Beyond Hollywood: LA's local life

Sure, Hollywood, Venice Beach and Downtown should not be missed, but then steer toward some of Los Angeles' lesser-known neighborhoods for a different experience altogether. In this extract from the brand-spanking-new Pocket Los Angeles travel guide, we bypass the tourists and head to Echo Park, Culver City and Manhattan Beach.

Echo Park

What’s the deal? If you dig the uneasy interface of edgy urban art, music and culture in multi-ethnic neighborhoods, you’ll love Echo Park, punctuated by the fountain lake featured in Polanski’s Chinatown. Well, the artists and hipsters have arrived, but the panaderias and cevicherias remain mostly untouched. Here are some star attractions...

1. I Am 8 Bit: Echo Park’s funkiest art space, I Am 8 Bit (www.iam8bit.com) offers stellar art shows at its expansive 4500-sq-ft gallery in the heart of Echo Park.

2. Night Music: Eastsiders hungry for an eclectic alchemy of sounds pack the Echo (www.attheecho.com). It books indie bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and also has regular club nights in the larger Echoplex Theater.

3. Kind Kreme: Sage (www.sageveganbistro.com) is an organic vegan kitchen with sandwiches and veggie burgers, crafted with love and talent and served in heaping portions. And the menu is the second-best thing here. The best? That would be Kind Kreme’s (www.kindkreme.com) good-for-you, raw ice cream. Taste to believe.

4. Dodger Stadium: built in 1962, and one of Major League Baseball’s classic ballparks, Dodger Stadium (losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com) is now offering regular behind-the-scenes tours through the press box, the Dodger dugout, the Dugout Club, the field and the Tommy Lasorda Training Center. Of course, the best way to experience it is to catch a ballgame.

Getting to Echo Park: just west of Downtown, Sunset Blvd is the main thoroughfare. You may also access Echo Park from I-101. Metro bus lines 2/302 serve the district.

Culver City

What’s the deal? A few years ago Culver City bloomed from its bland, semi-suburban studio-town roots into a stylish yet unpretentious destination for fans of art, culture and food, and it happened organically. Then the 2008 recession happened, and Culver City took a hit. But the roots of groovy stayed alive, and this 'hood has come back strong. Check out some of Culver City's hottest things to see, do and eat.

1. Public Art: the Helms complex marks the beginning of Culver City’s vital Arts District (www.ccgalleryguide.com), which runs east along Washington to La Cienega and up one block to Venice Blvd.

2. Something Strange: arguably LA’s most intriguing exhibition space, the Museum of Jurassic Technology (www.mjt.org) has nothing to do with dinosaurs and even less with technology. Instead, you’ll find madness nibbling at your synapses as you try to read meaning into mind-bending displays about Cameroonian stink ants and microscopic pope sculpture.

3. Akasha & Ford’s Filling Station: the kitchen at Akasha (www.akasharestaurant.com) takes all-natural ingredients and turns them into tasty small plates, such as bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, and big ones like the zinfandel-braised short rib. And the ‘Ford’ in Ford’s Filling Station (www.fordsfillingstation.net) in question is Ben Ford, and he’ll fill you up in Culver City’s original gastro pub. Flatbreads are toasted to perfection, the fish and chips have a tempura lightness, and the vegetarian polenta cake is a symphony of textures and flavors.

4. Kirk Douglas Theatre: an old-timey movie house has been recast as the 300-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre (www.centertheatergroup.org). Since opening in 2004, it has become an integral part of Culver City’s growing arts scene, showcasing new plays by local playwrights.

Getting to Culver City: it's accessible via Robertson Blvd from Mid-City and from Washington Blvd in Venice. The Culver City bus line serves areas in the city, Santa Monica, Venice and West LA.

Manhattan Beach

What’s the deal? A bastion of surf music and the birthplace of beach volleyball, Manhattan Beach may have gone chic, but that salty-dog heart still beats. Yes, the downtown area along Manhattan Beach Blvd has seen an explosion of trendy restaurants and boutiques, but the real action is beachside, where the bikinis are small, the waves kind and the smiles are as oversized as those sunglasses. Why not start with some of these highlights?

1. Sand Dune Park: the recently renovated Sand Dune Park (www.ci.manhattan-beach.ca.us) requires reservations if you wish to access the long, deep 100ft-high natural sand dune. Your kids will love hurling themselves down the dune again and again.

2. Elleni: because originality will get you everywhere, and shoes and chocolate are the most severe addictions suffered by LA woman, that’s all they’ve got at Elleni (www.ellenicouture.com).

3. Roundhouse Aquarium: family fun awaits at the compact Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab & Aquarium (www.roundhouseaquarium.org) at the end of the 928ft-long pier. Pat a slimy sea cucumber, see Nemo the clownfish up close, and check out the new deep ocean tank.

4. Mama D’s: this neighborhood Italian joint fits like a well-worn shoe. Mama D’s (1125 Manhattan Ave) thin-crust pizzas, homemade ravioli, tangy cioppino and freshly baked bread, all served with a smile, keep regulars coming back for more.

Getting to Manhattan Beach: Two exits of I-405 serve Manhattan Beach, including Rosecrans Blvd and Inglewood Ave, which merges with Manhattan Beach Blvd.