These are L.A.'s must-sees, says a native

People ask why the characters in my stories do so much traveling. I tell them it's because I'm a native of Los Angeles, where touring is a state of mind. I can find a window into another world by driving a short distance in any direction.

There are people here from over 140 countries speaking some 96 languages. If you're craving a specific taste for food, dress, or collectibles, then you can visit any number of towns within the city, whether it's Thai Town, Little Ethiopia, or Mexico in East L.A.

If it's a cross section of Angelenos that you'd like to watch in various cultural habitats, then there are a number of weekly, monthly, and seasonal events where you can experience us as villagers enjoying the city and one another.

Though I live in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills above the infamous Sunset Strip, I do my weekly grocery shopping some 15 minutes down Hollywood Boulevard east of the Walk of Fame and Grauman's Chinese Theatre. At the Silom market, I get fresh whole fish, beef, pork, coconut, oyster sauce, cilantro, and all of the spices typical of Thai food. In Thailand Plaza, you can pick up garlands of flowers, colored incense, and find books on culture at Dokya Bookstore.

San Francisco and Vancouver may boast North America's largest Chinatowns, but downtown L.A.'s just might be hippest, with its Chun King Road galleries featuring the art world's cutting-edge new blood. There are 2-1/2-hour walking tours given on the first Saturday of every month [call (213) 680-0243, or e-mail info@chinatownla.com].

If you're downtown on a summer weekday, be sure to stop for the free lunchtime concerts at the California Plaza, 350 South Grand Avenue. There you can catch famed musicians from around the world in a village-square setting, backdropped by the city's tallest buildings.

For a second day of exploration in downtown L.A., head over to Little Tokyo for sushi or soba noodles in restaurants along First Street. Farther down at Alameda is the Japanese American National Museum [369 E. First St., (213) 625-0414, www.janm.org] where you can see an original barracks from the World War II relocation camps where Japanese-Americans were incarcerated.

Just north behind the museum is the Geffen Contemporary, one of the two downtown locations of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).

A few blocks away in the L.A. Fashion District is Santee Alley, between Santee Street and Maple Avenue, the open-air market bazaar where Angelenos go for bargains and designer knockoffs.

Heading back to the center of the city on Fairfax Avenue, Little Ethiopia is at the intersection with Olympic Boulevard. For one block, both sides of the street are dedicated to excellent restaurants.

The shops in Little Ethiopia carry traditionally embroidered summery cotton and gauzy tops for men, women, and children - my 8-year-old daughter and my father look equally adorable in theirs.

Nearby is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where jazz evenings are featured on Fridays. Here you will find all ages, colors, and sizes of Angelenos enjoying the music. For a similar mix of flavors on the beach scene, check out KCRW's Twilight Dance Series at the Santa Monica Pier during the summer. Before the evening's concert, take a walk through the Venice Canals for an eclectic sampling of L.A. home architecture.

For an enjoyable open-air picnic, check out the Hollywood Bowl's summer schedule featuring outdoor concerts of jazz, world, and classical music.

A September trip to L.A. should include the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival, which usually falls on the last weekend of the month. But no matter what time of year, you can take a tour of one of the city's treasured landmarks - Simon Rodia's Watts Towers are dazzling structures of spires, cement, crockery, and tile.

A more usual look at L.A.-the-village can be found on Sundays at the outdoor Farmer's Market, where gray days are like Paris, and sunny days bring throngs to Ivar Avenue between Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. Besides fresh produce, cheeses, herbs, and munchies such as spiced popcorn, tamales, fried calamari, and Jamaican patties, you can find gifts of soaps, scarves, jewelry, and pottery.

These are just a few examples of how the canvas of L.A. could never be epitomized by a David Hockney or Ed Ruscha painting. The pictures and stories you can find here are entirely of your creation. There's a little something for anyone to love in Los Angeles; it's the city with so much flavor. Traveling to any of its nooks or crannies is a creative tour in itself - the traveler becomes artist and storyteller.

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