For the first time I find myself writing a blog about a city that I am confident 90% of readers will have seen in some detail. This city has featured in popular culture so prominently over the last half a century that even aliens like us feel weirdly at home. It’s hard not to sound like an idiot tourist at first, pointing to things and saying “just like in the movies” constantly.
An incredibly generous friend of ours, who we’d met in Beijing, offered to let us house sit their place in LA. That was where we were based for the 14 days we spent there. Located in Culver City, midway between Downtown and Santa Monica, we had convenient access to public transportation which was actually pretty good. Americans are very self critical about their public transport but in LA it was completely satisfactory.
Our first trip took us to Santa Monica boulevard (known to me only from a System of a Down lyric) where we found a British store full of items from the homeland, including newspapers. They were two days out of date though and cost $10 so I stuck to the Internet for my UK news. At the end of the boulevard was the beach, which we walked along, south, to get to the Venice boardwalk.
Venice was my favourite place in LA. It was built as an imitation of the Italian city years ago but since then most of the canals have been filled in and the town has been overtaken by an ‘alternative’ crowd. Unlike so many quirky, alternative communities in US cities, Venice has managed to stave off the tide of gentrification so far. Walking around the streets to look at the murals and zany street performers is a great experience. At some point you’ll find yourself at Muscle Beach which is just incredible. It’s an outdoor gym where greats from the golden age of body building used to work out. Now it seems more like a performance art piece where weirdly proportioned gargantuans swing themselves all over the equipment shouting almost-motivational phrases like “potential unchained” and my favourite “I AM THE PUREST FORM”. Extremely worth watching.
I also watched my first NBA basketball game which was an incredible experience. LA has two teams, the Clippers and the Lakers. The Lakers are one of the most successful franchises in the history of the NBA, the Clippers aren’t. This means that Clippers tickets are less than 1/10th the price and I still got the experience of walking up to Staples Center, seeing the statues of Jerry West, Magic, Kareem and Shaq. It was such an amazing experience to be surrounded by people that actually cared about basketball. A couple of nights later we watched a game in a bar and a guy was so excited to hear someone with a funny accent talk about ball that he bought us both drinks. It’s great.
In the California Science Center you can see the Space Shuttle Endeavour. It’s a cool museum, free on weekdays (and only $2 on weekends), but it’s definitely aimed at children. Grown ups (or people maintaining a rough approximation of being grown up) can walk straight through all the typical ‘hands on science’ exhibitions and into the shuttle hall itself. Endeavour is imposing and almost graceful looking. The engineering is so impressive, for example the interior of the engine jet nozzle reaches 3,300° Celsius, but the cooling system is so efficient that the outside of the engine would have been safe to touch. There’s something weirdly satisfying about touching something that’s been in space.
On our last day we visited Hollywood (literally got off the metro, saw the walk of fame, got back on the metro) and then hiked through Griffith Park up to the observatory. It’s a beautiful spot with views out across downtown and toward to the Pacific. You can see the Hollywood sign pretty clearly too. Although the smog in LA is a bit unpleasant, it does make a beautiful sight right around sunset.
We spent Christmas day in LA sat on the sofa watching Xmas telly from the UK, calling our families and eating an obscene amount of roast food. We had been without an oven since we left home so we might have overdone it. Still, I regret nothing and Rosanna did make an excellent meal.
Fill pictures from our time in LA can be seen here: