Before I moved to Seattle, I lived in Los Angeles from 2002 to 2010. So I know my Hollywood Hills from my Topanga Canyons. Just like last year's Syracuse Fan Guide To Seattle, I'm here to help with some pointer that the many Orange fans heading to Southern California this weekend for the Syracuse Orange vs. USC Trojans game can hopefully use.
Here' how the guide is going to break down...
Part I: Lazy Tourist vs. Awesome Tourist
Part II: Neighborhood & Food Breakdown
Part III: Gameday Do's, Don'ts & Seriously, Don't Do That
In the first part, I need to have a frank discussion with you. You know how you've never been to LA before and you're really excited to see all the sights and sounds that make up this city? Of course you know it, you're the one who's never been before. And you've only got one weekend to see as much as you can. So much ground to cover, guy (or gal).
So I know you want to be an awesome tourist. Obviously. That much is clear between you and I. You want to make this trip count. You want to wear your bright orange Syracuse shirt all around Los Angeles proudly and you understand that the way to do that is to wear it while checking out really cool sights and not by hanging out around the generic ones. Right? Right.
Great. So let's run through some of the places that we both know you're not going to spend time at and we're also going to discuss the things that you're doing instead. Because you're not lazy. You're awesome.
Lazy Tourist: Hollywood & Highland
Hollywood...crazy, zany Hollywood. The glitz! The glamour! The gaity! The grossness!
Seriously, Hollywood is f***ing gross. It's dirty and sketchy and gross and gross and dirty and gross. I know, you want to go to see Mann's Chinese Theater and the handprints in the cement and the Kodak Theatre cause that's what you're supposed to do.
Here's the thing. It's going to be crowded whenever you go there. Those handprints? Not that cool (You have no idea who Douglas Fairbanks is, anyway). You can't go into the Kodak Theatre unless you take some tour so forget that. You're going to be surrounded by people wearing shoddy Batman costumes who are harmless but creepy when you really think about it. There's going to be a lot of people trying to get you to "support local hip-hop" and to take some kind of terrible bus tour because you look like an easy mark. Quite simply, you are going to be a tourist's tourist.
Awesome Tourist: Hollywood Blvd. between McCadden & Vine
I know I said Hollywood is gross but if you're going to do Hollywood, let's do Hollywood. Start at Hollywood & McCadden and check out the low-key, quirky hangout outside the Egyptian Theatre, which still has a foreign name and is a movie theater, so it's just as good. It's also right next to the Pig'n Whistle Pub. Make your way along Hollywood, stopping at Skooby's for some tasty hot dogs. If its later in the day, check in with Second City Hollywood for a kick-ass improv show that only lasts an hour or so, so it doesn't kill your night (IO West is also a couple blocks down). Along the way there's an eclectic mix of good restaurants, questionable bars and shady-as-hell people (seriously, Hollywood is gross).
If you were interested in going to see a movie while in town (sound dorky but you're a dork), head South towards the CineramaDome and get ready to have your eyeballs blown out. Once you watch a movie in the Dome, you'll never settle for that crappy chain theater back home ever again. Sorry about that.
Lazy Tourist: Third Street Promenade
If you're heading to Santa Monica, you're almost certainly going to the Third Street Promenade, L.A.'s version of the blocked-off street mall. It's where thousands of folks flock every day for everything from food to shopping to farmer's markets.
Here's the thing, though...it's a mall. Seriously, at the end of the day, it's a mall without a roof. They've got an Auntie Anne's and an Anthropologie and everything. Did you seriously just fly 3,000 miles to go hang out at a mall?
Awesome Tourist: Santa Monica Main Street
Instead, make your way south a little bit and spend some time walking around Main Street in Santa Monica. If it's Sunday there's a cool farmer's market with miniature ponies, which you love. Main Street lacks the overwhelming mall feel of the Promenade and provides a more casual environment for walking around, shopping, eating. Plus, it's like two blocks from the beach and you can easily walk from there to the Santa Monica Pier (which is basically just a small, clean Jersey Shore boardwalk).
And head all the way to the end of the block south to see the clown statue from Speed. Impress friends and loved ones.
Lazy Tourist: Rodeo Drive
Why? You can't buy anything. The shop clerks don't want anything to do with you. Again, you're going there to spend an hour or two looking around the fanciest mall you've ever been in...you can find better things to do with your time. (And no, you're not going to see anyone famous. Do you know when they go to Rodeo? In the middle of the day on Tuesday when the tourists aren't in town yet).
Awesome Tourist: Abbot Kinney
Between Venice Beach and Marina del Rey is a street called Abbott Kinney. Good luck finding a chain store here. Almost every business is local, small and non-corporate. Great for a mid-day stroll or to grab a bite to eat, do your window-shopping here where there's lots of accessible, friendly storefronts, galleries, restaurants and other weird things that you think of when you think of LA. At night, AK gets a little hectic so you probably want to avoid, though stick around if you like street truck food.
Lazy Tourist: Venice Beach
I guess you have to go to Venice Beach at least once. Like Hollywood, it exists these days more as a tourist trap than anything that locals enjoy doing. The boardwalk is deceivingly long so be ready to walk. Make sure you keep an eye out for the guitar guy on roller-skates and, my personal favorite, the "Jews are responsible for everything bad" guy and his placards.
You can go check out the basketball court from White Men Can't Jump, so that's something. But PLEASE don't hang out in Venice once the sun goes down. It gets sketchy real quick. Buddy system, you guys.
Awesome Tourist: Marina del Rey
Once you've gotten your fill of Venice, keep walking along the boardwalk south and you'll hit Marina del Rey, a suburban-y inlet that offers some reprieve from the madness. You can walk up Lincoln Blvd. a couple blocks to check out places like C&O (amazing garlic knots) or Cabo Cantina (amazing margaritas). You'll also hit the Venice Canals, which run through the neighborhood and make for a nice stroll to bide some time or work off a meal.
However, you really want to keep heading south along the beach until you hit the rocks. You'll find a jetty to nowhere and a nice walking path that takes you through the marina. Chances are you might recognize a lot of spots from movies and TV shows.
Lazy Tourist: Malibu
You can lose an entire day trying to maneuver Malibu and find your favorite celebrity's house. It's sprawling, it's mountainous and the further out you go, the more secluded from everything else you get (hence the draw for celebs). If you head to Malibu-proper, prepare to be disappointed. The "town" itself is a bit of a dump. The beach is okay but there's not much else around and, again, it's secluded from the rest of LA.
Awesome Tourist: Manhattan Beach/Hermosa Beach
If you're dying to spend some time at a beach, head to the South Bay. This area is the southern tip of Los Angeles and it's where all the cool kids go lay out on the beach on the weekends. Manhattan Beach is the more family-friendly spot, complete with a nice downtown area, lots of places to eat and a quiet "boardwalk" lined by fancy-ish houses.
Hermosa Beach is the Hoboken of Los Angeles. It's where you go when you've graduated from college but aren't quite ready to live in the real world. Every night the Hermosa Pier is full of twenty-somethings getting drunk, making noise and doing both of those things for a very long time.
There's also a Pita Pit here, if you're feeling homesick.
Both Man Beach and Hermosa have a place called Sharkeez. Both have approximately 1,493 TVs and make for good spots to watch games on Sunday or pre-game on Saturday. They both turn into insufferable meat markets around 9-10pm, so be wary of that if that's not your thing. (Fun Fact: The Manhattan Beach Sharkeez is where I watched the 2003 National Championship game).
Lazy Tourist: Beverly Hills
You've probably seen Beverly Hills so much in movies and TV shows, you think you know the layout of the entire neighborhood. And you might be right. For folks looking to walk around a neighborhood one day, you might go with BH because of Rodeo Drive and the Beverly Hills Hilton and whatever else. But Bev Hills isn't actually much to look at. The whole neighborhood has busy streets running around and through it, so it doesn't make for a relaxing stroll. And honestly, there's not that much there to enjoy or appreciate.
Awesome Tourist: Westwood
Right next door is Westwood, home of UCLA. USC might have the Bruins beat when it comes to football prowess, but the Trojans can't touch the "college town" feel of Westwood. It's a well-laid-out grid so it's easy to find your way around. There's lot of little shops, restaurants and bars to keep you busy. And it provides easy access to the UCLA campus, where you can walk around and admire the buildings and/or co-eds.
Lazy Tourist: The Grove
The Grove is a fancy outdoor mall not unlike Third Street Promenade right smack in the middle of LA. Remember what I said about Third Street and why you shouldn't bother? Same rules apply.
Awesome Tourist: Farmers Market
However, The Grove is connected to something called The Original Farmer's Market, which is worth checking out. It's deceptively large and full of cuisines and food booths representing just about every style and ethnicity you can think of. You've seen it in tons of TV shows and it's very touristy but it's still kinda cool. Try to avoid lunchtime as it gets a little crazy in there.
Lazy Tourist: Universal Studios
Looking for a little adventure, a little excitement on Friday or Sunday? It's really easy to get to Universal Studios, which has thrill rides, movie magic exhibits and the famous studio tram tour.
To be honest, most of the thrill rides aren't that thrilling, the movie magic exhibits are mostly outdated (Backdraft?) and the tram tour ain't what she used to be (pour some out for the Back To The Future clock). There's better ways to spend your $50 (or whatever it costs).
Awesome Tourist: Six Flags Magic Mountain
It's a little bit outside of LA (half-hour north or so) but if you're looking for thrills, you're much better off here. There's proper roller coasters! And you won't have quite as bad crowds to deal with.
Lazy Tourist: Getty Museum
Oh, you want to take in some culture while you're in town? La-di-freakin-da. The Getty museum is certainly beautiful and the views from up there are pretty awesome. However, visiting The Getty is more about visiting The Getty than the artwork and everything else there.
Awesome Tourist: Getty Villa
Instead, think a little smaller. You have to make an appointment (they're easy to get online at their website) but the architecture here is simply unreal. And if you still want those views, you're not that far from Topanga Canyon where the best vistas in town await.
Lazy Tourist: The 405
If you're gonna come to Los Angeles and not figure out that driving on the 405 is the death-knell to your weekend, then I don't know what to tell you. As much as humanely possible, stay off the highways. I know its asking a lot in such a sprawled-out city, but you will literally lose hours sitting in traffic if you rely on the 405, 101 and 10 to get you around all weekend.
Awesome Tourist: Surface streets
Get the GPS with your rental car. It's worth it. And then click "Avoid highways," and start driving. Even if it takes you a little longer to get there, you'll feel better and you'll probably get to see a lot of cool stuff you would have missed anyway.
I'm sure there's lots of stuff I missed and Angelenos can fill in the blanks below. We'll get to Part II and break down the neighborhoods and their respective eateries worth perusing in the next installment...