Visiting Los Angeles

I’m here in Los Angeles (technically, I’m in Rancho Cucamonga, which is east of LA) for a customer testing cycle. I’m here for a full week. As there is no testing planned during the weekend, I’ve had the weekend free to play tourist around Los Angeles. This is my first trip to LA.

Saturday morning I woke up quite early, as I am still adjusting to the 3-hr time difference. I packed up what I needed and went down to the car. I had an iPod Nano with some podcasts and audiobooks, hat, jacket, sunscreen and the Eyewitness Travel Guides Top Ten Los Angeles. I brought all my camera gear as well, including my Amod AGL3080 photo tracker.

I stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s and was on the highway around 7am.

Dennis Hopper - Walk of Fame
Dennis Hopper's star

My first stop was Hollywood. It took about an hour to drive there (Los Angeles is huge – more about that later). I parked the car and started walking down Hollywood Boulevard. My first stop was the Art Deco style Pantages Theatre and the Capital Records building. From there I walked down the Walk of Fame towards the Kodak Theatre (where the Oscars are currently presented) and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I could see the famous Hollywood sign in the distance on the hills to the north. The sign is smaller than I expected. As with the Statue of Liberty, the photos I’ve seen are shot in such a way as to make it look bigger than in real life. It’s also because it is actually quite a distance from this part of the city.

In front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre are the handprints, footprints and signatures of famous Hollywood stars in concrete tiles.

After walking back to my car, I drove south from Hollywood Boulevard to Sunset Boulevard, where I drove westward. I drove by the Viper Room (where River Phoenix died), the Rainbow Bar and Grill and the Whisky a Go Go (where The Doors were the house band). From there, the road leads through Beverly Hills, past UCLA, Bel Air and into Santa Monica. Lots of nice homes, but I didn’t spend much time looking around as I did not want to get lost.

Once I reached the Pacific Ocean, I took Highway 1 south with no particular destination in mind. Driving by kilometer after kilometer of beach, I decided to pull over and take a walk. I could see a pier in the distance.

Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

It was a great day for walking along the beach. From where I parked, it was about a kilometer to walk to the Santa Monica Pier. I did not realize until I arrived that Santa Monica Pier is also the west coast terminus of Route 66. The Pier had an amusement park, including a roller coaster and Ferris wheel. There is a trapeze school as well. Many people were fishing off the end of the Pier. I walked around for about an hour, taking lots of pictures before I stopped for lunch – deep fried shrimp – and then headed back to the car. I decided to walk on the beach instead of the sidewalk. At first it was nice walking barefoot along the sand, but the sand was unbelievably hot. I walked along the edge of the water to cool my feet  before crossing the beach to the parking lot.

I wanted to head south to Long Beach. I thought it would be easy to get there. Lacking a good map, I had no idea how difficult it would be.

I followed along the coast for as long as I could before I had to start taking other streets, due to the marinas in Marina Del Ray. I took Washington Boulevard, thinking that it looked big and I thought it was heading south. After driving for what seemed like an hour, I drove by the Sony Pictures Entertainment studios in Culver City, which allowed me to find out where I was the tiny map I had brought. All that driving and I had barely moved on the map. This is when it really hit me how big Los Angeles is. Almost an hour of driving and I was maybe 10% of the way to Long Beach. The only way to get there would be to get on a highway.

I found the 405 and 110 and it still took about 40 minutes to drive to Long Beach.

The map I had did not show Long Beach, so I had to guess my way around. I was looking for the Queen Mary. I thought, “Hey, how hard can it be to find a huge ocean liner?” Stupid question. I was still not grasping it how big the city is! I stumbled upon the SS Lane Victory, a World War II Victory Ship, so I stopped to take a look. I found out that it still functional and is used for tourist cruises!

The Port of Long Beach is stunning in size. The Port of Long Beach and the nearby Port of Los Angeles combine to be largest port in the world (109km of waterfront and 43 km^2 of land area in total). It goes on for mile after mile. I had heard that the rows of giant cranes along the many waterfronts inspired George Lucas in the design of the AT-AT Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back.

I took a bridge and highway east until I could see signs for the Queen Mary. I got off the highway, followed the signs to the entrance to the parking lot, but for some reason all the cars were being waved back onto the surrounding streets. I thought perhaps there was a problem, so I circled back around. This time I was allowed into the parking lot, but was soon directed back out again. I was driving around in circles, all controlled by the parking attendants. I circled around once more and again was directed back towards the exit. I stopped at one of the parking attendants to explain that I wanted to stop and see the Queen Mary. I was told that the parking lots were full. Oh, that would be why I was directed out of the facility. I was told that the facility was being used for the 7th Annual Iron and Ink Tattoo & Kustom Culture Festival. Oh, that would explain all the goths, biker dudes and pink-haired punks.

RMS Queen Mary
RMS Queen Mary

I explained that I only wanted to take some photos of the Queen Mary. I guess the parking attendant liked me because she let me try to find a place to park for free. I thanked her and found a spot next to a light standard (technically it was not a parking spot). I walked through the crowd to the bow of the ship. I felt awkward because it was obvious that I The RMS Queen Mary is a fine example of an Art Deco ocean liner of a time when liners were the only way to travel between continents. Incongruously, there is a Cold War Soviet Foxtrot submarine moored next to the bow. I was not able to get on the ship (or sub) to look around due to the festival. I wish I had been able to go onboard.

After that, I decided to head north again to see the Hollywood Bowl. Once I got there, near suppertime, I was mired in a traffic jam. I found out that it was a jam to get into the Bowl, as it was the Playboy Jazz Festival.

I gave up and drove north past Universal Studios, and into North Hollywood and Sherman Oaks. I gave up randomly driving around and decided to head to see Griffith Observatory, which was a good choice.

Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory overlooks Los Angeles. It’s a fantastic example of the Art Deco style. It’s still a functioning observatory, and I went inside to see their coelostat (solar telescope). I was starving, so I stopped at the cafe. I bought two peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a huge Rice Krispy square. That really hit the spot. I sat on the patio eating and watching the sun set by the Hollywood sign. At one end of the patio was a photo shoot – an Asian girl in a cocktail dress posing on the stairs while her boyfriend (?) snapped away. An assistant was holding the rest of the equipment and flash.

I went back to the roof to watch the lights of Los Angeles in the growing darkness. I waited about an hour for night to fall and then started shooting some longer exposures of the expanse of the city, bright against the clouds (or is that smog?).

I walked back to my car with some difficulty. It was pitch black and my knee was felt like it was burning – my body was telling me I walked too far for one day. It was a long day and I arrived back at the hotel around 9:30pm.

Today, Sunday, was a little shorter. This was because I needed to get some sleep before heading into the customer site at midnight for the start of the maintenance window.

Again, I stopped for pancakes at McDonald’s, filled the gas tank and headed back to LA.

Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood Bowl

My first stop was the Hollywood Bowl. I had no problems getting in and parking at 8am. I grabbed my camera and walked into the site. No one stopped me, as I think everyone thought I was part of the event staff.

Next I went north to the start of Mulholland Drive. It winds along the top of the Hollywood Hills. There are some fantastic views north and south over the city. All along Mulholland you can see spectacular homes. I stopped at one viewing area and took a short walk (my knee started to hurt again) though the hillside. Lots of people were out walking their dogs along the dusty trails.

Once I reached Interstate 405, I drove south (past the Getty Center) and down to Venice Beach. Venice Beach is just south of the Santa Monica Pier. I parked and started to walk along the infamous boardwalk. I was expecting it to be a complete freak-show, but to be honest, it was actually nothing like its reputation. Perhaps Sundays are quieter.

There were lots of artists displaying their works, a few buskers, a dozen shops offering “free medical marijuana tests”, clothing stores and tourist traps. There was a fantastic skatepark, where I stopped to take lots of pictures. I could also practice my french with another tourist who was visiting from France. Next were the streetball courts, where there were multiple pick-up games going on.

Further down was Muscle Beach, although there was no one training when I walked past. I bought some ice cream for lunch and then started to head back.

Venice Beach Drum Circle
Venice Beach Drum Circle

I took some more pictures at the skate park and then came across a drum circle. I sat and watched the drummers for a while. Everyone was having fun. One older guy in a muscle shirt and surfer shorts was whaling on his drum while a Che Guevara look-alike was in his own groove on a shaker.

I started back to the hotel around 4pm. It took longer to drive home because it was close to the Sunday rush hour.

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