Introducing Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Mount Washington & Lincoln Heights
Once you cross the picturesque Colorado St Bridge, the conservative, old California vibration that permeates Pasadena fades into a groovy nook of working-class LA. There are some renovated and downright stylish Spanish-style homes and California bungalows tucked into a bowl that rests between the last gasp of the Santa Monicas and the stark rise of the San Gabriel foothills, but for the most part Eagle Rock is about left-leaning Occidental college, and the regular Dodger-loving, Laker-rooting masses. Tough yet laid-back, cool in a completely unpretentious way, Eagle Rock is low on sights but worth checking out if you’re doing the Pasadena museum disco.
Jonathan Gold, LA's erstwhile, Pultizer Prize–winning restaurant critic swears by the square-cut pizza at Casa Bianca, and it's frequently packed. Gold suggests ordering yours topped with fried eggplant and sweet-and-spicy homemade sausage. Little Beast, however, eats better. Set in a fun converted cottage glowing with red light, they serve small and large plates crafted from local organic ingredients.
Mt Washington and Highland Park wrap around the Arroyo Seco, a rocky riverbed running from the San Gabriel Mountains to Downtown LA. It was flooded with artists and architects in the early 20th century, but lost its idyllic setting with the arrival of the I-110 (Pasadena Fwy) in 1940. Of late, though, there’s been an artistic revival and the area is slowly becoming the go-to place for creative types thriving on relatively low rents and the largely Latino, community feel. About two-dozen galleries now belong to the Northeast Los Angeles Arts Organization. They keep their doors open late during Gallery Night every second Saturday of the month. Galleries are too scattered to be explored on foot, so plan on driving or hop on a bicycle for the free Spoke(n) Art Tour. Highland Park's main drag is the wonderful York Ave. It's dotted with many of the aforementioned galleries, some tasty bites, fun bars and a sweet cafe. When it comes to ice cream, Scoops is one of our favorites thanks to flavors such as Gouda melon or pistachio, rose and honey, almond and nutmeg, and salty chocolate. Cafe de Leche may be the perfect coffee house. It's hip and sunshiny with rotating art on the walls, an adorable children's coloring corner and ergonomic seating. And the coffee rocks.
Mount Washington's brightest beacon is the original Self Realization Fellowship. When Parmanhansa Yogananda first came to LA from India in the 1920s to spread his yoga love, he set up shop at this beautiful estate, which remains a working monastery, with plenty of sitting areas in the garden, offering stunning views of the downtown skyline. The house doors are also open. Peek into the library where you’ll find a number of books by ‘yogiji’ (as he’s affectionately called), as well as his letter opener, his robes, and locks of his hair. You'll also find tomes from great philosophers and poets from Plato and Dostoevsky to Gandhi (one of his contemporaries). It is said that if you sit in an area where Yogananda sat for a prolonged period, you may feel his calming vibration. Word is that every night before bed he sipped tea on the sofa by the fireplace.
Lincoln Heights is another historically working-class neighborhood wedged on either side of the LA River north of Chinatown, with a main drag on Broadway. These days it's best known for the collective of experimental DJs who are bridging the gap between improvisational jazz and psychedelic dubstep at the weekly Low End Theory club at the Airliner. But don’t expect jazzanova remixes of late, great horn blowers. Here, jazz is an idea, a mode of thought, a way of mashing industrial and harmonic sounds. The club was founded by resident DJs Daddy Kev and Gaslamp Killer, and gained notoriety for launching the great Flying Lotus into the international limelight. Special guests such as Q-Tip from Tribe Called Quest have been known to roll through and spin.