Insider’s LA: 10 Super-Cool Spots Even Locals Miss

Everybody knows about LA area tourist attractions like the Hollywood Sign, the Walk of Fame, and Disneyland. These are the hot spots you’re supposed to tell your cousin’s daughter and her boyfriend  to see when you they come to visit you. But if you’re looking for something off-the-beaten path—you areˆ a local, after all—toss the typical guide aside and tuck this list instead.

Old Los Angeles Zoo
4801 Griffith Park Drive

The last animal resident officially departed in 1966 and the Griffith Park zoo was basically abandoned. Forgotten by most, the odd visitors it did see left mainly garbage or graffiti. Eventually, someone in the city got the idea to throw in a few tables and benches, and poof – an attraction was born. What could be more fun than getting photos inside an old monkey cage? How about a picnic in the big cat enclosure? Head to Griffith Park, locate the merry-go-round, and follow the signs. Some parts may even seem vaguely familiar, thanks to a famous visit by fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy.   

The Berlin Wall… on Wilshire
5900 Wilshire Boulevard
WendeMuseum.org

Nearly 100 miles long, the Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany for nearly three decades. In 1990, it finally came down, almost three years to the day of President Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech. Most of it was destroyed, save 10 segments measuring 40-feet long and weighing 25 tons, which somehow found their way to Wilshire Boulevard. The Wende Museum commemorated the 20th anniversary of the fall by hosting the largest section of the wall outside Germany. To this day, the wall displays a fascinating mix of original Cold War-era murals mixed with modern designs by LA and Berlin street artists. 

Button Mash
1391 Sunset Boulevard
ButtonMashLA.com

The 80s are alive on Sunset Boulevard, and they are delish. What do you get when you combine one of the most original underground LA restaurants (Starry Kitchen) with classic arcade faves? Only the coolest new hot spot to hit LA in ages. Button Mash has a dozen craft beers on tap, character wines, and some of the best vintage arcade games still upright. Play Donkey Kong, Frogger, or Punch-Out!! stand-up style while you nosh on tofu balls, shrimp toast, or a classic burger with garlic noodles. At 9 p.m., Button Mash transitions to adults-only for the rest of the night, so arrive early with a sack of quarters and stay late. The classic arcade never looked so good. 

Soap Plant Wacko
4633 Hollywood Boulevard
SoapPlant.com

The tagline might be “the second happiest place on earth,” but that’s officially up for debate. When you cram a 6,000-square-foot store with more than 10,000 strange, crazy, bizarre, and just plain wacko items, you’ve got an adventure on overload. Founded in 1971, Soap Plant Wacko has become a true megastore for the pop culture connoisseur. The store stocks everything from Magic 8 Balls and fart machines to vinyl bobbleheads and classic metal lunch boxes – if it exists in some form, the store either has it or can get it. Plan your visit to coincide with one of many “events,” like “First Friday @ La Luz de Jesus Gallery” or “Stuffed Animals: Taxidermy.”

The Great Wall of Los Angeles
12900 Oxnard Street
SPARCinLA.org

Designed by Judith Baca and brought to life by more than 400 youth and individual artists, the Great Wall of Los Angeles depicts the history of California from its founding to the 1950s. At 13 feet high and over 2,700 feet long, it’s claimed to be the largest continuous mural in the world – and the Social and Public Art Resource Center plans to keep going! Known as “social realism,” the subject matter of the Great Wall chronicles many uncomfortable aspects of current and past history, making it as striking intellectually as it is visually. Located on the concrete sides of the Tujunga Wash (part of the drainage system of Los Angeles), the Great Wall of Los Angeles spans six city blocks.

It’s a Wrap! Thrift Store
1164 S. Robertson Boulevard
ItsAWrapHollywood.com

Movie studios are always selling stuff because they have no desire (or space) to store the costumes, sets, and props that go into making the entertainment that fills our digital lives. So if you’re curious to see what happens to a suit or jacket after it’s enjoyed 15 minutes of fame on George Clooney’s back, head over to It’s a Wrap! and find out. Most props and clothing pieces are high quality, and many still have the original price tags attached. The store buys constantly, so its stock seems to change by the minute. It’s a perfect, inexpensive way to take some Hollywood home.

The Museum of Death
6031 Hollywood Boulevard
MuseumOfDeath.net

Founded in 1995, the macabre museum moved to its current location in 2000, expanding what is now the largest collection of serial murderer artwork, photos, and uncomfortable ephemera known to exist in one place. Boasting detailed exhibits of execution devices, autopsy tools, and instruments – plus a sizable body bag and coffin collection – the Museum of Death does not disappoint those seeking the “dark” side of life. Ever wonder about the Heaven’s Gate cult? The museum has the cult’s recruitment video. Curious about Charles Manson? The museum has pictures of the crime scene (yikes!). It’s definitely not for the faint of heart – though actual fainting is apparently quite common at the Museum of Death.

Echo Park Time Travel Mart
1714 W. Sunset Boulevard
TimeTravelMart.com

A front of sorts for 826LA, a nonprofit creative-writing program for kids, the Time Travel Mart carries all manner of hilarious supplies to support the immediate demands of your average quantum leaper. Ever wake up in medieval England without a disguise for your robot pal? The mart’s got you covered. Have a hankering for canned Woolly Mammoth Chunks? Stock up now. Featuring an irony-bending pun for a slogan – “Whenever you are, we’re already then” – the Time Travel Mart specializes in goofy “relics” from the past, present, and future. Surely a case of Barbarian Repellant may come in handy at some point? Visit them today, or yesterday. Your choice.

Secret Oil Well
W. Pico Boulevard and S. Genesee Avenue

It may seem unbelievable, but Los Angeles has nearly 60 active oil fields – right in the city! More than 3,700 bobbing derricks pump black gold day and night, and while many are visible, far more are disguised. One intriguing character is the Packard Well Site. Hidden deep inside the shell of a fake 14-story building in West LA, the Packard Well Site façade was designed to fool back in 1968. No passersby would have even the slightest clue that the building they walked past every day (without any windows or roof) hid a working oil well – until now, that is.

The Smell
247 S. Main Street
TheSmell.org

A popular, energetic, all-ages, punk-rock, experimental music venue in downtown LA, The Smell may not last much longer. Tagged early on as drug- and alcohol-free, The Smell has provided a space to those interested in supporting and participating in artistic freedom and innovation for nearly 10 years. Nonprofit and run totally by volunteers, the atmosphere is one of wild creativity and solid community. Concerts are always $5 (unless posted), but the clock is ticking loudly. Recently notified that the landlord wants to demolish the building, the group has started a petition to save the club. Stop by before it’s too late.

By Jarrod Thalheimer

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