Los Angeles

8 Cultural Activities To Class Up Your LA Weekend

David VonDerLinn
David VonDerLinn
David VonDerLinn

Sure, it’s great to spend your weekends watching Marvel movies and DVRing Vanderpump Rules on the DL. But sometimes, you want to do something a little more refined. A little more elegant. Perhaps, you’d like to partake in an activity with a little… culture.

If the last “art” exhibit you liked was a beauty influencer’s Instagram, it might be time to break out of your routine and tour some of the cultural highlights of Southern California. Luckily, Los Angeles is surrounded by lovely locales that offer the chance to experience fine art, dance, film, and history, all while taking a break from the city. So, plan a weekend day away and visit one of these cultural gems just outside of LA.

MISSION TIKI DRIVE-IN THEATRE

Montclair
Sure, it’s nothing fancy, but drive-ins are a dying breed and the Mission Tiki Drive-In is happily keeping the tradition alive. The tiki theme only applies to the ticket booths and snack stand (with a few tiki torches strewn about for good measure), and the theater provides a surprisingly good movie-watching experience. Its concession stand offers truly tasty Mexican food, the projection is bright and clear, and you can get huge buckets of salty, salty popcorn. Watch two movies for $9. Plus, if the double feature sucks, you can make out with whoever you came with!

If you want to make a day of it, check out the huge flea market that takes over the drive-in during daylight hours. With 300 vendors, you’re sure to find a hidden gem. Admission ranges from free to 75 cents per person — so you might need to dig into your change purse (or cupholders) to get in.

DonHoltz.com
DonHoltz.com
DonHoltz.com

OLD TOWN MUSIC HALL

El Segundo
Pipe organ music might make you think of minor league baseball games and low-rent skating rinks, but when you see the The Old Town Hall’s Mighty Wurlitzer play, it’s truly amazing. The venue plays an array of classic, short, and silent films; and all non-talkies feature live accompaniment on the 2,600-pipe organ.

The $10 ticket gets you a live ragtime piano performance, a number from the Mighty Wurlitzer, a sing-a-long to 70-year-old hits like “Mairzy Doats,” and a full-length feature. Or you can visit the Music Hall to hear concerts of the best jazz and ragtime piano around.

The community atmosphere of the Old Town Music Hall and commitment to keeping an old artform alive is surprisingly touching. When’s the last time you could say that about the newest blockbuster?

Moises Rodriguiz
Moises Rodriguiz
Moises Rodriguiz

HERITAGE SQUARE MUSEUM

Los Angeles
Disappear into another time without leaving the city limits. Tucked into a corner of Los Angeles proper, there lives a tiny neighborhood of Victorian homes. The Heritage Square Museum offers tours of these old homes, giving you a glimpse into the late 19th-century version of LA. Spoiler alert: There was a lot less bleached hair and a lot more cows.

Check out their rotating exhibits like Victorian Valentine’s Day Fashion & Ephemera or a collection of antique stereoscopes, aka the 1890s’ 3D technology. Yes, even in Victorian times people loved wasting their money on 3D entertainment.

JackHartin
JackHartin
JackHartin

BACKHAUSDANCE

Orange
The critically-acclaimed Backhausdance company performs contemporary dance for a modern audience, with its diverse company giving life to a mix of new and revived works. Each summer, the theater offers a pre-professional dance program to train future dancers, and gives full scholarships to over half the students in an effort to bring dance to a wider community.

And the repertory is inclusive, too: This year alone, Backhausdance is hosting the US and World premiere performances of pieces by acclaimed Italian and Israeli choreographers.Theirs is a season that appeals to contemporary dance aficionados and “Whoa, he kicked his leg real high” audiences alike.

Nico Marques
Nico Marques
Nico Marques

BRAND LIBRARY

Glendale
Sure, a trip to the library might sound like some kind of punishment. But most libraries aren’t the Brand Library. Looking like some kind of beautiful Spanish castle, this branch of the Glendale Public Library is worth a visit for the architecture alone.

Plus, these beautiful grounds hold more than just books. Enjoy performances from concert musicians, professional dance troupes, and even the California Philharmonic as part of their music and dance series. Hear authors discuss their latest works, chat about all the hot opera goss in their Opera Talk series, and even join a crafty book club where you create a piece of art based on the book of the month. It’s all free and a much more cultured way to spend a Saturday morning than accidentally sleeping ’til noon.

Kay Kochenderfer Toomey
Kay Kochenderfer Toomey
Kay Kochenderfer Toomey

PASADENA SYMPHONY

Pasadena
What’s classier than listening to classical music? Nothing. Classy is right there in the name. You have to spell classical wrong, but… you get the point. Pasadena is home to an incredible symphony that plays all the hits — Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven. They’ve yet to cover “Gucci Gang,” but we’re sure it’s in their repertoire.

All performances take place in the Ambassador Auditorium, a beautiful building that looks like a prettier version of the Metropolitan Opera House (suck on that, New York!). Take in the gorgeous grounds and experience the standards as played by one of the greatest symphonies in America. Season tickets start as low as $99 and single tickets usually only cost around $35. That’s the price of an IMAX Transformers movie and a small soda, so a trip to the symphony might be a better choice.

Museum of Latin American Art
Museum of Latin American Art
Museum of Latin American Art

MUSEUM OF LATIN AMERICAN ART

Long Beach
Los Angeles is full of museums, but you’ve got to head out to Long Beach to find a real one-of-a-kind collection: The Museum of Latin American Art is the only museum in the US to exclusively feature works by people of Latin American decent.

With exhibitions like “Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago,” this museum delves deep into the historical and political context of its works. For only $10, you get to see beautiful modern art from a severely underrepresented group. Plus, your support helps the museum grow and maybe, one day, we could have two whole museums of Latin American Art in the country.

RUBICON THEATRE COMPANY

Ventura
As the Rubicon entered its 20th season, the Thomas Fire threatened to wipe it out. Thankfully, the flames spared the former-church-turned-theater and the town of Ventura has helped keep this institution alive.

Though it’s about an hour north of Los Angeles, the Rubicon routinely brings Broadway-level talent to this beachside town. The theater’s adventurous mix of classic musicals, concerts, and world-premiere productions gives the citizens of Ventura some of the best theater in all of Southern California.

Plus, there’s an amazing tiki bar, VenTiki Lounge & Lanai, right down the street, and it’s a 10-minute walk to the beach. So, there’s really no good reason not to visit the Rubicon.

Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint caf√© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and caf√©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the caf√©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

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