Palisades Park: A Santa Monica Landmark

Palisades Park, in Santa Monica, has been one my favorite places in Los Angeles since I first arrived here. Why do I like it so much?

First, because of its privileged location. High on a cliff, one can look down on the Pacific, enjoy the sea breeze and magnificent views of the ocean and the mountains while also getting some exercise. Busy but never overcrowded, the park is a place where people go for a walk, to jog, bike, do yoga, meditate, read, write, play with their children, walk their dogs, watch the sunset, or just hang out. I go there to walk, take pictures and, being a beach person, to be close to the ocean.

Palisades is a Santa Monica landmark. Its original landscape design was done in 1913 by architect I.G. Le Grande, who installed a long, winding footpath and added rows of Canary Island date palms and Mexican fan palms to the existing eucalyptus trees along Ocean Avenue.

I love the wide variety of trees, plants and flowers beautifully displayed throughout the park’s 26 acres. My favorites are the exotic succulent garden, the iconic palm trees, and the community rose garden, dedicated to one of the park’s founders. The picnic areas, under the shade of gigantic fig trees, are nice and inviting. And many benches and sitting areas along the entire stretch make it possible for people to rest and appreciate the views. The park’s Redwood Pergola, built in 1912, is considered an outstanding example of a Craftsman-style Pergola and is often seen in movies shot in Santa Monica. Park visitors, especially musicians, like to hang out at the pergola.

Among the many other features, the park has a Veterans Memorial; several sculptures, including the “Genesis Sculpture,” a wooden sphere by sculptor Baile Oakes; and the Overlook Beacon, which gives the viewer the feeling of being aboard ship in the ocean, with unrestricted views of the Pacific.

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Palisades park was a gift to Santa Monica from U.S. Senator John P. Jones, a mining baron who co-founded the city in 1875. In 1892, he and his business partner, Arcadia Bandini Baker, moved to preserve the bluffs’ charms for the public enjoyment. Ignoring the enormous real estate potential of the land, they deeded it to the city on the condition that it forever remain public parkland.

It’s nice to see that through the years, Palisades park has been preserved and continues to be used, not only by the people of Santa Monica, but also by people from Los Angeles Westside, and by visitors from all parts of the country and the world. It’s a remarkably democratic space, where the rich, the poor and the homeless, the old and the young, locals and visitors, and dogs galore, equally share the beautiful grounds as they go about their activities.

I’ve been going there since I first arrived in LA to walk, watch and photograph the beautiful sunsets and appreciate the flowers and plants along the park’s 26 acres. Anyone visiting LA must come to Santa Monica and take a stroll at Palisades park.


The Los Angeles Opera

Although I’m a big opera fan, I had not been to the LA Opera since moving here in late 2011. Last weekend, however, we finally attended our first opera in LA, a very interesting production of Rossini‘s “La Cenerentola.”

The LA Opera is the fourth-largest in the country and it’s housed in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The famous Spanish tenor Placido Domingo is the General Director of the LA Opera and American conductor James Conlon is its Music Director.

The crowd in the LA Opera was not very different from those in other opera venues, i.e., older and educated, but the environment was a bit more lively than the Washington National Opera, where I attended many opera productions. And I was surprised that the performance started 10 minutes late, something unheard of in other venues. Of course, these are just first impressions and I’ll be able to confirm them or not after attending more productions in future seasons.

Here are some photos from our first evening at the LA Opera. I shot most of them outside, at the plaza, and just a few inside the Pavilion, as we had to rush to our seats. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the auditorium but I snapped a couple of very bad shots of the entire company at the end of the performance. Not sure it was worth breaking the rules for them, though…

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Venice Beach: Anything But Boring!

You could say that Venice Beach is Santa Monica’s wild sister. It’s both fun and edgy and during the summer and on weekends, the scene on the Ocean Front Walk (or “Boardwalk”) is out of this world. You’ll see everything: people with weird hairdos, painted faces, wild tattoos and outlandish clothing. Artists are selling their work, musicians are playing their music, dancers are dancing, beach bums are bumming. There’s a freak show in the corner, you’re invited to come in! And there are lots of funky shops selling wacky souvenirs, T-shirts, hats, and all other kinds of unusual stuff.

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If the Boardwalk’s circus-like atmosphere is too much for you, the beach is just steps away. You can go for a bike ride, or relax and enjoy a beautiful view of the ocean under a palm tree, even go for a swim, if the weather is right.

There’s also plenty of action outside the Boardwalk. There are good restaurants, bars, art galleries, and interesting shops in the streets of Venice, especially along Abbot Kinney Boulevard. But if you feel like taking a nice stroll, you can go to the quiet and picturesque Venice Canals, considered among the most beautiful and desirable residential areas in Southern California.

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I’ve been to Venice several times and always enjoyed the vibe. My advice is to go for a quick stroll around the boardwalk and then move on to explore other more interesting parts of this truly Californian beach town.

Discovering Downtown LA (Part I)

It’s taking me a while to fully explore downtown LA. I live on the Westside and hate the freeways –a must if you want to get downtown.

After moving to LA in the Fall of 2011, I first went downtown in March 2012 to visit the LA Times and hear a Times journalist talk. After the talk and exploring the Times building, we walked around the area, ate at a Pizza place, and took a few pictures, but rushed back home before the rush hour. At the time I was pleasantly surprised to see that, unlike most large cities’, downtown LA was calm and inviting.

An area of downtown LA worth checking out  and walking around is the Music Center, a complex of venues for music and performing arts that includes: the Ahmanson Theatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (home of the Los Angeles Opera) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I had been there as a tourist several years ago on a weekend. The place was lively, bustling with locals and tourists. I loved the vibe! Recently I was there on a weekday and it was quiet and subdued, but still pretty and pleasant. We had a very nice lunch at Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar after exploring the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Another highlight of downtown LA, just blocks away from the Music Center, is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Designed by Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo, the stunning post-modern cathedral is among the largest in the world. Beautiful tapestries adorn the cathedral, the most prominent of which being the Communion of Saints along the south and north walls of the nave.

From the Cathedral we can walk to the Civic Center and the landmark LA City Hall. The building was designed by John ParkinsonJohn C. Austin, and Albert C. Martin, Sr. and built in 1928. It has 32 floors and is 454 feet (138 m) high. It’s the tallest base-isolated structure in the world, having undergone a seismic retrofit from 1998 to 2001 so that the building can sustain minimal damage and remain functional after a magnitude 8.2 earthquake.

There’s much more to see in Downtown LA and I look forward to further exploring the area. That’s why I’m calling this post Part I. More to come soon!

Meanwhile, here are some shots of the area.

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