Let me start with a confession: For more than 40 years, I steadfastly ignored the tourist attractions in Los Angeles because the city just seemed too big and too congested. Instead I focused on more distant and exotic locations, even though L.A. was just two hours away. Eventually a question emerged: What if this megalopolis concealed places that we would be crazy to miss? That thought persisted until my wife and I decided to take the challenge of exploring L.A. and discovering what lies hidden in that giant to the north. After a four-day visit, I owe several mea culpas. Our trip confirmed that L.A. has much to offer and this initial foray has just whetted our appetites to see more of this “city of angels”.
My wife and I embarked on our mission by focusing on the areas in and around Venice Beach and Hollywood, both of which I knew were unique places.
When we arrived in the beach area of Venice Beach, it felt as though we had entered the “Twilight Zone”. This unique community was raw, energetic, entertaining and daunting.
Strolling along the boardwalk, we got the full Venice experience as we watched street performers (like the guy who walked barefoot on broken glass), dancing roller skaters, skateboarders, weight lifters and assorted athletes playing outdoor paddle tennis, basketball or handball….all amid a large array of homeless folks. What we enjoyed most was riding our rented bikes down the boardwalk to the Santa Monica Pier and then returning for a sunset drink on the roof of the Erwin Hotel.
If time permits, don’t miss a stroll down Abbott Kinney Street, renowned for its mix of eclectic art galleries, bookstores, bars and restaurants. For a parting memento and a source of good luck, find the smiling woman on the boardwalk who will engrave your name on a grain of rice for ten bucks.
Hollywood is one of those famous places that we wanted to experience at least once in our lives. A drive down Hollywood Boulevard revealed a mix of glittering lights, souvenir shops, old and new restaurants and hotels, and crowds from around the world searching for the “real Hollywood”. We scanned the names of Hollywood celebrities embedded in the sidewalks, and measured our hands and feet against those of the movie stars whose concrete impressions adorn the entry to Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Using the well-located, Art Deco-themed Redbury Hotel as our base, we cruised through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills before reaching Griffith Park where we toured the observatory, museum and planetarium, and took photos of the iconic Hollywood sign in the nearby hills. Where else can you watch a Tesla coil emit one million volts of electricity? Eat lunch at the Cafe at the End of the Universe and enjoy a full L.A. panoramic view.
Back on Hollywood Boulevard, Madame Tussaud’s Hollywood Wax Museum proved to be our biggest surprise. We photographed ourselves alongside the amazingly lifelike figures, including my childhood favorite, Lawrence of Arabia, and nearly 100 others. Afterwards we took the two hour Movie Stars’ Homes Tour that not only offered glimpses of various stars’ homes, but also provided an excellent overview of the streets, suburbs and hills of the Hollywood area. The Hollywood CityPass saved us nearly half on these attractions.
During our two days in the Hollywood area, we found other world-class attractions that would make any traveler’s short list:
- The Getty Center, located on 750 acres, overlooks most of Los Angeles. This collection of museums, gardens and restaurants merits at least half
- The Getty Villa is an exact replica of a Roman Villa. Overlooking Malibu Beach, the villa, gardens and vast collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan art is spectacular.
- Universal Studios’ high tech rides appeal to adrenaline junkies, but my favorite attraction the Studio Tour. It combines a tour of the sets where Hollywood films and TV shows have been made, along with a series of dramatic surprises along the way.
- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a collection of over 100,000 pieces that covers the entire history of art.
- The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, next to LACMA, is world-famous for its unique collection of asphalt-entombed fossils.
No travel experience in L.A. is complete without sampling the food scene. Here’s a few places that we enjoyed and can recommend:
- Paiche, in Marina Del Rey, offers a Peruvian/Japanese tapas-style menu and over 100 different kinds of tequila, mescal and other exotic drinks.
- Cafe Gratitude, in Venice Beach, mixes vegan food and philosophical introspection.
- Gracias Madre, in West Hollywood, is a hip vegan Mexican restaurant with locally grown foods and an amazing mixed drinks menu.
- La Dolce Vita, in Beverly Hills, is an Italian restaurant where Frank Sinatra, the Reagans and other notables used to dine. Ask the waiters to share their stories about the famous patrons whose photos adorn the walls.
- Cecconi’s in West Hollywood is a delightful place for breakfast that we would have enjoyed any time of the day. There is a distinct air of affluence here, but it still felt welcoming.
As we headed homeward through the L.A. freeway maze, I reflected on our experiences. After eating a healthy portion of crow, I’ll admit that Los Angeles has an abundance of first-class attractions. And despite our best efforts, we have just scratched the surface.
Echoing what the Terminator so famously said, “I’ll be back.”
Doug Hansen is a travel writer and photographer in Carlsbad, CA. You can find more photos and articles at www.HansenTravel.org
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Hotel Erwin, 1697 Pacific Ave, Venice Beach, CA 90291; 310-452-1111;
www.hotelerwin.com. Located in the heart of Venice Beach, this modern, clean hotel with its rooftop bar and lounge is a treat.
The Redbury Hotel, 1717 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028; 323-962-1717;
Paiche, 13488 Maxella Ave, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292; 310-893-6100;
Cafe Gratitude, 639 N. Larchmont Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90004; 323-580-6383;
Gracias Madre, 8905 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069; 323-978-2170;
Cecconi’s, 8764 Melrose Ave, West Hollywood, CA 90069; 310-432-2000;
The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049; 310-440-7300;
LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA; 323-857-6111;
Universal Studios, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608; 800-864-8377;
Hollywood CityPass; 888-330-5008; www.citypass.com. Saves 48% on four must-see Hollywood tours.