As many people know, Los Angeles; ‘The City of Angels’, is a huge sprawling urban metropolis and one of America’s largest cities. It is also a place of huge disparity particularly between wealthy Hollywood Hills living, super-celebrities and the city’s burgeoning homeless population of 47,000 people (May 2016).
Other travellers, I had met on my way to L.A. had told me not to bother. It was dirty, had no charm like San Fran, and was just a series of highways with nothing to see but concrete, and the ugly trappings of ostentatious wealth next to the gutter-living poor. So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it…
What I was looking forward to though was seeing some familiar faces. My brother, Dom, was flying from the UK to meet me at LAX before we crossed the USA together. I hadn’t seen him for four months and was looking forward to catching up and sharing new experiences on our road trip. An old work colleague and friend, Jonathan, was also holidaying in Los Angeles at the same time and we made plans to meet.
On some good advice, I booked us into a hostel in Santa Monica, a 45-minute bus ride from Downtown LA, but altogether a safer and more pleasant neighbourhood. Once my very jet-lagged brother had finally arrived, we explored the Santa Monica area, did a last-minute trip shopping, and had our first holiday meal and beer together on the famous Santa Monica Pier – the end point of Historic Route 66. Sitting alfresco on a warm spring evening, with the smell of salty air in our nostrils, sound of the nearby fairground in our ears and some excellent US craft beer gave us both our, ‘I am here!’ moment to savour.
The next day we met up with Jonathan and his travel companion, Sarah, and made plans to do what all young hip things seem to do on a weekend in Hollywood – trek! After being dropped off by our Uber at a point that definitely wasn’t the start of a track, we scrambled up a steep red dusty hill to ‘take a short-cut’ to where the road really began.
With the sun already baking down and a limited supply of water, we were already wondering if we had bitten off more than we could chew. Every bend in the path provided a different shot of the Hollywood sign, and Jonathan kept us entertained with facts about our new neighbourhood. Did you know that the sign was originally created in 1923 as an advertisement for a local real estate development? Neither did I! The enjoyable trek, made even more so by the excellent company, took around three hours, with the final push being a steep hill to get above the sign itself. It’s fair to say, we were all out of puff by the end.
On the way back, we walked through the Hollywood Hills residential area, gazing up at huge mansions before falling on a local grocery store like locusts after water and sugar in the most easily consumable format.
From Santa Monica, Dom and I walked the thirty-minute stroll down to Venice Beach to appreciate another LA neighbourhood. Venice is bohemian and a very hippy (not in a too overtly hipster way, think London’s Camden, but on-Sea). Here, cannabis medical centres are open for consultations, alongside street artists, performers and craft stalls, selling Rastafarian and Native American Indian inspired products.
From Venice, it is an even shorter hop to Muscle Beach, made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990s. Muscly guys are still lining up to flex their pecks and ‘get out their guns’ on the swing bars and hoops. Venice Skate Park honours the creation of modern skateboarding which occurred here in the 1970s and skaters cruise up and down the park all day, every day. People watching, whilst sunbathing, in Venice Beach doesn’t come any better. It was famously used as a set for TV show Baywatch. Luckily for everyone there that day, the weather was cooler and the sea not so inviting, so no red swimsuits came out from us!
We did make it Downtown too. We strolled the Hollywood Walk of Fame and saw the impressive TCL Chinese Theatre, but all in all, I would recommend staying in Santa Monica if you have just a few days in L.A rather than Downtown. It is right on the beach, there is loads to see locally, some great pedestrian shopping and eating areas and, with the Uber POOL service, not expensively far away from the touristy sights of central L.A.
We stayed in Hi Santa Monica Hostel – which was in the middle of the neighbourhood, easy to find and a clean cheerful base for our three nights in LA.