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Los Angeles in a Snap!

June 7, 2006
Ten insider favorites in the La Brea neighborhood

1. It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when L.A. wasn't all concrete jungle. A small museum at the La Brea Tar Pits explains how the area's historic tar pits preserved fossils of saber-toothed tigers and other creatures from the Ice Age. The surrounding park makes for a perfect picnic spot. 5801 Wilshire Blvd., 323/934-7243, tarpits.org, $7

2. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard known as Miracle Mile, has the largest permanent collection west of Chicago. There are over 100,000 pieces of art, from the ancient (a 7,000-year-old Mesopo-tamian cylinder seal) to the modern (a 2005 steel-and-silk sculpture by Do-Ho Suh). On Friday evenings April through December, free jazz concerts are held in the Central Court. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., 323/857-6000, lacma.org, $9

3. Very little in L.A. qualifies as understated. But the upscale Italian restaurant Locanda Veneta blessedly doesn't make too much of itself. Close-quarter seating allows for literal elbow-rubbing with the celebrity clientele. The daily specials (grilled langoustine or spinach-and-ricotta gnocchi, for example) are the way to go. And anything made with the sage butter sauce is a must. 8638 W. 3rd St., 310/274-1893, locandaveneta.com

4. The ultranice employees at Farmer's Daughter Hotel take pride in their work, and it shows. Country charm fuses with a playful decor that gives a nod to the neighborhood farmer's market. Murals of waving wheat line the walls, and vintage lattice furniture is upholstered in gingham and denim. The hotel used to be a cheap spot for Hollywood hopefuls to get their footing (including Charlize Theron when she first moved to L.A.). 115 S. Fairfax Ave., 323/937-3930, farmersdaughterhotel.com, from $159

5. Flora Kitchen at Rita Flora, a flower shop-meets-organic restaurant, is a favorite of the health-conscious, gourmets, and gardeners alike. Hearty sandwiches and salads are the main draw. It's best to start with the Flora Italia (mozzarella on a baguette or olive bread slathered with olive tapenade), and then finish things off with an utterly health-unconscious, decadent chocolate chip cookie. 468 S. La Brea Ave., 323/931-9900, florakitchen.com

6. In L.A., shopping and tanning are equally important--hence The Grove, a grand outdoor mall that doubles as a people-watching promenade. There's also a movie theater, a handful of restaurants, and a 1950s trolley that goes approximately a quarter mile from one end to the other before turning around. 189 The Grove Dr., 323/900-8080, thegrovela.com

7. Hipsters and fashion mavens agree that The Way We Wore has the best vintage collection in L.A. The couture shop upstairs is the place to pick up a red carpet--appropriate ensemble: shoes, antique costume jewelry, and all. 334 S. La Brea Ave., 323/937-0878, thewaywewore.com

8. At Mäni's Bakery Café, a casual spot with outdoor seating, the fresh breads and homemade desserts are all baked with organic whole grains, tofu can be substituted for meat in most dishes, and there are vegan and sugar-free desserts. 519 S. Fairfax Ave., 323/938-8800, manisbakery.com

9. The decor-challenged can learn how to incorporate a touch of cool at Room Service, a housewares dreamland. Large paintings of pop figures adorn the walls, and the groovy cups and plates are perfect for parties. The staff stays out of the way and lets customers test the repro-Eames furniture. 5901 W. 3rd St., 323/692-9221, roomservice-la.com

10. A 1936 art deco performance space, the El Rey Theatre is one of the most interesting places around town to catch a favorite musical act or learn about a new one. The lobby alone deserves center stage, with grand staircases and velvet decor. 5515 Wilshire Blvd., 323/936-6400, theelrey.com, from $10

Keep reading

'Cars' Revs Up Road-Trip Memories

Pixar and Disney have teamed up for Cars, a new adventure comedy about Lightning McQueen, an eager young race car (Owen Wilson) who gets sidetracked in a sleepy town off Route 66 while traveling cross country to a big championship in California. Colorful local characters include Doc Hudson, a 1951 Hudson Hornet (Paul Newman), and Sally, a plucky 2002 Porsche (Bonnie Hunt). Director John Lasseter began work on the movie just after wrapping Toy Story 2, and had promised his wife and five sons a break. He watched Divided Highways, a documentary about the interstate highway system, before taking the summer off. "I started thinking about this whole idea of the modern highways versus the old highways. So my family took a two-month trip in a motor home. We put our feet in the Pacific, turned, and we had two months to get to the Atlantic, put our feet in the Atlantic, anywhere, and then come back. And we became so close as a family. And I came back, and I realized that I knew what this movie needed to be about. It was what I discovered on this trip, that the journey in life is the reward. It's great to have goals, it's great to achieve things, but when you achieve great things you want to have your family and friends around you to help celebrate. If you don't, it's meaningless. The journey in life is the reward." pixar.com/featurefilms/cars/ Related Articles: Our Favorite Road Trips 59 Roadside Attractions by Region Downloadable kids' games for the car Gas Watch: Tips and resources for saving on gas costs Hundreds of state-by-state deals for drivers A Guide to Renting RVs 10 Budget Drives The Lowdown on Car Rentals

Treasure Hunts

SAN FRANCISCO "I love that 'aha!' moment when you solve a mystery," says former private investigator Jayson Wechter. His company, San Francisco Treasure Hunts, develops custom-tailored treasure hunts for groups of 10 and more. Wechter also runs an annual public hunt on the night of the Chinese New Year Parade. Contestants are given a detailed map and a list of clues; at each location, there's something new to find (spools of yarn, a piggy bank). After they've crossed the items off their list, participants return to the starting point. In the process, Wechter tries to introduce people to parts of the city they may have never seen, such as a hundred-year-old hitching post in the financial district. "Even people who have lived here for years will say, 'I never knew that was there!'" Afterparty: For winning teams, a ceremony with cake (in the shape of a key) and champagne in Justin Herman Plaza. Sftreasurehunts.com, $30 per person LOS ANGELES Sean Carlson coordinates two hunts each year: a Treasure Hunt in the spring and a Scavenger Hunt on Labor Day weekend. Both involve racing around L.A. to gather products (canned goods, soap, etc.) that are donated to the Union Rescue Mission. "It's great wacky fun," says film editor John Whitton, who was on the winning team in the most recent treasure hunt. "Our first stop was at an abandoned zoo in Griffith Park. We encountered a sexy girl wearing a bear-head mask. To get our next clue, we had to give her five bags of dry pasta and take our picture with her." The next scavenger hunt is September 3. Afterparty: In a nightclub with music and giveaways, such as CDs and clothing. Thelascavengerhunt.com, $10 LONDON At the ShootExperience treasure hunts, contestants race to several spots around London. At each one, they match a question with the location and then take a photograph of their interpretation of the answer. For example, at the last event, which had a crime theme, one of the stops was a former pub named Ye Olde Axe; the correct question was "What did a crime get you in Tudor times?" All of the teams that correctly pair questions and locations are invited to submit their photos to a panel of judges; the top-rate ones are exhibited in an art gallery. The next treasure hunt (the theme has yet to be determined) is on July 15 and starts at Tate Modern. Afterparty: on the top floor of Tate Modern, with music and cocktails. Shootexperience.com, $19 PARIS "We want you to see Paris in a strange and special way," says Charles Carmignac, an event planner working with the city's department of tourism to throw the first La Chasse aux Tresors de Paris, taking place July 1. Contestants can choose one of five arrondissements--the 6th, 13th, 14th, 18th, and 19th. The first clue will be distributed at each town hall. The goal is to collect four parts of a map--and a final clue--that lead to a "treasure." Along the way, participants will discover artists, craftsmen, and secret passages, and interact with actors and musicians impersonating famous French luminaries, such as Robespierre and Jacques Derrida. Afterparty: cocktails and appetizers at each of the participating town halls. Tresorsdeparis.fr, free

Climbing Cape Town

"This bush is called the Climber's Friend," said the guide, pointing at a plant on Cape Town's Table Mountain. The prickly bush certainly didn't look amicable. "Grab onto it if you think you're going to fall," he continued. "It might save your life." The scenario seemed awfully dire, but as a Cape Town local, I've read several articles about hikers in peril. So I took a close look at the bush, and hoped our relationship would remain a long-distance one. I generally love seeing nature up close, but I'm a reluctant hiker. Cape Town's new Hoerikwaggo Table Mountain Trail was a good compromise. Introduced last December by Table Mountain National Park, the three-day, 16-mile hike lets visitors sleep over, for the first time, on Cape Town's flat-topped mountain. The hike begins near the Mount Nelson Hotel, on the the northern side, traverses the top, and ends with a descent down the southeastern side into Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. "The goal is to connect all kinds of people to the mountain," says Hoerikwaggo Trails Project Manager Stephen Lamb--nature lovers, dedicated gearheads, even me. Part of the appeal is that hikers aren't exactly roughing it. Tour literature touts the hike as "unabashedly geared for comfort," with "mouth-watering catered meals." There were five others in my group: two Americans studying international relations at South Africa's Rhodes University and three French landscape-architecture students who were working as interns at Table Mountain National Park and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. We were led by two South African guides, Mxolisi Magwaxaza and Lulama Mzonyane, and their mentor, Ivan Goetz. The national park recruits guides from poor communities, then trains them in first aid and educates them about plant and animal life. Goetz, a grizzled mountaineer, is overseeing Magwaxaza and Mzonyane until they're formally licensed. I was raring to go, but we spent the entire day touring around the city itself. Table Mountain loomed above us like a tease. The plan was to spend the night at the base of the slope and then take the cable car to the top of the mountain, where we'd begin hiking the next morning. On the second day, however, the cable car was out of commission due to high winds. As ready as I was to hike, I wasn't exactly prepared to scale the mountain. We started the ascent, a mile-long staircase of stones and boulders. "When you're hiking, you can really feel the mountain," said Juliette Perez, one of the French students. I definitely felt it--in my thighs. It took 90 minutes to reach the peak. The reward was a short rest and a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean from 3,500 feet up. The landscape architects broke out into a spontaneous chorus of mon dieus. After only a minute, the blue sea disappeared under the "tablecloth," the white cloud that frequently hovers over the mountain. From below, I've always found the tablecloth beautiful. Once in it, however, I found it more ominous, like a mist moving at turbo speed. For the next two days, we hiked across wetlands and through thickets of reeds. There are over 1,500 plant species on Table Mountain, and our guides frequently stopped to point out some of the more unusual ones. We passed heathery shrubs dotted with bright pink blossoms, and towering king proteas, South Africa's national flower, which resembles something out of a sci-fi flick. The park has strict water regulations; the workers aren't allowed even to wash a dish. I was oblivious to any obstacles. In fact, the buffets exceeded my expectations. The highlight was a traditional Cape Malay dinner, with spiced Javanese chicken and carrot achar, a wickedly hot relish. The first night, we slept at the Wash House, where city servants did their masters' laundry over 100 years ago. It's since received a significant modern African update: Simple concrete floors are decorated with ethnic rugs, and sleek wire chairs have pink, red, and black felt cushions. We spent the second night in the Overseer's Cottage, a renovated stone house that, ironically, is more monastic than the Wash House. The bedrooms are small but charming, with luxuriously thick duvets. The most satisfying part of a long hike for me is usually what follows: a hot shower, a night in my own bed, real food. At the end of this tour, however, I wasn't craving a single thing. How to book Trips are scheduled year-round, depending on demand; a minimum of 8 people must sign up before a departure is confirmed. Contact booking officer Patricia Metsing by e-mail (patricia@sanparks.org) or phone (011-27/21-465-8515). You may book provisionally for any date, then wait to hear if other people sign up. This is most likely to happen during high season, November through April. Hoerikwaggotrails.co.za, three-day trip $318, double occupancy, includes meals, guides, cable-car tickets, accommodations, and conservation fee.

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