Los Angeles is bloody huge. That’s a technical term. Larger than all of New York’s five boroughs put together, it really is impossible to see much of it in a couple of days, but we gave it a good try.
The problem with LA is, it’s easy to gravitate to its most famous, yet most depressingly touristy areas.
Top of that list is the steaming cesspit of commercialism that is Hollywood Boulevard. We both agreed it was one of the worst places we’ve ever visited, and half an hour really was long enough to spit on Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and bid the place adieu.
It was oppressively busy, full of hawkers and tacky souvenir shops, and airhead men and women dressed as superheroes.
The Chinese Theatre and its collection of handprints from stars past and present harked back to a simpler time, but it’s difficult to even see them these days.
It’s a place no visitor should want to spend much time in. If the concentration of selfie sticks in one place had been any higher, they would have melded together in to one giant Transformer’s-style King Selfie Stick, melting unwitting tourists with its giant flash.
And it’s a shame it’s become so heinously tacky; James visited as a kid in the 90s and, although brash and loud, was nothing like it is today.
We got out of there as quickly as possible and headed for the one place everyone has told us we HAD to visit while in LA; the Griffith Observatory.
Driving there can be tricky, especially at weekends or if there’s a gig on at the nearby Greek Theatre, so we ditched the car at the bottom of the hill, avoided the traffic jam and walked the half an hour or so up to the top.
It’s easy to see why it’s such a popular destination; the views towards downtown LA were stunning, especially at night, and it’s also one of the best spots to see the Hollywood Sign.
We went at sunset, although our attempts at capturing the gorgeous orange glow as the sun disappeared to the left of the sign don’t do justice to how beautiful it was.
The Observatory itself is also well worth a visit and, unlike almost every other attraction in the US, completely free. The space and science exhibits, although dated in parts, were all fascinating, and the staff seem to genuinely love what they do.
After ambling back down the hill, we embarked on another of our now-famous wild goose chases!
Any avid readers of this blog will know that Chris is a bit of a McDonald’s aficionado (read: glutton), and he’d read that one of the restaurants in LA was the oldest original McDonalds still standing, its Golden Arches unchanged since 1953 and giant retro cartoon mascot Speedee still standing proudly at the entrance.
Of course, this being us two, our mission to eat at the oldest Maccy D’s didn’t go to plan!
We left the Griffith Observatory at 10.15pm, giving us 45 minutes to get to McDonald’s before it closed at 11, according to Google (inferior search engines available).
When we arrived at 10.55pm, the dimmed lights and sad head shake of the last remaining burger-flipper told us all we needed to know. We’d missed the boat.
Of course, the burgers and fries would have tasted exactly the same, but there was no modern branding anywhere at this place; it has been frozen in time. It would have been a lovely slice of Americana to have eaten there.
Instead, we went to another California fast-food institution, In-N-Out Burger, flipping burgers themselves since 1948 and with their own retro-diner schtick of their own.
Though, in stark contrast to closed retro McDonald’s a block away, at 11pm on a Saturday night, this place was packed. We gorged, and went on our merry way.
Our second day in the City of Angels involved another wild-goose-chase, this time to get as close to the Hollywood Sign as possible!
The car journey wouldn’t have been complete without a blazing row, of course! James went the wrong way on the Interstate on the way to the famous Mulholland Drive lookout, and even when we did arrive, the sign is actually too small to photograph with a standard camera.
Various blogs claimed to proclaim the best viewing spots; we ended up at Lake Hollywood Drive, deep in the Hollywood Hills, and about as close as you can get to the sign without hiking up to it in the midday sun. It was worth the effort, just about!
LA felt a bit like a tick-box exercise for us. We couldn’t NOT go. And maybe with a bigger budget or on a conventional holiday, we would have lapped up the glamour, pushed the boat out a bit more and made the most of the city of excess.
We did find time to indulge in a bit of LA’s history & architecture; going to the Mexican old town, and Chris geeking out at another Frank Gehry monster of a building (the Walt Disney Concert Hall below), but this was definitely LA done by whistle-stop and on a shoestring!
We didn’t fork out for DisneyLand or Universal Studios, having been to Florida just two years ago, and TV tapings weren’t taking place while we were there. But we will definitely be back to California, with suitcases instead of backpacks, and a different approach to our visit.
Our whistle-stop tour of LA meant we had some spare time to visit one of the places nearly everyone we’d met told us we just couldn’t miss; America’s so-called Finest City, San Diego!