10 Tips for the Second Time LA Tourist, Calif.

It’s inevitable that, as a first time visitor to Los Angeles, you will be drawn to its better known sights like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Rodeo Drive, and Venice’s Muscle Beach. I am all for it; the media and motion picture industries are part of Los Angeles’ DNA, and what we might read about, watch on TV, or see in the movies can greatly influence our itinerary choice. It’s on the second trip that you may want to reconsider the Star Line bus tour and tourist-friendly draws however, and explore the layers beneath LA’s celluloid surface.  What you’ll find is a patchwork of cities and neighborhoods that enrich the county’s culture and communities.

Here are 10 suggestions to help you sidestep the well trodden tourist path:

1. Mulholland Drive – Perhaps one of the most appealing things about LA, aside from its warm climate, is its proximity to the ocean and mountains. To see it from top to tail, rent a car and cruise along the 21-mile stretch of winding Mulholland Drive. The road will take you through the Hollywood Hills, over the Valley, and to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Tip: GPS is essential in navigating this road as it is broken up in parts.

An overlook on Mulholland Drive - looking at LA's downtown

From Mulholland Drive, looking over LA’s downtown

2. Hollywood – LA looks different when you look at it through the letters of the Hollywood sign. To get to the top of Mt. Lee, Google: Beachwood Drive and Hollyridge Trail. There’s room for parking and it’s about a 40 minute walk, one way. Tip: Keep on track by staying left of the trail.

My sis and me peeking over the fence at "that" sign

My sis and me peeking over the fence at “that” sign

3. Griffith Park – Los Angeles is home to a variety of architecture; Moby even has a blog dedicated to it: Moby Los Angeles Architecture Blog. A beautiful example is The Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. At once futuristic and historic, the details of its precast building blocks harken to Mayan times; you may also remember the house from the 1980’s movie Bladerunner. Tip: Address is 2607 Glendower Ave, Loz Feliz.

Part of the Ennis House

Part of the Ennis House

4. Echo Park – Echo Park Avenue has the artisan feel. Street art colours the hilly neighbourhood; cafes offer pour over coffees for $5 a cup. Located close to downtown LA, the area feels like it’s on the cusp of something big. Tip: Go to FIX for a pour over coffee – order anything from the “Handsome Coffee Roasters” line. Pazzo Gelato on Sunset Blvd offers $1 scoops during its 4-6pm Happy Hour. The Pear Sorbetto is highly recommended.

Top: European Yoghurt, Strawberry Custard Gelato; Bottom: Pear Sorbetto, Espresso Gelaro

Top: European Yoghurt, and Strawberry Custard Gelatos; Bottom: Pear Sorbetto, Espresso Gelato

5. Silver Lake – More than 500 staircases around Los Angeles used to serve its public transportation system; now they are a good excuse to stairwalk and see a neighbourhood up close. An excellent starting point for the novice is the Music Box Stair Loop in burgeoning Silver Lake, made famous by the movie starring Laurel and Hardy. Tip: Check out Walks @ Secret Stairs-LA for more routes. The website counts the Music Box set to have 133 steps across multiple landings as part of a 2.5 mile loop.

The shaky looking "Music Box" Steps

The shaky looking “Music Box” Steps

6. Downtown LA – Newly built condos in the area have attracted a young entrepreneurial community. The Art District has injected a creative vibe in this part of town, and galleries can be found along Spring and Main Sts between 2nd and 9th. Tip: Check out a couple of the laid back eating spots: go to Urth Caffe on Hewitt St for a Moroccan Mint Latte, or a Belgian Beer at Wurtskuche on East 3rd.

Arts District

Arts District

7. Westwood – In the midst of a cluster of office buildings rests Westwood Village Park Memorial Cemetery. Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, and other stars are buried here. Tip: Located at 1218 Glendon Avenue, the narrow street looks like the entrance to a parking lot – it’s easy to overlook.

Marilyn Monroe is buried in the site at the top right

Marilyn Monroe is buried in the site at the top right

8. Pacific Palisades – For a panoramic scene that spans downtown LA to the ocean, hike to the top of the Los Liones trail. It’s 2 miles each way and not too strenuous but wear your sneakers. Tip: Go on a sunny day for a clear view.

At the top of the Los Liones trail - Pacific to the right, and downtown to left (not seen in this photo)

At the top of the Los Liones trail – Pacific to the right, and downtown to left (not seen in this photo)

9. Malibu – Perhaps one of the loveliest museums in LA is The Getty Villa. High up in the mountains, with the Pacific as the backdrop, it feels Mediterranean – manicured gardens, fountains, and a herb garden surround a villa that houses antiquities and sculpture collections. Tip: Allocate some time to lunch on wine and cheese in the courtyard, but don’t forget to reserve your entry free tickets on http://www.getty.edu prior to visiting.

The grand pool at The Getty Villa

The grand pool at The Getty Villa

10. Venice Beach – The Pacific is alluring, the boardwalk is not. Navigate the Venice Canal Walk in the direction of Abbot Kinney – a retail stretch of road where you’ll build up an appetite as you window shop. Tip: Go to Gjelina for an excellent modern Italian meal, or stop at TOMS for a pair of shoes. Browse as you sip on an espresso made to order from their in-store coffee bar.

Inside the TOMS store

Inside the TOMS store

1, 2, 3… ~ Silver Lake, Los Angeles (A Dedicated Post)

With you, the glass is always half full… Who’d think that 3 years later, we’d be celebrating where it all began, at Silverlake’s Lamill Coffee?

Readers, if you are in Los Angeles and visit Lamill Coffee Boutique – a happening spot in architecturally pleasing Silver Lake (think Modernist), I recommend the Orange Infused Cappuccino with Cocoa. Coffee+Orange+Cocoa go so well together, especially on a chilly winter’s day.

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A Passion for Travel

Recently I was asked to write down why I am interested in travel photography…

Well, I love the way I feel when I travel.

Malibu Pier, CA

I remember wishing to be a travel agent when I grew-up, and I fulfilled that ‘dream’ at STA Travel, only to realise that I’d rather be the one doing the traveling. I got into the media industry to fund my addiction; ultimately, it propelled me to embark on a working stint overseas.

Park Avenue, NY

What interests me most about travel is anthropology; there’s nothing more inspiring than immersing yourself in another culture and being able to “walk in another person’s shoes,” to quote Anthony Bourdain.

Walking towards the Hollywood Sign; downtown LA in the background. As seen from the Hollywood Hills, CA

To me, documenting travel means that writing and photography go hand-in-hand; placing images alongside words better tells the story. I’m interested in showing the reality of a place or space – using words and images to stimulate a response, a feeling. Whether I choose to shoot street photography or architectural compositions, that depends on the nature of the story.

The Binoculars Building, by Frank Gehry - Venice Beach, LA

To know I may have inspired, educated, or motivated someone through moments captured with my words or through my lens makes me happy.

And that was my answer. What would you have said?

Street Art - Silver Lake, LA

A Glimpse: Kaleidoscopic Kalifornia

Looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses…

Well, any pair of sunglasses will do as a sun-drenched Southern California – affectionately referred to as SoCal – naturally dons a pink tinged hue.

Having lived in San Clemente and Los Angeles for two years, it was exhilarating to return to the old stomping grounds after over a year-long absence. Complete immersion meant a daily embrace of the great outdoors; watching the changing colours of an always spectacular sunset; and falling, with ease, into a laid-back lifestyle that included much coffee-and-carb indulgence by day, and pressing of lip-to-champagne flute by night.

Sun-soaking and gastronomy aside (these activities were/are by no means mutually exclusive), admiring SoCal’s vistas was a soul-awakener. Appreciating its wild and urban landscapes through a fresh pair of eyes inevitably brought to mind the cliché: “The grass is always greener…”

What I love about SoCal are those pops of colour that are woven into its fabric, be it natural or with compliments of a street artist. Like a daily vitamin boost, the bright paintbox used to decorate the region provides a natural high; the various shades of bright-against-brighter are a quick fix to lift the spirit, even when rolling out of bed to welcome a fog-induced or overcast day.

All the while, a predominance of pink against green abounds.

During my travels in SoCal, I attempted to throw any, and all, of its stereotypes to the wind. I wanted to appreciate it from a grass-roots level; at the same time, acknowledge those industries – film, architecture, arts – that put its cities on the map.

I achieved that as best I could in a short space of time. The evidence is in the details.

Enjoy the prologue to a series of posts that I’m looking forward to dedicating to SoCal’s natural and urban palette. Starting from the southermost point of the trip, in Carlsbad, and ending in Los Angeles County – to the north, I hope you’ll join me on this trip.

A note of caution: the communities of SoCal are so diverse and spread out, you may feel as if you’re jumping from town, to ‘hood, to hilltop – all in one post. No fear: this is simply an introduction.

I’d be interested in your feedback – opinions, perceptions, and experiences – of Southern California. What you love about it, and what you don’t; what you may associate with it, and what may come as a surprise to you.

“Every time you can walk in another person’s shoes, the world is a slightly better place.” ~Anthony Bourdain

For now, enjoy an introduction to the makeup of SoCal!

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A blindingly bright sun, vast spaces, and the smell of a nearby ocean are instant reminders as to why Southern California is one of the best places to live well.

CARLSBAD, SAN DIEGO COUNTY

The Flower Fields are located in the coastal city of Carlsbad – a necessary stop for those who have always dreamt of being engulfed in a mass of blooms, not unlike those of Dutch tulip fields. Here, the slopes of the hills at Carlsbad Ranch are painted in stripes of yellow, white, purple, orange, and red, in a grid-like formation; crops of ranunculus flower for 2 months of the year during the spring. Symbolic of new life – regeneration through replanted bulbs – this sea of blooms set against a backdrop of infinite blue is a dazzling sight.

Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts. ~ Sigmund Freud

I’ve always thought my flowers had souls. ~ Myrtle Reed

A scenic drive, further up the coast…

SAN CLEMENTE, ORANGE COUNTY

… along Route 5, a highway edged by palms and decorated with a glistening ground-cover of the flowering evergreen Purple Ice plant; past the military site of Camp Pendleton, after which the road eventually leads into the Nixon-associated town of San Clemente, in Orange County (OC).

The hot pink of Bougainvillea is so prominent; the plant’s foliage and blooms spill over the terraces of Spanish Colonial styled villas and fringe the pathways of San Clemente’s residential streets.

A sparkly ocean mesmerises visitors and residents; its waves seduce surfers. Located close to the equator, the sun always shines brighter in this vacation town.

A little more north…

LAGUNA BEACH, ORANGE COUNTY

A leisurely twenty minute ocean-side drive ebbs and flows as the road leads into luxe Laguna Beach. Inspiration for artists since the 1800s, its steep cliffs are testament to the beauty of an unspoiled landscape; their rugged faces filled with homes, as well as an assortment of native shrubbery and flowers, punctuated by statuesque palms along the upper edges.

Laguna: a retreat for writers, Hollywood stars, and artists. Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Rudolph Valentino, John Steinbeck, and Mickey Rooney escaped here. The house below is located in the space where Bette Davis’ former home stood.

The expanse of blue hues viewed from the Rooftop Lounge of the historic La Casa del Camino Hotel call for endless champagne toasts. Twist my arm.

I’ve always found that seafood served near the ocean tastes better. Decadent eel sushi and cold bold sake at Hapi Sushi; the restaurant’s name, perhaps a spin on the oft-felt emotion of travelers and residents who wrap themselves in Laguna’s lush surroundings.

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Traveling a couple of hours, away from the OC and into Los Angeles County. The freeway traffic flow is a steady one, for the most part.

GRIFFITH PARK, LA

In an inland direction: LA’s urban sprawl is made up of a number of vastly different communities. The city boasts an enviable sunset – its brush stroke of pink, yellow, purple and gold along the horizon is best seen from Griffith Observatory, up in the hills near Griffith Park.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES

Minutes away – say 15 or so, sans traffic – downtown LA bustles. Surprisingly easy to navigate, this part of the county is undergoing a revival. Art galleries, historic architecture, and new dining spots feed off of one another in an area on the up. Downtown living means escapism in the midst of skyscrapers. Perfect example: Figueroa Hotel’s pool terrace is a resting spot for the uninhibited in the midst of surrounding commerce.

Nearby, the fruits borne by a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification: lofts, Porshes, and blushing blooms.

In the midst of it all, a creative community resides; its art colours a still-industrial neighbourhood.

In another part of downtown, more art abounds. Amongst institutions dedicated to contemporary works and music, stands an undulating design by Frank Gehry: the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Reminiscent of SoCal’s natural surroundings, a part of its architecture takes on the look of an unopened tulip; even a rosebud, nipped.

Further afield, close to downtown LA…

MUSEUM ROW, LA

Los Angeles County Museum of Art makes for a bold statement through design, colour, and a palm-dominated landscape. Its exterior is as beautiful as its art filled interior.

Better still: the Renzo Piano designed outdoor/indoor dining space – Ray’s and Stark Bar – doesn’t shy away from serving up heady liquid artworks of its own. Tequila, orange, and ice – such are the beverages prepared by innovators manning the liquor cabinet.

Onwards toward creative pastures of a different nature, not too far away…

SILVER LAKE, LA

Overcast skies don’t darken or dampen the ambiance of bohemian Silver Lake; the neighbourhood brims with street art, reflective of a creative community, alongside modern architecture. Case in point: modern architect Robert Neutra’s former office is located here, by Silver Lake Reservoir.

What’s more, the resident trend-setters take their coffee very seriously. Artisans on the rise.

BEVERLY HILLS, LA

The plush and posh Beverly Hills is emblematic of hedonism and history; well tended gardens, magnificent mansions, grand tree lined streets; once home to Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball,and Doris Day, and now home to Bill Cosby, Rod Stewart, and Diane Keaton.

Along its wide streets, playful architecture draws on LA’s cinematic roots….

.. and gives way to classic icons -pretty in pink, the famed Beverly Hills Hotel graces Sunset Boulevard.

Close by…

HOLLYWOOD, LA

A place where all the touristic action takes place. Yes, one may immediately think: Walk of Fame, the Wax Museum, and the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, with handprints of celebrities implanted by its entrance. Think this once: see it all, appreciate it for what it’s worth, and move beyond the crowds.

Seek out the Cirque du Soleil, Kodak Theatre, Capitol Records Building, Amoeba Records; perhaps make some time for a glass of bubbly at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Hike even, and be wowed by viewing the Hollywood Reservoir and landmark Hollywood sign, up close.

HOLLYWOOD HILLS, LA

Spectacular architecture is built into Hollywood’s hilly backdrop; the Hills are alive with modern homes, Mediterranean inspired villas, and imaginative designs of a whole other level – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House made famous by Bladerunner, and John Lautner’s Chemosphere House (below), are a couple of impressive name-droppers.

Meanwhile, modern lines and pink storefronts dominate on nearby Melrose Avenue, in West Hollywood.

Back to the coast…

MALIBU, LA

Dr Feelgood: breathing in the salty air, courtesy of the Pacific, does the soul alot of good.

In this part of LA, multi-million dollar homes line the water’s edge and are set into its steep hills. Malibu Pier offers spectacular 360 degree views – for free.

Malibu – home to alcoves and private beaches, wineries, acclaimed Nobu restaurant, and the delightful Mediterranean-inspired Getty Villa. From this museum, you can view the ocean whilst staying cool in the mountains.

Its gardens are worthy of a visit alone.

Down South from Malibu…

SANTA MONICA, LA

This is the place for beachside city living and a haven for outdoor exercise pursuits – located only a half hour away from the Hollywood Hills. It’s expanse of beach is interrupted by a few volleyball courts, lifeguard huts, and a boardwalk catering to cyclists, dog-walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, and leisurely strollers.

The Santa Monica Pier can be seen from miles away; so much larger upon closer inspection. A few streets back from the beach, the city offers boutique shopping and a location of the ever-popular Urth Caffe – this is an excellent spot for coffee and farm-to-table dining.

Adjoining Santa Monica is the trendier…

VENICE, LA

Art colours the streets; restaurants are full at noon; galleries, boutiques, and homewares stores are made for window shopping and browsing. Whilst it may be known for the famed boardwalk along its Muscle Beach, a stroll along Venice’s main street, Abbott Kinney, and a meander alongside the town’s canals is a much more pleasurable experience.

In closing…

Southern California, from sunrise (if you’re up) to sunset is a beautiful area of the US. By virtue of geographic location alone, the light that colours the horizon is sublime; its ever changing hues gently unfurl from pink, to purple, to burnt yellow, to gold. Yet it is the added drama of the region’s bold urban and natural landscape that makes the experience all the more unique and memorable.

From one community to the next, colour abounds – in its architecture, natural landscaping, art, people. An entertaining kaleidoscope.

This is a sampler of SoCal; a taste of things to come.