State No 5
My favourite place on the globe is Los Angeles, my first ever visit was around 15 years ago, and I have just landed back from my 5th trip last month, so its now officially my most visited city outside of the UK. I know a lot of people who pass through, maybe having a day or two as part of a layover on the way to Hawaii or New Zealand and hate it, the noise, the traffic, the fact that actual downtown Hollywood isn’t glamourous at all, but I absolutely adore it and its much more complex and fascinating than just a few busy tourist streets with stars on the pavement and a sign up in the hills.
There must be a million blogs out there featuring this the City of Angels, and with the actual county of Los Angeles covering 88 cities, there is no way that I could ever begin to cover in a single blog post a comprehensive list of what to see and do when visiting this part of Southern California. So I am just going to write up my favourite places to visit, with my must do list already growing, and my 6th visit already mapped out in my head. But with beaches, hills, museums and art galleries, flea and farmers markets, high end boutiques and dive bars and juice bars and nature trails and biking trails the list goes on and on, I cant believe anyone could not find something to love.
History Bit. Originally this part of California was inhabited by 4 coastal groups of Native Americans, the Tongva, the Tataviam, the Chumash and the Ajachemem, then in the late 1700’s the history books report that Mexican and Spanish missionaries arrived and started to set up the first community that is now close to Olvera Street in Downtown LA. Of course Los Angeles is much more than its most famous area, Hollywood, but it is a huge reason for its fame and the draw for people of all walks of life. The movie industry started to move here in the early 1900’s due to its great climate and close access to all kinds of perfect movie settings such as the desert, the hills, rivers, beaches as well as the urban areas and for me that is the big reason I keep returning, the diversity in both the people and the landscape.
Arrivals. I have flown direct to the main airport LAX a couple of times and if you’re flying in from the UK, you have a number of airlines from both London and Manchester taking around 10 hours. If you don’t mind changing along the way, you will be able to fly from any other airport in the U.K. for example you could go Cardiff via Amsterdam or Liverpool via Dublin. I have also driven in from San Francisco along the famous coastal route 1, this can take around 8 hrs none stop, but the route is so beautiful, so we took a couple of days to enjoy it. Amtrak trains also travel in from across the country, finishing up at Union Station as do the greyhound buses, and I once travelled in from Yosemite, via train and bus.
The public transport is still being developed in many parts of LA and due to heavy traffic, taking the bus can be a real adventure, but it is doable, the metro covers an extensive area of LA, but not to a lot of the tourist areas as yet. If you are on a budget, as I always am, an inexpensive way of getting to your accommodation on arrival from LAX is by Fly Away bus which costs $8 to Hollywood or you could order one of the shared shuttle buses such as Prime Time or Super Shuttle for around $15-20 depending on where you want to go. Driving is often said to be an essential when being in LA, but with taxis, Lyft’s and Uber’s it’s becoming easier to get around without having to hire a car if you’re only here for a short holiday, and not planning to go out of the city.
Sights. Hollywood is no doubt on most tourists hit lists when visiting for the first time, and it’s definitely a fun experience. The main sights are based around the famous Hollywood Boulevard and it’s here where you can find your favourite star on the walk of fame, visit the famous TCL Chinese Theatre where many film premiers take place, there is the Disney owned El Capitan Theatre across the street and the Dolby theatre where the Oscars are held. There are a whole bunch of museums situated here as well, including the Wax Museum, Madame Tussauds, the Hollywood Museum, Guinness Book of Records Museum and a Ripleys Believe it or Not. The Hollywood and Highland shopping mall is located, not surprisingly on the corner of Hollywood Blvd and N Highland Avenue, where you can shop, catch a movie and grab a bite to eat, and look out for a view of the Hollywood sign from up top. It’s also here on Hollywood Blvd where you can join one of the many stars homes tours and grab a photo with one of the many characters dressed up as famous faces patrolling the pavements!
Make sure you get yourself up to the Hollywood Hills too, which is actually part of the Santa Monica mountains, the views are iconic, and you can either grab a map and drive up yourself, one of the many tour buses will always include it as part of their itinerary, or you can take the Dash Observatory Bus (from Sunset and Vermont) up to Griffith Park. I’ve done all three over the years, how you decide to do it depends on your time and budget. You cannot drive straight up to the actual Hollywood Sign, but there are many vantage points for that perfect photo op, depending on how you are travelling up there, a tour bus will take you to a popular photo spot, but a quick internet search will throw up lots of self drive suggestions.
Griffith Park is a great day out and perfect for when you want to get out into nature, pack a picnic and leave the traffic and city behind. The views are amazing looking down across the skyline and you are spoiled for choice for things to do, there are lots of hiking trails, a museum, a zoo, mini railroad, caves, and of course the world famous Griffith Observatory. The observatory was closed for renovation during my first 3 trips to LA, but I finally visitied last month (Oct 2017) and it was worth the wait. The views up here for one are mesmerising, hazy downtown skyscrapers and dusty mountains, rare butterflies, birds and maybe even the odd coyote, but a visit to the observatory itself is full of a different discovery. Entry is free and you get 3 levels of space, and astronomy to explore, including the jaw droppingly exciting Tesla Coil which had multiple live demonstrations daily. The only time you need to pay is if you fancy watching one of the shows in the dome shaped planetarium, between $3-7 a ticket it’s well worth it, we experienced the Water is Life show and there are repeated showings throughout the day. As the observatory is open till late for night time viewings and monthly star parties, it doesn’t open until 12.00 daily, so we took a picnic and hiked one of the trails first before it got too hot, and then headed inside, it was a perfect day out.
Downtown LA This is the central business area of LA and the place responsible for that famous cluster of skyscrapers seen so often on TV and in films. It’s definitely rough around the edges, and there are certain areas I wouldn’t recommend walking around, but stick to the main streets and use taxis in the evening and you should be fine. There are some great reasons as to why it would be worth a visit to this part of town in the daytime though and some superb bars and restaurants too that would make for an unforgettable night out. My first ever visit to LA was to catch up with a Mexican friend, and he took me to Olvera Street and the El Pueblo Historical Monument which is where the first Mexican settlers set up encampment, so it’s basically the birthplace of Los Angeles. Olvera street is an amazing tree lined Mexican Marketplace that hits all the senses, here you can buy all kinds of crafts, clothes and food, as well as the host of many festivals, you can take a free walking tour and visit some of the oldest buildings in the city. History, tacos and music, something for everyone!
Union Station deserves a look in if you’re in the area, built in 1939 it’s the largest passenger terminal in Western US, a combination of Spanish Colonial and Art Deco the interior is outstanding. Even if you aren’t travelling on to somewhere else, it’s across from Olvera Street and has a couple of bars and a restaurant inside, so it could easily fit into someone’s downtown itinerary.
Downtown is also where you can find Little Tokyo and Chinatown both fun neighbourhoods for great food, temples, museums and shops, I once stayed in Little Tokyo for a few days, before relocating to the beach. For the few days we were there, we would would grab breakfast or lunch at some cute little Japanese place and shop or visit temples before heading off to see more of the well known sites. My final recommendation for downtown is a great bookshop if losing yourself in books and comfy chairs is your idea of heaven, located on South Spring St is The Last Book Store a huge 2 floor loft space full of books of every description and is laid out like a living breathing art gallery of books, magical!
Beverly Hills. A city to the west of Hollywood with one of the most famous postcodes in the world 90210, it’s an experience to drive through, people watch and window shop for sure. You will see lots of familiar sights from tv, music and film, ultra expensive blacked out cars, paparazzi and shops that you need an appointment or A list status to enter. All the LA tour buses will drive you down Rodeo Drive and the surrounding area, past restaurants like The Ivy or the Beverly Hills Hotel, all places that are far too expensive for us mortals to shop, sleep or dine in, but exciting to see nonetheless. Close by are places such as The Grove, the Beverly Centre and my favourite The Farmers Market which are all far more accessible the average visitor, so I’d recommend people watching, walking a couple of blocks past all the fancy stores, but then head to shop and eat in one of the neighbouring malls instead, for a more thrifty way of experiencing Beverly Hills.
Every visit I have made to LA, I have never stayed in the same place for the entire trip, I spend time staying in the heart of Hollywood and then head across to the coast. This is partly because I usually never hire a car, so it saves on travelling (it can take 30-40+ minutes to get across town on a good day and you are looking at an hour+ on public transport) but I also like to have a few days exploring the shops, bars, museums in and around Hollywood, and then head to the coast as its a completely different vibe, and mindset.
Santa Monica is a city in itself, situated on the Pacific coastline, its a very walkable and bike friendly place, full of juice bars, shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants, spas, yoga studios, theatres and coffee shops. With palm trees spanning the famous Ocean Drive that you will have seen thousands of times before in the movies and of course the celebrated Santa Monica Pier, it feels a world away from the neon filled, billboard lined busy streets of West Hollywood. As well as exploring the famous Pier which has a ferris wheel, aquarium, restaurants, arcades and shops, spend time along Third Street Promenade where you will find more affordable shopping and restaurants than in Beverly Hills for sure and even a British Pub. Bike lanes and rental shops are everywhere, and you can easily travel up and down the coast line on designated bike lanes, south to Venice Beach or north towards Malibu, maybe try some surfing or paddleboard lessons, or if you are me just chill on the beach with a smoothie.
Venice Beach. It’s only a 30 minute walk from Santa Monica or a 10 minute car journey, but definately strap in for a completely different scene down here. It’s the quirkier, eclectic, bohemian neighbour and always worth a visit, the world famous boardwalk is full of unique people, stalls and events. Keep an eye out for The Boardwalk Busker, along with the man who has a huge albino snake wrapped around his neck, mixed in with local musicians and artists showcasing their talents. The beach front is full of restaurants and bars, and its an experience to just sit down and witness all the craziness from behind the safety of a cold beer and some tacos. Make sure to walk as far down as Muscle Beach, to witness the bare chested weighlifters pumping iron in the sun, then head back a few blocks past the famous Jim Morrison mural to the quietly scenic canal area. Take time to wander the entire length of Abbot Kinney and explore Rose Avenue and Main St, which are full of coffee shops, boutique stores, and lots of original and unconventional restaurants and bars.
Others sights – So much more to recommend, head up to Malibu for surfers, more beaches and great restaurants, take in the art and amazing views from the Getty, take a bar crawl at night along Sunset Strip and visit the incredible Universal Studios theme park afterwards watching a film and enjoying a meal at the Universal City Walk and maybe even book a studio tour at Warner Brothers the list goes on. . . .