This is the fifth issue of the latest category on my blog which is designated to transform a – maybe forced – stay like a layover into a short extra-vacation. Of course these itineraries – one for a sunny and an alternative for a rainy day – are great not only for layovers but for any kind of a brief stay, e. g. during a road trip through California.
Los Angeles with the iconic Hollywood Sign
Maybe you will think that 24 hours are far too little to explore an American mega city like Los Angeles. You are absolutely right, but this applies to many other cities, too, and it by no means should hold you back from making the best of your layover or short stay. However, if you follow my itineraries, you’ll be surprised how much you get to see of L. A. and what a good feel you’ll get for this metropolis. It was scandalmonger Dorothy Parker who called L. A. “seventy two suburbs in search of a city”, and although it’s not very friendly, it’s true. The fact that L. A. is not arranged around a city center, in fact that the downtown area is the least known and appreciated part of town, confused me a big deal when I first visited. But once you simply accept this concept, quit seeing L. A. as one homogenous city but rather as a couple of small towns, it works and it will grow on you.
? Local Currency:
US Dollar / US$
? Emergency Hotline:
? National Airline:
LAWA / IATA-Code: Los Angeles International Airport LAX / Van Nuys VNY
Most people say that it’s not possible travelling the United States by public transport, let alone Los Angeles. And while I don’t claim that it’s the fastest and most comfortable way of travelling, I insist that it’s possible; and I’m living proof. In fact, if you don’t take the bus from Venice Beach to Korea Town at rush hour on Friday afternoon, it can even be quite rapid. All points of interest that I list in my itinerary can be reached by public transport resp. walking (another thing that nobody does – but me). I recommend you buy a day pass for US$ 7. For a longer stay, a ‘Tap Card’ is convenient, but this plan is designed for one day, so a day pass should do.
? Morning Activities
One of many murals – depicting one of many…interesting
personalities hanging out at Venice Beach.
Sunny day in in California – what better to do than hit the beach?! No matter what people say, it is not absolutely necessary to get a (rental) car in Los Angeles, you can easily go from the Union Station all the way down to Venice Beach. It does take 90 minutes since the bus is crossing all of L. A., but let me tell you, it’s not that much faster by car, and on the bus you can just lean back, relax and observe Cali life. Take the rapid bus No. 733 at Cesar Chavez Ave. & Alameda St. and get off at Main NB & Marine NS. Now it’s a ten minutes walk towards the Venice Beach Promenade with all the joy and craziness.
Miles and miles of deserted beach
overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
After you’ve stretched out in the sand and took a refreshing dip in the Pacific Ocean, at noon it’s about time to move on to Santa Monica. Just stroll along the shore either in the sand or on the path – it’s such a beautiful walk – and you’ll get to the Santa Monica Pier. I personally don’t like this kind of piers with the merry go round and the fast food stalls, but if you want to spend some time here, be my guest (not literally, though). At Santa Monica, just cross Ocean Avenue and turn left into 3rd street either from Colorado Avenue or from Broadway. The 3rd street promenade is a pedestrian shopping street with everything the good shopperd desires. And of course there is a wide range of different restaurants, we are in the United States after all.
? Lunch on a sunny day
Fresh and healthy.
It’s hot, you need something light for lunch. You’re in California, healthy, organic food is the big thing – i. e. a perfect combination. Walk one block East and you’ll find the whole food chain restaurant ‘sweetgreen’ offering all sort of salads and bowls with super food ingredients such as Quinoa, Whole Rice and Kale – and loads of fresh veggies and fruits. Refreshing, refilling, rewarding.
(To go on with your program, skip the next to paragraphs that are for rainy weather)
Santa Monica 1343
4th St Santa Monica CA 90401
Phone: +1 – 424 – 744 83 21
Open daily from 10:30 a. m. till 10 p. m.
⛈ Morning Activities
It never rains in (Southern) California? Unfortunately Albert Hammond stands corrected: Although it indeed doesn’t rain much – sometimes even not enough, there are rainy days. Therefore I list a couple of nice museums to spend the day.
While in other cities it’s the place to be, in Los Angeles the downtown area is the dullest neighborhood ever. But, lucky you, it has a handful of interesting museums and galleries that you can even walk to from your hotel at Union Station. And the Union Station is one of the interesting sights downtown; but we’ll get here after lunch.
La Santísima Virgen de Guadalupe- Mexico’s Patron Saint.
Let’s first explore the museums that deal with rich immigration heritage. Start at the Sepulveda House, a museum tracing the architectural and social transformation of Los Angeles from its early Mexican traditions to today’s Anglo culture-mixes. Goody: They offer a free guided tour of ‘El Pueblo’ Tuesday to Saturday at 10 a. m., 11 a. m., and 12 p. m. For tour reservations and information, call the visitors’ center at + 1 – 213 – 628 12 74.
The Venue is open Wednesday to Monday from 12 p. m. to 5 p. m. (Friday to Sunday to 6 p. m.)
Is there a bigger city in the world that doesn’t have a
China town? Probably somewhere in China…
This morning’s third ethnic museum is the Chinese American Museum, housed in the oldest and last surviving structure of Chinatown. In beautiful exhibitions it traces the history of the first Chinese settlements in Los Angeles about 150 years ago.
Two of the MOCA’s masterpieces:
Robert Gober: Cigar and
Barbara Kruger: Untitled (Not Cruel Enough)
Staying downtown L. A., you are facing California’s colorful, varied, ethnic history at every corner. But there was always the attempt to transform this a bit forgotten neighborhood into a trendy, modern part of town. Not only futuristic Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by architect super star Frank Gehry, but also the MOCA – Museum of Contemporary Art – as well as the brand new ‘The Board’, opened only in 2015 and home to 2000 works of art, which makes it already now one of the most prominent holdings of modern and contemporary art. An additional treat: entrance is free!
Opening Hours: Tuesday&Wednesday 11 a. m. – 5 p.m., Thursday&Friday 11 a. m. – 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a. m. to 8 p. m., Sunday 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: +1 – 213 – 626 62 22
Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday 11 a. m. to 6 p. m. (Thursday till 8 p. m., Weekends till 5 p. m.)
To Philippes, where you’ll have lunch, you’ve got to walk about one mile back towards Union Station. If you’re too tired or in case it’s raining too hard, you can walk three minutes to Olive/General Thaddeus Kosciuszko bus stop and take either No. 78, 79, or 378 to Cesar Chavez Avenue & Alameda Street.
? Lunch on a rainy day
The service is quick and efficient – get your food at the
counter, then sit with all the other fans on long benches,
enjoy and socialize. Photo: Philippe The Original
Yes, it’s raining. No, you can’t go to the beach. But – you’ll get to experience a lunch that’s a legend with the locals: The Original – and one and only – Philippe. I love this place – not only for the super-unhealthy traditional, All-American food. I love it for the All-American customers gobbling the huge dipped sandwiches as if they’ve never heard of gluten, lactose…even calories. I love it just as much for the super-not-barbie-like All-American waitresses, the neon signs, the saw dust on the floor. I simply…love it!
A couple of more than 2,500 stars along
18 blocks of Sunset Boulevard.
Ready for some serious Hollywood nitty-gritty? Hop on the bus – this time No. 704 at Santa Monica / 4th (towards Downtown) and get off after another 90 minutes at Vine / Santa Monica.
From here it’s a ten minutes walk up North to Sunset Boulevard where the heart of Hollywood is beating; it might only be a pacemaker, but who cares, you’re here for 24 hours and understandably want to see also a little cliché.
Enjoy walking up and down, reading the names on the stars, being approached by some superheroes and strange creatures, by pretending Oscar winners and promising hip hop stars. Enjoy it, but don’t forget it’s all scenery…and it’s a tourist trap.
⛈ Afternoon Activities
Art déco to sit on, Moorish stars on the floor, and a ceiling
like at a Mexican cantina – eclectic yet tastefully designed
It’s still raining? Never mind, you absolutely have to see at least a bit of Hollywood, so let’s go to the Union Station. Oh, the Union Station itself is already a sight. Being one of the last ‘Union Stations’ – a term for stations used by several train companies, it was planned by John Parkinson and his son Donald, who also designed L. A.’s townhall, and opened in 1939. The architecture is an eclectic mix of colonial, mission revival, art déco, and Moorish styles – something you get away with only in the US since there is no proper, longstanding cultural heritage. Still, the Union Station is an impressive building with many beautiful details and therefore often used in movies. When I first came to
L. A., rapper Chris Brown just shot a video there – a truly L. A. experience.
202 restored street lamps make the
large-scale assemblage sculpture by Chris Burden –
the LACMA’s iconic welcome
One of the greatest museums in the United States is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – the wonderful LACMA. Take the Purple Metro Line at the Union Station and get off at Wilshire/Western where you catch bus No. 720 towards Santa Monica. After less than 15 minutes you’ll reach the stop Wilshire & Fairfax almost in front of the museum.
The museum hours are:
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday 11 a. m. to 5 p. m. and Friday to 8 p. m.
Saturday and Sunday 10 a. m. to 7 p. m.
(Closed Wednesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day)
If after all this culture you need some shallow yet entertaining activity – like e. g. shopping – just walk half a mile up Fairfax Avenue and you’ll get to ‘The Grove‘, one of my favorite malls since it’s set up with so much love for details and entertainment.
From ‘The Grove’ to Hollywood it’s just a 15 minutes bus ride. Take No. 217 towards Hollywood/Vine Station and get off at the Hollywood/Highland stop North of the Sunset Boulevard. The Hollywood Museum, where you get a glance at this legendary place’s history, past, and present, is about three minutes from the station – located in the historic Max Factor building.
The Hollywood Museum
1660 N. Highland Ave (at Hollywood Blvd)
Hollywood, California 90028
Phone: +1 – 323 – 464 77 76
The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A substantial and hearty meal – as American as can be.
Once you’re experiencing the All American cliché, you can as well have an All American dinner, and that’s of course Burgers, and at Mel’s they are really meaty and yummy. Although now – like almost every gastronomic success in the US – a chain restaurant, it’s still a legend and often booked as a setting in movies. It’s located right next to the Hollywood Museum – and open 24/7!
Mel’s Drive In
1660 Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone: +1 – 323 – 465 21 11
Beautiful and delicious – nightcap at its best.
Especially if your flight is in the morning, you won’t be keen to stay out all night and have a long trip back to the hotel. Therefore I suggest you’ll have a nightcap at ‘The Boardroom’ downtown.
To get there from Mel’s / Sunset Boulevard is really easy: Just take the Metro Red Line at Hollywood/Highland towards Union Station and get off at Civic Center / Grand Park Station. From there you just walk one block up North West.
(at The Music Center)
135 N Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: +1 – 213 – 972 85 56
They are open from Thursday to Saturday 8:30 p. m. till 1 a. m.
To go back to your hotel, you should call a cab. Although walking might be ok, downtown is not the most serene and sophisticated neighborhood of all L. A.
Especially if you are on a layover and need to get back to the airport in the early morning, staying close to the Union Station comes handy since there is a shuttle leaving from there every 30 minutes around the clock. The Metro Plaza Hotel is certainly not the most beautiful and luxurious place in town, but it is so conveniently located – forget about the rest.
Who doesn’t want to stay at a nice, comfortable hotel at an exceptionally low price? I do! Very often these accommodations are located in – euphemistically speaking – remote locations. The Spanish call it “en el culo del diablo” – in the devil’s butt. And believe me, I’ve had my share!
If you want to stay at a really good price at the same hotel like four American presidents did before you, you cannot look in Manhattan, you have to go to Jersey City.
Ferry me across the water – do, boatman, do
My personal hotel lottery began in the early 1990s when I went for the first time – of course bye:myself – to the United States of America. I did not go to New York, I did not go to Los Angeles and neither to Miami. I did the hardcore tour of the deep, old South. Taking the Greyhound bus from South Carolina via Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi to Louisiana. This was in a time before this crazy new thing called Internet – essentially short after dinosaurs quit roaming the earth. Hence I bought a booklet with Greyhound vouchers to be used within 30 days and combed trough a hotel catalogue (book! paper!) where details like the distance to the city center were quoted, but I wasn’t familiar with the US and thought, if the distance is five miles, there will be a perfectly functioning system of public transport, so what the heck. And of course the hotel would be located in a busy, busy area – nobody builds a hotel in the middle of nowhere, right? Wrong! Maybe the ‘motel’ in the name should have given me a hint, but I was such a US novice then. It dawned on me that things might be slightly different from what I was used to in Europe when the cab driver from the airport dropped me off at a small motel next to the freeway – but unfortunately next to nothing else. Oh no, that’s not true, there was a “Wendy’s” in the middle of a huge parking lot across the motel on the other side of the freeway.
Since the next day it was raining, I didn’t have to solve the problem how to get to the center of Charleston from there. I stayed in bed watching TV – now here comes the pleasant bit of the story: I discovered what HBO is and that Oprah Winfrey is also a very talented actress because there was “The women of brewster place” on, a fantastic film after Gloria Naylor’s fantastic debut novel. So go and see the film and read the book; and you don’t even need to stay at an isolated motel run by Norman Bates for that.
After the movie was over, I walked over to “Wendy’s” and got a bunch of burgers and laid on the bed, cried a little bit (because of my situation, not because of the film, although the film is extremely sad and disturbing – I’m telling you: watch it!) and watched anxiously the weather channel (also a new trinket to my European wealth of experience) for the rest of the day.
Contradicting the weather channel’s prognosis, the next day it cleared up so that I was able to leave the motel and go downtown. Being European, to me going means walking. Especially since the lady at the motel told me that sometimes she did see a bus passing by, but she had no idea when, how often and where it’s going. So I did this unbelievably European thing – I walked along the freeway towards Charleston. Everything went well after I stopped feeling funny because everybody passing by looked at me as if I was somehow funny. Everything went well till I came to this stupid bridge crossing a stupid wide river. This bridge has been constructed exclusively for cars. There was no way crossing it walking without getting hit by a car or falling over the below knee high railing. I had walked for over an hour, the city was right across the bridge, I could almost touch it – but no, no crossing. I turned and saw a big fancy hotel. Okie dokie – I walked back there and asked at the reception to call me a cab to carry me across the bridge – making the cab driver sort of a ferryman. And yes, I did feel moronic.
The old South – you can go with the wind, but you can hardly walk where you wanna go.
From this first experience with the American freeways and motels and distances and bridges I was much more careful choosing further accommodations (which didn’t save me from experiencing a very similar situation at Elvis’ birthplace Tupelo because uncrossable bridges sometimes can be found even downtown…).
Dawning of a new (booking) era
Now one might think that getting lost in the middle of nowhere was over with the wonderful invention of the internet and google maps and tripadvisor. Hold your horses – this was just a small step and a little help, but I still managed to end up in remote, inhospitable, unfriendly areas on a regular basis. I choose the word ‘areas’ because calling it neighborhoods would require neighbors, and often there aren’t any.
I’m not talking about booking middle class hotels in New Jersey which cost a fractional amount of what you pay for a disgusting, tiny dump in Manhattan – only because they are on the ‘wrong’ side of Hudson River. You clench your teeth and commute every day with the working crowd from and to Jersey City to save a lot of money. That’s a weighing of interests, that’s a choice.
I’m talking about those ‘even better deals’ than the rooms downtown that you initially considered. Yes, the review on tripadvisor warned you that the place is far from everything, but these people are always so picky and sensitive. When you check it on google maps, it’s only 7 km (approx. 5 mi) and there is a subway and a bus going there. On the map, it looks just round the corner, and the price for the room is really convincing, so what the heck.
Funny enough, once you’re there, 7 km all of a sudden become quite far and the bus doesn’t go as often as expected. It’s also irritating when it leaves the urban area and, after passing some factories, rolls along meadows and fields. This happened to me in Munich, a city with 1.5 million inhabitants where you shouldn’t be close to any meadows and fields.
Unintentional fusion dinner in Rome
And it happened to me in Rome, where the hotel was conveniently located at the final stop of the subway in the midst of a mall. Cool, it had four stars and was very cheap, let’s go. Only they didn’t tell you on the internet that you cannot walk from the last subway stop because it’s on a channeling island and you would risk your life crossing one of the freeways. So I had to wait for a bus to take me to the very next stop which was literally across the road.
The wait was fun, though, because obviously there are many Russian immigrants living in that area and there was some sort of colorful Russian flee market taking place.
Then when I got to the – indeed very four star worthy – hotel, the mall next to it turned out to be specialized in household supplies and things of that sort. No boutiques, no drug stores, and most importantly no food court. After a long day sightseeing in Rome, after a very long trip down the entire subway route, after the wait on the Russian traffic island, I definitely didn’t feel like going back downtown for a bite. That evening I had dinner at IKEA. I had Swedish meatballs. It’s like they say: “When in Rome,…”
Hidden treasures in Verona
But this is still harmless compared to Verona, where I also found an Holiday Inn not too far from the center – unbeatable price including breakfast buffet. It was already a challenge to find the right bus, because nobody had heard of the hotel or the place – although it was just on the outskirts of Verona, but people are so oblivious to details. Anyway, finally I found a guy who not only new which bus to take, but who also had to take it and even got off at the respective stop. Turned out he worked at this Holiday Inn. That was a blessing because although the hotel was not far from the stop, we had to walk through some underpass and turn at corners and walk between construction sites (and I learned that ‘Bella Italia’ is just another dusty place when it comes to construction sites) – never ever would I have found the place without him! Although the building itself was very posh, it was standing on a traffic island next to the highway. This place was built for guests who are driving, who reach there from Julia’s home in Verona within ten minutes by car.
I strongly object to this kind of discrimination of me being a declared non-driver.
Sheeps on the highway in Cagliari
Another driver’s only hotel seemed to be the place in Cagliari, Sardinia’s picturesque capital. Same procedure here: revues on tripadvisor do criticize the distance but mention at the same time a bus, so it cannot be so bad; and the price was unbeatable here, too.
Yes, there was a bus, but it took us there only halfway and then the driver explained us desultorily the way mentioning lots of rights and lefts. So after first going into the wrong direction for a while we realized that we had to turn back and followed the road that lead between run down car repair shops and wrecking yards behind high, barbed wire garnished fences. The German shepherds’ fiercly barking and jumping against the fences gave the walk a more lively but not necessarily lovely twist. You wonder how a hotel in such a sinister surrounding lures guests in? It’s easy: They are coming from the other side where the highway is. They don’t see any of this B-film scenario.
As expected, the hotel was nice, we had a good night sleep.
The next morning I got up early. As I looked outside the window I saw a shepherd with a flock of sheep crossing the highway leading them towards a small forest.
This scenario was so surreal and said everything you need to know about the development of Sardinia; and the pristine location of this hotel.
When you wake up next to sheep in a big city, there’s something wrong with your accommodation.
Begging for bread in Olbia
The cake takes the booking at a really sophisticated resort in Olbia at the Costa Smeralda in the East of Sardinia where all the celebrities go. We had rented a summer apartment on the much less snobby West coast, but had to spend one last night in Olbia before our flight. I’d found a room at this resort for like one third of the regular price and hit the button – mine! It’s posh, so of course it’s far from where local and ordinary people go. The last public bus goes there around six in the evening – dropping off and picking up mainly the employees – and that’s it.
After we’d spend the afternoon at the elegant pool and on our verandah, around seven we felt like grabbing a bite. A look at the hotel’s menu made us more hesitant but unfortunately not less hungry. Let’s go for a walk, there will be something, this is Italy, there’s food everywhere. Ya – nope, there wasn’t. There was actually nothing at all. Dust. Rocks. One road. We walked and walked and then there was a construction site where nobody was constructing at this time of the day. But next to the construction site was a small wooden shack. No sign, but the door was open and there were three men playing cards and drinking something. Behind a counter stood a haggard lady. Needless to say that our entrance caused a short pause in what these people where doing; actually I had the feeling that not too many tourists from the sophisticated resort come to this place. “Ciao, do you have anything to eat?” The lady looked a bit puzzled and shook her head no. “Nothing at all?” “The only food I have is the left over bread from lunch.” In Italy, as in many Southern countries, you get slices of white bread with your meal. I looked at my travel companion, remembering the souvenirs in my suitcase at the sophisticated resort: Sardinian farmer’s sausage and a big chunk of Pecorino – sounds like a perfect panino, now we would only need the pane. “Would you be so kind to sell us the bread?” She hesitated, probably she thought we tried to play tricks on her. “You really want the leftover bread from lunch?” We nodded frantically. “Va bene, but you don’t need to pay for it, I can just give it to you”, she said putting the slightly dry slices in a paper bag. Oh my gosh, I had seldom felt so embarrassed – getting left over bread for free at a wooden shack in the…culo del diablo. We thanked her profusely, being particularly thankful for never seeing these people again in our lives.
The picnic on the verandah of the sophisticated resort was very pleasant – and quite Italian.
I know I could have avoided getting to know all these places by not being so cheap when it comes to hotels. But I refuse to pay a lot of money for resting there a couple of hours on the one hand, on the other hand I appreciate a good bargain; and I’m not driving – so that makes things a little more knotty.
On the other hand, I will never write a post about the many, many average hotels in average places I stayed at.
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