Just about a year ago now, I was lucky enough to be invited along on a trip to Los Angeles with my friend (Young Adult author, our esteemed editor here at Bea), Keris. It was a short trip, just four nights but we managed to make the very most of it. What with the one year anniversary of the trip and the fantastic news about the US presidential election yesterday, I thought I’d share some of the ways we “wheezed the jui-uice” out of our time in LA.
Of course, Los Angeles has its international airport, the sixth largest airport in the world so it’s going to be fairly easy to get to wherever you are. We flew via Philadelphia, connecting with a domestic Philadelphia- Los Angeles flight. Be aware- you will often find on domestic US flights, there’s no meal service (but soft drinks will be served) or entertainment system. Take a book, an iPad, iPod or a friend to talk to for your flight. You could even pack a picnic, like the family across the aisle from us. You may have in-flight internet, for a fee of course, from which you can tweet your dissatisfaction with the passenger in front or behind you who won’t sit still. Or maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, once you’re there, you’ll want to see and do everything. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
1. Go to the beach! Well, why wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t think of beaches and palm trees when they think of California? In particular, go to Venice Beach and stroll the 2.5miles or so down the Venice Beach Boardwalk to Santa Monica Pier. Venice Beach is a wonderful place with a young, vibrant, post-hippy vibe. You can shop for souvenirs of all sorts at Venice Beach as well as take a turn in an oxygen bar, get a tattoo and (although I wouldn’t recommend this) even get a prescription for medical marijuana from one of the numerous “clinics”. See the roller-skating guitar player. Gawp at the bodies on display at Muscle Beach and watch the talented young skaters at the skate park.
Or, head out onto the golden sand and dip your toes in the water- even in November, the water was warm enough to go for a paddle. Watch the surfers out in the waves. Spot a dolphin. Spot a famous face. Have a drink or something to eat on the beach at one of the many beach cafes along the way. Once you’ve been to Venice Beach, you’ll spot it a million times on tv when you get home and think fondly, “I’ve been there!”
2. Drive! I admit, I was apprehensive to drive a car in the USA, especially Los Angeles where the stories of long waits in traffic are legendary. Luckily I have a friend who assured me before I left that driving in LA is actually quite easy. While in LA, we hired a car and driving in LA is now an experience I’m glad I didn’t pass up.
Yes, the roads are busy, in particular, the motorway/freeways. But the freedom driving allows you to explore a vast city like LA is well worth braving the traffic for. GPS makes any trip easier, of course and pretty much all hire companies will offer a GPS unit for a small extra charge. Just punch in where you’d like to go and let the machine tell you where to point the car. Drive up into the Hollywood Hills and see the view from the Griffith Observatory. Drive along that fantastic coast line, and marvel at the vast Pacific. Get beeped at on suburban roads for failing to turn right at a red light when it’s safe. All great fodder for stories to tell the grandchildren one day.
Just a tip: if you have an appointment (booked a studio tour, perhaps) and your GPS tells you you’ll need half an hour to drive there via the freeway, give yourself a whole hour. You’ll probably need it.
3. Take a bus tour around the city. This is the best way to ensure seeing the best bits of Los Angeles when on a short stop- a layover en route to a more far flung destination for example. There are lots of bus tours available, a quick internet search will yield a lot of results. A day’s tour, about five hours in an air conditioned coach or mini-bus, will take you to the most popular sights around the city. You’ll see the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive and some of the tours take you into Beverly Hills to see the streets big Hollywood stars live on.
Don’t worry, you won’t be sitting on a bus all day. The bus will stop at certain tourist meccas; the Kodak Center for a wander along the Walk of Fame and a gander at Mann’s Chinese Theatre. You’ll have an opportunity to take a photo of the Hollywood sign, grab a coffee or something to eat and even have a look at some of the shops.
Yeah, it’s touristy but it’s fun and a great way to explore without the angst of getting lost in a big, foreign city.
4. Studio Tour If it’s not compulsory to do a studio tour in Los Angeles, it should be. We all love tv and films, don’t we? A studio tour around one of the big film studio lots will be entertaining and enlightening. We took a tour of the Warner Bros studios but there are lots to choose from- Paramount, Sony, Universal etc. Most of the tours take you around the site via a little electric wagon or bus but some of the smaller tours are walking only.
I can’t say much more for the other tours, having not experienced them but I can tell you a bit about the Warner Bros tour in Burbank. This included visiting a props department where we learned about the part props play in characterisation and saw a few famous props to make us ooh & ahh (the president’s desk from The West Wing); a green screen studio where it was explained how green screen worked and we had our photo superimposed, via green screen, onto Platform 9 &3/4 and the Hogwarts Express; visiting a working sound stage where they had the set from the tv show Chuck (now sadly no longer being made); wagon tour around the backlots where we saw the Friends sound stage; visiting the set of Friends, now set up as a permanent exhibition for studio tour guests; visiting the studio museum of costumes; wagon ride through outdoor sets like the square from Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls. All of this was accompanied by commentary from a very knowledgeable tour guide who was infectiously enthusiastic about film and tv. Tours are not cheap and vary price according to length and type of tour but are a great way to learn more about our favourite tv shows and films. You’ll never look at the set of a tv show or film the same again!
5. A little whimsical this one but…. Find a “local”! One of the things I loved most about my short time in LA was visiting a local cafe, the Sidewalk Cafe and Bar (as seen in an episode of Gilmore Girls!) in Venice Beach for breakfast, breakfast, late lunch and dinner. Yes, in three days, we visited four times. By the time we’d made our third visit our waiter was greeting us with, “Well, hello again!” and it gave me a silly little thrill and made me feel like I lived at Venice Beach for a bit. The service, drinks, food and atmosphere in this particular cafe bar was wonderful. It was close to where we were staying and we knew we’d get fed well, see interesting people walking along the Venice Boardwalk as we ate and how to get home if we were a little wobbly from too many margaritas on our last night. Finding somewhere we loved and where the staff were friendly and happy to chat early on into our stay took the stress out of wondering where we would eat while fitting mealtimes into a busy holiday itinerary and added a little extra joy to our entire LA experience.
For me, Los Angeles is a city you don’t really know you wanted to visit until you get there. And once you have visited you know one day you’ll return and do it all over again. I’m sure of it.