A Day in L.A.
If the prospect of a 20+ hour flight to Central or Eastern USA doesn’t thrill you, why not break it up and spend a day in Los Angeles? It might not seem like much – but an early morning flight (and luggage storage at an airport hotel) might be just the ticket to wake you up, get you into holiday mode and add some unexpected sightseeing to your itinerary. It may also help you stave off jet lag too!
If you have a flight the next day, staying near the airport at a hotel that offers a shuttle service to and from LAX is probably worthwhile. If you’re on a budget, the Holiday Inn Express LAX is good value (in LA terms, at least!). They offer a free shuttle service and luggage storage if you arrive before check-in, but luckily for us, even though we arrived on their doorstep at 7.30am, our room was ready, and the staff allowed us to check in early and freshen up before heading out.
When you’re short on time, hiring a car and navigating between tourist spots is a no-go. What you need is someone who knows the hot spots, can navigate the traffic (there’s lots of it), can help you learn a little along the way and is flexible in case your flight is delayed. Oh – and did I mention – on a budget!
Starline’s City Sightseeing tours allow you to hop-on and hop off en route if you want to spend more time in a location either shopping, dining or celebrity-spotting. This seemed like an ideal option for a layover, so we grabbed an Uber to a hot spot on the tourist trail to kick off our whirlwind tour.
Santa Monica Pier was not too far from our hotel and a great place to grab a meal - because, really – who actually eats plain food? Sorry – I meant plane food.
Opened to the public in 1909 and jutting out into the Pacific Ocean at the intersection of Ocean and Colorado Avenues (at the western end of the famous Route-66), Santa Monica Pier has retained all the charms of days gone by and is still one of the most photographed locations in the world. If you’re looking for some Californian souvenirs, it's also not too shabby – with market stalls selling a variety of goods from t-shirts to keyrings and everything in between.
It’s also a great place to stretch your legs while experiencing the seaside views and filling your lungs with some salty air. By Australian standards, the surf is pretty flat (ok, very flat) and hailing from the opposite end of the Pacific Ocean; I wondered if it was even possible to catch a wave. But who am I to judge?
Centrally located on the pier is Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. For lovers of the movie Forest Gump, the restaurant lets you get your first taste of the U.S. and test your trivia skills. Branded as an American icon, the restaurant showcases memorabilia and photos from the movie, along with reproductions of script pages, storyboards and even some costumes. The staff also halted proceedings mid-way through our meal with trivia questions about the film – which was entertaining. The menu features shrimp, of course, and they're also famous for their cocktails. Even though it was mid-morning in LA, it was definitely cocktail hour at home – and we were on holiday -so why not?
The City Sightseeing double-decker, open top bus collects tourists from Santa Monica, which enabled us to purchase a ticket on boarding and gave us access to two hop-on, hop-off tours. Each tour was approximately two hours, and we could jump from one tour to the other from a stop in the middle at Beverly Hills.
Along the way to Beverly Hills we pass through some well-known, palm tree-lined streets – Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevards to name two, both of which brought TV theme songs to mind –maybe I just watch too much TV. The commentary that’s delivered via earbud is a little unsocial and out of date but does provide a few interesting snippets of information, although the commentator did have a particular fascination with OJ Simpson and pointed out a few sites where he’d been, chased, hiding, caught or committed the crime.
The distinctive red, barn-style buildings of Brentwood Country Mart provide a novel shopping experience and is apparently a good location for celebrity spotting, being a favourite haunt of Hollywood stars. Opened in 1948, Brentwood houses a wide variety of high-end fashion, jewellery and specialty stores (think Christian Louboutin or Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP) alongside the local Post Office and Barber Shop, which make it a truly local shopping experience. If you’re feeling peckish, try Reddi Chick, which is said to offer the best rotisserie chicken and french fries in Los Angeles and has called Brentwood home since 1950.
The tour proceeds to Beverly Hills, although it must be noted that it only travels along the main streets – so if you want to gawk at celebrity homes, you’ll need to disembark and travel on foot. Believe it or not, Beverly Hills is actually considered a City, albeit a small city, with a footprint of just 15 square kilometres; it’s home to 35,000 residents and hosts millions of visitors from all over the world every year.
It's also immediately apparent that this is where the money is. From the sparkling fountain to the lush gardens and silver fire hydrants, this area screams glamour – offering the best shopping (Rodeo Drive, baby!), luxury hotels that regularly host movie stars, monarchs and studio moguls and several Michelin-starred restaurants (including our very own Curtis Stone’s Maude Restaurant). Tempted to live my own ‘Pretty Woman’ moment, but knowing I’d have to take a second mortgage on the house to do so, I keep my feet firmly planted on top of the red bus and carry on!
Onwards to downtown Hollywood, we travel along Sunset Boulevard to Hollywood Boulevard. We catch glimpses of the famous “Hollywood” sign – but if you want to get close, that’s a whole different tour. The TCL Chinese Theatre and Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard are both worth disembarking for.
Since 1927, The TCL Chinese Theatre has been the premiere venue of star-powered red-carpet events – it’s where Hollywood's biggest stars go to watch their movies! The most famous movie theatre in the world, it’s also known for its unique forecourt of the stars, featuring cement hands and footprints of major movie stars from past to present. If you have more time, it's worth taking a tour of the theatre to learn more about the history of the place.
The Dolby Theatre is one of the world’s best entertainment venues due to its amazing sound technology (of course!). Featuring one of the most sophisticated sound systems in the world and home to the Academy Awards since 2002, walking tours of this venue are also available and give you insta access to the Oscar statuette and other paraphernalia.
Our final stop of the day sees us travelling along Melrose Avenue, Wilshire and Pico Boulevards and past Fox Studios to the infamous Venice Beach. Self-described as L.A.’s “out-there beach town”, Venice lives up to its reputation of being edgy, artsy, stylish, and a little bit odd.
Founded in 1905 by developer Abbot Kinney as a beachfront resort town. Kinney’s initial vision of creating a cultural mecca was set aside to accommodate the public, and Venice became the “Coney Island of the Pacific.” It’s colourful and, as the Uber driver who collected us noted – full of weirdos – but it's lovely just to stroll along and people-watch. There are loads of places to grab a bite to eat and plenty of souvenir shops, street performers, artists, and fortune tellers along the boardwalk, and of course, there’s the very photographed skate park to take in. Venice is also pretty close to the airport – so it's not too far to get a lift back to your airport hotel or directly to the airport.
It may be the gateway to the rest of the USA (for us Aussies, at least), but instead of transiting through LAX, it’s well worth taking some time from your travels to get to know the area better. Spending a day in L.A. was probably one of the best travel decisions we've ever made, and we left the next day feeling refreshed and ready to continue our USA adventure.