I normally stay put during peak holiday travel times as I try actively to avoid hordes of tourist whenever possible, but when my friend Ellen asked if I would consider coming to LA for her 30th birthday—which happened to take place over MLK weekend—all it took was discovering that Virgin America was practically giving away seats for $39 a pop, and I was on that plane. (Cheaper than a tank of gas and far less stressful than the six- to eight-hour drive down I-5. I win!)
If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you might remember Ellen as the Norwegian lass I met on a plane in Iceland some several years ago. I spent a week with her in Norway in 2008 following my trip to Svalbard, then she came to Sacramento later that year to SVV’s family’s house for Thanksgiving. It’s funny how some of the best friends you make often are the product of a random intervention of fate. That’s Ellen’s and my friendship in a one-sentence summary.
Ellen moved to Los Angeles two years ago to do an MBA, which she completed in just a year and a half while working full time (go, Ellen!). When I was down in LA last May for work, she was back home in Norway so we hadn’t seen each other in a year and change. I love LA. Love it. (And I love Ellen, so Ellen in LA is like the best possible combination a girl could ask for.) I don’t know if I could necessarily live there as I prefer not to have to allow myself two hours to drive three miles—as I learned the hard way when I accidentally stood Abby up for a much-anticipated hike of Temescal Canyon in an unfortunate end to a stressful Friday afternoon in gridlock—but I will visit as often as LA will have me.
The first few times I found myself down that way after moving to California, I did all the touristy stuff. When you’re a travel writer on assignment, sometimes that’s inevitable depending on the scope of the story. I’d spend an afternoon on Venice Beach, stroll Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, take the back lot studio tour at Universal Studios, do the VIP Experience at Warner Brothers. But now that that’s all behind me, I don’t feel the need to rush from one site to the next with little break in between. (Though let’s be honest: Until I master the traffic situation in LA, that will probably continue to happen anyway.)
So here’s my abbreviated itinerary for a perfect LA weekend—or how you can still be a tourist while interacting with locals:
Take a stroll down Robertson Boulevard. Ellen lives just one block over from and works on Robertson, which is convenient for a shopaholic like myself. Equally convenient (for my bank account) is the fact that I can’t actually afford anything in any of those shops, but browsing is sometimes nearly as fulfilling. Pair that with a savory crepe at Jack ‘n Jill’s for lunch, a little celeb-watching at the Ivy (I dined there two years ago and found the food sub-par and much over-hyped, but you can still spy from across the street), and playing spectator to the wacky Crazy Robertson dancer, and you have yourself a relaxing afternoon in Beverly Hills—without even needing to meander down Rodeo Drive.
Explore the Getty. My friend China, who studied with me in Edinburgh eight long years ago, now works in the public affairs office at the Getty. She thought it ridiculous the number of times I had been to LA and the fact that I had yet to step foot on the premises of one of the United States’ most beloved museums. So this trip, I changed that. (More to come this Photo Friday.)
Pre-game in style, while your limo transports you all the way up Mulholland Drive. On Ellen’s birthday night, her awesome company Moods of Norway sent their baby blue limo to pick us up. This was only the second time I’ve been in a limo ever (life of the underprivileged, ha), and what better way to see the Hollywood sign than when it’s close enough to touch and illuminated by the brilliance of the LA skyline at night? (Let’s forget the fact that drinking sugary champagne while riding in a limo up the very windy ways of the Hollywood Hills gave us all more than a mild dose of nausea.)
Hit the town in Hollywood. After our rather turbulent trip, the limo dropped Ellen, me and her two friends Laura and Elizabeth off at Katana on Sunset Boulevard where another eight of Ellen’s posse met us for our dinner reservation. We had a prime table out on the front deck of the restaurant with heat lamps keeping us cozy and ate our respective weights in sushi and edamame. Once we were sufficiently full, we only had to teeter on our stilettos across the street to the SkyBar at the Mondrian for the remainder of our evening. It may have been a weird crowd on that particular night, but the view from the back patio more than made up for the resident sketchballs who vied for our attention.
Find a friend with a pool. Make use of that friend (and pool). My good pal Stef has a glorious house with a plush backyard and pool in northern LA. She also has five dogs and three cats (the dogs of whom I adore and couldn’t wait to see again…sorry, cat people, but felines just aren’t for me). It was a glorious 80 degrees out, so we threw on our bikinis and spent the afternoon with Stef and her husband. Fun fact that I just learned: Most of the pools in town, including the famed Roosevelt, are open to the public (and free), so even if you’re not staying there, you should definitely take advantage. Think: Las Vegas pool scene, but not nearly as trashy. Three of my favorites are the Beverly Hilton, the W Hollywood and Thompson Beverly Hills (though obviously double check to make sure your chosen pool does indeed allow outsiders…I’d hate to steer you wrong and have you tell the concierge, “oh but Kristin of Camels & Chocolate promised me I could just pull up a chair and work on my tan!”).
Plan a low-key night in West Hollywood. Since we were out pretty late on Ellen’s birthday, Saturday night was for a casual dinner at Jones with China and two of my friends and former colleagues from New York, Tanner and Kara, who both just moved to the area for their jobs at Entertainment Weekly and MTV, respectively. They were hitting the Golden Globes coverage hard the following afternoon, which made me ever so nostalgic for my former days of red carpet reporting. It got mundane and was far from glamorous on most occasions, but sometimes working awards shows and movie premieres could be a blast. I felt a bit bad for Ellen and China, as the other three of us couldn’t shut up about TV shows we’re loving and mutual celebrities we have met. But such is the life of an entertainment reporter I suppose; you have a one-track mind!
Go to Disneyland. We got up bright and early on Sunday to drive to Anaheim for two sunny days at the parks. Because if you can’t go to Disney on your 30th birthday, when can you go?
What are your favorite things to do in LA? Do you love that vibrant, nutty city as much as I do, or could you live without the smog and traffic?