Things to Do in Denver L.A. When You’re Dead Iowan

MomTHOUSAND!I have to admit that I panicked just a bit when I first realized my mom was coming to visit. How the hell was I going to entertain a 59-year-old woman from an Iowan town of less than 200 people who spends the bulk of her time gardening and watching cable? I knew she wouldn’t be interested in hitting the rooftop bar at the downtown Standard. She also still smokes heavily and, like everyone else in rural Iowa, is a little out of shape. Full days laying around the beach in our bathing suits or hiking Runyon Canyon wasn’t really an option. This was especially true since she’d also be bringing her boyfriend James, who’s about as Iowan as it gets. He loves guns, WWII, guns, The Red Green Show, guns, bird hunting and this crazy DirecTV channel I’ve never heard of that just shows archival footage of trains. He’s super nice, but I wasn’t sure what Los Angeles had to offer him. Apparenlty, neither was he since my mom had to half-cajole/half-guilt him into making the trip.

Frankly, the two of them were happy to sit around the house and watch TV for six days but I wasn’t having that. Sure, we’d make a quick trip to the handprints at Grauman’s Chinese, but that’s not enough to fill six days. Besides, unless you really are an ungrateful bastard, you want to offer your folks a little more than tourist traps crawling with people dressed up as Jack Sparrow and demanding money for photos. Fortunately for me, they ended up loving everything we took them to. So, as a service to those of you that might be facing an impending visit from relatives of Midwestern or rural origin, I offer you our list of doin’s…

Garage sales in Glendale: Obviously, the Rose Bowl flea market would’ve been the ideal choice, but they weren’t here on the right weekend. Glendale offered plenty of garage sales and even a couple of thrift stores to sate their rabid need for deals. I’ll never understand this, but they were psyched about it so whatever.

The Huntington: This is a gardener’s dream. Your mom will love the Rose Garden, and even people who aren’t into plants will love the Japanese garden. Don’t forget to make reservations for brunch at the Tea Room. The food is a little dainty for a real Midwestern guy, but it’s all-you-can eat buffet style which makes up for it. On the way home you can drive them around San Marino and Pasadena, which is probably a lot nicer that whatever crappy Hollywood neighborhood you live in.

Mission Santa Barbara: There quite a few of the missions that are closer, but heading to this one lets you combine a drive up the coast and a short day trip out of the city. The self-guided tour is only $4, and if they dig it you can always go to some of the other local ones when you get back. If you’re smart, you’ll hop on the 1 for the first chunk of the drive up rather than just heading straight for the 101. It adds a tiny bit of time, but it’s totally worth it. As an added bonus, you might drive through a scenic spot on PCH that shows up in car commercial the next day (which actually happened and totally impressed my mom and James).

Philippe’s: Never underestimate the appeal of a hot beef sandwich to a person of Midwestern origin. Plus, it’s old and homey and they love that.

Museum of the American West at the Autry National Center: No, it’s not “The Autry Musueum” any more. This is actually one of my favorite museums in the city. It helps that I’m a big fan of the Wild West, but aside from that it’s cheap and it’s smallish size belies the amount of stuff they’ve managed to pack in. They’ve also got an entire area dedicated to the history of the West in entertainment which combines your mom’s childhood faves (Hopalong Cassidy) with her modern day crushes (Kevin Costner). Fortunately for us, they’re also currently exhibiting Pistols: Dazzling Firearms, which will pretty much blow the mind of any gun collector.

In-N-Out: Never forget that most places don’t have California-style hamburger stands. When you’re going to get a burger in Iowa, you’re going to Burger King or McDonald’s. In-N-Out was a revelation for both my mom and her boyfriend. You could probably substitute something like Tommy’s, but In-N-Out’s are easier to find anyway.

The Queen Mary: Depending on how old your guests are, they’re probably familiar with the Queen Mary from when they were kids. Plus, it played a role in WWII (in our case, transporting James’s dad to England at the tail end of the war). We didn’t even pay to go in, they were just happy walking around the outside of it and admiring it’s hugeness. Which is a bonus, because I can take them back next time and actually see the interior. If they’re into the ocean, you can also hit the Aquarium of the Pacific while you’re there. There’s a discount if you’re a AAA member.

The Original Pantry Cafe: This has essentially the same appeal as Philippe’s. Don’t take them at breakfast on a weekend where they’ll have to stand in line forever. Hit it up for early dinner on a weekday. And check the to-go menu on the website in advance if you want to know what they’re serving that day. The mac ‘n’ cheese is fucking fantastic.

The La Brea Tarpits: It’s free (the tarpits, not the musuem), and it’s something that I can guarantee they’ll recognize. Not a day-filler, but you can stop by while you’re running them around seeing landmarks.

That’s not everything we did, but it’s the highlights. Now I’m compiling a list for their next visit, so if I missed something perfect please enlighten me.

15 thoughts on “Things to Do in Denver L.A. When You’re Dead Iowan”

  1. I know it’s expensive, crowded and packed with screaming young children but when my parents from Louisiana were in town last week, I took them to Disneyland and they enjoyed it. I also took them to museum formerly known as the Autry Museum, which they also throughly enjoyed. We made a stop at Palms in Hollywood (I hoped to see the Thai Elvis but he was off that night) because my parents had never tried Thai food.

  2. Spend the time convincing your mom to stop smoking. You want to be able to wonder, “How the hell was I going to entertain a 69-year-old woman…” 10 years from now.

  3. Disneyland sort of falls in the same category as Grauman’s Chinese in my book. It’s fun, but it’s not something they’re interested in outside of the tourist aspect. I actually would’ve taken them there, but they flat out nixed it from the beginning.

    My mom likes The Getty because of the gardens, but as I’m sure you can imagine, her boyfriend’s interest in classical art is about nil. I’m sure they would’ve liked it to some extent, but I was specifically trying to find things that would appeal to them more directly.

    We also stopped at a few gun shops if anybody’s interested:

    King’s GUn Works

    Gun Gallery

  4. I took my parents to the Standard rooftop bar. I had to keep telling them they were the secretly hippest people there, but they did kinda dig it.

  5. I always take the relatives from MN or MO to Venice, total slice of So Cal and certainly something to talk about for years to come.

  6. Samone cracks me up.

    You will never, EVER convince another person to stop smoking, unless they want to quit anyway. You’ll just alienate them. Don’t let them smoke in your home. Lead by example. Try and “convince” them? They’ll just smoke more to spite you.

    Put up and enforce boundaries. “You wanna smoke? Fine, but not here, here and here.”

    Spending your Mom’s entire vacation fight HER unrelenting, bigger-than-you-both addiction? Yeah, that sounds like fun, and a guarantee of her not wanting to come visit ever again.

    Unless, of course, that’s your goal.

    5 years past 20 years of two packs a day.

  7. 1. gladstones for lunch (sun, sandand seafood)
    2. cinerama dome for a movie.
    3. groundlings for an improv/comedy show
    4. polo lounge for breakfast (unlike kitson’s, the rents will see celebs they actually know)
    5. el cholo (everyone likes a tasty margarita)

  8. You really like the Mac n (government surplus) Cheese at the Pantry? Must be the Iowan in you.

  9. Is travel town still in Griffith Park someplace? For a train guy I’d think that would be a fun place to kill a bit of time and you can check out the zoo and see if Reggie is on display yet :)


  10. Ya, travel town is still there. It’s great for kids and train freaks. Train freak kids will have their heads explode.

  11. You really like the Mac n (government surplus) Cheese at the Pantry? Must be the Iowan in you.

    Maybe. Except I’m from Colorado.

  12. L.A., A to Z, for out-of-towners who don’t like stuff too fast or flashy
    – The Apple Pan.
    – The Observatory
    – Venice boardwalk (everybody likes people-watching, and you can dip your toes in the actual Pacific)
    – Olvera Street (yeah, yeah, I know, but everybody likes enchiladas, too)
    – The Chinese – whatever’s playing will impress
    – Amoeba – unless they’re music haters, they’ll be stunned to find whatever they consider to be long-lost classics going for, like 7 bucks.
    – Zuma. Before noon on a hot Sunday when the surf’s high? Nirvana.

  13. 5000!: You know Long Beach was jokingly called “Iowa By the Sea” in the first decades of the 20th Century because of the large number of retirees that moved there from Iowa, right? There would be Iowa picnics with tens of thousands of people sitting at tables labelled by counties in Iowa, with people that had lived there sitting at them.

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