Jamie’s face lit up as he saw the red mustang convertible heading towards us.
“Here’s your keys, Sir”, the attendant said handing them over to a beaming Groom.
This is the car we would be completing our 1,500 mile road trip in – starting in Los Angeles, up the coast to Santa Barbara, Monterrey and San Francisco, before heading in land to Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite, then crossing Death Valley to Las Vegas and back to LA. It was going to be one hell of a trip!
But before that, we had two days to see as much of Los Angeles as we could.
We got in, put the roof down and headed onto the freeway…and freaked out!
“Oh my god, it’s so busy! What lane do we need to be in. Which exit do we take? What’s the speed limit? Watch that car!”
We parked up outside the AirBnB (after moving the car, apparently in America you can’t park on the opposite side to the direction of travel…who knew!) and were glad to be greeted by our hosts Susan and John.
We woke up wide awake around 4am. Stupid jetlag. Not wanting to just stay in our apartment and waste the morning, we shoved on some clothes and drove up to Griffith Observatory to watch the sunrise. It was still dark when we arrived, and surprisingly, we weren’t the only ones who’d had the idea.
We walked around the back of the building, got a good spot overlooking the glittering city below and waited. “Is it just me, or is it getting lighter?” I asked after a while. By now, some of the other tourists had left to go back to their cars.
Soon, dawn turned into day, and any form of sunrise was covered by a thick blanket of clouds. We slowly walked back to catch our first glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign. Hungry, we decided it was time to get some breakfast.
Everyone’s heard about the awful traffic in and around Los Angeles, so that’s why we opted for the hop on hop off city siteseeing bus. We bought a two day pass and planned to see Hollywood on the red line first, and explore Venice Beach and Santa Monica, on the green line, the next day.
We were staying near Santa Monica so after taking a public bus, we hopped onto the yellow route up to Beverley Hills and transferred onto the bus for Hollywood. The bus took a detour passed the Capitol Records Building, shaped like a stack of records, before turning onto a rather crowded Hollywood Boulevard.
We followed the Hollywood Walk of Fame for a short while, spotting several famous names. Did you know it costs £25,000 to get your own bronze and terrazzo star on the pavement. But soon, the area began to look run down and dirty, so we headed back to check out the Egyptian, TLC Chinese and El Capitan Theatres. The Egyptian Theatre was Hollywood’s first movie palace built in 1922 after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb.
We had a quick lunch at the Hard Rock cafe (and purchasing those souvenir glasses that you never use at home), before boarding the bus up the Warner Brother Studio. In hindsight, I wish we had spent a little more time exploring the theatres and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (home to Marilyn Monroe for 8 years) rather than just looking at them from the outside.
Warner Brothers Studio Tour, Los Angeles
The tour around Warner Brothers was really fascinating. We saw lots of back lots, film and TV sets and sound stages. We even had the chance to look around the studio where ‘Ellen’ is filmed. One of the main things that struck us was just how many films have been produced by Warner Brothers.
One of the major downsides for me, however, not being a massive viewer of American TV – I had no idea about half the things the tour guide was on about! The Shameless they were on about wasn’t set in Manchester, and I’ve never seen Fuller House, Gilmore Girls or The Real. So while the other’s gasped and gawked, we simply looked puzzled at one another.
Nevertheless, walking round the huge fake town was surreal and extremely interesting. From the outside they look like real buildings, but inside they are merely a shell.
Apart from that, they have a large collection for DC. The DC Universe Exhibition features superheros and villains costumes – I spent a while wondering if I could fit into the Wonder Woman outfit. Upstairs from that was the Harry Potter and Fantastical Beasts exhibition featuring some props and costumes used in the films.
Further round, there was a collection of Batmobiles and Batbikes – from the 1989 Batman Returns vehicle, built on the chassis of a Chevrolet Impala, to the Dark Knight trilogies‘ ‘tumbler’, made to look like a hybrid of a Lamborghini and a tank.
One of the highlights of the visit was seeing the prop department, it was like a treasure trove of junk. Each item was carefully labelled with which movie or show they had featured in. The rooms seemed to go on forever with stuff you can only imagine. One room was completely full of different kinds of table lamps, while another was filled with suits of armour.
The two hour tour ended at Stage 48, where you can see how films are made with interactives – from the casting process, to costume design, and from green screen tricks to sound effects. You could probably spend an hour or so looking around here and the gift shop. However, waking up at 4am had taken its toll, so we decided to call it a day after 15 minutes and caught the bus back to our AirBnB.
We awoke again before dawn. We had a quick breakfast and headed down to Santa Monica Pier. All of the shops that line the pier were still shut.
“We’ll walk along to the end and then have a wander along the beach,” we agreed.
Then there was a rumbling noise, followed by screams.
“What the hell is that? What’s going on?”
Suddenly a mass of people started running towards us from the end of the pier.
“AND CUT,” a voice boomed.
We’d just walked into a film set.
“Are you guys in the movie?” a woman in a baseball cap asked us. We both shook our heads. “Well then, can you stand behind those markers?”
In between takes, we were allowed to wander in and out of the cameras and people. We watched on as they filmed a scene with a family taking photos on the pier – we didn’t recognise any of the actors.
“Isn’t that John Boyega?” Jamie asked, pointing at a man getting his makeup done. After a quick google of the production company and the working title, it turns out they were filming scenes for Pacific Rim 2. We stayed and watched them film for sometime, before they started to pack away.
We caught the bus up to Marina Del Ray, a large man made harbour teeming with boats of all sizes. Next to the marina is Mother’s Beach, so called because this sheltered lagoon is ideal for families, away from the strong waves of the Pacific.
We headed back towards the beach and strolled down to Venice beach. With it’s explosion of colour and overpowering smell of cannabis, you definitely can’t miss it.
We walked passed Muscle beach and were disappointed to see only two people pumping iron – I guess it was mid week! The Venice skate park is not to be missed, watching skaters doing various tricks – some more successful than others.
From here, we could see Santa Monica Pier in the distance. The plan had been to get the hop on hop off bus back, but it was such a lovely day and the sand felt so nice between our toes – if not a little difficult to walk on – we decided to walk back.
The whole walk from the Marina back to Santa Monica Pier took around two and a half hours. We could have done it in an hour less, but we stopped for lunch at a cafe on the boardwalk and took our time watching some people learning to surf and paddling in the sea.
Be careful walking barefoot on the beach though. Jamie stood in something black and sticky. At first we thought it was chewing gum and he couldn’t get it off his foot, it just spread around. Further down the sands, the same thing happened to me. It was thick and tar-like. We had to cut our trip short and head back to our apartment to scrub it off with hot soapy water and a flannel. I still can’t get it out of my white shorts, even after several 60 degree washes with Vanish.
Next stop, Santa Barbara
After an incredible two days in LA, we hardly scratched the surface of this diverse city. Nevertheless, it was time to pack the car up and head onto our next destination, Santa Barbara, about an hour and a half up the coast.