I’d been really concerned about the horror stories of LA traffic. This sat in the back of my mind as I made my way back from Joshua Tree, via a scenic detour at Bear Lake. Turns out, I was either worried about nothing – or exceptionally lucky. It was smooth, with only the smallest hints of congestion at some of the entrances/exits. Actually, when I look back and think about my time in LA, I was lucky enough to have escaped any of the traffic nightmares that I’ve heard about – though, we certainly spent plenty of time driving around the sprawl of the city.
I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend that currently is living in Hollywood. I wasn’t all that interested in the celebrity culture, but since it was right on our doorstep, my friend humoured me and together we went on a walk through tourist central.
It’s another one of these places that I’ve seen so much of, that it felt eerily familiar. I won’t lie, it was a bit of a novelty walking along the footpath, recognising the names of actors/directors, obsessively wanting to search for more and more, like a kid playing Pokémon. It was also a laugh seeing the (kitchy) costumes – which amazingly people were paying to be photographed with (which I can only assume was as a joke).
It was a gorgeous day, and I felt the need to go look at the Hollywood sign – though, I fought the urge to actually hike out to it. I won’t lie, it was a fun novelty seeing this iconic sight.
After a lazy afternoon, we made our way to Griffith Observatory to catch the sunset. The size and variety of scenery in this city continued to amaze me. Entering the parkland on the way up to the observatory felt like we’d escaped the city – even though it was only one or two corners away from being visible. Being up at the observatory for sunset was not a unique idea, and we’d joined a slow procession of cars making a similar journey. We’d briefly considered parking in the lower grounds of the park and hiking up, but neither of us were too keen on the idea of hiking back down in the fading twilight. Like lots of L.A, I had this feeling of deja-vu as I approached the observatory. The building felt so familiar, after seeing it in countless TV/films/videogames.
The sunset itself wasn’t anything memorable, but it was fantastic watching the lights of the city start to glow, with the tail/headlights of thousands of cars in their slow procession down the enormous roads of this city.
Not only was L.A about driving around and seeing the sites, it was also eating enormous meals. I remember first moving to San Francisco, and I wasn’t that overwhelmed by the portion sizes, but I had American friends tell me that things change outside of the city. While L.A wasn’t quite what they had in mind, I was already feeling the difference here. It’s rare for me to give up on a meal (mostly because I hate the idea of food going to waste), but I was forced to abandon on this pancake stack.
We visited Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, because it’s kind of my name, it’s an L.A institution, and I love chicken and waffles. We were fortunate to have arrived early enough that the wait was quite moderate. Of course, I got the fried chicken and waffles – though it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’ve had it a few times in London, and it’s been thick fluffy Belgian-style waffles, with equally thick/juicy buttermilk fried chicken fillets. This chicken was exceptionally crispy, and still quite juicy, but it was definitely dryer, and the bone made it much harder to shovel down my throat. The waffles were also quite thin and almost crispy. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of imagination, but it wasn’t quite the meal that I had experienced before – and had therefore expected.
There were also burgers, ramen, and Korean BBQ crammed into the few days I had in L.A.
Another friend (this time from university – QUT Motorsport) moved here several years ago, so I took the opportunity to catch up with him while I was in town. He was checking out a retro car show, which I couldn’t say no to. It was super cheesy, and a whole lot of fun. There were some classic 80s cars on show, as well as plenty of people dressed for the occasion.
It was also right by the La Brea Tar Pits, which had an unmistakable smell of tar bubbling away from the inky black pool – complete with a rather traumatic recreation of animals coming to a tragic end in the pools.
There was just enough time to make it out to Santa Monica to catch the sunset. Being a motorcyclist (these days), I’m not used to the struggles of parking a car, but thankfully persistence and patience were rewarded. I powered past the crowds of slow walkers towards the pier as I watched the sun sink lower and lower towards the ocean.
I’d just made it to the pier when the last rays of the day were hidden behind the Pacific Ocean. I walked around the pier, but I couldn’t find the motivation to ride the rides by myself…
Again, there was the makings of a nice sunset, with a warm glow lingering on the horizon, but it quickly faded into night. And with that, the neon of the amusements on the pier started to take over, lighting up the area in a vivid fashion.
Venice Beach and Surrounds
I spent the night with my old university friend at his place in the south of the city. It was Monday morning, and he was up early to go to work, which forced (allowed) me to get an early start – and also allowed me to drive up the Pacific Coast. It wasn’t straight forward, but I was able to follow the coast for a significant time, pulling in to check out small and quieter beaches along the way.
It was warm and sunny, with beautiful clear skies. It was the start of December, so maybe not a good time to make a comparison, but the water still felt as cold as San Francisco – and judging by all the surfers in their full length wetsuits, it’s not an outlier of an opinion.
The eventual goal was to go see Venice Beach. Once I arrived, I wasn’t actually all that sure what it was that I wanted to see here, and just wandered aimlessly up and down the beach, to see what the fuss was about.
The first thing I found, and overwhelmingly so, were electric scooters. It reminded me of the early days of them coming to San Francisco, with them littering the footpath. I can see the utility in them, but I just find that they’re misused, and end up becoming litter, so I did get a bit of a chuckle out of seeing this giant shrine to the fallen.
Being early on a Monday morning, in December, there weren’t many (any) tourists, really making it feel like a ghost town, with just a strip of homeless in tents giving the area any sort of activity – and I kind of enjoyed that this time. The area had a surprisingly run down feel to it though, which caught me a little by surprise.
There were old buildings lining the main footpath, with faded painted murals, and a general feeling of decay that had long begun to set in. I was expecting a far more gentrified area, so it was for once a pleasant surprise. There are certainly pockets of polish, but they definitely feel like small islands in a sea of faded enterprises.
I was also expecting a little more of the skate park and outdoor gym, but they were empty – again, Monday morning in December I guess.
I’d walked up and back a considerable distance, looking for something special, but I hadn’t really found that, and was back at the rental car sooner than I’d expected – which gave me the extra time to go explore another part of Los Angeles – the Angeles Forest Park, whose snowy peaks blew my mind that I was able to see from a warm beach!
Angeles Forest Park
I may have only had a small rental Kia, but the driving through this state park was some of the most enjoyable I’ve ever done. The roads were smooth and empty, the views were stunning, and the corners were never-ending. I drove without a plan, just indulging and enjoying the driving experience. I kept forgetting that I was just outside of Los Angeles, as the mountains showed no signs of the proximity to such a major metropolis.
Eventually, the road came to an end – but only due to the winter snows, which again just blew my mind that mountains with snow could be right on LA’s doorstep. It would be so easy to surf the morning, snowboard at lunch, and mountain bike the afternoon. Again, as I’ve said about ten times already, being a Monday in December probably helped with the empty roads – I can only imagine that it gets crowded on weekends in summer. It wasn’t until I turned around to make my way to the airport that I was reminded that I was just outside of LA, catching a glimpse of the sprawl partially obscured by the haze.
I’d anticipated a slow journey back to LAX, so avoided further detours into the park. Once again, the journey was rather smooth, with only minor pockets of congestion. This meant that I’d arrived back a little earlier than needed, and for once I was not rushing for the departures gate. Just before LAX, I saw a giant donut on a shop that I thought I recognised, with a giant queue of cars waiting in the drive-through. I had no hunger, but couldn’t resist a stop to check it out – and damn, was it ever a perfect way to end my time in LA! I can absolutely recommend any visitors to LAX that have a car stop to visit Randy’s Donuts. Also, it turned out that I did recognise it – from Ken Block doing donuts around it!
I was treated to one final sunset, and prepared myself to race for space in the United flight back to cool, windy San Francisco.