Here is an eclectic list of places where Travel section staffers like to take out-of-town visitors for a slice of SoCal life. The Bunny Museum, anyone?
HIDDEN TREASURES IN LOW-KEY DEL REY
Del Rey, an off-the-radar West Side enclave sandwiched between Marina del Rey and nouveau hip Culver City, is neither glitzy nor scenically stunning. Which is exactly why you should take star-struck out-of-towners here -- for quiet pleasures and little discoveries.
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.
For lunch: One of the best places to grab a taco is the ultra-casual Wahoo's Fish Taco, a block from the beach. 1129 Manhattan Ave., (310) 796-1044.
For dinner: Fusion Sushi offers a large number of choices and interesting special rolls. The atmosphere is casual enough that you can come right off the beach. 1150 Morningside Drive, (310) 802-1160.
Getting there: From the north, take the 105 Freeway west till it turns into Imperial Highway; left on Vista del Mar, which leads directly into Manhattan Beach. From the south, take the 405, exit Inglewood Avenue. Go south to Manhattan Beach Boulevard and west to the water. Info: (310) 545-5313, www.manhattanbeachchamber.net
-- Chris Erskine
THE COLLEGE LIFE IN CLAREMONT VILLAGE
When it comes it L.A., there's the expected: star-gazing at the Ivy for brunch and re-creating the opening scenes of "Entourage" along Sunset Boulevard at night. The "surprise" celebrity sighting is so . . . expected. Where to go for the unexpected? How about a little R&R in a quaint little college town?
Tucked away off the 10 Freeway in a quiet swath of suburbia lies downtown Claremont. Adjacent to six of the seven institutions that comprise the Claremont Colleges, these strips of tree-lined tranquillity are more whimsical than Westwood. The area recently had a building renaissance, leaving the older area (which is closer to the campuses) with more mom-and-pop shops. Just to the west, the remodeled 1920s-era College Heights Lemon Packing House and its neighboring open-air Village Square shopping center call to a more modern set. Here's the best of both worlds in the City of Trees and PhDs.
Don't miss: Bert & Rocky's Cream Co.: Pick your ice cream flavor(s) du jour at the local favorite at Bonita and Yale avenues, where samplings have included chocolate Butterfinger and cream cheese chip. That is, if you make it to the coolers without deciding on the blue ribbon-size caramel- and candy-coated apples or other confections. (Prices start around $3 a person, depending on your sweet tooth).
Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery: Finish the treats on a walk through campus to the free-of-charge Scripps College museum on Columbia Avenue. The permanent collection's highlights include American and Chinese paintings, more than 1,000 Japanese woodblock prints and photographs from the likes of Diane Arbus and Edward Weston.
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden: For a longer, mile-or-so trek from the shops and restaurants, head up College Avenue past the Edward Durell Stone-designed Claremont School of Theology to this botanic garden (admission is $4 per person). Aside from showcasing the state's native plants, educators also frequently teach gardening and other classes.
Rhino Records: Don't forget this is a college town. And what would a college town be without the quintessential music shop? Proudly claiming on its website to be "independent since 1976," across Yale from the ice cream parlor, Rhino's ever-surprising and well-stocked collections give Amoeba a run for its money.
Folk Music Center: Started by musician Ben Harper's maternal grandparents, the jam-packed shop a few doors down from Bert & Rocky's is the place to get expert advice and to buy your next ukulele, banjo or dulcimer. It shouldn't be a surprise that in-store events are commonplace and the center runs the Claremont Folk Festival each year.
Claremont Museum of Art: The open, airy space filling one end of the shiny-wood-floored Packing House on 1st Street between Oberlin and Cornell avenues focuses on modern art presentations. "Vexing: Female Voices From East L.A. Punk" ran through August, and "Multiverse," a multimedia event, opened Sunday. According to the museum's website, the exhibit addresses the theory of whether "physical reality actually exists within a set of multiple, parallel universes."
Hip Kitty Jazz & Fondue: Offering just what its name says, this music club in the Packing House is one of the few spots in the village that stays up past curfew.
Getting there: From downtown Los Angeles, take the 10 Freeway east to Indian Hill Boulevard and go north. The areas of interest are mostly found between Cornell and College avenues. One- and two-hour or more parking spots are usually fairly easy to find, and there's a public parking garage on 1st Street, next to the Packing House and between Oberlin Avenue and Indian Hill Boulevard. There's also a Metrolink depot at 1st Street and Harvard Avenue.
-- Whitney Friedlander
A MUSEUM THAT DEALS IN BUNNY BUSINESS
There is a fine line between a museum and a collection of worthless knickknacks. We'll leave it to you to decide which category fits for the Bunny Museum in Pasadena, home of the world's largest collection of bunny-related stuff. By "stuff" we mean more than 24,000 bunny collectibles, such as bunny phones, bunny pillows, bunny spoons, bunny pot holders and way too many stuffed bunnies. The museum is the private home of Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski, who have been collecting these items for 15 years and have been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as having the world's largest collection. What would possess a sane person to collect bunny-related items? Frazee and Lubanski will tell you the whole story when you get there. Entertaining out-of-town guests? A visit to the Bunny Museum will surely give your guests something to talk about. The museum is open every day by appointment, except on holidays when you can hop in unannounced. Call (626) 798-8848 for hours and other details.
Don't miss: The couple have several live rabbits that run free throughout the house. At least four rabbits that have died have joined the collection as stuffed exhibits.
Getting there: From the Foothill Freeway (210) take the Hill Street exit north to East Washington Boulevard and turn right. At Bellford Avenue turn left, then turn right on Jefferson Drive. Look for the giant bunny-shaped parade float on the frontyard of 1933 Jefferson Drive. For more information go to www.thebunnymuseum.com or call (626) 798-8848.
-- Hugo Martín
L.A. EAST OF DOWNTOWN FOR HALF OFF OR LESS
Are you AWOD, as in always west of downtown? Sure, that side of L.A. has Hollywood, the beach and Griffith Park, but you're depriving yourself of an essential part of Los Angeles if you're AWOD. You're missing out on Pasadena's antique shops, San Gabriel Valley's cheap eateries and Santa Anita's hiking trails. To entice you to venture eastward, here's how you can experience the east side for half off or less. Keeping your Thursdays free helps.
Don't miss: Start the day with dim sum at New Capital Seafood in San Gabriel. Two people with reasonable appetites can brunch here for about $15. Moreover, you won't sacrifice quality for price. The food is excellent. The droves of people waiting for a table (even on weekdays) attest to its value. To get a table quickly, go after 1 p.m. on a weekday. Try to get a table near the store's large windows to enhance your dining experience with views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
After brunch, head to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. On the first Thursday of each month, guests get in for free with an advance ticket. On normal weekdays, adults pay $15 for admission ($20 on the weekend). You can easily spend an entire day touring the Huntington's gardens, art galleries, library exhibition hall and greenhouse. The Japanese Garden is particularly beautiful and calming.
Top off the day with some antiquing in Pasadena. On Thursdays, items under $50 are half off at the Huntington Collection thrift shop. Their original prices are very reasonable to begin with, so you'll be certain to find a great deal on clothes, artwork, books, china sets and random knickknacks. On a recent trip, the store was selling oddities such as a wooden shoe polish tub and a black-and-white photograph of an old-time Hollywood actress whom no one in the store could identify.
Getting there: Most of these locations are off the 210 Freeway, which runs through Pasadena. New Capital Seafood, 250 W. Valley Blvd., is off the 10 Freeway. Exit Rosemead north, then go left on Valley Boulevard.
-- Jason La