When I was a little kid in Los Angeles, my dad would take our family of 7 on long Sunday drives. Once he drove us over a desert pass to a ranch Hollywood had used for old Westerns and where he'd heard there were pony rides. When we pulled off onto the dusty road, it became clear that the decrepit ranch was no longer open for tours.
Dad blithely drove into the movie-set town, wooden sidewalks and Western building facades attached to the fronts of battered house trailers. He made a U-turn and drove back through. "John," my mother hissed, "Hippies!" A few very scruffy men had ventured out onto the sidewalks and more faces appeared in windows, watching our Ford wagon hightail it back to the highway. Months later, from news coverage of the Sharon Tate murder trial, my parents realized that those hippies out at the Spahn Movie Ranch had been the Manson Family. Thus, my first (and only, to date) true-crime road trip adventure.
Though the era of Sunday drives has passed into the haze of fossil fuel, there's a greener way to explore the seemier side of the City of Angels. And on purpose. Esotouric Bus Adventures runs tours focused on the dark side of L.A.: tours of landmarks associated with Raymond Chandler and his detective, Philip Marlowe, and the mean streets of Charles Bukowski and John Fante. (The Bukowski tour includes a snack stop for donuts and coffee outside the dirty old man's favorite liquor store.) The company runs tours with true crime themes (the Black Dahlia! Bugsy Siegel!), and itineraries that visit notable film noir locations and one designed around Tom Waits' skid row narratives. Not all of their tours dwell in the shadows, though: Esotouric also runs compelling tours with a focus on L.A. music, lost neighborhoods, and classic SoCal architecture.
You can have your Homes of the Stars tours, but you'll find me on another bus, looking for vestiges of a less-documented city where grifters, platinum blonde widows, lonesome detectives, and career girls once trod.
Upcoming scheduled Esotouric tours include:
John Buntin's L.A. Noir Crime Tour- Saturday, Sept. 19
Wild Wild West Side - Saturday, Oct. 10
Raymond Chandler's Bay City - Saturday, Oct. 17
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles - Saturday, Oct. 24
Maja's Mysteries: A Magical Excursion into Secret Los Angeles - Saturday, Oct. 31
East Side Babylon - Sunday, November 1
Haunts Of A Dirty Old Man: Charles Bukowski's Los Angeles - Saturday, Nov. 7
The Real Black Dahlia - Saturday, Nov. 14
For more information and to book, visit Esotouric Bus Adventures.
Ann Shields in an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.