Hidden Gems on the Westside of Los Angeles

nuart theater marquee
Mark Peacock Flickr

The area of Los Angeles known as the Westside encompasses a diverse range of multicultural, historic, and affluent neighborhoods. In this second part of our guide to the Westside, we cover Brentwood to Westwood and Sawtelle Japantown, including hidden gems of culture, history, shopping, and nature.

Aero Theatre | Photo courtesy of jvoves, Flickr  |  Photo: jvoves

Aero Theatre

In an era of huge multiplex movie theaters, it’s all too easy to overlook single-screen treasures like Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre. This 427-seat facility was built by the Douglas Aircraft Company as a 24-hour movie house for its nearby employees and named in tribute to the aerospace industry. Appropriately, it was designed in the Streamline Moderne style, first opening its doors in 1940. After renovations, its now spearheaded by the non-profit American Cinematheque, which offers programming including sneak previews, retrospectives, revivals, restorations, and in-person discussions with filmmakers.

Photo courtesy of Compartes Chocolatier

Compartes Chocolatier

With over 200 different chocolate products, all handmade daily right here in Los Angeles, Compartés Chocolatier has a flavor profile and design for everyone. Founded in 1950 and recently reinvigorated by chocolate prodigy Jonathan Grahm , everything here is made from scratch, by hand, by a small team of chocolatiers and chocolate artists. Even lifelong chocoholics can recall their first time receiving or opening a Compartés box and the singular taste and texture journey that followed that first bite. An American classic reimagined for the modern era, Compartés’ ultra-indulgent and ultimate-gift creations are available for curbside pickup Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

“Victory” at Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden | Photo by ijonesART, Flickr

Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden - UCLA

The renowned Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden is located on the
Westwood campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). This venerable collection of more than 70 modern and contemporary sculptures, run by the Hammer Museum, is beautifully displayed throughout five immaculately landscaped, tree-shaded acres. Bringing together figural and abstract works that both complement and contrast with their surroundings, the garden also creates a harmonious setting for study or just pause for contemplation amidst its tasteful interplay of art and nature. Advance reservations are required, but admission to the sculpture garden is free – just purchase parking at Parking Structure 3

Primary image for Giant Robot

Giant Robot

Sawtelle Japantown, located on Sawtelle Boulevard between Olympic and Santa Monica Boulevards, is widely considered the top destination for Japanese food and unique retail shops, not only on the Westside but anywhere in L.A. Be sure to check out founder/gallerist Eric Nakamura's collection of Japanese pop culture and art at his Giant Robot retail store and at its nearby art gallery component, GR2. Giant Robot carries Asian-inspired toys, apparel, accessories, pop art, books, and stationary, while GR2 hosts rotating gallery shows and sells art-related items. The Giant Robot Store is open for walk-ins Wed.-Sun. noon-6 p.m., while GR2 is open Saturday and Sunday, noon-4 p.m.

Los Liones Canyon Trail, view from Parker Mesa Overlook | Photo courtesy of LibraryAtNight, Flickr

Los Liones Trail

Take a scenic hike through the Santa Monica Mountains on the ivy and chapparal-lined Los Liones Trail. Views range from the Santa Monica Bay on one side, to as far as the San Gabriel Mountains on the other. Start in the Pacific Palisades on Los Liones Drive off Sunset Boulevard, just east of Pacific Coast Highway. Enjoy lush vegetation and ocean views for the length of your moderate ascent (550 feet total elevation gain), however far you choose to take the 1.3-mile trail. Continue along the East Topanga Fire Road or even as far as the Parker Mesa Outlook, where sweeping views will breathtakingly reward your efforts.

Photo courtesy of Nuart Theatre, Facebook

Nuart Theatre

A flagship of Landmark Theatres, the art house Nuart Theatre is the place to catch restored classics, foreign-language cinema, indie films, and documentaries as well as frequent in-person appearances and Q&A sessions from stars and filmmakers. Built in 1929, this 303-seat single-screen staple was remodeled in 2006 and today boasts both 4K DLP Digital Projection and 35mm Projection with 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound. Every Saturday night, you'll see devoted Rocky Horror Picture Show fans lined up for a coveted seat at the midnight screening. Indicative of the theatre's success is that the Nuart plays the same film four or five times per day during a weekly run, with a different movie playing every Friday night.

Marilyn Monroe’s crypt at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary
Marilyn Monroe’s crypt at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary | Photo: Thomas Hawk, Flickr

Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park

Discreetly located beneath the shimmering high-rises along Wilshire Boulevard, Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park is the final resting place for a who’s who of pop culture. Its notable interments include Marilyn Monroe, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, Farrah Fawcett, Jack Lemmon, Bettie Page, Walter Matthau, Dean Martin, Roy Orbison, Natalie Wood, Frank Zappa, Janet Leigh, and many more. With its only entrance on Glendon Avenue, the memorial park can take some finding. But, once inside, the cemetery itself – on a site that has been used for burials since the 1880s – is very small, so it's easy to find the graves of your favorite stars.

Skirball Cultural Center | Photo courtesy of Scott Beale, Laughing Squid

Skirball Cultural Center

Located a short drive from the world-famous Getty Center, the Skirball Cultural Center comprises a museum, performing arts center, conference halls, libraries, classrooms, and a café, flanked by manicured courtyards and gardens. The Skirball Museum exhibits 4,000 years of Jewish heritage and tradition and its place within American democratic ideals, centered around its permanent Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America installation. Rotating exhibitions are also on display as well as a calendar of diverse theater, music, and film events. With education central to its mission, the Skirball serves around 60,000 schoolchildren and teachers each year through school outreach programs.

Sweet Rose Creamery at Brentwood Country Mart | Photo courtesy of Muy Yum, Flickr

Sweet Rose Creamery - Santa Monica Main St.

Located at the Brentwood Country Mart, the original outpost of Sweet Rose Creamery is a cherished small-batch ice cream shop that uses fresh, organic, and GMO-free ingredients sourced from local farms. With a second store on Main Street in beachside Santa Monica, Sweet Rose’s delicious creations will instantly have you feeling like a kid again. Choose from a bevy of classic and seasonal selections, dairy or non-dairy, none of which shy away from bold flavor profiles. There are also sundaes and ice cream cakes, plus DIY sundae packages that let you take the Sweet Rose experience home, or have it brought to your door via all major delivery platforms.

Photo courtesy of The Wine House, Facebook

The Wine House

At 18,000 square feet and carrying over 6,000 domestic and international wines, spirits, and beers, The Wine House is perhaps more of a full-blown treasure trove than a hidden gem. After an afternoon spent browsing one of the best-curated such shops anywhere in the country, established in 1973, why not head upstairs to the Wine House Kitchen? Serving a subtly Vietnamese-influenced menu, this appropriately wine-centric and cocktail-driven eatery is both a world-away sanctuary from West L.A.’s concrete and steel and a rare opportunity to experiment and learn about wine-food pairings from The Wine House’s expert staff.