Friday, August 7, 2015

My Daycation in L.A., Hollywood, and Beverly Hills

Muscle Beach in Venice, California
Well, I unexpectedly got a few days off in a row from work and decided to become a tourist for a day. I had bookmarked a website a few months ago which offered a tour of Los Angeles, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica Pier, and Venice Beach. What was convenient  for me was that the operator picked up tourists from Long Beach hotels, instead of me having to drive to La Palma or Anaheim where most tour buses do their business. Of course, I had to pay a few extra bucks more for the convenience.
Being basically a stay at home person nowadays who doesn't like leaving my comfort zone due to underlying mild anxiety issues, I liked being guided in a tour where I didn't have to make decisions on where to go and what to do next.

I contacted the tour operator by email to ask if he knew of any free or low priced parking near one of the downtown Long Beach hotels where they pick up clients from. He suggested one across the street from the Renaissance Hotel on Ocean Boulevard and street parking around the Holiday Inn on Atlantic Avenue and 10th Street. Before I made a reservation, I drove to the Holiday Inn to check out parking areas. The concierge said the if I signed up for the tour through their hotel, I may use their parking space for a $10 fee. I looked at the parking signs at a Smart & Final store across the street and the surrounding streets and they all indicated a 2 hour parking limit. That wouldn’t work out too well for an 8 hour tour. To combine checking out parking places with my workout, I started doing a very brisk walk from the Holiday Inn towards the Renaissance Hotel which took 25 minutes. I found the parking lot that the tour operator suggested which only charged $5 for the whole day. Perfect! I then asked one of the bellpersons in the hotel where the pick up location was and he indicated that it was exactly where I was. So I walked back to the Holiday Inn to my car, drove back home, then made my reservation for the day tour.

When Monday came, I woke up early to do my requisite workout, took a shower, drove to the parking lot, paid the fee, then went to the Renaissance Hotel. I arrived earlier than the 8:30 pick up time so it gave me time to explore a couple of blocks around the area. Soon enough the tour bus came and I was greeted by our tour guide John. Seeing the front seat vacant, I rode shot gun with him. With us was a couple from Mesa, Arizona who were visiting their son in Signal Hill, two ladies from Maryland who were family members of a special Olympian in the sport of kayaking, and a mom with her two daughters who were from Cleveland, Ohio.
Sunseeker Tours bus

Tour mates

We headed towards the 110 Freeway via the Gerald Desmond and Vincent Thomas bridges while John talked about them. Otherwise, the only things between San Pedro and Los Angeles being pointed out by John were the cellular phone towers made to look like trees. Our first stop was the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum which was the current venue of the Special Olympics. For that reason, we couldn’t enter the coliseum but rather just drove around the parking lot. On the right side was the Air & Space Museum, while on the left was the Los Angeles Sports Arena, known as a boxing venue. Incidentally, the 1932 and 1984 Olympics were held in the Memorial Coliseum as well.
Next, we drove towards Los Angeles where we were shown the Convention Center (where I had my American Citizenship swearing in ceremony in the early 90’s), the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Microsoft Theater, the Disney Concert Hall, City Hall, the Superior Court where they had the O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson trials, and the Capitol Records building which is shaped like a stack of vinyl records.
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
L.A. Superior Court
Capitol Records Building

Our next destination was Hollyweird, I mean Hollywood. We were shown the famous Hollywood sign from afar. I mistakenly thought that we would be driven up the mountain and be at the sign itself. Oh well. Then we headed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame (Hollywood and Highland avenues)and were dropped off to explore around the Grauman’s Chinese Theater for half an hour and I took the opportunity to take a few photos and videos. The first two things that I encountered as soon as I got off the tour bus was a schizophrenic talking to himself and a guy on a wheelchair smoking pot, whose second hand smoke I took a deep whiff off. I felt right at home. By the way, our tour guide warned us not to take photos of the costumed characters because they will fight with you if you don't pay them. Spiderman saw me taking a video of the stars on the ground and tapped me in the back to ask me where I was from and I told him I was from Long Beach. I also complimented him that he looked good in his costume.
Elvis' car

Then it was time for lunch at Mel’s Drive-in (next to a watch store where the lowest priced watch was $7500). I ordered what Mel’s was supposed to be famous for: the Mel’s Burger which was supposed to come from grass fed beef. I passed on their famous milk shake and opted for Diet Coke. What was so special about this burger? Other than being grass fed, having an extra large Vidalia onion and the $9.00 price (!), I couldn’t detect the difference in taste as compared to let’s say the Carl’s Jr. $1.39 burger. Hollywood is pretty expensive, I’d say! Well, at least I don’t have to eat there every day.
Mel's Drive-in with the $9 burger

After lunch, we made our way to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive.  I was hoping we could have stopped and walked around Rodeo Drive but we just drove by instead. For some reason, the place reminded me of a shopping center in Manila called Escolta when I lived there in the 70’s. It was a place where high end and high priced clothes and jewelry were sold too. 
Beverly Hills entrance

We then drove along the edge of Griffith Park via the freeway and passed through Century City on our way to the Santa Monica Pier, we parked on the bluff for a few minutes to stretch our legs and take photos of the pier about a mile away. Sometimes celebrities exercise on that path but we didn't see any that day. Then we were shown a sign that said it was the western end of the famous Route 66, after which we headed to Venice Beach. We alit the tour bus again and were given the opportunity to explore around for 20 minutes. I took a walking video until I found myself at another famous location: Muscle Beach (photo at start of this post) where a couple of girls were nice enough to offer to take my picture with my cell phone without running away with it afterwards. I scurried back to the tour bus hoping they had not left me behind.

Santa Monica Pier in the background

Route 66 Western end

We drove by Marina del Rey, Westchester, underneath LAX, before hopping on the 405 freeway to head back to Long Beach. I took videos of the tour bus going up the two bridges before John dropped my off at the Renaissance Hotel where I bid goodbye to my tour mates and thanked them and John for the enjoyable day.

Although I enjoyed the tour immensely, my impression of the locations we visited was that they were underwhelming. Seeing those places on TV made them larger than life, overhyped, overcrowded with tourists bumping into each other with hawkers, vendors, and locals. This impression has nothing to do with the content of the tour or the guide who did a fairly outstanding job to keep the participants informed. Also, stopovers at Olvera Street, the Farmer's Market, and the La Brea Tar Pits would have been nice. The areas we visited where also full of other tour companies like Starline Tours and TMZ Tours among others. Flying solo, I had to take a lot of selfies because I was too wary to hand my cell phone to strangers and ask them to take my photo.

Having experienced all that in this tour, I have to disclose that this was not my first time being in most of those locations although the times I was there was not for sightseeing. I had been to these places a few times: Los Angeles, West Hollywood (nowhere close to Hollywood and Highland), Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Venice Beach, Century City, Griffith Park and more locations between and farther north. In the days when I was still running a lot, I had been to those cities to run in road races, but it was difficult to enjoy the view when you were gasping for air as you were trying to run as hard as you can. I think I’ve run at least 3 L.A. Marathons that started and finished in 3 different locations in the past. The only place in the tour where I haven’t run through was Beverly Hills because I don’t think the folks who live there think a bunch of sweaty people running around in their underwear through their neighborhood was classy. This time I got to enjoy being in those locations breathing normally, fairly comfortable and not sweaty despite the rising humidity, and aboard a tour bus.

And last but not least, the photo I should have taken at Venice Muscle Beach, LOL!

Blogger limits the size of the videos one can upload but I'll try to upload them on You Tube and provide the links here at a later time. If you happened to have read this blog post, thank you for reading.

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