Alternative Guide to L.A.

Corinne Gaston

It’s easy to coast along the superficial surface of Los Angeles. It’s easy never to delve deeper than the Hollywood culture of entertainment and hierarchy or to truly connect with the city, the vast richness of its people or its social and political struggles that go unnoticed by mainstream culture. At first glance, Los Angeles offers seemingly endless diversions and opportunities for consumerism, but many Angelenos realize that there is something lacking in the endless barrage of malls, movies, clubbing and shopping, and that beneath the surface, there is a wealth of community, knowledge and spaces for personal growth waiting to be uncovered. It’s a Los Angeles comprised of activists, artists and do-it-yourselfers. This list is only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s something that can get anyone started on exploring the alternative LA.

The Bike Kitchen

4429 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029

The Bike Kitchen is a DIY (Do It Yourself) nonprofit bicycle repair and education space run by volunteers. They don’t sell bikes or fix them for you, but they teach you how to work on your own. Stop by their open hours, attend a specific program or workshop or even learn to build a “Project Bike” out of their spare parts for a suggested donation. You can learn the ins and outs of your own bicycle and meet fellow cyclists in the well-connected L.A. biking community. Liberation by bicycle is not only great for your health, but an optimal way to see the city. For upcoming rides check out

EsoWon Bookstore

4331 Degnan Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90008

Located in the historic Leimert Park, EsoWon Books is an independent black-owned bookstore dedicated to the African Diaspora and the experiences of black Americans as well as history, politics and social issues. This place is not just about books; it is a community hub, a place to share ideas whether it’s through readings, debates, guest speakers, other public information forums or simple conversation. Former USC professor of American Studies and Ethnicity Robin D. G. Kelley encouraged his students to purchase their books for his class here. If you’re in need of specific books, instead of buying them from Amazon or the USC bookstore, spend your money where it counts and support a small mom-and-pop store that supports its community.

L.A. Derby Dolls

190 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Yes, there is roller derby in Los Angeles and it’s even more awesome than it sounds. Run by a bunch of rad women, the L.A. Derby Dolls is a DIY organization that features top-tier athletes competing in the rough and tumble sport at breakneck speeds. Just being a spectator is quite action-packed, but they’re always looking for new women to join the league and they have tryouts as well as a program called “Derby Por Vida!” that teaches beginners how to skate roller derby style before getting involved in their teams. Skaters of all levels welcome!

Null Space Labs

1015 S. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015

Null Space Labs is a hackerspace for people who tinker (or work) in tech. Not only do they have public computers, but they also have metal and woodworking tools, an electronics and hardware lab, a small wet lab and a creative environment ripe for DIY electronics, photography, game development, etc. Every third Friday of the month, they host free, public workshops on picking locks. Hit them up on their weekly Tuesday night meetings to get a feel for the environment. Null Space Labs is free for guests and it has a loose infrastructure, so you are more than welcome to bring your own ideas and collaborate with people there. The only significant downside is that it can be a very male-centric space. Other hackerspaces in LA to check out include Machine Project, Crash Space and The Build Shop, LLC.

Self Help Graphics

1300 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033

Self Help Graphics & Art was started by East L.A. artists in the 1970s in the wake of the cultural renaissance that accompanied the Chican@ Movement. A vital force in its community, Self Help Graphics is a nonprofit that nurtures and advances Chican@/Latin@ artists in printmaking. It is dedicated to engaging young as well as developed artists through events, its professional printmaking program and its array of public low-cost workshops like quilting, DIY silkscreening and aerosol art. This is definitely a worthwhile place to spend some time especially with its fall and winter art workshops that cover everything from paper flower making to Dia de los Muertos mascara decorating.

Southern California Library

6120 S. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90044

This is a people’s library “dedicated to documenting and preserving the histories of communities in struggle for justice.” In addition to housing multimedia collections on social and political movements in Los Angeles, they also open their doors to the public for research and space rentals and host a number of events. In an October 6th forum, family and friends of people murdered by police gathered to speak out against police brutality and agitate for justice. Just a short bike ride south of USC.

The Technicolor Tree Tribe

1438 W. 28th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

The Technicolor Tree Tribe is an intentional community comprised mostly of USC students nestled in the campus neighborhood. It’s an experiment in cooperative living and the house members strive to make the place feminist, queer, anti-racist, anti-classist and environmentally conscious. They share chores, have political discussions, participate in a vegan dinner cooking rotation and of course throw rad parties. The house is always open for people to come grab some tasty vegan dinner or just hang out. Check out the Facebook group for upcoming events such as Technicolor Open Mic and Feminist Bonfires. Some other L.A.-based intentional communities include St. Elmo Village, The Sugar Shack and the Los Angeles Eco-Village.

While we hope this list gives a good glimpse at the alternative Los Angeles, there are far too many organizations and places to include in just one article. Volunteering for a nonprofit whose mission strikes a chord with you or agitating for an activist cause is a great way to get to know the city, but the easiest way to experience L.A. is one of the most obvious: explore a different neck of the woods! Places like Chinatown, Boyle Heights, Leimert Park, Echo Park and Little Tokyo are incredibly rich in culture as well as social history, offering all types of stores, festivals, restaurants, community hubs and art. Los Angeles is brimming with art galleries, independent bookstores like Skylight Books, theaters and museums such as the California African American Museum, which is located right below USC in Exposition Park.

Don’t forget about parks: both the kinds in the city and the national ones. Go for a hike or go camping. Getting out of the smog and into the forest is a liberating way to spend the weekend and you’ll be surprised by the kinds of gems that exist like the Big Sur hot springs or the burnt chimneys that dot parts of the Angeles National Forest.

And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get to these places without a car. True, Los Angeles is currently best suited for cars, but the buses are straightforward, the Metro is finally buffing up and you can get just about anywhere on a good bike. Los Angeles is your oyster; crack it open.


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