Why: Some buildings have gravitas. This one has that, plus magic. Maybe it's the filigree of the ironwork, the skylight over the five-story atrium, the terra cotta walls. Maybe it's the supposed occult influences on the designer.
Or maybe it's that movie. For several fraught moments in the first "Blade Runner" film (1982), Harrison Ford ducks and scuttles through this building as spotlights rake the atrium. In an enduring cinematic vision of L.A. as dystopia, this was some of the spookiest stuff.
What: The Bradbury Building, completed in 1893 and dramatically restored about 100 years later, seems to be the oldest remaining commercial building in downtown L.A. The Bradbury rents out office space (several private investigators are tenants), and film shoots and other events have been frequent through the years. Last December, the Da Camera Society brought in the Boston Camerata for two chamber music performances.
The "Enchanted" light show, a holiday season hit at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge last year, returns this year fro a run from Nov. 19-Jan. 7.
Why: If the light has faded from your holidays, Descanso Gardens' Enchanted: Forest of Light, an emerging annual tradition, may flip the switch back on.
What: In the evenings from Nov. 19-Jan. 7, you can take a mile-long stroll through the gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge, where different kinds of lighting bring a new dimension to the 160-acre grounds.
The event debuted in 2016. It’s easy to call Enchanted a holiday light display, but that’s not quite right. There are no symbols of the season, no elves, no jolly St. Nicks. It’s more the suggestion of the ethereal that charms.
Why: Frank Lloyd Wright, the cantankerous genius architect best known for his buildings in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Tokyo and beyond, did some interesting things in California, too. This hilltop home -- officially, the Aline Barnsdall Hollyhock House -- is one of them. And unlike many Wright homes, it's open for tours.
What: The house, Wright's first Los Angeles commission, was completed in 1921 for an artsy oil heiress named Aline Barnsdall. Wright called the style "California Romanza," but it looks a lot like a Mayan mansion with a prime view of the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park. Inspect that view closely, and you'll notice, 1.4 miles due north, the patterned concrete blocks of another Wright project, the Ennis House, now privately owned.
In any event, Wright's client didn't care for it much. In 1927 she donated 11 acres, including the home and some neighboring structures, to the City of Los Angeles. Today the compound serves as Barnsdall Art Park, busy with classes for youths and adults (and Friday-night wine-tasting in summer months). Hollyhock House, reopened in 2015 after years of fundraising and restoration, is neighbored by an art gallery, studio and theater space, the slopes planted with olive trees. The home's former garage now serves a visitor center and gift shop.
Why: This building merges church and nature in a rare way.
What: Designed by Lloyd Wright for the Swedenborgian Church and opened in 1951, this chapel's glass walls and ceiling effect make the surrounding redwoods a part of its architecture. The result is a "tree chapel" that blurs distinctions between inside and outside, spirituality and nature. Many architects call this style Modern Organic. Whatever language you prefer, it's nice to see the sky from inside the sanctuary. The locally quarried stone adds an earthy touch. And the road you ride in on across the lush slopes of the Palos Verdes Peninsula — that isn't bad either.
Also, once you're inside, there's more than one way to look up. In 2017, yoga (gentle and Kundalini) was offered on Tuesday and Wednesday nights from May through September; check the chapel website to see if that continues in 2018.
Why: Since her launch in England by the Cunard Line in 1936, the Queen Mary has seen war, peace, Europe, New York, Clark Gable, Winston Churchill and, more recently, Ships & Giggles Comedy Night in Long Beach. In early December, it will be 50 years since the grand old lady arrived to begin her retirement years in Long Beach Harbor as a floating hotel, restaurant and special-events venue. Since she needs as much as $289 million in work, there's no telling how much longer this retirement will last.
What: The ship is more than 1,000 feet long, with 12 decks and three smokestacks. Converted into a troop ship and painted gray during World War II, the Queen Mary could carry up to 16,683 soldiers and sailors. She resumed civilian service after the war, but before long the rise of air travel largely destroyed demand for transatlantic passenger ships. In late 1967, the ship made her 1,001st (and final) transatlantic voyage and settled into her current location. The City of Long Beach's plan was to boost tourism.
The years since have been bumpy. The Queen Mary has had success with seasonal attractions like the Dark Harbor program that runs through Nov. 1. But beneath those spooky trappings, the ship is genuinely suffering from extensive structural corrosion. Without dramatic repairs, experts have warned, an internal collapse could come within 10 years.
Why: Los Angeles is famous for body-care regimens ranging from the questionable to the overindulgent. The dozens of practical and affordable Korean spas are less known, tucked away in office buildings throughout Koreatown and beyond. Wi Spa is the granddaddy of them all.
What: Wi Spa is a modern bathhouse with roots in the ancient Korean tradition of communal bathing and sweating. For a modest admission price, you have access to a megaplex of relaxation with saunas and baths, hair and nail salons, a gym, a full-service restaurant, TV and lounge areas, sleeping rooms, a manga library, a skin-care boutique, open-air terrace, computer room, kids zone and a coed communal heated room known as jimjilbang (or sometimes jjimjilbang). Stay for an hour or lounge all day — you'll leave renewed. And you may learn how to fold a towel into a yang mori (lamb's head) hat.
Spa etiquette can be intimidating, but you won’t have any trouble if you follow two basic rules: Take your shoes off before entering the spa area and wash yourself in a shower before entering a tub or sauna, which includes rinsing after every sweat session. Nudity is required in the gender-segregated floors, but everyone receives a T-shirt and shorts for the jimjilbang. This is the living room of the spa, where patrons of all ages relax together on the heated floors. Here, specialty saunas — including the 231-degree bulgama and the clay ball room — line the walls.
Why: Before Frank Gehry conjured the amazing architecture of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall and dozens of other high-profile projects, he started experimenting on a standard '20s home — his own. Forty years later, that home (which he still owns) is an icon of deconstructivism, and a pilgrimage point for young architects and students of design.
You can't go closer than the sidewalk — it's a private home. But you can drive by slowly or park and walk the block.
What: Gehry (whose 89th birthday is Feb. 28, 2018) was still a largely unknown name when he and his wife bought the house at 22nd Street and Washington Avenue in the late 1970s. It was a 1920s Dutch Colonial, two stories on a corner lot, in a middle-class neighborhood that was part single-family homes, part apartment buildings.
Why: Life is full of mysteries, misunderstandings and bald-faced lies. This place too. Its dim rooms, sober tone and perplexing exhibits are designed to mess with your head while reveling in the weird things that happen when we try to explain or collect nature or culture. Confused? Don't worry. Have a cup of tea upstairs and commune with the doves in the tiny courtyard.
What: This museum is designed to test your credulity and make you gasp. Enjoy the microscopic sculptures, the mice on toast (a cure for bed-wetting?), the trailer-park dioramas, the short films that screen hourly upstairs. Also don't miss the Soviet space-dog portraits. In awarding museum curator David Wilson one of its "genius" grants in 2001, the MacArthur Foundation called the museum "a provocative commentary on how we organize and archive cultural artifacts," noting that "fact and fiction are displayed with equal precision and diligence."
And next door you'll find a sort of cousin institution — the Center for Land Use Interpretation, which examines human effects on the landscape using keen wit, deadpan tone and extensive photography. CLUI's current show, unveiled Sept. 22 with seven high-resolution monitors in a single bright room, is "Engaging Scale: The Railroad Landscape as an Analog Macroscope." It's about model railroads, real ones and the scenery they inhabit.
Why: There’s a wonderful cognitive dissonance in feeling as though you’re in the tropics and knowing you’re in San Francisco. That's daily life in Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers, where temperatures average 75 to 80 degrees during the day, coupled with a humidity of 70% to 80%. Plus you get a little helping of history with your heat and humidity.
What: Greenhouses once were the playhouses of the rich; this glass-and-wood beauty was supposed to become part of a Santa Clara estate belonging to wealthy businessman James Lick. His death in 1876 ended the idea of a grand greenhouse, and it sat until a group of San Franciscans, including Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, bought it and donated it to the city. It opened in 1879.
Its life has been no bed of roses. At least one explosion, a fire and a windstorm have damaged it, sometimes closing it for long stretches, although oddly enough, it survived the 1906 earthquake unscathed. Still, in the 1990s, it landed on the World Monuments Fund's list of endangered sites. But it was saved, once again, by a fundraising effort.
Why: Magic Mountain packs in more screams per hour than all of Southern California’s other theme parks combined.
What: Six Flags Magic Mountain delivers what Disneyland can’t: thrills. It has more coasters than any other amusement park in the world.
The fourth-dimension X2 coaster with rotating seats makes your pulse quicken and palms sweat. Twisted Colossus combines the classic feel of a wooden coaster with the looping thrills of modern steel beasts. Soar like a bird with nothing between you and the ground on the gravity-defying, terrain-hugging Tatsu flying coaster.