Five Art Getaways from Los Angeles

Zorthian Ranch (Courtesy of Zorthian Ranch)

With planned expansions for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Hammer Museum, no less than four museums slated to open in the next few years (Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Armenian American Museum, and the Korean American Museum), and new galleries seemingly popping up every other week, there’s no question that Los Angeles is a bona fide art capital. But that cultural critical mass doesn’t end at the city’s very broad borders. In the spirit of summer day trips, we’ve listed five art sites — from one of the longest murals in the world, to an eccentric artist’s retreat complete with donkeys and a llama — that show that worthwhile art experiences aren’t limited to the city center.

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Queen Califia’s Magic Circle (photo by Ed Schipul, via Flickr)

Queen Califia’s Magic Circle

When: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 9am–12pm; second & fourth Saturday of the month, 9am-2pm. Closed during rain, or if there is puddling from rain within 24–48 hours.
Where: Iris Sankey Arboretum (Kit Carson Park, 3333 Bear Valley Parkway, Escondido, California)

Although French artist Niki de Saint Phalle established herself in the early 1960s by shooting canvases filled with bags of paint — a sensational combination of performative violence and action painting — she would spend most of her career as a sculptor, creating brightly colored, boisterous female figures. These ranged from life-sized to monumental, including several public artworks. Her only sculpture garden in the US is 2003’s “Queen Califia’s Magic Circle” in Escondido’s Kit Carson Park. Inspired by the mythical ruler of California, Queen Califia, the mosaic work is rimmed by a large snake wall and features nine sculptures based on Native American, Mexican, and Pre-Columbian imagery.

Distance from downtown LA: approx. 2 hours 

Tio’s Tacos (photo by Wayne Hsieh via flickr)

Tio’s Tacos

When: Monday–Thursday & Sunday, 8am–10pm; Friday & Saturday, 8am–11pm
Where: Tio’s Tacos (3948 Mission Inn Ave, Riverside, California)

For almost 30 years, Riverside’s Tio’s Tacos has been serving up Michoacán-inspired burritos, tacos, and other Mexican fare. However, the food is only part of the draw. Growing up poor in Mexico, Martin Sanchez learned to reuse items that most people would discard. He held onto this lesson even after emigrating to the US, and began making sculptures from recycled materials. The restaurant’s garden is now filled with his assemblages — from massive figures made from bottles, to mosaic paths, skeletons, dinosaurs, and murals — that make Tio’s Tacos as famous for its art as for its food.

Distance from downtown LA: approx. 1 hour

The Great Wall of Los Angeles (photo by Urban Bamboo, via flickr)

The Great Wall of Los Angeles

When: 24/7.
Where: Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel (Coldwater Canyon Avenue between Burbank Blvd. and Oxnard St., Valley Glen, Los Angeles)

Southern California has a rich mural tradition, and it doesn’t get much richer than Judy Baca’s Great Wall of Los Angeles. Officially titled “The History of California” the half-mile long mural chronicles the state’s history across almost 100 panels spanning prehistoric California up through the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s. Begun in 1974 and completed over the next decade, Baca was joined by a diverse group of over 400 students who worked with historians, artists, and community members to create an inclusive historical record that depicts important moments including Chumash origins, Mexican Rule, Chinese building the Railroads, the Suffrage Movement, Japanese Internment, the Zoot Suit Riots, and much more. Located in the Tujunga Flood Control Channel of the San Fernando Valley, the mural recently underwent a restoration to counter the effects of sun, wind, and water, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on September 18, 2017.

Distance from downtown LA: 45 min.

Zorthian Ranch (photo courtesy of Zorthian Ranch)

Zorthian Ranch

When: Email [email protected] to inquire about tours.
Where: Zorthian Ranch (3990 Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena, California)

Located on 45 acres at the edge of Angeles National Forest just east of Los Angeles, the Zorthian Ranch has been a gathering place for artists and cultural figures for over 70 years. The estate was founded by Jirayr Zorthian, an Armenian refugee who came to the US in 1923, studied art at Yale, married and divorced a shaving cream heiress, and settled on the ranch in 1945, where he would live until his death in 2004. Over the decades, the ranch — dubbed, by Zorthian, the Center for Research and Development with an Emphasis on Aesthetics became a cultural locus where figures as diverse as physicist Richard Feynman and jazz legend Charlie Parker would congregate for bohemian parties. Now run by Jirayr’s son, Alan, and his daughters, the compound is part artists refuge, where several artists have studios, and part working ranch with donkeys, horses, goats, chickens, and a llama. The grounds are covered with work by Jirayr — assembled from discarded bottles, furniture, shoes, and other detritus — as well as several of the artists who have spent time there.

Distance from downtown LA: approx. 45 min.

“We Build Excitement” by Jesse Sugarmann at HDTS HQ 2013 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A-Z West / High Desert Test Sites

When: A-Z West: Next monthly tour is September 21, or email [email protected] inquire about visits. HDTS HQ: Saturdays, 9am–1pm
Where: HDTS HQ at Sky Village Swap Meet (7028 Theatre Road, Yucca Valley, California)

Sprawled across 70 acres in the high desert outside Joshua Tree, Andrea Zittel’s A–Z West is part artists retreat, part living artwork, part survivalist compound. Zittel’s home base features the artist’s studio as well as shipping containers and cabins that function as testing grounds for future ways of sustainable living. (As A–Z is a private residence, visitors are asked to book a monthly tour or email to inquire about visiting.) It is also the home of High Desert Test Sites, a nonprofit founded in 2002 that hosts site-specific artworks with the aim of challenging traditional art world centers of power. High Desert Test site events have been held more or less annually since 2002, with the next event, “Desert as Situation,” slated for next year. If you can’t wait until then, the HDTS HQ is based in the Yucca Valley Sky Village Swap Meet where you can pick up a driving map to HDTS projects every Saturday from 9am to 1pm.

Distance from downtown LA: approx. 2.5 hours.

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