Best Place to Befriend a Seabird: Friends of Ballona Wetlands Freshwater Marsh Tours Ballona Wetlands, Playa del Rey | (310) 306-5994 |

A heron stalks the Ballona Wetlands Photo by Pat Reynolds

A heron stalks the Ballona Wetlands
Photo by Pat Reynolds

Sometimes, when times get lonely, nothing fills that void like heading down to some urban-adjacent marshland and checking out the super-cool exotic avian life that exists right in our backyard.

From 10 to 11 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, the nonprofit Friends of Ballona Wetlands holds regular freshwater marsh tours that are guaranteed to teach you something about this interesting and critically important environment.

For example, there are more than 200 species of birds either living or passing through the Ballona Wetlands each year. An endangered butterfly is making a comeback, and it’s one of the few places you can see a California legless lizard. The history of the wetlands is also fascinating.

A short trip to this special place on the map is like a step back in time to feel what the Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey landscape was like before modern development pushed its way in to make room for all of us.

Freshwater marsh tours begin from the southwest corner of Jefferson and Lincoln Boulevards in Playa del Rey.

Want more Ballona? Salt marsh and dune tours happen from 1 to 3 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month, and the group holds various wetlands restoration parties throughout the year.

— Pat Reynolds



Best Way to Adopt a Dolphin and Buy an Organic Necklace

Maddalena Bearzi
Necko Jewelry Studio and Ocean Conservation Society | |

Marina del Rey’s Dr. Maddalena Bearzi heads up the Ocean Conservation Society and can often be seen miles offshore with eyes peeled for the bottlenose dolphin she continually studies.

A dolphin leaps from the water in Santa Monica Bay Photo by Pat Reynolds

A dolphin leaps from the water in Santa Monica Bay
Photo by Pat Reynolds

Bearzi has been researching the local dolphin population for the last 18 years, and the society offers a dolphin “adoption” program through which people can help fund its research and conservation studies. The individual dolphins have been photo-identified by Ocean Conservation Society researchers, so there’s a real connection there. Choose among Ninamom, Mozza, Nico or several others.

As if one life’s work wasn’t enough, Bearzi is also an amazing jewelry maker. Back on land she runs Necko Designs, creating one-of-a-kind artistic necklaces and bracelets that blend wood, fabric and metal with a masterful touch inspired by a love for nature.

— Pat Reynolds



Best Place to Outfit Trent Reznor’s Next Music Video

Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

222 Main St., Venice | (310) 399-0024 |

Behind the plain wooden door and shaded windows of Obsolete lies a nightmarish world of antiquated industrial creepy cool — the stuff Nine Inch Nails videos are made of (sans crucified monkey and beating heart pinned to a board, for now).

Equal parts art gallery and curio shop, Obsolete is the darkness that balances the bright, beachy colors of the Main Street shops and cafés that surround it.

Here you might find a 19th-century glass eye in its original velvet-lined silver case, eerie 150-year-old mannequins, a giant mechanical pulley from the 1920s, 1880s German botanical models, 1930s industrial substation wall lights, an 1850s marble bust of the Duke of Wellington, a hand-painted backdrop for early 20th-century photography sittings, an English Windsor chair from the 1870s, 1940s porcelain half-dolls, the hands of an 18th-century grandfather clock, an 1890s dissecting microscope in its original box, a traveling wooden confessional from the 1920s and an 1831 anatomical chart of the human nervous system.

These artifacts play to maximum effect alongside carefully curated rotating displays of new art, through October the work of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison.

“It’s sort of a combination of antiques — anything from the 17th century through the 1970s — and a gallery for contemporary artists. There’s always been a link between the art that we’re drawn to from this time and the objects that we’re finding from long ago,” says Obsolete’s Justin Coates.

Obsolete is a favorite of set designers and collectors, but what about Trent Reznor?

“I’ve never seen him in here, but we’d love that,” says Coates.

— Joe Piasecki



Best Hole-in-the-Wall Everyday Oddities Shop


Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Pepe’s Thrifty Shop
4577 S. Centinela Ave., Del Rey | (310) 306-5354

There may be a more interesting clutter of secondhand stuff somewhere on the Westside, but it’s doubtful.

The array of goods at Pepe’s Thrifty Shop ranges from tiny glass trinkets to gigantic bedroom sets, and there is no discernible organization to the stock. It must be interesting when someone buys a sofa or sideboard from somewhere deep in the pile, because getting it out will require ingenuity.

This is one of those shops where you go around a corner and see something you didn’t know existed a moment ago, but that you now must have. The prices are higher than you’d see at a garage sale, but unlike those homemade affairs you don’t have to sort through the old bowling shoes and other such junk to get to the good stuff.

— Richard Foss


Best Place to Swap Some Style

Give + Take co-founder Celina Burns Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Give + Take co-founder Celina Burns
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Give + Take Swap Boutique1740 Ocean Park Blvd, Santa Monica | (310) 310-3746 |

Sign up for a monthly membership fee of $30 and gain access to all the women’s fashion you could ever want.

At Give + Take, a fashionista can do just that. Have a pair of shoes that are no longer your style and in need of a party dress for the weekend? Just head over and make the swap for a ready-to-wear dress. Then bring it back the following week and exchange it for that handbag you’ve had your eye on.

The whole thing works on a point system: shoes worth, say, $100 can be exchanged for a dress or bag of the same value, and you can hold on to your finds until you’re ready to move on to something new.

And don’t worry about the cleanliness issues that often come with secondhand stores (we all know that musty “vintage” smell), as each item is cleaned between exchanges.

The place has amazingly cute designer clothes, all completely clean and in impeccable shape. Founders Celina Burns and Rachel Sarnoff are super nice and helpful, so it’s not a bad place to just hang out and peruse.

Not only is this a great way to save money while keeping in style, the process is also eco-friendly — a sharing model that recycles fashion instead of letting it collect dust between wears. As Give + Take’s motto goes, “swap is the new shop.”

— Gabrielle Flam

Best Place to Put a Lid on It

Nick Fouquet at work Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Nick Fouquet at work
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Nick Fouquet Hats
1629 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | (310) 310-2315 |

Tucked in the back of the boutique on always trendy and never dull Abbot Kinney Boulevard is the workshop of Nick Fouquet, an artisan who handcrafts custom hats with just a few simple tools: flatirons, steam, brushes, open flame and his own two hands.

Dubbed by some the Mad Hatter of Venice (though he seems quite sane), Fouquet, an assistant and a Shebu Inu pup named Luca have created unique headpieces in various styles using 100% beaver fur felt that is sustainably harvested in Tennessee.

The “Mountie” hat Pharrell Williams wore on stage during his Grammy Awards performance with Stevie Wonder — that was Fouquet’s handiwork. So was Madonna’s big white cowboy hat.

Sure, they may be a little on the pricey side, but each Fouquet creation is designed to reflect the wearer’s individual style aesthetic and takes a month or more to create through a multi-step process. The French-American hatter promises each of his creations is so one-of-a-kind that they are works of art that cannot be re-created.

— Gabrielle Flam


Best Place to Work Your Butt Off

Photo by Joe Piasecki

Photo by Joe Piasecki

Santa Monica Stairs
4th Street and Adelaide Drive, Santa Monica

This may be a couch potato’s idea of hell, but the view is heavenly.

The Santa Monica stairs, a pair of steep staircases that ascend Santa Monica Canyon to the area of 4th Street and Adelaide Drive, give the Eastside’s much ballyhooed Silver Lake stairs a run for their money — and with ocean breezes to boot.

The steeper of the two, a winding cement staircase right at 4th Street, takes you some 190 steps up or down. The “easier,” wider and more direct wooden staircase just a short jog east cuts it down to 172 steps, but the canyon and ocean views are no less breathtaking once you get to the top. And they better be — you’ve earned them.

With such beauty, it should be no surprise the Santa Monica stairs are an exercise hotspot for health-conscious Westsiders. It’s also incredibly motivating to see people of all ages scaling the canyon alongside you, providing an extra bit of encouragement to mentally put aside the burning pain in your calves and glutes.

— Gabrielle Flam


Best Place to Rent an Ocean-going Rowboat

Photo by Pat Reynolds

Photo by Pat Reynolds

There are plain old rowboats like the kind Huck Finn tooled around on and then there are modern, ocean-worthy rowboats that really get the job done.

Among the kayaks, stand up paddleboards and various other options for taking to the water in Marina del Rey, Phins Water Sports Club is the only place to rent a sliding-seat ocean-ready rowboat and head out into the Pacific, where the dolphins are jumping.

The “All Water” Whitehall Spirit Solo 14 and two-seat Tango 17 sculling boats are sturdy — virtually unsinkable, in fact — but also easy to row, providing a full-body cardio workout with no stress on the knees and ankles.

But don’t just show up hoping to jump in a boat. These babies retail for about $10,000 and $15,000 each, so first-time sliding-seat rowers should call ahead to schedule a brief tutorial before expecting to head out on the water. Phins is a club, so to join you must purchase credits that can also be applied to other forms of watercraft, which is good in case a kayak turns out to be more your speed.

The sliding-seat boats really do cut the water and can take whatever waves and wind the ocean might be dishing out, but, truth be told, most people just like to get a good workout rowing around the marina, which is just as worthwhile.

— Pat Reynolds


Best Open Mic at a Thrift Shop

Sifted: LA founder Chris Getto can also carry a tune Photo by Joe Piasecki

Sifted: LA founder Chris Getto can also carry a tune
Photo by Joe Piasecki


Sifted: LA
6259 W. 87th St., Westchester | (323) 428-7193 |

The 500-foot stretch of 87th Street between the Sepulveda Eastway and Truxton Avenue in Westchester has the kind of unstated cool that goes with not trying to be cool. Along that low-key streetscape are actually no less than five hair salons, two restaurants, a bakery, a hookah lounge, a hobby shop, a needlework store, an art shop, a pole-dancing workout studio and, keeping the scene very much unlike Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a Dollar Plus store.

And then in walks Chris Getto, a psychologist who’s worked as a job coach and employment services case manager for the past 10 years, with a dream of starting a thrift store. But not just any thrift store, as the mural by Venice artist Jules Muck that tops Sifted: LA’s entrance (facing the Staples parking lot) would suggest.

In addition to its assorted vintage furniture, gently worn clothes, vinyl records, books, hats, antique lanterns, 50-pound carved wooden elephant head, antique sewing machine, noir metal lantern and seven-foot resin pirate sculpture, Sifted LA is also a community gathering place for the fun and funky of Westchester and beyond.

Sifted: LA opened in July and last month hosted its inaugural open mic night during the Westchester First Fridays food truck gathering, drawing a handful of serious singer-songwriters, talented hobbyists who hadn’t stood in front of a hot mic in years and even a spoken-word poet.

But the store’s makeshift back-corner stage, adorned with paintings by Santa Monica artist Richard Klix, is an “always open mic,” and Getto, 35, encourages shopper-performers to drop by anytime between 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays to give it a go.

Getto says he loves “sifting” through garage-sale and secondhand shops to find his vintage gems, but his initial calling remains very much a part of the mission. As Sifted: LA evolves, the store will double as a nonprofit employment, entrepreneurship and social skills training center for adults with developmental disabilities. Now if that isn’t cool, what is?

— Joe Piasecki


Best Place to Become an Internet Sensation

YouTube Space L.A. head Liam Collins Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

YouTube Space L.A. head Liam Collins
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

YouTube Space L.A.
12422 W. Bluff Creek Drive, Playa Vista |

You don’t have to be a musically inclined cat, stand up for Britney Spears or chase double rainbows to become an Internet star.

With seven video production stages, a pair of broadcast-quality digital control rooms, 10 private editing suites and a vault stocked with top-of-the-line film equipment, You Tube Space L.A. bridges the resource gap to allow video entrepreneurs to make real, broadcast-quality content worth watching.

The $25-million, 41,000-square-foot Playa Vista campus is both creative workspace and business incubator. Operators of YouTube channels with 10,000 subscribers or more can book production days at the space for no cost and retain the rights to the content made there, so get to work on building an audience and this can be your creative playground.

Once they’ve gathered enough grassroots cred, digital content producers can also attend monthly networking happy hours and other special events hosted in the YouTube Space L.A. lobby. The high-ceilinged workspace features a massive digital screen that divides into as many as 25,000 separate viewing panels, giving visitors an idea of just how much video content is being distributed through the medium.

“It’s a town center for the video community,” says Liam Collins, head of YouTube Space L.A. “It’s intended to be a place that’s always busy, cacophonous — a place for people to come together.”

— Joe Piasecki
YouTube Space L.A.
12422 W. Bluff Creek Drive, Playa Vista |


Best Place to Dine with Ducks

Ducks, hoping for a snack, waddle through the afternoon at Playa Vista Central Park Photo by Michael Aushenker

Ducks, hoping for a snack, waddle through the afternoon at Playa Vista Central Park
Photo by Michael Aushenker

Playa Vista Central Park
12045 Waterfront Drive, Playa Vista |

There are those who call Playa Vista the Westside’s Irvine — a lovely place to live but beautiful in a synthetic, designed-by-committee kind of way; a community engineered to be perfect.

Yet the planners who laid out Playa Vista certainly know the magic of masterfully designed, well-placed park space. Hidden a short distance south of the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Centinela Avenue, Playa Vista Central Park is a crown jewel among the development’s myriad public parks. The brainchild of architect Michael Maltzan and landscape architect James Burnett, the park includes an epic band shell, expansive soccer field and succulents gardens bisected by pathways pitch-perfect for a promenade at sunset.

Among the more inviting spaces are the candy-colored benches, tables and chairs surrounding a pond where, during lunchtime, families of ducks glide or waddle in search of free nibbles from their human neighbors. Bring a brown-bag lunch or stop by the nearby Big Mango Café to congregate with the Silicon Beach types and their feathered friends within a 7.9-acre nature oasis. It can really lift your spirits.

— Michael Aushenker


Best Adaptive Reuse of an Argonaut News Rack

Jyll King enjoys a Chix barbecue chicken sandwich on us Photo by Joe Piasecki

Jyll King enjoys a Chix barbecue chicken sandwich on us
Photo by Joe Piasecki

OK, so it isn’t on the grand scale of Loyola Marymount University’s conversion of the massive former Hughes Aircraft headquarters into University Hall, but Chop Daddy’s (formerly Pork Belly’s) has the right idea when it comes to finding a good new use for an asset that’s already there.

With Abbot Kinney Boulevard leases getting to be about as pricey as finding a spot aboard the International Space Station, the tiny barbecue mainstay doesn’t have much room for dining tables. That’s where we come in. Order the signature Belly Up pork belly sandwich or the appetite-ambitious Big Daddy pulled pork sandwich and you can “dine-in” just outside the door with a custom Argonaut news rack table. They’ve even topped it with a thin piece of wood for that extra “table” feel.

When you’re done, you’re just an arm’s length from a good read to take home.

— Joe Piasecki
Chop Daddy’s
1146 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice | (310) 450-1533 |


Best Soft Drink You Can Eat

Photo by Michael Aushenker

Photo by Michael Aushenker

Thai tea ice cream at Playa Provisions
119 Culver Blvd., Playa del Rey
(310) 683-5019 |

Take it from a guy who’s a sucker for a sweet glass of Thai iced tea — a guy who even travelled to the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, Ariz., just to order the nation’s tallest glass of it. You have to try the Thai tea ice cream at Playa Provisions.

Sure, gourmet ice cream is nothing new to Westsiders. Serious scavengers of the scoop can sample such flavors as rosemary and olive oil, balsamic fig and mascarpone, or even ones based on Maker’s Mark or Guinness at Cool Haus in Culver City.

But there’s something so precise about the Thai tea ice cream at Playa Provisions, celebrity chef Brooke Williamson’s cool new spot quartered into four different sub-stations: a high-end restaurant, a beach café, a whiskey bar and an ice cream shop with patio benches the color of bubble gum ice cream (also on the menu).

The Thai tea ice cream isn’t served every day, but on regular rotation with other tempting flavors elbowing for attention behind the glass alongside Rocky Road, cheesecake and sea salt caramel. So catch it when you can.

— Michael Aushenker


Best Place to Eat a Bug

Typhoon’s Asian street food offerings include Singapore-style scorpions on toast Photo by Joe Piasecki

Typhoon’s Asian street food offerings include Singapore-style scorpions on toast
Photo by Joe Piasecki

Typhoon Restaurant
3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Santa Monica
(310) 390-6565 |

If you tell someone at a picnic that they’ve accidentally eaten a bug, their reaction is likely to be one of horror or revulsion. Tell someone the same thing at Typhoon restaurant and they’re likely to say, “Of course, that’s what I ordered.”

Typhoon has featured edible insect appetizers on the menu since it opened in 1991 and remains one of the few places where you can sample Singapore-style scorpions on toast, stir-fried silkworms (with assorted dipping sauces), giant Manchurian chambai ants (“on a hill of shoestring potatoes), and Taiwanese-style crickets.

Most people prefer the crickets tossed with chili peppers, garlic and basil, which have a flavor reminiscent of shrimp. Whichever you try, you’ll certainly have a story for the friends who didn’t join you for that particular meal.

Typhoon also serves more conventional Asian fusion dishes — and they do them quite well — but it is entomophagy that has made them famous. The runway view of Santa Monica Airport is an added pleasure, and dinners are often accompanied by exuberant big band performances.

— Richard Foss


Best Place to Meet the Inventor of a New Music Theory

Photo by Ricard Foss

Photo by Richard Foss

Marina Music Center
4564 S. Centinela Ave., Del Rey | (310) 391-7010 |

The clutter of new and used instruments at Marina Music exerts a magnetic pull on musicians both amateur and professional.

Strolling among the guitars, mandolins, bouzoukis and more exotic instruments you will find the proprietor, Alex Sioris, who occasionally takes an instrument off the wall and plays it like the pro he is.

Sioris is happy to discuss, demonstrate and even occasionally sell his instruments — but even more delighted if the conversation turns to teaching music. At the drop of a hat he’ll start demonstrating his original and inventive theory of musical notation, which he calls Echometrics. He believes his system can help people who are baffled by sheet music learn to play quickly and inventively, and he proclaims its virtues with missionary zeal.

This journalist doesn’t fully understand conventional music notation or Sioris’ system, but was delighted to converse with someone who shows such passion for teaching. Sioris is a visionary, and whether or not you take to his method he’s fascinating to talk to — a standout character in an area with many characters to choose from.

— Richard Foss


Best Place to Fly Without Leaving the Ground

REC_MuseumOfFlying_0881Flight Simulator at Museum of Flying
3100 Airport Ave., Santa Monica | (310) 398-2500 |

The idea of piloting an aircraft is alluring to almost everyone, but the closest most people get is in their dreams.

You can get at least a taste of the experience in the flight simulator at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, and without actually imperiling yourself or any passengers who would be so foolhardy as to come with you.

The flight simulator has very realistic pedal and rudder action, and you will feel the sensations of swooping through the skies as you solo over a well-defined city and countryside. Several different aircraft types are offered, so you can be at the controls of a lumbering DC-3 or take a barrel roll in a tiny aerobatic racer.

When you’re done, stroll the museum’s collection of aircraft and chat with the docents, most of whom are retired industry personnel with stories of their own.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $10, or $8 for students and seniors, $6 for kids 3 to 12 and free for kids 2 and under. The flight simulator is $8 and all riders have to be at least four feet tall.

The visit is fun for the whole family, and a chance to experience a dream come true.

— Richard Foss