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…