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Photos: The Los Angeles River Center & Gardens

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The Los Angeles River Center and Gardens isn't exactly off the beaten path, but it's pretty likely it's not on your radar as a place to stroll, relax, and learn. Intrigued by the prospect of spending some time in a beautiful, peaceful place without spending any money, we headed out last week to check out the space at San Fernando Road and Avenue 26 [map].

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Once the Lawry's California Center, the River Center is now home to several local ecological non-profits, and boasts a self-guided exhibit on the history of the LA River, intriguing plant-life, and banquet facilities. In its former life as Lawry's the facility spent 30 years as part of its spice operations, built to showcase their food products, and included catering services, restaurants, and wine and gift shops on the premises; Lawry's parent company closed it down in 1991 due to lack of business. It re-opened almost a decade later under the operation of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

It was eerily empty the afternoon of our exploration, save for the couple cuddling on a semi-secluded patch of grass and a park official buffing the vast tiled floors. It was indeed quiet, although the serenity was frequently interrupted by clangs and squeals from the nearby Metrolink facilities.

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What was most exciting about the River Center, however, was not just the plants and flowers, but rather the opportunity they afford a photography enthusiast. Shapes, textures, colors, patterns popped out at virtually every turn, and it became a delightful pursuit to capture shots...and then later, at home, the ongoing work to determine just what curious botanical items we'd stumbled upon. Though the visit yielded hundreds of photos, these are a few of our favorites.