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Savoring Spring, Bruin-Style

By Bekah Wright, Photos by Dave Lauridsen

Published Apr 1, 2012 8:00 AM

In Los Angeles, the arrival of spring may not be the epic climatic event it is in, say, Caribou, Maine, but Southern Californians certainly share their cold-weather cousins' love of the season. And really, what's not to love? Spring is, after all, the season of awakening (and fertility, but that's another story). Here's a handy guide to cool things to do in Southern California now that spring has sprung. What's even better—there's a UCLA connection to every one of them.

L.A. Yoga: Bend and Breathe Easy

Lauren Eckstrom '06 in Malibu near Malibu Creek State Park.

For some people, the world is their stage. For former actor Lauren Eckstrom '06, it's a yoga mat. It all started the spring semester of her freshman year at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television. "The TFT program is pretty physical with its movement and dance classes," she says. "I knew the breath work and physical connection of yoga would help me, so, being a starving student, I looked into donation-based classes at a yoga studio in Santa Monica."

For years, Eckstrom had what she terms a love-hate relationship with yoga. Eventually, though, the philosophy and practice clicked for her. Hooked, she became a yoga teacher.

Recently, Eckstrom made the decision to step away from acting and embrace yoga full time. Ironically, her career shift coincided with a 2011 gig in a Bulgarian film studio, where she performed in and co-produced The Ultimate Yogi, a 108-day, 12-disc DVD series with famed yoga teacher Travis Eliot.

And of course, spring is an ideal time to take advantage of yoga's aspects of renewal. Catch a class with Eckstrom at Santa Monica's ESP Wellness Center. Or a Travis Eliot workshop at Udaya Retreat Sanctuary in Malibu during the first week of April.

Lauren Eckstrom's class schedule can be found at

Hotel Oceana: Beaches, Bikes and Heart-Shaped Pools

The courtyard at Hotel Oceana. Photo courtesy of JRK Hotel Groups.

When Kate Lynch Jerkens '01 remembers spring on the UCLA campus, she definitely isn't recalling classrooms. "I loved people-watching on Bruin Walk, hanging out on Royce Quad … and lying out at the Rec Center pool in the afternoon."

Now, as vice president of sales and marketing for JRK Hotel Group's five locations in California, New York and Tennessee, Jerkens knows what elements create a perfect spring getaway. Especially at JRK's Southern California properties, Hotel Oceana Santa Monica and Hotel Oceana Santa Barbara

"Since both are on the beach, I'd make use of the hotels' complimentary bicycles and explore the cities," she recommends. The Santa Monica hotel is within walking and cycling distance of the Third Street Promenade and fun finds like the camera obscura, a century-old optic device on an upper floor of the Senior Recreation Center that gives tourists a unique view of the street and beach scenes below. After that, Jerkens would hit the Santa Monica Pier, "where I'd watch trapeze school, then follow up with lunch at the Blue Plate Oysterette."

And up in Santa Barbara? "I'd bike along Cabrillo Boulevard to take in the ocean views en route to Stearns Wharf, then up State Street to take in the scene," says Jerkens. "Another option is walking the Urban Wine Trail."

Jerkens recommends taking advantage of Hotel Oceana Santa Barbara's daily breakfast. "The pastries are my favorite," she says. "The fresh fruit and omelet station, too." Back at Oceana Santa Monica, Jerkens likes complimentary yoga classes in Palisades Park on Saturdays and guided hikes in Temescal Canyon on Sundays.

Her ideal spot, though? Lounging by the heart-shaped pool, of course.

Innovative Dining Group: Steak, Sushi and George Clooney Movies

Spring's in swing at Station, the outdoor bar at the W in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Innovative Dining Group.

Lee Maen '90, M.B.A. '96 was star struck. It was the spring semester at UCLA, and he was in a British film class. "Watching a movie like the original Casino Royale versus sitting in an econ class?" he remembers. "Yep, that was definitely one of my best spring memories from campus."

Nowadays, Maen is a partner in Innovative Dining Group, but as the high glam factor of his L.A. venues illustrates, the pull of Hollywood remains.

When asked which of his spots are prime spring destinations, Maen immediately answers, "Station, the W Hollywood's outdoor bar. Spring and summer months we host movie nights on Mondays." Maen likes Station's "backyardish" atmosphere, where you can kick your feet up on the teak tabletops and gleefully devour a Delphine cheeseburger topped by a fried egg and rosemary bacon, accompanied by truffle cheese fries. Providing entertainment—a 35-foot-wide HD screen where films like From Dusk Till Dawn keep attention riveted.

Another IDG spring spot is Katana in West Hollywood. Maen's advice: "Grab a table along the patio railing to get an incredible view of the action on the world-famous Sunset Strip." What he orders while people-watching: "Fresh sushi and sashimi to start, then robata skewers to finish."

Then there's BOA Steakhouse, also on the Sunset Strip. "The time to come is on weeknights, when all the power players come out," Maen says. "If you're lucky, you'll get a table outside by the fireplace." He orders a seafood platter or a signature dry-aged New York steak. What happens next is pure Hollywood. "When you're there, taking in the scene, you become a part of the energy," Maen concludes. "It's like living in a movie."

Pinches Restaurants: Tacos, Fresh and Al Fresco

Miguel Anaya Jr. '96 and Fernando Anaya '96 at the Culver City location near Washington and National boulevards.

The Anaya family has a taste for great food experiences. Miguel Anaya Jr. '96, Fernando Anaya '96, their other three siblings and various members of their extended family own and operate four Pinches Tacos restaurants: three in Los Angeles (West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Culver City) and one in Homewood, Ala.

"For our ancestors in Spain, 'pinches' translates as 'sous chef,'" explains Fernando, before admitting, "A lot of people use it as a slang word that means 'f-ing tacos.'" And the fillings of an f-ing taco? "Fresh, quality food like we make at home," says Fernando.

For the Anayas, this means a trip out to their retired chef dad, Miguel Sr., to gather herbs, chiles and tomatoes from his garden. Plus visits to the produce market several days a week for handpicking the best ingredients.

As for Miguel Jr. and Fernando, they share a new spring tradition—people-watching from the patio of Pinches Tacos on the Sunset Strip. This is the Pinches Tacos location that tugs at their heartstrings, as the décor proudly mixes UCLA regalia with loteria cards and papel picado flags.

Most days, Fernando orders up his version of the carne asada burrito, subbing in a whole-wheat tortilla, beans, queso fresco and chipotle salsa. Miguel Jr. switches between two favorites, the al pastor and lengua, or beef tongue taco.

UCLA Stunt Ranch Reserve: Take a Hike

Stunt High Trail is a do-it-yourself tour of natural wonders. Photo courtesy of Stunt Ranch Reserve.

Once the 19th century homestead of the Stunt family, this 310-acre biological field station tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains has been a part of the University of California Natural Reserve System since 1995. Here, faculty and students conduct research, and visiting K-12 groups learn about California habitats, animals and the human history of the area. Access to the ranch itself is by permission only but the breathtaking beauty of the place is open to all via the Stunt High Trail.

There are several trailheads, including one beside the reserve gate. "The first thing that usually captures one's attention are sandstone formations that look like big slabs of bread laying on their sides," says Nancy Helsley, president of the Cold Creek Docents, which leads the environmental education walks at the reserve.

Soon, the hiker's senses become attuned to other aspects of the area's diverse plant and animal habitats. Says Helsley, "You're surrounded by craggy mountains with all these nooks and crannies of interesting things to see—chaparral, grasslands, meadows, oak woodlands and streamside habitats."

A bench along the creek trail offers rest. Providing ambiance are sycamore, bay and live oak trees. Spring brings the return of wildflowers, including purple and black sages, buckwheat, lupine, milkmaids and chocolate lilies.

From here, the trail winds into what Helsley calls a "baby canyon." "It looks like a giant used a knife to take a slice out of the earth," she says. "This pie wedge that is about 10 feet wide at one point gets cut a little deeper with each storm. It's a good place to watch erosion in action."

Continue up Backbone Trail to Saddle Peak and "keep an eye out for bedrock mortar, ancient Indian grinding holes," advises Helsley. And the pack-rat nests: "dam-like structures with little rooms—some for sleeping, some for waste and others for storing food."

Finally you emerge atop the mountain, where, Helsley notes, on a clear day "you can see Santa Monica Bay, West L.A., the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Catalina Island and the taller buildings in Long Beach."

Theodore Payne Foundation: Blooming Beauty

Margaret Oakley '06 and Lisa Novik '79 in Sun Valley near Sunland Boulevard and La Tuna Canyon Road.

Had you overheard the conversation during a recent stroll through the Theodore Payne Foundation, you might have thought you were in a Harry Potter movie. "Check out the eriogonum arborescens," said Margaret Oakley, '06, TPF's volunteer coordinator. "How about this arctostaphylos for your deck?" countered Lisa Novick '79, the foundation's director of outreach and K-12 education.

The more time guests spend at TPF learning about California's native flora, the more they'll come to understand British horticulturist Theodore Payne's devotion to its preservation. Perhaps they'll enlist in TPF classes like Fire-safe Landscaping for Homeowners, Entomology for Gardeners, Chumash Healing with Native Plants or Relief Printing. Or perhaps they'll just be content with purchasing some of the nursery's 300 California native plant species for their home gardens.

But TPF's 22-acre Sun Valley property has plenty to appeal to nature lovers beyond its extensive nursery and class offerings. On the first Thursday of each month, there are free bird walks where everything from yellow-rumped warblers, Nuttall's woodpeckers and red-shouldered hawks can be spied. Available, too, are year-round tours, speakers, demonstration gardens, picnicking and a 1-mile, self-guided hike up La Tuna Canyon's Wildflower Hill.

As enchanting as the grounds are, the aroma of sage coaxes visitors into TPF's book and seed store. Outside a door to the seed room, a plaque celebrates TPF founding member Ed Peterson '30, a seedsman and volunteer at the foundation for more than 40 years.

TPF hosts activities off site, as well. Appealing to wildflower fans is TPF's Wildflower Hotline, which runs March through May (call 818-768-3533). Popular, too, is the annual Theodore Payne Native Plant Garden Tour, which this year is on April 14 and 15. The self-driven tour spans more than 35 home gardens in portions of Los Angeles and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

L.A. River Tours: 51 Forgotten Miles

The Arroyo Seco—"dry stream" in Spanish—is 25 miles long, ending here at the confluence with the L.A. River near Elysian Park. Photo by Bekah Wright.

For tour schedules

Check the Hidden L.A. website for upcoming tours by searching "L.A. River Tours" or follow the Hidden L.A. Facebook page.

Jenny Price's day job is research scholar at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women. But she's also the author of an L.A. Weekly guide to the Los Angeles River.

Yes, Virginia, there is an L.A. River.

"Whether they realize it or not, everyone in Los Angeles has either seen the L.A. River in movies or driven over it," Price says. "Yet it's this 51-mile-long river flowing through the heart of the city that's become a tremendous act of collective forgetting."

Not if Price can help it though. After she wrote the guide, friends of the researcher-author-river tour guide began requesting tours. Word of mouth led to the creation of the L.A. River Tours' Facebook page. The demand continues to grow, as does the number of tours Price leads for universities, environmental groups and curious residents.

Price offers a mix of standard and customized itineraries lasting from 60 minutes to eight hours. What people can expect to see along the way? A mix of concrete and graffiti along with more than 130 species of birds encompassing egrets, herons and kingfishers, and lush landscapes with pops of color from morning glories and red bottlebrush bushes.

"There's been a ton of progress since my tours began," reflects Price. "What were once dustbowls with barbed wire around them have now been revitalized with wetlands and parks."

The Public School: Chinatown 101

Sean Dockray M.F.A. '05 in downtown Chinatown near the Hill Street exit off of the 110 Freeway.

Spring is the season of opening—minds as well as flowers. And in Los Angeles' colorful Chinatown, there's a unique opportunity to savor the season in a whole new way. Journey down to lantern-strung Chung King Road and take a class at The Public School, founded by Sean Dockray M.F.A. '05. Here, the eclectic courses run the gamut from reading groups and a narrative film series to subjects like Derivatives and Demonology and Echo Park Communism.

After graduating, Dockray stayed in Westwood for three years and taught at the university before launching the school. "What began as an exhibition program went through a natural evolution with the most energetic and exciting element standing alone: The Public School," he explains.

Subjects in the ever-evolving curriculum come via proposals submitted by students. "It's organic in the way it unfolds," Dockray says of the course offerings. "If it's an idea that captures someone's imagination, it can happen." The Public School's primary goal, though, is to be "a meeting place for collective self-education," he adds. "We want people to have a deeper connection with the subjects and each other."

Chinatown is the perfect environment for this kind of avant-garde continuing education. Some of Dockray's preferred haunts: "Ooga Booga to shop for clothing and books; Fong's for Chinese antiques. Via Café for the vegetarian spring rolls, Vietnamese sandwiches and ginger limeade." Dockray foregoes Chinatown's hip bar scene to hang with the regulars and listen to Blondie on the jukebox at Hop Louie.

When it comes to his favorite spot, though, Dockray lowers his voice as if sharing the answers to a final exam. "The top of Bamboo Plaza's parking garage—it has the best city views and is great for watching fireworks."