Making Magic in Hollywood!

"Open sesame!”  Those are the much-coveted words required to enter one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets - at least to those who live outside of Los Angeles.  The legendary “Magic Castle” is a century-old mansion positioned smack dab in the middle of Hollywood.  With aims at showcasing some of the world’s best magic talents, the private club certainly knows how to dazzle and mystify, but in an environment that is surprisingly relaxed, and jocose.

Much like Yamashiro, the Japanese restaurant located in the hills above (see “eats”), the property that now houses the Magic Castle has undergone a number of renovations (and uses) throughout its history.  And like Yamashiro, Thomas Glover was behind one of them, when in the 1950s he broke the house apart into a number of different apartment units!  Luckily, Milt Larsen took over a decade later, dedicating the property, in honor of his late father, to the “magical arts.”  These days, with two parts evocative vintage showmanship to every one part majestic kitsch, the historical landmark promises any visit will be a memorable one... That is, if you can get in!  

Thanks to a friend of ours who is an official member of the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc., we have been lucky to attend The Magic Castle on a number of fun and fanciful evenings.  While we do not want to spoil all of the surprises for your potential visit, we will reveal that your evening will comprise of a series of magic shows presented on three different-sized stages.  Expect a little bit of everything - from ventriloquism and shtick to classic card and math tricks.  If you’re lucky enough, you may even see a body sawed in half!  Set of Drifters tip:  Look out for Rob Zabrecky on the night’s performance roster.  He is brilliant(ly frightening), and along with How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris, on the Magic Castle’s Board of Directors.

While dinner and drinks are available inside the Magic Castle, they do not necessarily come cheap, or at the commiserate quality.  Our favorite bar is the “Owl bar,” though it’s often closed on slower nights.  If so, hang out in the foyer bar where you’ll more than likely meet people from around the world!  On our last visit in March of 2013, we were thrilled to congratulate Russian expat Dania Kaseeva on her mesmerizing quick change in the Palace of Mystery.  (Look for “David & Dania” on YouTube!)  And don’t forget to head into Irma's piano parlor.  Believe it or not, invisible Irma can effortlessly segue into your favorite request within a matter of seconds - playing anything from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” to AC-DC’s "Back In Black" to the “Cantina Band” theme from Star Wars.  Just don’t forget to tip her ghost bird!

Roaming freely throughout the Castle is not necessarily permitted.  That being said, if you happen down a random flight of stairs here and there, you just may venture into a neato-presto gallery filled with caricatures of the magicians who have hocused and pocused here throughout the years.  And a hidden door may just usher you into the secret Hat and Hare Pub downstairs, where behind-the-scenes looks at ghostly gags from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion are revealed.

Of course, our favorite memory at the Magic Castle has to be the time we happened upon the once-a-year party honoring Soapy Smith - frontier "con man, swindler and self-declared humanitarian."  Apparently, magic fans from all over the country travel to Los Angeles specifically for this annual soiree.  And after experiencing the many surprises that unfolded throughout the evening, it’s easy to see why!  You can be assured that the devoted patrons of “Soapy’s Gang” take this theme, and party, very seriously, dressing up as the rubes, hustlers, marks, dance hall girls and soiled doves of their choice.  

The elite "Inner Circle" of The Magic Castle is open to all this evening, and transformed into a frontier saloon from the "Gold Rush days.”  We loved rousting about with other costumed fans while playing a series of vintage gambling and parlor games!  Huzzah, indeed!  

The Magic Castle hosts performances every night of the week, though because The Magic Castle is a private club, you must be a member, or an invited guest of a member to attend.  While members are FREE, as guests, non-members pay $15 USD as a cover charge, and may be required to purchase dinner as well!  (But trust us when we tell you, any price is worth the admission to this special night out!)  If you are coming to Los Angeles, and are interested checking out this legendary spot, drop us a line to see if we can help you.  Set of Drifters tip:  “Fancy dress” is a requirement at the Castle.  (For men that means no jackets with zippers!)  Still, photos are not allowed inside, so if you want to commemorate your visit, you’ll either have to do it in the lobby, or outside while waiting for the valet to return with your car.  Of course, you could always figure out a way to pull your own sleight of hand tricks while indoors!  Just don’t tell them we advised you!

Now if thought The Magic Castle sounds like an exclusive Hollywood treasure, check this out.  During the summer, a small gathering of inquisitive guests are invited about every six weeks or so to witness a special performance dubbed the “Brookledge Follies.”  The what?  Hosted inside a 60-seat theater behind the private home of the Larsen family (yes, the same Larsens behind The Magic Castle), Brookledge Follies brings together a truly unique assemblage of performance artists, magicians and musicians for one-night-only events that hearken back to the early days of vaudeville!

On our premiere visit to the “Follies,” we arrived to Brookledge Manor at exactly 8:00 PM.  While the property is located only a few blocks from where La Brea meets Wilshire, it feels a world away in terms of ambiance.  The backyard stretches across a trickling brook before it spills off into a pool decorated by oddities.  A trove of elf statues hidden amidst the leafage further set the stage.

With only a few other lucky invitees milling about, our motley crew resembled the cast of one of those bad horror films where a group of random people are sequestered to a mansion by an invisible host who may never arrive!  Luckily, after a few glasses of Malbec, it was time to head inside.  We first peered into the enchanting room at the bottom of the stairs where amazing ephemera from the Golden Age of vaudeville stacked itself to the ceiling!  Already pleasantly intrigued, we ventured next into the cob-webbed theater itself.  An oil painting paying homage to all things "Halloween" displays prominently on the wall adjacent a handsome antique bar that, sadly, was not flowing as fervently as we may have hoped.

Eventually, the lights dimmed to signal the opening of the show.  Daughter Liberty Larsen hosted the evening’s roster, which by its conclusion, had grown to include a gaggle of music, magic and comedy acts all colored in a twinge of whimsy and pixie-dust.  

After a brief intermission, the night culminated with a truly brilliant musical act called the “Dime Museum.”  Backed by a string quintet and wacky harpsichord player, the foppish 23-year old opera singer Timur Bekbosunov (from Kazakhstan) belted out some rather modern entertainment.  Their best moment together was probably a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ classic "Closer," both haunting and hilarious in its delivery.

Overall, it was a splendid night, and very rare Los Angeles treat!  As we ventured out of the small theater, we noticed Academy Award-nominated darling Ryan Gosling was also in attendance that night!  Has he ever been in any horror films?

Again, Brookledge Follies is sadly by invite only.  Contact us for more information, though we can’t necessarily guarantee a hookup.

Magic Castle - 7001 Franklin Avenue, Hollywood, CA  90028, (323)-851-3313,

Brookledge Follies -

Sunset Ranch Hollywood

Imagine yourself within one of those great black-and-white films of yesteryear, riding horseback upon a rugged mountain with views reaching out for miles.  Now, imagine this same scenario, but with the legendary Hollywood sign as your backdrop!  Yes, this classic “Old West” experience can be yours 365 days a year with a trek up to Sunset Ranch, a fully-functional horse facility located only minutes away from current-day Hollywood.

Erected in 1929, Sunset Ranch is a longtime LA favorite that we oddly had missed for many moons.  The setting of various TV shows and films (including the David Lynch classic, Mulholland Drive), it’s the place where actors and actresses learn how to ride for upcoming roles.  (Lessons in general horsemanship and English and Western riding styles are also available to the public by appointment.)

In 2012, we chose Sunset Ranch as the venue to celebrate Brady’s birthday with friends from out of town.  After making the drive up from Hollywood via Beachwood Canyon (keep going until you can go no more), we parked our car just under the sign that signals dog walkers and fitness buffs onto the trail.  From there, a rather steep climb leads to the ranch.  Set of Drifters tip:  With roosting chickens and bales of hay strewn about, Sunset Ranch will look a bit out of place, particularly considering the fact that some of LA’s most fabulous hilltop abodes lie only two minutes down the road.  (For more on the original “Village of Hollywoodland” see "
how to avoid the tourist hell of Hollywood, and yet still feel like you’ve seen it" below and “Beachwood Cafe” in “eats.”)

We had booked our reservation online, realizing only afterwards that we probably could have shown up without any and been no worse off.  (Groups leave the ranch whenever there are enough riders to justify a guide; “last call” is 3:00 PM each day.)  Though we had to wait a few minutes to sign our release forms and pay up, the mounting process went a lot smoother than we anticipated.  A ranch hand first assisted us with helmets, then in choosing our horses.  We’re certainly no experts and have no idea why the horses were paired up with each individual, though expect in advance to divulge your height, weight and riding experience for just this purpose.

Led by a guide named Benito who didn’t really speak much English, our pack of five soon headed off onto the trail.  (Perhaps it’s luck of the draw to get a guide who provides information about what you are seeing; we spotted many of them while on our trek.  Fortunately, we already live in Los Angeles, and could pretty much discern our direction at any given time.) 

Over the next two hours we enjoyed a fantastic trip that anyone visiting Los Angeles for the first time should revel in.  Along the way, riders will achieve multiple objectives at once.  First and foremost, you’ll get to see Mount Hollywood’s famed sign up close and personal.  (Though not that close; don’t think you’ll actually be able to ride directly through, or under, the sign.  Any Instagram photo you capture of yourself, or of your friends, will still be done from a bit of a distance.)

Other vistas out to the LA basin provide stunning views of downtown, Century City and even Santa Monica’s beach!  The best of these is the 360-degree whopper from the top of Mount Lee.  It’s potentially the only time your pack will be stopping.  So make the most out of it and snap away!  We especially loved seeing Griffith Observatory below us from this vantage point - pretty insane when you consider that while driving around town, you often view its domes way up in the distant Hollywood hills.

The narrow passage from Mount Lee to Mount Hollywood is harrowing to say the least, but once across, wide swaths of Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena will also be available from the valley side.  Depending on the time of day, passage over the ridge will immediately change the temperature.  If you are riding in chillier months like we did, it would behoove you to plan ahead with layers (starting with jeans), and bring gloves and/ or a scarf.  In retrospect, we would have cut our winter sunset ride down to one hour, as the lack of light soon became our trek’s biggest nuisance.  And that’s saying a lot considering the mounds of horse poop littering the path!

All in all, our horseback riding experience atop Mount Hollywood was great experience.  If you are city-folk like us, it’s a rarity to have such a rustic afternoon right in the middle of Los Angeles, and it really gives you a sense of how life in the city must have been like in the days before orange groves and Hollywood put it on the map!  The trail is bumpy at times, though as long as your horse is behaving and in a good mood, you should have no major aches or pains the following day.

Rides up Mount Hollywood generally cost $40 USD for an hour, or $60 USD for two hours.  An option to have lunch or dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the other side of the mountain is also available, though we have heard the food quality does not necessarily rationalize the added cost.  Better to look out for special events at the ranch itself:  an upcoming BBQ on June 22 sounds delicious!  Who knows?  You may even see Sunset Ranch’s resident ghost!  (Set of Drifters tip:  It’s worth checking out “Groupon,” as we’ve often noticed horseback riding deals on the website.  And you can also check out Sunset Ranch’s site itself for 2-for-1 deals on Tuesdays.)  Happy Trails.
  Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Sunset Ranch Hollywood - 3400 North Beachwood Drive, Hollywood, CA  90068, (323) 469-5450

Case Study House #8/ Eames Office

For a relatively young city, at least in the grand scheme of things, Los Angeles sure has plenty on offer for those with an eye on history, particularly that of the last 100 years.  Perhaps the best attribute of this rich, albeit short, legacy is the metropolitan area’s treasure trove of architectural gems.  And luckily for us, one of these just happens to be in our Santa Monica backyard!

Perched high atop of a cliff overlooking the ocean, the famed “Eames House” is one of 25 homes included in the legendary “Case Study” program of the 1940s and ‘50s.  The goal of Arts & Architecture publisher John Entenza was to showcase the innovative work of modern architects while addressing the specialized needs of a hypothetical client.  In his magazine, Entenza stated that Charles Eames’s design in the Pacific Palisades "represented an attempt to state an idea rather than a fixed architectural pattern."

The 1,500 square foot house is accompanied by another 1000 square foot studio that Eames used while working on other famous architectural and design ideas.  (His furniture, however, was fabricated in a studio in nearby Culver City.)  Positioned to line up against an existing set of eucalyptus trees, design and utility are in perfect balance at Case Study House #8.  Part of Eames’s genius stems from the fact that all of the panel and rebar materials used in the fabrication of the multihued house came from pre-existing parts.  In fact, construction had to be delayed at one point since some of the raw materials sourced for the project were required for World War II!  Nevertheless, Eames finally completed the house in 1949, and by Christmas Eve, he and his wife Ray were able to move in.  They lived here for the rest of their lives.

The grounds of the Eames property are just as intriguing as the house itself.  The couple's favorite meadow, which empties right out onto a vista that overlooks Will Rogers State Beach, includes a tree swing that probably has a million tales to tell!

Eames’s timeless design has been faithfully maintained throughout the years by the same foundation dedicated the preservation of the architect's body of work.  All paint colors are carefully matched with the original design in the event that refurbishment becomes necessary.  Currently, the Eames House is not open to the public, though you may make an appointment (at least a few days in advance) if you wish to tour the historical location.  Keep in mind that while the exterior of the house may be photographed, the interior, which has been left in much the same state as it appeared when Ray Eames last occupied it in the early ‘80s, is strictly off-limits.

Set of Drifters tip:  The Eames House is located in a residential area, and has very limited parking.  We bet this is exactly why visits are somewhat restricted.  Be on the lookout for another Mid-century modern house just down the street.  Though we had run out of time to really explore it in more detail, we were able to snap a few photos of the front of Richard Neutra’s design through the access gate.

Still not had enough of the Eames look?  Well, you’re in luck!  The Eames Foundation has another address nearby that may just be equally of interest to you.  Eames Office, located on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, focuses more on the Charles and Ray’s interior design work, including the construction of their rather iconic furniture pieces.  While modern reproductions of chairs, loungers and ottomans can be purchased at wholesale prices, the real treats at this boutique-cum-museum are the rotating educational exhibits and films that intimately speak of the duo’s personal and professional relationship.   There's even a play area for kids that teaches them basics about color and shape!

If you are a fan of the Eames design aesthetic, this spot is truly a must.  Since Eames Office is only open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 AM until 6:00 PM (closed Sunday through Tuesday), you may want to plan your overall visit to Los Angeles accordingly.  This is one of those rare places where an awkward location, shortened hours of operation, and poor parking availability keep even locals in the know at bay.

Eames Case Study House - 203 Chautauqua Boulevard, Pacific Palisades, CA  90272, 310-459-9663,

Eames Office - 850 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA  90405, (310) 396-5991,

LA Zoo ruins

In case you hadn’t already noticed, your Set of Drifters are into ruins, no matter where they may exist, or what they bring to light.  There’s just something so tragic and haunting about places that at one time were the epicenter of prosperity and joy, yet are currently nothing more than a pile of rubble and weeds.  (See “Santa’s Village” in “California getaways,” “Chott el-Gharsa” in “Tozeur” and “Angkor” for more.)  And thus, we were thrilled to hear rumors that ruins, and rather macabre ones at that, existed even in the relatively modern city of Los Angeles.

In honor of friend Binnorie’s first visit to Los Angeles, we finally decided to see for ourselves exactly what remained of the fabled “Old LA Zoo.”  The sojourn to Griffith Park’s grassy knolls turned out to be even more fascinating than we anticipated.  

The original Los Angeles Zoo opened way back in 1912, and during its early infancy, grew to include a number of unique animal enclosures designed to mimic “natural habitats.”  Decades later, however, it became apparent to experts that the cages and environments once thought to be safe and humane were actually in desperate need of modernization.  In a surprise twist, the owners of the zoo chose relocation over renovation, and in 1965, uprooted their animal population to a new address a few miles north.

In the 45 years since, the remnants of the old property were simply left to rot.  In fact, it’s only recently that the grounds have been reopened to the public.  (Many families choose the central lawn as site for their Sunday afternoon picnic.)  Of course, that does not mean trespassers haven’t been tramping through the old zoo’s dungeons for decades.  (With so much colorful graffiti decorating the place, one wonders just how many illegal parties have been staged here over the years!)    

Our visits to the zoo, back in June of 2009, and more recently in March of 2013, could easily be likened to an episode of the brilliant History Channel program Life After People, where computer animated graphics depict what Earth might look like if humans suddenly vanished from its surface.  Sweeping Spanish moss and wilting trees encroached all around, suffocating the archaic, rusty structures originally built sometime in the ‘30s.

Perhaps the eeriest aspect of the old zoo ruins is that, if you’re feeling adventuresome enough, you can enter into the "backside" of the enclosures where gorillas and polar bears would have once been led in and out by caretakers.  We were quite surprised at how easy it was to garner access to this seemingly dangerous and decrepit underbelly.  An interior "hallway" that connects each of the different cages has a clearance of only about 4 ft., or less, and those daring enough to investigate here will have to crouch down on their knees to make it from one end to the next.  

Some dilapidated animal enclosures are only accessible via steep "behind-the-scenes" stairwells.  Even with no living beast in sight, it’s not hard to imagine what it must have been like for the hulking animal bodies to trudge up and down the stone steps toward their captivity.  Most stairwells have cages on the top, presumably to prevent jaunty lions and tigers from leaping up and out to their escape!    

While traipsing up, inside and over the barbaric cages, we admit it felt somewhat like being a part of some archaeological team exploring a secret, long-abandoned temple.  (That being said, intense cobwebs suggest some members of the animal kingdom still reside here in droves!)  Ultimately, we could not stop clicking away at the degenerate decay that was almost too perfectly on display.  Still, it must be said it was heartbreaking to see just how small many of the living quarters actually were.  One thing’s for sure, after visiting this mind-boggling Los Angeles relic, you’ll never look at another zoo in the same way again! 

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

LA Zoo ruins (part of Griffith Park) - located at the end of Griffith Park Drive (accessible from Crystal Springs Drive; look for the large playground and then drive past to the parking lot; walk up short trail to picnic greens, and beyond for ruins), Los Angeles, CA  90027, (323) 913-4688

Cavern Club Theater at Casita Del Campo

Believe it or not, one of LA’s premiere venues for oddball comedy and underground performance art is located (ahem) underground, the basement level to the bawdy 1960s Mexican joint Casita Del Campo.  Who woulda thunk it?

With creative seating for about 75 - give or take a dozen - the Cavern Club “Celebrity Theater” is basically a small black box buried deep within the belly of a Silver Lake restaurant.  Though Casita del Campo’s food is a bit hit-and-miss (try the sampler plate), we do enjoy the overall decor’s dependence on bright colors and camp.  Who doesn’t love a giant faux tree growing in the middle of a dining room?  But we digress.  The real reason we come here is for the margaritas, what else?  No, that’s not it either!

In truth, LA’s “gay glitterati” - and the women who love them - often flock to Casita del Campo to check out the fabulously edge performances hosted downstairs.  The talent is provided by a rotating cast of stand-up comedians, drag performers and even performance art legends like Ann Magnuson.  To be perfectly honest, you never quite know who will show up on any given night, and that’s exactly the “Celebrity Theater’s” allure.

Your Set of Drifters have trampled down those dark stairs a number of times to see irascible drag superstar Jackie Beat, as well as unique performances by androgynous genderfuck artist Jer Ber Jones and comedian/ burlesque baby carriage dancer Selene Luna!

The Cavern Club is cozy which makes it the perfect place to met new strangers from around the world.  Just be careful not to spill any of those aforementioned margaritas on your neighbor.  You wouldn’t want to give the comedians any more ammunition to rip you as part of their act!

Set of Drifters tip:
  If you’re a fan of the Cavern Club’s - how shall we put it? - unique outlook on humor, you might want to sign up for their newsletter.  Most tickets for their shows sell out fast, and the theater is so cramped, you’ll want to assure yourself a good view that isn’t blocked by an errant beam... or a row of drag queens with tall wigs!

Cavern Club Theater at Casita Del Campo - 1920 Hyperion Avenue, Silver Lake, CA  90027, (323) 662-4255 or (323) 969-2530

the horticulturality of it all (Pasadena/ Arcadia)

As we mentioned before, Los Angeles is often noted in the media as a vapid expanse of smog-choked land only suitable for those who enjoy a little Juvederm as a side dish to their UGG boots.  We beg to differ.  From the scenic canyon roads of Malibu to the extraordinary cliffs of Paradise Cove beach, Metropolitan LA is full of intense natural beauty.  You just need to know where to find it.

One such place is the exquisite Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens out in Pasadena, our choice for the perfect Mother’s Day sojourn back in May of 2009.  The Huntington was founded in 1919 by utility, railroad and real estate mogul Henry Huntington.  At the age of 60, Huntington announced his decision to retire so that he could devote all of his time to cultivation of his rare books library and art collection.  In addition, with the assistance of his wife Arabella Duval, Huntington also set to work on the necessary landscaping required to complete their 600-acre ranch in San Marino!

We had first planned to visit the tropical gardens, yet were soon pulled away by one of the main buildings that housed Huntington's impressive collection of paintings and sculpture.  Originally the site of the family residence, the imposing manse contains one of the most comprehensive collections of 18th and 19th century British and French art in all of America.  In one large room, Lawrence’s famed depiction of "Pinkie" stares across the expanse at Gainsborough's "Blue Boy!"  Who knew?  And yes, that is the original George Washington portrait you see replicated everywhere!

The art galleries are distinguished by their specialized character and elegant settings, really a museum in and of itself of precious historical antiques, tapestries and other home furnishings.  (Sadly, photos are not allowed in most rooms.)  One gallery is full of pieces by 18th century British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.  It has been reported that Set of Drifter Brady is actually related to Sir Joshua, though we imagine no direct relation can really be determined since the esteemed artist never had any kids!

The Huntington Library resides adjacent to the art collection.  Though we never actually went inside, book enthusiasts will be thrilled to learn that rare antiquarian volumes such as the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a Gutenberg Bible on vellum are stored inside.

Eventually, we finally made it to the botanical gardens proper, Huntington’s ever-changing exhibition of more than a dozen specialized environments that cover over 120 acres.  Back in the day, Huntington and his superintendent William Hertrich would have worked together to search local nurseries and other plant collectors in the area to find mature and unique specimens for the gardens.  Of course, Huntington also imported plants from many parts of the world in his desire to experiment with their success in the climate of Southern California.  Today, it takes 40 gardeners, a curatorial staff of seven, and more than 100 volunteers to maintain the botanical gardens each season!

It was quite a steep and tricky descent into the jungle gardens, our first stop on the botanical garden tour.  The small forest immediately reminded us of trips to South America and Southeast Asia.  (We surmise you’ll be immediately charmed by the nearby lily pond.)  A dense bamboo forest next leads visitors to the Japanese garden, a setting equally on par with Brooklyn's Botanical Garden in New York.  (How come we can't grow bamboo like that on our balcony?)  The bonsai garden here was certainly a people-pleaser, perhaps because most of it was in the shade on that very warm May day!  Of course, what would a Japanese garden be without cherry blossoms?  Have no fear, Huntington Library has plenty of them!

A pair of lion statues marks the gateway into the Chinese gardens, a setting that plays host to a spectacular collection of intricate pagodas.  (Is this the “House of Flying Daggers” or what?)  Since February 2008, the "Garden of Flowing Fragrance," (aka 流芳園), has been the talk of the town.  Visitors, tour groups, special guests, and donors have flocked to the Huntington to enjoy its elegant beauty and to be inspired by the rich tapestry of Chinese architecture, horticulture, and aesthetics.  We could easily have spent more time (and money) admiring this area, but with Rose, Shakespeare and Australian gardens still on the list, there was so much more to see.  Set of Drifters tip:  The tea house and restaurant in the Chinese garden is quite chic and worthy of your lunchtime!

Overall, our day at the Huntington Library could not have been better.  Spring had sprung and flowers were blooming all over the place.  You can bet that picnics were-a-plenty that afternoon!  Huntington Library is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12:00 PM until 4:30 PM and Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 AM until 4:30 PM (closed Tuesdays).  Admission is $15 USD for adults, $10 for students (aged 12-18) and $6 USD for children (aged 5-11).  Children aged 4 and under are FREE.  Keep in mind that adult ticket prices are jacked up to $20 on weekends and Monday holidays!

Set of Drifters tip:  On the way back to the main building, we snapped a number of the photos in the sculpture garden.  The statuary here is mighty evocative, and you should not miss it!  A centrally-located Neptune was our favorite!

Believe it or not, another option for all things floral is located only a hop, skip and a jump away from Huntington Library.  The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is arguably a more relaxed (and cheaper) alternative to the elegance of the aforementioned attraction, and as a bonus, is comes with a fun twist!

For seven seasons, the kitschy opening and closing scenes of the Aaron Spelling-produced series Fantasy Island were filmed right here on the grounds!  In the late 1970s, production designers scouted out the Arboretum’s gorgeous Queen Anne Victorian Cottage and adjacent lagoon to stand in for Fantasy Island’s Main House and biplane dock.  Yes, all of those colorful shots of "Mr. Roarke" and "Tattoo" welcoming the ever-changing roster of celebrity guest stars were filmed in this exact spot.  (Just try glancing up at that gingerbread bell tower without hearing Hervé Villechaize’s unmistakable voice in your head!)

While no tour of the 127-acre Arboretum is complete without a visit to this iconic location, the grounds have much more to offer nature lovers.  With vast sections devoted to African, Australian and Asian plant life, those hoping to snap that perfect photo of a Michelia doltsopa (or “Silver Cloud”) will be easily sated.

Your Set of Drifters visited on a partially cloudy day in February of 2012 and were absolutely stunned by how well the pink cherry blossoms of the Meadowbrook contrasted with the gloomy grey clouds rolling over the nearby San Gabriel Mountains.  Choice.

Another fun aspect of the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is its wildlife.  Home to a rather impressive muster of wild peacocks, this is the perfect place to get up close and personal with the lushly-colored birds.  Just don’t get too close as they are known to snap!  The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a rather affordable affair with tickets starting at only $3 USD for children aged 5 - 12 and $8 USD for adults.  Children aged 4 and under are FREE.  The Arboretum is open daily from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM.  For fans of Fantasy Island (and who isn't ?), this is a must-see!

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens - 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA  91108, (626) 405-2100,

Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden - 301 North Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, CA  91007,

how to avoid the tourist hell of Hollywood, and yet still feel like you’ve seen it

Most first-time visitors to Los Angeles want to (and perhaps need to) see the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” that is Hollywood Boulevard.  Your Set if Drifters suppose it’s potentially even fun... if you’re 10 years old and have never seen anything like it.  On the contrary, as adults, we make it a general rule to avoid this ultimate of “tourist hells” as much as physically possible.  (Buskers dressed up as Michael Jackson, Freddy Kreuger and Tweety Bird?  Would-be rappers scamming you into buying their cheap-ass bootleg CD?  No thanks.)

That being said, if you absolutely must check out all the gaudiness that Hollywood has to offer, let us give you a few pointers...  Okay, quiet on the set.  Rolling, rolling.  Sound speed.  Action.

1. Do not attempt to park your car anywhere near Grauman’s Chinese Theater... unless you’re actually going to the cinema - or shopping at that hideous nouveau mall.  (And why would you want to?)  Instead, if you just cannot live without putting your hands over Marilyn’s imprints, ask a friend to drop you off at the corner of Hollywood and Orange and pick you up 10 minutes later at the other end of the block.  This way, you can quickly pay homage to Monroe, photograph yourself lying next to Billy Barty’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and gawk at the freaks for a few minutes before hopping back into the safety of your own car!  (And trust us... Thanks to the traffic jam that is Hollywood Blvd., that 10 minute timing should work out perfectly.)

2. Choose the Egyptian over Grauman’s.  If you really want to sink your teeth into one of Hollywood’s legendary theaters, avoid the mania at Grauman’s and head on over to the Egyptian instead.  The theater, set a bit back from Hollywood Boulevard yet still visible thanks to four giant columns, actually predates the Chinese Theater by five years.  (Sid Grauman actually worked on the Egyptian with developer Charles Toberman before jumping ship in 1926.)  Now home to half of the American Cinematheque’s wonderful programming, the Egyptian Theater recently went under a $12.9 million renovation in 1998.  The restoration project polished up the landmark’s impeccably-decorated interiors, including pairs of seated Anubis statues, thousands of hand-painted tiles featuring Egyptian motifs and a domed interior ceiling you just have to see to believe!  We recommend the behind-the-scenes tour - $5 USD, or $10 when combined with the price of a movie!  Reservations are required.

3. Need a good shot of you standing under the Hollywood sign, but can’t afford to waste your time or money on some lame-ass tour?  Make way for Beachwood Drive, easily accessible off of Franklin Avenue near the Church of Scientology’s “Celebrity Center” (natch).  This picturesque journey, toward the original “Hollywoodland” and beyond, makes for a nice break from the zaniness of Hollywood proper.  Look for a great vantage point of the sign at the intersection of Cheremoya Avenue (on the right) and again, further up the canyon road after your turn right on Hollyridge Drive.  (Set of Drifters tip:  Ready for breakfast or lunch?  Newly renovated, the colorful Beachwood Cafe is delightfully full of high quality menu options like baked brioche French Toast with bacon butterscotch sauce, or the hearty cranberry herb turkey burger.  See "eats" for more information.)

A somewhat treacherous journey through the Hollywood Hills awaits you if you continue on Hollyridge instead of turning back the way you came.  If your stomach can handle the switchbacks and altitude, you’ll be afforded some impressive vistas!  Worried about getting lost?  Have no fear.  You’ll eventually empty back out onto Beachwood Drive (via Verbena then Cheremoya or Graciosa.)

Another great option for viewing the Hollywood sign is along Canyon Lake Drive to the west, accessible via Barham and Lake Hollywood Drive.  This picturesque sojourn from reality will whisk you past the stunning, and secluded, Lake Hollywood Park (one of the better places to picnic or toss that Frisbee), and the former castle home of pop goddess Madonna.  (Yes, the one she painted in yellow and red stripes back in the 1990s).

If you’ve got your hiking shoes on, a still third vantage point awaits you in Bronson Canyon.  Heading up Canyon Drive from Franklin, you will quickly enter a heavily-wooded park (part of Griffith Park) that ends at a parking lot to the right.  Pull in here, and continue on foot up the road to the red-painted curb that curves upward to your right.  After only about 1/4 of a mile, this path will lead you left to one of the nicest views of the sign, though you’ll have to do a little climbing to get there.  First, stop off at the legendary “Bat Cave,” the filming location that was used as the “Dark Knight’s” home in the original Batman TV series.  (It later subbed for evocative locations on Wonder Woman, Falcon Crest, and in this -

After trolling around for a few minutes, head back out the front, and across the dirt field, to a small trail that leads up to a promontory between two larger mountains.  You’ll need shoes with proper traction as this incline can be quite slippery.  From here, it is possible to head up to the top of the mountain behind you along the ridge, though we wouldn’t recommend it.  On our trip we made it about 90% of the way before we decided it was just too dangerous.  Better to snap the photos while you can and head back down to your car! 
Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

4. Don’t waste your time hunting down a “Star Map” to view celebrity homes.  Sure, a drive through Bel Air or Beverly Hills makes for a (mostly) relaxing Sunday afternoon, but after a few blocks of back-to-back Mediterranean-style behemoths, the gated, walled-off compounds are all going to look the same - oddly depressing.  Instead, we suggest checking out the abodes of some of your favorite TV families!  First on that list is the Brady Bunch house.  You’ll need to head on out to North Hollywood to check out this landmark, in real life, a much smaller one-story ranch house located at the corner of Klump and Dilling.

Further afoot in "the Valley," Granada Hills' Crystalaire Place once stood in for the fictional cul-de-sac of Seaview Circle.  The former homes of Gary/ Val, Karen/ Mac, Laura/ Richard, Kenny/ Ginger (and yes, even Abby) are all still looking rather sweet these days, even if they do not have the view of the ocean depicted in 14 seasons of Knots Landing!

Another potential draw is the home that made Elizabeth Montgomery television’s most famous sorceress!  The facade filmed for Bewitched is located at the corner of 18th Street and Georgina in a lovely Santa Monica neighborhood.

Finally, if you are feeling a bit more morbid, why not make the trek out to LA’s historic West Adams District?  While the neighborhood’s impressive Craftsman-style architecture should be reason enough for the visit, it’s here where you’ll also find the manse used to depict the Fisher family’s funeral home for five seasons of Six Feet Under!  (Location is the corner of 25th Street and Arlington just south of the Interstate 10 freeway.)  Less than two miles north, you’ll also not want to miss the “Murder House,” the 1922-built Victorian mansion made famous in the brilliant debut season of American Horror Story!  This macabre setting is found at the corner of Country Club Drive and Westchester (near the intersection of Arlington and Olympic).

Grauman’s Chinese Theater - 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA  90028, (323) 461-3331,

Egyptian Theatre - 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA  90028, (323) 461-2020,

Beachwood Canyon/ Hollywoodland -

Beachwood Cafe - 2695 North Beachwood Drive, Los Angeles, CA  90068, (323) 871-1717,

Lake Hollywood Park - 3204 Canyon Lake Drive, Los Angeles, CA  90068

Madonna’s Castillo del Lago - 6342 Mulholland Highway, Los Angeles, CA  90068

Bronson Canyon Park & the “Bat Cave” - 3200 Canyon Drive, Los Angeles, CA  90068, (323) 666-5046,

Brady Bunch house - 11222 Dilling Street, North Hollywood, CA  91602

Knots Landing cul-de-sac - Crystalaire Place, Grenada Hills, CA  91344 (take the 405 to the 118 West and exit Balboa)

Bewitched House - 267 18th Street, Santa Monica, CA  90402

Six Feet Under house - 2302 West 25th Street, Los Angeles, CA  90018

American Horror Story “Murder House” - 1120 Westchester Place, Los Angeles, CA  90019

California Science Center

It’s sometimes incredible what you take for granted when living in a place like Los Angeles, or any other large Metropolitan area with so much to see, do and experience.  Like most people who reside somewhere for a long time, you often ignore the most touristy attractions until a relative or friend from somewhere else forces you to visit them.

One such place that escaped us for many years was the California Science Center located only a hop, skip and a jump from Los Angeles’ groovy Olympic Stadium.  This multi-story museum features a variety of fun interactive activities for the entire family, and in many ways, is similar to the popular Exploratorium in San Francisco.  Exhibits focusing on living ecosystems and the world’s great biological diversity compete with others that examine scientific invention, and air and space exploration.  We have a feeling the youngins will enjoy romping through “The Fun Lab,” ”Life Tunnel,”  and “Energy Factory,” as well as playing video games that feature a variety of creepy insects.  (Set of Drifters tip:  The High Wire Bicycle also appears to be a favorite pastime of both young and old.)  

Our 2007 visit coincided with the “Star Wars - Where Science Meets Imagination” installation, an impressive temporary exhibit that included over 100 different costumes, models and other artifacts from the first six films.  The traveling show aimed to expose potential real life applications for such Sci-Fi concepts as android technology, hovercrafts, and human/ robot relations.  On the same visit, we also caught the California Science Center’s cool 3D film that follows deep sea creatures through their underwater abyss homes.  (The IMAX special featured narration by none other than Johnny Depp.  Now how LA is that, baby?)

The California Science Center is open daily from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM.  In a wonderful twist for everyone, general admission to the Science Center’s permanent attractions is FREE.  That being said, parking is $10 USD, and you should expect to pay separate entrance for any IMAX films or special installations, such as the recent addition of the actual Space Shuttle Endeavour - which came to the museum with much fanfare in October of 2012.  (In only the first four months, over 1 million had already visited the grandiose piece of space history.)  We recommend checking out the website for current events as exhibits change all the time, and with them, potential hidden costs!  Set of Drifters tip:  Make sure to snap some photos of that incredible sculpture out front representing the galaxy!  (Not that you could miss it.)

California Science Center - 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA  90037, (213) 744-2019,

Santa Susana Pass and Box Canyon (Chatsworth)

One of our all-time favorite drives in the LA area dates back to the late ‘70s when Doug Drifter first moved to the West Coast from New Jersey.  (Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.)  The picturesque Santa Susanna Pass stretches just west of Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the shadow of a large natural rock formation called Stoney Point - or, if you attended Chatsworth High at the time, “Stoners’ Point.”

Referred to as the “Old Stagecoach Trail,” Santa Susanna Pass was originally used by mail carriers who traveled from San Francisco down to Los Angeles.  (The route was later extended all the way down to San Diego.)  Today, the road meanders alongside the 118 Freeway that connects Los Angeles Country with Ventura through Simi Valley.  The “pass” is actually part of a larger historical State Park made famous during the 1940s through ‘60s as a popular filming location for numerous Western-themed TV series and films.

Nestled in the corner of the otherwise mundane “Valley,” Chatsworth Park always held a unique place in Doug’s heart for it seemed to have a magical feel, dotted with lots of cool sandstone boulders and sweet smelling oak trees.  Doug spent much of his childhood free time here, hiking in the park and exploring the train tunnel that is still used by Southern Pacific Railroad today.

Along the pass, adventurers will find a number of notable places of interest.  The Old Spahn Movie Ranch was actually a popular school field trip for many children in the 1950s, though it would gain larger notoriety as home to Charles Manson and his followers in the late ‘60s.  From the edge of Santa Susanna Pass, adjacent to a large “mega church,” you can head down the steep incline and explore the former waterfalls and pond in which “The Family” used to go skinny dipping to wash themselves clean.  (Unfortunately, these days, the pond is pretty much dried up.)

Further up the road about two miles off to your left is Box Canyon Road.  This steep, snaking route is definitely not recommended for the faint of heart, yet offers some of the greatest views of Simi Valley before it descends into a remote hippie enclave.  While from your first glance Box Canyon may be teeming with small houses and rundown farms filled with junk, you would never imagine this little country community would have so much craziness going on behind the scenes!

If you’re feeling daring, hop out of your car when you spot the weird little roadside aviary just across from what we’ll call the “witch house.”  Elsewhere, a series of spooky-looking caves near the “Fountain of the World” commune signal the one-time dwelling of Krishna Venta’s cult.  (Predating “The Family” by over a decade, Krishna Venta’s group eventually fell apart after his untimely late ‘50s suicide bombing!)

Overall, a drive through Santa Susana Pass may just be the Valley’s best contribution to Los Angeles... well that, and perhaps the fact that Chatsworth was once the "porn manufacturing capital of the world!"  Set of Drifters tip: 
As you head further down the hill and into Chatsworth Reservoir, be on the lookout for a strange carving of a Native American Chief chiseled into a sandstone boulder.  It’s rather impressive, and worthy of a photo or two.

Santa Susana Pass/ Box Canyon - Chatsworth, CA  91311

Alpine Village (Torrance)

Thanks to its ever-sprawling boundaries, Southern California continues to reveal itself each and every year through a series of interesting new places to explore.  Since the region is so vast, it’s not unusual for locals to have never set foot in many of the different municipalities that lie within Los Angeles’s county border.  One such town, Torrance, charmed us in December of 2010 with its weird and wonderful Alpine Village.

Adjacent to the 405 Freeway about 13 miles south of LAX, the 1950’s-era Alpine Village is a fabrication of a traditional Bavarian enclave, and features a bevy of similarly themed shops and restaurants.  Of course, the biggest and best attraction at Alpine Village just may be the giant swap meet that is held six days a week, weather permitting.  Unfortunately for our maiden voyage, it had rained earlier in the day, and thus we were unable to take part in the great collectible showcase.  A good friend of ours, who also just happens to be a Los Angeles historian, swears by the treasure trove of goodies, and promises rare finds can be discovered here at decent prices.

All vintage browsing aside, Alpine Village is still worthy of a visit, especially if you are in the mood for schnitzel!  The German supermarket on-site is rather large, complete with a full-service butcher and bakery case filled to the Hutkrempe with sumptuous treats.  Cabbage, sausages, pickles, beer, chocolate.  We really felt like we were in some little village market in Germany.  If you are looking for all the trimmings to fix yourself up a quintessential Bavarian meal, this place is a must-see!  The rest of Alpine Village consists of several souvenir shops selling all sorts of German/ American heritage items.  Our favorite was the weird toy shop/ ethnic costume outlet that sold some pretty neat Star Wars nutcrackers!

Alpine Village is open Monday through Thursdays from 11:00 AM until 7:00 PM, Fridays and Sundays from 11:00 AM until 8:00 PM and Saturdays from 10:00 AM until 8:00 PM.  (Parking can be found near the supermarket.)  The “Village” is also known for musical, comedy and other special events such as “Oktoberfest.”  Check their website for more details.

Alpine Village - 833 West Torrance Boulevard, Torrance, CA  90502, (310) 327-4384 or (310) 323-6520

We also recommend:

The Hollywood Show (currently at the Westin Los Angeles Airport) -

Getty Center - 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90049-1688 (310) 440-7325,

Getty Villa - 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA  90272, (310) 440-7300,

Paradise Cove Beach & Cafe - 28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265, (310) 457-2503,

Griffith Observatory - 2800 East Observatory Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027, (213) 473-0800,

Set of Drifters video: 
Check out our YouTube channel for video from this event!

LACMA - 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036, (323) 857-6000, ‎

Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits - 5801 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036 (323) 934-7243,