Thursday, April 6, 2017

2 Days in Los Angeles - Travel Guide

Santa Monica Pier on a Sunny Day

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear of Los Angeles? Hollywood? Popular TV Series sets? Forrest Gump? Well, I won’t blame you – these are some of the things which symbolize Los Angeles for me too. And after 60 days of debating with myself if dealing with a 6 hour flight and a 3 hour time zone difference is worth just the two days in LA, I thought of finally taking the leap. A picture of my friend having coffee at Central Perk Café (any other die hard F.R.I.E.N.D.S fans?) on my Facebook wall did the trick.

The city has so many diverse attractions points – from beaches (Venice Beach) to architecture, from museums to science related stuff (Griffith Observatory). But with just 2 days (actually, one and half to be practical) in hand, I knew I had to spend each second soaking up the Hollywood vibe of the city. You know, to justify the 6 hour flight and the time zone difference. And that is what I ended up doing indeed! Priorities.

Day 0 – The Day I Landed

I landed in LA late in the night, and as soon as my cab got out of the airport, I was frantically looking for the Hollywood Sign. OK, I admit, I included Day 0 here, ONLY to make the point that the sign is not visible so easily and from any part of the city. Don’t know why I was naïve enough to believe that I should be able to get a glimpse of it on my way to where I was resting the night.

But I did not. It could also be because they put off the lights sometimes and it is hence, not visible in the night time. We got to know of this later in our trip, that folks staying around the area had complained and gotten the lights off, to stop nuisance-creating folks to trek up after light has fallen. So, not just that night, I managed to end my LA trip without having seen the Hollywood Sign at all! It was a big deal and a bit of a bummer from me. But hey! Gives me reason enough to go back someday again!

Nevertheless, the city, with its little hillocks, pretty neighborhoods and fancy shopping stores, charmed me at the first sight itself!

Day 1

I unfortunately lost the first part of the day to work, but in the evening, I, and my friend who I was visiting, we were in for some city vibe, some good food and shopping!

Rodeo Drive – The Hollywood experience HAD to begin with shopping (or just gawking at beautiful things) at Rodeo drive. This is a long stretch of road with luxury shopping and dining destinations. I have been told that mostly celebrities and rich kids shop here. The glam of the place definitely got me – the stores were so beautifully decorated, that I did not dare to go inside one in the fear of leaving shoe dirt on the spic and span floors. Also, because I knew I couldn’t afford anything in there. (But let us just pretend that it wasn’t that big a deal-breaker)
Rodeo Drive - Los Angeles

But what is so special about a shopping street you say? Well except for the fact that if you are lucky, you could watch the rich and the famous shopping at big labels such as Tiffany, Coco Chanel, and Dior, they have this pretty little street going up the intersection of Wilshire and Rodeo. This little corner just took my heart away! It is sort of a parallel street and curves slightly upwards; the lane is cobblestoned – has some eateries and an outdoor café. But most importantly, the architecture is all white and oh so luxurious! The black painted street lamps lining the lane brings back a little bit of Europe into this American city.

Google had told me that evening time is best to visit this place, and see it in its grandeur and all the fancy lighting; however, I wish I could see the actual colors and the beauty of this place in daylight! It is not a very crowded street, but occasionally one would find tourists window shopping and star-spotting in this area.

Beverly Garden Park – This was our next stop, as I wanted to check out the illuminated ‘Beverly Hills’ sign. If you haven’t heard of this place, Beverly Hills is home to many Hollywood stars. I am not sure, but I think I even read Priyanka Chopra having taken a house somewhere here.
Beverly Hills Sign - Beverly Park, Los Angeles
Anyhow, this is a 5 minute walk from the Rodeo Drive and the sign is right at the entrance of the ‘Beverly Garden Park’. Nothing else special here, but I was on a mission to click pictures at all Hollywood-y places across Los Angeles. And while we were driving out of this place, I did see a couple of beautiful houses there in little hillocks. Beautiful is an understatement – with the peaceful neighborhood, the luxurious lawns, and the palm trees lining the streets. <Deep Sigh> God – why so unfair? :P

Hollywood Walk of Fame – This place wasn’t the top of my list – I mean studded stars on the sidewalk with names of stars written on it. How exciting could it be? But the street was supposed to be our dinner point – hence we went anyways. If you have to reach this place, put the Chinese Theater on your navigation app.
Hollywood Walk of Fame - Los Angeles

There is a Chinese theater there, which has become famous only because of the hand and foot prints of stars in the concrete outside of it. Unless one is a crazy fan of one of the stars, and you want to take a picture of his/her star, this place can totally be given a miss! However, the vibe of the place is nice. There are eateries, cafés, and a lot of tourists roaming around.
The Chinese Theater - Los Angeles
Foot And Hand Prints of Hollywood Stars in front of Chinese Theater - Los Angeles

Dolby Theater - While we were there, we happened to check out the Dolby Theater – where the Oscars were held this year. Now THIS place was cool! They have mentioned the best films in Oscars for each year since (I don’t remember from when). And they have placeholders for the upcoming years as well.

The Theater opens into this open Galleria with ice cream parlors and pizzerias. AND, the best part is you can see the Hollywood sign from here!!! IF, you are in daylight that is. This is where we got to know that they have recently started switching off the lights here. May be only I was so excited to see the sign, because my friend told me when he was in LA, the sign was ‘HOL YWOO ‘ instead of ‘HOLLYWOOD’. I again missed seeing the place, since it was dark by now.

But, the good thing that happened was, we spotted a KIKO Milano store in that Galleria – ended up spending an hour there, doing some major damage to the wallet. But one can never have too many lipsticks!

Remember how I said the Hollywood Walk of Fame was our dinner point? Well it turns out we spent more time at KIKO Milano than we should have, because by then most of the restaurants were shutting down. Ended up having McDonalds :P But we had an exciting day 2, to keep us going!

Day 2

We had a really busy day planned ahead of us – and it was all so Hollywood-y, that I couldn’t contain my excitement for the day ahead – Woke up at 7 on a Saturday, despite being a night person, and was up and about by 9!

Santa Monica Pier – This is a beautiful pier, and the warm weather the day we visited, made the trip worth its while. For me, the Huge Carousel they have here is what I identify the place with. This one has been used as a background in innumerable number of Hollywood movies and television series. Pictures tell me that this place looks even better in dusk because of the dusk colors, but we did not have the luxury to stay back till then. Busy day, remember?
Santa Monica Pier - Backdrop for So Many Hollywood Movies

As a big fan of the Forrest Gump movie, the child in me was doing Bhangra by the time I got to this place. They even have a ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp’ there selling Forrest Gump gears and clothes. For all those who do not understand the reference, the restaurant chain was evidently started inspired by the movie by a Viacom subsidiary (one of its other subsidiaries was a distributor of the Movie). The main character of the movie, Forrest Gump got into the shrimping business – hence the relevance.

I will let pictures do the talking for this pier, however might be useful to let you know that this is an expensive place. There are shops selling beach stuff, but the prices are very unlike what you would expect at a street shop. But then, the entire city is home to the rich, so not sure we can blame the prices. I ended up buying a fridge magnet from here, but wasn’t happy with the price at all L
Do You Remember this Part of Santa Monica Pier from Forrest Gump?
Just Another Pne from Santa Monica Pier

But that aside, I could have spent hours sitting at the pier and reading a book perhaps, if we were not running so short on time. We did try to get some lunch at Bubba Gump, but it was crowded AF and the wait time was an hour L

The Neighborhoods around the Pier – You know how they say, the best way to get the vibe of any city is to walk around the streets? I am a firm believer of this, and I love to walk around, trying new cafés, shop at boutiques. Especially in US, since they have proper walkways for pedestrians, where you could walk peacefully without fearing for your life.

The street opposite to the Santa Monica pier entrance is lined with coffee shops and other small eateries – a dainty little road, but abuzz with people nevertheless. Managed to spot this English restaurant (such a score this find was) with a nice outdoor seating. It is called ‘Ye Olde Kingshead’ and has the best éclair I have ever tasted in my life! The chicken pot pie which I ordered for lunch, wasn’t that great though. But the ambience and outdoor seating totally made up for it.
Food Diaries - The Best Chocolate Eclair I have Had in my Life

Our next stop was what I was THE MOST excited about in my entire trip!

Warner Bros Studio – What comes to your mind when you hear of this place? I am a big F.R.I.E.N.D.S fan, and have watched all the episodes at least 5-6 times. So much so, that I know most of the dialogs by now, but I still laugh as hard as I laughed the first time. Needless to say, I HAD to visit the place where the series was shot, and may be buy some cool merchandise or coffee mugs? They even have a replica of ‘Central Perk’. For folks who don’t understand the reference, what are you even doing with your life? :P Please get the first month of free Netflix subscription and watch the series. I am sure you will finish all 10 seasons way before your trial period ends.

Warner Bros. is basically a huge shooting campus where tons of television series and movies are shot daily. They have live sets, innumerable props and backdrops, and gives you a sneak-peak into this world of sets and shootings which most of us as audience are oblivious to. Some of the live sets (for which shooting is still ongoing) here of my favorite shows are The Big Bang Theory, Full House and Fuller House, Shameless (ok confession – I started watching this only after so many references in this tour, and am totally hooked onto it right now).
Set of a Coffee Shop in Warner Bros. Studio - Los Angeles

You can pre-buy tickets for a 2 hour trip at Warner Bros. They cost approximately $ 62 per adult, and you can select a slot that works best for you. Once there, everyone is grouped into groups of 6-8 and each group has a tour guide to take you around the whole campus in those extended golf cart type rides, for the lack of a better word for it. It is a huge campus, and 2 hours is definitely not enough to go through the entire place, but you will get to see the highlights and get enough flavor of some of your favorite shows.
Set of the White House at Warner Bros., Los Angeles

The Inside of the White House Set - Guess who is Acting President Tonight :)

Tip – they say no two Warner Bros. tour is the same; each one depends on your tour guide, and your fellow tourists. So be very vocal about the sets and places you want to see, and the tour guide will make sure they take you there. In fact they will ask you at the beginning of the tour what some of your favorite Warner Bros. shows are. If you are indifferent though, just go with a flow, and you will be able to see Harry Potter costumes, Batman and Superman cars and costumes, and a ton of other interesting stuff amongst others.
The Trolley Car - Our Ride for Warner Bros. Studio, Los Angeles

What I found most interesting was how a camera can trick you into believing things. For instance, they have a Coffee House Façade in there – it is just a one-dimensional wall with a door in it. It is evidently used in many shows to shoot scenes where the actor is opening the door knob to get in. Once you get in, of course you hit the wall, since it is one-dimensional. The illusions that a camera can give you are surreal!
Dobby - The Actual One Used in Harry Potter Shoots

Throughout the tour, we were given references to episodes of popular TV shows, and they also got us into a full set tour. Our group chose for ‘The Big Bang Theory’ one. Let me spend some time explaining what we learnt here. Also, unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed in the live sets, hence I will have to try and explain as best as I can in words.

Once we got in, what hit our eyes, was a huge amphitheater kind of a thing, with tiered seating areas and the actual set (Sheldon’s favorite couch, the kitchen, the bedroom) in front. Turns out, the group takes 5 days to shoot one episode for the week – they shoot Mon-Fri. They also have a live audience sitting in the seating areas, and while the actors are acting, the writers take cues from the reactions of the live audience. Accordingly, if they feel something is not appropriate, something is not funny enough, they would modify the lines. Ain’t it cool?

At the end of the tour, they dropped us at the ‘Central Perk Café’. It is an actual functioning coffee shop run by Starbucks, and I was literally dying seeing the words written on the Glass door! They also have a replica of the coffee shop set where folks get themselves clicked.
The Central Per Cafe - I was Dying Seeing This in Front of my Eyes!
Yeah Yeah, We Miss No Chance to Pose - And This One Was Special. The Central Perk Set Replica at Warner Bros. Studio, Los Angeles

The Warner Bros. Studio tour definitely ended on a high and after clicking loads of pictures, we headed to our next, and last stop for the LA trip – the Universal Studios Citywalk.

Universal Studios Citywalk – Universal Studios is a grand theme park with loads of roller coasters and 3D rides. This itself can take up one full day, if you haven’t been to a Universal Studios in one of the other locations. All Harry Potter fans out there, this place will make you go crazy! For me however, I had been to the one in Orlando already, and hence had not budgeted a day to spend inside the theme park.

Read my Universal Adventures in Orlando here.

Finally Managed to Get Some Shrimps at the Bubba Gup Shrimp in Universal Citywalk, Los Angeles

However, there is a colorful lighted and vibrant road leading up to the theme park’s entrance and is free for tourists to go around the place. They have so many shops, coffee shops, and eateries out here. The place was vibrant no wonder, but too crowded for my taste. However, I did manage to do some damage to the wallet by picking up a few things from Lush (I am so bummed that we do not get Lush in India anymoreL) before heading for dinner.

Oh, and we finally managed to get some shrimps at Bubba Gump (they had an outlet here as well). The dinner made the trip to City walk more than worth it! Are you slurping yet looking at the pictures below?


Overall, the LA trip was a really fun one and I did manage to go around seeing all the Hollywood-y places in 2 days. There are some other places around the city on my next visit here, whenever that happens, and the Venice Beach and the Boardwalk leading to the beach tops the list! Hope you had fun reading this post, and find some of it useful as well.

Read some of my previous Travel Blogs here:

Also, if you are interested in some laughs, head here     


As always, thanks for reading, and drop in a comment if you like what you read. Connecting with like-minded people is what keeps me going!

3 comments:

  1. Nice..The pics are good :)
    On my 2 days trip to LA, I decided to give the studio a miss..Instead visited Santa Monica and Venice on day 1..Griffith observatory and Malibu on Day 2..the road to Malibu was quite picturesque..spotted the coveted 'Hollywood' sign from Griffith.. To be honest, I found the walk of fame quite funny and accidentally stepped on it as I walked out of the metro station (did not plan to visit it actually)..

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    1. I really wanted to go to Venice Beach too, especially for the Boardwalk - but missed it :( And I totally agree - the Walk of Fame is funny - very weird concept of engraving stars' names on the pavement, which people are going to walk over :P

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