It’s fair to say that like many before us we were dazzled by the bright lights of LA, but not in the Hollywood flashbulbs sense – in the seven lanes of car brake lights everywhere we looked sense. On every road, on every journey, wherever we went, those red twinkles haunted and stalled us.
The traffic, the huge massive weight of it and the tediously slow progress it meant for every trip, at all times of day, will always be an overriding memory of the city.
It’s true that you wouldn’t expect to make quick progress through the city streets of London or most cities, but the bizarre thing about LA was that the roads, like the others we encountered in the US, were excellent – broad monstrous multiple lane highways, well marked, well maintained. But regardless that there were six, even eight lanes, in each direction, all were full of stop start 30 mph at best traffic. Row upon row of cars, mostly with one person in each.
We had read before we arrived that public transport in the city was minimal if not non-existent and for that reason held on to our campervan to get around. By Day Two we did a little research and saw there did seem to be some park and ride and metro options. I suspect should we ever return we would seriously consider those, though the Uber driver who took us to the airport, born and bred in LA, told us it was no myth that public transport was poor, even if 50 per cent of the problem was also in a cultural resistance to use it.
But would we return to LA anyway? Having been, ticked off a couple of iconic sights, savoured and delighted in Universal Studios, I’d have to say I wouldn’t rush back.
Perhaps my opinion was a little tainted by warnings not to expect too much from the place. I was forewarned Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame was a very ordinary, not particularly special street. And that was my exact impression. At least I wasn’t disappointed. The very central point around the Chinese Theatre was a little more glitzy but marginally so.
We parked a little further out and joined at a point that reminded me of the Tooting Broadway area in south London where I grew up. I haven’t been there in years and have read it now has a sought-after trendy community feel. When I was little it was functional, grubby and worn out and not somewhere you’d rush to see or be.
Without its iconic named pavement stars on face value I’d put what I saw of Hollywood Boulevard in that category too.
We ticked off seeing the ‘stars,’ the cement hand and footprints at the Chinese Theatre and nipped up to the top floor of the adjacent Highland and Hollywood shopping arcade for an obligatory glimpse of the hillside Hollywood sign. An hour and a half in the area was enough.
My intention is not to damn LA. We were there for barely three days so my review is that of a rush in, rush out tourist who did not get under the skin of the place, but on the surface it just didn’t do it for me.
With Yosemite and the Grand Canyon under our belts, we’d been spoiled by blow your socks off views and the famous Mulholland Drive came at the end of a long journey for us so wasn’t particularly well timed. The views over the city were excellent but we were a bit jaded. Sadly we didn’t have the will to then root out some of the wow houses we had hoped to see in Bel Air. On Mulholland itself you see little of the lavish lifestyles of the area barring a few large gates.
We then drove, very slowly and painfully in rows of other frustrated motorists, to Venice Beach. Again, it was the end of a long day, we didn’t see loads, didn’t even uncover the famous muscle beach area. We were mesmerized by an awesome beach front skatepark and the skills of the equally awesome users but apart from that the place didn’t do it for me either. ‘Bohemium’ is the descriptor I have seen used for the area. I’d say it was the beach equivalent of the Tooting Broadway of my youth.
In San Francisco I felt there was a noticeably high number of homeless people. In LA it seemed even more so. Bridges beside the rammed multi-lane highways were full of tents and piles of dirty bin bags containing the mishmash of possessions the hollow faced poor souls that relied upon them had scooped up.
Those unfortunate individuals seemed more desperately unkempt and far from having encountered a warm bath, meal or bed than most I have ever seen in England. Venice Beach had similar problems.
The endless endearing homeless characters I’ve smiled at in American films over the years, sitting on sidewalks beside their shopping trolley of possessions suddenly didn’t feel so innocuous. There were people like that everywhere in LA but none of them looked jaunty and loveable. Their appearance was as sad and desperate as I presume their situations are.
And so the unattractive irony of our LA highlights follows. Unattractive in that they consisted of a highly affluent area where the horrors of the impoverished were not so evident and a, in relative terms, deeply luxurious treat – our trip to Universal Studios. A birthday present for Our Little Man, the visit is likely to represent the single most expensive day of our trip, but It’s news to no one when I say, if there’s one thing the US does well, it’s theme parks. We had a great time.
Perhaps in part due to the time of year – outside of US or UK school holidays, we whizzed around the park with very little queuing, loosely following advice we found online about how to approach it. There were quite a few people about, though mostly adults, but, having arrived ten minutes before opening and stayed until the very last moment, we got on everything and saw every show without investing in the massively expensive queue jump pass.
The only mark down I’d give the day was the horrible bid to get us to spend $50 on a Harry Potter wand. At first we were delighted when Our Little Man was selected in Olivanders to have a wand pick him. Slowly the penny dropped. As we exited the ‘ride’ we were pulled to one side, OLM clutching the wand that had ‘chosen him’, an assistant was assigned to speak to him directly about how special this wand was. It was HIS. For just $50. Yuck. We were delighted when he decided for himself not to invest pocket money he had been given into the wand which would no doubt have been treasured for the day and quickly forgotten about. Hard sell direct to kids = bad form, Universal.
Our last day in LA saw us heading to Manhattan Beach which unlike Venice Beach I had never heard touted as a must see destination. In fact I hadn’t heard of it at all. In direct contrast to the tattoo palours and bong shops of the latter, Manhattan Beach – self proclaimed home of beach volleyball, has a clean living, high-class feel. Clean and sparkly, characterful homes front on to a resort with an inviting pier that provides a great landmark in the foreground of its perfect sunsets.
If I had to live in LA, based on the little I saw, it’s the one place I feel I could be very happy. A glance in an estate agents window revealed homes in the area selling for $10 million and $18 million. Perhaps, It’s not quite the right fit for me just now after all.
We hopped back in our tiny campervan and parked up for the night in a makeshift ‘camp’ that was essentially a garage forecourt. Not quite Manhattan Beach but mercifully close to the airport considering the thunderous and unrelenting traffic that filled in for the lapping waves of Manhattan Beach as the backdrop to our slumber.