Thanks to some smart planning and reinvestment by the local business community, downtown Culver City has become one of the hottest and most happening hangs on the Westside. The area echoes the feel of NYC’s Chelsea and SoHo districts with its wide, clean crisscrossing streets and tree-lined sidewalks offering fine dining establishments, shops, theatres and historic landmarks all within a five-block radius.
Culver City became known as “The Heart of Screenland” after its initial boon of attracting one of the first Hollywood studios in the 1920’s which later sprawled into the MGM Studios with six studio lots (where much of Gone with the Wind was filmed) and numerous sound stages. The main lot was a self-sufficient microcosm of city life with its own fire and police departments, post office, water tower, schoolhouse and other civic amenities. Over the years, transitions and mergers weakened MGM’s stronghold in the community as the studio changed heads and hands. Although less than half of the original 180-acre lot, Sony Pictures Entertainment now resides inside the 45-acre lot at the historic Filmland Building within its Sony Pictures Plaza.
Its main thoroughfares are Culver Boulevard and Washington Boulevard with several side streets teeming with window-shoppers and outdoor café seating. Anchoring Culver Boulevard are two critically acclaimed theatres, the Kirk Douglas Theatre/Center Theatre Group across from Sony Pictures Entertainment on one end, and the Actor’s Gang at the Ivy Substation inside Media Park at the other end.
Culver City's architecture is an eclectic urban blend. No two buildings are alike with its fantastic mix of art deco, Romanesque columns and arches, Spanish stucco, all elegantly interspersed with modern bars and restaurants and the occasional splashy mural hidden along a back alley wall.
While the mood during the day—apart from the traffic is extremely laidback, Culver City is no slouch when it comes to its nightlife. Most of the restaurants continue to serve dinner and drinks outside with the bars attracting a young, upwardly mobile crowd, sports fans and couples. With the two playhouses and a Pacific Theaters 12 across from the historic Culver Hotel, the area surges with activity during happy hour up through after-show dinner crowds. Singles can easily mix and mingle while couples take advantage of the date-night offerings in and around town.
WHAT TO DO
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
This is an odd museum of oddities. The deceptively discreet entrance does not do justice to the labyrinth of obscure artifacts and superstitious relics handsomely preserved inside. First time visitors probably won’t know what to make of the permanent collections which feature: animal skeletons, a pair of dead mice sandwich (reputed to cure stuttering), microscopic artwork, Beehives and related cures, screwball letters, tiny carvings, and the Garden of Eden on Wheels: Collections from Los Angeles Trailer Parks among other assorted curios. Guests either love it or loathe it, unable to grasp its perplexity. Cody Hutchins, a visitor from NYC described it as, “Science that didn’t make it.” Very well put but if nothing else, it does make a lasting impression. The Borzoi Kabinet Theater has regular screenings in its comfortable, private space. There is also the charming, Russian-inspired Tula Tearoom upstairs with free tea and cookies and a plush bench seating area. There is a suggested donation of $5 and a serviceable bookstore.
Open Thurs from 2-8pm
Fri, Sat and Sun from noon to 6pm
9341 Venice Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
Sony Pictures Entertainment Studio Tours
See where your favorite films were made in this walking tour of soundstages, game shows and TV/film sets. Walk where the Munchkins followed The Yellow Brick Road while learning about the movie magic making process that takes visitors inside the historic gates of movie history. Depending on taping schedules, guests may have the chance to visit the sets of “Jeopardy” or “Wheel of Fortune.” The approximately two-hour tour is a stroll down memory lane with a timeline of the structures once built by MGM’s Old Hollywood, Columbia & Tri-Star’s influence in the 80’s, and current lots and productions produced by Sony. Access to many of the studios and sites of interest change daily, but there are a few backlot scenes and peeks inside the bigger soundstages as well as the wardrobe department. Since there is much more history and more to see the tour is better than NBC’s, but the admission is also a lot higher at $33 and children under 12 not admitted. Reservations recommended.
Currently, Sony has expanded their tours to include a Twilight version on Thursday evenings starting at 6:30pm until Oct 28. This is a good opportunity for locals to take this tour.
Tour times are Mon-Fri: 9:30am, 10:30am, 1:30pm & 2:30pm. Arrive a half-hour before your tour. Free parking is available in the underground Sony Pictures Plaza parking structure. They allow still photography, but videotaping is strictly prohibited.
10000 West Washington Boulevard
Culver City, 90232
PH: 310-244-TOUR (8687)
The Culver Studios
Walk down the long winding street up to the black gates of the set back colonial mansion and you’ll recognize the house as the one from the opening credits of Gone With the Wind. Unfortunately, unless you’re an extra or audience member of a game show, this is as close as you’re going to get to the movie history manor. For Gone fans, this studio is definitely worth a go-see as its enormous 28-acre backlots were the locale for the Tara exteriors and the famous burning of Atlanta. Most of the land previously acquired from Sony has been sold, but the studios are still active with current TV/Film productions. The grand colonial mansion facade is a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the immaculate grounds and hedges are quite stunning (you’ll have to climb up the brick wall and sit on a ledge for a sneak peek). Be advised this studio is well guarded so don’t “accidently” enter the grounds for any reason. The studio has a long and fascinating history from its original inception by Thomas Ince before changing hands over the years from Howard Hughes to Lucille Ball (Desilu Studios). Located next door to the Pacific Theaters 12, cattycorner to the Town Plaza and Culver Hotel, the curved street offers a nice stroll to a beautiful piece of movie history.
9336 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, 90232
Kirk Douglas Theatre/Center Theatre Group
Since its acquisition and renovation by the Center Theatre Group in 2004, the Kirk Douglas Theatre has been home to many successful premieres and critically acclaimed shows. The foyer offers plenty of seating before the show and intermission. Seats are comfortable and the sound quality is fantastic—there are no bad seats except for the first few rows. Although not as grand as its sister stages of the Ahmenson or the Taper, this theatre has good parking at City Hall right around the corner on Duquesne Avenue and excellent dining choices before or after the show. The ambiance shines as brightly as their waxed floor at the entrance and glows as warmly as the old neon Culver Theater marquee outside. An old box office booth adds to the charm of this historic landmark locale. Considered the jewel of Culver City, patrons of the arts enjoy the friendly, low-key atmosphere. Do arrive early or on time as shows begin promptly. There is a small concession area for drinks and pastries during intermission and is wheelchair accessible. If you’re on the Westside, this is a great place to see excellent theatre productions.
9820 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, 90232
The Actors’ Gang at the Ivy Substation
For almost 30 years, The Actor’s Gang has been going strong with its reputation for daring new works and stylized reinterpretations of classics with commedia dell’arte influences. Spearheaded by Tim Robbins, this dynamic ensemble has a veritable who’s who roster of former Gang members including, William H. Macy, Helen Hunt, Jack Black, John Cusack, and John C. Reilly. Socially conscious and heavily committed to working within the community, the Actors’ Gang continually focuses on groundbreaking productions and cutting edge new material as well as offering kid friendly summer shows in their Media Park Gazebo stage area. The Resident Company of the historic Ivy Substation since 2006, this beautifully restored power hub built by the Los Angeles Pacific Railway Company in 1907 is the only unaltered Mission-styled architecture of its kind. The 99-seat theatre is intimate but not cramped. Seats are comfortable and the bathrooms are surprisingly spacious and always clean. Depending on the production, the foyer and entrance is often decorated according to the theme of the show and there is an outdoor back area occasionally opened to the public as in “All Cake, No File.” The Media Park with its handsome trees and trellis is a perfect place to have a picnic before the show.
Thursday Night Performances are Pay What You Can
9070 Venice Boulevard
Culver City, 90232
There is free street side parking but arrive early to find a spot. For last minute parking, go to the Ince Parking Structure and cross the street. There are about twenty metered spaces total on and around Media Park and Canfield Avenue.
Built on the site of the first movie theatre in 1924, this historic landmark still towers over downtown Culver City with its renovated six stories of redbrick, ornate moldings and brightly colored rooftop eaves. Rich with its stately elegance and its classic wedge-shape, this hotel has served some of the most iconic legends of the stage and screen within its walls and has played a role in numerous films and TV shows over the years. Both casts of Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz stayed here, particularly the “Munchkins” who were notoriously wild and rowdy. Around the hotel are glass cases of movie memorabilia connected with the hotel. The bar and lounge inside the grand dame lobby is an elegant excursion through time with its arched entrances and lofted ceilings enhanced by the tasteful décor that glows resplendently at night. A perfect after movie nightcap, the drinks are a little pricier (and stiffer) than nearby bars, but the grandeur more than makes up for it. Be advised, there is limited seating with some nights drawing in a crowd. Outdoor café seating is available. Cattycorner from the Hotel is the Pacific Theaters 12 with some very interesting deserted office spaces nearby. A water fountain with an MGM Lion clad in cloak offers a relaxing respite and delights the kids.
9400 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, 90232
WHAT'S COOKING - some good eats
There is always something happening at the ever-popular Rush Street Bar & Grill. The menu is typical American with a casual but trendy atmosphere. Rush Street has a pulse, albeit a loud one during happy hour and sport seasons—so ladies think twice before dragging your beau or date to this hotspot. Weekends is a crush of singles working the room, bar and rooftop patio (if you can get in). Lunch is highly recommended during the weekdays and the prices are reasonable given the surplus quantity. Burgers are above average with their inventive and tasty twist on the Mesquite Grilled Turkey Burger loaded with red onion, avocado, and tangy chipotle cranberry sauce that adds an extra bit of pizzazz. Whatever you order, the Sweet Potato Fries are about the best anywhere. These perfectly seasoned taters literally melt in your mouth and one order is more than enough for two to three people. Happy Hour is from 5 to 7pm on the second floor with a limited menu. Every day is another reason to party here with its Monday Night Football Rush with three widescreen TV’s in the main area and 11 TV’s throughout. Tuesdays are half off bottled wine. Sat & Sun offer a Brunch menu. Wednesday is Ladies Night with Pole Dancing lessons and 80’s music. Drink and swing like Devo says, “Whip it good!” If you’re young, hot and happening, then this is the best new bar/restaurant on the Westside.
9546 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, 90232
Gyenari Korean BBQ & Lounge
The secret to Gyenari’s success is partly due to its location (next door to Rush Street) and its sleek, modern ambiance with a golden scrim and vivid photographs on the walls. The menu is not traditional Korean BBQ, but a blend of Korean BBQ staples mixed in with inventive meat dishes and plate combinations. Plan to work for your food as every table comes with a gas burner. There are regular entrees that can be prepared in the kitchen or by the server, but if you really want the Gyenari experience then their four G specials will keep a small group of friends busy with an ample assortment of meats and veggies. Be advised that the specials are extremely generous so order one down from the recommended serving accommodation. The side dishes come to the table very quickly followed by the meat tray. After that, everyone arms themselves with a pair of thongs and starts grilling. It’s novel at first but requires some attention and care for the meats not to be overdone and the self-cooking annoys with the incessant interruptions in conversation and dining. The food is good, particularly the side dishes. Surprisingly, the pork belly disappointed with its lack of flavor. The flower and spicy chicken are quite tasty as well as the spicy pork, which might be tad too spicy for milder tastes. The price is much higher than one would expect from Korean BBQ, but on par with the general feel and flavor of the restaurant. It is a unique place to go, but there is more hype here than substance. The Happy Hour is definitely worth it from 3 to 7:30pm. Mixed drinks like their Mango Mojito are very tasty and stylishly served. For beer buffs, order the Hite Beer Tower—a tall plastic tube clamped down at the end of the table filled with 100 ounces for $24.
9540 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, 90232
ugo: An Italian Bar
Locals are loyal to their ugo bar with its relaxed café atmosphere and authentic Italian cuisine. The two main attractions are the handmade gelato and the wine bar with their enomatic dispensers (the first of its kind in Southern California). There is usually live music on weekends to complete the mood. Sitting outside is an absolute must for those who like to people-watch with their dining. Due to its location and popularity, this place is packed and unless you’re prepared to wait a while, reservations are strongly recommended. The food is of the standard variety lacking in imagination, but solid fare nevertheless. This is a great place to sip a glass of wine or stop in for a gelato to-go. Happy hour is every day from 4 to 7pm in the wine bar.
3865 Cardiff Avenue
Culver City, 90232
M Café de Chaya
Their mission “is to serve nutritionally, environmentally and energetically balanced food that tastes great and stays true to the principles of contemporary Macrobiotics.” Set in a cheery café, the menu offerings are vegetarian but you don’t have to be one to enjoy it. Flavor is everything and M Café puts the mmm…-yummy goodness in every delectable wrap and sushi roll. Whether you’re in the mood for a healthy but hearty breakfast, a light lunch or an a la carte sampling, this Macro café is Micro on the wallet too. Very casual with outdoor seating, M Café is a favorite lunch spot with locals.
9343 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, 90232
TIPS for visiting Culver City
Street parking can be difficult to find especially on crowded weekends, but if you do get a spot, have a fistful of quarters and keep the meter plugged. There are a couple of parking structures on either end of Culver Boulevard with two hour free parking, and many places validate and some offer valet service. For a more leisurely uncrowded experience, visit on a week night when there are fewer people. The local farmer's market sets up each week on Tuesday from 3-7pm located on Culver City's Main St.
Photos by Andrea Kirk
WHAT'S HAPPENING NOW? Visit the Eye Spy LA Culver City Calendar for current things to do there.