Although I know little about horse handicapping, visiting Santa Anita Park is one of my favorite winter rituals. This 1934 art deco masterpiece is a sight to behold anytime ― but especially during the crisp, smogless months, when the racetrack's broad backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains is made all the more dramatic.
The last time I visited, I had misgivings: New owners had proposed controversial renovations, prompting the National Trust for Historic Preservation to add the racetrack to its list of America's 11 most endangered sites. I was relieved to find that most of the architectural blows seem glancing.
The Paddock Gardens ― where I watched the horses and their jockeys go through their prerace paces ― is still a dazzling landscape of richly hued pansies and birds of paradise, interspersed with hedges sculpted into equine forms. Two elevator towers have been added to the main structure's majestic façade, but matching green paint and the integration of the original horse frieze help mitigate their intrusion.