Five Places Where the ‘City of Angels’ Lives Up To Its Name
If you’re tired of all the tales of the dark side of Los Angeles — the vice squads, murder mysteries, and noir films whose horrors were ripped from the headlines — don’t worry. There is a silver lining to the dark clouds of big city life! And it is possible to get on the side of the angels here in L.A., the city whose devotional name came from a group of pioneering believers!
After all, L.A. is the City of Angels — a detail that can be easy to forget sometimes.
But there’s a halo hooked onto the devil horns of this flawed, misunderstood and sometimes bacchanalian metropolis.
Here are 5 of the best sites — both sacred and secular — that remind us that L.A. can be downright angelic.
1. Angels Point, Elysian Park
For many in the City of Angels, Elysian Park remains an unexplored mystery — one perhaps only visited on the occasion of a baseball game. But in that large city park — L.A.’s oldest — there’s a short hike you can take to get a heavenly view, not only from above Dodger Stadium, but also across to Downtown Los Angeles and even the Hollywood Sign. It’s aptly called Angels Point — a peak in a park named after Elysium (or Elysian Fields), where heroes’ souls ascend to in the afterlife, according to Greek mythology.
Many different park trails and roads lead to Angels Point, but one with a quick, yet rewarding, payoff is to park your car on Academy Road just short of the Los Angeles Police Academy and start your journey at the Lower Angels Point playground. Pick up the dirt, single-track (but unmarked) trail on the left and climb upwards as it becomes more rugged. You’ll encounter a couple of switchbacks, but the hike is lightweight enough for simple tennis shoes (or, in my case, flip flops).
You’ll pass a magnolia tree and flat picnic area on your way to the top — marked by a 28-foot-tall public art sculpture from Echo Park-born and based artist Peter Shire. The sculpture is called the “Frank Glass and Grace E. Simons Memorial Sculpture” and was dedicated in 1994. Grace E. Simons was a co-founder of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park and with her husband, Frank Glass, was largely involved in the effort to save paradise from being paved over for a parking lot (or a football stadium, or a convention center). In tribute to the couple, Shire created a kind of mini city in sculptural form — a metropolis-as-gazebo that contrasts against the backdrop of a very major city’s skyline.>
2. Angels Gate, San Pedro
Angels Gate really takes on two meanings in the South Bay L.A. community of San Pedro — the literal gateway to the Los Angeles Harbor, with the Angels Gate Light as guardian, and Angels Gate Park. You won’t find any pearly gates on the bluffs above San Pedro, but you will get a panoramic view of the Pacific Coast that will take your earthly breath away. It’s clear why this was such a critical locale for coastal defense during World War II — not just to see when enemies were coming by water to attack, but also to thwart their approach. Fortunately, neither was ever necessary, but you can still see traces of the Upper Reservation of Fort Macarthur in Angels Gate Park, including the former Battery 241, a gun battery emplacement that was deactivated in 1945 and now hides in the shadow of the Korean Bell, still overlooking the Port of Los Angeles.
The Korean Friendship Bell in Angels Gate Park takes visitors from all parts of the world under the wings of its stone pavilion and delights them with depictions of Korean spirits and goddesses. You can hear the bell being rung on a monthly basis on the first Saturday at 11:30 a.m., as well as annually on such holidays as the Fourth of July, National Liberation Day of Korea (August 15), Korean American Day (January 13) and more. And when that happens, maybe a few angels will get their wings.
Also calling Angels Gate Park home are a number of other institutions, including the Angels Gate Cultural Center, Belmont Shore Model Railroad Club, Angel’s Gate Hi-Railers Model Railroading Club, Yuichiro Roy Kunisaki Ceramics, and of course, the Fort MacArthur Museum. Each is open to the public either during regular hours or for special events. Check each organization’s calendar for details.
3. Angels Flight Railway, Downtown L.A.
If you want to soar to the heights of Bunker Hill, look no further than “The Shortest Railway in the World,” Angels Flight. A City of Angels landmark for almost 120 years, this tiny train takes you on a one-block journey that’s steep enough to be daunting even to the most diligent of stair-trekkers. But Olivet and Sinai — the twin cars of this funicular (or incline railway) — are a hoot to ride, whether you start at the bottom arch across from Grand Central Market or at the top station at California Plaza (where you pay your fare).
Unfortunately, these angels of the rails have had their wings clipped more than once — falling victim to vandalism, safety hazards (including a couple of derailments), and bureaucratic stonewalling. But thanks to a campaign launched by some squeaky-wheel preservationists, Angels Flight Railway was saved and will hopefully remain in good working order for many decades to come.
If you want to join the ranks of the 100 million rides that have taken place on Angels Flight — even just to reenact a kissing scene from “La La Land” — it’s open every day of the year from 6:45 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. It’ll only set you back a dollar round trip with your TAP card — and just $2 without, or if you want a nifty little souvenir ticket. Every Friday night, Angels Flight Railway Foundation also partners with Grand Central Market on “Friday Night Flights” to offer a selection of bites or beverages plus a ride up and down the hill, all included in one combo ticket.
4. Monastery of the Angels, Hollywood
Of course you’d expect to find plenty of angelic figures in the fascinating churches of Los Angeles — including depictions of our lady of the angels (a.k.a. the Virgin Mary), after whom our fair city was named. And if you haven’t yet crossed the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Plaza Church/La Placita (a.k.a. The Church of Our Lady Queen of the Angels/La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles) at El Pueblo de Los Angeles, or Angelus Temple, you’ve still got some basics to cover.
But if you’re looking to go a little off the beaten path in the angelic realm, head to Beachwood Canyon to visit the cloistered Dominican Contemplative Nuns of The Monastery of the Angels. In 1934, the nuns moved from Downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood — and in 1948, moved into a monastery building designed by famed architect Wallace Neff the in the Spanish Mediterranean style. The nearly 3.8-acre parcel — once part of the now-demolished mansion estate of copper magnate Joseph Giroux — is tucked away on a quiet street just north of Franklin Avenue, spared from the throngs of tourists looking for the Hollywood Sign. And in its heyday, it provided a chic getaway for god-fearing stars and starlets to retreat from the Babylonian evils of Tinseltown and into prayer — including actress Jane Wyman, who donated a sculpture of Mother Mary that still stands in the courtyard today.
As part of their monastic life, the nuns have withdrawn from the world to devote their lives to praying, studying and performing daily morning mass. But since the 1950s, they have gotten to indulge in one hobby — making treats such as peanut brittle, hand-dipped chocolates, and since 1965, pumpkin bread. The sale of these confections — made by the nuns’ own heavenly hands — helps keep the lights on at the monastery, so it’s for a good cause when you order online or load up at their onsite gift shop (open all week except Sunday). While you’re there, stop into the chapel for some quiet meditation or follow the Stations of the Cross inside the walled garden.
5. Banc of California Stadium, Exposition Park
Look beyond the corporate naming rights of the new home of Los Angeles Football Club, and you’ll see a physical manifestation of our angelic city — L.A.’s first new open-air stadium to be built since Dodger Stadium in 1962, shaped like a pair of angel’s wings. The Banc of California Stadium’s unique look comes from the design team at Gensler Sports strategically positioning a special, durable plastic canopy (all 190,000 square feet of it) to make a big splash by evoking the City of Angels.
Try to enter what’s being called L.A.’s “Cathedral of Soccer” through its North Gate, right in between the angel wings — and proceed to whichever one of the 22,000 seats you choose, whether in the supporters’ section, the shady nosebleed rows or the field club level. The south stand has the bonus payoff of a framed view of the L.A. skyline looking north. Or, head up to the top of the stadium for its Sunset Deck, a Palm Springs-style upper level club with concrete breezeblocks, water features and shady lounge areas. The loge boxes up there give a pretty fantastic view, with a little bit of distance from the game mayhem. Since soccer games are only about 90 minutes long, stay and enjoy the post-game festivities — including beverages offered by the club’s official craft beer partner, (appropriately) Angel City Brewery.
Soccer games aren’t enough to keep this stadium in business all year, so Banc of California Stadium also hosts other sporting events like boxing, lacrosse and rugby — and of course concerts and festivals as well.