Five of the Best Hidden Gems Around LA

Ah, yes. Southern California. Home of Hollywood, Disney, and Long Beach. Many people long for Southern California’s warm weather, palm trees, and sunny skies! As you make your travel itinerary (or dream itinerary in this Covid environment), don’t plan to spend your entire trip at Disneyland. After living in the area, I found the best local haunts. You will NOT want to miss these secret treasures!

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

This mastodon exhibit sparked my interest in paleontology as a little girl.

Did you know that Los Angeles is floating on top of a giant pool of natural asphalt? This pool, called the Salt Lake Oil Field, was formed  from marine plankton deposited in an ocean basin during the Miocene Epoch (5-25 million years ago). Over time, immense pressure converted these organisms into oil. The oil (better known as tar) seeps to the surface.

Over the past 50,000 years, animals and plants have gotten trapped in these seeps and were preserved. The La Brea Tar Pits, located in Hancock Park, is the only actively excavated Ice Age fossil site found in an urban location in the world!

The La Brea Tar Pits’ museum land is peppered with new and old tar seeps. The old, dried out seeps are excavated, unearthing animals such as dire wolves, sabertooth cats, and mammoths. One of the museums’s most famous pits is a large, black lake that sits at the entrance of the museum. The Lake Pit is left over from asphalt mining operations in the early 1800’s. Over time, the bubbling natural asphalt was covered by rain and groundwater. One of the museum’s most iconic exhibits is the recreation of a mammoth becoming trapped in the tar in the Lake Pit.

According to La Brea’s website, “Since 1906, more than one million bones have been recovered, representing over 231 species of vertebrates. In addition, 159 species of plants and 234 species of invertebrates have been identified. It is estimated that the collections at La Brea Tar Pits contain about three million items. When completed, Project 23—our current excavation—may double this number.”

There might not be any dinosaurs in their collections, but a wall of dire wolves, mammoths, sabertooth cats, and giant sloths more than make up for it.

I highly recommend joining the museum’s walking tour of the grounds! There, you’ll learn about the history of the La Brea Tar Pits, see new pits, as well as gain insight into ongoing excavations. Just be careful not to accidentally step into any new tar seeps! The asphalt is almost impossible to get out of clothing.

As a side note, the La Brea Tar Pits is one of my FAVORITE places! It is my go-to whenever I’m in the area!

Bogart’s Coffee House, Seal Beach

Photo courtesy of Bogart’s website. I’m a fan of their house coffee, but I hear that their chai tea latte is also excellent!

No Parrotfish travel list will be complete without a coffee house! I am quite the fan of local coffee shops. I make it my mission to find the best coffee house whenever I travel!

When I lived in Southern California, Bogart’s was one of my go-to locations. When I searching for the coffee shop, I had several parameters to follow: 1. good coffee, 2. WIFI, 3. in view of the ocean, 4. independent (aka: not a chain).

I searched along the coast from Laguna Beach through Ventura. There were many wonderful coffee shops, but most were all missing one parameter or another. If the coffee shop had good coffee and WIFI, then it was on the wrong side of Highway 1. If the coffee shop was in view of the ocean, then there was no WIFI or comfortable place to hang out.

Finally, after months of searching, I found the elusive coffee shop. Bogart’s Coffee House lives in Seal Beach, CA, a small coastal town that is easily overlooked. Bogart’s has everything you could want in a coffee shop. In addition to the three all-important parameters, Bogart’s also has shaved ice, good pastries, and weekly live music.

You can sit and enjoy your coffee at the coffee house or take it across the street to savor your drink at the beach. Do you have kids? Bogart’s is across the street from the Seal Beach Pier Playground. This is a great place for kids to run around and burn off their excess energy while you enjoy the ocean.

Roundhouse Aquarium, Manhattan Beach

Courtesy of the Roundhouse Aquarium’s Facebook Page. Seriously, don’t forget to take a selfie with the shark.

The traffic in LA is legendary. In short, you’ll want to avoid the freeway and highways from 3PM to about 7PM. As you can imagine, that can make things complicated when you are dropping off or picking up from LAX.

One of my favorite escapes while waiting for the traffic to wane is Manhattan Beach. While Manhattan Beach is famous for surfing, restaurants, and expensive homes, the Roundhouse Aquarium is often overlooked.

This quaint aquarium sits at the end of the Manhattan Beach Pier. The small, round building is quaint. It’s large windows, teal trim, and red roof speak to its quirky, community-based programming and exhibits.

Though it is small, the aquarium hosts more than 100 native species, from an octopuses and jellyfish to eels and even small sharks. Don’t forget to stop by the touch pool while you’re there!

While most things in Southern California tend to be pretty expensive, the Roundhouse Aquarium entry is free, though they recommend giving a small donation to help with upkeep costs.

On your way out, be sure to take a selfie with the shark outside the front door.

Porto’s Bakery and Cafe

Porto’s Bakery & Cafe dates to 1960 when it started as a small, neighborhood bakery. Now there are five Southern California locations serving a wealth of baked goods, sandwiches and more. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Oh boy. I’m getting hungry just thinking about Porto’s!

Porto’s Bakery and Cafe is a Cuban-American bakery. It has grown to five locations across Southern California. Pro tip: the Porto’s location in Buena Vista is just down the street from Knott’s Berry Farm.

Porto’s is famous for their tres leches cakes, Cuban sandwiches, and potato balls. Though, if I’m being fair, you can’t go wrong with anything at Porto’s. One of the best parts is that Porto’s is not expensive! You can order dinner without breaking the bank!

However, Porto’s is a favorite local haunt. You are likely going to have to wait in a long line, but it is definitely worth it!

The Old Zoo, Griffith Park, LA

Definitely bring a good pair of shoes, a camera, and a sack lunch!

Located in the heart of Griffith Park, these ruins are the remains of the zoo abandoned in 1966. You can explore graffiti-covered cages, old walk ways, and dilapidated buildings. It’s the perfect place if you’re looking for post-apocalyptic photos!

If you’re a movie buff, you’ll probably recognize the site from some movies and TV shows, including “Anchorman (2004)”, “Mind Stealers from Outer Space 2” from “Wonder Woman (1977)” and “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985)”.

When Griffith Park absorbed the original zoo site, they added picnic tables and walking trails. Griffith Park can be rough around the edges, so I recommend bringing a buddy with you to explore the abandoned zoo!

Have fun planning your next LA trip! Did I miss your favorite LA hidden gem? Tell me in the comments below!

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