It’s no Angels Flight, but the Dana Point funicular has a beachy charm all its own

With just two more days (!!!) until Downtown L.A.’s restored Angels Flight Railway returns to service, we found ourselves consumed with the urge to ride a funicular.

Since Angels Flight isn’t available, we set a course for points south and the nearest best thing: Dana Point’s funicular service which plies the steep grade between the cliffside parking lot at the Dana Headlands and Strand Beach below. We hiked down to the beach from the conservation area to the south, then rode the funicular up and down and up again, until the urge abated.

As charter members of the Angels Flight Friends and Neighbors Society, we naturally compared Dana Point’s convenient conveyance with our beloved Angels Flight.

The Dana Point Funicular is free (a condition of permitting the development of an adjacent gated community containing some remarkably ugly multimillion dollar homes), was established in 2009, is unmanned and entirely enclosed, is accessed through elevator-style doors set in a plain cinderblock station with all the charm of a public restroom, and has three reviews on Yelp.

The restored Angels Flight will cost $1, opened in 1901, has a human operator, is open to the elements and boasts a handsome Edwardian station house, hoop arches and lower gate all in vibrant orange with black trim, and has appeared in dozens of films and television programs.

But while it lacks the vintage movie star allure of Angels Flight, the Dana Point Funicular does a swell job carting families and their beach gear down to the shore and back, and we recommend the ride should you find yourself in the O.C.

Or, as with Angels Flight, enjoy a virtual ride, with our compliments.

“Hang on a minute–I think that’s a real Von Dutch!”

We were nearly ready to head back to Los Angeles, after a full day exploring Helena Modjeska’s country house and other interesting Orange County canyon sites, when Richard suggested we pay a visit to historic Cook’s Corner.

There’s been a building on this site at the mouth of Trabuco Canyon since the boom days of the 1880s; it became a restaurant in 1926, and eased over the line to tavern when Prohibition ended. In the 1970s, the establishment was purchased by the chopper-crafting owners of Cheat’ah Engineering and became a social club for the motorcycling community.

When we stopped in on a weekday afternoon, we found a mix of bikers and families enjoying the sunny patio. Inside, one burly gent was intently watching Ellen on the big screen TV, as Bobbie Gentry crooned from the CD jukebox. Signed firefighters’ jerseys covered the ceiling, relics from the 2007 Santiago Fire, and a cement stage the width of the room looked like it had seen a lot of good use.

The bartender was friendly, and nobody gave us the fish eye. Richard said it had mellowed a lot since he’d stopped in a decade ago on his way to the Vedanta ashram down the road, so that his companion, a Hindu woman dressed in a bright sari, could use the ladies room.

On the way into the bar, across a wooden bridge, I’d taken note of a primitive Ed Roth-style painting of a surfing rat next to a script sign reading Bridge Rats. As Richard battened down the hatches and topped up our tea cups, I looked around for more art.

Well, if had teeth, it would have bit me. Because right there by the bar room door was an enormous freestanding ATM machine, a bit weatherworn and paint-spattered, but rather beautifully pin-striped with loops and swirls and one elegant, bloodshot flying eyeball. And as I leaned in to admire the crucifix in the iris, I saw the wee inscription, and gasped.

VON DUTCH.

I’ll leave it to the gearheads and kustom kulture mavens to determine if this is really is a late work by Kenny “Von Dutch” Howard (1929-1992), the king of the pin-stripers, or a posthumous tribute by a skilled fan. But it sure was a kick to roll out of Trabuco Canyon buzzing with the possibility.

Have a look: what do you think? (For Richard’s photos inside the bar, click here.)

An Esotouric Day Trip to Helena Modjeska’s Canyon Retreat

On a cool, spring day we left Los Angeles early, bound for the Orange County canyon home of Helena Modjeska, the great 19th century Polish actress who learned English in mid-life and tirelessly toured America, bringing culture and emotional honesty to the people.

Our journey felt a bit like time travel, as the busy freeway traffic thinned and gave way to rolling hills covered with grass. Then up a narrow canyon, past olive groves and giggling turkeys running free, we found Arden, the house and garden where Modjeska went to recharge her soul after giving everything to her audiences. Today it is a National Register landmark with a devoted interpretive docent staff. We were the only people on the tour, and our guide Jan graciously shared the secrets of the house and indulged our many questions.

We hope you enjoy Kim’s photos from Mme. Modjeska’s wonderful house, a rare example of Stanford White’s architecture in California. You can see Richard’s photos of the grounds here. To plan your own visit, visit the OC Parks website. Recommended reading: Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America.