We arrived in the morning and successfully survived our first day by wandering aimlessly along Hollywood Blvd with caffeinated beverages in hand. We were good boys and managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour after a tasty first American meal at "California Pizza Kitchen". The hotel we stayed at is located near the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Highland Avenue, meaning it was only a short stroll to a fantastic open air shopping complex and fabulous views of the Hollywood sign!
I will tell you now that yes, Hollywood is unclean and scary and tacky and amazing all at once... Everyone told us that we would hate LA and that it was dirty and unsafe, people scoffed at how long we were planning on spending in its glitz and grime... Well I can tell you now that we absolutely loved LA! The city is abuzz with action and excitement, it is quintessential America from all your favourite movies and tv shows, there are memorable experiences around every star studded street corner... And there is ALWAYS a restaurant or burger joint selling the delicious food you know you shouldn't be eating. Our advice here is to simply give it a go without any prejudice and see what you make of it.
Tragic tourist tip: Take one of the tacky tours of the "Stars' Homes"! A good tour will take you about two hours and generally includes a rest stop with a good view of the Hollywood sign for your photo album. The aim here is not necessarily to see a celebrity (although it does happen quite a bit), or to marvel at their pretty houses (some are genuine stunners) but to see how close the rich and famous actually live to the main drag... Makes them seem more human really.
Probably one of our more unexpected moments of awe whilst in LA was our "Hop on Hop off" tour of the downtown area. When seeing a foreign city for the first time, I find that these tours are a fantastic way to orient yourself, see a good amount of the city and learn a few fun facts without breaking the bank. This being said I highly recommend you choose the method you are most comfortable with (be it public transport, taxi or tour bus) to see the sights in downtown LA. The buildings downtown are things of beauty and there is greenery covering a surprising amount of the area. The pre recorded commentary whilst on board gave us an understanding of what we were looking at and gave us the confidence to explore the city independently. Wide streets, fantastic views and some incredible people-watching made our daytime downtown experience well worth it!
Just a tiny selection of some of the beautiful buildings dotted all over Downtown LA
Whilst downtown, we decided that the Walt Disney Concert Hall was something that we wanted to have a look at (mainly because I saw it in a movie once and thought it looked cool). We took the chance and hopped off our tour bus... We were handsomely rewarded for our efforts... The building itself is absolutely beautiful and the free audio tour (with commentary by John Lithgow) is well worth the time as the building has a lot to say and, let's be honest, unless you are an architect you would probably never notice or appreciate the buildings many subtle nuances. This aside, our favorite part of the building by far was the gardens. These little alcoves of flowers and fountains provide a brief interlude amid the hustle and bustle of LA's central business district. The flowering trees and trickling fountains are not only beautiful, but attract butterflies and hummingbirds! I think this is astounding considering the concert halls location! Definitely my LA highlight.
A few angles of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The ruby red flowers attract all sorts of wildlife and the rose fountain is made from thousands of pieces of broken porcelain.
If you are finding your LA experience a little bit too adult and serious... I highly recommend Universal Studios. A whole day at Universal Studios definitely satisfied my inner child and fed the movie geek inside me. I will tell you now that if you plan on visiting Universal Studios for just one day then you NEED a front of line pass! We managed to get in all the big rides, shows and attractions without waiting more than 10 minutes in a queue and still had time for food and carnival games!
How many iconic signs does Universal studios need! Me proudly protecting my first carnival win for the day! Please note the amazing front of line pass that made the day so much easier.
Rounding out our time in LA was a delightful three night stay in sunny Santa Monica. Here we were joined by some fantastic friends from home (Santa Monica was the connecting location for five different groups on five very different holidays). I can recommend no better way to unwind after the hustle of Hollywood than by spending a few nights sunning, shopping and swimming in Santa Monica. Not only is it great for the beach, promenade and famous pier, but the neighborhood is safe, quiet, happy and healthy.
This is what happens when best friends get together on Santa Monica Beach and discover some unattended life guard chairs.
Handy Shanwah hint: Make up your own mind about LA. I only ask that you give LA a genuine go. Most people hate it based on face value, yes it is dirty, dangerous, tacky and touristy... But behind all that there are some amazing things to see! Don't let other peoples opinions prevent you from having what could be a life changing experience.
The City of Angels is definitely more than just silver screen gloss and violent grit, if you give it a chance you will find yourself enjoying a whole lot more than you expected.