Q: I am visiting Los Angeles over the winter break. What do I need to know?
A: You are one smart cookie! Winter (November-March) is a great time to visit the city of angels, you get all the Los Angeles glitz minus the sweltering SoCal heat. Plus, brownie points if you visit during the holiday season because half the city is emptied out then; no long waits and no annoying lines for anything. How cool is that? BTW, how do you want to get started on the need to know agenda by the way? I mean, can you be more specific?
Q: For starters, what kind of weather should I expect? What should I pack?
A: Easy, peasy. Unlike other states, good old California gets a shower or two in winter, so don’t leave that umbrella of yours behind. The days are warm but the nights are cooler (not as cold as its northern brethren, but Los Angeles does get chilly). So throw in a sweater or two and a medium weight jacket. Scarf is a good idea to keep that neck comfy and warm. A pair of sturdy shoes (sneakers/loafers/oxfords/boots/booties) depending on what kind of activity you want to indulge in plus a pair of sandals thrown in for that trip to Venice/Santa Monica beach and you are all set!
Q: I am not a big fan of driving, how is the public transportation scene?
A: Ahhh, not so great, I’m afraid. The city is sprawled out like crazy and the traffic is bonkers during rush hour, but that is quintessential Los Angeles for you. Gas guzzler of a city where everyone drives. You, my friend, need to get that booty behind a steering wheel pronto or resort to Uber, because that works like a charm! Wait time of 2 mins or less and demand is way less than supply, so you will be in good hands. The biking scene is almost non-existent with zero bikers or bike lanes around. Plus with so many cars buzzing down the streets, pedaling that bike against the might of those four wheelers might not be a good idea.
Q: How about accommodation/lodging; what do you suggest?
A: I say trust thyself with Airbnb, the better and definitely more economically sensible option. Again, because of the way the city is spread out, you are better off with a more central location such as near the La Brea area where we stayed. Better make that booking early Los Angeles is a popular tourist destination in winter.
Q: I have only three days in hand in Los Angeles, what do you recommend for sight seeing?
A: Depends on what floats your boat. For starters, what is it that you enjoy doing?
Q: Well, some sunset watching while contemplating life on a sandy beach would be nice. SoCal has some amazing beaches, ain’t that true?
A: Malibu, Venice and Santa Monica are the popular beach spots of Los Angeles, with a crowded boardwalk thrown in for the latter two. Skip the board walk at Venice, but stroll down the Abbott Kinney Blvd for some cool eats, shops and murals. Not many tourists know about it and you can have a jolly good time there.
Q: What is this La Brea area that you were speaking of?
A: Ah, La Brea stands for “tar pit” or “pitch” in Spanish. This area, in central Los Angeles, is so known for the several tar pits that were excavated and hark back to the ice ages! This is still an active research site as more and more fossils are continuously being unearthed and there is a museum at the center of the region containing the pits. A must visit if your are a geoscience geek (such as my dad). The actual pits are fenced with several informative boards around them and are free to the public. The museum requires an entry fee. Also, right next to it resides the famous LACMA, i.e. Los Angeles County Museum of Arts. We did not have the time to visit the museum but made sure to get an impromptu photo-shoot done in front of the Urban lights, a fascinating art installation by Chris Burden using old city gas lights restored from the 1920s and 30s, which stands on Wilshire Blvd facing the museum.
Q: Hold on that museum story, I wanna get me some showbiz bling. I mean, Los Angeles is home to Hollywood, right? Where can I see some stars? How do I get some of that pixie dust of good ol’ movie magic?
A: Forget the star gazing because Los Angelinos are too cool for school even with a bevy of the biggest celluloid stars calling this city their home, unless you are that ogling tourist who cannot keep calm upon a chance encounter with Brad Pitt jogging by in Beverly Hills (honestly, I made that one up cause I have no idea where BP jogs and I sure as hell will not be able to keep calm if I spot him doing so). Also, celebs are real people with a real need for privacy, so that measly bus tour of Beverly Hills is guaranteed to show you nothing but big mansions with even higher guarded walls to keep those prying eyes out. If you are big movie buff, and want to do something off kilter, get a proper studio tour. By that I mean avoid that stinking Universal Studios theme park travesty of a tour and opt for the Sony Studios (Culver City) or Warner Bros. studios tour instead. Tickets for group tours can be purchased online and you will get a fantastic narrated tour of the studios with visit to behind the scene places where all the movie magic happens. We joined the Sony studio tours and had fun visiting the jeopardy set, the famous acoustic room and touring the near empty studio grounds. Celebrities are occasionally spotted here but the chances are less during the holiday season.
Q: What about the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Should I skip it to avoid the crowd? Is it worth braving throngs of star-crossed crazies?
A: You know what, it is worth a visit for the star-crossed commoners that we are, although you are right, it is crowded as hell and you have to jostle and elbow your way through to get a shot at the star paved sidewalk or even the entrance to the Chinese theatre with feet and palm cement casts of the stars (including the love of my life Mr. Clooney’s). But despite all of this, just go for the sheer madness of it all!
Q: I am kind of agoraphobic, plus I’d rather explore some of the more interesting neighborhoods. Can you recommend any?
A: Well, Rodeo drive is the most glamorous zip code in Los Angeles and your best bet to see stars shopping till they are a dropping, but you need an equally fat wallet/obscene amount of money to partake in that hedonistic paradise chock full of the mightiest luxury brands. If retail is not your scene, then may I recommend some of the more humble, yet way more lively and bustling ethnic neighborhoods filled with cheap eats and local delights? Korea town and Little Bangladesh jostle for space on 3rd Street whereas Japan Town /Little Tokyo (one of the remaining three in California) is tucked away near the downtown Arts District.
Q: Is that all? How about your favorite activities when visiting?
A: Of course not, Los Angeles has tons of things to keep your tiny tourist brain buzzing with activities. One of my favorite things that we ended up doing and one that was very last minute, was take a mural tour in the downtown Arts district. Gentrification and gang turf wars plus incessant tagging is affecting them murals, so catch them will you can! See my blog post here. This time around, I loved visiting the the Getty Villa on Malibu. You cannot come to Los Angeles and leave without visiting the Getty Center perched on an elevation, looking down on sweeping views of the city or the Getty Villa, near the golden sands of Malibu and overlooking the majestic Pacific. Since I had visited the center in the past, and because we were short on time, the Villa was our pick.
Q: I am all ears, tell me more.
A: Art lover, visionary and oil Baron J. Paul Getty was so impressed by the Old Roman country houses of Pompeii that he decided to give the good old Americans a flavor of ancient mediterranean life by recreating the same in California. The whole villa hosts beautiful Greco-Roman art, sculpture, figurines, real pieces of homes salvaged from the houses ravaged by the volcanic eruption in Pompeii and Herculaneum, has a charming cafe serving casual Mediterranean fare, special exhibits and lectures. Plus the Getty trust is actively engaged in funding all kinds of archaeological research for the preservation of ancient art pieces and findings.
Q: So, tons of stuff to see, eh?
A: You bet your bottom dollar, yes! Do start off with the short 12 min movie on how the villa came into being to gain a better appreciation of what’s in store for you. Take your time to walk around the rooms on both levels and see the exhibits including a beautiful timeline on Greece and Roman civilizations. Finally, don’t forget to check out the jaw dropping fantastic garden!
Q: Exorbitant entry fee that I should know of for this paradise that you wax so eloquently about?
A: Gosh no! Barring a parking fee of $15, there is no entry fee. It’s free for you to enjoy thanks to the generosity of the Getty trust!
Q: Finally, any food recommendations?
A: I thought you’d never ask! Here you go, all in one post, just for you!