While Los Angeles may be best known for Hollywood glitz and the party life of young celebs, there is also a more cerebral side to LA that provides plentiful opportunities for the thoughtful traveler. Glitz and substance are not mutually exclusive. Since celebrities have the ability to draw attention to important issues of the day, they are often seen spearheading discussions on hot topics. Whether you're an avid reader, a scientist, an activist, or just curious about the world, here are some Los Angeles pursuits to activate your gray matter.
Writers Bloc presents public conversations where authors are interviewed by their peers followed by general Q&A. Many of the guests are celebrity authors, who are interviewed by other celebrities, like Harry Sherer being interviewed by Steve Martin, or Carol Burnett being interviewed by Tim Conway. The venues vary but are mostly on the west side.
Zocalo Public Square is a series of panel discussions and lectures on topics relevant to Angelenos, and often to people from elsewhere as well. Recent topics include "How Do We Experience Art?" "How Women Are Transforming the Middle East," "How Will Water Scarcity Change the World?" "How is Globalization Changing Higher Education?" and "Does Rail Have a Future?"
Griffith Observatory has excellent astronomy exhibits in addition to the public telescopes and planetarium show. They also have star parties, film screenings, lectures and other special events. It's one of the top free things to do in LA.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, where the Mars Rover Program is managed and all the satellites in space are monitored, offers weekly public tours and monthly lectures on a variety of topics related to space exploration and technology.
American Cinematheque is a non-profit organization that promotes an on-going dialogue between filmmakers and film-goers through screenings of classic and independent films in conjunction with panel discussions with directors, cast and crew. They operate out of the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. They screen a variety of themed festivals throughout the year, and in conjunction with the Oscars, present panels with nominated film editors and other technical categories.
The Los Angeles Central Library sponsors [ALOUD], a series of lectures, readings, performances and discussions that take place at the library or at other venues in Downtown Los Angeles. The Art Deco Central Library is worth visiting for its architecture and book and periodical collection as well as the temporary art exhibits. See the calendar of events and exhibits at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.
If you're a fan of Raymond Chandler, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, the Black Dahlia murder or Film Noir, then Esotouric tours of Los Angeles (read Review) are probably right up your alley. Experts on those particular themes will introduce you to less-explored areas of LA that feature prominently or have significance to the subjects. They add special subject tours related to holidays or other occasions, so keep an eye out. Tickets are sometimes discounted at Goldstar.com.
Authors, including celebrities, come out to promote their books at local bookstores and book fairs. The annual LA Times Festival of Books and the West Hollywood Book Fair are great places to see authors, listen to them talk about their books, and get autographs. On a regular basis, you'll find big-name celebrities promoting their books at local bookshops like Barnes & Noble at The Grove.
University Lectures and Events Open to the Public
Southern California has a richness of intellect at our many universities and colleges, most of which present a variety of public lectures and discussions as well as arts and cultural programs.
If there's a cause you're passionate about, there's a good chance that there are people in Los Angeles who share that commitment, whether it's the environment, curing disease, stopping violence or supporting education, etc. Find out what fundraisers and cause-related festivals and events are going on this week at Masterplanneronline.com. It's a great way to meet locals and see the heart of LA that you won't find at most tourist attractions.