I just completed filming a pilot that shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a desolate place in almost all ways. While New Mexican food has its unique spin on things, from enchiladas to pork chops, it all seems to boil down to this: when in doubt of flavor, quality, or presentation, smother with chile. You can choose between three sauces–red chile, green chile, or Christmas, which is a combination of both–but the bottom line is that whatever local specialty you order off of their proud menus, it will be positively drowned in chile. They have no concept of the term “mild”; spice level ranges from runny-nose-activate-your-heartburn zing to scream-for-cold-milk-while-clutching-hands-around-throat fire. To me, it all tasted the same, so it didn’t matter if I ordered huevos rancheros or a hot dog. All texture and ingredients would be overpowered by the sloppy ladles of liquid blaze. That, and the dry, freezing climate, made me miss LA very, very much.

My fellow castmates and I fantasized about Indian curries (where mild means mild and medium means medium), wood-fired pizzas, organic free range meats, and more than anything, variety. One afternoon en route to set in the nondescript white van, I was asked what my favorite restaurant was. This is nearly an impossible question for me to answer. I have no single favorite restaurant. “But where do you go more than once a week?” my costar pressed. I thought about it and told him I’d make him a list. When I was asked if I knew of a good massage place, I said I’d add it the list. I gave the same response when asked the name of my aesthetician and the location of my favorite waterfall hike. I was so proud of this list by the time it was finished and sent to each of the lovely members of my cast that I decided to share it with you. Consider it a Christmas present: a compilation of all my favorite LA secrets and adventures, from the culinary to the touristy.

Restaurants

Cube – A charming specialty food market that also serves serious foodie meals (like Joan’s on Third, but infinitely better). Get the Black Truffle Pizza with Fried Egg. I mash the egg yolk all over my pizza–trust me it’s sooooo good. Their cheese plates are divine as well. 615 N. LaBrea/Melrose
http://www.cubemarketplace.com/t-cafe.aspx

It’s All About the Bread – Simple and delectable deli. Their Meatball Sub has won awards; so if you’re craving a hot sandwich, get that. If you go when the daily special is the Burrata Pesto Sub, you’re in for a treat. 7111 Melrose Ave./La Brea (next to M Café). http://allaboutthebread.com/

Pizzeria Mozza – This is where I go for the splurge of splurges on pizza! I always get the house-made Fennel Sausage, or the Egg, Bacon, and Yukon Gold. They get quite Italian-creative, and the Butterscotch Budino pudding dessert is moan-worthy. 641 N. Highland Ave./Melrose Ave. http://www.mozza-la.com/pizzeria/about.cfm

Palms Thai — This is a place I crave and frequent about twice a week, or have delivered. Their lunch specials are only $6 and include rice and wontons! Huge portions, authentic flavor, and plenty of seating, even late at night. Beware the Asian Elvis impersonator. 5900 Hollywood Blvd. #B/Bronson Ave.http://www.palmsthai.com/

Los Balcones Del Peru – Really tasty Peruvian food that’s infused with Chinese. I usually order the Lomo Saltado (kabob of marinated beef with fried French fry rice), and they’re famous for their ceviche. Salty, South American yumminess! 1360 Vine St./De Longpre (right by Arclight). No website yet.

Grub LA – Down home country-gone-gourmet. Whatever you get, make sure it includes bacon, ‘cause I swear there’s something almost candy-like about it. Their service is usually slow, but their brunch puts to shame many other Hollywood morning-after spots. Croissant French Toast. Need I say more? 911 Seward St./Barton (east of Highland between Santa Monica and Melrose) http://www.grub-la.com/menu.html

Pink Pepper – Another Thai place, this one’s a little bit more fancy-schmancy, and a bit pricier, but it’s nice for a date and feels quite exotic. You can practically inhale the Singapore Noodles, a saucy stirfry of vermicelli with barbequed pork. 1638 N. La Brea/Hollywood Blvd.http://www.pinkpepperrestaurant.com/

Daikokuya Ramen –They don’t fuck around with their ramen here. The broth alone takes 24 hours to simmer, and if you’re feeling indulgent and wanna do it right, order your bowl “kotteri-style”, which means they’ll add the broth that has extra pork fat. Words can’t even begin to describe the soupy orgasm your mouth will have. 327 E. 1st St./San Pedro (downtown LA).http://www.daikoku-ten.com/LTmnu09a.html

Wurstkuche – Literally meaning “Sausage Kitchen” in German, they specialize in gourmet and exotic sausage here, everything from traditional Kielbasa to Alligator and Pork Andouille (with vegetarian options for losers). The dining space has a European cafeteria feel to it, where you join random strangers on benches at super long tables while a deejay spins in the corner. So. Cool. 800 E. 3rd St./Traction Ave. (downtown LA)http://www.wurstkucherestaurant.com/

Nickel Diner – Right next to Skid Row, it surprisingly has the most creative menu I may have seen in my life! Bacon-Crumbled Maple Donuts, Peanut Butter Potato Chip Layer Cake, Homemade Pop Tarts, Red Velvet Cake with Whoppers, and many fun more. I’ve honestly never eaten dinner here, just dessert, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 524 S. Main St./5thSt. (again, downtown LA.) No website yet.

The Hudson – A recent discovery of mine in WeHo, this place knows how to do a grilled cheese: on brioche bread with lots of butter, and a tomato soup on the side. Their happy hour is cheap, flirty, and tasty, and their weekend brunch hosts the best scrambled eggs I’ve EVER had. Seriously, I don’t know what they do to them, but they’re something special. 1114 N. Crescent Heights Blvd./Santa Monica Blvd. http://www.thehudsonla.com/

O-Bar – If you’re ever craving Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles (a restaurant so famous I didn’t think it needed its own paragraph) but want a more sophisticated, gourmet version of the dish, go here. Sweet Potato Waffle with Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Rosemary-Infused Maple Syrup. Or get the Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese. Very sexy ambiance as well. 8279 Santa Monica Blvd./N. Laurel Ave. http://www.obarla.com/

Magic Castle – You have to be a member or the invited guest of a member to go here, but if any of you have these connections and have put off visiting this place, you’re really missing out! While it’s obviously known for its magic, the restaurant is actually really good, too—I usually order the Truffle Fries at some point in between shows. 7025 Franklin Ave./Sycamore Ave. http://www.magiccastle.com/

Yamashiro – One of the surprisingly few restaurants in LA with a view, this is tucked up in the hills behind the Magic Castle. They serve Asian Fusion cuisine, but unfortunately I can’t honestly rave about the food. It’s good in theory, underwhelming in execution. Definitely go here for the view, though, or even just drinks! 1999 Sycamore Ave./north of Franklin Ave. http://www.yamashirorestaurant.com/

Anarkali – Best Chicken Makhani (aka Butter Chicken) in LA. Really good Indian food, if you can tolerate the Bollywood love songs. Their Coconut Vegetable Curry is downright seductive. 7013 Melrose Ave./N. Sycamore Ave. http://anarkali-la.com/indian.htm

Firefly – The only restaurant in the Valley I’d describe as sexy and hip. Their menu’s not bad, but the vibe is what makes this place in my opinion. Dark red bar area and outdoor patio seating next to fire pits. 11720 Ventura Blvd./Colfax Ave. Their website has nothing on it. http://www.fireflystudiocity.com/

Beau Rivage – If you’re ever up in Malibu and happen to have clothes with you other than board shorts and cover-ups, and you want a dining experience instead of a beach taco, come to the bella Mediterranean compound that is Beau Rivage. The food is delicious and owners are a delightful older couple who love to rave about their wine cellar. (And keep in mind that like most fancier places, the clientele here tends to be older, so don’t go expecting Hollywood-scene hotness.) 26026 Pacific Coast Hwy/Corral Canyon Rd. http://www.beaurivagerestaurant.com/

Inn of the Seventh Ray – Possibly my favorite of all favorite places to dine at! Tucked into Topanga Canyon, this sprawling dell defines romantic! Twinkly candlelight, crickets chirping, all that Sleeping Beauty in the woods stuff. Tasty, organic menu, warm staff, and a New Age bookstore on the premise. If I were a dude, this is the kind of place I’d propose in. 128 Old Topanga Road. http://www.innoftheseventhray.com/

Hikes & Other Outdoor Escapades

Fryman Canyon/Wilacre Park – Good for a more conveniently located hike that doesn’t smell like a dog park, this one has entrances off Laurel Canyon (just turn west on Fryman) and Mulholland Dr. The Mulholland Drive one I like better, ‘cause it has a rope swing at the bottom! Take the Betty B. Dearing Trail from the parking lot. http://laist.com/2009/11/30/hiking_off_mulholland_in_studio_cit.php

Escondido Falls – Off of PCH in Malibu, I never would have known such a tall waterfall hid inside those dry-looking hills. This one’s got some light bouldering/rock scrambling involved, so I’d recommend wearing long pants so you don’t scratch yourself. The waterfall is a cooling reward if you make it up all the way—don’t be thrown off by the first one you see, there’s a better one if you keep going! http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/EscondidoFalls_4472.asp

Angeles National Forest: Hermit Falls – This is one of my favorite LA secrets, so shhh! If you’ve ever wanted to find a secluded waterfall with cliff jumping and natural waterslides within LA County, this is your place! It’s out Pasadena-way, tucked into the San Gabriel Mountains, and I could spend days exploring this park. There’s bears that occasionally come out to say hi, but don’t harass or feed them and you’ll be fine says the ranger. http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/hermit-falls/

Angeles National Forest: Sturtevant Falls – Another of San Gabriel’s treasures, this one is the more popular waterfall to visit, and the hike is a bit longer and more scenic I think. You can wade in this one (it’s really not deep enough for swimming), and climbing up the sides of the waterfall is fun, too, with very rewarding views. http://www.hikespeak.com/trails/sturtevant-falls/

Huntington Library – Don’t let the name fool you; it’s actually a gorgeous botanical garden in Pasadena, with little museums and exhibits scattered throughout the property. Wander through the Japanese Garden to the indoor Bog, from Shakespeare’s Roses to the Sub-Tropical Jungle and more… Every time I go there I find a new trail or corner I missed the last time! This is a great place to take out of town visitors, and there’s a High Tea by the rose garden if you wish. http://www.huntington.org/

Dascanso Gardens – Like a miniature Huntington Library, less overwhelming and less manicured. Bring a picnic, and if you wanna hike you can go to the back of the garden where it’s woodsy and find random trails that meander all over the place. Not stunning, but usually quiet and a nice escape if you want a more nature-y botanical experience. http://www.descansogardens.org/

Lake Shrine Temple/Self-Realization Fellowship – In the hills of the Pacific Palisades nestles a small spiritual retreat center called Lake Shrine. It’s open to the public, but they ask that you respectfully use quiet voices, no language or offensive clothing, etc. If you fancy yourself a meditating, spiritual-but-not-religious sort of person, there are great spots along a small trail to plunk yourself down for some Om. The lake is very small, but pretty. http://www.lakeshrine.org/

The Getty Center and Getty Villa – While both are museum/gardens, the Center is larger with more exhibits and grander Asian-themed grounds, with a sloping grassy hill that makes for perfect afternoon naps. Secret: if you hit the beige stones that make up the wall surrounding the grass, you’ll find that it’s like playing a xylophone. That is, if you don’t mind looking like a crazy person hitting a wall while others might be too far away to hear your congo rhythms. As for the Villa, I personally enjoy that one more for its fragrant Mediterranean theme throughout, and because it’s less crowded due to the fact that one must book (free) tickets before visiting to ensure that it remains that way. Also, the restaurant is flavorful and fresh, and the café has the best scones I have ever crumbled. http://www.getty.edu/visit/

Camping in Idyllwild – Off the 10E on your way to Palm Springs, there is a road that takes you south into the mountains and you’ll watch the palm trees turn to pine. The camping, rock climbing, and hiking up here are pretty cool, a nice respite from the city and only two hours away! I think Fern Basin is the campground I stay at, but they all have their pros and cons, mostly depending on how rustic or civilized you want your experience to be. My favorite hike is to Suicide Rock. http://www.idyllwildcalifornia.com/camping.htm

Laguna Beach – It’s a drive, but I love it for the expansive, cliff-lined beaches, which are warmer and cleaner than the ones in LA County. Cool surf shops line the pretty village-like roads off PCH, and lunch or dinner at Watermarc is a must. Bleu Cheese Pear Tartlets, Fried Goat Cheese with Honey, and Sizzling Garlic Shrimp are just a few of the tempting small plates. The seafood is remarkable, and the desserts equally unique and satisfying. Hungry yet? 448 S. PCH/Park Ave (the beach and shops will be obvious from here). http://www.lagunabeachinfo.com/

Other Random Things To Do

Griffith Park Observatory – If you haven’t been here before, surely your friends who have must have told you that it’s pretty cool. The show “Centered in the Universe” will blow your mind, and I recommend going there at night so when you come out of the show, you can look at the stars for real and have one of those we’re-so-small moments on the wrap-around balcony. Great place to go to when you’re high, whether on weed or shrooms or other. The other shows are probably cool, too, but I haven’t seen them yet! I say make a day out of Griffith by hiking, eating some homemade pie at Trails Café, smoking a bowl at sunset, and watching “Centered in the Universe” before beholding the telescope. http://www.griffithobservatory.org/

Groundlings – Every time I see one of these improv comedy shows, I get almost sick with nerves for the actors who have to wildly entertain you or risk boo-dom! Therefore, the shows are hit and miss; some are hilarious, others just meh. Regardless, as an actor I appreciate their balls and talent. 7307 Melrose Ave./N. Pointsettia Pl. http://www.groundlings.com/

Laugh Factory – Another kitschy Hollywood thing to do, but usually worthwhile, especially if you’re trying to entertain out of town visitors. My favorites are Kevin Nealon and Dane Cook when he’s in town, usually under the guise of “Surprise Guest”. 8001 Sunset Blvd./N. Laurel Ave. http://www.laughfactory.com/

Healing Hands Wellness Center – This is where I go for a good, hour-long, $55 massage. I have really bad TMJ, and since they offer chiropractic and acupuncture services here too, the masseuses/masseurs always know what I’m talking about and know how and where to work. I find that chiro offices give the best massages for real, clinical pain relief. http://healinghandswc.com/

Westside Aesthetics – Malia, who works here, cured my very bad acne once long ago with blue light facials. I’ve been faithfully going to her since then for touch up facials and emergency cortisone injections, and they offer a slew of other medical spa services, too. They’re reasonably priced compared to other medical spas. I depend on this place for my tax-write-off-able vanity! http://westsidemedicalspa.com/

California Science Center – They say it’s free, aka donation-based, but if you want to see any of the fascinating exhibits that come through (like Body Worlds, for example) you’ll have to pay a moderate admission. You can also watch cool IMAX 3D movies here, like Kelly Slater’s “Ultimate Wave Tahiti” or “Hubble”, an outer-space documentary. Exposition Park, 39thSt./Figueroa St., downtown LA (by USC). http://www.californiasciencecenter.org/

Long Beach Stuff – The Aquarium of the Pacific is a fun place to take kids that are visiting you from out of town. The rays in the “petting zoo” feel like liquid velvet under your hand. Another fun thing to do in Long Beach is visit Sgt. Pepper’s Dueling Piano Bar (21+). My friend Billy is a dueling pianist there, and I gotta say it’s some riotous, crass fun, like stand up comedy meets karaoke! http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/http://www.pepperspianos.com/

I’d like to thank all the dates, friends, coworkers, magazine articles, groupons, and google searches that contributed to my finds.