Los Angeles seems to have as many detractors as boosters. While most of the folks who live there will profess their undying love for it, most short term visitors, at least the ones we’ve known, have been less than enthusiastic. Whether it’s traffic, snobbery, or pollution, there are a lot of complaints against the City of Angels. Before hitting the road, neither Kevin nor I had ever visited and, truth be told, it was not high on either of our lists, but we’ve got some friends in Long Beach and given that we were spending over a month in San Diego, we figured we might as well go check it out. Plus, we’ve learned again and again, just because someone else hates it (or loves it), doesn’t mean we will too. So, on a warm sunny Southern California morning, we jumped in the car and headed north for a day of sightseeing in the nation’s second most populous city.
And guess what? We enjoyed it! Did it make our short list of places we might want to settle down one day? No. But would we like to go back and spend more time exploring? Sure!
We found L.A. to be a high energy, cosmopolitan, diverse city with a ton of options to keep us busy. We only had time to check out a tiny sliver of this sprawling metropolis, but we made the most of our time and enjoyed every second.
We made our way first to Venice Beach and the Venice Beach Boardwalk, a place featuring every kind of entertainment one could want. The promenade fronting the beach continues on for several miles eventually leading to the Santa Monica Pier, and our original plan was to walk all the way to the pier and back, but given time constraints and traffic, we decided to walk about a mile in either direction before heading to our next destination. It didn’t take long, though, to get a feel for this endlessly entertaining piece of real estate.
The whole strip is busy – walkers, runners, bikers, roller skaters, skateboarders… you name it, they are on the boardwalk.
Providing a colorful background to all the activity were several creative murals painted on the buildings that front the boardwalk.
There were artists selling their wares and demonstrating their skills….
while street performers entertained the hundreds of people who would instantly gather for their shows….
For decades, the basketball courts at Venice Beach have been used by locals and visitors in organized tournaments as well as friendly pick-up games. The courts were famously used as the setting for White Man Can’t Jump and have hosted famous NBA players who’ve dropped by for a game or two. There are four separate courts and all were busy while we were there.
Venice Beach is also home to Muscle Beach. There are actually two Muscle Beach locations. The original one, which goes back to the 1930’s and 40’s, is near the Santa Monica pier. In the 1950’s, the city opened the second one in Venice Beach. When the Santa Monica location closed, the Venice location became popular, attracting famous bodybuilders like Arnold Shwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. As a result, bodybuilding gyms and fitness studios took up residence nearby and the area became the place to see and be seen weightlifting. Today, the location is still popular with people who enjoy working out in front of an audience in the blazing California sun.
Adjacent to Muscle Beach, and closer to the water, is a very large, very popular, skate park. There were more spectators than skaters, but the spectators had plenty to watch as several skaters went zooming around the course, performing tricks, and somehow not crashing into each other.
The little girl in the center of this picture was my favorite. She was maybe 8 or 9 years old, utterly fearless, and kept right up with the men three times her age.
Away from the busy basketball, handball, and volleyball courts, we found lots of green lawns where people were laying out in the sun, reading, hanging out with their friends, and just enjoying the warm weather. We even saw a dog skateboarding, but I failed to get a picture. I know, I know… How does a person who loves dogs and takes 1400 pictures a day fail to get a picture of a dog riding on top of a skateboard? I have no explanation. I just screwed up. Don’t hold it against me.
Speaking of seeing amazing sights, we quickly concluded that the people watching on the Venice Beach boardwalk is some of the best in the country. What we realized was, unlike other places known for “interesting” people, the folks in Venice Beach aren’t trying to get your attention. They’re just doing their thing….
Even if their thing has been standing outside the club waiting for the Whitesnake concert to start since 1985.
Not surprisingly there were plenty of political speakers and religious zealots, but they were happy to stand on the sidelines and talk to those who wanted to listen (which, also not surprisingly, was about zero people).
Over the course of a handful of blocks, we ran into multiple of these stores. I guess it’s a chain. They seem very dedicated to their branding efforts – complete with medical scrubs uniforms for their employees.
And no, I have no idea why anyone would pay $40 for a “medical evaluation” so they can buy weed when they could just go into a store and pay $40 for actual weed. Nor do I know why there’s a lady in the store with a baby carriage… So many unanswered questions….
Somewhere along the line, we’d heard that there was a neighborhood near Venice Beach that had canals in it. Because, you know, “Venice”??? Sure enough, just a couple blocks back from the excesses of the boardwalk, we found several square blocks of ritzy homes built on a lovely system of waterways.
The canal system was built in 1905, but had fallen into disrepair by the 1920’s and was completely filled in by the 40’s. In 1993, the canals were renovated and reopened and, as you can see, they’ve become the focal point of a very nice area of the city.
We knew we couldn’t leave L.A. without visiting Hollywood Boulevard and seeing the Walk of Fame. We also knew we’d hate everything about it. But judging Los Angeles based on this area would be like judging New York based on Times Square: It’s a tourist trap which your average resident avoids at all costs. However, we were tourists, it’s a landmark, and we had to go.
The Boulevard was, as expected, busy with cars, pedestrians, and people trying to sell garbage to tourists, so we made quick work of avoiding all of that and focused on what we were there to see, namely, the Walk of Fame!
There are over 2500 stars on fifteen blocks and it would take hours to see them all, so we just sampled a couple blocks worth but saw plenty of famous names…
Though, we quickly concluded that standards for determining who gets a star haven’t always been the highest…
We also wandered over to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, famous for a number of big movie premiers, a couple iterations of the Oscars, and, most notably, the famous display of hand and foot prints from some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities.
Just a few doors down is the Dolby Theater, current home of the Oscars ceremony.
Walking a block or two behind the theater allowed us to see the iconic Hollywood sign in the hills, but we were far enough away that my cell phone photo isn’t all that great and you’ve presumably seen it before anyway. Next time we’re in town, we’ll likely hike up to the sign. As we understand it, it’s a good spot to take in the whole city landscape.
One More East Coast Reunion
We had one more meet up in store, this time with friends Mike and Scot. They live in Long Beach, so after our stop in Hollywood, we headed that way for a fantastic sushi dinner.
They moved from the D.C. area to California right around the same time we started our road trip, so it was fun to catch up on the almost two years it’s been since we all saw each other and find out what it’s like to live in L.A. from two bona fide locals.
After a month of nonstop socializing, enjoying beautiful coastal scenery, and drinking craft beer as if we weren’t forty and as if there would be no consequences for that (pro-tip: there are TOTALLY consequences for that), we pointed Barney in a generally northeastern direction and headed for a little downtime in the desert. More on that coming up…
I still need to hit Venice! It was great seeing the two of you.
Definitely do! It was great seeing you guys too. I’ll let you know when we’re gonna swing back through the area.
L.A. is one of our least favorite west coast locations. Love San Diego, love Long Beach, dint love L.A. but…. when we were there 2 years ago fir the marathon, we decided to give it a try as well and actually had a nice time. Griffith Park and the observatory were beautiful! We also did the walk of stars and the theatre and saw Jimmy Kimmel Live. While we will still pick other places over L.A., we can at least say we found some things we liked about it ????
Yeah, I think that’s fair. San Diego was definitely a favorite for us too, but L.A. was much better than we had expected based on all this bad stuff we’d heard. I think if we did our research we could find plenty of cool little neighborhoods away from the craziness that would be up our alley. There are a lot of options in that city, that’s for sure! It would also be cool, and a total L.A. thing to do – to go to a live taping of one of those shows like you did. So much fun.
Great post and photos as always. $40 medical marijuana evaluation is a bargain. An office opened up here recently and charges $250 for an evaluation. ????
Holy Crap! $250?? That is crazy! Though, I’m actually surprised these places are opening up in Florida. I wonder if they are a bit more “legitimate” than these ones in California. Perhaps that’s why they’re so expensive: they want to keep the riff raff out and only focus on people who would actually benefit from medical marijuana. Interesting.
Great post, Laura!
Your photos inspire me to make travel plans. My son just moved to Santa Monica two months ago. Now that I am living in Chicago, I am contemplating a trip next winter to visit him, the surrounding area and enjoy the warmer winter weather. I would love to explore the neighborhoods of Venice Beach and eat at the local cafes and food trucks.
I bet that area would be beautiful. We are still trying to figure out when we will get back to the California coast, but we know at some point we want to explore the area north of L.A. It’s hard to beat the views and and I can only imagine how nice it would be to escape frigid Chicago and head to southern California for a while. Sounds like a great plan!
I haven’t been to LA since the early ’80s, but it doesn’t look like much has changed (with the exception of all the Green Drs) I might take Steve there one day, but I’m not holding my breath! Sounds like you had a amazing months of meet-ups and new experiences. Ans your pro-tip is spot on, lol
Yeah, we’ve been paying the price for all that delicious beer for a couple weeks. Luckily, the hiking in southern Utah ain’t too shabby, so we’ve been addressing the problem pretty quickly. 🙂
Hi guys! We are among those that lived in the L.A. area for most of our adult lives. We lived there, went to college there, built our corporate careers there, owned a small business there, and in my case, spent a good portion of my 9 years in the military there. Having said this, we’ve left California behind. California has changed. It’s a great place to visit, but at least for us, not a place where we want to live. Your visit was more that of a “tourist”, and from that view, L.A. has tons to offer. You barely scratched the surface. But stay awhile. Buy property there, and we’ll check back with you.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. 🙂
Hahaha! Yeah, we definitely would not want to live in that area. San Diego on the other hand… well, we’ll see. You really can’t beat the weather in southern California and wherever we end up, we want to have nice weather. On the other hand, California in general is a huge complicated state with lots going for it and lots going against it. We’ll see. We’ve got a while before we have to make any decisions on all of that. Right now, we’re just enjoying being full-time tourists!
Looks like you found the best of L.A. and had a blast! There’s really no other culture quite like it. I lived in Southern California for a year (yeah, it was enough) and occasionally went to Venice Beach. But I never saw a dog skateboarding and I am super bummed that you didn’t get a shot of that! So I had to Google it and just spent the past half hour watching dogs skateboarding. I can always count on you to add to my random internet searches. :-))
Donald’s footprints, haha!!
I am all about enriching lives and broadening horizons here, Laurel…. 🙂
And yes! I loved that they had Donald’s footprints! I had no idea who C. Ducky Nash was at the time. I looked it up later and thought it was just the perfect way to capture both the actor and the character.
We’re finding that a lot of places are surprisingly fun to be a tourist, though we’d never want to stay long term. I think being exempt from challenges like daily commuting gives you the mental room to enjoy the body builders, pot stores, and hair band aficionados.
Yup, you’re totally right. You couldn’t pay me to live in D.C. again, but anytime I see one of our fellow travelers heading there, I can’t wait to tell them about all the great things they should go see and do. “Great place to visit; wouldn’t want to live there” is likely a popular saying for many of us.
This is one of those stops everyone needs to make at some point when west. What a difference between the city and the coast. I lived in Huntington Beach and Long Beach for a year between colleges and loved the vacation atmosphere. You hit most of the good spots. John discovered that Venice Beach isn’t full of bikini clad beauties…what a disappointment! Haha! But no hiking up to the Hollywood sign!!??
Wow, I’m amazed at how many people we know who’ve lived in southern California at some point. Who knew? Anyway, the Hollywood sign is on the list for our next visit. We really only had a couple hours to work with – we just drove up for the day- and traffic being what it is, we could only do so many things. But I promise, next time we’re there, we will not miss the opportunity to hike to that iconic sign. That is a hike with a solid payoff!
Loved your pictures and commentary…..now we needn’t go there to see it for ourselves….thank you! I had to laugh at the group of shiny, half naked muscle men (people?) performing in their fenced in enclosure on the beach. Fencing to keep them in or us out I wonder?
I look forward to your next stop.
Yeah, there were some entertaining people at Muscle Beach – meatheads complete with sunglasses turned around so they were on the back of their heads? I don’t even know. People are idiots. That’s my conclusion (in every situation). 🙂
Awesome post Laura! I doubt that I will ever be able to convince Joe to make that stop! The canals & homes are gorgeous! People watching is one of my favorite things to do…you hit the jackpot!
Thank you for sharing your always-entertaining photos and experience in L.A. I felt just like I was there, so much so that I am going to check it off the list and call it good. We adore parts of Cali, but some are still big piles of Nope!