En route to the UK, we stopped off in LA for three days to luxuriate in the gorgeous warm rays of the December sun. When we walked out of LAX, the sun was definitely shining but the air wasn’t warm at all. I’d arrived with great expectations, bathing suit in tow but what we actually needed were our winter coats that were snuggled tight in our checked in luggage back at the airport (maybe this is a slight exaggeration, however coming from our Kiwi summer it certainly wasn't the Californian climate we'd expected).
Here are my top 6 picks for a wintry LA Layover:
1. Pancakes and bottomless coffee
Nothing conjures up a true blue American experience more than pancakes and coffee. After we checked into our quirky little hotel in Venice Beach we headed out to the Marina to indulge our ravenous tummies. IT.WAS.SOOOO.GOOD! Besides pancakes, the other 'American thing' to do is to eat waffles, but you shouldn’t really do that in one sitting. Waffles and pancakes are best appreciated when they’re eaten separately.
2. Venice Boardwalk
Hot or cold, strolling along Venice Beach Boardwalk fully engages your eyes and ears with an eccentric, eclectic, electrifying experience as you walk through the throngs of tourists. The walk is lined with people selling their wares, the syncopated beats of the buskers coming from all corners. There are scores of performing artists scattered throughout, some of whom can twist themselves in freakishly vaudevillian contortions (and there actually was a 'Freak Museum' stood in the heart of the boardwalk alas we didn't venture in). Signage touting medicinal marijuana are a bakers’ dozen along here, interspersed with the ubiquitous souvenir and food stores. It has a very hippie vibe to it, free love and all that – so chilled and laidback. Muscle Beach (part of Venice Beach) plays to the Hollywood persona very well in that it feels like it’s more of a movie set, its “patrons” with their fake-bronzed ripped bodies working out (most likely in addition to the full work out they’d already had at the gym earlier in the day).
3. Bus Tour
You cannot come to LA and not do a bus tour. It’s like a law or something that you have to go on one, I’m sure of it. LA is spread out and unless you’re game enough to hire a car and drive on the opposite side of the street with an unfamiliar landscape, then the only way you’re going to see more than you would without said car, is to jump on one of these tours. Our bus took us along all the usual tourist spots including Venice Beach (Baywatch), Santa Monica, Rodeo Drive (I heard myself saying “big mistake, big, huge!” a la Julia Roberts “Pretty Woman” as we drove along this road) and Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. We were on one of those tours where you could hop off and have a look around, which prompts my next highlight of course…
4. Hollywood Boulevard “Walk of Fame”
Even if you don’t do the bus tour, a first trip to LA isn’t right without a walk along this star-studded boulevard, searching for your favourite silver screen heroes and heroines. We were very much the tourists snapping as much as our SD card could handle, and of course I was marvelling at the gigantic Christmas trees everywhere. This tinsel town certainly knows how to bling itself up during the festive season.
5. Hollywood sign
When you tire of the stars, you can pop into one of the malls and from there blag yourself a good viewing spot of the “Hollywood” sign on the hills. It’s one thing to see this sign on TV or at the movies, but to see it with your own eyes is unreal. There are many other excellent spots to see it from, like the Griffith’s Observatory (we didn’t have time to go there, although we hear it’s well worth driving or hiking up to).
6. Santa Monica
There is a sign nestled between the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant and the arcade that signifies that it’s the end of the legendary Route 66 trail, a route that takes you all the way from the east coast to the west, and which (according to atlasobscura.com) symbolizes that the road only ended because the sea stood in its way. The pier is a great spot for everyone, particularly families, because if you don’t have time to hit Anaheim to spend all day at Disneyland, the amusement park here complete with rides and arcade games is just as good a second-best as any…kind of. The upside is that the lines aren’t as long! I was delighted when I found a Zoltar machine, as this took me back to Tom Hank’s 80s classic “Big” which is one of my all-time faves, and yes, it really does work like it does in Big…except I don’t know about the wishes coming true bit.
Further inland, you’ll find several malls and bars. We dined at a lovely Mexican restaurant where the food was fresh, tantalizing and divine as you can only expect on the Californian coast. The cocktails were just as good, but we couldn’t imbibe so much given we had to catch our flight the next day.
By the way, the food trucks are famous in this area. There’s a spot on Main street where the trucks gather on Tuesday nights (except public holidays) and it becomes a tantalizing smorgasbord affaire.
7. The Butchers Daughter (Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice Beach)
Ok, there’s only meant to be six spots, but I wanted to give this restaurant a special mention. Ever the hungry travellers, we’d found a delectable vegetarian’s treasure trove at “The Butcher’s Daughter”. In preparation for further exploring, we fuelled ourselves with a classic Avocado Toast for me, and the Surfer’s Breakfast for the other Brit-Kiwi (burrito with eggs, avocado, black bean mole, potatoes, green salsa and sour cream). There is a great proffering for vegetarians, and it’s always a fantastic day when I find I can eat everything on the menu. Oh LA, you really do know how to appeal to a vegetarian’s heart!
Note: The Butcher’s Daughter also has two sister restaurants in New York (Nolita and West Village).
Will we come back to LA again? Absolutely. We barely dipped into its goodness given our short stint. We hear there’s so much more to experience, so we’ll be back LA…thank you for having us.