To be honest, we were a bit scared when we got to LA. We’d come from Japan, one of the safest countries in the world, to a city with one of the highest crime rates. Would we let our guard down too much?
At least we made it in. It was 11 years since I’d been to the US, and since then I’ve heard so many horror stories of people being interrogated by border staff and treated as criminals just for wanting to visit the country. So it was surprising when we actually got a friendly agent who stamped us in with a smile.
After getting into the city and crashing for a couple of hours, we made our way across the city to the Farmers Market to meet some of my aunts and uncles, who coincidentally were finishing up their holiday in LA the day we arrived. I doubt we were great conversation in such a jetlagged state but it was great to see family if only for a few hours.
We’d rather foolishly decided to go to Universal Studios the next day, when really what we wanted to do was sleep for 10 more hours. But our timing meant that we were in LA Friday – Sunday so we figured Friday would probably be the quietest day to visit.
And boy was it quiet. Turns out that between Thanksgiving and Christmas no-one in America tends to go to theme parks, so it was very empty. Not that we were complaining as we rode The Mummy ride 7 times, the Transformers ride 4 times and the Jurassic Park ride 3 times.
The rest of the day was taken up by the iconic studio tour, which I had visited before when I was 8 years old, and brought back some memories. It was also fascinating. While some parts are a bit cheesy and outdated, seeing the sets makes it all worth it.
The Waterworld show was spectacular and Katy enjoyed the animal actors show (of course she would!)
Afterwards we got to have our first ever In-N-Out burger. I’ve been a bit obsessed with the chain for years as it has such love among burger aficionados. I was gutted when I missed their London popup a few years ago, but it was worth the wait to try one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Delicious, cheap and done right.
The next day we headed to Venice Beach, and discovered the limitations of LA public transport. Using the metro in the city is great, but there are a lot of places it doesn’t cover. So you’re left with incredibly slow, incredibly infrequent buses. It took an hour to get anywhere near the beach from downtown, and then it terminated a mile away from where it was supposed to, leaving us with a massive walk to the seafront.
Venice Beach is crazy. All the classic LA characters are here – budding rappers, skaters, crazy homeless guys and beefcakes on muscle beach. It’s an assault on the senses, and definitely somewhere you need to keep your wits about you or you’ll end up either getting hustled or just talked into buying some kids CD.
Luckily with all the action on the boardwalk the beach itself was rather quiet so we found a spot to sit and admire it all for a while. The water was pretty cold but hey it was December and we were on a beach!
We walked down the beach and the craziness soon subsided and gave way to the sophistication of Santa Monica. It took a lot of walking but we eventually reached Santa Monica pier, which featured a pretty rubbish funfair and not much else, besides a nice view.
After another long bus ride we made it to the Walk Of Fame to see the famous stars and walked down to the Chinese Theatre to see the concrete hand and footprints. Massively touristy but you have to do it don’t you?
On our last day we explored downtown LA, which luckily was close to our accommodation. We started at Union Station and admired the beautiful 1930s interior.
We then took a short walk to Olvera Street, in the oldest part of the city. It’s a Mexican themed street selling trinkets, clothing and tacos – it’s a bit touristy but somewhere I hadn’t heard of before. Incidentally, and somewhat embarrassingly, I didn’t previously know that California was part of Mexico until 1848. Obviously the city names give somewhat of a clue!
For lunch we visited somewhat of an LA institution – Philippe’s. It serves multiple sandwiches but the most famous is the French dip – a roast beef sandwich dipped in the meat juices, into which you add a generous squirt of spicy mustard. It’s a bit soggy and just a bit unhealthy but it tastes incredible and I heartily recommend it. They also have ice tea for 65c and coffee for less than a dollar!
We walked from Philippe’s to Chinatown, which actually seemed more like Little Saigon – lots of places offering our favourite Banh Mi, alas we were too full to try one. A quick hop on the metro and we were in another part of Asia – Little Tokyo, where we got to try something we searched high and low for in Japan to no avail – ice cream Mochi!
We continued to walk downtown, carefully avoiding Skid Row, admiring the older buildings until we reached Grand Central Market, full of lots of tasty food stalls, most prominently Mexican. We were still full (damn you Philippe’s!) but it was a good place to have a look around as a food lover.
After walking into more and more sketchy parts of town, we decided to escape on the Metro to Vermont/Sunset station where a 50c shuttle runs to take you to Griffith Observatory.
By the time the shuttle we arrived it was sunset, and what a place to be. With stunning views over the city, and finally a glimpse of the Hollywood sign, we spent plenty of time just admiring the view.
The art deco 1935 building is amazing to look at from the outside, and from the roof, and inside there are plenty of interesting exhibits.
We had just enough time to rush back to Universal to use our free second day. After a few *ahem, 6* more rides we saw the Grinch Christmas show before it closed.
So we survived, and had a great time doing so. LA is definitely not the most tourist friendly city, primarily due to the half hearted public transport, but it is still worth a visit.
After checking out the expensive and rather grotty looking hostels in LA, we plumped for a private room in a house via AirBnB. It was our first experience actually staying with someone rather than having the place to ourselves but it was a great location with a wonderful host. Located near Pico/Aliso station it was perfect for getting all around LA on public transport. The listing is here.
For public transport you need a TAP card, similar to Oyster, which only costs $1. Each single ride is $1.75 regardless of distance, which is very reasonable.
We got our Universal tickets from AResTravel.com and they cost $85 per person, a slight reduction on the gate price but still very expensive. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be many discounts around, which compared to the UK where you can always get 2 for 1 on theme parks, is a surprise. It does at least include the free second day, though you can quite easily cover the park in 1 day unless it’s super busy.