Seeing Stars: Churches of the Stars..

17190 Sunset Boulevard,
Pacific Palisades, CA. / (310) 454-4114

This is one of those delightful little spots that most visitors to L.A. (and most Los Angelenos, for that matter) never discover. It's tucked away in a small ravine near the spot where Sunset Boulevard meets the Pacific Ocean. It's easy to reach, but most people just don't know it's there.

The ten-acre site (a former movie set) contains a large, round, spring-fed lake, framed by natural hillsides and surrounded by lush landscaping. It has rushing waterfalls, fountains, colorful flower beds, inspirational statues, white swans gliding across the lake, lacy fern grottos, lily ponds, and even a picturesque, old Dutch windmill.

It is a wonderful, tranquil little oasis where you can take a relaxing stroll, and enjoy the beauty of the rustic surroundings. Photo opportunities abound.

Elvis Presley loved this place. According to his friend, Jerry Schilling, he walked around the lake and picked up some brochures, and later sent away for information about Eastern philosophy. Elvis developed a 12-year relationship with Sri Daya Mata, the woman who is now the president of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and would often call her for advice when he was troubled.

It is also one of the few places on earth where you can actually visit the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the founder of modern India, housed in a spectacular shrine on the west side of the lake.

The memorial service for The Beatles' George Harrison was held here in 2001.

And in 2017, the funeral of George's friend (and fellow member of the Traveling Wilburys), fellow rocker Tom Petty (who was cremated) was also held at the Lake Shrine.

The full name of the Lake Shrine is "the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake & Shrine." This unique spot was created in 1950 by an eastern Yogi (Paramahansa Yogananda). The Dutch windmill (which was there when they bought the property) is still a chapel used for services by his followers on Sunday mornings.

But don't let that fact hold you back. No one will bother you here. No one will preach at you, lecture you, or try to convert you. The grounds are open to the public and are as non-intimidating as a public park. The gardens are designed to offer peace and serenity to all visitors, of all faiths - a spot where one can relax amidst the natural surroundings and contemplate the mysteries and miracles of life.

The group that built this site has an admirable tolerance of different faiths; they recognize and respect all religions. In fact, to the left of the entrance there is a small Court of Religions featuring the symbols of all the great world faiths: a cross for Christianity, a Star of David for Judaism, a Wheel of Law for Buddhism, a crescent moon & star for Islam, and a Sanskrit character for Hinduism. Small plaques discreetly located on the hillsides offer inspiring quotes from the both New Testament and the Vedas.

Along with a few statues of Krishna and other Hindu deities, you will also find a life-size statue of Jesus Christ (above the waterfall, on the northwest side of the lake), as well as Saint Francis of Assisi (north of Gandhi's Shrine), and the Madonna and Child (in the sunken gardens grotto, near the gift shop). In short, every faith is welcome here.

The gardens are filled with numerous little brick paths and short stairways which lead from the main trail to hidden alcoves where you can mediate or simply sit and take in the view. Some of these spots are above the main trail (where you'll find quiet benches and even a hummingbird feeder); smaller trails reveal lush fern grottoes hidden below. So be sure to take your time and explore the various paths.

The prettiest spot in the park is probably just to the west of the Dutch Windmill. Here, you'll find a lily pond, a small rose garden, and a serene sunken grotto filled with ferns (where the white swans like to gather) - all offering a wonderful view of the main shrine across the calm lake waters.

There is an East Indian gift shop here, which shares its small building with a tiny museum of sorts. The exhibits in the little museum offer gems, works of art, religious statues, and a little history about the Lake Shrine's founder. The intriguing gift shop offers exotic jewelry, books, and other items.

The most important landmark here is the huge Golden Lotus Archway. Visible from all parts of the park, the huge archway resembles some giant Hollywood set - a towering, sleek, white arch trimmed with blue tile, and topped with enormous gold lotus blossoms. The archway frames the Gandhi World Peace Memorial, an outdoor shrine where an authentic 1,000 year-old Chinese stone sarcophagus actually holds some of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi himself.

And all of this is located just a few blocks away from the busy Pacific Coast Highway and world-famous Malibu - yet it seems like a world away.

No admission is charged, and there is a free parking lot just off Sunset.

Hours: Tues-Sat: 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM. Sun: 12:00 noon - 4:30 PM. Closed Mondays and occasionally on Saturdays. On Sundays, the small parking lot is very crowded with those attending religious services, and is closed off to the general public until the afternoon. Religious services on Sundays are at 9 & 11.

Getting there: The Lake Shrine is located on Sunset Boulevard, about a half mile inland from Pacific Coast Highway, and only three miles north of Santa Monica. / From Santa Monica, head northwest on Pacific Coast Highway, then turn right (north) onto Sunset Blvd. Go about one half mile north up Sunset Blvd, to the Shrine entrance, and make a right turn into the parking lot.   

[For more information on this subject, you can access the Self-Realization Fellowship's official website at:]

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