Having written off LA as a noisy, polluted, boring city, Mr Kiwi and I were won over by my lovely (IRL) friend Emily who convinced us that LA is a brilliant city that needed to be explored. Giving us loads of tips, a shed load of recommendations and a starry eyed appreciation for this tinseltown I also convinced her to make her blog debut with a few of her recommendations…
5 of the best things to do in Los Angeles
My love affair with California began on a 7 day trip back in 2011, after the Mr & I had grown tired of siting by pools in all inclusive resorts, sipping odd-tasting cocktails and wondering how early was too early for the next nap. So, seemingly out of nowhere Los Angeles was plucked from a short list consisting of random US cities we’d seen that one time in that one TV show and half dreamed of visiting one day, only to forget all about it the following week. In an uncharacteristically decisive action from my usually cautious Mr, the flights and hotel where quickly booked and the rest, as they say, is history.
Scrolling through the holiday photo albums, trying to compile anything less than a one trillion point list of places I adore in and around that little sliver of West Coast USA has taken the best part of the day as my stomach knots into the familiar dull ache of longing that I can only compare to homesickness. I will try to keep this brief, but as I could wax lyrical about the myriad of ways that the Golden State has captured my heart for forever and a day, I’m not making any promises.
So, should you ever find yourself in or around the Los Angeles area, at a loose end with time to kill and a full tank of gas, here are my top five absolute must-do’s:
1 – Take a day trip down the Pacific Coast High Way to Ventura
Inspired by our love of American Pop Punk rockers ’Army of Freshmen’, we couldn’t resist a trip to their gorgeous home town. Just over an hours drive north from Los Angeles, along the breathtaking Pacific Coast Highway, the trip would have been worth it for the drive alone. A slow jaunt along stunning beaches, and clifftop views across the ocean – we just couldn’t resist pulling over several times simply stop and stare silently at the astounding scenery. Once we’d made it in to Ventura, our first stop was the highly recommended Spencer MacKenzie’s Fish Bar on E. Thompson Boulevard for lunch. The Mr, craving their famous fish taco’s and me praying there would be chicken on the menu (fish just isn’t my bag!), neither of us where disappointed. Enjoying the delicious food in that glorious Californian sun is one of my favourite memories from that trip.
After a quick stop at Salzer’s Records (which to me was reminiscent of a Camden Town record shop & well worth a visit if music is your thing), we headed down to Ventura beach & pier where we where lucky enough to watch the most gorgeous sunset I’ve ever seen, the sky turning vibrant shades of orange and pink before our eyes, accompanied by the gentle lapping of the ocean waves and surrounded only by occasional joggers and dog walkers.
The day ended with the most delicious burger sliders I have ever eaten at Bombay Bar & Grill on S. California Street. Bombay is locally renowned for it’s live music, and while we weren’t lucky enough to catch any music on our visit, the atmosphere and friendly staff at this quirky, rustic bar make it a firm favourite and top of the list for a repeat visit.
2 – Visit the abandoned zoo in Griffiths Park
This one was a bit of a surprise hit, after stumbling across the slightly unusual attraction when browsing Pinterest for alternative things to do in LA. Knowing it’s reputation for being an interesting picnic spot, we stopped by our first choice supermakert, Ralphs (so much a favourite that I have a loyalty card attached to my keys), to stock up on tasty treats from the hot counter (and not forgetting a box of sugar cookers, obviously), we headed up to Griffiths Park. Once inside the park, it seemed at first it as though the zoo was incredibly hard to find. On realising we had no idea where the where, we decided to cut our losses and tuck into our feast at the nearest picnic area before we lost daylight, while watching teenage skaters practice their tricks against the empty benches. Before heading back to the car we strolled around one last bend on a whim and found ourselves face to face with the old bear enclosures, possibly the most iconic section of the old zoo.
There isn’t a huge amount of the small, poorly constructed zoo left, but what is there is eerie and fascinating enough to make it one of my favourite things about Los Angeles. At a slow pace it only took us around an hour of wondering around to see all there is to see, and the unusual sight of cages clearly designed to house wild animals sat despondent and dilapidated, covered in graffiti and rust, in the slowly setting sun still gives me little chills.
3 – Sons of Anarchy Filming Locations Tour
This one will of course only interest you if you are a fan of twisted genius Kurt Sutters incredible TV series (and if you’re not, where have you been, under a rock?!). Full credit for this afternoon of sight seeing goes to the clever Mr, who with his internet wizardry manage to find the locations of not only the Teller-Morrow garage/Sons of Anarchy clubhouse and the building used as the exterior for Charming’s police station, but also the gorgeous stretch of road featuring the John Teller memorial wall, which features heavily throughout the series (particularly in the final episode). As such an avid fan of the show, it felt strangely like an honour to stand in front of the faded blue lettering etched onto the rock face.
Ending the trip with a visit to the remarkable mural plastered across the back of a building just off of Melrose Avenue, feeling as though we’d just stepped into the dramatic world of our favourite fictional biker gang for an afternoon was an amazing experience.
4 – Grab your favourite take-out and head into the hills for lunch
As two of our favourite things about California are the views and the food, this is something we did often. Armed with a personal favourite (In N’ Out’s coronary inducing 4×4 burger), we would often take a drive up into the Hollywood Hills, park up in one of the many viewpoint lay bays and sit in the open car boot enjoying the heart-attack-in-a-bun and the views of rolling hills and jutting sky scrapers.
There is no shortage of places to stop and take in the sights in the Hollywood Hills, although one of the best (in my humble opinion ) which the Mr & I fondly refer to as ‘our spot’ is along Western Canyon Road, not too far from The Griffiths Observatory. A short drive down a peaceful stretch of road is a small lay-by marked with a wooden fence where we could sit for hours, playing out our favourite music and tucking in to delicious food.
Although on short notice, the top floor of the nearest car park works just as well!
5 – Attend a TV show taping
I wasn’t honestly sure what to expect from the experience of attending a show taping of James Cordon’s ’the Late Late Show’ and the Mr was decidedly less enthusiastic than I was, but it was free and surprisingly easy to get tickets via 1iota.com a few weeks ahead of our last trip. So on a slightly grey & chilly afternoon we took the short drive to the CBS Television City in Fairfax, Los Angeles with absolutely no idea what what was in store. After a slightly underwhelming start, lined up on benches in the parking lot waiting patiently to be taken inside, we were finally lead to our seats in the studio. From there on, the evening passed in a blur of laughter. The Late Late Show is a funny & fast paced show with A-Lister guests (Kelly Osbourne & Josh Duhamel!), lead by the charismatic and talented James Corden who steers the show flawlessly and hysterically, with a professionalism that is awe inspiring to watch. I can’t recommend the experience enough, the only challenge is trying to stay awake for 12.37am air time to see if you’ve made it on to the small screen!
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but California is the home from home I didn’t have any choice but to fall head over heals in love with. Taking me on adventures into her neighbour states from road tripping through Nevada to Las Vegas to visiting the jaw dropping Grand Canyon, stumbling across Oatman, an old Western mining town straddling Route 66 in Arizona, stuck in a charming time warp that has to be seen to be believed, to driving through mountain ranges dotted with tiny little camper van towns with rows of tin mailboxes lining the dirt track roads.
Los Angeles itself is so full of individuality and quirk, from the weird and wonderful characters that litter the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the bright graffiti of Venice Beach and the beautiful murals lurking around every street corner. I will never be able to discover every corner and ever secret of this magical place, but it’s going to be a lot of fun trying!
Thank you SO much Emily!! You’ve inspired me to revisit already!