I have been to California more times than I can count. One day I was talking to a friend and I realized that out of all of my travels to and through California I had never really done the “tourist” stop in Los Angeles or Hollywood, unless you count being 16 years old and riding through downtown on a Greyhound bus in route to Orlando, FL. That trip (5 days on a bus from Seattle, WA to Orlando, FL) was not a tourist stop.
So I decided that I would take a quick trip to Los Angeles, just to be a tourist and see the sights I had never seen. With that mindset I planned out the things that I wanted to do and see. I took to the internet and started searching for directions to the places I have seen in so many movies and television shows that I have found interesting or they are so well-known that you have to see it for yourself at least once.
My trip planning started with a “Blue Monday” airfare special from Alaska Airlines. For those not familiar with “Blue Monday” or “Cyber Monday”, it is the Monday following Thanksgiving when all the sales are online. You can grab some fantastic airfares if you plan ahead, especially on Alaska Airlines. Living in Seattle, it’s quite easy to grab an affordable ticket to LA, but I love Alaska Airlines and travel with them as my first choice domestically whenever they are an option. So for just about $100 I locked in my flight.
I then moved onto finding a cheap hotel room that would also be safe for a solo traveler. I was traveling the second weekend of December and with the mix of events and holiday parties going on in the area some hotels were already booked, while others were too expensive or too far from where I wanted to be. I decided to settle in at the Four Points Sheraton hotel near LAX so that I could get in and out easily and opted for a rental car to get to all the places I wanted to see. I caught a decent rate of $82 for one night in a king room away from the ballroom where there was a party going on that evening. All in all a good nights sleep and close for departure the next day.
On arrival to LA, I picked up my rental car and headed to my first destination, the Hollywood sign. Before I left everyone warned me that driving in LA was a bad idea. I actually found driving in LA to be no different from driving in Seattle. Our traffic is just as bad so it really was not anything I was not already used to. But if you travel from areas where you have little or no traffic, pack your patience and allow plenty of time to get where you are going.
I am glad that decided to research the places I wanted to see before my travel date arrived. Doing so I stumbled across a great tip for the Hollywood sign location. While you can see if from many places in the area, the heart of Hollywood, from the Griffith Observatory, etc. I wanted to get as close as I could to it. Luckily I found a post about a park that is just below the sign that is open to the public so there is public access and parking if you want to make the trek. The park is called Lake Hollywood Park and is located at 3200 Canyon Lake Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90027. It has the most spectacular view if you walk up to the view-point at the top of the hill. There are also areas to hike around the park.
You can’t get direct access to the sign, it’s on private property and the neighborhood above the viewing point is private and open to residents of addresses in that neighborhood, so stick to the parking near the park. There is ample free parking on both sides of the street and at the park. One thing I would really like to point out is when you travel, be a good guest to the area you visit. The area where the park is at is located in a high wind and high fire zone. There is no smoking outside in this area because of the high risk the embers can cause. Signs are posted everywhere. So please enjoy the area, but leave it as you find it.
Mission #1 accomplished, I found the sign, took some photos and gushed at finally being a tourist in LA. Off to Hollywood. Hollywood has a strong tourist vibe. Souvenir shops all over the place, tour groups walking up and down the boulevard, open-topped buses driving visitors around to see the sights. This is quintessential Hollywood as it’s portrayed on movies and TV. For me, that’s not my thing. I like to wander around and see some of the tourist sites, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Bob Hope and Leonard Nimoy… GUSH!), the Capitol Records building, the Whisky A Go Go, and even the hotel that was used as Julia Roberts apartment/residence in the movie Pretty Woman. Then I like to move on, but at my own pace, so tour groups and I don’t get along in that sense.
I moved on to my next destination, the La Brea Tar Pits. The site is actually part of the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, I wasn’t doing the museum thing on this trip so I settled for parking on the side of the road and looking at them from the sidewalk. I had to see them because of my love of cheesy world or city doom movies. Volcano being one that portrayed the tar pits quite a bit. Just down the street from the museum is another great museum. The Petersen Auto Museum. It got an exterior face lift last year, it’s a stunning building and the cars it displays are amazing, if you are a car lover you will want to visit.
I continued east on Wilshire Boulevard from the Petersen Auto Museum and ended up in Beverly Hills. Arguably the most famous zip code in the USA, 90210. Wilshire runs right into Rodeo Drive where anyone who loves to shop and has the money can buy just about anything. It’s fun to see all that Rodeo Drive has, plus the glammed up people and fancy cars we’ve all come to expect in Beverly Hills, this was definitely a fun spot for the tourist in me. Don’t worry if you feel you will be out of place, there are plenty of normal people around the area too.
I’d had enough of the giant city by the time the afternoon hit so I decided to drive out to the ocean city of Santa Monica. I think many others had that idea as well. Traffic took a bit to navigate but the sun was shining and I knew at the end of the road would be ocean air and open space. Santa Monica did not disappoint. There were lots of people out walking and running near the water, some doing yoga, others taking in the offerings of the many food trucks parked along the sidewalk. I wasn’t aware of the Santa Monica Pier until I was looking at it. Apparently it’s been around for at least a century and is a fun escape (rides, games, music, food and other entertainment) from the concrete inner city. I thoroughly enjoyed stretching my legs here and filling my lungs with the sea air. It was a great way to unwind from the busy day of sightseeing.
I took the drive south from Santa Monica to Venice. I couldn’t miss seeing Venice Beach with my own eyes. When you arrive into Venice via Pacific Avenue it’s surprisingly quiet. That’s because all the people and shops in are Ocean Front Walk which runs next to the beach, about 2 blocks west of Pacific Ave. The famous “Muscle Beach” is at the intersection of 18th and Ocean Front Walk. After taking in the beach sights, don’t forget the canals in Venice. While it is a residential area, there is a walkway anyone can walk through, Venice Canal Walkway. There are plenty of architecturally pleasing homes next to the canals. You can wander through if you want photos or just to see the quaint area.
I really enjoy quick trips like these. There’s not a huge time commitment to do them and they don’t require a ton of packing to be done. They are usually very affordable. I usually pick a destination that I can get to in around a 3 hour flight so I can maximize my time. Not many people understand why I like leaving for a day or two then go home. For me it’s a chance to see places that I want to experience, but like most working people I don’t have tons of time off I can use. So I have to use my weekends carefully. It’s making the most of my free time while still getting to do things I want to do. So it’s a win-win for me.
I was so busy sightseeing I didn’t bother to stop to eat anywhere, shame on me since LA is known for many great foodie spots. It turned well though. I decided to grab a quick bite at the bar in my hotel. To my surprise the food was very good. I think I had one of the best club sandwiches I have had there. It was served on a thick marbled rye bread with thick cut potato wedges. I couldn’t have eaten another bite if I wanted to.
My trip worked out well. It was busy, but relaxing. After all the years of traveling in and out of southern California I can finally say I have been a tourist in LA. And yes as the song goes, Nobody Walks in LA. So true! I have said to myself though, that next time I visit southern California, that I need to pay to go on one of the whale watching california experiences. My friends recently did it, the pictures look amazing, so most definitely next time I’ll be going! Anyway, until my next post, get out and travel. Even if it’s a place close to you, go and take a second look. You never know what you will see with fresh eyes.