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A Longer stay in Los Angeles







Or how to enjoy La La Land when travelling with teens without going la-la.

We’ve been to Los Angeles a few times but usually just for a week and while there we’ve found Disneyland eats up half the time and half the budget. This time however we were lucky to take three weeks holidays and since our kids are now 17 and 21, we were determined to do it differently.

So, here’s my guide for people who cannot stomach the thought of Disneyland and want to start really scratching the surface of this awesome city without it costing the earth.

Arrival:
When you get to LAX, rather than emptying your pockets on a taxi, simply exit the Tom Bradley terminal, cross the first drop off lanes to the middle traffic island and catch a Flyaway bus to Union Station or another location close to your accommodation. (See later re the marvels of Union Station)

Accommodation:
For the accommodation, I always recommend Bon Voyage as they can find the perfect place for every one of us! As for the location, go central such as West Hollywood, which will be handy if you choose to Uber around – a cost-effective and efficient option. (I won’t drive in LA as it’s too ‘fast and furious’ for me but you might have more courage).


Theme Park Choice:
Let’s get this out of the way. If you have to do one theme park, I urge you to forget Disneyland and choose Universal Studios instead. Not only is it in a central location but also its manageable in size, uses a lot of state of art motion master technology on the rides and is always up to date with the latest movies and media. Go early (it opens at 8am) and head straight to Hogsmeade (that’s the town in Harry Potter for the uneducated). But be sure to have purchased your front of line pass before you go that allows you one front of line status per ride.


Downtown LA:
A must-see area, which you need to check out before it becomes too gentrified. Head to Broadway and be awestruck by the architecture. Wander around and you will find the coolest shops and galleries amongst the milieu of cheaper stores you won’t be interested in excepting stores selling clothing and supplies for the Quinceanera - the Hispanic celebration of a girls 15th birthday.

There are five specific places that every family member will love.
• Firstly visit The Last Bookstore on Spring Street. Two floors of inspiration – books, music, art and paraphernalia. And if you need a break you can lounge around reading or just wander around this creative sanctuary.

• Then be sure to stop off at Clifton’s Cafeteria for lunch or dinner – recently revamped 1920’s speak easy, several floors, and most of them are family friendly.

• Finally make sure you check out the Grand Central Market – colorful, busy and plenty of places to eat.

• There is also the aforementioned Union Station, a must see. You will recognize this romantic art deco 1939 masterpiece from various movies from Blade Runner to Bugsy.

• And finally if now too tired – you must pop into Olvera Street across the road from the station - a Mexican marketplace touted as LA’s oldest street.


Contemporary Art:
Where do I start? You are spoiled for choice but make sure you visit The Broad, Downtown LA (free)- one of the finest collections of artists like Jeff Koons and also check out LACMA in La Brea, which has free Friday night Jazz April -November. Both have brilliant special exhibitions so you are bound to catch at least two of them.

But also, be sure to wander around The Arts District – some great warehouse style galleries and stores that tend to be quirkier. e.g. we saw the Museum of Failure when we were there an exhibit from Sweden, which celebrated the world’s best failed product launches. Such exhibits will be found at the LA Design and Architecture Museum on E4th Street.


Shows:
Avoid the big-ticket shows and go for local theatre- far cheaper a better atmosphere and less chance it will end up one day at the Civic. We caught A Very Drag Queen Christmas at the awesome Orpheum Theatre starring some of the best drag artists from RU Paul’s Drag Race. Tickets were as low as $35 for great seats.

And critically important - you must see Bob Bakers Marionette Theatre – an LA institution. Literally handmade old-fashioned theatre – clever, creative, beautiful set up for kids of all ages. Book online. I cannot recommend this more highly, $20 a ticket.


Pasadena:
After a few days in the big smoke you might need a breather in the little smoke. Pasadena is 20 minutes drive from LA and is an awesome town with almost too much to offer. Check out Old Pasadena for cute stores and slower pace than the big malls but make sure you go to at least one of the cultural centers of Pasadena. My pick would be the world famous Huntingdon Museum and gardens. Knock out. Aside from the incredible gardens, the museum houses treasures such as Gutenberg Bible. This is at least a half-day trip.

(If you happen to be in LA during Xmas and New Year you MUST get bleacher seat tickets to the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade. The biggest parade in the USA. Almost 100 floats made from flowers, seeds and plant material. And only in America do you get Earth Wind and Fire playing September live on top of one of these. It almost had me waving stars and stripes!)


Vintage Shopping:
For those who love vintage knick-knacks and clothes, LA is THE place. Aside from the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena on the second Sunday of every month check out stores such as Jet Rag in La Brea. The far grittier and cooler areas around Sunset Junction (and in Los Feliz and Silverlake in general) are laden with Vintage shopping options. Just ask.


Shopping Malls:
If you can’t help yourself wanting to indulge in American consumerism, you might need to go The Grove and visit the gag-making yet strangely fascinating American Girl Doll store. There is the benefit of having the Farmers Market – the best kind of outdoor food alley you could wish for a fun lunch or dinner. But if you may as well go for the whole hog conspicuous consumption consumerist heaven and try Americana on Brand in Glendale, close to Pasadena. There is a small tram that runs around it. When we were there at Christmastime at 7pm it started snowing – artificial snow of course, you get the picture, completely over the top

This of course is only so you can experience the art of persuading people to buy things they don’t really need. But why pay retail when you can go to an…


Outlet Mall:
Now again, if you have late teens young adults with you, they will want to spend your money. So make it cheaper all round by going to one of these. My pick hands down is the Cabazon Desert Springs Outlet mall on the way to Palm Springs. All the big brands from Nike to Prada. Dirt cheap if your conscience can handle it.

If you do this, then whether you like it or not, you are on a…

Road Trip:
Trust me after about 7 days in LA you will literally be running for the hills and there is no better place that Palm Springs a mid century modernist heaven surrounded by incredible mountain ranges which you really must experience by riding the Palm Springs Tramway.

Palm Springs is only 1.5 hours drive away but the air is cleaner, the streets wider, and the vibe far gentler. Stay at least 2 nights. There is plenty to do, and if you don’t want to pay the earth for a mid century tour just drive around the movie star colony with a free map from the visitors center. But do book into see Elvis and Pricilla’s honeymoon house, $35 a head and well worth it.

The height of Palm Springs uber-coolness is The Parker hotel. At least go for one drink but before you convince yourself that you really are as cool as those who frequent this hotel, how about a reality check into what is really going on in this country by travelling a little further south…


A Peek into the Future:
For those who want to “make America great again” I recommend really experiencing the best free experience California has to offer: the one-hour drive south of Palm Springs to the Salton Sea. This is a fine example of when authorities screw with nature for financial gain. An ecological disaster for which California should be ashamed, it is fascinating nonetheless. A spooky post apocalyptic desert area reminiscent of Mad Max with a bit of Waterworld thrown in, the area is dotted with ghost towns inhabited by a few kooky artists who create art and other things out of junk discarded by the fleeing communities. The biggest must sees – the world famous Salvation Mountain, and a settlement called East Jesus, which is an artist’s community that creates some of the most eclectic sculptures, you will ever see.

On the way there or back pop into Bombay Beach – teens will recognize the area from Grand Theft Auto. I know this might sound uninviting but it is incredible. And it’s free!


The Coastline:
Frankly I have always found Santa Monica overrated, the pier is a yawn and it’s all generally expensive. But one of our most favorite things to do in the area is hire a bike (we did push the boat out and get electric ones) and ride on the great coastal bike trail from Venice or Marina Del Ray right trough to Manhattan Beach. It’s a good 1.5 hours at least each way but well worth it. This is a whole day of fun and you can lunch at one of the colorful restaurants in Redondo, Hermosa or Manhattan Beach (great pier there btw).

Also a trip to Malibu is well worth it. Wander along the beach front homes, get a surf lesson or simply enjoy lunch at Malibu Farms at the end of the pier. I avoid giving restaurant recommendations but the experience of eating at this excellent café when the surf is big is exciting – This has always been one of my favorite places in LA.


Hiking:
Put those new outlet mall shoes you will buy to good use and explore one of the many hill hikes in the LA hills. There is an old trail past the deserted old zoo or the popular Runyan Canyon hike. Of course, its obligatory to do the Hollywood sign in the Hollywood Hills but don’t think you will be sitting on one of the gigantic letters, its fenced off. This is not the movie!


Architecture:
Don’t miss seeing at least a couple of the residential architectural masterpieces that are open for viewing. If you are in Pasadena, definitely check out The Gamble House, one of the finest examples of the Arts and Crafts style. And for a contrast, when in Silver lake of Los Feliz, make sure you swing by the Hollyhock House to see what happened when Frank Lloyd Wright characteristically ignored the wishes of his client and just designed what he wanted. The interiors are breathtaking.

For mid century fans, you can visit a plethora of homes. But one not to be missed is the Eames case study home – a great stop off if going Malibu way, book online.

Museums:
LA has a full range of these from the big statements like the Natural History Museum to the eclectic like the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It depends what you are into. One museum however that needs a special mention is the Gene Autrey Museum of the American West– an entertaining and accidentally educational (don’t tell the teens) romp through the Wild West. Anyone who remembers Bonanza will love the section devoted to the Western genre of TV and Film but all will love the saloon bar and cowboy displays.


Los Angeles is amazing. Just going there to visit Disneyland really defeats the whole purpose.

The suggestions above really don’t begin to describe what is on offer. If you are going all that way make sure you stay awhile and immerse yourself.

Bon Voyage!

Sandy