Well…full disclaimer – there is still a lot of the plastic in Los Angeles, but the recent rejuvenation of its downtown, the breathtaking views from its cliffside hikes, and the enduring quirkiness of its surfside communities made me rethink LA as just a plastic jungle – and might make you rethink it too.
To start with, Santa Monica is not to be missed. The pier has retained its unique charm populated with boardwalk performers, acrobats, and beachfront muscle men. An excellent way to pass an afternoon is cruising the boardwalk on a rented bike, taking in the sights – which certainly will not disappoint. To end the day, head down to the tip of the Santa Monica pier to Mariasol Cocina Mexicana for margaritas as the sun goes down.
Laguna Beach is another ‘can’t miss’ spot in the LA area. This Orange County community has kept its beachside and historical charm, nowhere more evident than at The Beach House – Laguna Beach’s converted old Hollywood getaway turned brunch and dinner destination. The Beach House is only metres from the shore, and during high tide the waves lick the restaurant’s balcony, showering unsuspecting diners with sea spray. Throughout Laguna Beach are exceptional hikes, both along the shore and along the cliffs overlooking the waves – and sometimes, amongst the waves, you can even see dolphins.
Another welcome surprise is LA by night – a different and charmed place. Cruising down Sunset Boulevard (especially at sunset) is an enthralling drive as you pass by iconic landmarks like the Chateau Marmont, the Los Angeles Film School and the Whiskey A Go-Go. After that drive, nothing is more fitting than a visit to the Griffith Observatory – right from Rebel Without a Cause. The recently renovated observatory is extraordinary for evening star gazing and for looking upon the Hollywood sign.
My last nighttime suggestion would be to visit the Hollywood hotspots, the Walk of Fame, the Grove, and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – all within a few blocks of each other. LA is cooler, even breezy, in the evening, and there are significantly fewer tourists at that time, turning what in daylight hours might be a dreadful experience into a magical and thrilling adventure. The Chinese Theatre shines at night illuminating the many stars’ footprints in its foreground.
While the nearby outdoor shopping mall, The Grove, is an exceptional venue in its own right, it is most famous for the adjoining Kodiak Theatre, home of the Oscars. On a evening like this, even the most apathetic LA visitor will be titillated by ascending the Oscar stairs – and trying to fit their shoes into Darth Vader’s foot prints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
This was my LA trip – a peaceful, exciting, and altogether unexpected vision of LA far from the Plasticland of my worries (…though there are an alarming number of plastic surgery clinics everywhere!)
But before you go, 3 tips:
- Get focused: LA county is vast and a little overwhelming - Frommer’s Editor Matthew R. Poole’s calls it a “circus-without-a-tent” (2009). Given this (and the excessive traffic) focus your trip on what side(s) of Los Angeles you want to see – the glamorous glitz of Hollywood and Rodeo Drive, the sandy beaches of Orange County, the animated excitement of Disneyland and Universal Studios – but don’t try to do it all on one trip. At the library we have LA guidebooks focusing on the micro and specific (such as Top 10 Los Angeles and The L.A. musical history tour: a guide to the rock and roll landmarks of Los Angeles) and on the macro and overarching (such as Fodor's Los Angeles or Frommer's Los Angeles) to help you get started.
- Get inspired: through music and movies. Rent LA classics like Rebel Without a Cause or Sunset Boulevard from the library, and before you leave don’t forget the soundtrack to your LA trip! The library has the greatest hits from the Beach Boys to make sure you have the right tunes and the right tone for your LA trip.
- Get a GPS: it will make your LA trip so much easier. As Frommer’s points out, most car rental agencies offer GPS rental now, or you can get a GPS app for your iphone or ipod touch. Either way it is well worth it.
Amie visited Los Angeles a year or two ago, but her impressions still hold true.