Since my move to L.A. five years ago, I’ve heard countless stories about Leimert Park serving as a popular center for African American arts and entertainment. My previous Leimert experiences centered around stops to my favorite bookstore, Eso Won Books (4327 Degnan Blvd.), a necessity for book lovers and writers like myself, and grabbing delicious Jamaican food from Ackee Bamboo (4305 Degnan Blvd., #100). For my date, however, I wanted the chance to explore this historic neighborhood while replenishing my own creative spirit, so I took the rare opportunity to get some quiet time and went on my “Date with L.A.” toddler– and husband-free.
I started at neighboring women-owned stores, Queen Aminah’s Cultural Clothing (4339 Degnan Blvd.) and Gallery Plus (4333 Degnan Blvd.). Both stores sell imported African artwork. Queen Aminah’s specializes in custom-made African-print clothing, and Gallery Plus in fine art, jewelry, dolls and figurines made by local artists. I spotted some stunning fabric I’d love to use for matching family dashikis at Queen Aminah’s, and at Gallery Plus, a few Kente cloth journals that will make excellent writing notebooks for my story notes and daily musings.
As I exited, the sounds of jazz filled the streets and lured me next door to the California Jazz and Blues Museum (4317 Degnan Blvd.)
I had no idea this museum was here! An extension of The Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center (4305 Degnan Blvd.), the museum walls are lined with photographs and paintings paying tribute to a unique West Coast influence on jazz music and legends like Morrison herself, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane and Horace Tapscott. The museum also serves as a meeting space for music-education programs and hosts regular events, including “Jazz in the Alley.” The staff gave me a history lesson about the music and surprised me with an impromptu jam session on the piano. And all of this was free!
Finally, I settled down to relax and write at the newest addition to Leimert Park: Hot and Cool Café (4331 Degnan Blvd.). The café offers a variety of fresh coffee, an assortment of teas, hot soups, desserts and ice cream. I sat there for two hours, writing and crowd watching while sipping sweet raspberry hibiscus tea on ice and nibbling on a thick chunk of banana bread. Like other business owners in the area, Hot and Cool Café’s owners want the café to serve as a cultural hub on the block. Groups can schedule meetings and events, including mommy-and-me groups and story times. The café stays open until 10 p.m. to serve late-night visitors leaving events and shows on the block.
Wait a minute! Late-night visitors?
Yup! Apparently, while there is plenty to experience during the daytime, the weekend vibes in Leimert are also must-see. It was recommended I return for a weekend date with the hubby, when Leimert Park comes alive with interactive drum and dance circles, vendors selling their cultural wares and music playing everywhere. There are poetry readings and musical performances at the famous World Stage (4321 Degnan Blvd.), author readings and book signings at Eso Won, performances by local music and comedy talent at The Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center and movie and theater events at the Vision Theatre (3341 W. 43rd Pl.).
While my husband and I will eventually return to Leimert Park for a date, and the toddler and I will totally catch story time at the café, I truly enjoyed making Leimert a place where I could escape and immerse myself in color and artwork, music and community; a place where I could stroll the block and be inspired, then sit back and let my own creativity soar.