Tuesday, September 27, 2011

#213: L.A.'s Over the Top Donut Shops

D'oh! I forgot my change! cried Brad, who was so eager to eat his donut that he drove past the confused cashier, grabbed the bag from my hands and gobbled up his giant glazed donut in thirty seconds flat. 

Secretly, I was happy we had to turn around--it meant another drive through the famous brown arches of The Donut Hole, a 24 hour drive through donut joint in La Puente.  As one of the 800+ donut shops in the L.A. area, The Donut Hole stands above the rest, literally. 

Brad, a huge donut fan, was sufficiently impressed by The Donut Hole's glazed version as well as their coffee.  Later that day I heard him reminiscing out loud a few times (mmm, douuugh--nutttsss), so I knew they passed the test.

In Inglewood near LAX, you'll find another towering ode to donuts, Randy's Donuts. Randy's has a solid 4 star rating on Yelp and has been featured in many movies--most recently Iron Man 2. Built in 1953, Randy's was the second of ten locations of the now defunct Big Donut Drive-In chain. 

The third in our triumvirate of Over the Top Donut Shops is The Donut Man in Glendora. The Donut Man's famous strawberry donuts are so precariously stuffed to the brink with fresh juicy glazed strawberries that they make donuts seem almost good for you.

The Donut Man has been serving up their popular strawberry donuts for nearly 40 years, 24 hours a day. Also popular are their Tiger Tails, Bavarian creams and Maple bars. The owner, Jim Nakano, prides himself on using fresh natural ingredients and making the fillings from scratch.

Anyone have a napkin?
Photo from Roach D. on Yelp

Have you been to any good donut shops lately? Leave me a comment below!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

#212: Oran Z's Pan African Black Facts & Wax Museum

Did you used to collect things when you were a kid? I collected rocks, stickers, erasers, pencils, and the occasional bug. I remember organizing each collection by worth--not monetary worth, but trading worth. (The sticker hierarchy was: scratch and sniff > fuzzy  > sparkly > puffy > plain ole stickers. The only catch was you couldn't scratch the scratch and sniff stickers. That would devalue them!)

So as wild as Oran Z's collection-turned-museum is, the little kid in me could relate to the insatiable urge to collect things. Ultimately, Oran's passion led him to open Oran Z's Pan African Black Facts & Wax Museum on a stretch of Martin Luther King Blvd in Baldwin Hills. I first learned about the museum in a recent L.A. Weekly article. By the time I finished the article, I was already planning when to book a slot at this free appointment-only museum.

Oran met us in the back parking lot and led Brad and I into the main showroom.  It's quite a sight. In one corner, a mannequin in Ku Klux Klan attire is encased in glass. In another, Nubian statues look stone faced across the room at wax figures of Buffalo Soldiers.  Next to them, wax Mr. and Mrs. Obama enjoy the company of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Thurgood Marshall and Jesse Jackson.

One section titled "Black Inventions" is crammed with a wax figure of George Washington Carver, an old wooden juicer, gas masks, hypodermic needles and more. Oran Z describes himself as "just a collector," and even though his museum is packed, he has no intention of slowing down yet.

Oran is easy to talk to and is quick with jokes.  Instead of a formal tour of the place, he let us explore on our own and ask questions about pieces when we had them.

I wondered how he funded this collection. "Have you seen Edward Scissorhands?" Oran asked me.  Yes, that's one of my favorite movies.  "You know his hair? That's my work." Woah! Before Oran moved to L.A., he invented a successful hair-weaving product called Hair Fusion. His profits funded a lot of his collection.

Oran's accomplishments are impressive on so many levels; he has a Liberation Radio Station, he's constantly thinking of new inventions, he hosts school field trips where children can learn more about African culture, and he reaches out to the community's youths.

Our tour was 1 hour long. To book your appointment, contact Oran through the number on his website.

Oran Z's Black Facts & Wax Museum

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#211: Millard Canyon and Dawn Mine

A trip to Millard Canyon in Altadena is like stepping into a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Do you want to hike to the top of a waterfall, rock scramble to a spooky abandoned mine, or perhaps take a stroll along the beautiful Sunset Ridge Trail? With all the trails in the area, the possibilities are endless. 

I've been to Millard Canyon twice since it reopened, and I'm going to outline three excursions that this canyon has to offer: the Sunset Ridge Trail hike, the hike to the top of Millard Falls, and the rock scrambling adventure to Dawn Mine

Sunset Ridge Trail Hike

The Sunset Ridge Trail is mostly unshaded and takes you through much of the area hit by the fire. We did this as an out-and-back hike on a cool foggy morning in June. This moderate hike was about 2.5 miles.

From the upper trail head, ascend the fire road.  
Soon you will see a fork on the left with this sign. Take the left fork.
You'll pass by Millard Falls on the left as you head up the trail.
Although it's far away, it is quite loud.

Next you will come across another fork. Take the right fork.
The sign will indicate that this is the Sunset Ridge Trail.

The trail eventually meets a fire road, marked by a stone wall with a plaque saying "Erected in 1959..." At this point we turned back around, but there are continuing trails to take if you wish to keep going. 

One last note: this is a popular trail for mountain bikers, so be watchful!

Top of Millard Falls Hike

The hike to the bottom of Millard Falls is closed, but you can still get to the top of the falls. It is a roughly 2.5 mile moderate hike.

To get to the top of Millard Falls, ascend the fire road from the trail head and then take the left fork (the same one you take for the Sunset Ridge Trail). At the next fork, go left again. (going right will take you along the Sunset Ridge Trail)

You will pass by this house very shortly after the second fork

Next, you will come across this river:

Follow the river to the left. There's not much of a trail, so you'll just have to walk on the rocks. The river was pretty low in the summer, so it wasn't difficult. The river will lead you to the top of the waterfall. 

Do this at your own risk. Mike ventured out to the very edge,
but I don't recommend it!

Since this is a short hike, you can pair it with the Sunset Ridge hike.  

Dawn Mine Hike

I found the perfect summer/fall hike! It comes with a warning, however. This out and back hike is not for the beginning hiker. It's moderately strenuous and for much of it there's hardly a trail to follow.  The hike also requires a lot of rock scrambling and river crossings (I counted 19 crossings just to get to the mine!).  Our hike was 6 miles because we parked at the lower parking lot and took the connector trail to the fire road. It is about 4.5 miles if you start at the upper parking area.

If you are an adventurous hiker, you will love the hike to Dawn Mine.  The majority of the hike is shaded, and you follow the river most of the way, which cools it down even more. The river was low when we went last weekend, so all the crossings were easy.  The hardest part was definitely following the "trail"... Or what little trail there is. There are some points where it gets rocky and you just have to trust yourself to keep going. 

Do you see a trail?

Thankfully, we went with Mike and Michelle who had been to the mine two times before, so they knew where they were going. If this is your first time to the Mine, definitely bring a lot of water and give yourself plenty of time. The whole hike took us about 4.5 hours even though it was only 6 miles! 

I have a few tips for you if you choose to go to Dawn Mine. About halfway there, things will get very rocky and you will encounter these huge rocks:

Go to the left and hoist yourself over these boulders. 

You'll then pass through an unshaded rocky area, and then it will get shady again. You are almost there. 

For most of the hike you follow the river, but there will be some points when you will diverge from it. 

short detour to a double waterfall

Mike told us that a lot of people miss the Mine. It's difficult to spot. It will be high up on your left, and the most prominent landmark is this old piece of equipment:

look up the canyon wall on your left and you will see this
The mine is behind this rock. See Brad hiding behind there?

Mike, Michelle and Brad went in while I waited outside. Stalactites, a deep pool of emerald water and a hidden waterfall lie in the depths of Dawn Mine. There are also some innocuous long legged spiders, so this is not the place for arachnophobes.

The entrance. You must walk on the planks to avoid stepping in the water.
tiny stalactites
A very deep pool of water. Some guy put a glowstick tied to a rock in there and estimated it to be about 25 feet deep!

The waterfall
Waiting for my friends at the entrance to the Mine. 

Since abandoned mines can collapse at any moment, I do not recommend venturing into the mine. Do bring a flashlight and peer in, though. It's dark in there and you can feel a whoosh of cool air coming from its caverns. 


There are limited spaces on Chaney Trail Road by the upper trail head. We got there at 9 am and it was all full on our second visit, so we had to keep going down the road and park at the lower parking lot. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required. Near the lower parking lot you'll see this sign:

Follow this trail (.8 miles one way). It will merge with the main fire road
and take you to the main trail head.

Have you been to Millard Canyon? What did you think of it? Leave me a comment below :)

Millard Canyon

**Note: The interior photos of the mine and the double waterfall photo were taken by Mike. You can see the rest of his photos here**

Monday, September 12, 2011

#210: L.A. Conservancy Historic Walking Tours

"Out with the old and in with the new" is probably not the Los Angeles Conservancy's favorite saying, at least when buildings are concerned.  The Conservancy is a nonprofit group that works to preserve historic architecture in L.A.. Thanks to their efforts, L.A. treasures such as the Wiltern Theater, the Cinerama Dome, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House have been saved and revitalized.

The Los Angeles Conservancy offers eight walking tours of L.A.'s historic buildings, including Angelino Heights, Downtown's Modern Skyline, Broadway's Commercial and Theater District, Union Station, Spring & Main, and Art Deco architecture

While all of the tours sounded fascinating, the one that caught my eye was the tour of the elegant Biltmore Hotel.  

For just $10 per person, we were treated to an educational tour of the Biltmore Hotel's history and design.  The tour was supposed to be 1 3/4 hours, but it was more like 2 1/2 hours since everyone in our 8 person group had lots of questions which our tour guide was happy to answer.  

view from Pershing Square

The tour started in the center of Pershing Square. Parking under the square was only $5 with validation. After giving us a brief timeline of the 1,500 room hotel, our guide led us across the street and into the hotel lobby.  

the original lobby of the hotel, now an afternoon tea dining area

The hotel was built in the Renaissance style with a heavy Mediterranean influence.  It opened in 1923 and became the place to see and be seen throughout the decades.  It was also one of the first venues to host the Academy Awards.

The front of the Hotel. A portrait of Ceres on the left and Neptune on the right.

One part of the Biltmore which has remained intact through all the renovations is the ceilings.  Wherever you go in the hotel, you'll find yourself always looking up.

The Biltmore walking tour is a bargain. It's much more affordable than spending a night at the hotel, and you even get to see parts of the hotel that might otherwise be inaccessible or occupied.

Some tips for your visit:

  • Wear comfortable shoes since you will be on your feet most of the time
  • Photos are allowed, so bring your camera!
  • Take advantage of the $5 parking and explore the area after the tour. We had a fantastic early dinner at Bottega Louie, which is just a block away. 
  • The Biltmore Hotel, Angelino Heights and Broadway Tours require reservations. The other five tours allow walk-ins. 

the grand ballroom

Have you been on one of the L.A. Conservancy Historic Tours?  Which one? Leave me a comment below!

Los Angeles Conservancy Historic Tours

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

#209: The Museum of Tolerance

Photo from Wikipedia

The Museum of Tolerance in West L.A. is really two incredible museums in one. Your tour starts in the Holocaust Section, where a sound and light guided 70 minute dramatic presentation takes you through the events of Nazi-dominated Europe during WWII.  In the beginning, you pick up a card with a picture and bio of an actual Jewish child who was alive at the time of the war. Next, you watch a short video and then travel in a small group from exhibit to exhibit as a narrator explains the events unfolding.  

photo by http://museumoftolerance.blogspot.com/

The presentation is very moving, and I couldn't help but tear up.  The most memorable part for me was seeing actual video footage of the Nazis and the Jewish people during WWII.  I had read about the Holocaust in text books and had seen photographs of it, but this was the first time I saw actual video footage of it, and it was heart wrenching. 

photo by Yazdani Studio

After finishing the Holocaust Section, you get to explore the Tolerancenter, which confronts issues of bigotry and discrimination in the world today.  There are a lot of interesting hands on exhibits here, like the Point of View Diner:

Photo by http://museumoftolerance.blogspot.com/
The Point of View Diner is a recreation of a 1950's diner, red booths and all, that "serves" a menu of controversial topics on video jukeboxes. It uses the latest cutting edge technology to relay the overall message of personal responsibility. Scenarios focus on bullying, drunk driving and hate speech; this interactive exhibit allows visitors to input their opinions on what they have seen and question relevant characters. The results are then instantly tabulated. (~taken from MoT website)

Tips for your visit:

  • Museum admission is $15.50 for adults, with a discount for seniors and students
  • It is closed on Saturdays
  • There is an underground garage that is free to park in.
  • Security is tight. Be aware that your car trunk will be inspected before you enter the garage. In the lobby, your purse or bags must go through an X-ray machine and you must walk through a metal detector
  • Be sure to check out the Hear a Holocaust Survivor lectures, which are free to museum visitors. The talks are 1 hour and are offered every day. Call the museum for times.  I didn't get to do this because we came too late, and it's something I definitely want to go back for.  
  • Photography is not allowed in the museum