I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a fascination with LA and Hollywood. After all, it is the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’, isn’t it? Don’t all of the beautiful people live there? I have always wanted to plan a trip there at some point in my lifetime. Thankfully, the opportunity came about in November of 2008. This would not only be the farthest south I’ve ever travelled, but it would also be my very first time on an airplane. Check those two off of my bucket list.
I needed some assistance in deciding what to pack for the trip and how to pack it. Surprisingly, there is an order to this. Having only been to YVR to pick up and drop off friends and family, it was truly exciting to pull up and park, knowing that I would be the one boarding a plane. The wait was boring, the standing around in line for the security check was not as bad. They really mean business with the checking of everything. I put down my backpack and emptied my pockets. I had to remove my shoes and even my belt, which was amusing because I had to hold up my shorts. Passing through the metal detector and finally into the waiting area, I knew I was one step closer to stepping on to my first plane ride. More waiting, I ended up buying a book at one of the many stores, which was a good idea. Finally, they herded us up like cattle and we started getting our passports checked, again, and our boarding passes scanned. We marched down the long corridor and I found my self superstitiously touching the plane as we stepped on board. Finding our seats, we settled in for the quick two and a half hour flight. It was light outside and I was given the window seat. Since I’m not a fan of amusement park rides, I really wasn’t sure how I would react to the change in cabin pressure, the take off and the landing. After being given the instructions by the flight attendants and buckling up our seat belts, we were on our way. There was no turbulence during the flight and the sights outside of the window were breathtaking. I’ll say this, I like plane rides better than I like roller coasters.
Los Angeles was first settled thousands of years ago by indigenous Native Americans. The first Europeans arrived in 1542 and the area was not visited again for another 227 years, in 1769. Officially settled in 1781, and became a part of Mexico during the Mexican War of Independence. Los Angeles was incorporated as a municipality on April 4, 1850, five months before California achieved statehood.
We arrived in La La Land on Friday, and were met at LAX by my cousin, Doug, who graciously offered to be our tour guide for the four days that we were in town. We were in LA for a special event, but for the purpose of this blog, I will not go into details about. First stop, a Starbucks. How Canadian, I know… But after a flight, sometimes you just need a boost. We drove around the city, killing time before we picked up another friend at the airport. We couldn’t check in to our hotel until everybody arrived. This hotel… When I go back to LA, I am staying there! I have never seen something so beautiful, nor have I stayed in something as beautiful since. Le Petit Hotel located in the city of West Hollywood, is filled with ornate decor and the most intoxicating scented candles. Some of us even managed to procure a few candles to take home. Our suite was on the third floor, and I do mean suite. On the road, I have always stayed in motels which are just one room and a bathroom. This suite had a sunken living room and a massive king size bed in the bedroom. We didn’t really have a view out of the windows since we faced the alley and the back of the hotel was under construction. The best part of the hotel was on the fourth floor, a salt water swimming pool. This area also contained a sunken outdoor living room, complete with a fireplace. There was a cabana section with another king size bed. The best part was the 360 degree, panoramic view of downtown Los Angeles. Behind us, in the distance was the world-famous Hollywood Sign up in the Hollywood Hills area of Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains. Minus the constant haze of the infamous LA smog, this was the most amazing view I have ever been witness to.
Since this was my first time in the LA area, I was allowed to do the ‘tourist thing’. I did this with an unabashed vigor the likes of which have never been seen. I wanted to see it all and take it all in. Saturday was a big day. Starting in West Hollywood, WeHo to the locals, we set out on foot, wandering up and down Sunset Boulevard, the famous ‘Sunset Strip’. There were certain establishments one must see whilst visiting LA. On the strip, these include, The Roxy Theatre, the Whisky-A-Go-Go, the Viper Room (where River Phoenix tragically died outside), Mel’s Diner (seen in the movie ‘American Graffiti’), the House of Blues, and the Laugh Factory. Stopping off at Mel’s Diner for lunch before some major sight-seeing, we made our way to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We checked out the stars along Hollywood Boulevard for a while, I was searching for one in particular. Using an iPhone to locate the exact spot the one star I was looking for, Elvis’, simply wasn’t there. It wasn’t until we got back home that we found out it had been removed for repairs. We stopped at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and checked out the hand and foot prints of the many famous individuals. I was intrigued with how small Julie Andrews feet were. There were several street performers along the boulevard, and of course, there were busloads of tourists. We ran into a Batman, a Barney (yes, the big purple dinosaur), a Wonder Woman and even a Marilyn Monroe wearing the famous white dress, standing over a vent with her dress flowing up into her face. Impressive to say the least. We stopped off at Café Audrey, which is dedicated to Audrey Hepburn and tastefully plastered in her pictures and her famous quotes. There was even a gigantic quote written on the ceiling. We made our way over to Griffith Park and up to the observatory. This is the same observatory used in the movie ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. We were allowed up on the roof of the observatory where we took pictures of downtown Los Angeles. We attempted to fit in as much as we could on this first full day. We managed to visit the Roosevelt Hotel, the Pantages, the Troubador, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, Madame Tassauds, took pictures of the Capitol Records building and the varying palm trees. I found myself fascinated with the many different trees. The vegetation there is spectacular. We also managed to drive by the La Brea Tar Pits, Echo Park, The Walt Disney Concert Hall and finally, LA Ink, located on the SW corner of Fountain and La Brea. Inside High Voltage Tattoos, we met and chatted with Adrienne, the shop manager. She recognized our accents since she happens to be Canadian too. We looked around the shop and saw that just about everybody’s eyes were all on us. I guess they hadn’t bothered having a conversation with the staff. It’s amazing how far manners take you. There is a two hundred dollar minimum and we’re definitely going back to get work done there. Unfortunately, Kat Von D was busy that day and unable to come out and say hello.
Day two also saw us take the Metro from Los Feliz to downtown LA to take part in a massive rally against Proposition 8. Our home city of Vancouver can swell with people for varying reasons, for example, the 2010 Olympics. Never before have I ever seen such an impressive crowd of people than the one that managed to cram itself onto the Metro for the rally. As we exited the train, the crowd began to chant in unison. This was a powerful moment. We made our way up the stairs and down the street a little ways to city hall, located in the heart of downtown. There was a grand stage erected in an intersection and there was no vehicle traffic whatsoever. The streets were lined with people, families, banners, flags and poster boards with all sorts of messages painted on them. I have read much about the LAPD, but I found them to be polite. They were simply there to keep the peace and protect city hall. They were in full force that fine day, even though it was November, it looked and felt like summer. Even the horses had on riot gear, visors and Kevlar vests, a true sight to behold. There were many celebrities there in support of repealing Prop 8. Ricki Lake took the stage and other speakers had powerful statements for the large crowd. Devon ran into Pink amongst the masses and they talked about their tattoos. Pink was down to earth, without security staff hovering around. She was there in support of a friend. It was nice to see. After the rally, it was back to WeHo to prepare for the event which brought us to LA in the first place. It went off without a hitch, and we found ourselves back at our hotel, on the rooftop, drinking bottles of champagne, singing and playing the guitar. It was, without a doubt, the best part of the trip.
On Sunday, we did more sight seeing. We drove around Melrose Avenue, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica Boulevard and more. We stopped on Robertson Avenue, to the Ivy, looking for celebrities. We also went to The Grove, which was amazing. We wandered about the shops dotted amongst the tree-lined streets. The Grove is simply beautiful and I enjoyed taking it all in. We stopped off at a frozen yogurt stand and shared a cup. There were some really funky shops and we tried to stop in each one. After we bummed about the city, we had decided that we’d seen enough. I had mentioned that I had also never been somewhere else and so it was mutually agreed upon that we’d make a turn-around trip there as well. Why not?
Viva Las Vegas.
The drive to Vegas from LA is roughly four hours. Taking highway 15, I felt what I thought was choppy weather. It turned out to be the Santa Ana winds. We pulled onto the shoulder of the highway and got out to feel the winds. This was an amazing experience and I thought I might get blown off the side of the road. Arriving in Vegas just before midnight, we rushed down to Fremont Street to catch the Fremont Experience before it turned off. We literally just missed it. I found myself in Old Vegas, staring at Binion’s Horeshoe and the Golden Nugget. These were the grandfather’s of Vegas, from the heyday of Sinatra and the like. Standing there, surrounded by the history and the lore of Old Vegas, knowing that the mafia made Vegas what it is today was truly a marvel. We parked the car at Caesar’s Palace, then we set out to walk up and down the Strip to check out the sights and sounds that is Vegas. We hit all of the major hotels and casinos along the Strip, which runs from Russell Road to Sahara Avenue. Starting out at Sahara Avenue we made our way up one side, and down the other. We stopped at everything. These include: the Stratosphere, Fountainbleau, the Riviera, the Venetian, Mirage, Casino Royale, Harrah’s, the Flamingo, Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio, Monte Carlo, MGM Grand, New York-New York, the Tropicana, Excalibur, the Luxor, and the Mandalay Bay. We dropped a dollar in every single building we went into. We missed out on seeing the big cats in the MGM Grand, their show ends at 7pm. We ended up spending about eight hours in Vegas, and had a blast there. There is something to be said about being able to take an alcoholic drink out of a casino, walk down the Strip, and enter another casino. I even had a police officer tell me to enjoy myself whilst I slowly sipped on a Long Island Iced Tea. The experience was surreal. There is nothing like Vegas at night. After attempting to sleep in Doug’s car, which was one of the worst sleeps I’ve ever had, we drove back to LA to see what else we could get into.
On Monday, our last day, we decided to check out the few spots we missed on our first couple of days. We stopped off at LA Ink again and chatted up Adrienne for a bit. She truly is a sweet individual. From there, we drove to Santa Monica to check out the famous Santa Monica Pier. From there it was down a little ways to Venice Beach, where we wandered around Muscle Beach and soaked up the views of all of the beautiful people. Venice Beach, where most of the scenes from ‘Baywatch’ were shot, is just as colourful as it is on TV, as are the people. We walked down to the water and I put my feet into the Pacific Ocean there. This marked the end of our LA adventure and we set off back to our hotel to pack for the flight back home. It was bittersweet leaving LA, as I would have loved to spend more time there visiting with my cousin, Doug.
I do know this… we will go back again soon, and stay longer. LA is every bit as magical as you think.