the L.A. Philharmonic perform Holst's The Planets. Again, listening to Holst underneath the stars--the very things that inspired him to write such a masterpiece--was a moving experience

Click here for the upcoming Hollywood Bowl schedule and plan your next trip (Bowl events are marked with a "B"). Don't forget to bring a picnic!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

#100: Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

The 360 degree view at the top

Wow, we've reached # 100!!! It's only fitting that the place in the #100 spot is my absolute favorite spot in L.A. right now...

Ok, I sheepishly admit that I was toying with the idea of not even blogging about this place because I love it so much and I wanted to keep it all to myself. As for my friend Kelly (hiking partner and motivation to exercise)--she would have had to swear an oath of secrecy. But then I realized that this is too good a secret to keep. So here it is... Are you ready? *Drum roll please* The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook in Culver City!

That's downtown in the distance

I'm telling you--forget about Griffith Park, the Getty, or the Hollywood Hills... The best view of the city is right on top of the Baldwin Hills. From this unassuming vantage point, you can see from the ocean to past Downtown. It's breathtaking.

Another wonderful thing about Baldwin Hills is that it is helping me to fulfill one of my New Years Resolutions: to finally start exercising! Leading up to the top of the hill are 200+ stairs. And these are not your typical stairs--they're massive "My butt is so gonna hurt tomorrow" lunging stairs.

Small garden at the visitor's center

So it's raining and thundering out there as I type, but I hope once the sun comes out you're able to visit this amazing park. Check out the video above for my 360 degree video at the top (it doesn't do the view justice). Here are some tips for your visit:

1. Park on Jefferson Blvd for free. (There's also $6 paid parking at the top, but then you don't get to climb the fun stairs)

2. When you reach the huge sign for "Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook" on Jefferson Blvd, go to the left onto the trail (do not follow the paved road) if you want to climb the stairs.

3. It's much scarier going down the stairs than up them.

4. Pinky swear that you'll keep this place our secret otherwise it will become too crowded (like the Santa Monica stairs!).

Follow this sign to the left if you wanna take the stairs

Visitor's center
Visitor's center

Saturday, January 16, 2010

#99: Cooportunity Speaker Series

The Cooportunity is a cooperative natural foods grocer located in Santa Monica on 16th and Broadway. Whenever I visit the Coop (usually to gawk at their enormous raw foods section), I always see fliers at the cashiers advertising a weekly speaker series. The talks are held at Sha'arei Am Santa Monica Synagogue every Monday from 7-8:30 pm and are free to the public.

When I saw that there was a speaker on the healing powers of raw foods, I decided to finally check it out. I arrived at 7 and the place was packed with an eclectic bunch of people. The talk was about an hour long with questions and answers at the end.

Previous talks have included "Preventing and Controlling Diabetes & Heart Disease without Drugs," "Wisdom and Healing Power from the 'Other Side'" and "Creating Mandalas to Promote Calm During the Holidays". Keep an open mind and check it out!

Click here for a full schedule of the talks for the next two months.

Friday, January 15, 2010

#98: The Hammer Museum

photos from

What happens when you mix comic book illustrations and the Bible? You get Robert Crumb's Book Of Genesis Exhibit at the Hammer Museum.

I went this past Thursday evening (the museum's free on Thursdays and open till 9 pm) expecting something much more incendiary. However, what I saw were quite literal illustrations of the book of Genesis that I thought were about as controversial as a Batman comic... Pages and pages of it--224 to be exact! I can't imagine anyone reading through the whole thing during one visit. Me, I got to page 86--and this was skimming--when my eyes got tired and I gave up.

I thought the concept of this exhibit was brilliant. Crumb took the actual text from Genesis and broke it up into comic book "chapters". He did a good amount of research into the clothing, architecture and culture of Biblical times and then illustrated the chapters as accurately as he could. He writes in the preface that his goal wasn't to cheapen the message of the Bible, but merely to illustrate it. It's mind boggling to think of the amount of time and work (and re-work... you can see the white out marks if you look very closely) that went into these pages. Click here for an interview with Crumb talking about this exhibit.

There are so many great exhibits at the Hammer Museum, you never know what you'll find. For example, who would have thought you'd see tarp origami in a museum?

Origami tarp guy playing piano

As a bonus, the Hammer Museum also hosts Also, I Like to Rock (#41) on Thursday evenings in July. Calling all Westside hipsters!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

#97: Guitar Center's Drum Off

This year's winner, Ramon Sampson

As Garth said, "I like to play." So when I discovered that Guitar Center's Drum Off finals were this past weekend, I headed over to the Wiltern for some paradiddles, paradiddle-diddles, and nine stroke rolls.

Stepping into the lobby area of the Wiltern, I was blasted by the sound of multiple drums playing (and not in unison). Good thing I brought ear plugs. There were about six drum kits set up for anyone who wanted to play, and there was also a guy who had no legs playing an electric drum kit.

We got seats up on the top level, and the view was great. Needless to say, virtually everyone in the audience was a drummer. And you know what that meant: no line for the ladies' room, and long line for the men's room! Haha. I loved it.

Out of 4000 contestants, only five are chosen for the finals. They each are given 5 minutes to show what they've got, and they're judged on showmanship, technique, and other criteria. The Drum Off winner gets a cash prize of $25,000 and a bunch of gear.

The youngest winner of the contest was Thomas Pridgen (formerly of Mars Volta), who won the contest at age 9. This year's winner, Ramon Sampson was not as young (I think he's 19 or 20?) but was incredible. Check out the video above. Towards the end he breaks out a white glove and does a M.J. tribute. The other finalists were equally entertaining. One of them even ripped off his shirt halfway through, put it over his head and played "blindfolded".

This year, the Drum Off also featured Tommy Lee's "Berzerk" show which had all kinds of drumming from the USC Drum line to Max Weinberg swinging to Sing Sing Sing. The late John Bonham was awarded a lifetime achievement award with Jason Bonham playing a tribute to him, and Mahavishnu Orchestra's Billy Cobham also accepted an award.

If you're a drummer or love the drums, you gotta check this event out. If you're more of an axe man (or woman), Guitar Center also hosts a contest called Guitarmageddon which is the same thing, but for guitar players.

Last year's winner, Jerome Flood II

Footage from this year's show (USC Drum line and Tommy Lee)

My footage of Jason Bonham tribute to John Bonham (sound quality not as good as the videos above. I held the camera too high in the beginning, but it lowers after about 30 seconds)

Monday, January 11, 2010

#96: Mildred E Mathias Botanical Garden

UCLA's Mathias Botanical Garden located in the south east corner of campus is just the place to take me away from the hustle of L.A. life for a while. Special thanks to Renee for suggesting this place to me (Renee, I'm gonna visit the second place you recommended soon!).

When you enter the Mathias garden, you immediately see a sign that says "nest" with an arrow pointing the way... What is that? I googled it on the phone because we wandered all over the place and there was no nest to be found. It turns out the "nest" is an outdoor amphitheater type classroom located within the garden. Aha.

It only took 20 minutes or so to wander around the garden. There were hardly any people there and the place was really clean. Entry is free, and instead of paying $8 to park at the UCLA lot, you can park across the street at the Ralphs lot. It's free for 2 hours with validation.

The entry gate at the corner of Le Conte and Hilgard

Monday, January 4, 2010

#95: Celebrity Homes Tour

Photo from monogramstravel

There's nothing that screams "L.A. tourist" quite as much as going on a Celebrity Homes tour in Beverly Hills. When Brad's parents were in town a while back, we all hopped into a tour van with a bunch of other shutter-happy tourists, and were treated to one of the funniest tour I have ever been on.

Our tour guide used to be a chauffer for many old Hollywood celebrities, and he was not shy about gossiping about this person and that person. He engaged us with random trivia questions and facts, and while I know that he didn't mean to be funny most of the time, he continuously said things that kept Brad and I cracking up in the back of the van for the whole tour.

After driving past a bunch of celebrity houses (including the Playboy mansion!), we headed back to the meeting spot where our car was, and were dropped off. Total, it probably took about 2.5 hours.

There are many tour companies in L.A. that offer celebrity home tours. Check out these links as starting points:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

#94: L.A. Kings

Photo from letsgokings

It's the middle of hockey season and the L.A. Kings are currently third in the Pacific standings. I went with a friend who had free tickets, and although I'm not a huge hockey fan, my skepticism melted when I saw the Staples Center floor covered in ice. There was something magical about that sight, and I just stared in awe for a couple of minutes.

So I didn't see any fights (which was really what I was there for) but it was still a great game. The sound of metal slicing ice, the click of the stick hitting the puck, and the ease with which the players maneuvered on the rink were hypnotic. Get your tickets now before the good seats are taken.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

#93: Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

Photo from calendarlive

Happy 2010! A glorious day at the beach has put me in an aquatic mood, so here's the first entry of the new year: the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium.

Looking for a unique place to throw your kid's next birthday bash? The Santa Monica Pier aquarium is small enough that the youngsters won't get lost, yet it offers a ton of activities to keep them entertained. A petting tank, interactive exhibits, and story and craft time are just some of the offerings here. Parties start at $350.

Even if you're sans kids, you should still check this little aquarium out. It's right underneath the Santa Monica pier on the beach level. It's currently run by Heal The Bay and promotes
aquatic conservation and education, so you know your money's going to a good cause.

Tickets are
$5 suggested donation, and they are open 2-5 Tuesdays to Thursdays and 12:30-5 Saturday and Sundays.

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium