LA may be one of America’s most visited cities, but for locals and those in-the-know who have already done the main attractions around LA, there are some pretty special, hidden gems sprinkled all over this city. These are just the sort of places and experiences that confirms why we love living here (and for rainy day suggestions, check out our LA guide to must-visit quirky museums). Certify your street cred. and see if you’ve ever been to these hidden gems in LA.
Victoria Beach Pirate Tower: Located in Laguna Beach, this ominous-looking 60-foot tower (originally used as an enclosed staircase for the homeowners to access the beach) was built in 1926. Just to the south of the tower is another long-forgotten structure—a circular pool. And while the pool, over time, has partially filled up with sand, water still collects inside when the tide is high enough for waves to crash in on it.
To Access the Victoria Beach Pirate Tower: Only accessible during low tide, walk to the north end of Victoria Beach (public beach access is next to: 2713 Victoria Dr. where there is a long stairway that eventually takes you to the north end of the beach). Go past the rock outcropping at the base of the cliff, continue walking around the bluff, over the rocks and past another sandy beach section. You will reach the pool first (which sits in front of a modern staircase) and then you'll see the tower that stands north of the pool.
Flight Path Museum and Learning Center LAX
This museum hosts a great collection of airline artifacts, including a display of over 600 airline uniforms from 68 airlines around the world, and walks you through the history of LAX. Tours of the resident corporate DC-3, a 1940s airplane that was deregistered in 1951, are sometimes available. This is the only aviation museum situated at a major airport—with the added bonus is being able to watch the planes taxi, take-off and land at adjacent LAX. Free parking is available.
Insider Tip: If your crew gets hungry but still wants to continue watching planes land at LAX, head over to The Proud Bird—just 6 minutes away by car.
Hours: Open Sat., noon-4 p.m.
Cost: $5 for adults, $3 for kids
6661 W Imperial Hwy.
St. Vincent's Court: Originally serving as a delivery area for now-defunct department store, this little alleyway has been transformed over time into LA's very own little Europe—complete with picturesque cobblestone streets, colorful storefronts and must-dine Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern restaurants.
To Access St. Vincent's Court: Located between Broadway and Hill St. in DTLA, this alley is accessible off of the north side of 7th St.
Ballona Discovery Park
Described as a “Museum without walls,” Ballona Discovery Park encourages visitors to learn about the natural and cultural history of the Ballona Wetlands. This secret gem encourages kids to romp and explore the two-acre native garden and wildlife habitat replete with native plant demonstration gardens, including a pollinator and medicinal garden. There’s also an interpretive Watershed Walk that follows the movement of water through every habitat from the mountains to the ocean.
Hours: Open every day from dawn until dusk.
Ballona Discovery Park
13110 Bluff Creek Dr.
San Vicente Mountain Park Nike Missile Site: Located west of the Skirball Cultural Center, this historical spot, according to MRCA, "Was one of sixteen Los Angeles area Nike-Ajax supersonic anti-aircraft missile launch sites. During the Cold War, Nike sites were located in defensive rings surrounding key urban and industrial areas throughout the United States. The original radar tower now provides visitors with spectacular views of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Encino Reservoir and San Fernando Valley, and the Los Angeles Basin. It is one of the region’s premiere locations to watch a Western sunset." The area is now home to mountain biking, trails, equestrian trails and picnic areas.
To Access the Nike Missile Site Lookout Tower: Located at 17500 Mulholland Dr., Encino, head west along Mulholland Dr. The road curves north to merge into Encino Hills Dr., and eventually, you'll see a sign for Encino Hills Dr. pointing to the right—this is where you want to take a left, and Mulholland Drive turns into an unmarked dirt road. In a couple hundred feet, a yellow gate welcomes you to the base of the park. You can keep driving to the tower if the next gate is open otherwise, you can hike the well-marked path—it's under 1-mile to the lookout tower.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir: This free-to-visit Mandir (a Hindu place of worship) is the fifth traditional Hindu Mandir located in North America. Located an hour outside DTLA, this SoCal architectural gem's exterior is made from pink sandstone imported from India while the interior is covered in marble from Italy.
The lower floor of the Mandir is home to an interactive exhibition on the history, culture and wisdom of Hinduism. Visitors can learn about the origin, beliefs, and values of Hinduism, and how this ancient religion is thriving today throughout the world. Inside the Mandir, you'll see intricate carvings across the walls, ceiling, columns and displays of murtis. There's open space for people to pray and worship on the floor. The gift shop has a variety of food (make sure to get the samosas!), snack, teas, incense and souvenirs.
Good to Know: As this is a place a worship, please follow and respect signs and fellow guests. Be prepared to take off your shoes as you enter the Mandir, and please cover your shoulders and knees per the website's guidelines.
15100 Fairfield Ranch Road,
Japanese Garden at the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant
Currently free to visit, "Suiho En" (the garden of water and fragrance) is a quiet and peaceful 6 1/2 acre garden featuring three gardens in one: a dry Zen meditation garden, a “wet-strolling” garden, and a tea garden all of which are irrigated entirely by wastewater.
Good to Know: While the garden alone is worth the visit, once life returns to normal, come back and make reservations for tea service at the Shoin Building—an authentic 4 1/2 tatami-mat teahouse adjacent to the tea garden.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m-3:30 p.m. Advanced reservations required and can be booked up to 10 days in advance.
6100 Woodley Ave.