Offerings include the sites of the Black Dahlia murder and the “Blood and Dumplings” tour.

By Melissa Locker
September 21, 2015
Esotouric tour in L.A.
Credit: Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Kim Cooper and Richard Schave met in 1988 at U.C. Santa Cruz. Despite the fact the duo’s mutual advisor’s insistence that the pair were soulmates, Cooper and Schave hated each other on sight. Eighteen years later they ran into each other and, as the romcoms go, immediately fell in love. As they built a life together, Cooper started blogging about True Crime, which eventually lead to conversations about chartering a bus to visit some of the sites of these historical felonies. In 2007, they decided to make a go of it. And so Esotouric was born.

Each weekend Cooper and Schave take out buses filled with tourists and locals eager to explore the dark underbelly of Los Angeles. There’s a visit to the sites of the infamous Black Dahlia murder, a tour of author Charles Bukowski’s favorite haunts, a Route 66 tour, and much more.

Schave recently sat down to talk about what makes Esotouric special:

Esotouric is not your typical tour company. Tell me about it.

We’re the record that breaks the record player of bus tours. If you think you want to get on a bus on Hollywood Boulevard and hear about Hugh Grant or where Tom Cruise has dinner. Forget it. That’s not what we are. We want to turn the idea of a tour upside down.

How many bus tours do you operate?

We have 16 bus tours. We go out almost every weekend, mostly Saturdays. We don’t do weekdays because no one would get on the bus, but maybe some day.

What kind of tours do you have?

The tours fall into three buckets. There’s Literary, True Crime, and what we call California Culture. California Culture was originally called Architecture, but my wife, the branding genius, felt this was not a good title because it was less about architecture and more about California as an engine of creativity and locations in Los Angeles County as the points of this creative engine.

What’s the most popular tour?

The Black Dahlia tour. The majority of our tours are True Crime, I think we have nine True Crime tours.

Why do you think people like True Crime so much?

I don’t know! But that’s okay, because I don’t have to know. My wife is really good at it. My wife really likes True Crime and she is a very gifted True Crime writer. In addition to the work we do on the bus, and in addition to the work we do at City Hall and the County Supervisor’s Office, we give a quarterly forensic science seminar though the criminalistics department of Cal State Los Angeles, which is located in the joint LAPD, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, State D.O.J. crime lab. We are just able to do all this stuff about old crime, which is what my wife loves.

This Saturday there’s a tour called “Weird West Adams”. What is that?

That’s another crime tour. Well, that’s where it starts, but when you give this tour 10 or 12 times, you change the tours a little bit each time, not too much, but a little. West Adams isn’t just one neighborhood, it’s like seven neighborhoods that started between 1896 and 1920 and they all started as racially covenant-protected communities and the 10 Freeway went through in 1962, I think, and it destroyed these neighborhoods. Then in 1940 the racial covenants started getting thrown out. So you start with the idea that this is a crime tour, but then you start filling in all these details about how these neighborhoods in West Adams helped bring about the civil rights movement and helped break racial covenant laws nationally. And we’re obsessed with old buildings so even the crime tours talk about those.

What’s your favorite tour to lead?

My South Los Angeles California Culture tour is my favorite. It’s really complicated! It has a huge area of coverage and it’s totally unhinged. I’ve spent seven years gaining access to some houses that no one is aware of. It takes the idea of an architecture bus tour and breaks it.

You also incorporate snack breaks into a lot of your tours, right?

I’m famous for my coffee. We always make cold brew coffee for everyone and I bring cookies. For the Black Dahlia tour, we bring doughnuts, because we think they are more appropriate. It has a tinge of the homicide investigator to it. We also have a crime tour called Blood and Dumplings where we pick up dumplings in the middle and eat them in a park surrounded by concrete monsters.

What do you think is the most underappreciated tour?

My James M. Cain bus tour. It’s a literary tour. He’s such a great writer. He wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce. This bus tour is about his novels, the locations in his novels, the locations used in his films.