At the beginning of our recent trip to Mexico, we spent an aimless day bouncing around various parts of central Los Angeles during a long layover. Airport time excluded, we had about 8 hours to kill. I’d done some research but had became overwhelmed by the logistics of where to go when faced with all the factors of trying not to spend hundreds of dollars on taxi fares, fitting in at least a few different things, considering the geographical relationships between the various areas, not understanding the traffic situation of the city and trying to get back to the airport in time for our connecting flight.
In retrospect, we could have just spent the entire day in one area, like Santa Monica, instead of stressing and trying to do too much… but you know, then I wouldn’t be me!
After some unexpected dramas trying to get rid of our luggage for the day (as LAX no longer had lockers or any on site baggage storage since 9/11), we set off for the city later than expected. It turned out that in a mere day we took a taxi, experienced the LA metro, the public bus system and a private airport operated bus – basically, all the transport options. I was also a genius and decided that to get to the Griffith Observatory cheaply, all we had to do was take the metro to the station closest to it and then a cab the rest of the way. Little did I know that we would emerge from the underground at Vermont/Sunset station and then fail to find a single passing taxi in half an hour… but at least we got to check out a random neighbourhood.
So we never made it to Santa Monica in the end and spent the most time around Fairfax, West Hollywood and Hollywood being tourists and doing a bit of shopping.
We went to The Grove, a beautiful outdoor shopping and entertainment complex with a “trolley” (which we’d probably call a “tram” in Melbourne!) which took you on a little ride down to the “Farmers Market“, which used to be an actual farmers market but is now more of a food vendor paradise along with some produce merchants, bakeries and other shops. The most interesting thing we saw there was a big store which sold nothing but hundreds of types of hot sauces from all over the world! With names such as “Dr. Assburn’s” and “Ass Reaper”, I don’t know whether I should regret not buying any.
I had some spicy Jambalaya, which was satisfying but wasn’t the best gumbo I’ve ever had (is it even a gumbo or just a cousin to gumbo?) yet it was so cheap considering I was in an upscale shopping centre in a nice neighbourhood! Damn you, Australia, and your overpriced food.
We also chanced upon an Umami Burger, which I’d heard about on the blogosphere years back, and I wanted to see if it was worth the hype. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fairly tasty burger – just nothing particularly special! The meat was good, and cooked to medium rare as promised, but it just lacked flavour punch all up (especially for a place naming itself “umami“), and I was a bit disappointed by the truffle cheese in the Truffle Burger.
It felt odd to finally be in the States for the first time, after having grown up with so much US-centric pop culture – television and books like the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High, *ahem*, I mean all that Ernest Hemingway.
I was probably unreasonably excited to encounter such mundane things as my first In-N-Out Burger, IHOP (International House of Pancakes, HELLO!!?) and yes, even the 99c Store. Because what you can buy for 99 cents in California looks like the equivalent of what you can get at a $2-$3 shop in Australia – with the dollar almost identical, how is this fair? You know what else? They had huuuuuge pharmacies. More like supermarkets. Super pharmacies!
Spent a bit of touristy-time on Hollywood Boulevard trying to spot the names of stars we recognised. It was surprisingly difficult (!) and then when we did, I forgot to take photos. I marveled at how un-Chinese the Chinese Theatre really is, and ooh’d and aah’d over a soda fountain, and how cute the little external Box Office at El Capitan was.
Next up was shopping, but before I could buy anything, I found Jelly Bean Heaven! And then Lingerie Heaven! KP bought us both sunnies, then we both went on to lose them during the later stages of the trip.
So ok, we didn’t have the most rewarding day in LA, but we got a good taste of Cali, confirmed first-hand that the Los Angeles public transport system is shit, and I satisfied my inexplicable desire to see American fast food and discount store chains in the flesh. And then there’s this: a vending machine in the middle of a shitty LAX terminal that sold iPhones and iPads and other not-exactly-cheap gadgets. Yes, folks, a vending machine for Apple products. And it was Best Buy, so that’s another chain crossed off my list!
While I didn’t not like LA, I didn’t really get a great vibe from it overall. You know how sometimes you spend just a few hours in a city and you get this great feeling – like falling in love the first time I set foot in Melbourne – and you just know you have to return again? I so did not get that from the City of Angels. And really for summer… it was kinda cold and damp! Now I know what they were singing about in “The Lady is a Tramp“!
We were more than ready to move on to Mexico.