A day in LA? As in just one day? Impossible! I can almost hear you think this and you are right. Los Angeles is a massive, massive city and no one will ever be able to explore all parts of the city in just 24 hours. However, since there are a lot of travellers that only have a stay-over in LA before they pick up their rental car or motorhome for a road trip or as a stopover on a long flight to a far away destination, I will share what is possible in a day: to get a feel of the craziness of the second largest city of the USA, and all its contradictions.
I had done my research on cool places and neighbourhoods to book a hotel or apartment, and the choice was a difficult one because of the size of the city and the fact that public transportation is an inefficient way to get from A to B in this city that is completely geared at cars. That is how I came to decide to instead of spending the night in a hip and upcoming area, just stay right there in the centre of all craziness: Hollywood Boulevard.
Arriving from the airport in the evening, the neon lights flashing in my face immediately gave me the feeling I had entered a movie set. After dropping off our luggage, my fellow travellers and I sat down in one of the many touristy and crowded eateries along the Boulevard for some serious people-watching. An excellent way to get a first impression of the city – albeit not in the sense of getting an authentic city feel by mingling with the locals. Eating away on tacos and nachos and sipping a draft beer (strange for a European: no foam), we see ridiculously flashy cars pass by at walking speed. The carefully dressed occupants peer out of the window with their sunglasses on. Let me remind you, it is already dark. This is definitely not a matter of needing to get somewhere, but merely to see and be seen. Pretty sad actually, but all the more fun to watch are those dudes that try so hard to be cool but then cannot control sticking their GoPro out of the window, or those who forget to watch the traffic light, push the pedal in a reflex to the honk behind them, and then clumsily accelerate.
The outdoor table we are sitting at is adjacent to the pavement so we can shamelessly observe all passers-by. Within just ten seconds I see a group of young, overly make-upped girls with hot pants that are so short they could have just worn panties instead; two ladies wearing heals so high they cannot walk in a straight line (and this is only the beginning of the evening); a group of men who I estimate to be in their thirties with an imitation of John Travolta’s Grease walk and alike clothing; a greasy quirky guy on roller skates that has a lady doll attached to his jacket and sways her from left to right as if he is dancing with an actual woman, and an elderly tourist couple in an outfit that looks as if they are about to hit the African steppe. And then of course, a bunch of adults dressed up as a superhero, hoping to earn some money by posing on pictures with Hollywood tourists. Cheers to this free show!
We walk back to the apartment and stop to take a look at a brilliant Michael Jackson dance imitator who has gathered an impressive group of spectators around him. Before we cross the street to our building, I greet two Elvis Presley impersonators who are catching up on what the day has brought them with a can of beer in their hands. As the traffic lights turns green they start singing. What a crazy colourful bunch we are, human beings.
The next morning I rise to a city bathing in sunlight. From the rooftop terrace I can see the white letters of the Hollywood sign in the distance. Some dozen stories below me, I see the pink stars of the Walk of Fame and a boulevard that is not yet crammed with cars. While I am watching this street scene, a lone musician crosses the street with a guitar in his hands. The Walk of Fame is definitely not for everyone. On our way to breakfast at cosy Tioga Coffee, we step on pink and gold stars with names of world famous artists and pass a handful of homeless people in just 50 metres. Delicious breakfast unfortunately is also not for everybody.
The rich and poor, the flashy and the sloppy, contradictions are never far away in LA. Walking from the Hollywood Boulevard to the Grove, we pass an enormous white Scientology quarter, then a couple of dilapidated street with cracked concrete slates with weeds growing out, and garbage laying in the street corners. I then enter a similar street, but this one is brightened up by colourful graffiti art on the brick side walls of the adjacent buildings. A luxurious neighbourhood follows, where shiny cars are neatly parked next to meticulously kept gardens with bright green grass. Its colour is in stark contrast with the public patches of grass in the city that have all turned beige because of the heat. Just before we pass the huge complex of the CBS studios (the one where James Corden hosts the rich & famous in the Late Late Show) I see a guitar laying on the pavement, shattered in pieces. Although many a superstar demolishes a guitar on stage from time to time, I am pretty sure this poor instrument used to belong to someone who did not make it as a guest starring in the Late Late Show to be broadcasted to millions of viewers.
The first destination of our city walk is the Original Farmers Market. To be honest, I am not as impressed as I had hoped I would be. The market is more crowded with tourists than it is original, but I have to say I really do like the odd Sticker Planet – an entire store that sells only stickers – and simply love the organic milkshake from Local Ice. It might just be the first and only time in my life that I am actually enjoying the brain freeze after the first big sip, as LA is crazy, crazy hot!
For lunch, we sit down at Dominique Ansel at the Grove, where we enjoy the breeze on the terrace on the second floor while the servers come round with plates of culinary goodness that come straight from the kitchen. Sharing an array of delicious dishes is a fun concept, but if you are on a tight budget or plan to spend your money in of the many shops at the Grove you have to control yourself and skip a round now and then. We treat ourselves to savoury and sweet dishes from lobster rolls to cinnamon rolls, and once again enjoy people-watching. In the centre of the Grove, a stage has been set up and a stylishly dressed group of gospel singers starts to rehearse. When the show is about to start, we make our way downstairs for the perfect desert: music. It turns out to be a Grand Desert as the swinging performance is Jason McGee & The Choir, who have also performed with icons such as Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.
From one form of art we make our way to the next: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I will be honest with you though, after the long walk through the Summer heat none of us were really up for a museum visit anymore. Instead, we just enjoyed the two outdoor installations that are placed in the freely accessible garden. I particularly liked ‘Urban Light’ by Chris Burden, a piece of art made up from hundreds of vintage LA street lights.
Urban lights is also what we see from the final destination of our self-made LA day tour. Not hundreds though, but thousands. We head up to the Griffith Observatory to explore some mind-bending topics such as our Sun being just a tiny, tiny star in the universe, and then take in grand views of the entire LA Basin from the viewing decks. As the sun sets, we breathlessly watch the sky turn all hues of pink, yellow and orange and then disappear leaving the skies behind in darkness. All around us, thousands of lights make sure that the hustle and bustle of the city continues. It is in this moment that the vast expense of LA becomes more than just the cause of my tired legs after a long, long day of walking.
Exploring LA in a day yourself?
The first decision to make is whether you want to explore the artsy city life or eccentric beach life. Santa Monica and the Venice Boardwalk are typical LA hang-outs but combining these with the Walk of Fame and a museum is almost impossible because of all the traffic. Public transportation is an inefficient way to get from A to B in this city that is completely geared at cars. For us, Uber was the answer to the farthest distances in Hollywood/Mid-City/Griffith Park. If you are not travelling with a group or not such a big fan of walking, Uber can become a bit expenisve. You might want to check out the Hop-on Hop-off bus as an alternative.
Depending on your arrival time and jetlag, you could decide to explore the Walk of Fame or Griffith Observatory at night (which is most fun anyway) and head out to the coast the next day and catch a Pacific sunset.
Exploring other parts of USA?
Read our travel stories on hiking in Monument Valley, experiencing the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, cruising along Highway 1, the ultimate road trip Route 66, or something completely different: exploring New York City.