See inspiring urban art on these 6 walks in L.A.
By Matt Pawlik
You’ve heard of the great outdoors, but what about the great artdoors? We all know Los Angeles is a hiking haven — coastal, desert and mountain habitats are all easily accessible by trail — but our urban landscapes provide for some truly beautiful scenery too. My favorite? “The Great Wall of Los Angeles” by Judy Baca. Supported by the Social and Public Art Resource Center, the half-mile-long mural in the Tujunga Flood Control Channel chronicles the history of ethnic peoples of California from prehistoric times to the 1960s. This week, I visited Claudia Bosschaerts, SPARC’s social media and communications manager, to learn more about the cultural monument.
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“It inspires people to learn about the real history,” Bosschaerts tells me, pointing to a beautiful painting of Chumash women next to a depiction of the legend of Califa. “It’s not what you’re going to find in a textbook.” As we take the walk under sycamores, palms and even pines, Bosschaerts and I experience hundreds of years of California history, from the founding of Los Angeles in 1781 to the Chinese Massacre of 1871 to the Mexican American heritage of Thomas Edison, symbolized by the Chichimeca corn goddess.
The project was started in 1975 with a beautification request from the Army Corps of Engineers, and it currently is in a research phase for expansion to modern times (there’s a bridge coming soon). A team of more than 400 contributed to Baca’s vision, including many students, some of whom were so inspired by the project that they became artists and activists.
“Allowing people to learn about themselves through history is so powerful,” Bosschaerts says. “By understanding the past, we can begin to understand the future.”
LACMA is currently showcasing a cool Snapchat augmented reality experience to view the wall from different perspectives along your walk. To see more works by Baca, check out her current “World Wall” MOCA exhibit (free), now through February 2023.
Los Angeles is filled with urban art adventures. Here are five more to enjoy.
1) Thai Town, Little Armenia and Barnsdall Art Park, East Hollywood
To experience an artistic melting pot in the heart of Hollywood, park at Barnsdall Art Park to start a 2.75-mile loop. The 36-acre hillside space, home to the free L.A. Municipal Art Gallery and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1921 Maya Revival Hollyhock House, offers an incredible view of Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood sign.
Then head west on Hollywood Boulevard through Little Armenia, where you can snack on lahmajune (Armenian pizza) and beoreks (think empanadas) at Taron Bakery and find murals at the intersection with Normandie Avenue, including one on the Armenian genocide by ArToon. Venture into Thai Town (the first such designated in the U.S.), where Thailand Plaza greets you with two beautiful sidewalk shrines. At Western, take a left at Sunset Boulevard and head back east, stopping at Jitlada for spicy southern Thai options before returning to Barnsdall.
2. Arts District murals, downtown Los Angeles
Downtown’s Arts District has one of the highest densities of murals in the city. Via my curated 2.5-mile walk, ooh and ahh at incredibly vivid and detailed murals around every corner, including portraits of a Navajo woman, rebel art legend Ai Weiwei and L.A. art icon Ed Ruscha. You’ll find explosions of color, such as exaggerated depictions of L.A. habitués; more subtle black-and-white offerings, including two lovers sharing an intimate moment; plus charming elephants. “Bloom,” on the Neptune Building, is a highlight, as is the free Institute of Contemporary Art museum. New murals tend to pop up quite a bit, so wander and find your favorites. For more downtown art, my 2.5-mile Grand Central circuit route highlights Little Tokyo and the Grand Park area, and my Kobe Bryant mural tribute explores 2.4 miles near the Crypto Arena.
3. Cambodia Town, Long Beach
The city of Long Beach has an incredible amount of public art. I like to journey through historic Cambodia Town, which is home to the largest Cambodian community outside the country itself. Start your walk at the corner of Alamitos and Anaheim and head east (check the map), where gorgeous murals immediately satisfy. You’ll start with “The Golden Boy” right before Orange Avenue on your left; other favorites include “Unity Through the Strength of Diversity,” which highlights the Latino and Cambodian influences on the area, and “The Spirit Within,” a massive piece across the United Cambodian Community Center facade.
4. Shakespeare Bridge, Los Feliz
Nestled at Franklin Avenue and St. George Street, the Shakespeare Bridge is a charming, hidden L.A. historic-cultural monument. The bridge is in the Franklin Hills with accompanying gardens and, below it, a dry streambed. Built in 1926, this gothic-style concrete structure is a tribute to the Bard and a great photo op, especially under the turreted towers. For a bridge-to-bridge walk, head to the L.A. River bike path at Sunnynook Drive, where you’ll find a slice of Paris — the Atwater Love Lock Bridge has hundreds of love locks entangled in the fence barrier over the lush river habitat. It’s about 2.25 miles from the Shakespeare Bridge, passing by Walt Disney’s first home, the Rowena Reservoir and the William Mulholland Memorial Fountain at Griffith Park along the way.
5. Stairway Art, Silver Lake
Who says you can’t walk on the art too? A classic set of Silver Lake stairways loved by many is a great setting for your next workout. Starting at Sunset Boulevard and Micheltorena Street, within just 1.5 miles, you’ll find four unique staircases — the first, on the south side of the street, is the 177 Micheltorena Stairs, full of rainbow colors, hearts and beautiful messages. Turn left at Descanso Drive to find the Descanso Staircase, which leads you to the 133 Music Box Steps, named after the 1932 Laurel and Hardy film, in which the duo try to lift a piano up the steps. Cross the triangular Laurel and Hardy Park and find the narrow Garcia Walk on your way to Sunset. Turn left and walk a couple blocks to find the Piano Stairs on your right. Scale the keys rapidly for a harmonious end to your workout.
5 things to do this week
1. Participate in the annual Coastal Cleanup Day in Manhattan Beach. Saturday, as part of a statewide effort of the California Coastal Commission, join the Roundhouse Aquarium in partnership with Heal the Bay for a morning effort at Manhattan Beach Pier from 9 a.m. to noon. Limited supplies will be provided to comb the coast for trash and debris, so bring your own if you can. Register here. For additional local cleanup events, check out Long Beach’s Rosie’s Dog Beach, Dockweiler Beach (where families can enjoy a “traveling tide pool”) and plenty more across SoCal.
2. Help restore the local habitat at the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve. Partnering with California Native Plant Society, Friends of the L.A. River (FoLAR) invites volunteers to the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve to “remove invasive mustard and learn about its impact on the ecosystem” on Saturday from 8 to 11 a.m. The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society will lead bird walks on site too. Binoculars will be provided.
3. Celebrate nature and beer at Topa Topa Brewing Co.’s OkTOPAfest in Ventura. On Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., Ventura’s Topa Topa Brewing Co. is holding its own version of Oktoberfest. The community is invited to “engage with all the natural wonders that surround us” while enjoying a new beer release. For nearby hiking, the Topa Topa team recommends checking out the trails of the beautiful new Harmon Canyon Reserve.
4. Watch a surfing competition and explore Surf City, USA. Returning for the first time since 2006, the International Surfing Assn. World Surfing Games are being held Sept. 16-24 in Huntington Beach, which kicks off the 2024 Olympic surfing qualification process. This weekend, check out the competition on Saturday and Sunday, but also consider a surfing history walk through town to visit the surfing walk of fame and museum.
5. Listen to a reading from a novel written from the perspective of plants. On Sunday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., author Melina Sempill Watts will be at the Greener Way Garden in Culver City to read from her book “Tree,” which is the story of 229 years in the life of a California coast live oak. There’ll be a Q&A too, where Watts will discuss her local inspiration, such as how native plants sustain biodiversity, and a raffle for 10 ready-to-plant baby loquat trees. You can see artist Jeff Sojka and Jessica Hall’s work celebrating the novel at the Ventura County Museum.
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Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, some may be large rodents. According to a story by The Times’ Nathan Stolis, the North American beaver may be a key player in the fight against climate change. On Tuesday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife posted its first job listing for its new beaver restoration unit, which will help develop “nature-based restoration solutions” involving the furry engineers, who are “capable of increasing water storage and creating natural firebreaks with their dams.” In the past, beavers were often considered a nuisance for flooding farmlands, but with the new restoration program in place, they now may very well be key to preserving biodiversity in our state. Time will tell, but for now, we can all be “beaver believers.”
Known for its epic long-distance biking routes across the country (like the Trans-America trail), the Adventure Cycling Assn. has mapped out more than 50,000 miles of routes across the U.S. and Canada. Now, in recognition of bikers (admittedly, like myself) who prefer a condensed ride, the team created 12 new Short Routes. The two- to five-day itineraries have the beginner in mind. They include a bikepacking trip across Catalina Island), a 35-mile fire road adventure through the Santa Monica Mountains and a beautiful coastal tour from Carpinteria to Refugio State Beach. They even shout out my personal favorite SoCal biking route: the Ojai Valley Trail. The best part? All routes are available for free in digital formats (perfect for your smartphone or GPS device) or via paper maps and cue sheets.
Last month, I wrote about the many microforests around Los Angeles managed by the L.A. Parks Foundation. Last weekend, I visited the group’s offices in Griffith Park, where they have their very own native demonstration garden. The Commonwealth Nursery Garden “not only demonstrates the techniques of native plant gardening but also will hopefully inspire native plant cultivation for parks throughout Los Angeles and beyond,” says L.A. Parks Foundation Executive Director Carolyn Ramsay, who points to sustaining biodiversity and combating climate change.
Ramsay and nursery manager Cameron De Anda gave me a tour of the grounds, showing me their more than 30 native plants, including hardy monkeyflowers, wooly blue curls (De Anda’s personal favorite), late-summer blooms of blazing stars and riparian reeds sprouting from their river rock bio-swale that supports storm water infiltration. It’s a great place to get advice on your own native planting efforts at home, which not only benefits biodiversity but also can be low maintenance. “Some thrive on neglect,” De Anda says. “Trust the plants.”
The experience was indeed sensory and serene — Ramsay and De Anda encouraged me to smell some “cowboy cologne” (sagebrush) and enjoy the unique “seven-minute-burned popcorn” odor of bladderpod as we finished our tour. But most important, it was inspiring and informative. You can request to visit the garden by emailing email@example.com or calling (310) 472-1990.
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