An Uncommon View
Originally published June 30, 2002 To gain an appreciation for the true scope of the Los Angeles basin – and all the concrete, steel, light bulbs and humanity massed there – there is no substitute for getting up on the sides of that bowl. Or ascending to a high point in the midst of it. Only then does the unending sprawl of the nation’s second-largest consolidated metropolitan statistical area (as the Bureau of the Census defines it) score a direct hit on your consciousness. Roads stretch into the distance and disappear into infinity. High-rises jut skyward in scattered clusters, like forests. Lights form a seamless carpet at night. L.A. is blessed with a wealth of vantage points for taking all of this in, and when your summer guests begin to descend on you – as they inevitably do at this time of year – you might want to consider a trek to one of the viewpoints and treat them to a glimpse of that vast urban sea. You’re likely to hear a gasp or two. This isn’t the kind of sight that is readily found in St. Louis or Spokane, much less in Biloxi or Cuyahoga Falls. And when they return home, they’ll probably exclaim to a friend or neighbor, “It just goes on forever!” At this time of year, nighttime is probably optimal for viewing, since the slightly cooler temperatures allow the smog blanket to dissipate considerably. But daytime can have its moments, too, particularly after the marine layer has burned off or any stiff breezes have swept some of the gunk away. CITY OF ANGLES In L.A., there are places to be seen, but there are also places to see from. Getty Center The point of this West L.A. facility is its fine art and gardens, of course, so you won’t find anything in the map/brochure directing you to any named observation point, but the Getty has a terrific one. Simply walk between the South Pavilion and the West Pavilion and descend a gradual stairway to the South Promontory. Here, you can look out over a cactus garden at the dramatic sweep of the Westside: the high-rises of Westwood and Century City, the arc of Santa Monica Bay, the endless stream of cars oozing (or, more likely, coagulated solid) along the 405 Freeway. The mansions of Bel-Air are on the hills to your left. (Is somebody growing a hillside vineyard up there? Ah, the indulgences of time, space and infinite means.) Don’t expect to perch here for long minutes and drink in the view, though. This spot is enormously popular with tourists, many of whom pose at the rail and take turns shooting photo after photo after photo of one another. You’re likely to be waved this way and that to get out of somebody’s viewfinder. Another excellent vantage point is just a few steps away – up. Seek out the elevated walkway that connects the Upper Level of both the West and South pavilions. If you like sustenance with your glorious views, skip The Cafe, the Getty’s fine-dining option. It provides only a sliver of a view toward Santa Monica, over a short wall and through the tips of some pine trees. A much better perspective can be found at the casual and cafeteria-style Garden Terrace Cafe. There are tables along the rail, but many visitors take it one step further: They grab the wooden folding chairs, carry them over to the low wall, place their trays atop the wall, and thus gain a direct and dramatic overlook of the Westside. Hollywood Bowl Overlook On Mulholland Drive, just west of the 101 Freeway, this roadside turnout provides an exceptional view through the Cahuenga Pass. Climb the stairs to a little observation post and you’ll look down into the Hollywood Bowl at the base of the hill, Hollywood beyond and the downtown skyline in the distance (if visibility permits). As a bonus, look directly east across the freeway and you’ll gain one of the city’s best views of the Hollywood sign. You’ll have to be content with a daytime glimpse, though – the viewpoint and its eight-space parking area are closed from sunset to sunrise. Bona Vista Lounge A top-floor cocktail lounge that slowly rotates 360 degrees? Yes, it can be found right in the heart of downtown. It’s the Bona Vista, atop the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. The bar, which has the floor plan of a doughnut, slowly turns past its bank of picture windows, making a full revolution in about 1 hour, 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the Bonaventure’s distinctive cluster of mirrorlike columns, once a prominent edifice downtown, is now a runt (35 stories) compared to the skyscrapers that grew up around it. You have to crane your neck, for example, to see the alabaster crown atop the nearby Library Tower. But the lounge still provides an interesting perspective, enabling you to peer down into the canyons of light and steel. This is no conventional bar – which is to say, no long counter with stools. Because of the popularity of the view, the lounge is composed entirely of tables along the windows or booths facing them. And here’s a nice feature: Four entree items from the neighbor restaurant, L.A. Prime (which is stationary), are available in the bar, along with a Caesar salad and some side dishes. So if you want to grab dinner at one of those booths, a leisurely pace will get you a full revolution during your visit. Because of this quasi-restaurant atmosphere and the fact that this is a hotel establishment, no one squawks if you bring your children in here. One important advisory, though: The floor rotates but the ledge at the base of the windows does not. Keep this in mind when setting down a coat, a purse, a camera or a drink. My spiral notebook had taken quite a journey before I realized this. A popular feature of the Bonaventure is its glass elevators that climb along the outside of the towers. En route to the lounge, you pop out of the atrium lobby and soar as if in a rocket ship, gazing through the office towers to the lights of east and south L.A. Yamashiro Arguably the most romantic setting in the city, this enchanting restaurant perches on a steep bluff directly above Hollywood. Housed in a former private mansion that was built in 1911, it features picture windows on three sides, and the tables of the restaurant are terraced so as to take maximum advantage of the overlook. If you don’t want to dine but just want to pop in for a drink, you’ll find the bar is also strategically positioned for savoring the view. It occupies the southeast corner, facing roughly down Hollywood Boulevard, with the downtown skyline far in the distance. The establishment has comprehensive appetizer, sushi and sashimi menus for the bar, so it’s easy to settle in with refreshment and something to nibble on. Be sure to take a stroll through the Japanese garden that commands the edge of the bluff. It’s pleasant, peaceful and meticulously maintained, with koi ponds, palms, even an overlook of a pagoda down by the pool. Windows Steaks & Martinis This restaurant/lounge sits atop the Transamerica Center, a profoundly unattractive office building that stands far to the south of downtown’s cluster of skyscrapers, near the Staples Center. Because it has so little high-rise company, the view is unobstructed in all directions. The bar and a good portion of the restaurant face west – toward the establishment’s headline attraction, the sunset. The decor is elegant, stylish and retro (which fits, because this building, formerly the Occidental Center, went up in the 1960s). There are mahogany accents and subtle colors, and tall bar tables with spindly legged chairs. And there are also two rows of stuffed chairs facing directly west toward the floor-to-ceiling windows and the sunset. This is a good option before an event at the Staples Center or the Convention Center. They’re only a few blocks away. City Hall Observation Deck Like the Transamerica Center, City Hall is slightly offset from the thicket of tall buildings downtown, which enhances the view in all directions. You can walk its outdoor Observation Deck and gain Superman’s outlook on such L.A. institutions as Union Station, Olvera Street, Chinatown, Dodger Stadium and the Music Center. Diagrams identify various features of the urban landscape, but pay only minimal attention to them, for they are dreadfully out of date. The face of downtown has been altered radically since they were installed, and many of the office buildings’ names have changed. Getting there is the tricky part. Docent tours of City Hall are offered at 9:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Observation Deck is included in the 45-minute tour. Information and reservations: (213) 978-1995. But what if you don’t want to undertake an entire tour, but would rather just pop in for a few minutes? Well, you’ll have to launch a clandestine mission and be willing to engage in a little deceit, but if you’re insistent on going through with it, here’s your game plan: All visitors are funneled into City Hall on the east side of the building, off North Main Street. Security personnel will search your bags and you’ll be required to pass through a metal detector (so leave your pocketknife in the car). Then a guard at a counter will ask you to show ID and identify your destination. If you say “Observation Deck,” you’ll probably be turned away, informed that it is either closed (its doors aren’t locked) or that it’s under construction (it wasn’t when I made two visits over the past few weeks). Instead, say you’re going to Cafe Dolce on the second floor. You’ll be issued a stick-on visitor’s badge. Forget Cafe Dolce, and instead take an express elevator to the 22nd floor, then transfer to another elevator and go up to the 26th. This elevator will put you at the base of a stairway leading up to the Mayor Tom Bradley Room (if you’re not up to the climb, a third elevator will take you up). From there, if you push an electronic button on the wall, the doors to the Observation Deck will swing open. You might notice that the outdoor walkway is screaming for a cleanup crew – pigeons have taken roost here and left their unmistakable marks. On the way down, be sure to find an elevator that stops on the fourth floor, which houses council district offices. The walls of the hallways feature a treasure trove of vintage L.A. photos, including shots of Hollywood, downtown and the Valley in the 1920s and ’30s. Carpool lane, 105 east to 110 north This viewpoint is included just for a lark. It’s only a few miles from LAX, so if you’ve just picked up guests at the airport and are heading inland or into the heart of the city, the route is easily incorporated into the trip. The carpool lane ascends to what has to be the tallest vehicle ramp in the city, and banks sharply and steeply before joining the northbound 110. At the apex of the ramp, you’re probably six stories off the ground. The driver should be advised to mind the road and let the passengers savor the view north into the city center, because the banked curve and freeway pace will combine to require all your concentration. Later on this northward route, the 110 becomes double-decker, with the carpool lane on top – about three stories up. This excellent vantage point holds for just a few miles, from Slauson Avenue to near the Coliseum. Fourth Street Bridge It’s probably best to survey the view through the car windows as you crest this historic bridge just east of downtown. That way, you can glimpse the modern skyline, City Hall, the acres of train yards spreading alongside the Los Angeles River beneath you and the bridge’s vintage lampposts, yet not be acutely aware of the cracking and crumbling of the concrete, the weeds in the sidewalk, the trash and broken glass at the base of the railings, and the universal shade of beige paint that has to be slopped on regularly to cover up the insidious spray-paint graffiti. As with a lot of L.A. – particularly from viewpoints high along the sides of the vast basin – sometimes it’s best if you don’t look too closely. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!