Downtown LA from Griffith Park
After a packed couple of days my weekend in Los Angeles was set to be a comparatively relaxed one, though still with some interesting things to do.
After a more relaxed Saturday morning we headed toward Chinatown for lunch. Located adjacent to Downtown what I saw of LA’s Chinatown looked far smaller and less ingrained than its counterpart in San Francisco, with a couple of shopping centres, markets and restaurants (and I assume some housing too).
For lunch we headed into a bustling, and in many ways baffling, dim sum restaurant. Upon arrival we were whisked to a table by one of the seemingly hundreds of waiting staff and almost before we’d sat down we were set upon by a few with a selection of dishes. Rather than ordering specific items waiters constantly circulated through the tables offering whatever it was they had, while a little disconcerting at first this did mean we had the chance to try a huge range of food I’d not really had before. From dumplings and meat dishes to fish and deserts it seemed, if you wanted it, the food was never-ending.
Particularly enjoyable were some eggy, doughy dumplings contained some kind of unspecified meaty stuff, along a with steamed prawn variety, but in general it was all very nice once I got into the swing of things and I got the impression was actually fairly legitimately Chinese judging by the clientele.
Amoeba Music on Sunset
After a look around some of the nearby shops, mostly featuring the same kind of stuff as those on Grant Avenue in San Francisco, we headed over to the Hollywood section of Sunset Boulevard.
Here we parked up behind the spectacular looking Cinerama Dome Arclight Cinema (if I’m back here again I must make a point to try to see a movie there), and headed to the third Amoeba Records store of my trip.
Even when compared to the San Francisco branch this is a huge store with countless CD, vinyl and tapes spanning all genres I could think of along with books, souvenirs, novelties and, upstairs, a huge range of DVD and Blu-ray. Much like the other branches there was a lot could have come away with but limited myself to a few selections including an album by one of the bands we’d seen the previous night, James Intveld.
It might sound odd to talk so much and in such positive ways about a shop, but in a place that feels like a mecca of commercialism Amoeba Records does something impressive in having a genuinely great atmosphere reminiscent of smaller local record shops just expanded to a huge scale with enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff and a great, varied selection of offer. If retailers want people back in their shops and not shopping online there are far worse models to follow than this.
From Amoeba we headed along Sunset to Guitar Centre. This huge store is much like the record shop but selling instruments. As the name suggests the majority of the store is taken up with a huge range of guitars but it also sells drums, keyboards and studio recording equipment.
The range of instruments is frankly bewildering though most are actually fairly standard fare until you head down through the acoustic rooms and into an area at the very back of the building housing a range of rare and collectible instruments and amps.
Amongst these were some frankly amazing vintage Gretsch guitars from the 1950s, Fender amps from the same era and, most notably, an original 1953 Fender Telecaster with a price tag well exceeding $30,000!
Compared to the UK, the USA does a lot more to celebrate Halloween and throughout my trip there had been plenty of signs it was coming up, but, on the day itself the City of West Hollywood goes all out and stages a huge street party, second only in scale to their annual Pride event. We arrived in West Hollywood early so as to be able to find a place to park and headed past the rainbow crosswalks to the mile long stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard that had been closed for the event.
With stages set up at either end and a few others in between we wandered down the wide street, some of the first to arrive, and it was clear everyone in the area was getting in on the celebrations from packed bars and restaurants to those starting to arrive in a range of costumes.
WeHo Halloween Festival
There were already some dancing in the streets early on but as the sun began to set things really began to fill up and the costumes became more elaborate. These ranged from more conventional horror movie related fare (including a particularly elaborate Ringu one that allowed the wearer, as Sadako, to appear as if she were crawling from a TV) to many other things.
Some were a bit on the risqué side too, including a pair of skimpily clad Mario Brothers and a young man wearing little more than a pair of black angel wings, while others were simply impressive for various reasons including a Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner lookalike, Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous (it could have been Joanna Lumley!) and a full size dinosaur skeleton puppet outfit.
Dinosaur puppet costume
After having a look around for a few hours and getting some food we headed home for the day and I think were all slightly disappointed the next morning when we found out the surprise special guest at the end of the night had been Boy George!
We didn’t let that effect things too much as, after another relaxing start to the day we headed down to Manhattan Beach for a bit of a walk on the pier.
The beaches that stretch from Malibu in the north to Palos Verdes in the south are hugely impressive and strongly remind me of bigger, sunnier, versions of Vazon in Guernsey, but with towns and cities backing right up to their promenades and oil tankers moored offshore filling themselves up from the offshore oil rigs dotted just beyond the horizon.
In a change from the weather so far mist and clouds were beginning to gather around the Santa Monica Mountains in the north but at Manhattan it was still hot and sunny so the ice cream and cookie sandwich from the Manhattan Beach Creamery really hit the spot.
From there we headed north, once more, towards Hollywood though this time, rather than the city our destination was the hills behind and the Griffith Park Observatory.
Parking just down the hill from the summit led to some great views over the trails and paths that wind their way up the hills as well as the iconic Hollywood sign on the opposite peak. As well as that the sight of the early 20th century, art deco styled observatory, perched on its hillside plateau were spectacular.
The Griffith Park Observatory is now much more a museum and tourist attraction than working observatory, unsurprising considering the amount of light pollution rising from the plain below, and features a great planetarium at its centre.
The show today focused on how water is crucial to the development of life and it took us from Los Angeles to the distant moons of the outer planets of the solar system exploring where there might be water, and where extraterrestrial life might exist, with stunning visuals projected onto the huge domed roof.
The rest of the complex is a museum focusing on astronomy with examples of space debris that has crashed into the Earth, a whole gallery dedicated to the differences between the planets and a section about the history of telescopes from Galileo to Hubble to the current vast arrays being built.
A highlight of all of this is a working Tesla Coil that we saw demonstrated with arcs of lightning flying from its domed top to the edges of the Faraday cage surrounding it and causing a neon sign to illuminate without the need of any power cables – genuinely a spectacular sight.
While inside the observatory was impressive the views it affords across a majority of the vast metropolis of Los Angeles are something else.
With the sun beginning to set and fog rolling in from the sea these views were even further enhanced as the city began to twinkle like a star field below us (even if its light knocked out any chance of seeing the actual stars above). Anyway its impossible to really describe the views of the city from here but you can see some in my photo gallery over on Facebook.
Famed as a hangout for LA’s rock star royalty our next stop was the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip. While there were many likely rockers dotted about the bar, being an early Sunday evening meant the place was relatively quiet so we didn’t see its most famed regular, Motorhead’s Lemmy, but none the less were treated to a great meal.
While my steak was one of the best I’ve had (and very reasonably priced) and the pizzas looked amazing, the place really sold itself with its decor and atmosphere which were something like a less corporate, more legitimate feeling Hard Rock Café.
With its location near famous venues like the Troubadour, The Viper Room and The Whisky-A-Go-Go (basically listen to some Motley Crue and you’ll get a surprisingly good idea of the Strip) its obvious why this area is a mecca for rock ‘n’ roll bands from around the world and why the Rainbow is at its centre and it rounded off our day in fine fashion.
Read about the final part of my trip here