We completely underestimated how vast Los Angeles is. Turns out, not a lot is within walking distance! Uber was a lifesaver. We used it to get to most of our destinations! It's pretty cheap and so convenient.
Tip: You tip the driver via the App after the drop off has completed!
Once the blessing that is Uber had dropped us off at our destination, we always tried to explore as much as possible in the area on foot. You get to see so much more by doing so.
This of course represents the renting of old-school beach cruisers at Venice Beach, and cycling up and down the Boardwalk all the way up to Santa Monica Pier. A great way to get around quickly!
THE "MUST DO'S"
1. HIKE THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS!
Get up early, grab your comfiest walking boots and set your sights high - You're going behind the Hollywood Sign! Grab an Uber, get dropped off at Canyon Drive and set off on the Bronson Canyon Trail towards Mt Lee. The trail itself is around 5 miles return. There is an opportunity to make a short detour to the 'Bronson Caves' on route, most famously known for hosting Batman's 'Batcave' filming location.
Reaching the top of Mt Lee, you are rewarded with 3 log benches to rest your legs and jaw-dropping panoramas of Los Angeles framed by the Hollywood Sign. Sit, relax and enjoy the view - you've earned it!
Tip: Make sure you bring WATER and food with you. There is most certainly not a deli-stand waiting at the top. There is nothing there apart from benches and a rubbish bin. Sitting at the top viewpoint is the perfect opportunity to have something to eat and re-fuel! There are also no toilets on route.
Tip: Don't wear your best trainers for this route (*cough* Jordie) as the orange dirt track will ruin them. Wear footwear that you don't mind getting a bit dirty!
Tip: When the dirt track ends and you hit a concrete road (about 3/4 into the trial). You can either turn left (downhill) or right (uphill). To get behind the Hollywood sign, go RIGHT. Us novices went left and didn't realise for a good 5 minutes. There is nothing more painful than retracing your footsteps on a steep incline!
Tip: The Hollywood Sign is actually fenced off by a large wire fence for protection. You cannot sit next to or touch the sign. If you want an undisturbed photo, get down from the viewpoint to fence level and put your lens through the fence gaps or get on your tippy toes and take a panorama from above the fence.
Viewpoint on the top of Mt Lee - Behind the Hollywood sign!
Insane panoramic views like this for the majority of the trail!
2. VISIT THE GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY
On the way back from the Hollywood sign, continue onto the Griffith Observatory if you're not quite ready to head back down. The signposted route appears halfway back and takes 15/20 minutes from there. There are water fountains on-route.
One thing you will be thankful for, (if the trail bushes weren't your style), are the free public toilets in the Observatory car park! Then take a moment to admire the Hollywood Sign from a distance and spot rainbow hummingbirds whizzing around the Observatory front gardens.
The Observatory is free to enter. On the lower-ground level, there are multiple space-related exhibitions. On the upper level, you are greeted with undisturbed views of the LA skyline. You can also view one of their giant 'Zeiss' telescopes. Plan to visit after sundown to view the night sky first-hand through the most "viewed-through" telescope in the world!
Tip: Signposts for the pedestrian route back down to Griffith Park are non-existent. Combine this with a sea of parked cars, it is incredibly easy to miss the turn off. We totally missed it, and with no internet, ended up following the main road back down. It became apparent 1/3 down when the pathway disappeared that this was not for pedestrians, but heading back uphill was not an option! We just walked awkwardly down the side of the road (thankfully it is a wide road!). When looking at the map afterwards, we realised we walked almost double what we should have. A total blunder from us, but at least we can stop you from doing the same thing! Follow the green route on the Google Map below, not the red (like us)!
FOLLOW THE GREEN ROUTE!
LA skyline views from The Griffith Observatory Upper Level
3. SPEND A DAY AT UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD!
Let your inner kids loose for a full, jam-packed day of all things Universal! Experience the buzz of their insane rides, grab a Butterbeer and feel like an extra at Harry Potter World, get chased by zombies in the Walking Dead attraction, meet Universal’s rescued animals turned animal stars, have a cuddle with a Minion, see dinosaurs roaming around, take the studio tour and drive through active filming lots and much more. What we found surprising was the majority of the rides were all virtual reality - It’s certainly a surreal experience!
Tip: Make sure you buy the ‘Universal Express’ ticket. This provides one-time express access for each ride, attraction, seated show and the studio tour and skip all of the queues! Get early access at 9am into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter too before the main crowds come at 10am! Book online here and save $10 off gate price, and secure your spot!
Tip: Each show runs 3 times daily. Download the free 'Universal Studios Hollywood' App to check the time slots on your chosen day. This is a great tool to benchmark where you need to be so you don't miss anything! Shows available are 'Universal Animal Actors', 'The Special Effects Show' and 'WaterWorld'. This App also provides an offline map of the park.
Tip: Hands down, the best virtual reality ride there is 'The Simpsons'. You cannot miss it. The Harry Potter 'The Forbidden Journey' ride is a very close second.
Tip: The most underwhelming rides were Harry Potters 'Flight of the Hippogriff' and the 'Jurassic Park' water ride. You aren't missing out if you skip these rides. If there is a queue and you don't have the Express pass, I wouldn't bother!
The Universal Studio Hollywood Entrance
The Magical 'Wizarding World of Harry Potter'!
Meeting the Animal Actor stars, including the dog from 'Bad Moms'!
4. SEARCH FOR STARS ON THE 'WALK OF FAME'
Laced in Hollywood history and having been graced by hundreds of A-Listers, I say Hollywood Boulevard is a "must-do" on your first visit to LA only. Enjoy the game of finding the star of your favourite celebrity! The Chinese Theatre is also worth a visit. The courtyard is made up of multicoloured concrete tiles with written quotes and hand / shoe prints of some great Hollywood icons, including The Rock, Dick Van Dyke, Johnny Depp and Cher to name a few. Take time to wander the shops of the Dolby Theatre Complex, mooch around Madame Tussauds or just soak up the energy of the Boulevard in the afternoon.
Learnt fact: There are over 2,500 stars, which are present on either side of the road. The stars of the 'A-List' celebrities tend to be nearer the main Boulevard (near Madame Tussauds and the Chinese Theatre). The stars do not just include real celebrities, but fictional and cartoon characters as well!
Reality check: Here it goes. Remove all visions of the Walk of Fame as a pristine runway of sparkling, black gloss tiles. This is not the case. The Walk of Fame is actually very grubby.
Some of the stars had scuffs, unidentifiable liquids and even gum all over them. In reality, it is a pretty underwhelming, everyday pathway. Just with stars on.
Tip: If you go early in the morning, you will have the majority of the Walk of Fame to yourself, proving so much easier to take your star photographs. As probably the only few visitors there, you will be outnumbered by the sheer amount of homeless people on the main street. Venture in the afternoon, the Boulevard buzz comes alive with energy. However, forget your photograph with a star at this point - you will be trampled by tourists like Mufasa was in the buffalo stampede!
Tip: Look out for pick pockets, anyone waving a CD at you and anyone in a costume. The last two are friendly enough, but they just want your money. Just politely tell them 'No thank you' from the start and don't entertain them.
Trying not to think about what I must be touching on that floor! (+ my favourite actresses)
The Chinese Theatre courtyard (how cool is Cher's stone slab?!)
5. STOP OFF AT MELROSE AVENUE
If you're passing, make a short stop off at Melrose Avenue. A destination for shopping, eating and entertainment. This road is HUGE, we advise to get dropped of around the pink Paul Smith store for the quirky murals and block colour walls, which provide the perfect backdrop for your photographs!
Tip: We visited early in the morning (9am) as part of our itinerary, but all of the shops didn't open until later! This unfortunately meant we didn't manage to experience the buzz of this road in full swing. The murals were however free from tourists and ready for us to snap to our hearts content! Swings and roundabouts I guess!
The pink Paul Smith store on Melrose Avenue. It's extremely hard to miss!
Directly opposite the Paul Smith store is this gorgeous Carrera Café mural!
6. THE GROVE & OLD FARMERS MARKET
Spend an afternoon strolling around this acutely-sized modern, Disneyesque outdoor mall. Let your credit card run wild in stores such as Anthropologie, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Topshop Topman, Coach, Michael Kors to name a few, or scout the Nordstrom Department Store for pretty much any cosmetic item you need. You can also indulge in American candy, ATM Cupcakes and the most calorific ice creams I have ever seen. Don't fill up too much, you must venture to The Old Farmers Market next door for a barrage of street food.
The Old Farmers Market is a maze of bustling food stalls, offering everything from fresh fruit smoothies, BBQ grill, seafood, burgers, coffee, crêpes, tacos - the list goes on. There is colourful seating dotted around everywhere, none of which is designated so you can sit wherever you please! As we were visiting on one of LA's rare rainy days, we opted for large tacos underneath the heaters!
Water feature in the centre of 'The Grove' outdoor mall.
Walkway from 'The Grove' heading towards the Old Farmers Market
7. SPOT CELEBS AT THE Beverly Hills HOTEL!
From astronomical business deals to the secret celebrity hideaways hosted, The Beverly Hills Hotel has been harbouring reams of Hollywood history since 1912. First, strike-a-pose with the iconic 'The Beverly Hills' signage and signature pastel pink and green walls (Amuse the gardener with some jumping jacks!) and watch out for the blacked-out monster cars roaring up the driveway, no doubt dropping off their Hollywood regulars.
Feel like royalty waltzing up the red carpet to the main lobby. You can enjoy fancy lunch and cocktails in the sunlit, celebrity hotspot that is the 'Polo Lounge' patio. Unsurprisingly, this pretty patio has
some pretty prices! If you are on a tight budget, just take time to lose yourself in this iconic, quirky hotel and the grounds. Look out for the gold-framed fact boards dotted around the corridors!
Fun fact: This hotel has been around before Beverly Hills even existed! Beverly Hills city was literally built around this iconic 'Pink Palace'.
Fun fact: Out of the 23 bungalows on the hotel grounds, Marilyn Monroe's favourite was #7!
Standing at the Beverly Hills Hotel main entrance
8. OGLE AT THE MANSIONS OF BEVERLY HILLS
If you are travelling down to Rodeo Drive from the Beverly Hills hotel, get dropped off a few blocks before the main shopping street of Rodeo Drive. The residential part of Rodeo Drive is a picture-perfect Suburbia which could give any movie set a run for their money! This area oozes the renowned wealth of Beverly Hills, and it's quite fascinating to see.
The picture-perfect Beverly Hills Surburbia. Down to the rolled up newspaper on the drive!
9. SHOP LIKE THE STARS AT RODEO DRIVE
For all my fellow 'Pretty Woman' fans, step into the rather expensive shoes of a reformed Vivian as she struts up Rodeo Drive with 10+ shopping bags in hand (if only we all had Edward Lewis's credit card!)
An exclusive road lined with immaculate designer stores, (including Chanel, Valentino, Prada, Gucci and Alexander McQueen), some serious money is spent here by celebrities and Beverly Hill's most wealthy.
The shopfronts do not reveal much of the internal stores. Us ragamuffins finally plucked up the courage to venture into a few, and were followed the whole time by the immaculately winged eyes of the shop assistants. That, coupled with the deafening sound of silence made us feel slightly awkward. We felt much more comfortable outside window shopping!
At the end of the road, you will find the 'Rodeo Drive' sign leading up the 'Two Rodeo' outdoor mall. Only taking a few minutes to walk through, a small cobbled incline will lead you to smaller units with lesser known brands selling expensive jewellery and clothing.
Fun fact: Rodeo Drive is home to the most expensive store in the world - The House of Bijan. You can enter by appointment only!
Fun fact: Parked outside the House of Bijan, you will always find a super-car sprayed the iconic Bijan yellow as a tribute to its late owner, Bijan Pakzad. When we visited, it was a $1.6 million Rolls Royce!
Liam admiring the $1.6 million Rolls Royce, certainly a 'look but don't touch situation!
Rodeo Drive - View from the main road
The 'Two Rodeo' outdoor mall & Rodeo Drive signage
10. STROLL ALONG THE VENICE CANALS
Wander slightly inland from Venice Beach to discover a Venice away from Italy - the Venice Canal Historic District. A quaint residential area built upon a series of grid-like canals, it was actually created in 1905 by Abbot Kinney, as part of his 'Venice of America' programme.
Take a slow stroll along the canal bridges, weaving in between the colourful houses nestled away. Spot all of the kayaks lined up along the canals! It's hard not to leave with a sense of calm after visiting this spot.
Venice Canals and residential area. How cute are the little docks?
11. EXPLORE VENICE BEACH & PROMENADE
You will find absolutely liquorice all sorts along Venice Beach Promenade. Best time to come is late afternoon, that's when it really comes alive! From street performers every couple of feet, budding musicians, countless thrift and souvenir shops, bars and cafes, you won't run out of things to see and do. Stop at the skate park to watch the skaters do their thing. People watch and see Venice in full stride, you may even cross a film crew or two! Once you reach the end of the Promenade South Venice, head up to the top of the Venice Fishing pier. Look back and take in the miles of coastline in front of you.
On the way back, steer off of the promenade and take a relaxing walk back along the beach barefoot. Pass the iconic Baywatch lifeguard huts and steal a quick selfie! (Psst - There is even one RAINBOW lifeguard hut!)
Fact: There are public toilets to use right next to Muscle Beach! Not glamorous, but free!
Real talk: Muscle Beach's outdoor gym may have been all the rage back in the 80's with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but now all of the equipment looks about 20 years old and brown with rust. On the plus side, they have an awesome smoothie shop directly opposite with some healthy / protein packed beverages!
Real talk: We were shocked by how many homeless people that are based here. They were literally dotted all the way along the grassy verge of the promenade, it was quite an eye opener.
Bold and bright food corners along Venice Promenade.
Watch the skateboarders go!
Become a Baywatch babe for the day with the iconic lifeguard huts!
THE RAINBOW HUT!
12. RENT A BEACH CRUISER!
Put 'It's like riding a bike' into action as you cruise the 3 miles from Venice Beach to Santa Monica Pier! The designated bike path caters for bikes, scooters and skaters alike, there are even electronic scooters, called 'Birds', dotted around which you can rent via the 'Bird - Enjoy The Ride' App. We went old-school and decided to get pedalling on a classic beach cruiser!
It only takes a leisurely 10/15 minutes by bike, we actually ended up going back and forth quite a few times - what a workout! It's so much fun, and a perfect way to see everything this iconic stretch of sand has to offer.
Tip: We reserved our beach cruisers from 'Ride! Venice'. A small pocket on the Venice Promenade, they have beach cruisers to rival the rainbow, as well as scooters and skates. Reserve online before you go and pick up on the day (bring your e-mail confirmation with you). Check them out here!
Tip: The 'Ride! Venice' Beach cruisers come with a lock and chain as standard, so just stop and lock up on the bike racks!
A 'His & Hers' beach cruiser kind of day!
13. HAVE FUN AT Santa Monica PIER!
Sat at the end of Route 66, you will find Santa Monica Pier. Wander onto this iconic wooden walkway for old-school amusement arcades, fairground rides, magicians, performers and nautical restaurants which give Santa Monica Pier the electric, vibrant vibe it's known for.
Tip: Have a partner you want tuckering out? Let them loose on the 'Original Muscle Beach' just before Santa Monica Pier. A vast set of outdoor gym apparatus that certainly keeps them entertained! Exhibit A:
An amazing street performer on the Pier.
Liam always trying to think ahead of the magician! I can see the cogs turning!
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