LA, Los Angeles, The Angels. Everyone will think of LA and think lights, fame, glory and the silver screen. However if you look past further than the city, you will see a lot more. I arrived after a 7 hour bus journey from San Francisco, I remember it well as the bus driver although friendly, ate his burrito while driving on the highway. Ok, it was a pretty good skill but my stomach churned slightly as we embarked on the long journey while I was squeezed onto the window by the passenger next to me.
When I thought of Los Angeles, I initially thought, Hollywood and rich people. When I arrived, it was the opposite. In my opinion, I think LA is segmented heavily into different districts which determines which are the wealthy parts and which are the poor parts, but that’s like every city? That is true, but I felt almost like there was no in-between and obviously areas like Beverly Hills are going to differ from places like Compton. As I walked down the street, the first thing I noticed was the masses of tents on the streets and the hoards of homeless living in them. I also recall a woman walking down the street while her pants were dropped, definitely set the tone for the visit.
As you can imagine, my initial thoughts of Los Angeles wasn’t glitz and glamour but actually there was a certain grittiness to Los Angeles and I remember when I asked a Hispanic shop owner where I could buy a Tap card, he said “ go over to that shop, its safe, you can buy it there”. By the way, the Tap card is the LA equivalent to London’s Oyster card or San Francisco’s Clipper. It cost’s $1 or 2 to buy and you can then load it, the trips in LA are generally cheaper at around $1.75 for bus journeys and there is a light rain, metro and underground system (only in the more central parts – the underground was very efficient).
As you know, I like AirBnb. The idea is simple and you would expect it to always be good as you are living in someones home. However, this is where there is a plot twist. I took a 40 minute bus journey to the Montebello area using my Transit app, as it was unable to locate the address, it took me to the start of the road and stupidly I got off and then had to walk for an hour to the AirBnb address. The address led me to a closed mobile shop along a row of shops and so I contacted the host number that was given, the girl who was helping took a while to respond but she said that the hosts talking to me were in fact a Russian mob who were running a chain of AirBnbs in LA and that the houses although real, were not fit for people to stay in. To give you the full picture, the hosts picture were of an oriental couple and so I was definitely confused. She said that the house was a scam and I should go elsewhere, so that’s what I did. I panicked for about 10 minutes then I thought, crap, should I look for the house or just leave it. I decided, I will go into the heart of central and find a budget hostel. Luckily hostels will usually have some availability but if you find yourself in peak season and there is a lack of cheap rooms, bite the bullet and just rent a room in a hotel for a day while you search for an alternative. Also AirBnb did refund me, the customer service was very good to be honest and I will still use it.
So the whole moral of my story is, yes look for good deals (especially if you’re doing a World tour) but be wary and do not be disheartened when your plan goes belly up, think of the alternatives and get on with it because you won’t be doing yourself any favours worrying about it.
I hope you liked the story, it’s true! They’ll be making a movie out of it anytime now. I ended up staying in Banana Bungalow which was $30 a night, provided toast for breakfast and it is located on Hollywood Boulevard but don’t expect luxury but you can expect safety. Although I didn’t experience some of the freebies, one of my roomies said that Banana Bungalow have a free bbq or free drinks night which alternated every other day (he said it was usually more frequent but it had gone down in the last 8 months he had seen it there).
I only spent two full days in Los Angeles as a stop off and I always wanted to see how the rich any famous lived but I would highly recommend not staying for longer than three days because LA wasn’t that great in my opinion. There are some cool novelties but the entire high street is a tourist trap with shops advertising tours, huge shops dedicated to selling cheap souvenirs for high price and the tourist attraction tickets are expensive (but it’s to be expected).
- Graumans Theatre / El Capitan
- Hollywood Walk of Fame
- Hollywood sign
- Hollywood Stars
- Griffith Observatory
- Districts – Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia
- Dolby Theatre AKA Academy Awards Hall
- Getty Museum
- Santa Monica Pier
- Disneyland and Walt Disney Hall
- Los Angeles County Art Museum (LACMA)
Hollywood Boulevard – Graumans – Dolby Theatre – Walk of Fame
It’s all in one location which is great, it is convenient and you can see it all within an hour. However they do tours inside these famous sites, which although abit expensive can be a good way to learn more about the history of LA and its culture. The Hollywood stars can be seen along a long stretch down the boulevard and you have moviestars, singers to producers. There are a lot of souvenir shops and one of the main attractions is Sid Grauman’s Chinese theatre complete with handprints and footprints of the most famous stars, from Ridley Scott to Arnold Schwarznegger.
Sid Grauman was an entertainer and showman, who changed cinema presentation and of course his idea of having celebrity make their mark in wet cement was a great marketing spark. When you enter the LA shopping mall you will see the back end of the Dolby centre which has a Oscar titles and years spread across it walls and continuing years without the winners on it yet, of course. I did go into the Dolby theatre after paying $23 but it was a cool experience. There was a guided tour and each part of the tour had little stories behind it. My favourite was how the academy award came to be known as Oscar and it was said that academy librarian Margaret Herrick said the award looked like their Uncle Oscar. Sidney Skolsky later used the name to describe Katharine Hepburns aware in 1934 and the rest is history.
If you want to, you can also have a tour of Graumans theatre and even watch a movie in its special IMAX theaters.
Griffith Observatory – Hollywood Sign
The Griffith observatory is probably most remember for being in the musical-film hit La La Land. I’ll be honest, I thought the film was a masterpiece and the scene inside the observatory was something only a genius could imagine. I decided to walk to the observatory but you can get a bus but remember that the observatory opens at noon but there may be a queue for it too, so head for a later time if you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the hoards of people. Entry is free and definitely worth the time as there are a lot of interesting facts as astronomy and astrology.
After visiting the observatory, I decided to head towards Mount Lee where the famous Hollywood sign is erected. The walk is long and it’s a hike but the view is immense. Also who can say that they walked to the Hollywood sign, do it and tell the story to your family and friends! You can see the back end of the sign but there is a fence preventing anyone from actually going up to it.
If you fancy it, you can walk back to the observatory or do what I did and walk down to down the road back towards Hollywood Boulevard. There is a highpoint where you can view the Hollywood sign and it is the best view of it. However an overzealous security guard almost arrested me as he said I was “trespassing” and after asking him where to go multiple times, he finally said go out via the gate. Be careful in LA guys! I swear he was reaching for his gun too.
There are a lot of different districts which break up LA. There’s Little Armenia, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Chinatown, Thai Town and probably a lot of other districts. I only visited Chinatown and it was impressive, San Francisco and London’s Chinatown are both similar in the fact they are down one long street (but some parts spill across streets) but with LA, there are squares dedicated to Chinatown.
LA Chinatown can be reached easily via bus or the metro (gold line). There is a new Chinatown plaza, Mandarin Plaza and Saigon plaza. Each is very different, the Chinatown plaza is full of souvenir shops and even is equipped with a cast statue of Bruce Lee whereas the Saigon plaza is like a bazaar or flea market (which feels extremely similar to a South East Asian night market). There are also a lot of famous eateries/ dim sum restaurants and I would suggest a visit here.
So these were sites I didn’t get the chance to see. The LA County museum, Getty Museum and Santa Monica Pier all seemed worthy of a visit but I didn’t have the urge to see them as staying in downtown did put a bit of a downer on the visit. However I think it would have made the visit much better if I had. The LACM has some cool lights outside the museum which is a popular photo pic/Instagram post and the Getty Museum was ranked as #1 site on Tripadvisor. However a lot of locals said Santa Monica is a great place to see.
LA had food which was pretty cheap but alot of it is fast food. The mexican food was pretty fresh and if you walk down some streets then mexican food trucks will pop up and you can buy a taco for $1-2 and it’s usually fresh.
Price and food quality at Calle Tacos was extremely good, cost me $9 for this meal!
I also tried In-N-out, I believe it’s only available in certain states and someone recommended it as they thought it was pretty good. The line was long but the food being made is pretty good, the patties were meaty and the size was decent. Yeah, I’d go again.
A guy in the hostel said that Daves Hot Chicken is a local favourite and he said that it went from an outdoor kitchen to having a shop in the space of under a year. I can understand why, the food was insane! Nashville style chicken with varying spice levels, probably the best fried chicken I have ever had! Please go sample it and if you’re brave, go for the reaper but put a toilet roll in the fridge.
- Invest in a Tap card, it only costs $1 ($2 in some places) it will come useful
- Be careful which areas you wander into in Downtown as there are alot of homeless wandering the street and they will ask you for things
- The food in downtown is cheap, so don’t skimp out but the entrance tickets to areas are pricier
- Griffith Observatory and Hollywood should definitely be in your itinerary
- Souvenirs in downtown are expensive, you can find cheaper ones in Chinatown but if you don’t want to travel then do some shopping around before you commit
- I wouldn’t spend longer than 4 days in LA, you’ll run out of things to do unless you really like clubbing everyday