Part 1: DCI Championship Week extras: enjoy Los Angeles’ secret treasures for free!

by Christine Hoeffner

This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 35, Number 17). It is one of six parts on things to see and do while visiting California for the 2007 35th Anniversary Drum Corps International Championships

Drum corps fans attending the 2007 DCI Championships next August will discover there is more to “Tinseltown” than theme parks and face lifts. From spectacular views, to international gardens, to Italian villas, to good vibrations, you really can have it all — for free (or only a parking fee) — all within an hour’s drive or less from Pasadena. Locals know about these “freebies” and there is no reason to keep them a secret.

For an eye-popping, 360-degree panorama, go to historic Cold War Park at San Vicente Peak on Mulholland Drive, where you can climb a Nike missile radar tower. The tower is one of 16 control sites in Los Angeles used during the cold war from 1954 to 1968 to detect and track Soviet aircraft and to guide anti-aircraft missiles that would be launched from a nearby Nike-Ajax launch site. And we think things are scary today!

This cold war military site is now a historic park. On a clear day, the view from the tower is beyond belief — south to the Pacific Ocean, west to Topanga State Park and across the Santa Monica Mountains, north to the Tehachapi and Santa Susanna Mountains, and east to the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, past downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena.

The Lake Shrine and Gandhi World Peace Memorial is a serene contrast to the cold war park. In a lush, 10-acre meditation garden, trees from all over the world surround a spring-fed lake hosting swans, turtles and an assortment of other wildlife. The site has been used by the movie industry in a number of films since the 1920s.

In 1950, it was dedicated as a meditation garden and the first monument in the world in honor of Mahatma Gandhi, the architect of freedom through nonviolence. An ancient Chinese stone sarcophagus contains a portion of the ashes of Gandhi, with marble statues of Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, on each side.

People from all over the world make pilgrimages to this sacred site — some therapists even prescribe visits to Lake Shrine to their stressed clients.

Between the Cold War Park and the World Peace Memorial is another jewel, Topanga State Park. It has over 36 miles of trails in over 10,000 acres of natural parkland, nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains (about six miles by seven miles in dimension). Most of the park is within the Los Angeles city limits and has been identified as the largest area of parkland within a city in the world!

There are numerous trailheads where you can hike in for free. This wilderness mountain park offers a moderate climate, even during the summer heat, with three north-south canyons and the Pacific Ocean to the south. During the summer, however, the best time to visit the park is still early morning or evening. Hikers should always carry water and stay on trails.

The only driving entrance into the park is at the park center, Trippet Ranch, in the village of Topanga. Topanga gained fame in the 1960s for its hippies, good vibrations and the many legendary rock stars and artists who have made it their home. The village center offers many eclectic options for hungry visitors and even retro-hippie apparel.

At the park center, there are beautiful views of Topanga Canyon, a wildlife pond, a cultural center and picnic facilities. For drive-in entry, there is a small fee per vehicle, but it is well worth the price for the convenience and location.

Adjacent to the southeast corner of Topanga State Park is the 182-acre Will Rogers State Historic Park, which includes the weekend ranch house and stables of movie star Will Rogers. He was adored as an entertainer (who genuinely stated, “I never met a man I didn’t like”), but his life was cut short by a plane crash in 1935. Free tours of his ranch house are given mid-day, Tuesday through Sunday, and there are free polo matches on weekends, April to October.

Two more free treasures were given to Los Angeles, courtesy of industrialist and oil magnate J. Paul Getty. Getty initially obtained his money the old-fashioned way — from his father. Yet he grew the family fortunes, teaching himself Arabic to assist in his Middle East business dealings, and became one of the first people in the world to amass over $1 billion in personal worth.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is now the largest private arts endowment in history and has two museums, the Getty Center and the Getty Villa.

Getty’s collection of western art from the Middle Ages to the present is displayed at the Getty Center. Among the art treasures is Van Gogh’s “Irises.” Yet the museum has sometimes been more noted for its spectacular Richard Meier architecture, beautiful gardens and romantic sunset views, than for its art collection. Free architectural and gallery tours are given daily.

The Getty Villa showcases Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities. It reopened in 2006 after a nine-year renovation. The Villa itself is a vision, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is modeled after the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

Admission is free, but you must obtain free entry tickets in advance, on-line or by phone — they cannot be obtained at the museum! Due to the popularity of the villa, tickets can be difficult to obtain on short notice. If you want to visit during championship week, order your tickets now.

And let’s not forget the miles and miles of beaches, less than an hour from Pasadena. California has 1,264 miles of coast (but who’s counting), hosting many of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But beware, watching dolphins, seals and surfers can be addictive!

Next time, Pasadena treasures!