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12 iconic L.A. spots to bask in a great read — and book pairings to match

Like anything that can survive a lifetime in the spotlight, Los Angeles has many angles, from its glamorous boulevards (Hollywood, Rodeo) to its rugged canyons (Runyon, Fryman).

Most of its best-known spots are places to see and be seen, but don’t let that reputation fool you — L.A. is a city of stories, and many of its landmarks are just as suited to sinking into a good book as they are to serving as the backdrop for the perfect selfie.

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With everything from dark bars to picturesque vistas as well as historic buildings and parks, the city has a locale for every literary mood, and we have the book suggestions to match each one.

A guide to the literary geography of Los Angeles: A comprehensive bookstore map, writers’ meetups, place histories, an author survey, essays and more.

April 14, 2022

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The Griffith Observatory at dusk.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Absorb the space-forward "We Light Up the Sky" at Griffith Observatory

Griffith Park Observatory
The Observatory is no stranger to the spotlight: the iconic building was in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” and appeared alongside Ah-nold in 1984 in “The Terminator,” as well as serving as a backdrop to the singing and dancing in 2016’s “La La Land,” among many other cameos. But it is also a working observatory, where members of the public can gaze heavenwards and wonder what — or who — else is out there.

The characters in Lilliam Rivera’s latest don’t have to wonder: They find themselves tasked with saving the world when an extraterrestrial arrives and takes the form of one of their friends. “We Light Up The Sky” may be speculative and space-forward, but it’s also grounded in our current reality, offering a meditation on the all-too-human experiences of racism and discrimination.
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Canter’s Deli from the outside at night with cars passing by on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles
(David George / Alamy Stock Photo

Order a Reuben while savoring "Spinning Silver" at Canter's

Beverly Grove Jewish Deli
L.A. is full of good delis, and you could make an argument for Langer’s pastrami or Art’s atmosphere. But Canter’s has that rock ’n’ roll history going for it— plus it’s open 24 hours a day, 364 days a year, so you can read there almost whenever the urge strikes you (they are closed on Yom Kippur). Order up some Jewish comfort food — matzo balls, a Reuben, maybe an out-of-season latke — and dive into “Spinning Silver,” Naomi Novik’s take on a Rumpelstiltskin tale, this time deeply inflected with Jewish lore, practice, and life.
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Children play in the surf on Zuma Beach.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Dive into "This One Summer" on the Malibu coast

Malibu Beach
Nothing conjures adolescent uncertainty, sandy feet and salt-crusted hair quite like “This One Summer,” a graphic novel that follows preteen Rose and her family on their annual vacation to a cottage at the fictional Awago Beach. There, Rose meets up with her longtime friend Windy, and the two navigate a season on the brink of changes in their families, bodies and understandings of themselves and one another. The book by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki will make you long for a swim, so be sure to read it on the coast, where you can dunk yourself in a wave when the recollection of your own tween years gets too overwhelming. Malibu’s Zuma Beach has a long stretch of sand and waves, perfect for an afternoon reading in the sun. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
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Visitors make their way through the Central Garden at the Getty Center
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Sit outside at the Getty Center as the mysteries of "Mouth to Mouth" pull you in

Brentwood Museum
Antoine Wilson’s “Mouth to Mouth” is a sparse, dark look at the material indulgences and psychic self-deceptions of the art world, so what better place to read it than on the gleaming lawns of the Getty Center? Richard Meier’s white stone buildings dazzle on sunny days, and so do the views of the city and, if you’re lucky, the ocean to the west. Surround yourself with the spoils of an oil baron’s historic wealth and disappear into the thoroughly modern story of how one man saved another’s life — but perhaps at the cost of his own.
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A group takes a selfie in front of the neon BULLEIT sign inside Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Snack at Grand Central Market while savoring "The Way You Make Me Feel"

Downtown L.A. Restaurant
Ever since Jonathan Gold won his Pulitzer Prize for food writing in 2007, the world has had to acknowledge what Angelenos have known all along: This is a remarkably fun place to eat. Grand Central Market has added some bougie new-school vendors in the last few years, but you can still chow down on classics like Sarita’s pupusas or stop by Chiles Secos for specialty products like imported moles. Pair the visit to Grand Central Market with Maurene Goo’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which is about two girls forced to work in a food truck for the summer. The charming YA novel’s heroine, Clara, is by turns salty and sweet, and the story is absolutely one to savor.
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People walk by Johnny Ramone's grave at Hollywood Forever.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Settle in at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and read "Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession"

Hollywood Historical Landmark
The final resting place of luminaries from throughout Hollywood history may seem like a kitschy attraction, or else a morbid curiosity, but on a weekday afternoon, the cemetery’s 60 acres are lush and peaceful. Wind your way through the mausoleums, see if you can spot a peacock, and then settle down somewhere to read Alice Bolin’s “Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession.” The book is about how much space murdered white women take up in the American imagination. Hollywood Forever even makes a cameo in an essay entitled “The Dream,” if you want to add a layer of meta-experience to your time among the spirits.
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A surfer sits in the water as they watch another catch a wave
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

Watch the surfers at El Porto while peeking up from "Barbarian Days"

Manhattan Beach Beach
OK, El Porto in Manhattan Beach isn’t quite as exotic as some of the locales William Finnegan surfs in his memoir, “Barbarian Days.” But it still has plenty of waves, and the waves have plenty of riders. Whether it’s 90 degrees and sunny or a foggy, marine layer-damp kind of day, spread out your towel and crack the spine of “Barbarian Days,” a stunning memoir by longtime “New Yorker” writer William Finnegan. A warning, however: It will make even the most reluctant swimmers want to find a wetsuit and a board and jump in to wrestle with the surf.
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A lake surrounded by greenery in front of a shrine at the Huntington Gardens
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Let "Hex" and the Huntington Library put a spell on you

San Marino Botanic Garden
Flowers are beautiful — but they can also be deadly, as Nell Barber of Rebecca Dinerstein Knight’s “Hex” well knows. Expelled from her PhD program after a lab-mate dies in an experiment-related accident, Nell now cultivates monkshood and aconite in her apartment and keeps a series of notebooks addressed to her bewitching mentor, Dr. Joan Kallas. “Hex” is barbed with dizzying prose and plenty of psychosexual drama: perfect reading in any one of the Huntington’s gardens.
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A child walks by Lake Balboa as a great blue heron takes off.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times )

Channel your disdain for influencers at Lake Balboa Park with "Future Feeling"

Sepulveda Basin Park
Los Angeles can be a surreal landscape: We’re famously located between the desert of Joshua Tree, the spread of the Pacific Ocean, and the peaks of various mountain ranges. Lake Balboa Park is a pastoral paradise in the San Fernando Valley’s belly. Particularly surreal in a city often plagued by drought is the 27-acre Lake Balboa in Van Nuys, which is the perfect place to tuck into Joss Lake’s equally surreal tale of social media influence gone wrong, “Future Feeling.” When a curse intended for Penfield R. Henderson’s (least?) favorite influencer goes astray, he and its intended target will have to journey through the mythical Shadowlands to retrieve the victim — and maybe find themselves along the way.
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Two people walk by a shop on Olvera Street
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Browse Olvera Street before digging into "Children of the Land"

Downtown L.A. Shopping
Olvera Street is a historic block created in 1930 to “preserve and present the customs and trades of early California.” Shop for handcrafted pottery and leather goods, and then grab a table at El Cielito Lindo, which has been serving taquitos since 1934. “Children of the Land,” Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s memoir of growing up undocumented in California in the ’90s, is a moving look at the experience of living between worlds and cultures, and a resonant reminder of how the border between the U.S. and Mexico shapes the lives of those who have reason to cross it.
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The classic martini at Musso and Frank Grill in Hollywood.
(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

Cheers to yourself at Musso & Frank with "U Up?"

Hollywood Restaurant
The heroine of “U Up?” is named Eve, after the late Los Angeles scribe Eve Babitz, and much like her namesake, the book’s Eve spends most of her time in bars (or else recovering from what she did at one the night before). You could make yourself a very soggy eastside bar crawl out of the real-life spots author Catie Disabato name-drops — El Prado, the Drawing Room and Verdugo Bar among them — but why not kick it up a notch and take yourself and Eve to the ultimate watering hole? Musso & Frank Grill is is as classic as it comes, which will lend your debauchery a sense of sophistication. Belly up to the bar and order a martini or two. You’ll be in good company, on the page and off.
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Ajahni Roots, 3, plays at the fountain at Leimert Plaza Park.
(Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)

Bookend an excellent afternoon in Leimart Park with "The Black Kids"

Leimert Park Park
This South L.A. neighborhood has long served as a hub of Black art and culture. An excellent afternoon might include a show at the Vision Theater, which was originally built by Howard Hughes in 1932, before heading over to Leimart Park Plaza to sit and read “The Black Kids” by Christina Hammonds Reed. It explores Los Angeles’ semi-recent history, following a rich teenage girl named Ashley as the L.A. riots spark and spread across the city, and her beautiful, fragile world starts to crack and crumble from the inside out.
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