Los Angeles is a tapestry of cool. From the Sunset Strip to Leimert Park, from the bustling new energy of downtown to the sun-drenched Westside, Southern California summer day-trippers enjoy bountiful options for entertainment, education and fun. We took a trip around town to check out the best Bruin-owned and/or operated spots in L.A.’s neatest neighborhoods. Here are some of our favorites.

Experience giant robots

Visit the Westside’s three Giant Robot locations, opened by a former UCLA East Asian Studies major, and get a dose of Japanese pop culture. There’s a store, a restaurant and a gallery space that promotes local artists. All three are hip, urban, international and different.

Giant Robot

2015, 2050 and 2062 Sawtelle Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 478-1819

Location: Sawtelle Boulevard, West L.A.
Before WWII, Japanese immigrants and their offspring populated this area of West Los Angeles — Sawtelle Boulevard between Olympic and Santa Monica was their Main Street. Enjoy some shopping at a Japanese market, stop into some of the boutiques, and then make it a Giant Robot evening by visiting all three locations. Theres almost no doubt you’ll run into:

Eric Nakamura ’93, Co-founder and Publisher
One of the L.A. area’s experts in Asian and Asian-American pop culture, Nakamura occasionally lectures back at UCLA. His three commercial establishments were spawned by Giant Robot magazine, which he and UCLA grad Martin Wong ’90 started right out of college due to their longtime fascination with Asian popular culture.

At the store: Pick up a graphic novel and an Ugly Doll (their U.S. stampede began right here).

At the restaurant: Try the seafood yosenabe. It’s delicious and healthier than all the deep-fried tempura served down the block.

At the gallery: Experience artist talks, book signings and video-game nights. Refer to GR’s event schedule for specific dates/times.

Hint: Afterward, go up the street to Balconi Coffee, where java is prepared siphon-style. It will look like they’re brewing your drink with a lab kit, but it tastes great.

Work, live, relax

Experience a welcome refuge in the city center. Take a yoga class taught by a former UCLA track star, or let her give you a soothing massage.

Location: South Park, Downtown L.A.
This new addition to L.A.’s urban scene is made up of several city blocks of high-rise loft buildings. Try the spa before or after lunch or dinner at one of the area’s many cafes and restaurants. Add a show at the Staples Center or Nokia Theatre, movie at L.A. Live, or an exhibition at the Los Angeles Convention Center (run by general manager and CEO Pouria Abbassi ’89), all just down the street. There’s no doubt you will meet:

Krystal Spa

1111 S. Grand Ave., #406
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 747-5772

Krystal Walden ’00, Founder and Owner
Walden ran the 100 and 200 meters and the 4x100m relay for UCLA’s women’s track team until stress fractures in her shins slowed her down. After graduation, she did a two-year stint as a buyer at Guess, and two more at Macy’s, where her intense work schedule began to result in stress fractures of a more emotional kind. She quit, dedicated herself to wellness, and became a yoga instructor and masseuse in order to teach people about their bodies on two levels. Her credo: We worship computers way too much and don’t direct the same energy and attention to the human body.

In a LEED-certified loft apartment building, Walden’s work/live space features a large, airy room for yoga with a side room for massage. She uses the inviting open kitchen to serve up healthy lunch entrees on selected days. Out back, the building’s common area, with gardens and waterfalls, is a perfect place to lie on a chaise and read or just vegetate.

Hint: Birthday coming up? Reserve the spa for the whole day and invite your friends.

Naturally, remarkable

Drop in for a quick lunch or dinner at the Veggie Grill, where comfort foods like cheeseburgers are made with 100% plant-based ingredients, and no cholesterol or trans-fat. The creative sandwiches, salads and sides not only taste great, they’re also reasonably priced. The crisp interior design and bright colors will make you feel healthier just by stepping inside.

The Veggie Grill

8000 W. Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90046
(323) 822-7575
Additional locations in Santa Monica, Irvine, El Segundo and Torrance

Location: Sunset@Crescent Heights, West Hollywood
Across the street from the Laugh Factory, the 8000 Sunset Strip Complex boasts a host of potential destinations, including Laemmle’s Sunset 5 Theatre, Starbucks, CB2 home furnishings, Burke Williams spa and Trader Joe’s. Combine a visit to any of these with a meal at the Veggie Grill, one of a mini-chain of successful eateries opened in Southern California by …

T.K. Pillan M.B.A. ’96, Co-founder and Co-owner
In 2005, T.K. Pillan saw the need for a restaurant offering good-tasting, natural, wholesome food that was quick and affordable. Applying many of the skills he learned at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, he opened the first Veggie Grill in Irvine. It caught on quickly. The Veggie Grill was named the best new restaurant of 2007 by the readers of the Orange County Register, and when new locations sprouted farther north, it made Los Angeles magazine’s 2009 list of “can’t miss” cheap eats. As venues have multiplied, Pillan has reached out to his former Anderson classmates to help him out in the executive ranks.

Hint: Try the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ sandwich (you’ll think you’re eating chicken, even though you’re not). Don’t skimp on the sweet potato fries — they’re high in beta carotene, calcium and vitamin C, and they’re awesome. Try the kale salad, too, and top it all off with Veggie Grills super-tasty, non-dairy chocolate pudding.

Learn to dance on your toes

Take ballet, jazz, African or a range of other dance classes at Lula Washington Dance Theatre, a studio run by a former UCLA dancer and frequented by many UCLA alumni and their children.

Lula Washington Dance Theatre

3773 Crenshaw Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90016
(323) 292-5852

Location: Leimert Park
Part of the bustling center of the African-American arts scene in Los Angeles and comfortably close to the blues, jazz and hip-hop joints and dramatic and poetry scenes that make Leimert Park what filmmaker John Singleton has called “the black Greenwich Village,” Lula Washington Dance Theatre is housed in a 10,000-square-foot studio just a few blocks up Crenshaw from Leimert Park’s central hub. It is run by:

Lula Washington ’76, M.A. ’84, Co-founder and Artistic Director
Well-known across the city and beyond, Washington danced as an undergraduate at UCLA, continued dancing professionally after she graduated, and between rehearsals went back to UCLA to write a master’s thesis on the challenges of producing dance outside of the university. For the past 30 years, she has been running the nonprofit Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) with her husband, Erwin Washington ’73, M.F.A. ’78, and their daughter, Tamica Washington ’95. Also a repertory company, LWDT includes a children’s and youth dance ensemble and a professional modern dance company that performs Washington’s sometimes controversial choreography (she considers herself an activist through dance) around the world. In June, the troupe returned from a three-week tour of China.

Well-attended classes are held Monday through Saturday, with students coming from as far away as Palmdale. In the summer, Washington runs professional-development classes for college-age students, as well as for elementary-, middle school– and high school–age kids.

Hint: After the dance class, work off the exercise with a meal at one of the many Jamaican restaurants in Leimert Park Village.

More than you may remember

Don’t think you’ve been there, done that, even if you used to take dates up the hill to Yamashiro and haven’t been back since you tied the knot. There’s a whole lot you haven’t seen.

Location: Hollywood Hills
A stunning replica of a Japanese mountain palace, Yamashiro sits atop a hill above Hollywood, yet it does a great job of connecting with the surrounding community, with a Thursday evening Farmers Market and shuttle service/food packages ($65 or so) to the Hollywood Bowl and Kodak Theater.


1999 N. Sycamore Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90068
(323) 466-5125

Arrive around 5 p.m. to purchase local produce from the market, then head over to the Pagoda Bar, a smart recent addition set amid Yamashiro’s beautiful gardens. Order appetizers and sip a refreshing beer before making your way back to the market for a gourmet taco at Yamashiro’s Farmers Market Grill. Then hop the shuttle to the Kodak to see Cirque du Soleil or to the Bowl for a concert. While you’re on the hill, ask for:

Andre Ulloa ’01, CEO
If he’s free, Ulloa will have a smile for any visiting Bruins — and he may even tell you the fascinating history of Yamashiro, built in 1914 by a pair of German brothers to show their priceless collection of Asian treasures. After it transitioned into a private club, then a brothel, then a boys’ school and then an apartment house, it was purchased by Ulloa’s step-grandfather in 1948. He ran it as a bar and eventually turned it into the landmark restaurant that Ulloa runs today.

The menu is filled with inventive items made with fresh ingredients. Check out the interior courtyard when the roof is open to the stars. You’ll start to see why this place is known as a marital “deal closer,” with an average of 10 couples engaged here every month.

Hint: If you visit on Farmers Market night, park at the Fifth Christian Science Church (on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea) and take the free shuttle up the hill. And make sure to try the restaurant’s spicy tuna on rice cake with caviar on top. Unbelievable.