Out and About in LA

Friday morning saw your two intrepid travellers up at the crack of 6:00 for an 8:40 LA City Tours pickup for the A1 “Grand Tour of LA: Baywatch Beaches, Hollywood Homes and Downtown Los Angeles” tour. After waiting for half an hour, the 28 seater minibus appeared and we were off with our guide Nick, a transplanted Brit. We crossed LA via the south central area, past the La Brea oil fields – a bizarre mini-Texas in the middle of LA –

onto the world’s smallest freeway, down to the Fishermen’s Village at Marina del Rey, where we had a bathroom break and picked up a few more people. From the marina, the world’s largest small boat parking area, we drove through the Venice canal area – quite lovely – with beautiful small cottages on either side of the watery inlets, and stopped at Venice Beach for a walkaround of the beach and boardwalk.

In Venice it’s legal to sell pot, so lots of reggae,  Bob Marley, rasta, and marijuana regalia was on offer; along the beach a special area is set aside for graffiti artists to paint the trees and cement walls. The beach stretches for miles, as does the boardwalk; it was a beautiful day and lots of folks were out strolling, skating, cycling and lounging.

From Venice, a relatively poor LA suburb, we drove through Santa Monica, a rich one, and past the pier, with its ferris wheel; from there, we headed back into downtown LA to the Pueblo area, north-east of where Tracey and I are staying, the area where the Spanish first founded the city of Los Angeles. We had a brief stop at Olvera Street, but as far as I could tell, the only stuff for sale was pretty standard Mexican souvenirs. Next up, we were back on another freeway, up into the Beachwood Canyon for photos of the Hollywood sign,

then speeding off to Hollywood Boulevard for our lunch stop: here a stroll along the Walk of Fame and a visit to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, along with a quick burrito lunch, was the order of the moment.

After lunch, we headed up into the hills, past the Hollywood Bowl to Mulholland Drive, a street which snakes its way up the hillside, and pulled into a very small viewpoint parking area where some nimrod had parked his Buick blocking the entrance, much to the annoyance of driver Nick. The view of the city was spectacular from there and we could see downtown far away in the distance. Once down the hill again, we drove up into Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Holman Hills, and West Hollywood, past the luxury homes of the LA rich and famous, among whose houses we saw those of Will Smith, Christina Aguillera, Nicolas Cage (whose house is for sale since he’s bankrupt from a series of bad investments), Tom Cruise, Whitney Houston, and the last mansion of poor old Michael Jackson.

This last, the place where MJ died, is a stars’ homes tour hot spot, and buses were pulling in and out as a number of our people jumped out for photos. MJ’s mansion is on the block for $90 million; not the most expensive home here; that honour goes to the Spelling Mansion, currently looking for a buyer at $150 million. The homes in this area are way too big and way too ostentations – totally unnecessary in my view but what do I know … The alleyways of Beverly Hills are fenced off so that the homeless can’t get in and make a mess of the garbage and recycling cans of the rich and famous.

From the leafy green well-manicured paradise of the LA wealthy we drove back down along Sunset Strip, the street made by rock and roll, and had a bit of time on Rodeo Drive, LA’s high-end shopping mecca. Since I’m not a shopper at other than thrift and vintage palaces, this wasn’t really my bag but it was interesting to see the wares on display and the expensive vehicles cruising down the strip. I was starting to lose steam as we pulled up to the O Hotel some 8 hours later.

After a little rest, Tracey and I were up and off again to the Biltmore Millenium, built in 1923 as the largest hotel west of Chicago. It is so very lavishly decorated in sculpture, gilt, chandeliers and roccoco embellishments that it reminded me of some of the Renaissance palaces in Florence, such as the Palazzo Pitti and the Palazzo della Signoria. Old photos from Hollywood’s glory days decorate some of the walls, including pictures of the Academy Awards from the 1930s which were held in the hotel’s crystal ballroom with the likes of Clark Gable and Errol Flynn. Later, we had a bite at Maria’s Italian Kitchen on Wilshire to complete the day.

Saturday once again saw us out front of the O Hotel waiting for a tour pickup, this time from Starline Tours, with whom we were going to the Getty Center in Brentwood. A gigantic white double decker bus pulled up out front about 9, we hopped on, and, after cruising around the downtown area picking up passengers, were transferred to a smaller minibus for the trip to the Getty. The five of us on board were dropped off half an hour later at the bottom of the hill on the top of which rests the Getty and a tram whisked us up to the Museum.

The Getty Center is spectacular. Opened in 1997, it was designed by Richard Meier and built of Italian travertine marble, and, after inheriting $1.2 billion when J Paul Getty died, is the richest museum in the world. The museum is a complex of white blocks and curvalinear lines arranged in many levels overlooking the city of LA way down below. Its gardens are beautiful, as are the outdoor sculpture areas. Inside Tracey and I got through most of the rooms and saw the many fabulous artifacts on display, all the way from medieval illuminated manuscripts to modern dcoumentary photography and grand manner prints. I really enjoyed the photography, especially a very large work documenting the work of Iraq War surgeons on American soldiers – really stunning – and a set of images on LA girl culture which were disturbing in their own way. We also managed to catch the special J-L Gerome show, a collection of the 19th century French painter’s neo-classical and orientalist masterpieces. The weather was beautiful and it was a fantastic way to spend our last day in LA.

I have to say that, although all the people I dealt with at Starline Tours were great, the company is so big that the getting picked up and dropped off and transferred from bus to bus just takes altogether too long. And our bus driver knew absolutely nothing about the Getty (basically saying that we shouldn’t bother going in the museum but rather just look around the gardens instead) even though he’s probably been driving people up to it for 12 years. I highly recommend LA City Tours instead – their minibus was comfortable and Nick the guide is knowledgable, funny and efficient.

For more info on the Getty, click here.

To see more pictures of the LA Trip click here.

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