Los Angeles: Poo!

It's interesting how stereotypes and bits of information about places find their way into the minds of people who have never been to these places. Growing up on the East Coast, I was always interested in San Francisco. It wasn't that I really knew anything about the city, it was the icons (Golden Gate Bridge, steep streets, cable cars) and reputation (open-minded, progressive, tech communities) that made it seem special.

Los Angeles has similarly strong, yet simple, stereotypes and icons attached to it. Before visiting, my mental file included: movie industry, second largest city in the country, superficiality, beaches, gangs, happening nightlife, pollution, skid row, and traffic. Most of these aren't favorable, but we'd heard negative things about Chicago before living there and we really liked it.  Maybe Los Angeles is just as misrepresented?

One day itinerary for Los Angeles:
Beverly Hills (drive through)
Santa Monica

We planned our visit to avoid traffic and see as many attractions as possible before heading out in the evening for San Diego. As far as seeing a lot in a small amount of time in a city that's known for its car culture and traffic, our plans worked great.

First stop: Griffith Observatory.

It was right off the highway in our southward direction of travel and I'd read that it offers great views of the city and Hollywood sign. I'd first heard of the park when Kevin Bacon told a funny story about it on Conan; apparently Bacon lives nearby.

Griffith Observatory was indeed a beautiful building with expansive views, a planetarium, and interesting exhibits. The smog that filled the air didn't help the view of downtown, but there were plenty of photo
 opportunities with the The Sign. Still not

sure how the mesmorizing allure behind the sign is created, but visiting seeing it definitely cured the desire. South San Francisco has something bigger and people don't flock there to see it. Just one of those cultural oddities. We took a detour on the way back to the car to do some hiking and look for coyotes. If you're visiting LA to see anything other than the beaches and you like hiking, an AirBnb rental by Griffith Park might be something to consider. When we looked, there were many classy options that rivaled Hollywood's Motel 6 in price.

Can you spot Batman taking a water break?
Next stop, Hollywood! Timing is everything when it comes to enjoyable tourism, especially when seeing the stuff everyone else wants to see. We've had great luck with getting up early and driving in the opposite direction of commuters and tourists. We found a metered spot right on Hollywood Boulevard and walked around for a couple hours looking at the costumed characters, imbedded stars, and celebrity imprints. We had a quick meal at the Snow White Bar, walked around the mall a bit and headed for the Getty Center before traffic got too unbearable.

One of the funniest things we found in Hollywood was a "$10 store" running an aggresseive $5 sale. Just from walking by I had my suspiciouns that it was a marketing ploy. The level to which the store pretended the $5 sale was only temporary was impressive. There were guys outside waving sale signs, a barker out front dispersing "special $5 baskets" and regular announcement reminding everyone of the looming deadline. I even heard a managers loudly proclaim to a clerk, "I'm glad this sale is almot over!". Yeaaaa, you don't do this every day. It's right next to the theater where they hand out Oscars. They deserve one. And, yes, we bought something there.

Next, a drive through Beverly Hills past Bel Air to the Getty Center. The stunning view from the Getty Center included highway traffic backing up for miles in all directions. We stayed in this amazing building and lounged on its lawns for a few hours waiting for traffic to clear a little.

Beside the art, Getty highlights include the tram that climbs from the parking garage, the gardens, and the architecture. We weren't there in time for high tea, lounging about on the grass with iced coffees was perfect for us. Reviews naming this as one of LA's top attractions appeared to be correct.

We finished the evening at Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Boardwalk. Venice Beach is known for its grunge, street performers, and artists. When we got there the sun was setting and oddly enough, a lot of the artists, vendors, and performers were packing up. We got an idea of what the area is like early in the day or during peak summer season, but it felt like a vampire/werewolf movie where everyone has to be out of the area by nightfall.

An interesting part of Venice Beach was the Green Doctor shops that sell marijuana cards. Apparently if you want a card, they verifying that you have "back pain" before leading you through the alleys behind Venice Beach to the one doctor that can write a script. It was interesting because of how blantely they were bending the medical marijuana laws. Why not just go full legal?

Santa Monica was a fun place to kill time, but not a must visit. The boardwalk and pier were similar to any other. There are probably more interesting things to see during the day along the beach or downtown, but not at night during off-season. We stopped to eat at the one major restaurant on the pier, but they were closing at 8, so we sat under a giant octopus by the carnival rides and ate veggie burgers and onion rings. Depending on your style and comfort level it's not necessary to visit both Santa Monica and Venice Beach. I would have liked to get to Venice Beach earlier and spend more time there.

We had a great time in LA, but don't plan on going back. The negative stereotypes appear to be true for a reason, and there just isn't enough to redeem the city otherwise. Traffic was bad despite our attempts to avoid it by taking what Angelenos call "surface streets". Most surface streets helped us fly by traffic on the freeway, but then we had the added chore of avoided neighborhoods where we might be inconvenienced by stray bullets. From the fake $10 store and green "doctors" to the focus on actors and appearance, LA definitely gave impression of being somewhat fake and superficial. So, humble opinion, from a one-day visit to L.A.-- Poo!

San Diego was more our style. Check out thoughts on San Diego here: San Diego: Wow!