This post is based on more than one visit. Whenever we go to the USA, we inevitably fly home out of LA, so always do 2-3 days there before heading home. I must say I do like the vibe of LA, entrenched as it is in movies and TV; everyone you meet is connected to it in some way, or wants to be in it. Lots of happy, smiley people – must be all that blue sky and sunshine – or they hope that you’re someone who’ll ‘discover’ them. With generally lovely weather all year round, it makes a great last stop before leaving the US.
Then of course there’s the famous Rodeo Drive…..
….and the Beverly Wilshire where “Pretty Woman” was set. We have stayed there and the service is excellent.
The Badgely Mischka store is the site of the “Big Mistake. Huge” scene.
The first time we went we did this awesome three hour tour with a guide called “LA Story”, who had lots of interesting stories to tell and taking us to the major sights. We started off with the Dolby Theatre where they hold the Oscars.
You can see they are planning to hold the Oscars here for decades to come – plenty of blank spaces waiting to be filled. The stars go for a few kilometres – there are over 2,500 of them.
In the front of the Chinese Theatre (where the Oscars were originally held) there are all the concrete handprints. The Marito perfectly matched Arnold Schwarznegger – I am not sure if that is good or bad.
The guide also took us up to a very pretty spot called Greystone Mansion, which isn’t visited a lot – in fact there was no one there at all where we went. Plenty of films have been shot here.
Next we went for a drive around Hollywood and Beverly Hills checking out mansions like this one. There are some incredible houses…..
….and also some slightly weird ones
And of course up to the Hollywood sign – you can’t get very close as the security is tight, but there are some great spots for photos.
Though apparently you have to be careful!
There’s also the Santa Monica Pier; yes it is touristy, but it’s still lovely for a wander.
And if you’re up for theme parks, of course there’s Disneyland and Universal Studios.
Tips for Disneyland
I never went to Disneyland as a kid so went as an adult with my own kids. I didn’t have high expectations actually and I had a total blast! Here are a few (hopefully useful) tips:
1. Try and stay at the hotels on the Disneyland resort complex – either the Disneyland Hotel or the Grand California (but note they tend to book out a long time in advance). Why? A few reasons. First, it’s a nice stroll from there to the park so you don’t have to get a shuttle; on the way you’ll pass plenty of cafes and restaurants and a few stores. Secondly, staying at one of these hotels lets you enter Disneyland or California Adventure Park (note these are two parks next to each other in the grounds), an hour before general admission. We actually ended up going on some rides early in the morning before breakfast, there were no queues at that time. Third, if you don’t want to walk to the park from your hotel, show your room key and you can get the monorail which drops you off inside the park, so you don’t have to go through the (sometimes very long) queues at the entry. And finally, if you buy items at the stores, several stores will send them to your room for you, rather than having to carry them around all day.
2. Be prepared for the fact that the food inside the park is generally horrendous and very expensive. I think you can bring your own, but not sure what condition it would be in after some roller coasters and on a hot day!
3. Wait till your kids reach 125cm (my personal opinion). I saw loads of people with smaller children and toddlers and strollers, and sure there is stuff for them to see and do, but they can’t go on many rides if they aren’t at this height. If you have kids of varying ages and one is smaller, one parent ends up going on the ride with some kids while the other one waits with the younger child – not quite as much fun!
4. Take note of which rides offer a “Fast Pass”. The queues for the popular rides can be astronomical, so some have a Fast Pass option which allows you to go down the “fast” queue. Just go up to the Fast Pass kiosk for that ride, scan your Disney admission pass, and it will allocate you a specific time for the ride and a ticket. When it gets to that time, go to the ride, present your Fast Pass, and you get to go down the very short and quick queue. Note that you can’t just wander around collecting Fast Passes for every ride one after the other; once you have used one Fast Pass ticket you can get another one for the next ride. There are a limit to the number of Fast Passes per ride, so often your allocated timeslot might still be a few hours away.
5. If you go pretty full on, in three days you can do most of Disney (assuming you won’t want to go on every single ride) and have a wander through California Adventure Park; the latter has a lot less rides. We found three days enough, but if you want to take your time, go for a 5 day pass. The “Park Hopper” ticket allows admission to both.
6. Disneyland does not have a ‘low season’ – it is ALWAYS busy!
7. Rides not to miss – the “mountain” rides (Ice Mountain, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain); Indiana Jones; for Star Wars fans Star Tours is great. In California Adventure Park we loved Soarin’ Over California and the Grizzly River Run is fun
8. Various hotels and restaurants in the theme park offer “character breakfasts” where Disney characters are wandering around at breakfast entertaining the children. These are ridiculously expensive. Plenty of characters wandering around the park you can take photos with so I don’t think this is essential.
Unlike Disneyland, it’s a fairly small park and a day here is enough. If you pay extra there is a “front of line” pass which lets you skip the queues – the wait times for some of the rides on the day we were there were well over an hour. Next year the Harry Potter ride opens and queues will be even bigger.
The backlot tour is very cool. All the sets are fake – made out of plastic and wood. Some of the building facades are roll on fibre glass, and the buildings are narrow and not at all full size. Clever camera perspective makes them appear much bigger.
For instance the Psycho house is really small in real life!
Sets get used and re-used with a bit of tweaking so that you don’t recognise them from previous films. Here is the Back to the Future set which has been used many a time. The gazebo was used more recently in Saving Mr Banks.
You’ll see how they create a flood….
And the fake subway that was first built for Bones
And the War of the Worlds set that took nine months to build for less than five minutes of film time
We also got to go into the prop room which was very cool. It’s a four level building, with larger stuff like furniture down the bottom, and tiny things – as small as hair clips – on the upper levels. You’ll see “hold” signs throughout where various shows have reserved an item.
Where to eat in Beverly Hills
We’ve tried quite a few places, from casual to high end. For casual and family friendly Italian, try Il Fornaio or Il Pastaio in the heart of Beverly Hills. For something a little fancier, try Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza – sophisticated environment, excellent service, and some great food. I particularly liked the duck “alla mattone”. For steak Wolfgang Puck’s Cut is renowned, and it is very good with very attentive staff, but comes at a price. Ivy, the supposed celebrity haunt, was a big miss on the food, even though the surrounds are pretty – overpriced and overhyped, even though every guide book suggests it. Villa Blanca, apparently owned by one of the Real Housewives, is pleasant, sit on the verandah and people watch. Scarpetta has also opened in Beverly Hills – if it is anything like Scott Conant’s New York one, it will be worth a visit. For a sweet treat after dinner in Beverly Hills there’s plenty to choose from on South Santa Monica Boulevard – Sprinkles for cupcakes, then Sprinkles Ice Creamery, the Ice Cream Lab for liquid nitrogen ice cream, Sugafina for pretty sugary things, and then Italy’s Amorrino Gelateria, which is great quality gelato. I have heard the Grand Central Market in downtown LA is great, but ran out of time.