Los Angeles was the first stop in our recent 3-week road trip in the States. Needless to say, in a trip that included places like the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Big Sur and Disneyland, visiting LA was certainly not on the top of my “most looking forward to visiting” list. In fact, the more I read on it, the more I convinced myself that LA was going to be my least favorite stop. Us not having a car, the lack of public transport, and having to watch out for where not to venture (in terms of safety)… I was actually dreading it. But LA proved me very wrong…
Since we were staying in a hotel Downtown, that’s where our tour started. I knew this neighborhood had undergone a massive transformation in recent years. Going from a neglected area only used by 9-to-5 office workers into a really modern and artistic neighborhood that definitely left a good impression in me. Our first stop was El Pueblo, which is an area encompassing a couple of blocks where the city of Los Angeles was born. Even though I have never been to Mexico, this is exactly how I would picture Mexico to be. As we were walking down Olvera Street, it definitely felt like someone had just transported us there. Olvera Street is an attraction in itself, full of little stands for souvenir shopping, as well as a couple of mexican restaurants. Since it was early morning, there wasn’t much going on, but I’d say that street gets buzzing at later times in the day!
One of my favorite parts of LA, and I think one of it’s hidden gems for certain, is Angeleno Heights. How to even begin to describe this place! Angeleno Heights is a little Victorian neighborhood full of famous movie locations. If you are really into movies, like I am, this is a piece of heaven. But it’s not just the movie locations, which I will get to in a couple of lines, it’s as if someone forgot it was there! It feels as if while they were building a 21st century city full of skyscrapers, this part stayed hidden and frozen in time… sort of. There are parts that are a bit run-down unfortunately, but it just adds to the charm that surrounds this place. The amount of detail and work that has gone into each of the houses in this charming neighborhood is astonishing to say the least.
Houses like this are certainly not built any more. I think what really makes this area stand out so much is the massive contrast between these cute little victorian houses and the row of big skyscrapers in the background…
Of course, taking all of this into account, it is no surprise that this place makes a great spot for movie locations. Probably one of the most famous movies filmed here is the Fast and the Furious. Both Toretto’s market and cafe (home of the tuna sandwiches) and the Torettos’ home house can both be found really close to each other.
Another unexpected movie location is that of the TV series Charmed. Despite the series being based in San Francisco, their famous red house is actually in Angeleno Heights.
Even more interestingly, only a couple of meters away from this popular red house is the haunted house that features in Michael Jackson’s videoclip Thriller. Cool fact: this house actually also appears in at least one episode of Charmed too. And it looks as creepy in real life as it does in the videoclip…
Hollywood and Beverly Hills
Our next stop was a much more popular area of LA, and honestly, all I ever really associated with this city: the walk of fame and the big mansions.
We had a lot of fun wandering around trying to spot the stars from people we knew, which is actually a lot harder than what you’d imagine! We also paid a visit to the famous Chinese Theatre, which you should recognize from the movie Saving Mr Banks. If you haven’t seen it, stop whatever it is you are doing and go watch it. Seriously. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to go in, but I hear the inside is rather impressive. Nevertheless, at the entrance, you can explore the different imprints from hands, feet and other random things from different celebrities, which was interesting to say the least.
Of course, we couldn’t leave Hollywood before stopping at the Dolby Theatre and pretending to walk the red carpet. We were also able to get a sneaky peek of the Hollywood sign from there. To finish off with Hollywood, here is a random and cool fact: Michael Jackson briefly attended school a couple of blocks from the Walk of Fame after moving to LA. The school is named after him – Michael Jackson Auditorium.
After Hollywood we went for a drive around the Beverly Hills residential area. And I say drive because interestingly, there are no side walks at all. If the police finds you walking around and you are not a resident you will be in trouble! And that’s not the only weird aspect of this residential area… Notice anything unusual in these street signs (right picture)? Good luck trying to find Foothill! Another smart trick to keep visitors out… Apart from that, this area is exactly as you would expect: big mansions that you can not even see. They do a pretty good job at protecting them with trees and big fences. Like I said, this is definitely not the best LA has to offer, however I am a firm believer that you can’t form an opinion about somewhere until you have been there, so at least now I get to have an opinion on Beverly Hills.
Before it was time to say goodbye to “the LA of the riches” we had a brief stop at Rodeo Drive, where Julia Roberts went on a shopping spree in Pretty Woman. There was no shopping for us though, it was slightly out of our budget! The streets may as well be paved in gold in this area…
LA’s golden coast: Marina del Rey, Venice and Santa Monica
I was born and raised in a small island. The sea has always been a big part of my life and it definitely influences my liking for a place. It is for that reason that I was not surprised when I fell in love with this part of LA (although Angeleno Heights is definitely a very close second!). Our first point of contact with LA’s coast was Fisherman’s Village at Marina del Rey. This is a lovely small part of the harbor with a wooden promenade and a wide variety of restaurants. If you are lucky, you might even be able to spot some sea lions swimming around. Kind of reminded me of the New Hampshire coast (not because of the sea lions but because of the buildings). Even though it was very quiet while we were there, according to David, it is a great spot to be if you happen to be in LA for the 4th July. Although, don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic the way it was while we were there, even if it was quite cold (which I didn’t know it was possible in the summer in LA).
David drove us along the coast from Marina del Rey to Venice. A lot of retired people have homes in this area, which I was not surprised to learn. However, LA’s biggest and most unexpected surprise was waiting for us in Venice.
Venice is most widely known for its beach and the antics that made it popular in the first place. What I wasn’t expecting to see was a small version of Amsterdam. This are is supposed to resemble Venice (you didn’t see that coming, right?), however to me, it definitely felt a lot more like Amsterdam than Venice… But that’s just my personal opinion. My point is, its real beauty certainly lies in its canals. If someone had
shown me these pictures and I had had to guess where they came from, I can assure you LA would never have come to mind. It is not just the canals, but some of the houses around them are real works of art. I could easily have spent hours looking at houses here, as strange (and potentially creepy) as that may sound. The only downside is that this neighborhood is not very walking-friendly (like most of LA, so no surprise there), but there isn’t a lot of traffic and it isn’t impossible to walk around. You just have to be aware of cars!
Eventually we left these beautiful canals and made it to the beach. As soon as we arrived I noticed that Venice Beach is the kind of place that you either love or hate. I had heard people talk about it before
not in a good way, and I now understand why that may be. I was convinced that I was going to be one of those people. But yet again, I was proved completely wrong. I absolutely adored Venice Beach. I don’t think I can tell you why exactly, but it probably had something to do with the atmosphere. Yes, it is full of weird and wary characters. Yes, you can definitely get overwhelmed by the scent of marihuana, or “mariajuanita” as David liked to call it (there you have another link with Amsterdam I hadn’t thought about!). And yes, it is not the kind of place you want to be roaming about at night. But despite all of this, during the day the place is completely harmless, well patrolled, and there is an overall atmosphere of friendliness and happiness that had me with a grin on my face the whole time we were there.
Our last and final stop of the tour was Santa Monica. This was definitely the opposite of Venice Beach, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. This was proving to be a recurring theme in this city.
By the time we reached Santa Monica, the sun finally decided to make an appearance, and we got a feel for the stereotypical LA, as it is usually represented in movies: white sand beaches, palm trees and expensive cars. We walked all the way to the front of the pier and it was definitely an enjoyable stroll. There were also a lot of people busking which is always a plus for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for buskers. We also had some time to wander away from the beach and further into the neighborhood, which is actually full of cool bars and shops which would be more within our budget range.
A day that I started dreading, turned out to be one of the best days we had this trip. I don’t usually enjoy being wrong, but this time, I couldn’t be happier I was! I must admit though, that a lot of it had to do with our excellent local guide David. I feel like I could definitely have come out feeling different if it wasn’t for him. Just to give one example, we survived a day in LA without being stuck in traffic, only because he knew how to avoid it. That would have never happened had we been driving ourselves, that’s for sure… It was very clear from the beginning that he loved LA and by the end he had us in love with it too!