After Vegas we were pretty quickly into California – the desert end – on May 17th. It was hot, dry… you know how deserts can be. We stopped for a drink in Baker and were thrilled to see the world’s tallest thermometer (see photos). We didn’t manage the largest ball of string though (sorry cousin Isa) - that’s back in Minnesota… or Kansas… or Wisconsin… or Missouri… depending on your definition of largest, apparently.
Anyway, after this giant surprise we drove on down the hot roads in the general direction of Los Angeles. We stopped to look at the Calico ‘ghost town’ marked on our map but it seemed to be mainly shops… and they were shut (it’s mainly a rebuilt late 1800s silver mining town… quite interesting in places, totally bizarre in others, very much for the day-tripper). We took some photos and moved on to our stop for the night – a little town called Barstow.
We’d picked Barstow because our rental car needed its 10,000 km oil change and we thought this might be easier to negotiate in a small town. As it is we stayed pretty much next door to the garage and got the oil change done nice and easy in the morning. Our evening was spent eating in a bowling alley (online reviews said it was the best food in town... it wasn’t bad at all), bowling (well, why not? We haven’t bowled since Canada), laughing at some of the funny shop names (‘Nail House Rock’, one other in the slideshow) and watching ‘Dancing with the Stars’ back at the hotel (h’s favourite show - semi-final). We even managed to sleep despite the very noisy switching train tracks just behind the hotel too. Imagine that Pink Panther scene with the gauntlet and the blackboard… the hotel handed out earplugs on check-in… for real.
After the oil change we drove down some back roads into Los Angeles (it saved us several miles of crazy cross-town freeway I think). The scenery was mountains to one side, cacti everywhere, some very Mexican little towns… all pretty peaceful and easy. Then we joined the highway and arrived in LA on the San Fernando side. Photos of the first 24 hours in California are here:
As for Los Angeles… we’d not been sure what we were going to do… we weren’t even sure we were going to call in but in the end nosiness and h’s love for movies persuaded us that it was worth it. We looked at all the options and decided that, although the downtown area is no doubt very interesting (impressive architecture, art galleries, fancy restaurants) this wasn’t really what we were after at all. We’ve been in a lot of cities since we’ve been travelling and what we wanted in LA (as a family… remembering h’s tastes) was the full movie experience thing. We didn’t want tasteful… we wanted to see the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame etc. After all practically everywhere has a fancy modern art gallery these days… but where else would you find Paul Newman’s handprints in the pavement/sidewalk?
So we’d booked two nights in the best deal we could get in Hollywood – a Comfort Inn just a short hop from Hollywood Boulevard and an easy trip to Universal Studios. Of course it meant we didn’t get a lot of sleep (apparently the first night there was a convention of skateboarders in… they were young and raucous… running around the corridors, yelling at each other… the joy). Still, who needs sleep - this is Hollywood!
We got there early afternoon and straightaway headed down to Hollywood Boulevard. H wanted to go to the Hollywood Museum just off the main drag so we went there first before it closed. Based in the old Max Factor building this museum prides itself on having the best selection of ‘real Hollywood memorabilia’ in town (or something like that) and certainly we saw lots of costumes and posters and all kinds of interesting bits and pieces (Roddy McDowell’s ‘powder room’, the cell from ‘Silence of the Lambs’, heaps of Marilyn stuff…). It being Max Factor central there was a fair bit about make-up and hair too (how Lucille Ball became a redhead etc.). The guide-book was a bit sniffy about this museum but h really enjoyed it – she is quite the movie nerd.
After this we had a snack in the Mel’s Drive-In next door and then went for a walk along the Walk of Fame to do some star-spotting. H was looking for her favourite actress (Lindsay Lohan – no insults please, we love the Linz) but she doesn’t have a star yet (we checked on the map). h did find one of her very favourite singers though (Eartha Kitt – don’t anybody say our daughter doesn’t have varied taste…) and we have photographic evidence of this one. We did also find some L Lohan photos in a movie poster store (movie pics – not mugshots…) and I got some bright green trainers in the campest menswear shop I’ve been in in a while. Fabulous, darling, we were loving Hollywood so far.
We wandered by the Chinese Theatre, the Kodak Theatre, more and more stars and hand and footprints on the pavement/sidewalk and then ate in the quite fancy Rolling Stone restaurant nearby (I guess they got tired of watching Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood making such easy money…). Then we went back to the hotel and had our first noisy night. Day one LA photos are here:
Day two in LA we got up early (2 hours sleep – it was like having a newborn!) and even made it to breakfast. There we met a girl h’s age who was in town from North Carolina with her Dad for a Hollywood movie audition (really!). h was kind of amazed that girls like this really do exist (she’d already done some TV and an ad and was very polished and poised…). h was a bit jealous too in all honesty (‘she’s so lucky’). We suggested that some people might say the same of her, wished the girl in question all the best and headed outside for our ‘shuttle bus’ to Universal Studios.
Well, our shuttle bus to the office down the road where we got our tickets for the Studios anyway. Then the company (Starline) put us on a fab open-top double decker and drove us the mile or so to the Studios. It was a lovely day (bright but not too hot) and the views of the hills and houses were stunning as we sped along. We got to the park before it opened so witnessed the whole ‘people waiting at the entrance to steam in’ business which we’ve never really seen before. It was fun and good for h (her only theme park experience to date is 2 days at the Paris Disney Resort a couple of years ago). All in all we had a great day at Universal too – went on all the rides, went on the very entertaining (and bumpy!) studio tour, watched all the shows (special FX, animals etc.), took endless snaps and so on. It was like a regular holiday!
At 6pm the bus took us back to the hotel and we collapsed briefly (tired feet, red noses…) and though we might have liked to go and visit LA’s Chinatown or downtown or something the truth is we were just too tired (theme park days are hard work!) so we walked to a little Chinese restaurant just down the road in Hollywood. It was an unassuming little place and not very busy but the food was really, really good. We ate our fill and wandered back to the hotel. We did even get some sleep this time. Our LA Day 2 pics are here:
Even before knowing how noisy the hotel would be (“I’m sorry,” said the receptionist, “LA just has a drug problem…”) we had booked our third LA night over by the beach to get a look at that side of town too. This meant we packed up the car on Friday morning (20th May) and changed lodgings. On our way we called by the Hollywood sign (windy roads to get up there! Impatient local drivers!), then drove down Sunset Boulevard (kind of scruffy really, lots of ads, lots of bars), into Beverley Hills and then turned into Rodeo Drive. There we parked in the first public parking we saw (hilarious valet parking scenario – British people are just not used to this kind of thing!). Then we found a little café for lunch in the Rodeo Drive version of a plaza, I suppose (mainly plastic surgery places, beauty salons and so on). Whilst sitting there eating a croissant stuffed with spinach or some such I SWEAR Julie Andrews walked by with an older lady friend. JA was in movie-star camouflage (baseball cap and sunglasses) but I heard her speak and NO-ONE sounds like Julie, even now. H did see her too but Mark was too busy eating and so you’ll have to take my word for it. But really – it WAS her. Very exciting.
We wandered a little down Rodeo Drive (“can I take a photo of the display in your store?” “Yes, if you stay outside”!!) and it was all very ‘Pretty Woman’. It’s possibly the cleanest place in California – the streets look like someone’s scrubbed them with toothbrushes. Then we got our car back out of the valet parking and drove along to Santa Monica (very pretty, lovely shoreline, h’s first glimpse of the Pacific) and then finally into Venice, where we had booked a place for the night by the Marina. The hotel was a bargain (older than some of its neighbours, less glossy) but it had a lovely outdoor pool and the weather was good so we all went for a swim and lie in the sun.
Still, no time to lose – only one night in Venice so we got dressed again and then walked down to the seafront to really say ‘hello’ to the ocean. H loved it – paddled and scampered about and at that end of Venice beach it was really just joggers and families and it was pretty quiet. After a while though we decided to go in search of the famous boardwalk and wow, what a change that was! I suppose it was Friday evening by then but the place was super-busy… skaters, posers, dog-walkers, cyclists, tourists (lots of us!) and lots and lots of people begging in one form or other (young and old, some quite together and some really, really far-out). There was a lot of marijuana promotion, lots of t-shirt shops, a man stapling his chest for some reason, lots of buskers (some very good) – just loads of stuff going on. It was like a festival or something (think Glastonbury late Sunday night) but h was tired and hungry (and gets tired of bugged-out people telling her she’s an angel) and so we found a place to eat (not many on the boardwalk really) and there we had a lovely meal with music playing in the background, some entertaining skating going on and even a beautiful sunset too. After that we got a cab back to the Marina (it was quite a walk for a small, tired girl and by this point some people were looking pretty Friday night crazy). We were all pretty worn out by LA (it’s so lively!) and ready to move on by then too. Our photos from Friday 20th are here:
A couple of days later I asked h what were some of her favourite bits of the trip so far and she said, without hesitation, Hollywood so I guess it was definitely a good decision to go to LA. This is one girl with stars in her eyes.
Next time our visit to poet/blogger Chris of Enchanted Oak and the rest of our central California trip.