A Travellerspoint blog

Venice Beach, Sony Studio, Hollywood Sign

Oct 7, 2013

We had a very busy day ahead of us. Our first decision was to decide which studio tour to do. We had 3 to choose from - Sony Pictures, Universal or Warner Bros. Universal and Warner both seemed pretty pricey, as well as long and we didn't want to spend hours and hours doing a tour. So we settled on Sony Pictures which was a few hours...but that was for later in the afternoon...first stop...

Venice Beach. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to check ahead at what was in Venice Beach and we totally missed the canals and other great areas...instead, we walked along the beach a ways, then walked back along the boardwalk. This had to have been the biggest disappointment of the trip - but totally my fault. The waterfront was nothing but t-shirt stores, 'get your medical marijuana license' shops and just plain old tackiness. Not to mention the people who pester you for 'donations' or to buy their CD...really, I'm a middle aged white woman - do I want your CD full of rap music...uh...no! The beach itself was lovely, and I really wish I would have looked at my notes - I left Venice Beach with a feeling of disappointment, which carried over a little during the rest of the day. What looked like it would have been fun would have been to rent a bike and bike along the beach, but I was too worried about getting to Sony to get one of the few tours available each day.

Again, what can I say about LA traffic...stuck again...and we programmed to GPS wrong and ended up in a different Sony lot - then when we asked a guard and got it figured out (we weren't even close) we had a hard time finding the correct spot - circling the block. For such a huge building, it is kinda off the main street, but there is no signage at all to let you know where it is. And then we turned into the area where they do the filming...asked the very friendly guard and he directed us - right across the street to the underground parking area. Free parking with the studio tour - which was great. Into the huge building, but the next tour was sold out, so we had to wait until, I believe it was 2pm for the next one...so we had a few hours to kill. But it was lunch time so we wandered out and down the road and found an A&W and then wandered back and checked out the movie memorabilia in the lobby area. Time to get our photos done! One thing I will say, for the least expensive of the tours, they give free parking and a free souvenir photo, which we've had taken at other places that wanted $15-20 for the 'memory' photo. I was a little underwhelmed by the tour...the tour guide was very nice, but we got to see an 'old' main street, the Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune studios (snore), the area where Adam Sandler has his offices (no AS tho) and sometimes plays basketball, told where a lot of things were filmed in the warehouses, got to look into one to see the garage from 'The Goldbergs' and just kinda general - 'this is where a lot of stuff is/was filmed' but we didn't really see anything exciting - the highlight was seeing the RV used in Breaking Bad, along with Jesse's car, Walt's Aztec, the car from that Will Ferrell racing movie and maybe some kinda 'famous' guy who no one knew his name...not even the tour guide - so maybe he's been in a movie or tv show, but not 'movie star' famous. I know it is a working studio lot, and people just can't wander onto sets, but...meh...

So...back thru the traffic...this time, we were heading to Griffith Park and the Observatory. It being a Monday, we didn't realize that the Observatory was closed. But we really went up to have a look at it and see a view of the city - and the Hollywood sign - which I didn't realize you could see from there (or maybe I read you could and forgot...?). We were lucky enough to snag a parking spot as the lot was quite full even tho the Observatory was closed. And we were there at the 'golden hour' - perfect light for taking photos - and the Observatory was lit with a lovely golden glow. There was a bit of a haze (smog?) in the air so the Hollywood sign wasn't crisp and clear, and you could definitely see the haze over the city. We stayed about a half hour and admired the views and I think if we ever got back, I would for sure like to go into the Observatory itself. And I think we'd try to find the time to hike up to the Hollywood sign - you never know - we may get back someday!

So we found ourselves with a hour or two to kill so we decided to head way back across town to the Santa Monica Pier. We took side roads as opposed to the highway - I'm not sure if it was faster or not, but at least it was more interesting. By the time we got to the Pier area, it was dark and we were having a little trouble finding a parking lot - we found one, but then noticed the sign that said it was closed at 6pm or 7pm - anyways - it was after we arrived - my only guess is it's for residents after a certain time...so we left there and drove around for another 10 min and finally parked at a large mall a few blocks away. The Pier was mostly closed up for the night unfortunately - the amusement park itself was closed (a few of the restaurants were open) - but the Ferris wheel was still lit up so we watched the changing patterns for a few minutes, hit Bubba Gump's to get a t-shirt for my sister back home, and then walked back up to the mall to get supper from the food court. Back to our accom to get ready for the next busy day!

Posted by u2traveller 16:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Santa Barbara, Los Angeles

Oct 6, 2013

This morning we gave ourselves a few hours to explore Santa Barbara before heading for Los Angeles. First stop was to the botanical gardens, which, for the entry fee (I think it was $8), was a little disappointing. We did have a nice wander thru, but they were doing some improvements to the gardens that wouldn't really look 'good' until next year. We spent about 45 min here walking around (and I got to see some lizards!) before heading for the Santa Barbara Mission...founded in 1786! After just having dropped $16 at the botanical gardens, we didn't want to spend another $8 or $9 each to tour this (had we known, we would have skipped the gardens and just did the mission - hindsight!). The main church was open (preparing for Sunday services) so we stuck our head in for a few minutes, but I didn't want to wander and gawk while they were having their church services. So, that being a bit of a bust, we went to the County Courthouse, which at least two of our accom hosts told us not to miss. Completed in 1929, it's a very nice Spanish style building. Lots of nice artwork on the walls, lovely tile work, and you can climb up the clock tower for some amazing views of the city and surrounding mountains (hills?). Being a Sunday morning, we found a spot to park just outside on the street and spent maybe 20-30 min looking around (and eating that yummy raspberry cookie we got the day before in Solvang!).

Back on the road to head to Los Angeles, and our airbnb in El Segundo - so close to LAX - the planes landing and taking off were really noisy, but we had a hummingbird to watch, and were so tired at night we didn't notice the noise. And I like watching planes - wish we'd had time to go to a hill our hosts told us about to watch the planes - but time was tight!

On the drive to LA, we passed thru Malibu, and tho we had no shorts...and were wearing jeans...we had to stop and go on the beach for a few minutes just to say we did it! Lovely beach....very warm day again. And also along the coast drive, as we were coming to Santa Monica, it was hard not to stare in awe at the multi-million dollar homes built on the hills and wonder which rich and/or famous people lived in them. I wish we could have parked along the way so I could have snapped some photos...it must be nice to have that much disposable income!

We arrived mid-afternoon to our airbnb. We had a supper date with a lady who had couchsurfed with us a few years ago who I'd kept in touch with via email. It was nice to see her again, meet her dogs and cats and see her home, in the hills of Culver City area. But first...we had to get there. Well, our first introduction to 'real' LA traffic - on a Sunday afternoon no less! So of course the highways are eye-popping - at one point we counted - I can't remember - 4 or 5 layers criss-crossing over. We were cruising along fairly well...then all of a sudden, practically a dead stop. It took us about 20 min to go a few km's. Then all of a sudden we were moving again...for a few minutes, then packed again for 5 min. Our GPS, before having the traffic jam, said 20 min to get to her place...it took almost an hour. We actually made it right on time, and she arrived just ahead of us, but only because she got stuck in the same traffic. We had a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant and visited for a bit then back to the room - traffic not quite as bad, but still backed up in a few spots.

Posted by u2traveller 16:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Hearst Castle, Solvang, S Barbara

Oct 5, 2013

So, another early morning awakening so we could do the 45 min drive back to Hearst Castle. Not a bad drive - but we did get behind some slow people, but still made it with 10-15 min to spare. So it was on the bus up to the Castle. We passed some Aoudad big horn sheep on the way...I think it took about 10 min from the bottom up the windy road to the top. Hearst Castle was build by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and it took many years of planning and design and construction - from 1919 til 1947. There are three different tours, and I guess if you had all day, and didn't mind dropping $75 (tours are $25 each, 10% discount if you do more then one) per person. That was a little too rich for us, so we did the grand rooms tour. Included the assembly room, refectory, billiard room and theatre, where you are shown a short movie. The rooms were awesome, of course. The art, antiques, the wood carvings - the carved ceilings were beyond. After the tour was over, you could then explore the grounds. Another very hot day without much shade. We saw the Neptune pool, some of the gardens and I was way more impressed by the Roman pool, where you went to take the bus back down - the gold and blue tile work, the reflection of the tiled walls in the calm pool - it was lovely. We spent an hour on the tour, and about an hour wandering the grounds. Back down to the main area and there is a 45 min movie included in the ticket price about WR Hearst and the castle. We just missed it by a few minutes, so had a while to kill before the next showing. Grabbed some lunch at the cafeteria (they actually raise cattle and sell the beef - in jerky and hot dog form! But I had a turkey club sandwich - Darrin had a hot dog...pricey!) There was also an interesting little museum there about the Hearst family, the newspaper and movie business, and about some of the antiques. Time for the movie...which I kinda nodded off thru - hey...it was hot out and I was tired! And it was dark...

So now the rush was on a little bit to get to Santa Barbara, as we wanted to stop in the Danish town of Solvang. It was about 2pm...and I thought we'd only be at the castle til noon or 1pm. But I enjoyed the visit. If we ever get back, I would for sure do one of the other tours.

I had read about Solvang in an e-guidebook and saw that it wasn't very far from SB...about 45 min and on the way, not in an opposite direction...and I was charmed by the photos of the windmills. We arrived with about 90 min to look around and see the shops before they closed. One of our first stops was a shop selling ice cream, so I had a coconut and chocolate gelato...and then kicked myself 30 min later after passing yet another Danish bakery filled with delicious treats that wouldn't keep in a hot car. Note - if you go to Solvang, do NOT fill up on ice cream before going to the bakeries. We did pick up this huge flat, crispy cinnamon thing, which was very flakey, and I also got a raspberry filled iced shortbread type cookie (can't remember the names). Absolutely divine! There were lots of shops selling Danish goods, of course the neat windmills and lots of half timber stores and houses.

I felt time was pressing as I told our airbnb host we'd be there between 6 and 7pm...so off we went - another winding drive along the coast (with more slowwwwww people in front of us...groan). It was a bit of a trick to find her apartment - the parking was kinda wonky - I ended up having to get out of the car and walk around - it is a complex of buildings and the covered parking is in the middle of what would be the courtyard, or middle of the complex...and the numbers didn't follow any pattern. But after a few frustrating minutes, we found it...but she wasn't there. Luckily, I was able to access her wifi signal while in the yard to find the last message she had sent (after we left the hotel that morning) and she told us where she had hidden the key. She came along a few min after we arrived. Her home was beautiful - the king size bed, the gorgeous comforter and d├ęcor, private bathroom - it felt, to me, like a 4 star hotel. It was a little more then I would usually pay for an airbnb, but I was so taken with the photos, I splurged. She was a really nice lady (a real estate agent!) and she told us where some good restaurants were in Santa Barbara - of course she doesn't know my fussy husband. We actually drove by a few places she mentioned, but on a Saturday night, the very large main downtown street was full of activity and no parking to be found. We drove all the way to the boardwalk (which I had wanted to see) and ended up eating a very noisy, kinda OK pizza place - def not on her recommend list...lol. We then drove over to the boardwalk so I could see of I wanted to return in the morning, but, as I was finding typical of the boardwalks - a few restaurants and some touristy shops...nothing I felt the need to return and see. Back to the room and we were going to explore Santa Barbara some in the morning before heading to Los Angeles.

Posted by u2traveller 16:02 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Down the PCH

Oct 4, 2013

So we got up early (again) as we had a lot of travelling to do today. We decided the night before to skip the Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey and head for Carmel. Carmel was one of those places I was waffling on whether to visit or not...I just thought it would be expensive boutiques and expensive houses....well, it was, but I wish we had more then a few hours there. We parked on the road and walked down to the ocean - the beach was amazing that early - some surfers, and lots of people with dogs. It was quite a steep bank/dune to get down (and walking up was pretty taxing). The sand was cool, the water even cooler, but it was very peaceful. After about 20 min we decided to head back up and check out some of the shops. One shop we went in - if I had jumbo luggage I could have bought so much, as it was I picked up these metal birds for the wall that are made from old oil drums in Haiti, they are fair trade, and a cute cow chalkboard for my kitchen - it was very much my style (not to mention the golden retriever who was in with his owner and got a belly rub from Darrin). Also hit a t-shirt shop and got a nice shirt with a black lab on it because it reminded me of my doggie. Also in Carmel there are all these little alleys leading to hidden courtyards - we only checked out a few, but I really wished we had spent 4 hrs there, not 2. So if you are trying to decide whether to visit Carmel, do it for an afternoon. But we had to hit the road to start the scenic coastal drive!

So...off to the coast! What a beautiful drive. We started off stopping at every look-off, but if you did that, you'd be two days doing it all. We had planned to stop in Big Sur, but we drove thru and there didn't seem to be much there...we kept waiting for a big town...maybe it's more about the beach/park there, or maybe there was a road leading to something more..we were feeling a bit of a time crunch to get to Hearst Castle, so we just kept driving. We of course stopped at the Bixby Bridge look-off - famous for car ads...lol. The drive reminded me a lot of the Cape Breton Highlands, except brown and cactus-y instead of green and pine-y. And the water is that gorgeous blue, well, not Caribbean blue, but def not Nova Scotia grey!

We stopped along the way at a beach where there are thousands of elephant seals - it was interesting to read about how 20 years ago there were a few dozen, and now it numbers in the thousands. I think it was San Simeon State Beach, as we were fairly close to Hearst Castle. They weren't doing much other then laying around. Not breeding/birthing season, just relaxing season. By the time we got to Hearst Castle, it was 3pm or so. The tours were sold out for the day, which kinda sucked, as I booked a room in San Luis Obispo, which was a 45 min drive away, thinking (hoping) we'd do the tour before continuing. But that was not to be, so we booked a tour for 9:45 the next morning so we would have to get up and go. We explored the gift shops and looked around so we wouldn't have to do that the next day, as after the tour, we had to head for Santa Barbara.

By the time we got to our room at the Rose Garden Inn (not much in the area, just lots of other hotels and the highway, but a really nice swimming pool/hot tub/waterfall if you like that kinda thing), booked the night before thanks to the power of wifi and expedia, lol, it was around supper time. I was reading reviews the night before of the hotel and people mentioned this 'Margie's Diner' right next to the hotel. We asked at the front desk, but she didn't mention - just told us where some fast food was, so back to the room and I was reading Darrin reviews of the diner...most saying...HUGE portions. Apparently they'll split meals...so we decided to go for it. Not too many other people there so we didn't know what we were in for. I ordered a hot turkey sandwich, half portion, and Darrin order beef au jus - beef on a crusty bun with beef juice for dipping. OK, I don't know how a person with a normal appetite could eat the amount of food we got. Darrin had what amounted to a whole bag of French fries, and I had enough potatoes to feed me three meals...but it was so good! Homemade potatoes, not instant, delish homemade gravy, I'd hate to see a full portion of the sandwich - I'm assuming double the meat. One strange thing was fruit on the side instead of veggies - like orange, melon...meh. I ate 2/3rds of the potatoes, they were so good and we both ate all the sandwiches. I even got a piece of apple pie to go as my evening snack! Back to the room, about 7pm by now, so we asked at the desk about any shopping nearby. We walked about 10 min to a Target store and picked up a few toiletries we were running low on and then back to the room. Then just sitting and watching TV and letting alllllll that food digest. Also managed to do a little bit of laundry.

Posted by u2traveller 16:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Monterey

Oct 3, 2013

So it was up, bright and early again, to drive about 4 hrs or so back to the coast. Unfortunately, hubby decided to ignore the GPS and we ended up hitting construction in a few spots, adding probably 20 min to the drive and an accident on the highway slowing traffic for another 10 min, not to mention, according to the GPS, the other way was at least 30 min faster, so overall we wasted an hour.

Some interesting things we drove by on the way to the coast...(one was lots of dust...the wind was kicking up lots of dust from the empty fields, visibility at times like diving in a snowstorm!)...fields of cotton, tomatoes, oranges, lettuce, radish, oil derricks and some tumbleweeds! Very different scenery thru the interior...very dry. We drove thru the Lemoore and Coalinga area; instead of taking the 5 back up, we drove west to the 101. Some twisty roads as well.

We had booked a hotel (Comfort Inn - nice hotel! Well priced, quiet, clean) in Monterey the night before, when we determined that we would most likely, between all the driving and seeing the aquarium, would not start heading down the coast til the next day. But the hotel check in didn't start until 3 pm, and we were there around 2pm, so we just decided to head right to the Monterey Aquarium. We had admission included with our CityPass purchase. After a few attempts at finding the parking garage (so many one way or do not turn streets here), we parked and walked to the Aquarium. It is quite nice - watching the sea otters, really neat jellyfish display, lots of 'local' sea life, huge tanks with sharks and sting rays, touch tanks (but I didn't want to get slimy...shudder). We spent a few hours here, then decided to walk along the main street. Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed - lots of tacky souvenir shops (and some nice ones as well). Some pricey restaurants...all in all it was only maybe 5 blocks long. Having pretty much skipped lunch, we decided to eat at Bubba Gump's (!) for supper. Some of the other restaurants seemed pretty pricey. Oh! Before I forget, in SF and also in Monterey, they have a Ghirardelli chocolate store (they were, not sure if they still are, made in SF...and we were walking towards the old factory when we were in SF, but it was getting cold, and we were hungry, so we went the other way)...OK, they had $10 ice cream sundaes!!! Wow, I mean, I like ice cream, but geez! Anyhoo, at Bubbas I had fish and chips and a lovely blueberry lemonade (so sweet) and Darrin had an onion ring barbeque hamburger. A lovely view of the waterfront, but a very LOUD restaurant - the music is so loud you can barely think...not sure why they do that in restaurants - maybe I'm just old and cranky. And we passed (mostly) the Forrest Gump quiz the waitress gave us - Darrin was pretty good!

It was getting late so we decided to just head to the hotel to relax and watch TV. We did drive by the Fisherman's Wharf area, but decided to pass on it the next day - more shops and restaurants. We did pick up some salt water taffy at one of the stores downtown, as well as a few gifts for us at a shop that sold a lot of tea and kitchen goods.

Posted by u2traveller 16:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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