We’ve been back for almost two weeks, but I feel like our trip happened months ago. All the memories are still very vivid, but everything back here has resumed its course so fast that I sometimes wonder if it all really happened.
Anyway, today I’ll tell about our first stop – my favourite: Los Angeles. A lot of people had warned me that it would be ugly, dull, disappointing… In fact, I think the piece of advice I’ve heard the most was “don’t bother staying in LA, there’s nothing to see there”. Well, I’m very happy we didn’t listen and followed our wish to stay there for about half a week.
I just loved this city, I completely fell for it, I wanna live there! I love the crazy atmosphere, the locals’ “cool”, the great weather (even though we got ‘lucky’ enough to witness a very rainy morning), the fact that it’s one of the only places in the US where people care a little bit about the environment (saving water is a real issue there) and about the quality of food…
What I didn’t really expect is such a huge gap between the “rich” and the “poor” areas. From one block to another, everything can look and feel very different, and when you’re driving around in a convertible, filming around you with a camera, smiling, you feel even more guilty for being on the lucky side of things. Poverty is barely even visible if you stay in the hills (Studio City, Beverly Hills…), but it hits you right in the face when you arrive Downtown. Drugs, and the lack of social infrastructures are clearly to blame here, and more than insecurity, my overall feeling was sadness.
Not that I wanted to ruin your mood… but you know, it’s part of it, and it shocked me so much, I couldn’t not mention it.
Now, without further ado, follow me through the few areas that I could visit in this immense city (seriously, it must be about half of Belgium, it’s unbelievable) – I have tips and tricks, so you better take notes!
For the first excursion of our stay, we decided to drive to the beach! Santa Monica and Venice are right next to each other, so it seemed logical to visit them together. It’s also one of the most iconic areas of the city, as you’ll be able to spot a few popular sightings: from the pier and its rollercoasters, to the Venice skate park and of course, Muscle Beach, it’s a great introduction.
To visit it, the best option is to start either at the Santa Monica pier, or at Venice Beach, rent bikes and cruise along the beach! You can walk, too, but it’s quite long ;)
If you have enough time, you should definitely stay a bit more in Venice Beach, and walk away from boardwalk, to Abbot Kinney boulevard. You’ll see Venice is much more than just a tourist trap! Walking on the streets of the neighbourhood, you’ll soon be surrounded by a weird, surreal mix: hippie vibes and organic restaurants, high end fashion stores, hipster record shops and street art all share this neighbourhood freely, in a casual atmosphere.
THE HILLS: THE GETTY MUSEUM, THE GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY & THE DODGERS
Los Angeles wouldn’t be what it is without the Hills, where you can get a breathtaking view of the Valley, and find some of the most sophisticated cultural assets of the city.
For example, the Getty, which is one of LA’s hotspots, for the tourists of course, but also for the locals. In this huge museum, you’ll find everything to get inspired: paintings, photography, sculptures and ancient objects, but also an amazing garden (with a cacti section!) to just hang out. The building is a masterpiece in itself, and is really worth checking out from every angle. The best part is that entrance is free – the parking will cost you 15$ though.
Another amazing building that you’ll find on the hills, among the green trees of Griffith Park, is the Griffith Observatory. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stay there and admire the sky through the telescope, but we still witnessed an amazing sunset and an impressive view on the Valley.
Culture is really important when travelling, but what about fun – just for fun? For us, being in LA also meant embracing the sports culture. That’s why we decided to get tickets for the Dodgers vs. Rockies baseball game, and go watch it with a huge beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other one. Those were quite expensive, but it didn’t really matter that much, since we scored good seats for 7$ each thanks to vividseats.com, a website where you can resell (and thus, buy) tickets very easily.
A baseball game is something I would recommend to anyone, even if you’re not a sports fan – it’s just a very fun and unique experience. Keep in mind that it can last hours if the scores are tight!
Now that’s what I call an amusement park! Located in studio City (or Universal City), Universal Studios is an amusement park that was built around the actual Universal studios, on the Hollywood hills.
Studio tour, rollercoasters, stunt shows, it has all the typical ingredients of such a place – they just do everything better, bigger, nicer. And I gotta say, it really made the difference ! They thought about every detail, to make sure you feel like you’re in your favourite cartoons for just a few hours: we had a Krusty burger, got splashed by the stunts people of Waterworld, hung out with the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, shopped at Kwik E Mart…
The entrance ticket isn’t cheap, that’s for sure – about 100$ per person, plus parking. But is it worth it? Yes, yes, yes, definitely yes! It’s something you’ll do once, maybe twice in your life, so personally, I think it’s worth the investment. What I wouldn’t recommend is to get VIP/front of the line passes, at least if you’re visiting on a weekday and/or during low season. The park was busy, but we didn’t have to wait more than 30 minutes anywhere, which is really ok. We managed to do and see everything we wanted to in one day, without even having to rush.
The only aspect that disappointed me, was when I realized that 3D simulations were slowly taking over, making real rollercoasters the exception. It must be easier and cheaper to operate and update, but it’s really not as much fun. So, if you go there, make sure you do The Mummy and Jurassic Park! And if you have to miss the Minions, well, don’t be sad, because it’s really not that epic.
Spectacular, iconic, constantly busy… Hollywood is exactly how I had pictured it, and even better! We spent quite some time there, especially in the evening.
No Walk of fame for us, but a few other legendary activities, like seeing a movie in the Chinese Theatre (where pretty much all the premieres of Hollywood productions are held), laugh our asses off to the jokes of the comedians trying their new material at the Comedy Store (that was pretty awesome!), or simply drive along Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard, spotting some historical places like Whisky a Go Go or Chateau Marmont, where we went back for lunch! It was on my bucket list, and there was no way I would skip it. Between a bite of my amazing pulled pork sandwich and a sip of my 15$ glass of Prosecco, I even saw Orlando Bloom and David Guetta – lol indeed, but hey, I would have been kind of disappointed if I hadn’t spotted any familiar face.
One tip: make a reservation, especially if you’re planning to go in the weekend! Just to be sure. It’s not cheap, but hey, that’s the price to pay when you want to hang out on their gorgeous patio and feel like a celebrity.
CALIFORNIA SCIENCE CENTER
I was telling you earlier that we had a rainy morning; since we were’t really sure about how the weather would be for the rest of the day, we decided to find ourselves some indoor fun. After doing some research, we came across something that got us both very excited: the California Science Center! In this science ‘museum’, you’ll find and experience a few weird things (the museum is a little bit outdated, which makes it very fun), like the “50-foot-tall woman” on the picture above. You can also, among other things, walk “on” LA, stand in a tornado, detect animals with a thermographic camera…
But the best part about the California Science Center, is that it’s where NASA keeps a lot of its explorers’ original gear: space suits, satellites, spaceships and other capsules, you can all see them from up close, and it’s very impressive. Especially when you realise that only a few decades ago, some real people were actually sent in space in vehicles pretty much made of aluminium sheets.
Once again, the entrance is totally free, but expect to spend some money in the awesome gift shop – really – and of course, to park your car.
SILVER LAKE & ECHO PARK
To finish this tour of LA, I just wanted to quickly tell you about the neighbourhood where we chose to stay, Silver Lake. Between the hills and the valley, right next to Hollywood, it turned out to be the perfect location to visit the city, as everything we wanted to see was less than 45 minutes away. I guess I should mention it’s also a very cool, hip area, with lots of great places to eat, like Sqirl (see picture above), a hipster place recommended by a friend for its amazing french toast, and where we lined up for about 20 minutes on a Friday morning before being able to have breakfast. Full disclosure: it was wayyy worth it.
Not far from there, you can find the famous Echo Park, where you should absolutely stay a bit, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Admire the waterlilies and the palmtrees, rent a pedal boat, chill on the grass…
Los Angeles is actually much greener than I expected, and Echo Park is one of the nicest and cutest parks I’ve ever seen.
After these 4 intense days, we left LA and headed to the Californian desert. I’ll tell you all about it in a few days, so stay tuned!