HIDDEN TREASURES IN LOW-KEY DEL REY
Settled by Japanese Americans who fled the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Del Rey was farmland for decades and then, after World War II, a planned community. Now it's a loosely defined neighborhood of modest-size homes, small businesses and a stir-fry (or taco salad) of Asian and Latino cultures.
Ballona Creek: This once-wild font that fed fields of produce was long ago tamed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Now it's part nature refuge, part trash-littered flood channel. What could be more L.A.?
Starting at Centinela Avenue and heading west, walk or take a spin down the bike path along the creek's north bank and watch for great blue herons, snowy egrets, mallards, sandpipers and dozens more bird species. Then hook up with the beach path near Fisherman's Village in Marina del Rey, about three miles away, or just hang out at the pier and watch the boats glide by.
Ronnie's Diner: A few blocks off the bike path, this blast-from-the-past eatery is a great stop to carbo load for your creek outing. It serves up more than 50 items for breakfast, including my favorite, honey buckwheat pancakes with walnuts ($5.25). Lunch offers nearly 30 sandwiches and melts ($5.95-$7.35), 10 types of burgers and more. Dinner adds entrees and nightly specials ($7.95) such as pot roast and chicken stew. Open for breakfast and lunch daily, plus dinner on weeknights. 12740 Culver Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 578-9399.
Beverage Warehouse: Tucked in a small industrial park near Ronnie's, this cavernous, no-nonsense market stocks hundreds of beers and ales from around the world, scores of single-malt scotch whiskeys and who knows how many tequilas. Plus there's a good selection of wines and sodas. Not a big drinker? It's worth a stop just to gawk at the colorful bottle labels. Open daily; hours vary. 4935 McConnell Ave., No. 21, Los Angeles; beveragewarehouse.com; (310) 306-2822.
Marina Farms: Last stand of Del Rey's agricultural heritage, this old-fashioned produce purveyor draws regulars from miles away. It sells a dizzying array of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus house-packed bulk items such as nuts, beans, trail mix, rice and some four dozen varieties of candy. Open daily; hours vary. 5454 S. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles; (310) 827-3049.
Tacomiendo Mexican Grill: In a neighborhood replete with tasty taco joints, this cramped, mini-mall storefront stands out for its handcrafted, health-conscious food. The big menu with (fairly) small prices embraces burritos large enough for two ($3.75-$6.95), fresh juice combos and daily specials. Open daily; hours vary. 4502 Inglewood Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 915-0426, www.ta-comiendo.com.
Getting there: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway to the Marina (90) Freeway, go west and exit northbound on Centinela Avenue. That puts you pretty much in the heart of Del Rey, which is bounded roughly by Jefferson Boulevard on the south, Washington Boulevard on the north, Lincoln Boulevard on the west and Culver City on the east.
-- Jane Engle
MAKING A SPLASH IN MANHATTAN BEACH
Dodger Stadium is always a fine way to introduce out-of-town visitors to the real L.A., but for the surreal L.A. -- the L.A. we kind of wish were more prevalent and affordable -- I'll take Manhattan Beach.
Turn down Highland Avenue into that main drag and admire the pier glistening in the surf. I've had relatives gasp at the sight. Wow. Awesome. Now that's California.
There's a reason so many professional athletes live here. Heck, there are a hundred reasons. The lifestyle is casual. There's always something going on. The residents are lovely and/or handsome. If Tara Reid doesn't live here, she should. As should USC's Pete Carroll, who is in fact building a place in nearby Hermosa.
The catch? Parking. There is only a handful of places right near the beach. Meanwhile, many of the parking garages have two-hour limits. Here's a tip: The parking garage at 12th Street and Morningside Drive has eight-hour meters on the very bottom level (upper levels have two-hour limits). A quarter will get you 20 minutes, so bring a roll.
Don't miss: The free aquarium and touch tanks at the end of the pier. $2 donation suggested. Also, anglers at the end of the pier frequently pull in 4-foot leopard sharks.
For breakfast: Uncle Bill's Pancake House draws big crowds on weekends for its generous portions and beachy vibe. Try to snag a table on the deck. 1305 Highland Ave., (310) 545-5177.