My USA Roadtrip 2014 Part 3

This post continues on from Part 2, documenting my roadtrip from Flagstaff, AZ to San Francisco, CA.

Los Angeles and Southern California

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The drive to Los Angeles was less interesting than the one to Vegas. We arrived at our hotel and found our neighbourhood wasn’t the safest looking place in town. We knew the Los Angeles area was going to be quite dodgy compared to the other places we were visiting, but we had hoped the place we chose to stay at was in a safe area. We were staying at Comfort Inn Cockatoo in Hawthorne. The hotel itself was really nice, a big room with good facilities. The staff was friendly enough and there was a garage to keep the car off the streets. The location was good as everything wasn’t too far away. Here’s the view from our window:

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It was quite a ghetto area. That first night was quite worrying, not knowing how the next ten would pan out. It ended up being alright. Every day we leave the hotel in the morning and come back late for sleep. There was no need to hang around the less secure areas of LA. The fast food takeaways we had in Hawthorne and Inglewood were the worst I’ve ever had. Danny and I laughed for a long time at this review of KFC in Compton.

Our first day in LA we spent at the Griffith Observatory. We saw it in all the touristy information and thought it would be a good idea to get a literal overview of where we were in California. And the views were really good. It was uncanny how close the land and the lighting looked to Grand Theft Auto V. It was strange to think you almost remember being in this place just from playing GTA.

We got a good look at the Hollywood sign from this point too. The observatory opened one of its telescopes to the public and we were some of the first to take a look that night. They had it pointed to the planet Saturn. We got to look through the eyepiece and it was a really clear view. Wish we had a bit more time than just a few seconds to look at it, I’ve never seen a planet that close in real-time before. By the time we came out of the telescope the sun was setting and I got a few more good photos.

The next day we took a drive down to Long Beach to see the area and the Aquarium of the Pacific. Tickets to the Aquarium were actually cheaper on their website, so I literally bought them on the website in front of the ticket office before redeeming them there. Bit silly if you ask me. It was quite interesting, but a lot like every other aquarium I suppose. The waterfront at Long Beach was very nice. We saw the Queen Mary cruise ship turned hotel and another lovely sunset.

The next day we visited Disneyland. Disneyland! I had never been before and I had always wanted to go. We had a two day pass, with access to both parks in California. Disneyland actually surprised me in that it lived up to all my expectations. I thought I would be too old to enjoy it, or it just wouldn’t be as good as you imagine it to be. On the contrary, it was a very enjoyable day. I much prefer the less intense rides at a place like this than rollercoaster theme parks that make you scared to death. My favourite ride was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It was exciting yet not intense enough to be scary. I could ride it over and over (but I only got two goes). At night, we saw the fireworks. It was a good display, but our view was mostly blocked by a large tree, annoyingly.

Our second day at Disneyland was exactly a week later on the 26th. We checked out the California Adventure park this time. It wasn’t as good as the main park but it did have some good rides. The Cars area was especially good. They made it look almost exactly like Radiator Springs with all the details. On the cynical side, Radiator Springs is probably the easiest place from a Pixar film to turn into an amusement park, but they did a great job none the less. On our last night at Disneyland we saw the World of Color water show. This was arguably much more impressive than the fireworks, as it was more unique and you got a much closer view. All in all, a very fun experience. Disappointing lack of Frozen themed things though.

Similar to Disneyland, we also went to Universal Studios in Hollywood. It wasn’t as good as expected. Unlike Disneyland, no where near as much effort has been put into the park. The attractions are just placed down onto a flat concrete lot. Disneyland has lots of small hills and trees and unique buildings. Universal feels much more of a cash grab, even advertising their films on posters in the park and some of the rides just feel like adverts too. My favourite one is the Transformers ride. It combines a moving car with 3D screens to create an awesome effect. It’s really exciting. The studio tour was okay, a bit too cheesy and it didn’t feel realistic. There’s an excellent view of Burbank from the top of the park. We also saw the show Waterworld. Don’t want to spoil anything but it was really cool.

On one of the nights we went to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel to sit in the Bonavista Lounge - a rotating cocktail lounge on the 34th floor of the hotel. I’ve never been on a rotating bar/restaurant before so it was quite exciting. There were some excellent views and it was quite calming moving around slowly (I wish it was a bit faster). The hotel itself was very posh and expensive. One night there would have been more than our whole stay at some other hotels. There was a beautiful lobby with balconies and fountains. Very nice. That night there was also a topless pool party going on, but we weren’t allowed in :P

While in Los Angeles we spent a fair amount of time in Santa Monica and the Santa Monica pier. It’s one of the nicest parts of LA, and has great parking. The pier has lots of stuff happening and it’s got great views of the city and the sea.

Another classic thing to do in LA is the Hollywood walk of fame. I knew not to expect too much from what others had told me, and they were right. The street itself quite rundown, very touristy, and there’s lots of shifty looking people trying to sell you things. Kind of one of the activities you have to do, though. It’s fun finding all the people you recognise on the walk. The Chinese Theatre where the concrete footprints are was too crowded to really see anything on the floor, unfortunately.

At the end of our stay in Los Angeles (before our last day in Disneyland), we took the Warner Brothers Studio tour. This was excellent and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting LA. One guide takes you and about 11 other people around the studios they actually use every day. The things you get to see are different depending on what they’re filming. We got to see the Conan O’Brien set. I’ve seen the show on TV and it was really strange getting to sit in the audience of the show while there was no one around. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside. We saw the original props of Friends and got to sit on the Central Perk couch. We also got to see a gallery of props from Harry Potter and Batman, which I’m a fan of both so it was awesome for me. Our guide was very knowledgeable and down-to-earth.

The whole thing was very contrast to the Universal Studios tour. At Universal, you would be with a very large group and the cheesy guide would be helped along by videos. You felt he was reading from a script and was trying to sell Universal as a great company. At Warner Bros, the group was small and personal, it was a relaxing atmosphere and the guide told you interesting stories about what we saw and asked for our opinion on what to view next. It was great. We found out it was quite easy to book tickets to be in an audience at one of their TV show filmings and you could book with short notice to some. I regret not knowing this sooner and getting to go. We had lots of time in LA and it might have been good fun.

After our tour, we were given some directions to different places near the Studio. The Hollywood Sign is one we really wanted to see. The directions took us to the best viewing spot, however it was closed off so we couldn’t get there. Instead we drove up Hollywood Hills to try and get a good view. We saw some nice, expensive looking homes in the hills and it was a very nice area. When we reached a place where we thought we could get a good view the sun was going down and there was a beautiful sunset to top off the day.

That night we ate at Bob’s Big Boy, another recommendation from the Warner Bros tour. We wanted to go to this one because we loved classic American diners and the place is referenced in a great Austin Powers joke. The food and service was very good, and together with the WB tour and the Hollywood sign, it was one of the best days on the trip.

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P1020139 Leaving Los Angeles

And so finishes our time in Los Angeles. In the final Part 4 of the blog series, I’ll cover our time in San Francisco.