Thursday, June 21, 2007

LA without the drama

Over the past few years, I have had to show a number of people from India around LA. While a travel guide does provide a comprehensive list of places to visit, not every place is equally interesting to the foreign tourist. For instance, Hollywood and its history figures prominently in any LA guide book (as it should). However, if you are not a big fan of Hollywood movies, then there is no point in gawking at every movie themed mural or actor's grave site. Here I describe only those places and activities that I found were particularly memorable to my visitors. I have also included things to showcase those aspects of LA which are most fascinating to me - its diverse cultures, varied geography, and great weather.

I will add to the list as things come to mind. So the places are in no particular order.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Venice beach

You can't visit LA and not see at least one of its beaches. I have chosen Venice because of its colorful boardwalk. In one trip you see the Pacific, sand, bikinis, musclemen, tattoo parlors, rollerblades. - all very LA. I tend to park on the street near Venice Blvd and Pacific. If nothing is available (as in summer weekends), then it is paid parking at one of the lots nearby. If you have the time, the Venice canals are close by. Stroll along the streets and bridges to admire the unique houses, the antics of the ducks in the water, or the pet cats as they live the good life!

Santa Monica Beach and Pier

When you want to just enjoy the sand and seawater (though everyone is disappointed at how cold the water is), with along some people watching, then Santa Monica beach is a good choice. A ride on the ferris wheel on the pier gives a good view of the ocean, beaches, and buildings. Particularly beautiful at sunset. Third Street Promenade is a couple of blocks east of the pier. Street performers are what is to be seen here. However, if you have had your fill of the tourist center in other cities (Fisherman's wharf in San Francisco), then you might want to skip the promenade.


The Kodak theater and mall at Hollywood Blvd and Highland has become the focal point of this area. Park in the underground lot and buy something from one of the cafes in the mall for parking validation. The balconies in the mall give a good view of the Hollywood sign. The courtyard with handprints in front of the Mann's Chinese theater is probably the most interesting spot. Place your hand over one of the handprints as you pose for a photograph - that is the whole point of coming here. Pay a couple of dollars to have your photograph taken with a celebrity impersonator (we foreign tourists couldn't recognize a celebrity out of costume anyway, so this is a good deal). If you have the time, watch a movie in the Chinese theater. The ornate interior and its history makes it a special place to watch a movie.

Getty Center

Tourists sometimes consider the hours inside a museum could be better spent outside seeing the city. However, the Getty is a special place. The art itself is varied. There is a bit of everything - painting, sculpture, furniture, photographs, ... I even like the way the exhibits are arranged. The museum can be enjoyed from outside too - it is a beautiful building, with gardens to rest in, and finally great views of the ocean. And all of this for free (except for parking).

Olvera Street

A walk down Olvera Street gives some idea of what LA looked like once upon a time. Walk inside the Avila Adobe (oldest house in LA) if it is open (I think it closes at 4pm). There are also often performers (Aztec dancers) on weekend mornings. There are also periodic festivals: Blessing of the animals in April, posadas at Christmas time, ... Union Station, LA's railway station is just a block away. The interior is worth a look. Chinatown is a few blocks north of Olvera street and has many lunch options.

Picnic in Griffith Park

There is just so much of "sight seeing" that anyone can handle. Bonding with family and friends outdoors is guaranteed to be memorable. Try to grab one of the barbeque pits within the park. My favorites are by the Fern Dell entrance. There are many other spots too (Vermont entrance, and further inside the park. Look for places marked "picnic area" on this map). I am not sure what parts of the park are still closed after the wildfires in May 2007. LA is situated close to some pretty impressive mountain ranges. It is a shame that guide books don't emphasize this more (and instead go on and on about every place that ever had something to do with a movie). I always try to fit in a short hike into a tourist's itinerary. The hike from Griffith observatory was a good one as it was just a short drive from the city, and included good views of the city and the Hollywood sign. However, now that the trailhead is closed to cars, I have to decide on another place.