Most people associate Los Angeles with great weather, famous good looking people, and surfing. But not me. When I think “L.A.”, Sheryl Crow’s “All I wanna do” song instantly pops in my mind- “This ain’t no disco / And it ain’t no country club either, / This is L.A.” So, obviously my expectations of L.A. were quite different. I was prepared to see car washes at every corner with “the good people of the world” washing their cars in their lunch breaks, beer at noon on Tuesdays, and of course the sun coming up the Santa Monica boulevard. Well, I’m glad to report that my expectations were very skewed and that I only remember seeing one car wash.
My experience in Los Angeles wasn’t technically in Los Angeles, as I stayed in Santa Monica for only a day and a bit and then headed north to start my road trip to San Francisco. But, as a starting point for a great road trip, Santa Monica showed me that LA is more than what a few lyrics of a song depict.
I had two things on my to-do list: 1. the beach and 2. the Hollywood sign. I didn’t get to number 2, which means I have to go back and soon.
Since I had been collecting IHG points for a while and I kept changing my mind on where I want to stay far too many times, I ended up at the Intercontinental in Century City which is in between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Like always, the IHG chain didn’t disappoint and I got a room with a gorgeous view. I could even see the real L.A. somewhere far in the horizon.
First thing I wanted to do was to see the Santa Monica beach. On google maps it looked pretty close. But the reality was quite different, as I had to take a 15 minutes Uber to get there. Either way, the beach was as gorgeous as I expected it to be. It was a beautiful sunny day, but my timing in California wasn’t quite perfect. For all the sun and beautiful views, I had to deal with a cold and very strong wind, which I was told is quite unusual. This might also explain why the beach is so empty. But, since I’m brave and very stubborn I wasn’t going to let a silly wind keep me from exploring. So, I took the Ocean Front Walk towards Venice beach which was only 6km away from where I was.
My first stop was of course the iconic Santa Monica Pier.
Since the wind was starting to take a toll on me up to the point where I was freezing, I decided to make a stop by the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica Downtown. I also needed some hair ties if I wanted to ever untangle my hair again. This strip is quite lovely and it reminded me a lot of some pedestrian areas in Europe.
Once I was armed with hair ties, I went back to the beach to continue my walk. But the wind wouldn’t give up and it just got worse and worse. By the time I reached Venice Beach I was concerned that one of the palm trees would fall over me. And I could feel sand passing through my clothes and scratching me. Maybe this part was only in my head. Still, 2 hours later, I couldn’t continue past Venice Beach. Lesson learned, if the weather report sends you a hazard alert for high wind don’t just ignore it.
Before going to Venice beach I used to associate Venice with nice things like gondolas and murano glass. Now I associated it with homeless people, 3 for 1 price stores, and of course horrible wind. I really need to go to the real Venice to rectify this.
My initial plan was to walk along the beach as far as possible, hopefully past Marina del Rey. Once I got to Venice beach I realized that maybe I should have gone north of Santa Monica instead… But it was already late afternoon and walking is much harder when the wind keeps pushing you back. I didn’t make it to Marina del Rey. Next time. Maybe.
After my windy beach experience I was ready to go far away from the beachfront. Maybe a few hundred kilometres away where the wind couldn’t reach. Of course, I didn’t go that far. I only went to Hollywood which is 20km away from Santa Monica. I had high hopes that I could cross the number 2 off the list. More than half hour later, I get off my Uber and there I was, on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame surrounded by stars engraved on the sidewalk and by a sea of tourists admiring them. The Hollywood sign couldn’t be that far, right? Wrong. It’s 8KM away, and that’s just to get to the trailhead. I was tired, hungry and surrounded by tourists. It wasn’t quite my day. I’m not a big fan of touristy places in general and I had a feeling it would just get worse if I attempted an adventure.
I settled with going down the street trying to find some famous stars that I would recognize. And I did find some. But tourists kept stepping on them. Or hugging them. Or taking selfies with them. I headed to the famous Chinese Theatre, same story. And then to the Highland Center which is basically a shopping mall. The white elephant in the courtyard was inspired by a scene in D.W. Griffith’s film Intolerance. The arch had a few levels to go higher and get a better view, which I did and I got a glimpse of the corner of Hollywood sign. That was as close as I got to item 2 on the list.
In the evening, I met up with a friend who took me to see a few good places. And because it was late, the tourists were probably busy getting ready to explore the nightlife and stalk a few celebrities around.
We stopped by the Urban Lights, a large-scale assemblage sculpture by Chris Burden near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The 202 restored street lamps making the installation are from the 1920s and 1930s. Cool stuff.
We also drove through the Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive where all possible luxury retailers have a presence. Since it was late, the stores were close but I did get a glimpse of their fashion through the elaborated window displays.
Next, we stopped by the Beverly Hills sign. And since I already made a song reference, I guess I can make another – “Beverly / Hills – That’s where I want to be! (Gimme Gimme) / Living in Beverly Hills… / Beverly Hills – Rolling like a celebrity! (Gimme Gimme) /Living in Beverly Hills…”. Weezer, of course. As I was taking pictures of the sign I was humming this song in my head. It makes a good point. The houses are pretty and the fashion sense is quite elevated. Not sure if that’s where I want to be though… It seems far from the ocean. And you can’t see the Hollywood sign! I admit I have an obsession with this sign. But for those who are into celebrity watching this is where to be, as many of them live in this neighbourhood.
We also stopped by a view point which I assume is breathtaking during the day. It was beautiful during the night too, with the entire area looking like a sea of stars. Real stars, not Walk of Fame stars.
By the time it was time for me to leave on my epic road trip, I had come to the conclusion that I did LA wrong.
LA is not a walkable city at all, so I should have rented a car. I do hold this against the city though. Through all my wandering I rarely saw public transportation. Which is disappointing from an environment perspective. I get it that the distances are big, but can’t you just make an effort LA? Can’t you?! Also, what’s up with these parking signs? By the time you finish reading you might get a ticket or lose your spot… And with so many cars around the latter may be worse.
One day and a bit is not enough to see much. Next time, I’m definitely planning for a few days at least. And when I say planning I include throughly researching and making excel spreadsheets. Since the distances are big and the things to see are not easily reachable I think an hourly plan is appropriate. Also, I shall make an effort to fit in with the tourists and dig up some celebrity addresses.
Lastly, I need to research food places throughly. I knew LA had good food but I didn’t put much thought into it. And I missed out. I did go for brunch to a place that I really liked, Clementine, but since I’m not a food enthusiast I completely forgot to take pictures of my meal and instagram it. I made it a point to at least try to remember to do this for the rest of my trip.
All in all, my stop in LA was good and gave me an idea of how LA should be experienced. I was very happy to catch up with my friend, to see the famous beaches, and to just listen to the sound of the ocean. I haven’t been on the West Coast for a few years so it was a good first reminder of how amazing it is!