I’d heard a lot of things about Los Angeles – it’s just a sprawl, there’s no centre, there’s nothing to do, there’s loads to do, you need a car to get around, the public transport’s better than people think – each piece of information more contradictory than the last that in the end I realised there was nothing else to do but just go there and see for myself.
To be fair, LA is a big place, more like several towns that butt up against each other than one big city. I was only going there because I had to fly out from there to go to Australia. But I figured while I was there I should hit up a few of the local attractions, see what all the fuss was about.
I was staying at the Hollywood Hotel, quite a nice place that was surprisingly cheap for what you got; big bed, air-conditioned room, breakfast, the whole deal. What was best about it for me though was the location. 2 minutes walk from a Metro station which took you to Union Station in one direction and Hollywood in the other, and just a short walk to Griffith Park, home of the famous observatory and the Hollywood Sign.
For my four days visit I started out doing what I did for San Francisco, I just jotted down the things I could think of off the top of my head to go see and do – the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood Sign, the Universal Studios Tour, Santa Monica Beach & Pier – and then tried to fit them all in in the time I had.
It took me thirteen hours to get there from the meditation retreat via cab, coach, Amtrak and cab, so my first night was spent just sleeping off the journey. The next day I had a nice slow start, checking e-mails, uploading pictures, blogging (I’d been offline for over a week by then, the Amtrak free internet not actually working for my entire journey), so slow in fact that it was the middle of the afternoon before I left the hotel. And with the sun going down around 5-6pm that didn’t leave me much time to do anything. Thankfully I’d planned for this, so I didn’t have a lot to do anyway.
I set off walking towards the Walk Of Fame, which was just a few blocks up and many blocks over, but I soon got sick of that and dove into the nearest Metro station. It was quite nice down there I have to say. Big, open, mostly empty (just how the London Underground should be). I got where I was going quite easily. The aggro came as soon as I left the station.
I was heading to see Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where all the celebs do their hand and feet prints in concrete and sign their names at premieres, and the Walk Of Fame, that collection of red stars that runs the length of Hollywood Boulevard. What I walked out into was a scrum of tourists all getting their photos taken with people dressed up like famous people, and a bunch of hawkers trying to hock me this, that and the other, or to get me to go on their tour of whatever. It was a bit of an assault on the senses, especially considering I’d just been on a one week silent retreat in the mountains.
I was a bit shocked, so I did the only thing I could, I put my London head on, followed my feet as they dodged the hawkers and gawpers, got the shots I needed (few of which came out in the end), then got the hell out of there. It took me all of five seconds to realise there was nothing there for me, so there was no point sticking around. I must say, when I got back to my hotel, I was somewhat unimpressed with what Hollywood had to offer.
For day two I decided to take a break from the city and head into Griffith Park to check out the observatory. I knew I’d get some great views of LA, and I thought I might get some peace and quiet as well.
This time I did walk all the way, there not actually being a public transport option available (that I knew of, anyway). It was ok though. I set off early, and it was a straight run up the road and into the park. Then I just had to follow the road round to where I needed to be. All told it took me about 45 minutes or so to do.
The Observatory itself was quite impressive. A simply designed building that’s well taken care of, it’s position high atop the hill offers some commanding views out across the city.
I checked out the exhibits inside, the observatory itself is free though you have to pay for the planetarium show (well worth it), but it was too early to have a go with the big telescope (and too early to wait for night too), so instead I decided to go get a closer view of the Hollywood Sign.
You can see the sign from the Observatory, but there are also trails you can take to get nearer to it, as it’s quite far away. In fact you can probably get right up to it, but that requires walking quite a way and I had neither the time nor the inclination. I simply got close enough to get the shot below and then called it a day. After all, the sun was going down, it was getting mighty chilly, and I still had to walk back to my hotel.
My third full day in LA I’d earmarked for a trip to Universal Studios. I’ve got to admit, for all my yoga and meditation and that, I was ludicrously excited about taking the famous Universal Studios Tour and going on all the rides they have. The ticket cost me $80, but with all the had to offer I figured that was a bargain.
I got there early, taking the Metro up to Universal City and catching the free shuttle from the station up to the park itself. Once inside I headed straight for the Tour shuttle. We had a short wait, less than the 20 minutes they’d said I reckon, and then we were off.
The shuttle took us round all the permanent sets they have at Universal Studios, as well as past sets of cars and other props from movies old and new, to give us a glimpse of what it’s like at a real movie studio. We had a great guide who was thoroughly entertaining and who really made the whole thing come alive for us.
I just sat there taking photos and enjoying whatever happened. From the Jaws section to Psycho to King Kong, each bit was individual and entertaining in it’s own way.
I loved it, but that was just the start of the day. After that I went on dozens of rides (ok, eight, but still…); some where traditional roller coasters, with visual elements, some were full on movie type experiences, just with a moving car, and one was a good old fashioned log flume. They blended movie and theatre in a way only Hollywood can do I reckon, and none of them failed to impress in one way or another. I certainly enjoyed myself anyway. And as a ‘lone rider’ I got to jump most of the queues, as they use you to fill up empty seats in the cars, so I can’t complain about that now can I?
The only let down was the pitiful selection of vegan or even veggie food. I was stuck paying $15 for a grilled vegetable roll, which was only slightly less disappointing than the bone dry roast potato I had later on. I’m telling you, if you’re veggie or vegan, take your own food with you to Universal Studios. You’ll save yourself a lot of effort trying to find something to eat (and a good few bucks as well!).
My last day in Los Angeles was an odd one. I was flying out from LAX at 10pm that night, but I had to check out of the hotel by 11am, so what to do with myself (and my bags) in the intervening eleven hours? Well, there was just one thing left on my list – Santa Monica. A quick check on the map showed it to be right down near LAX, and so a plan was formed.
After checking out I lugged my luggage (ho-ho!) down to Union Station and jumped on the FlyAway shuttle for $7 down to the airport. Once there I called a left luggage delivery and collection service to come get my bag for storage ($20 for collection, storage and delivery back to the terminal), then I jumped on the free car park shuttle bus to the LAX Transit Centre (bus station). $1 on the number 3 bus and I was in Santa Monica. I tell you all this because it took some working out, and when I’ve done something clever and inventive I like to show off, lol.
It was a lovely day down in Santa Monica. I didn’t do anything special, just walked up and down the beach, strolled along the pier, took another headstand photo…
then went to get something to eat at a vegan restaurant I’d found on Happy Cow.
It says a lot to me that, for the same amount as I paid for a nasty veggie roll at Universal Studios, I got this delicious macrobiotic burger and fries in Santa Monica. Still a sizable hunk of dough for a burger, but infinitely more value for money.
My other reason for visiting Santa Monica is so that I could visit the LA Sivananda Centre, and squeeze in a yoga session before I got on a plane and flew 15 hours to Australia. I had to walk a heck of a long way to find it, my written directions being a lot less detailed than would have been preferred, but find it I did, and just in time.
I won’t go into detail now about the class now, as I’m going to do a Sivananda Yoga in California post after this one, but it was an excellent session with a very warm and giving teacher, and I felt great coming out of there. More than ready for my mammoth flight to the other side of the world anyway.
I’m in Australia now, near Perth (Toodyay) on my brother’s 100 acre plot, just chilling out (and by that I mean baking in 40 degree heat!), planning what my next move is. I’ve got lots of ideas but nothing definite yet. I should figure that out in the next few days, and when I know you’ll know.
In the meantime have a great new year everyone, and remember to party like the world didn’t end; coz it didn’t, okay?