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People have a lot of opinions about Los Angeles. “People have a lot of opinions about a lot of things,” you might reply. Especially when it comes to major American cities.

While that’s true, when it comes to L.A., large as it looms in popular imagination and pop culture, opinions seem especially plentiful—and polarizing: “It’s always sunny!” “It’s always smoggy!” “It’s overcrowded!” “The traffic!”

While it is a sprawling city with lots of sun,smog, people and traffic, Los Angeles also boasts an abundance of beautiful, serene places to escape all the hubbub—meaning you don’t have to drive all the way to Joshua Tree to get off the beaten path. There’s the Huntington Library Botanical Gardens in San Marino, remote beaches in Malibu, ample parks…. Following are six lesser-known places in L.A. to find peace and quiet.

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View of Mt. Washington

View of Mt. Washington | Flickr CC: Steve and Julie

Secret gardens atop Mt. Washington

Many Angelenos are aware of the Self-Realization Fellowship’s Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, a calming oasis not far from the ocean and featuring 10 acres of lush gardens surrounding a spring-fed lake. Fewer know that the worldwide spiritual organization also maintains lovely grounds on the east side of the city at the SRF International Headquarters on Mt. Washington. While the Mission Style-buildings that comprise “The Mother Center” (located in the former Mt. Washington Hotel) are private, the surrounding gardens are open to the public. Narrow pathways wind through dense greenery, leading to various small seating areas designed for meditation and reflection. Inhale calm, exhale L.A. misconceptions.

Museum of Jurassic Technology

Museum of Jurassic Technology | Flickr CC: April K

A mysterious museum in Culver City

Don’t try to understand the Museum of Jurassic Technology before you go. (Though Lawrence Weschler’s 1995 book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder does offer insightful analysis, if your curiosity is piqued.) What you should know: The Culver City institution is home to odd exhibits and scientific findings of dubious credibility. Also, the interior is dark—very dark—and quiet.This makes for a relaxing setting to study microminiature sculptures made from a single human hair placed in the eye of a needle or ponder an array of decomposing dice. A mixture of confusion and relaxation.

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Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens

Photo courtesy of the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens

A peaceful oasis in South Los Angeles

The goal of the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Garden, a nonprofit spiritual center in the West Adams District, is to help people enjoy nature, “unwind the mind” and harness inner calm—all without having to leave the city. Stroll the outdoor stone labyrinth, which was modeled after the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth in France, or take a seat in the Asian-inspired meditation garden among fountains, flowers and a koi pond. Docents are available to show visitors around the center, housed in a stunning Italian Renaissance mansion, Guasti Villa, the former home of famed movie director and musical choreographer Busby Berkeley.

Find solace beneath the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels

Find solace beneath the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels |Flickr CC: Clinton Steeds

Solitude among the dearly departed

Below the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels—an imposing postmodernist building in downtown Los Angeles that serves as the archdiocese of more than 5 million Catholics—lies a mausoleum containing 1,270 crypts, and 4,794 niche (urn) spaces for burials. Spanish limestone, stained glass windows in the baroque revival style and alabaster sconces add to the hushed, reverent atmosphere. If you need to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown, slip inside for a meditative moment.

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Amir's Garden

Amir’s Garden | Photo courtesy of @roadtomammoth

A picturesque pit stop in Griffith Park

Amir’s Garden, tucked away in Griffith Park, is a labor of love. Designed as a rest stop for hikers and equestrians, the five-acre ornamental garden has been maintained by volunteers since 1971. Back then, a major brush fire ravaged the area, and a local hiker named Amir stepped in to not only restore the landscape but also create something lastingly beautiful. Pine trees and jacaranda lend shade, while oleander, yucca, geraniums and rose bushes flank picnic tables. Amir’s Garden is located about a half mile hike up the main fire road trail from the Mineral Wells Picnic Area parking lot. Visit the website for specific directions.

Kyoto Gardens at the Double Tree Inn

Kyoto Gardens at the Double Tree Inn | Photo courtesy of the Double Tree Inn

A sky-high Japanese garden

Where’s the last place you’d expect to find a peaceful Japanese garden? If you guessed on the rooftop of a DoubleTree Inn in Downtown Los Angeles, you would be correct. A recreation of an ancient Japanese Garden in Tokyo honoring the 16th-century samurai commander Kiyomasa Kato, the hotel’s Kyoto Gardens feature flowers, waterfalls, stone paths, manicured greenery and placid pools. It’s a surprising escape right in the heart of the city.

Tagged: California

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Laura Pearson

Laura Pearson

Laura is a travel-loving Chicago-based journalist who writes about art and culture. Follow her on Twitter at @tislaurapearson.

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