Los Angeles’ quirky underbelly

Test your tolerance for the bizarre with these bizarre spots

Test your tolerance for the bizarre with our pick of things to do in the entertainment capital of the world.

La Derby Dolls
The Los Angeles Derby Dolls, LA’s all-female roller derby league, is an institution, as well as a frightening display of athletic prowess. The players’ fishnets and shorts may add to the spectacle of the event, but don’t let those cutesy outfits fool you. These women play fists-out, full-contact derby. The league’s home base is the Derby Doll Factory, located in Downtown LA, which houses its banked track; that means the outer rim of the track is elevated allowing for soaring speeds and, when things go awry, serious bloodshed. With help from a DJ blasting rock in between matches, as well as some spirited announcers, the mood in the venue stays at a heady pace at all times. The Doll Factory also provides a wide variety of refreshments from some of LA’s best food trucks.

Griffith Park night hikes
Everyone goes to Griffith for the views but when you go at night that magical feeling of seeing the expanse of Los Angeles from afar is an entirely different ball game. The Sierra Club leads all levels of hikers through some challenging paths, lit only by the lights of the city. There’s also a monthly Moonlit Hike where hikers can bathe in the blue light from above while they pack in a workout. Hikes last two hours, so start with an easier option and see how it feels. Kids are allowed, when they’re accompanied by an adult.

The Prince
The oak panelling, oil paintings and moody red lighting of this historic Korean haunt will make you feel like you’re conducting business in a secret spy restaurant. (No wonder Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway filmed a scene from Chinatown here.) Feast on sea snails and squid parts, or just try the famous Korean fried chicken and the unusual yet delicious fruit platter.

Devil’s Night Drive-In
For an urban movie experience, travel downtown to Devil’s Night Drive-In, right in the heart of Downtown LA. This year-round event boasts old-school films such as The Goonies and the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If you don’t have a car, don’t sweat it – take a picnic blanket and sit on the AstroTurf. Waitresses on roller skates serve popcorn and drinks, but guests can also bring their own refreshments. Unless it’s family-friendly night, leave the kids in the hotel.

Echo Park Time Travel Mart
At first glance, the inside of this storefront resembles any other market in the area – but look closer and you’ll find a collection of funny time travel curiosities. Oddities include Robot Toupees, Aeon Bottled Time (sand in a bottle), Barbarian Repellent, Primordial Soup in a Can, and a bunch of books. What’s going on? The market is a ruse: everything in it is indeed for sale, but the store is actually a front for 826LA, a non-profit organisation. Founded by author Dave Eggers, 826LA gives free creative writing classes to kids aged six to 18. All the books in the store are written by those children. Many are professionally published, and available to buy online. The classroom is in the back of the shop, and only the students know it’s there. Shoppers can buy cool gifts, or volunteer to teach the kids. If you come up with an idea for a product, the employees will help you design it and the store will sell it.

Wacko Soap Plant
Spice up your home with the freaky offerings at Wacko Soap Plant, known to locals simply as Wacko’s. A curiosity and bookstore (with gallery, La Luz de Jesus, in the back), this retailer offers an exhaustive range of everything cool, such as Betty Page shower curtains, jalapeno string lights, Tibetan statues, Japanese bobbleheads and Mexican death figurines. It’s worth spending an afternoon amusing yourself with the book collection on kitschy art.

Hotel Figueroa
This striking hotel is a dramatic mix of Morocco and Mexico, and oozes the kind of charisma that boutique hotel designers so often fail to achieve. Built in 1925 as a YWCA, the Figueroa is now more exotic, but it’s still a relative bargain. The hotel’s airy lobby is a potpourri of Moroccan chandeliers, huge cacti and woven rugs; towards the back, there’s a low-key bar and a lovely pool area that’s at its atmospheric best after dark. The rooms, which vary in size, are done out in funky kasbah chic with Mexican-tiled bathrooms. Mod cons are few and far between, but they’re not really the point.

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