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Universal Studios
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Harry Potter brings another dimension to Universal Studios

Five tips to navigate Universal Studios Hollywood without a Fast Pass

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter brings another dimension to Universal Studios Hollywood.  For us locals who have had a couple of Annual Passes (previously the best value for money Annual Pass in SoCal) it is bittersweet.  Yes, you get two more rides and there’s so much more to see and do but with that comes the increased park fees, less attractive Annual Pass options and bigger crowds.  All in the name of progress it seems.

When it comes to Universal Studios one of the most frequent questions I get asked is “Do I need to buy a Front of Line Fast Pass?” or “Should I get VIP Tickets?”  The answer is no … and yes.

VIP tickets essentially get you a special Studio Tour, VIP access to the Shows and front of line to all the rides so it’s a good package.  But that good package comes at a pretty hefty price tag so it doesn’t always work with people’s budgets.

Front of Line gets you front of line to all the rides and Shows but also comes at a pretty hefty price tag.  And once again doesn’t always work with people’s budgets.

The correct answer is Universal Studios is achievable at all budgets and here are my tricks-of-the-trade to help get you around the Park with minimum wait times.

Five tips to navigate Universal Studios Hollywood without a Fast Pass.

1. Buy tickets online before you go

It will save so much time at the gates and so much effort.  Be sure you’re able to print your tickets before you go too.  Most hotels have printing facilities.  It pays to decide what date you’re going and book it well in advance.  Universal is now selling a limited number of tickets per day at the discounted rate so the earlier you do it, the more savings you can maximise.  If you don’t know what day you are going to go it will cost you up to $16 more.  (Yes, I found this out the hard way!).

Click here to buy tickets.

2. Get there early

I can’t stress enough how it will change your experience—the earlier you get there the better.  If you are driving get there half an hour (30 minutes) before the Park opens, this gives you time to wait in the queue to pay for parking, park and walk to the Park.

Yes, it can take that long—especially if you’ve got little ones.

3. Go during the week (if you can)

Three reasons to go during the week:

  1. It’s cheaper
  2. It’s less busy
  3. You get to see more in the backlot.

The backlot is active all the time but it is most often in actual use (you know? For actual shoots—ad, TV or movies) during the week.  That could mean that you are diverted from seeing certain parts of the Backlot but it’s kinda cool that they’re shooting something—it feels more like you’re in Hollywood.

4. Do the rides first

If you’re reading this (and not just scanning the sub-heads) then you’re being rewarded.  Do the rides in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter World first.  (See how I did that?)  Being the newest attraction in Universal Studios Hollywood Harry Potter world is the most busy—and with reason.  My advice is to make a beeline there first and try to beat the crowds.

After that I would double back just a little and experience the Minions.  This ride is also pretty new and gets crazy busy.  (If you don’t want to double back and you have arrived right on opening it is pretty safe to start here).

Once you’ve done Harry Potter then head for the bottom lot, it’s got three rides, The Mummy, Transformers and Jurassic Park.  Do Transformers first.

Once you’ve done that then The Simpsons ride is right at the top of the escalators.  Don’t do it on the way down, do it on the way back.  The queue for the Transformers ride can get long.

Then you’re safe to head to the Backlot tour (check wait times as they vary through the day) and pick a couple of the shows to see.  If you had to pick one Show I’d go to Waterworld, it’s fun, entertaining and keeps everyone amused.

The only other ride I haven’t mentioned is Shrek.  We only did it the first time we went.  Don’t get me wrong we enjoyed it but it can be quite a wait.  The upside is the attraction fits a lot of people so a lot of people get in at once.  The drawback is the number of Front of Line pass holders that jump the queue and get in before you.  If you miss out because there are a number of them then the wait for the next time around seems like an eternity.  It’s not always the case. Fingers crossed it’s OK for you.

5.  Eat early

Come 12:00 everyone’s body clocks are telling them it’s time to start thinking about food, but they hold off because they’re having so much fun.  But …  come 1:00 everyone is eating, or trying to get food and trying to find somewhere to sit.  So eat before the masses eat and avoid the queues (not to mention get a table) then ride the rides when the masses are eating.

 

Universal Studios is a lot of fun.  You’ll notice after about 1:00 that the sea of people grows and it becomes harder to walk around.  That’s your cue to exit stage left.  Not really but if you’ve done most of the attractions and you don’t need to battle it out and stand in lines then it’s a much, much better experience.  Have fun, I’m jealous, I still love going.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: I’d love to hear about how you went. Was I right? Can you offer some advice? Chime in.

Ausmerican
My LA story, Posts

Perspective: an expat’s realisation

I had virtually written this week’s post.  I started writing it on the weekend because it had been a busy week so the content practically wrote itself.  And then Sunday night (Monday in Australia) happened.

On our way home from checking out Grinchmas at Universal Studios I was getting ready to post some pics on Facebook and Instagram and started seeing some disturbing posts.  The posts were confused initially but all saying that if you don’t have urgent work in the City you should turn back because a large part of the City near Martin Place was in lockdown and there was a siege going on.  In my hometown of Sydney.  What became more clear a couple of hours later was that someone had taken over a coffee shop in Martin Place—the Lindt Café—and was holding hostages.  The situation was being treated more seriously than a standard robbery and early speculation suggested terrorism.

American news covers America-only content

We raced home to put the TV on and see what was going on.  There was a mention on one of the local news channels and they concluded the short update with “we’re keeping an eye on the situation.”  I was so sure CNN would be covering it—it had all the ingredients of 24/7 rolling action.  Nothing.  Normal Sunday night programming which was a basically a magazine-style current affairs show rather than news.  Say what?

Naturally my first reaction was to take to Facebook to vent.  It seems there was online coverage but no TV news networks had picked up the story.  Thankfully we have a Samsung Smart TV and Channel 9 and ABC.net in Australia had live streaming (Channels 7 & 10 the other free-to-air stations streaming didn’t work “in our geography”).

I was really shocked that CNN decided it didn’t warrant rolling coverage.  (It did in Australia btw).  Or any other TV news network here.

I’m living in a country where a car chase stops programming and we all stop to watch it.  I’m also living in a country that itself lives in fear of terrorism so I thought they could hype up Sydney’s misfortune and bring in expert after expert to analyse how this event might impact the United States of ‘merica. We were glued to our TV all night and I had Twitter by my side; I slept on the couch and kept checking in to see if any progress had been made.

At 7am my husband woke me up and we turned on the American news.  It was on the news by now—clearly they realised the enormity of the situation—and had made many front pages around the US.

CNN had finally come to the party that the next morning (I’m not sure when it started its broadcast) and they were doing exactly what I’d expected them to do 12 hours earlier—analysing the situation.  Excellent, we have coverage.

I hopped on Twitter to see what was going on and there it was breaking news that more hostages had escaped.  But CNN hadn’t cut to it.  So it was back to online streaming because we wanted to follow the local news that did have a direct vested interest in covering the news as it was happening.  (Oh wait, isn’t that CNN’s tagline?).

That night once it was all but over it was covered on CBS but it didn’t even lead the news coverage.  I can’t even remember what did.  To be fair it was a good story and re-capped the story well for us.

Disconnect with home

That’s when you realise you’re an expat living in a city that’s temporarily your own but it doesn’t always share the same interests as you do.  When something big happens at home you are still hugely connected there but getting news from far away can be tough.  As I’ve said over and over thank god for the Internet.

(When my dad was an expat in the Philippines he used to have a gigantic short wave radio so he could pick up the cricket.  In his day he had to rely on the commentators providing the visual for him.  He often listened to the cricket rather than watching it he was so attuned to it–to listen with him I had to learn the names of all the fielding positions.  But he learnt to adapt to being far from home and living in a country that didn’t share his passion for cricket.)

I lived in China so I’m used to the sick feeling you get when something big is going down in your home country and you’re not privy to the news.  It makes you feel disconnected and isolated.  Thank god for social media and live streaming.  (At least in China we had the Australia Network—a service taken away from all expats thanks to budget cuts).

I hadn’t even given it a second thought that CNN wouldn’t cover the siege as it was unfolding on Sunday night.  I didn’t want to read about it; I wanted to watch it.  Live.  That’s why/how CNN was invented.

Yes I got on my high horse.  I was shocked.  This was so big to me but it wasn’t big enough to interrupt normal programming.  It made me realise two things:

  1. America doesn’t really care unless it’s happening here.
  2. Australia is not as important to the worldwide stage as we like to think.

Before you get all defensive … I don’t mean that negatively.

America is not to blame here.  As a PR chick I taught media training and one of the strongest news angles when pitching a story is local relevance.  There was none.  Unless this was a global co-ordinated attack it has no (real) relevance to the US.  They did want to keep abreast of the shocking situation but they didn’t need to watch the situation unfold.

The news networks are pretty expert at hyping news but it was too early to make that leap.  Even for CNN.  To the Australian news however it was very relevant.

I don’t know why I thought CNN would cover it.  I suppose because it was absolutely relevant to ME and I forgot for a minute where I was.

It was funny though as part of Australia’s news coverage the networks were all saying, “We made the global news, it was all over the news in the US.”  Well yes it was covered online and it made the front pages (thanks most likely to that Islamic flag in the window) and the breakfast news shows obviously covered it, CNN got hold of it for a while; but it wasn’t really all America was talking about.  We’re a little country and we like to think we garner a lot of attention but we don’t really.  And that’s all right.

The news was so significant for my fellow Australians, many came back into Martin Place to pay tribute to the hostages and particularly the two heroes that didn’t make it.

 

Off the high horse now and back to what else is going on in 90210.

I don’t know where last week went.  I truly don’t.  I don’t think that’s a good sign given we’re creeping into the end of 2014.

America the good: car services

You know how in Australia you flinch when it’s time to get your car serviced?  You book your car in stay strong and try really hard not to get “done in” by the dealer (because you know this is how they make their money).

I had to take my car back for a service because I needed new brake pads.  Pain in the backside really as I just had my car serviced a month or so ago.  But the good thing is you don’t bleed your wallet dry when you get your car serviced here.  I’m not sure if it’s the same for every brand of car but BMW offers an ultimate service package when you buy your car.  That means we don’t pay for anything when it comes to servicing our car.  That’s right: nudda, zilch, zero, no more to pay.  That is with the exception of windscreen wiper blades (which you don’t need in LA because it never rains here).

I know, you’re probably thinking the same as me: it’s “free” but they’ll find something to charge you for.  They all do.  That’s how dealers make their money.  But there again is another reason I just think we’re being taken for a ride in Australia.  How does a BMW dealer make money if they’re not charging you for the service?  I’ve had two services and walked away: “no charge”.  I don’t know and I don’t care.  I love it.

User pays.  For everything.

Having said that it really is a user-pays system here.  Everything we do is paid for.  Here in 90210 everything is outsourced: gardener, housekeeping, security, car-washing, Christmas lights, dog walking odd jobs and every little thing you can possibly imagine.  It’s what makes the US economy tick over and how people earn a living.

Over and over I relish in the great American way as it directly affects my daily life (and how easy it can be).  I’m not sure if I’ve said this before but things like getting your car washed and valet parking are so cost effective it’s a way of life here.  I especially love valet parking.

But there are other ways this user-pays system just gets out of control.  Take the health care system.  I really am not very tuned in to the intricacies of how it works.  It’s taken me 18 months to start to understand our health cover.

When my mum was visiting she had an unfortunate accident, slipped and cut her head open.  I took her to an Emergency Centre nearby and I have to say we got the most incredible service.  They gave her a CT scan, looked after her, checked her out and before we knew it we were on our way back home again.  Too easy.

A month or so later I got two bills: one for the CT scan and one for $892 for “emergency physician service and “surgical repair wound”.  Fair enough, no problems.  We paid the bills, she claimed it on her travel insurance and we both agreed it was a great tribute to the health system that it was so simple, efficient and painless (except for the stapling which I believe was anything but painless).  A week or so ago I (she) got a bill for $4,000+.  Say what?  There was no description on the invoice so I called them to see what it was for.  “I thought we settled our bill,” I said.

“Mam, this is the “facility charge”.  Because you’re not insured that’s the invoice amount that is due to be paid by you.”

“So it’s a new charge that we have to pay?  I’m not all paid up?”

“That’s right mam”.

Oh my god.  We were there for two hours.  Let’s call it three hours and that’s $1335 per hour.  I’m in the wrong business.  How can sitting in a bed in an emergency centre cost $1335?  And that doesn’t include the physician—we’ve already paid for him.

That’s more expensive than a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  I know where I’d rather be.

Gatecrashing

I was invited to my first-ever Holiday Gift Exchange.  Sounds so American doesn’t it?  I know.  This Ausmerican loved it.  It was so fun.  Like the game White Elephant that the kids play you all draw a number from a “hat”.  Starting at one and working your way up  when it’s your turn you either choose a present or you can steal someone else’s.  Each present is up for grabs twice and the third time it’s locked or frozen and it’s yours for keeps.

Three chicks host this every year—two of them are my friends.  So given they pull together around 18 people we all went around the room and introduced ourselves.  I simply said, “Hi, my name’s Gwen I saw the light on so thought I’d come in.  I’m the gatecrasher.”

“Wait who…?  Gate what?”

A room-crasher? Do you mean door crasher?

They had no idea what or who a gate crasher was.

(For the record a gatecrasher is someone who finds out about a party and isn’t invited and “crashes” the party.)

Literally

Speaking of language I’ve been chuckling to myself recently about how Californians love the word “literally”.  Everything is literally literally.  A bit like like.  So in a sentence …

“It has literally been raining for like two days.”

(I know pretty clever fitting like in there two huh?)

Cracks me up.  My daughter has been guilty of literally sneaking literally into her vocab.

But watching the Australian news for a couple of days I’ve realised our word is “certainly”.  In a sentence …

“This situation at the Lindt Café in Martin Place has certainly rocked our Nation.”

What’s your equivalent word?  Would literally certainly love to hear it.

Happy Hanukkah to all as it started last night and goes for eight days.  Merry Christmas to the rest of you for next week. Stay safe and after this week’s events in Sydney never take your loved ones for granted. Big hugs all ’round.  We’re off to light a candle at a local Australian-run establishment in West Hollywood in honour of the two people who died as they had ties back to our local Aussie community.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

LA Restaurants, Posts, Visiting LA

What to do in LA: in a day, weekend, week or month

We had friends in town over the weekend (yes again!) and the whole family loved being out and about showing them “our LA”.

Like me when I first came to LA many people who holiday here are a little nonchalant about it.  LA is where most of us fly into as a gateway to US and with its theme parks and Hollywood it’s on the “must-however-reluctantly-do” bucket list.  As a tourist you come in, may or may not rent a car, do the tourist stuff then go again.  If you stay at Disneyland or Hollywood it’s hard to get a sense of what LA is really all about.  When I first came to LA we stayed in Westwood on Wilshire Boulevard.  It was central but without a car it was useless and definitely impossible to get a vibe read on LA.

I hopped on that plane, looked at my boyfriend at the time (who actually was Mr H!) and said in all seriousness, “Been there, done that, never coming back.”

Never say never.

On Sunday my friend’s 16-year-old daughter announces, “I love LA”.  Sure, what’s not to love?  We’re sitting in the uber trendy Urth Cafe (in the stifling heat might I add–only in LA are you complaining about a heat wave in mid September), had a great dinner the night before at one of my favourite West Hollywood restaurants, mixed it up with the groovy people in Venice and hung out with the trendy beach crowd in Malibu.

Oh, and at dinner we saw Joel Madden, Rebel Wilson, Emmy Rossini and Andrew Dice Clay.  All walked in and out separately.  We even witnessed a couple of back-door exits.  How very Hollywood.

The gorgeous Emmy Rossum

The gorgeous Emmy Rossum

 

It’s true of any city but especially in LA it’s pretty bloody cool to do it with someone who knows their way around.

Each time people come we (obviously) tailor their visit and do the things that interest them.  So, I got to thinking about the different agendas and thought I’d share them with you.

Here is LA in a day, a weekend, a week or a month.

LA in a Day

God no, don’t do it to yourself.  There is too much to do in LA to limit your time to a day but if you absolutely have to, here goes.

Shopping

Get in, check into your hotel then get the flock out and about.  If it’s shopping you’re after head to Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, The Grove or Century City Mall–depending on where you’re staying.  They are all close to the action and you’ll use your time wisely.  Plus there are good eating options so you can stay safely in the one spot.

For more in shopping in LA check out my post on that very subject.

Bring your purchases home, freshen up and get ready for drinks and dinner.  Don’t waste your time at American chain restaurants, plan in advance (ie book before you get here) and dine at a nice LA restaurant.  If you’re after ideas check out my Pinterest board on LA Dining.  It needn’t be over-the-top expensive but it can be a good experience.

For drinks try Cecconi’s on Melrose.  It has a 4-7 menu where from 4:00 to 7:00 they serve nibbles that cost between $4 and $7 each; match it with drinks, take in the ambiance and you’ve got a great afternoon unwinding.

 

Sightseeing close to LAX

I’ve decided to update this post as I had a friend that I used to work with come into town wanting to know what to do with his 24 hours in LA.  The “brief” was he wanted to stay close to LAX and be able to walk around.

There are very few areas where you can walk around LA and even when you can walk you don’t.  It’s also hard when you’re lugging luggage around to get around town.  Anyway, here are two approaches as to what to do in LA in a day.

Venice/Santa Monica

Whatever you do don’t make the mistake my mate made and stay on the Boardwalk at Venice and get in late at night.  And expect to feel safe.  Venice is as grungy as it is groovy and as scary as it is a place to be seen.  You want to stay in neighbouring Santa Monica and explore Venice by day.

Start with brunch in either Santa Monica or Venice.  I’d opt for brunch at Gjelina on Abbot-Kinney in Venice.  It’s great people watching, has good food and most importantly (for Australians) good coffee.

 

Now it’s time to walk off that yummy food and check out Venice.  I’d do a spot of shopping in Abbot-Kinney then head over to check out the canals.  It’s not Venice Venice but it’s serene and not something you’d expect to see in LA.

Great. Done. Tick.  Now for what Venice is renowned for: the Boardwalk and Muscle Beach.  You’ve got to do it.  My daughter hates it and my son is used to it.  There’s a lot happening, it smells of weed but it is interesting.  Epitomising LA, it’s like a show put on for the benefit of the tourists.  Except these people are entertaining you for the sport it.

There’s always something crazy that happens.  One time we were there we saw a woman chase her (I guess) sometime boyfriend all the way down the boardwalk hitting him one minute and yelling at him the next.  She would chase him a few metres down the boardwalk, hit him then yell at him to leave her alone.  The repeat it.  She even went to the policemen begging them to get him to leave her alone all the while yelling so everyone around her could hear her.  In this case I had to feel sorry for the guy who really was trying to stay away from her. Ahhh Venice …

Walk towards Santa Monica and watch the boardwalk change.  Here you can soak in the pier, take some pics, see the end of Route 66 and grab a churro (if you haven’t already).

If you’ve got a bit of shopping to do, head inland and check out Third Street Promenade.

After all that walking and shopping you’re probably ready for a drink or a bite to eat.  There are lots of places to eat in Santa Monica, ever-changing and too many to mention here.  That’s where my Pinterest board comes in handy.  Check it out.

When I’ve got friends here I like to go to Shutters–on the boardwalk and always open to take you.   If it’s dinner you’re after I love Chinois on Main Street.  You’ll need to book and don’t forget they eat early in LA so if you’re going at 5:30 or 6:00 thinking you’re beating the rush think again–that is rush time.

Santa Monica Beach. The gorgeous Shutters. #santamonica #la #itstartedinla

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

If you’re like my friend, and you’ve got a 10:00(ish) flight then it’s time to scoot back, pick up your bags and head to the airport.  There’s so much more to do but after that you should have a better feel for LA and, unlike me when I first came to visit, will actually like it.

WeHo/Beverly Hills

If West Hollywood is more your thing I highly recommend it–there are heaps of cool hotels, bars, restaurants and uber cool shopping.

Start your day with brunch at Urth Caffe.  Like I said before, it’s a good place to people watch and, if you’re lucky, spot a celeb or two.  For more people watching, window shopping and real shopping keep heading down Melrose and watch it change landscape and vibe as you travel down–from upmarket to designer funk to grunge.

If you’re a Kardashian fan stop in at Dash at 8420 Melrose Ave. And for uber cool and a little taste of LA stop in at Fred Segal at 8100 Melrose Ave (be sure to look out for the paparazzi stalking the carpark).  There are lots of boutiques inside and be sure to check out Ron Robinson–just love it.

If you’re into shopping, head into Hollywood and pre-book yourself a tour of the Paramount lot.  I love the Paramount lot.  It’s one of the oldest in Hollywood and also one of the few major studios actually in Hollywood.  Personal tours run all day.

 

I’ve already suggested drinks at Cecconi’s and I reckon it’s a must do.  By now it might be time to head back to the hotel, grab your bags and hot-foot it to the airport.

If you want to create your own itinerary you should check out my Pinterest board: 24 Hours in LA for more inspiration.

LA in a weekend

It really depends where your priorities lie.  My advice to you is to mix it up as much as you can: a spot of shopping, out at a funky restaurant, a stroll in West Hollywood and take in a Studio tour.

If you’ve got a car cruise down Rodeo Drive–mainly to check out the Bugatti Veyron.  I prefer Beverly Drive (parallel) or Robertson and Melrose (but that’s also to avoid the tourists!).  Also be sure to cruise Mulholland.

If you have kids (frankly even if you don’t) and you’re only here for the weekend I’d go to Universal Studios.  It has the backlot tour plus rides and is a lot of fun.  If you go when the park opens you can be out of there mid afternoon and still have time to do other stuff.  We’ve got an annual pass, have been so many times we’ve run out of fingers and toes to count but still love it.

Here was our most recent three-day weekend with our friends:

  • Century City Mall
  • Beverly Hills cruise around
  • Drinks at home & dinner at our “local” in Beverly Glen, its position means you could see locals like Gene Simmons, Jon Voight, Mark Wahlberg, Eddie Murphy, Harry Hamlin & Lisa Rimma or Paris Hilton going about their normal lives
  • Gjelina at Venice for brunch
  • Malibu
  • West Hollywood for dinner
  • Boys to Universal Studios
  • Girls to Melrose and Hollywood to get our shop on
  • Bel Air & Beverly Hills cruise around ogling the houses.

Bearing in mind they’d done LA before so it was great not to “have” to do all the tourist stuff.  We’d also never done the boys one way girls the other thing but it meant each of us got to do something we enjoyed and made for the whole LA experience.

LA in a week

That’s more like it: you can hang out, take it down to a cruise speed instead of full throttle.

Check out my must-do things in LA, that’ll give you a great variety of things to see and do.  Here’s seven things for seven days.

  1. Shop.  LA is shopping.  It’s pretty hard to come to LA and resist shopping.  So don’t.  And because you’re here for a week you can head out to the outlets or one of the Malls where you can knock yourself out with the choices available to you.
  2. Tour Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Hills.  Snoop/ gork/spy/have a sticky/check it out–say it how you like but if there’s one thing that many of my guests have in common (especially the girlies) and that’s checking out all the houses.  There are some beauties.  And if you really want a good snoop buy one of the Star Maps sold around the place.  There’s a fat chance you’ll see anyone but it’s fun to see where they live/lived.  Disclaimer: it’s pretty hard to see inside any if not all of the houses.
  3. Do something cultural.  There are actually plenty of cultural activities here in LA.  One of the favourite places is to head is to the Getty.  We’ve also got a great museums and galleries.  We’re not all just about beaches and shopping you know.
  4. Head down to Orange County.  Try Newport Beach, Laguna or Huntington Beach.  If you’re staying at Disneyland it’s not far to venture out for a while for a change of scenery.  If you’re heading to Newport Beach be sure to grab an ice-cream from B Candy.  Try the chocolate-covered potato chips and caramel ice-cream.  Heaven.
  5. Brave Disneyland.  It depends on what sort of person you are but the first time we went we were dreading it but embraced it for all it is and had fun.  You can do it in one day but to make it more enjoyable–rather than a race around the world so to speak–take two or even three days.
  6. Spend a day in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.  And I don’t just mean the boardwalks and pier.  Venture up Main Street Santa Monica or the Third Street Promenade.  Better still head up to the Montana Avenue area.
    Venice Beach is a great spot.  For far too long we thought of Venice as the boardwalk and muscle beach.  Head to Abbot-Kinney and grab brunch, have a shop and soak in the atmosphere.
  7. Head downtown.  And I don’t just mean to the Staples Centre to see the Kings or Clippers/Lakers.  In recent times LA has worked hard to lift the image of Downtown.  There are great walking tours, groovy bars and cool things to do–none of which I have done.  So, having told you to head downtown I’m going to too.

These are on top of the other suggestions so don’t forget Universal Studios or a Studio Tour–Paramount runs great tours in small groups.

When you’re eating out for a week you’re going to want some healthy options.  Sushi in LA is great (once you know where to go) so take advantage of it.  Also check out Lemonade and Urth Cafe for great food and healthy options.  Four Seasons Beverly Hills also has healthy options at its Cabana Restaurant and Culina Restaurant.

If you’re looking for fast food you know California is renowned for In-N-Out Burger.  Ask for the Carb-free version if you’re like many other LA-ers and watching your weight.  Frankly if I’m going to have a burger splurge I like it the traditional way ;-).  When you’re here for a week you’ve got time to try it.

LA in a month

OK, now we’re talking.  I’m guessing if you’re spending a month in LA you’re here as a backpacker or maybe you’re here to sus out whether you can make the move to Hollywood and get discovered.  Either way you’re going to want to hang out.

My top five places to hang out:

  1. Venice Beach–anywhere on Abbot-Kinney
  2. Malibu–because you can
  3. Santa Monica–anywhere
  4. Joan’s on Third or a well-situated Starbucks–you never know who’s going in and out or having a coffee.
  5. West Hollywood (WeHo)–because you can.

One of my favourite sights is hunky spunky boys jogging along Sunset in WeHo (in the stifling heat) with no tops on.  Think they’re looking for someone to discover them.  In the meantime it’s a great perve.

When my friends were here for a few weeks (just short of a month) here was our bucket list.  We got most of them done.

  • Hollywood
  • Walk of Fame
  • Malibu
  • Venice
  • Santa Monica boardwalk & pier
  • Robertson
  • Dash (on melrose)
  • Vintage shops & markets
  • West Hollywood
  • Topanga Mall
  • La Brea Tar Pits
  • Griffith Observatory
  • The Getty

We never spend much time in Hollywood or the Walk of Fame.  Some people are really into it but it’s hot and crowded and hassly.  Get in, get some pics and get out again–there’s much more to LA than that!

Hope that helps.  We’ve managed to turnaround all of our LA doubters into LA lovers.  I hope you will love LA too by the time you leave.  There’s really not much to hate after all!

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: Let me know how you go, what you enjoyed and could have given a miss.  Would love to hear from you.

updated September 12, 2015 @ 5:00 LA time with more to do in LA in one day

Must-do things in LA
Celebrity, My LA story, Posts, Visiting LA

Ten must-do things in LA

It’s been another action-packed week.  On the weekend we dined at one of my favourite West Hollywood restaurants and who would walk in but Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock.  I was beside myself but also reasonably cool (remember I’m pretty much acclimated now).  But when I glanced over at their table another mate of theirs had joined–none other than Keanu Reeves.  Please.  Are you kidding me? Wow.  No wonder I love hanging out there.

But then that high was marred by an incident yesterday where a man had led police on a massive freeway chase and ended up dumping his car in the middle of North Hollywood resulting in a standoff.  There were SWAT teams, news crews and …. a number of nearby SCHOOLS  in lockdown.  Holy crap.  Several news outlets showed kids from one school in locked arms evacuating their to safety.

That school was the other school that my kids got accepted into.  That could’ve been my kids in lockdown yesterday and on the news evacuating their class instead of elatedly jumping out of there because they’d finished another “final” (exam).  I’m not sure I or Mr H could’ve handled that.

Thankfully we didn’t have to, the kids are (I believe) all OK and today is another day.  Just quietly there’s another bloody shooting in a US High School.  I know that as outsiders to the US living in California (where we aren’t allowed to carry concealed weapons) I’m not brought up to understand why guns continue to be a huge part of life here but really .. seriously?  It’s called change peoples.  And change is good.  It’s not always bad and scary.

Right … now on a brighter note.  And now that I’ve given you a frightening picture of the US I’m here to tell you it’s also a great place.  So, we’ve got our summer on and we’re raring to go.

LA is usually the first point of entry for tourists.  So, here’s my 10 must-do things while you’re in LA.

10 must-do things in LA

1.    Go shopping

Unless you’re from the US this may not apply to you.  OK, it probably will.  LA has some good shopping.

But, if you’re from Australia (or anywhere outside the US) you’re definitely going to want to take advantage of the cheaper prices for shoes (thinking Vans, Nikes and Converse) and clothes and hit the streets (or malls).  Lucky I’ve written the ultimate guide to shopping in LA.

It will also pay you to understand the different sales tax rates around the country because it will affect the final price of your goods (who wants to pay more sales tax than they should?).  Click here for the lowdown.  I have to warn you it’s already out of date but it gives you a reasonable guide.  Click here to check out current sales tax rates to find the current rates.

2.   Pap a pap

They’re not everywhere like I thought they might be.  They can actually be very discreet.  But they are around.  Look around you–not for celebrities but for the paps who make their living out of following them.  (Hint: don’t go looking for guys with lots of cameras with long lenses hanging off them & they’re not often in a pack like this).

Paps

I’ll give you the tip: they’re not here for me

3.  One night, two days just do it

Take it down a gear and splurge on a couple of days at one of Beverly Hill’s top hotels.  Lucky for you I’ve done a review of many of the top ones for your consideration.  You’re in LA, you want to lap up all LA has to offer: style, casual swag and of course hanging and being seen.

Given the Beverly Hills Hotel is currently being boycotted I’d try the Beverly Hilton or the Four Seasons Beverly Hills.  But hang around long enough to schmooze by the pool, that’s where the action is.

Poolside

Feels more like a cosy 1950s motel than a big hotel … and that’s the way I like it

4.   Eat at our fabulous restaurants

Stay away from tourist trail and hit some decent restaurants.  LA has some great places to eat and if you insist you can stay in the tourist areas–and even eat with the kids.  But please, please, please the US has a bad enough rap without you adding to it, the food doesn’t have to be bad.  Not if you don’t let it.

Here’s  a link to my pinterest page highlighting great LA Dining.  But don’t forget to book ahead of time–they book out pretty early.  Oh, and in general they eat early here–as early as 5:00/5:30 so beware.

5.   Take in the atmosphere at the Greek Theatre &/or Hollywood Bowl

Get yourselves organised and pre-book a concert at either the Greek Theatre or the Hollywood Bowl.  Both venues are an LA institution.  (See my post on the Hollywood Bowl).

 6.   Have brunch at the Getty Centre

Visit, eat, hang around.  It’s not only worth a visit but it’s also worth hanging around.  What a fabulous place to have brunch or for something different book a picnic hamper and picnic on the grounds. Sometimes they have free concerts on the grounds.  Check out the website to see what’s going on when you’re here.

7.   Go to see the Basketball/Baseball/Ice Hockey

It’s a great experience watching live sport in LA (especially if you’re from overseas).  LA loves its Kings, find out why.  If you’re a little late booking through official channels Stub Hub is a great place to go.

 8.   Take in Griffith Observatory (inside & out)

It sits majestically on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood overlooking LA just above the fabulously exclusive Los Feliz.

Donated by some rich guy (bequest in the 1919 will of Griffith J. Griffith) he also donated the land for Griffith Park (in 1896).  I read somewhere that it’s the largest public space in all of LA so for God’s sake, honour his wishes.

Don’t just look up from those dreadful stars (sorry) and wonder what it is, go up and check it out. You can hike, picnic and see the stars (the real ones; up in the sky). Whatever you choose to do, pay it a visit.

9.   Take in a Vintage Market (or two)

Have you forgotten you’re in Vintage land?  It’s pretty hard to forget.  There are heaps of markets, stores and areas where Vintage is King.  Here’s a pretty comprehensive look at some choices. Probably the easiest to get to is Melrose Trading Post in Fairfax High on a Sunday but if you’ve got a car I’d definitely venture out.  Oh, and La Brea is definitely well worth the look.  While you’re there check out one of my favourite places Nick Metropolis Collectible Furniture. You’re welcome.

Looksy Bus

Looksy Bus at the Melrose Trading Post, Fairfax High, LA

10.  Take a sidetrip to Palm Springs

Yes, you read right.  Palm Springs is where all Hollywood’s elite used to go to get away from it all.  An easy two-hour drive from LA Palm Springs is mid-century modern personified.  I get so excited just thinking about it.

The best way to describe Palm Springs is the perfect coffee table book picking out the best of the best.  Yes, it’s ALL good.  It’s like everyone in town got the memo, they pull off the Palm Springs look like pros.

You won’t be disappointed. Eat, shop and relax but allow yourself enough time to soak it in.  There are also great Vintage shops and Estate sales so it’s pretty hard to cram it into just a couple of days. But, whatever you do, try.

But wait … there’s more …?

I bet that you think there are a couple of places missing from my list: Universal Studios, Disneyland, Santa Monica Pier, Venice Boardwalk–even one of my favourites cruising Mulholland Drive and how can you forget Malibu?

I’m not just gorgeous and fabulous I’m pretty smart.  I know you’re going to go against me and do one or a few of them anyway.  Don’t let me stop you but just don’t make your visit to LA be about those things.  You’re not giving LA justice if you don’t look outside the tourist box.  Oh, and if you’re keen to visit an LA beach wander up to Malibu or head down South to Manhattan Beach.  Very nice.

I made a Pinterest Board Called 24 Hours in LA with lots of different suggestions so click in there for more inspiration.  While you’re there check out “The Best of LA“.

There is so much good stuff to see and do in LA I’m scared I won’t get to it all during my time here.  How about we all make a pact to get out and about and enjoy all LA has to offer?

Like Ferris said, “Life moves pretty fast, if we don’t stop and look around once in a while we could miss it.”

Happy summer.  I heart LA.

xx It Started in LA xx

 

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