While I have spent plenty of time in California, my visits have usually been to the San Francisco area...truly a world apart from Los Angeles. This is really a great city: It's full of over the top glitz and glamor, but it does have a softer side for those times when you want to just slow it down a little and enjoy some leisurely shopping or beach walks. It had been a few years since my last visit, so while I was in San Fran for a week visiting my friends Brent and Chris, we decided to take the 5 hour drive to spend a few days enjoying L.A. I'm so glad we did: This city has a really vibrant feel, almost like New York (well, except for the palm trees and tans)! Here are some of the real standouts from my short visit there.
Of course I have to mention the beaches. What is so cool about the beaches in the Los Angeles area is that they are so varied: You will find a beach for every mood. If you are looking for the wild and crazy crowd, I would definitely recommend hitting Venice beach. It's true that it may be crowded, but it also has some of the more amusing people watching that I've ever had the chance to experience. There are some really lovely beaches all over Los Angeles county, with the Malibu beaches being my personal favorite for their more serene atmosphere.
When I think of L.A., the first thing that comes to mind is the Hollywood sign. Of course I considered this a must-see attraction, but my friends told me that it was so much better if seen through the hike to the top. I actually had no idea that there is a windy and narrow trail that taking you straight to the top where you can get extremely close to the sign. The hike took us just under 2 hours (make sure to dress light - I wore a long sleeved shirt and was soon sorry!). Being up at the top, seeing the famed landmark so close, and having this amazing vista of the Hollywood hills laid out in front of me was a really special experience. I had only to glance out from this perch to imagine the ghosts of Bogart, Monroe, and Garbo right in front of me.
The other Hollywood landmark that I thought was a must-see was the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We elected to skip the whole walk (this is about a 3 1/2 mile walk if you do the whole thing!), since we'd just had the hike in the hills a few hours ago. However, there is much to see even if you only walk a small portion of the Walk of Fame. This is another place where I got a real feel for the rich history of the area. I wish I'd remembered my camera though. Photos ops galore here! We also went by Grauman's Chinese Theatre while in the area. This was so much more beautiful and opulent than I had expected it to be- truly gorgeous Asian themed decor that puts most of today's movie theaters to shame. The handprints and footprints of the most famous movie celebs of all time are directly outside the theatre, and there are also a host of actors dressed up like famous movie characters who are amusing to watch. We paid for the tour, about $13 per person, but it is not really necessary to enjoy the place.
I have heard about the Farmer's Market here for years, and never quite "got" what on earth could really be that special about an outdoor market with ramshackle wooden stands selling cantaloupes. Well, I clearly had no idea what the L.A. Farmer's Market really means: This (and the neighboring Grove) and not your ordinary market. For starters, the Farmer's Market is not really made up of farmers selling produce, at least not these days. It is a huge collection of small shops and food stalls, with every conceivable type of cuisine on offer. Don't even think about eating before coming here: I sampled literally the best gumbo I've ever had in my life (The Gumbo Pot), and some pretty amazing Mexican food, and some french crepes that were beyond amazing. The atmosphere is super casual and packed with people, I likened the experience to a state fair. The Grove is the open air mall right next door, and we strolled over there (admittedly at a slow pace since I was thoroughly overstuffed from my million course lunch) to wander through the high end stores. Most of the stores are typical mall fixtures, albeit the more expensive ones. My favorite store was the massive Barnes and Noble, one of the biggest I've ever seen. The outdoor fountains here have a choreographed show set to music that is really a thrill to see, and the double decker trolley that takes you up and down the different mall avenues is a really cute touch and a convenient option. There was a Cheesecake Factory here that is apparently the most popular dining option, but my stomach could not handle any more food at that point- much as I do love Cheesecake Factory!
I loved my Los Angeles getaway. I feel like I got to see many of the top attractions, but there is so much more that I will have to leave for next time. My favorite thing about this city is the history: It is one of very few places where I have felt that I spanned decades of time in just a day or two.
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