My first trip to California was to the great sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, and it was actually quite a bit as I had pictured it. I’ve heard people describe it as a series of suburbs connected by 5 lane highways, and we certainly used them to get around to various neighborhoods. It was interesting to try to guess how long it would take for us to get to each place; not that we had to do much guessing with GPS, but as a friend of ours there put it, everything is anywhere between 10 and 50 minutes away. We were pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have to deal with the nightmarish traffic that is attributed to L.A. Maybe it’s not as bad as they say, or maybe we just got lucky!
Our flight got in late, but our introduction to the city at a friend’s apartment in North Hollywood with a beautiful, tropical courtyard was already a nice change from the chilly midwest (our trip was in early May). The first thing I noticed the next morning as we started out with a driving tour through the Hollywood Hills neighborhood was the vegetation. I was so in love with the vegetation – all of the cacti, the variety of palm trees, combined with the sun and blue skies, is bound to raise anyone’s spirits. I also really enjoyed seeing the architecture of the houses, colorful stucco, and tile roofs. Driving up and down the winding roads of the Hollywood Hills was an amazing introduction to L.A. because for me it was the epitome of why we travel – to be transported and immersed into a world different from our own. The houses, their precarious driveways, and the views provided an invigorating look into the rich and famous culture of L.A. I felt transported into a movie!
Next up on the agenda was a hike at Griffith Park, and my were our Midwestern asses not prepared! By all accounts, it’s not a difficult hike, if you can even call it a hike. I’m sure the locals consider it a walk. But living in the Midwest, we are not used to that kind of terrain. It was a beautiful walk though! We stopped by the Griffith Observatory (hello La La Land fans!) and admired its Greek and Beaux-Arts architecture, while eyeing the Hollywood sign in the distance. And to think that I wanted to hike up to the Hollywood sign…nope!
The next day we drove to downtown L.A. to see the Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, and The Broad art museum. The concert hall was a sight to behold, as the massive steel structures converged together and gleamed in the light. We couldn’t leave downtown before looking for the Cecil Hotel, which wasn’t as eerie as we had pictured after watching Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix. We also didn’t want to leave downtown before at least poking our heads into skid row. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was definitely sad and shocking. I was surprised by the fact that there are businesses there that people who don’t live in skid row go to, and they just walk past all of the disorder and bleakness around them without blinking an eye – just a day in the neighborhood, conducting normal business. Our last stop in the area was the fashion district, with the seemingly endless rows of clothing stores and vendor tents set up on the sidewalks.
That afternoon we went to LACMA. I love art, so I always try to go to an art museum when I visit a new city. Your eyes are delighted before you even enter, as the architecture of the whole museum campus is enchanting. The bright red steel elements juxtaposed with the stone, and the palm trees hugging the museum’s facade on all sides is worth seeing, even if you don’t go inside. It reminded me of Centre Pompidou in Paris. With an outdoor restaurant and bar, and the iconic Urban Light display by Chris Burden (hello No Strings Attached fans!), it’s a multifaceted gem of a destination. We saw a wonderful exhibition on the artist Yoshitomo Nara, who paints captivating large-scale portraits.
We drove through Beverly Hills and, of course, played Weezer’s Beverly Hills. We walked down Rodeo Drive, stopped into some stores, and pretended that we could actually afford anything there. Rodeo Drive was as I had pictured, with beautiful and glamorous people everywhere, photoshoots taking place on various corners, and a collection of stores that screams capitalism and consumerism. But again, beautiful with the palm trees and fancy cars everywhere you look that most people only get to see in the movies.
We wanted to experience a California beach and the Pacific Ocean, so the next day we went to Santa Monica and Venice. The Santa Monica pier was packed! Walking along the boardwalk was a touristy experience and not something that I would necessarily do again. There was music, there were dogs, there was fair food, and people excitedly/nervously posing with snakes around their necks. We then set our sights on a calmer kind of vibe and walked along the Venice canals – so pretty and relaxing. Venice Beach was only a short walk away and we got to enjoy the water and the sand, and watched surfers do their thing in the Pacific Ocean.
Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset en route to Calabasas for my boyfriend’s birthday dinner was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s a gorgeous drive with sweeping views of the ocean, and it started to get more hilly and winding as we got closer to Calabasas. The restaurant was tucked away in the hills and had an upscale cabin feel with a decadent menu featuring wild game. It certainly did not disappoint!
Before our trip, my boyfriend and I did a lot of research on restaurants by category/cuisine and we watched City of Gold, the documentary about food critic Jonathan Gold. Inspired by Gold’s passion for food in L.A., we tried to go to some of the restaurants featured in the documentary. Great documentary!