Why: Everyone needs a pit stop or two along Highway 395, the often-drab drive from L.A. to the Eastern Sierra. Could be a beef jerky joint or a tackle shop. My latest favorite is Frosty Chalet, a slice-of-life fast food stop in Lone Pine featuring some of the best milkshakes in the Owens Valley.
What: The charming, family-friendly Frosty Chalet has had a life. Born in the late '40s, with timber reportedly salvaged from a train depot, it was saved from ruin fairly recently after being dormant for eight years.
“It’s a nice old piece of Americana.”
Repurchased five years ago by Freddie Brown, who’d owned it previously with her late husband, it is now run by her son, Fred, and his wife, Jaynie. “It’s a nice old piece of Americana,” said Fred Brown.
Why: Admit it-- you're a little curious about Sir Paul McCartney's chimney, or Justin Timberlake's hilltop or just which L.A. houses Justin Bieber has been obliged to vacate. Since its founding by Sid Grauman's chauffeur in 1935, Starline Tours has traded on our curiosity about these places.
What: Bud Delp (Grauman's chauffeur) built the tour company, then sold it in the 1960s to protege Vahid Sapir, who had come to the U.S. as an exchange student from Iran. These days Sapir's Starline competes with many other tour companies (including Gray Line and TMZ) and covers many itineraries beyond stalking the stars' homes, but it was the first of its species.
Sign on to the two-hour celebrity home tour and before your minivan has finished climbing Outpost Drive into the Hollywood Hills, you'll have gawked at the front-gate gargoyles of the late Bela Lugosi, glimpsed properties attributed to Bob Barker; William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman; and heard all about the "Bling Ring" thieves who stole Orlando Bloom's Rolex collection in 2009.
Why: There must be thousands of California Mexican restaurants where mariachi musicians roam the tables. But only at La Fonda are they in charge.
What: From 1969 until 2007, La Fonda served as headquarters to Nati Cano and Los Camperos, an esteemed mariachi group that collaborated on Linda Ronstadt's 1987 album "Canciones de mi Padre." Then the restaurant closed. And Cano died.
But in 2016 the restaurant reopened in its original location -- a two-level Spanish Colonial space on Wilshire Boulevard near MacArthur Park -- offering dinner shows directed by longtime Campero Jesus "Chuy" Guzman. The musicians (who won a 2008 Grammy for Mexican regional music) do two hourlong shows nightly, Thursday through Sunday.
Why: It's the shortest, steepest train trip you'll ever take.
What: Angels Flight is a railroad in downtown Los Angeles with two orange cars and a 298-foot route. The cars climb at a 33% grade (steeper than Lombard Street in San Francisco) from the bottom of Bunker Hill to the top. And the railway dates to 1901, when Bunker Hill was a neighborhood of Victorian houses, not skyscrapers.
Over the last 116 years, the railway has failed at least twice, moved once, spent years out of commission, yet somehow always reopened -- most recently on Aug. 31, 2017, drawing healthy crowds despite beastly heat. Now it's well positioned to capitalize on the surging popularity of the Grand Central Market just across Hill Street, not to mention the urban views from the uphill end, next to the fountains of California Plaza.
Why: The palm-shaded, Paramount-adjacent Hollywood Forever Cemetery combines film screenings and other cagey programming with a long roster of show-business gravesites.
What: Cecil B. DeMille, Judy Garland, Jayne Mansfield, Johnny Ramone and Rudolph Valentino repose here and so can you, on a more temporary basis. On selected weekend nights every summer, Cinespia screens cult and classic movies on the Fairbanks Lawn, a grave-free corner of the 62-acre cemetery.
Audiences spread blankets, picnic, buy popcorn and candy and groove to a pre-movie DJ. (Before the Aug. 26 showing of "Ghost World" (2001), director Terry Zwigoff and actors Thora Birch and Illeana Douglas turned up to offer greetings.)
Why: One of the darkest eras in U.S. history stands as a potent reminder that daylight will come again.
What: A $15-million redesign in 2016 brought more than five dozen new exhibits to the 9-acre Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, presenting a fuller picture of the man who won election in 1968, negotiated U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, established the Environmental Protection Agency, opened China to the Western world, then became the only U.S. president to resign.
Visitors now can eavesdrop on White House recordings that round out the portrait of Richard Nixon (1913-1994) as a human being. In a 1973 phone call, daughter Julie asks her father whether they can dine at Trader Vic’s and he says yes but that she should also check with Mommy and sister Tricia. Julie Nixon Eisenhower would have been 24 at the time.
Why: Because debating the topic of greatness is almost as fun as discovering something that is truly great.
What: Revered chef Julia Child was wrong, wrong and triple-dog wrong about Santa Barbara’s La Super-Rica Taqueria. Or else Julia Child was right, right and triple-dog right about La Super-Rica Taqueria.
Why: Below the green hills and muddy shores of the Point Reyes Peninsula, the San Andreas fault lurks. Meanwhile, above ground, cows graze and cyclists zoom down two-lane roads. In its beauty, fragility and increasing wealth, this is an emblematic piece of the Bay Area.
What: Seismologists say the peninsula sits atop the Pacific plate, which slowly lurches to the northwest while the North American plate (on the other side of Highway 1) lurches to the southwest. The seam between those plates is the San Andreas fault , California's most notorious physical flaw, stretching about 800 miles north and up to 10 miles deep from the Salton Sea to Mendocino County. Consider its disastrous potential as you walk the Point Reyes National Seashore's 0.6-mile Earthquake Trail (wheelchairs and dogs welcome), which starts near the seashore's Bear Valley Visitor Center and leads to a reconstructed fence that was displaced 16 feet in 40 seconds in the quake of 1906.
Or just look at Tomales Bay, which follows the path of the fault.
Why: You can have a drink and toast the history of a well-loved author, all in one stop in Oakland. Afterward, you’ll have a great appreciation for the words “catawampus” and “Call of the Wild.”
What:Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, which dates to 1883, sits in at the edges of the now presentable Jack London Square in Oakland. Thanks to the 1906 earthquake, the bar sank irreparably and now requires a step down. Inside the slanting saloon — especially sitting at the bar — you can feel drunk even when you’re completely sober.
The other reason to visit: Writer Jack London used to hang out here, perhaps to escape his dismal, impoverished life in Oakland, where he lived with his mother, Flora, and his stepfather, John, whose surname he took.