Welcome to the City of Angels

I promised you the third instalment of our honeymoon adventure a few weeks ago, and I would apologise for the delay, however, I suspect that with Christmas and New Year in the middle, no-one will have been waiting with baited breath! While we were away I kept forgetting that we had a third week, and I loved Mexico so much that I wasn’t really as excited to get to it. I think my husband was probably more excited, as he’d done a lot of planning for this section of the trip, and it was somewhere he had always wanted to go. Part of the reason we decided to add it on though was because we worked out it would be cheaper to go and stay a few days then fly directly back to the UK from Mexico. That logic potentially disappeared when we’d done a few things there though. In case you were wondering, our final honeymoon destination was Los Angeles!

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To be honest though, the trip didn’t get off to the best start. We got through customs and immigration pretty quickly, which was something I was worried about, not having a US passport; however, after a powercut at LAX we were waiting for over an hour for our bags to come off the plane. The knock on effect of that was that we were then late for the shuttle bus to take us to our car hire, so with no way to contact them we waited outside the airport for another hour or so until another shuttle bus happened to go past. By the time we got to the car depot we were so late that they had cancelled our booking, so we had to go through the whole process again.

Eventually we got our car, which was fairly nice and a lot bigger than its UK equivalent. However, being in the US, it was an automatic so it took a little while to pick up how to drive it. Combine that with the useless scale of the map to get us from the car hire to our hotel, and tempers were fraying pretty quickly. After driving around for about an hour, when the journey should have taken about 2o minutes, we eventually realised we had no idea where we were, and after Steve had flipped out and told me to get out the car, we decided it might be sensible to ask for directions. So we pulled over at a gas station and managed to work out where we were and where we needed to be. Fortunately we did make it to the hotel, but the romantic extra evening in LA that we’d hoped for was out the window, and we went straight to bed.

The following day we were in a much better position to appreciate our hotel. We were staying in the Elan Hotel, which is at the crossroads of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, near Cedar Sinai hospital, so a pretty good location and really handy for us. The hotel had valet parking so parking the hire car wasn’t a problem. After getting there late we didn’t really take a look at the room until the next morning, but it was quite large and comfortable, with a really useful tablet in the room which we could use to find out what was close, contact the hotel, or even order take-out to the room! There was plenty of storage space for our three weeks worth of luggage, really comfy bed, and the benefit of a huge TV to enjoy all the American TV that is surprisingly more than we get in the UK!

My favourite thing about the hotel was the breakfast. It was generally pretty quiet when we got there, so there was plenty of room. Everything was self service, and there was a mix of cold meat and cheese, bread rolls, fruit, cereal, pastries, eggs, and- my favourite- a waffle machine. We tried to fill up on breakfast as much as possible, to keep us going for the rest of the day when we were around LA. On the one day that we were around at the right time, we also discovered a daily cheese and wine reception, which would have been nice if we were staying longer and wanting to get to know people. They didn’t have the pool and gyms that a lot of the tourist hotels in LA have, but as a base for exploring it was perfect, and a lovely hotel to come back to at the end of the day.

On our first day we wanted to take it fairly easy and have a relatively slow day, so we booked to go whale watching from Newport Beach. We had breakfast at the hotel then drove down to have a look around and grab some pizza before getting on the boat. The boat left from Balboa Pier so we had a look round some of the tourist shops to pick up some souvenirs for the kids before the boat left. We could see it was a popular tour so staked a place in the queue fairly early on. It was just as well we did because it did get really busy and we were able to grab a place on the top deck right by the side of the boat. It was really interesting going through the harbour and seeing all the different houses and people paddle boarding across. Unfortunately we didn’t find any whales, but we did see some dolphins and a load of sea lions sun bathing. It’s always impossible to guarantee seeing whales, but we were a bit disappointed although we did enjoy the tour. We were given a voucher to come back, but decided not to as we weren’t really in LA for long enough.

After a quick drink we decided to take the scenic route back to the hotel to see some more of LA, so we drove back up the Pacific Coast Highway, which runs along the coast (funnily enough), and stopped off at Seal Beach on the way up. I was hoping to see some actual seals on the beach, but not only were there no seals there, there’s a good chance it was named after Navy Seals, as there is a training camp not far away. We had a wander up the pier and contented ourselves watched pelicans and kite surfers, before carrying on back up the highway. We ended up on Santa Monica Blvd as the sun was setting- getting excited before realising that the song actually talks about the sun rising on Santa Monica Blvd- oops. By the time we got back it was quite late so we got a Fat Burger take out- we were very excited about the variety of take aways the US offers, but we were disappointed with Fat Burger. Not helped that Steve walked a couple of blocks at night with no shoes on to get it- don’t ask me why, I have no idea!

The next day was our proper sight seeing day as we set out on a tour on the Rastabus! We decided that as LA is so big (not just Hollywood and the beach as Steve thought), that it would be useful to get someone who knew what they were doing to show us around. We met the bus at Santa Monica beach. It had the potential for being quite chaotic as there were about 11 different tours leaving at the same time, and everyone was assigned to a different bus, but it actually worked really well.

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Our first stop was Venice beach, the home of Muscle beach- where Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for working out; a lot of artistic graffiti on the buildings; and some of the first skate parks. Apparently the local kids were into surfing, but were limited by the tides and weather, so when the opportunity came for skateboarding, which didn’t have those limitations, they were already really good, and became some of the first skateboarding champions. Makes sense when you think about it.

Next up was Rodeo Drive, the row of shops made famous in Pretty Woman as she is turned away for not looking rich enough. The reality is that they are pretty high end shops. We were told that in House of Bijan you have to pay a deposit of $1500 to enter, and if you don’t buy anything they keep the deposit, however the average spend inside is $100,000. That became more believable when we saw a custom made yellow Rolls Royce parked outside. You can also find Badgely Mischka, the boutique Julia Roberts is asked to leave in the film. At the top of that road is the Beverly Hills sign, in case, like us, your LA geography is getting confused! Keeping on the Pretty Woman theme, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel is also a short walk away. Definitely a bit of a Pretty Woman stop here! Needless to say, we didn’t buy anything, just enjoyed ogling at the prices in the shop windows.

By this point we were getting quite hungry, fortunately there was water on the bus though! Our next stop was the Farmers Market at the Grove. If you’re into food, this is a great place to go. A mixture of food to eat now, and food to take away with you, as we did with some yummy chocolatey things! One of the things that attracts me to the US is the different food you get in different regions, and I particularly love flavours from the deep South. So when we came across The Gumbo Pot that was definitely where we would be having lunch. We had beautiful gumbo and jambalaya, in huge portions, with cornbread and sweet potato chips, but they also offered more exciting things like alligator tail and catfish. Maybe next time!

Following that was a trip up the hillside to Griffith Park Observatory, which also happens to be one of the best places to see the Hollywood sign. I’d love to go back and do some hiking up there, it looked like there was a lot more to see than we had time for just being bussed to the top. We had a great view of the city from up there though, and the observatory would also have been worth more time. It was really busy so there wasn’t much room to move around.

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It was definitely worth going to the top of the observatory though, the view was incredible and really showed you just how big LA is, as it’s impossible to imagine just driving around. The geek in me was also quite excited to find a room named after Leonard Nimoy, as well as the Cafe at the End of the Universe.  There was also a pretty cool exhibition up on space that would have been worth another look, but unfortunately we didn’t have time because we needed to get back to the bus.

Our final stop was at one of the most well known of LAs attractions, the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’d never really appreciated just how long it is. It’s not just a couple of stars on the sidewalk, it’s a couple of miles long, on both sides of the road! Ryan had asked us to find Vince McMahon, and we were shocked that we did actually manage to! We also stumbled across Donald Trump, who was easy to find as the only star that had been heavily vandalised. The other attraction is the Dolby Theatre along the same road, with the handprints and signatures in the cement outside. My favourite was definitely the cast of Star Wars, although there were a few legends there as well. There were also some pretty interesting buildings: the church of Scientology, Disney theatre, Jimmy Kimmel Studio and Egyptian theatre among them.

That was the end of the tour, but not the end of the day. We split off from the tour after the final stop to make sure we got back in time to go to a rooftop cinema screening of Pretty Woman put on by TimeOut Magazine- can you tell we’re fans? After a quick change we got there super early to get good seats, and make the most of the burgers and cocktails that were on sale. You accessed the roof by climbing up the fire escape, which was exciting in itself, but then it looked very professional, with comfy deckchairs, decent headphones and warm blankets. When it was dark enough the film was projected in front of us, and was so much better watching it a stones throw away from where it was set.

Our third day in LA was probably the one I had been most looking forward to because we were going to Universal Studios! I’m not a rollercoaster fanatic (like Ryan), but the excitement of Universal is that they have the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as one of their lands. That means that Hogwarts is there, as well as the Three Broomsticks, Hagrids Hut, Diagon Alley, and Butterbeer! It was brilliant! They had a couple of Harry Potter themed rides in there- The Flight of the Hippogriff, which is a small roller coaster around Hagrids garden, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is a mixture between a roller coaster and a simulator. You’re given headsets and put onto a carriage that does move a faster and further than a normal simulator. The headsets actually worked really well in making it 3D and taking you through the Harry Potter world- from the Forbidden Forest, through Hogwarts, even playing Quidditch. Definitely a ride worth going on.

Even doing everything we wanted to do in Harry Potter we still had plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the park. We went on all the big rides, and did the studio tour- twice in the end, once in the day and then again at night. The benefit of Universal is that the theming is all really good. There weren’t that many thrilling roller coasters compared to other parks, the adrenaline comes from what’s going on around you. I’d been to Universal in Florida before and could still remember The Mummy ride, which didn’t seem to have changed much since last time, but was still really good. We went on the Jurassic Park boat ride twice as well, staying fairly dry the first time but getting absolutely soaked the second. We went and explored The Simpson’s Krustyland and Despicable Me, whose main attractions were simulator rides. They were very good, but you do get bored of them a lot sooner than roller coasters. We also went and saw the Waterworld show, and Steve went on the Walking Dead walk through- on his own, I’m definitely not brave enough for that! We had an amazing day though and came back tired and very happy.

On our final day we decided we hadn’t had enough of films yet, so headed off to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, which just happened to be just around the road from our hotel which was handy. It was fascinating to see how realistic the sets looked, what the inside shell of the sets looks like, and how they could be reused for different films without anyone noticing. The school that was Rydell High in Grease is now in Pretty Little Liars. We saw where the Gilmore Girls was filmed and how they used potato to make snow. We stood on the staircase where Rachel walked down to meet Ross for their prom date on Friends. They also had a bit of a museum with props from their biggest films on display. There was a lot from their latest films- Batman and Suicide Squad, but also a lot hanging around from Harry Potter, as it’s always so popular. They even had a Sorting Hat that actually sorts you into houses. I’ve always put myself in Hufflepuff as that’s what I was in the film, but this time I was sorted into Gryffindor while Steve was put into Slytherin. Good day. We also managed to find our way into Central Perk from Friends, as well as the West Wing, and saw the special effects to go into making Dobby and broomsticks from Harry Potter, and the difference in size between Gandalf and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.

Sadly, after all our adventures it was time to go home. 6 months on it already feels like a lifetime ago, but looking back it’s remarkable how much we packed into 3 weeks. Now we’re working out how to muddle through real life now we’re married, and I’m enjoying writing these blogs as a way of looking back. We’re busy planning our next trip, this time with the children as well, and getting on with life, with the added addition of a new puppy, who I’m sure will be featuring in future posts.

One final excitement from our trip that’s worth mentioning is the amazing Forrest Gump restaurant at one of the airports (I’ve lost track now of which one), where they served the most amazing shrimp (apart from at Cenote Azul in Mexico). I hope this blog has helped to pick you up after Christmas and encourage you to start looking forward to the summer, or your next adventure, or helped you to remember your last one. Happy travelling!

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One thought on “Welcome to the City of Angels

  1. Pingback: Our favourite theme park | blogging the four c's

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