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Opened in 1919, University of California, Los Angeles, is rich with stories, accolades and history. It consistently ranks among top California and U.S. education institutions, and it has graduated an incredible number of influential alumni, from athletes Jackie Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to astronaut Anna Lee Fisher and the first African American mayor of LA, Tom Bradley.
It’s also a university with a reputation that precedes itself — this year, more than 112,000 students jumped into UCLA’s applicant pool, making it the most applied-to four-year university in the nation.
But, as a graduate of the school, I can attest that everyday life on and around campus is what made my UCLA experience so positive, not the facts and figures mentioned above — though I do feel my shoulders straighten with pride as I write them out. Set over 419 acres just below Sunset Boulevard, the campus offers innumerable beautiful corners for studying (or not studying).
Throughout my undergrad years, I found that most students managed to prioritize academics while balancing active social lives. Living in the stacks of Powell Library wasn’t really an option, with movie screenings, outdoor concerts and sports events always on the calendar.
If you’re set to visit the campus and its surroundings, here are 10 stops to pencil in to get a glimpse of UCLA student life.
Ackerman Union and Kerckhoff HallThese side-by-side buildings house Associated Students UCLA, a student-controlled nonprofit organization that watches over student associations and media entities, plus the myriad divisions of the UCLA Store.
On the ground level, students can shop for logo-emblazoned apparel, computers and snacks. For a hot meal, they might peruse the food court on the first level.
Cross the sky bridge and you’re in the historic Kerckhoff Hall, a Gothic structure built in 1931. Fuel up on coffee at Kerckhoff Coffee House, which dates back to 1976, or people-watch on the adjacent patio beneath the structure’s detailed spires.
Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture GardenUCLA’s North Campus — home to the majority of the university’s liberal arts departments — is arguably more scenic than South Campus, and the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden deserves a lot of the credit.
More than 70 sculptures dot this more than 5-acre swath of greenery, which was dedicated in 1967 by the then-chancellor of the same name. An idyllic spot for a picnic or a reading session, the sculpture garden is at its prettiest in the spring and fall, when the sticky but brilliant jacaranda trees are in bloom.
Janss StepsClimbing 87 steps doesn’t sound so bad, but after you’ve done it a few times, you’ll likely find your feet steering you toward Bruin Walk, or some other less-strenuous route to UCLA’s main campus.
Janss Steps were the original entry way to UCLA, when the campus consisted of Royce Hall, Powell Library, the Chemistry Building (now known as Haines Hall) and the Physics-Biology Building (now named the Humanities Building). A UCLA legend claims that one of the Janss brothers — real estate developers who once owned land that later became part of the campus — is buried under the sixth step. (Maybe skip that step.)
When visiting UCLA in Los Angeles, prospective students can check out student organizations and the campus's oldest coffee shop in Ackerman Union and the adjoining Kerckhoff Hall. // © 2015 UCLA
The popular Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden is a must-see on campus. // © 2015 Creative Commons user caelestis
To burn off extra calories, some students opt to take Janss Steps to the main campus. // © 2015 UCLA
UCLA’s Bruin Statue is a favorite stop for shutterbugs and the superstitious — some students rub the bear’s back paw for good luck. // © 2015 UCLA
Cookies at the nearby Diddy Riese cost 35 cents each, and an ice cream sandwich will set you back just $1.75. // © 2015 Creative Commons user varintsai
Westwood’s charming Profeta Espresso makes Italian-style coffees adjacent to an ivy-covered patio. // © 2015 Creative Commons user goodladyducayne
Located about 3 miles from campus, The Getty Center offers a vast art collection, beautiful gardens and sweeping city views. // © 2015 Creative Commons user acordova
Prospective students can get a glimpse of an older LA at The Apple Pan, a local, iconic burger shack.. // © 2015 Creative Commons user aloha75
The BearMore of a fierce papa bear than a cuddly bruin, UCLA’s bronze bear sculpture is worthy of a visit. The 2-ton creature stands mid-snarl in Bruin Plaza, just a few steps from Ackerman Union.
If you’re on the UCLA campus when any University of Southern California and UCLA athletic matchups are taking place, though, you will likely see a box — not a bear. Cleverly labeled with the slogan “The Bear is Hibernating,” the box protects the statue from USC fans who might deface it during rivalry weeks. USC takes similar precautions with its beloved Tommy Trojan statue.
Follow in the footsteps of many a UCLA student by rubbing the Bruin Statue's back paw for good luck.
Diddy RieseWestwood Village has suffered from a rough business climate in recent years, but I’d bet the cost of UCLA tuition that Diddy Riese Cookies will live on forever.
Open since 1983, this straightforward cookie counter draws in students with its bargain-priced goodies — cookies only cost 35 cents each, and ice cream sandwiches are $1.75. Expect to wait in a line that snakes down the sidewalk, however, as people come from all over Los Angeles to snack at this Westwood delight.
Espresso ProfetaThis intimate, ivy-covered corner of Westwood is an ideal landing place if your feet require a rest and your energy a boost. Housed in one of area’s oldest buildings — the brick beauty dates back to the 1920s — Espresso Profeta offers stellar Italian-style coffees, including the Caffe Nico, which is sweetened up with candied orange syrup, cinnamon and orange zest. There’s also a selection of teas, pastries and sandwiches.
Stan’s DoughnutsStudents living in on-campus housing trek down a serious hill and up another to get to main campus, so there’s no need to feel guilty consuming sweet treats from Stan’s Doughnuts in Westwood.
This institution has been keeping college kids sugar-happy since 1965. Local favorites include any of Stan’s peanut butter concoctions, such as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Pocket and the peanut butter donut with fresh banana and chocolate chips.
The Apple PanTake a short drive or bus ride down Westwood Boulevard and you will find The Apple Pan, an iconic LA burger joint that has stood in the same spot on Pico Boulevard since 1947.
Some argue that The Apple Pan's steakburger hasn’t held a spot on best-of-LA burger list in a while, but most fans are charmed by the eatery’s stubbornness as much as its fare. While the surrounding area has changed and grown over time, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint something that has been altered in this simple, old-school diner.
Line cooks and waiters don paper hats and white aprons, just as they have for decades. Soda cans are delivered in tandem with paper cones full of ice, and your tab is still rung up on an antique register — cash only, of course. Don’t forget to try a slice of the namesake apple pie, though the banana cream is delish, too.
The Getty CenterSet just 3 miles from campus, it’s easy to check The Getty off your Los Angeles must-see list while visiting UCLA. The museum looms over the I-405 freeway on a bluff, so in addition to offering antiquities, paintings and sculptures galore, visitors get a great view of Santa Monica and West LA from the structure’s pretty terraces.
The Getty’s rotating exhibits are reason to stop by more than once, but I usually return for the Central Garden, a living and ever-changing masterpiece full of blooms and greenery. For a more up-tempo experience, plan a weekend visit during the warmer months, when the Saturdays off the 405 series bring DJs and new musicians to the museum for outdoor sunset shows.