Lesley Bracker

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Six Flags Magic Mountain

If you love roller coasters, you’ll love Six Flags Magic Mountain. Many people think of theme parks when they come to Los Angeles: Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm– but Magic Mountain is the place not to miss.

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Shops on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles

Shops on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles

Melrose Avenue is one of Los Angeles’ most famous shopping streets, and was at its height in the punk-driven 80s. But Melrose has undergone a resurgence, and this time, it’s an upscale shopping experience.

The original thrift stores and trendy boutiques are still there, alongside tattoo and piercing shops, in the area between Fairfax and La Brea. But closer to La Cienega, and on  Melrose Place (yes, this is a real street), are some of the city’s most interesting designer boutiques. It’s also the chicest few blocks in all of Los Angeles.

When Marc Jacobs opened his flagship store on Melrose Place, then a Marc store and then a men’s store, it changed the dynamic of this once quiet stretch of Melrose Avenue.  Soon to follow were Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenburg, Paul Smith (with it’s shocking pink exterior) and Oscar de la Renta.  Homes and furniture showrooms have been transformed into charming boutiques.  Balenciaga has a beautiful shop seemingly brought here from the future, with its silver tile and silver leaf work, not to mention the LED lighting.  The newly opened Vivianne Westwood store comes with big fanfare, and Decades is not to be missed for designer resale and vintage designer accessories and clothing.

If you’re an Entourage fan, then you’ll recognize the Urth Cafe’s outdoor patio, a great place to stop for lunch. You’ll also recognize Fred Segal’s cafe, which is a little farther east on Melrose.  A new addition to the area is Rick Bayless’ Red O mexican restaurant, right across the street from Fred Segal. Other restaurants not to miss on Melrose are Lucques, Home of James Beard award winning chef Suzanne Goin, and also Comme Ca, a great french brasserie in the middle of busy Los Angeles.

If you’re into shopping, then this area is a must.

- Lesley Bracker

[Photo Credit: Flickr/Ann Althouse]

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Malibu Wines, California

Malibu Wines, California

Tucked into the Santa Monica mountains in Malibu (with the ocean breezes) there are many vineyards, making this area a mini-Napa. Located on the infamous Mulholland Highway just near Kanan Dume, Malibu Wines is a fantastic place to spend the afternoon or evening.

Bring a picnic and sit at one of the many tables; this oasis in Los Angeles is unlike anything you would expect from the city.  It has the feel of an adult camp with gorgeous trees, acres of greenery, horeshoes, and wine — lots of wine.  They sell vintages from local wineries, and you can choose from an abundance of red wines, or many white varietals from as low as $16 a bottle.  Or perhaps you’d like a tasting flight: For $12, you get four tastings.  Malibu wineries make wonderful, full-bodied wines, which you can taste before purchasing.  There is no cost for admission, just a minimum of one bottle purchase for each group of two to four people. Read More »

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Float at Rose Parade

Float at Rose Parade

For more than 120 years, the Rose Parade — full of marching bands, horses, and floral floats — has taken place on January 1 in Pasadena, California, just outside of Los Angeles. The beautiful famous floats are required to be completely covered by flowers or other natural materials, such as leaves, seeds or bark, making each one a marvel.

Have you ever wanted to see the infamous Rose Parade Floats up close? Watching the parade is an unforgettable experience, but seeing the craftsmanship takes it to another level. For two days each year, you can see them in detail.  They are on display on January 1st from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, January 2nd from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (7 a.m. for senior citizens and disabled visitors).  You are able to walk within a couple of feet of each float!

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R+D Kitchen, a popular restaurat and bar on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica

R+D Kitchen, a popular restaurat and bar on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica

Santa Monica is known for its great shopping and fantastic restaurants (some of the best in all of Los Angeles), but Montana Avenue is where you’ll experience how the locals live, eat, and shop.

Montana Avenue’s shops, restaurants and cafes run along 12 tree-lined, charming blocks between 7th Street and 20th Street — ideal for a half day of exploring. Each block has a variety of boutiques, eateries and coffee spots, and you can glimpse the Pacific in the distance. Start on one end, walking one side of the street, returning the other end – it doesn’t matter if you start at 7th or 17th.  If you want to know how it feels to live in Santa Monica, this is where to go: not to the Promenade or Pier, but to this neighborhood.  In fact, you’re more likely to spot a celebrity here than any other area of L.A.

You won’t have trouble finding coffee, as there are several Starbucks, a Peets, and the famous Caffe Luxxe, known for its authentic lattes and devoted following (all are open as early as 6 a.m.).  Feel like taking a yoga class?  There are several studios, and yoginis carrying mats are ubiquitous. Want to buy a top that you won’t see anyone else wearing?  Your choices are literally endless, as there are no chains stores here — not a Gap in sight.  You will find a Kiehl’s, however, and a small William Sonoma. The boutique Planet Blue can be expensive, but they always have a great sale rack, and you’ll find items seen on a celebrity in this week’s People. Savannah is where to go for exclusive designer clothes and accessories.

For dinner, choose from local favorites Via Portafino, R+D Kitchen (with the street’s only full bar), or Father’s Office, with its famous burger. Babalu has an endless champagne brunch, Blue Plate is a local hangout for breakfast, and for lunch, consider Kreation or Rosti for their amazing salads.

Morning, noon, or night, this street is bustling with activity and will provide  a wonderful visit to a beautiful neighborhood.

-Lesley Bracker

[Photo Credit: Flickr/Muy Yum]

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The Peterson Museum in Los Angeles

The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is famous for many museums, including LACMA, MOCA, and the Getty. But did you know that one of the great automotive museums is here?  You can explore 100 years of the automobile, and its impact on our culture, at the Petersen Museum in Hollywood. Read More »

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Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach

On a clear, sunny, day, nothing beats the Southern California coast. Los Angeles has miles and miles of beach, and each beach community has its own distinct personality. But Laguna Beach, an hour south of L.A., is like nowhere else, anywhere, and epitomizes the So Cal vibe.

Laguna hasn’t changed much since the ’70s.  It’s filled with boutiques, cafes, surf shops and art galleries, but you won’t see a building taller than a couple stories, anywhere. There’s nothing cookie-cutter here. Park near Main Street and see downtown Laguna shops and galleries on foot. For a taste of the MTV show, walk the beach to Thalia and stand at the lookout area, or sit on one of the benches and enjoy the view, and then visit the infamous Thalia Surf Shop where all the local kids hang out. Read More »

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Santa Monica Place

Santa Monica Place

The newly refurbished Santa Monica Place is to-die-for. After three years and half a billion dollars (yes, you read that correctly), this old mall feels like a new mall.

It’s the only place in the Los Angeles area where you can shop by the beach (with the ocean breezes), dance to famous KCRW DJs under the stars at night, eat at rooftop restaurants helmed by famous chefs, and drink cocktails prepared by trained mixologists at any of the dozen bars.  All this with a view of the Santa Monica Pier, too. Read More »

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Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat, Los Angeles

The serene Self-Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades, dedicated by the famous Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, is a beautiful 10-acre property landscaped with trees and flowers from around the world. You can’t see the property from Sunset Boulevard, as it’s hidden by thick foliage, but it’s worth seeking out — it’s a great spot for tourists to experience a different side of LA. Visitors can take one of the daily tours to learn about the site’s rich history; meditate in one of the shrines; or visit the portion of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes at the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, which sits on a gorgeous lake with swans, ducks and koi fish.

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Learn to surf in Los Angeles

by Lesley Bracker on September 14, 2010

Surfer riding a wave in Santa Monica

Southern California conjures up images of sunny days, bikinis and surfing. And these cliches aren’t just cliches — they’re true. The beach lifestyle is very much alive here. So, when visiting Los Angeles, how about learning to surf?

Malibu is a surfer’s mecca, but not the easiest place to learn.  The regulars aren’t necessarily welcoming toward beginners, so it’s best to perfect your skills elsewhere, before paddling out at Third Point.  Here’s are some things to know when learning to surf in Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Manhattan Beach, all perfect spot for beginners.

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