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Li Anne Liew / For The Times

I’m on a quest to play at every L.A. tennis court. These friendly 15 stand out

I am on a quest to play tennis on every public court in Los Angeles.

My motivations include retiring last summer after 20 years of teaching at L.A. public schools. I needed a new way to focus all that teaching energy. Yet when my daughter said, “You should play tennis on every court in Los Angeles,” I said, “Thank you for the suggestion” but thought, “That’s nuts!”

Then school started again in August. With no lesson planning to do, I recognized the genius of my daughter’s idea and made it my own, adding a rule. To get to all these courts, I’d have to travel by bicycle or public transit. And so the quest began, with me playing at the courts in Griffith Park near the merry-go-round with a stranger I met on the Tennis Players in Los Angeles Facebook group.

Ru Kazi showed up on time — a promising start. As we warmed up close to the net, they told me about their career switch from accountant to assistant director and how being a proficient tennis player had gotten them in good with their partner’s father.

I told Ru about how the last time I was in this part of Griffith Park it was with my 80-plus-year-old mom to watch my baseball team in the playoffs from the sidelines. We showed up to be good sports — even though we knew I wasn’t going to be playing, because the manager did not include me on the postseason roster. “There is no question you can hit,” a teammate explained to me, “but there is concern about you making it to first base.”


I discussed the bittersweetness of rooting instead of playing and admitted it still stung, especially since over the summer, after hanging up my spikes, I joined a tennis team. Early in the season, I fell into a literally self-defeating habit of tippy-tapping soft lobs just far enough over the net for opponents to crush. I diligently practiced and got better, but I didn’t improve enough to play when my team won the city championship and went on to the next big competition.

I tried to convince myself that actively cheering for my teammates counted as a cardiovascular workout, but my competitive nature wasn’t buying it.

Ru was a good listener and tennis player and, in their company, so was I. Between close games, we discussed sports and aging as well as topics ranging from Chuck Berry to the theology of fallen angels in Judaism and Islam.

Afterward, I felt so elated I rode my bike an additional 5 miles in 100-degree heat to Highland Park to buy a magenta T-shirt at Big Bud Press. I had made a new friend! Me! At 61, an age when everything supposedly closes in, I wouldn’t let it. Instead, everything would open up. My game would not be defined by how I played on any one court but by how many courts I played on. I would get out of this rut of being on teams but not playing. I would play my heart out, travel all over this legendary city of ours, and make new friends.


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I played again with Ru in Elysian Park and Koreatown; with Arshak from Siberia, in Sunland, Sylmar and North Hollywood; and with Timothy from upstate New York in Burbank, Glendale and Highland Park. I am tremendously fond of all my new tennis friends because they show up on time and indulge me in meeting at a different court each time. They are here for me and there for me.

Which brings me to another important motivation for my quest, which is to be here and there for Los Angeles. L.A. has been very good to me, the home of my life as a husband and father and teacher. Our city and county have gargantuan problems. Playing tennis won’t fix homelessness and drought, but it can help build community in a divided metropolis. I found joy and friendship on L.A.’s public tennis courts, and perhaps you can too.

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I have my favorite courts so far — I’ve played on roughly 70 of the estimated 500 sprinkled throughout the county — but before I tell you about some of them, I have a few tips that will help everyone from new players to curious pickleball converts prosper on their tennis and friend-making journeys.

  1. Wear tennis shoes. Any racket will do. Don’t worry about balls, either. It’s nice to have a fresh can but you can almost always find balls that will do somewhere on the court. The essential thing is to wear tennis shoes to avoid twisting an ankle. You can’t make new friends playing tennis if you can’t play.
  2. Know your rating. Tennis is most fun when you’re playing with someone at your same level. You can easily rate yourself using this chart from the United States Tennis Assn. If you’re not sure, rate yourself one click lower than your highest possible level. Then state that more modest number straightforwardly when introducing yourself to potential new tennis friends.
  3. Find a partner online. Finding a tennis partner is a triumph of social media. Join Facebook’s Tennis Players in Los Angeles group or use a partnering app such as TennisPal, which I mention because it’s free and works well and my new tennis friends Phillip Kim and Valerie Garcia interviewed me on their TennisPal podcast. To get well-matched, share your rating plus where and when you want to play. For example, “I’m a 2.5 looking to play weekday evenings or weekends anytime in the South Bay.” Make the arrangements via DM and boom! You’re on your way to new tennis friendships.
  4. Remember the magic words. You can just show up at a court and pick up a game. Wait to enter until the point is over, close the gate behind you, and proceed swiftly to the nearest bench or other neutral ground. Then, between points, clearly say the magic words: “Who’s got next?” Anyone you’d want to play with will respect that you have shown up and staked your claim. Pay quiet attention while they continue hitting and they most likely will be glad to reciprocate by hitting with you as soon as it’s your turn.
  5. Play to play, not to win. I say this as a person who loves winning. That said, since we’re focused on making friends, keeping the point going is a smart strategy. Keeping the point going increases the likelihood of you and your partner being in flow and making good shots, which in turn makes it fun to keep playing together. One more thing: If there is even the slightest chance that your partner’s ball was in, call it in. That’s a very practical and effective way to demonstrate decency, fairness and human kindness, which are all things people like in a friend.

So, now that you know how to make new tennis friends in Los Angeles, let’s find you some great courts. Just keep in mind that for the purposes of recreational tennis, all courts are basically the same. The lines are the same, there’s a net in the middle and a fence around the whole thing. Every court I’ve played has been at least adequately and typically well-maintained — shout-out to the parks and recreation crews — and all but one of the following courts are lit at night. What varies is the vibe.

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Showing  Places
A Metro 10 bus sign in front of tennis courts
(Mark Gozonsky)

Take the Metro to Echo Park Recreation Center

Echo Park Tennis Court
The 101 Freeway roaring right behind you, the whoosh of busy Glendale Boulevard intersecting with just-as-busy Temple Street almost on top of you, all that frenzy combined with the Oz-like rise of nearby downtown make these courts exhilarating before the game even starts. Parking is jam-packed here, so consider riding your bike or taking the bus: Step off the Metro 10 and you’re practically ready to serve.
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Ping pong tables sit in front of tennis courts
(Mark Gozonsky)

Bring the dog to Riverside Tennis Court

Griffith Park Tennis Court
This 12-court complex, adjacent to the most scenic stretch of the L.A. River, is family-friendly and also dog-friendly. This is not to say they’re playing pitty-pat. I saw some Live Ball (doubles drills) that looked fierce — those guys were hitting out! Riverside is a great choice if you live near downtown, can pay to play (starting at $8 per hour) and want to make sure you get a court. Consider packing ping-pong paddles: The two all-weather tables here are a nice touch.
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A man serves a tennis ball on a tennis court
(Mark Gozonsky)

Play in the shade at Hermon Tennis Center

Montecito Heights Tennis Court
These 11 first-come, first-served sycamore- and eucalyptus-shaded courts are a popular hangout for social tennis near downtown. Parking is plenteous, or you could take a jaunty 10-minute walk from the Highland Park Gold Line stop. This is where I met one of my best new tennis friends, Timothy Sellars, after he posted that he was looking for someone interested in playing with their nondominant hand. “That’s my guy!” I realized immediately. He showed up wearing a straw hat just like me. We proceeded to have a dandy time hitting nondominant shots and, between games, discussing ways to build rapport between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
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A tennis court surrounded by tall trees
(Mark Gozonsky)

Become a regular at George Elder Park

Monterey Park Tennis Court
I had been playing lots of tennis in Monterey Park at the end of 2022 — enough to know exactly where the horrible shooting happened and to feel its awfulness extra deeply. Lots of people were hitting at the four courts when I visited here recently, mostly playing doubles, all seeming like they were having a terrific time. I had a fine time myself hitting with yet another new friend, Dastan Mazhetayev from Kazakhstan. He is a better player than I am, so I try to do what he does, which is hit my short balls into a corner and then come up to the net to put away my even shorter returns. Sounds simple in theory. In practice … I’m working on it.
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A tennis court with mountains and trees in the background
(Mark Gozonsky)

Volley at the meticulously maintained Loma Alta Park

Altadena Tennis Court
The lines look extra crisp on these eight meticulously well-maintained courts. Maybe it’s the mountain air. Maybe it’s the pleasure of reuniting with my old friend and colleague Andy Miller, who apprenticed as a student teacher in my classroom years ago. Not only can you make new friends in tennis but you can also renew old friendships. Andy and I romped and stomped, then celebrated with tacos at El Patron.
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An empty tennis court
(Mark Gozonsky)

Play, get lessons and join a team at Poinsettia Recreation Center

Fairfax Tennis Court
This is a full-service tennis center where you can play, get lessons and join a team, all while taking in the full range of human experience from tai chi to softball practice and beyond, all going on around you in an urban park. I personally had a blast just hitting against the wall, pretending I was making a fabulous instructional video about how to free your mind when serving. If you visualize your tennis dreams unfolding amid big-city bustle, make an online reservation.

If you prefer a more easygoing vibe, nearby Plummer Park is another great choice.
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A man cheers near the net on a green tennis court
(Mark Gozonsky)

Join a league and enjoy the good vibes at Edward Vincent Park

Inglewood Tennis Court
Locally known as “Centinela,” this vast park near the Forum offers eight lighted tennis courts and some of the most adorable children’s lessons I’ve seen anywhere. Those kids always look like they’re having a blast and the parents on the sidelines look like they have achieved peace of mind. I have played a lot of league tennis on these courts and have made countless friends who travel around with me inside of my heart. My daughter and I were playing here the other day when coincidentally my former team was practicing. They all came by and encouraged her to whup me, which is how I know we’re still friends. These courts have an exceptionally good vibe. I attribute part of that to it being a gentle downhill quarter-mile walk from the parking lot past the purple and yellow playscape and a dazzling red flame tree. The stroll gives you time after parking to unwind. To relax even further, skip driving entirely and take the Metro K Line. Your stop is Fairview Heights. Downtown Inglewood is also nearby.
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Two people play tennis on a green tennis court
(Mark Gozonsky)

Soak up the best parks have to offer at Charles Wilson Park

Torrance Tennis Court
This is the best park I’ve visited thus far. To reach its three first-come, first-served tennis courts, you pass not only a batting cage but also an ice hockey rink and a universally accessible treehouse with a ramp. You see a lot of people walking around this park, chin up, shoulders back, pep in step. It’s an ideal setting and L.A. would be better off if there were more parks like it. It would be good for anyone’s game to play in such well-realized surroundings. The snazzy green-on-green courts remind us that playing tennis is like writing a sonnet insofar as it all comes down to channeling your energy and passion within the structure of the lines.
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A shady tennis court with trees in the background
(Mark Gozonsky)

Come for the easygoing tennis at Fox Hills Park

Culver City Tennis Court
Calm is the vibe at this three-court walk-on oasis, tucked away in Culver City near the 405, south of Slauson, amid a vastness of apartment complexes and office parks. I recommend coming here for easygoing, ego-free tennis. Only the sky is watching. No one is judging. Little kids are laughing in the playground and on the field. Be like them. Play!
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A woman plays tennis while another talks her through her swing
(Mark Gozonsky)

Enjoy the swanky, but not snooty, courts at Beverly Hills Tennis

Beverly Hills Tennis Court
These courts are a triumph of super-premium value for the people. You and your new tennis friends can enjoy the same swankiness you get at a private club with none of the snootiness. Sixteen immaculate courts with good fencing for privacy and all the trimmings, such as ball machines and private lessons. Court fees — similar to other pay-to-play courts in the county — include a required $22 membership to reserve a court and start at $12 per hour thereafter. (Beverly Hills residents pay less.) I especially like the racket rental program, so you can try before you buy. Just don’t take the rental racket home with you. I accidentally did that once. They were nice about it.
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Four women stand near on either side of the net of a tennis court.
(Mark Gozonsky)

Master the backboard for free or pay to play at Cheviot Hills

Cheviot Hills Tennis Court
The big green backboard next to the glorious pine tree has always felt like the soul of these 12 courts. I have played with lots of friends here over the years. Shoutout to Dennis Danziger and his whole crew; big thank-you to Allen Esrock for teaching me the kick serve on these courts. I have unleashed its funky fury on many a second serve over the years and thought of Allen fondly every single time. We all pay to play here ($8 weekdays, $12 weekends and holidays). Reserving in advance is smart, although you can show up anytime to hit against the backboard, which is free and always there for you.
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A person plays on a tennis court with palm trees a view of the ocean in the background.
(Mark Gozonsky)

Play tennis by the beach at Ocean View Park

Santa Monica Tennis Court
You are playing tennis on the beach in Santa Monica. Does life get any better? Well, no and yes. The courts are in good shape and it is exhilarating to bask in plain view of surf and sand. However, also in plain view are many who appear to be unhoused. Having a giddy time while others struggle — that is a circle we all must somehow square. While contemplating this, please note that these are the only unlighted courts on this list, so plan to play in daylight. Parking requires an intricate strategy, which boils down to heading for Lot 5S and turning right into the lot before the attendant station ($1 per hour). There are no bathrooms at the courts, so best to hit the facilities along the beach path by the parking lot before you head over.
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A man swings a tennis racket on a tennis court.
(Mark Gozonsky)

Practice your swing at Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Tennis Center

Sherman Oaks Tennis Court
Great energy at these six pay-to-play courts (starting at $8 per hour on weekdays, $12 per hour on weekends). You can get it all here: court time, lessons and team play. A blue-tape rectangle, old, torn and frayed with a single dot inside, sticks on a nondescript backboard. An old-timer said he had constructed what looked to me like a hieroglyph years ago as a target for him and his doubles partner to practice hitting inside the box 10 times in a row.
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A tennis court with blue backboards in the background, under a deep blue sky with puffy white clouds.
(Mark Gozonsky)

Play on a 'beautiful court' at El Cariso Park

Sylmar Tennis Court
“Beautiful court!” my new friend Arshak Sarkisyan said with a smile as expansive as this park’s view of the San Gabriel Mountains. He is from Siberia and is my from-the-furthest-away new tennis friend! He confirmed what I had heard from people about courts in the North Valley: El Cariso is the nicest.

Getting there was a multiple-bus-and-light-rail adventure that was like living the lyrics to “I Love L.A.,” from the Westside to the Eastside, then way on up north from Union Station through Glendale and Burbank, Sun Valley, Pacoima and San Fernando, all the way to Sylmar. My delight in the vivid street signage and murals of the north Valley coexists with dismay at the squalor of endlessly dispiriting encampments of the unhoused alongside the Antelope Valley train tracks. I hope that making connections with all kinds of people can lead to Angelenos treating each other with dignity.

The four courts at El Cariso offer a beautiful platform for togetherness through tennis. Arshak and I had a blast.
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A man hits a tennis ball in front of a sign that says "Go Venus."
(Mark Gozonsky)

Channel Serena and Venus at Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Complex

Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Tennis Court
This site is famous for being where Serena and Venus Williams took lessons as kids, back when it was called the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex. Now known as the Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Complex, you can still see youngsters taking lessons here in a fun and orderly fashion.

The 12 first-come, first-served courts make this a smart destination if you want a court without waiting. The back courts are good if you have a partner and want to hit low-key. The front courts are traditionally for the regulars, and the reception you’ll get as a walk-on depends on who you run into on any given day. My advice is to give it a shot. This is where I came back to tennis after a long layoff more than 20 years ago. I will be forever grateful to the patient folks who tolerated my line drives to the back fence and high fly balls to the neighboring courts until I gradually got back into the swing of things. That took a special kind of patience, which glows to this day in my heart.
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