22 Hidden Gems in Los Angeles That Made Me Fall Back in Love With It

When I ask you to close your eyes and imagine Los Angeles, what comes to mind? Palm trees, movie stars, and wide open spaces? That radiant California light? Many see it as a sort of Garden of Eden where it seldom rains and the sun is always shining. But it's also a city of sprawl, materialism, and drought. There is a reason that both utopic and dystopic fantasies are projected onto it: L.A., at the edge of the continent, represents futurity—it's a strange, strange place of contradiction. And perhaps that's precisely why so many millions of us love it, even if we do leave it in the end like I did.

Though I was raised in San Francisco, my father was a first-generation Angeleno, so I grew up on stories of the Sinatras and tales of the days when you could ride your bike all the way from Malibu to USC with ease. I've always been fascinated by kitsch and moved by nostalgia, so it was inevitable that these old Hollywood legends would lure me there eventually. I ended up living there for six years before coming to New York, and of course, I found something very different and initially, quite a bit less glamorous.

Let me explain: I like to think of Los Angeles as a dear, staunchly introverted friend. They're excruciatingly slow to open up, but once they do, you grow more and more fascinated and inspired by their magic. Like many good people, their best qualities live just beneath the surface. So when I close my eyes and imagine L.A., I don't think of "the industry" or even of the Pacific Ocean, really. I think of banal places like the Gelson's parking lot on Glendale Boulevard in Silver Lake, a spot so unromantic that its unexpected beauty becomes even more exquisite and intimate (go there alone on a warm September night when the full moon is hanging low over the glimmering hills, and you'll see what I mean).

I also think of all the gloriously weird haunts and old-school landmarks because the best parts of this city are always where you least expect to find them. To spread my L.A. rhapsody, I compiled a list of my favorite hidden gems in Los Angeles. Knocking each of them off your bucket list is like a rite of passage, so learn about the retro institutions and underrated spots to add to your bucket list for a good time, whether you're passing through or you're there for good.