Los Angeles feels like one big playground and an amusement park rolled into one, a place where the line between fantasy and reality is obscured.
My first time cruising on Hollywood Boulevard at night, the collision of colors of theater ‘marquees’, the neon lights of familiar buildings like The Roxy, the Roosevelt Hotel, as well as the glittering golden spark of the countless brass stars embedded in the sidewalk along the Walk of Fame offered a feeling of excitement. These are the same streets that celebrities thread. Maybe I can spot a celebrity inside that black Lamborghini.
I know it will never have the sophisticated style of Paris or the historical riches of Rome, but L.A. for me is the most entertaining city in the world. You can taste the glitz and glamour wherever you look.
I’m always amazed that L.A.’s wide freeways are always busy with the rush of cars even at night. The city is always busy. There are constructions of new buildings, a new theme park ride, and new places to visit. This city is in a constant process of reinvention. And whether it’s your first or fourth visit, there’s always something new to discover.
With camera in hand we embarked on a weekend rediscovery of Los Angeles, starting our day at 5c Diner (say ‘Nickel Diner’) for an early breakfast. We arrived on Main and 6th Streets in the heart of Downtown, amidst early 20th century classic buildings, which used to be a major center. It’s not hard to imagine when model T Ford and horse carriages traversed when seeing the old buildings, now being remodeled back to grandeur with new restaurants, clubs, cafes, and modern lofts with huge windows facing the modern day skyscrapers of Downtown. People are already waiting outside when we arrived at the Deli.
We took the table at the far end as the morning sun glazed softly thru the front glass windows. Dining on ‘Chilaquiles’, a fusion of the classic Mexican dish of poached eggs, sautéed tortillas in a green tomatillo sauce, pureed black beans garnished with avocado, queso fresco, Mexican Crema, and chicharones was simply magnificent. It reveals the strong Mexican influence of California. How I wish I had mastered my Spanish better. Just a few blocks to the east is the famous bargain shopping Mecca of Santee Alley.
We also ordered the ‘Hangover Helper’, a playful twist of the bacon omelet, which the menu declares, is perfect after that long night out of bar hopping. For desert, we finished off with the ‘Irish Car Bomb’, a gourmet donut delicacy coated with Guinness crumble and infused with Jameson cream, a favorite of locals. Soft ambient music alternates between 1980s favorites and 1950s classics accompanied the great food as the early hours of the morning blended amidst the company of both old and young diners.
Nickel Diner was born out of a vision by enterprising partners to transform this area. Already featured on the Food Channel, one can feel the homey character of the old Deli’s furnishings restored from a previous bygone era. Glancing at the wall I saw the words of an old artwork:
This is the place
There is no place
Quite like this place
Anywhere near this place
So this must be the place
It dawned on me that this is a perfect description of modern Los Angeles! Its uniqueness never fails to amuse and amaze. The bustling mash up of culture, community and cuisine, results in hip clubs lurking beside old school Deli’s, ramshackle markets wobbling near gleaming gigantic malls, palm trees swaying alongside large movie studios, and renowned museums preening beside bubbling tar pits. Indeed, there’s just no place like Los Angeles.
I can only imagine the city’s beginnings as a small pueblo isolated by mountains and desert and the back of a good harbor. Originally named ‘El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles’ from which it got its name, a migration of people started after the collapse of the California Gold Rush. Then the land gave way to large plantations of oranges and other crops.
Eventually with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1870, and the discovery of oil and development of the Port, the city expanded. Charlie Chaplin and the birth of the silent film industry transformed L.A. as the entertainment capital in 1907. Movies with sound and color followed and since then, thousands of movie and TV shows were produced in the Hollywood, Burbank, and Fairfax districts. Fast-forward to the present day, computer-generated imagery (CGI) catapults the city’s film industry into the world of virtual reality.
Walt Disney himself transformed an orange grove and built up his own dream with his famous mouse. Plan a whole day of fun at Disneyland and be prepared to do a lot of walking.
The Magic of Music
We drove north to Bunker Hill, where we saw double decked buses loaded with tourists plying the streets. A group of European tourists asked for directions to the nearest Tour Bus stop as we slide a visa card into the street parking meter. They smiled as they hopped onto the Starline tour bus proceeding from Downtown to Santa Monica Beach. Other tourists took the Hollywood Star Homes tour complete with live narration from the bus driver.
We entered the massive silver creation that is shaped like an open silver lotus flower and joined another group of tourists for an hour of freeguided tour at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s modern and majestic floral, boat-shaped structure stands out from its neighboring buildings, a sharp contrast from the straightforward and classic Dorothy Chandler Pavilion across the street.
As you enter, the first thing you notice are the marvelous free shape columns, the cool feel of the Italian marble flooring, and quietness of the acoustics. Gazing up you can see wide triangle shaped open glass windows contrasted with the easy feel of brown wood fir beams resembling the color of musical instruments.
Gehry designed carpeting guided us from the Grand Avenue Lobby, passing thru the floral carpeted spiral Cinderella stairway, which are popular with wedding shoots, and into the concert hall. Gehry used his signature defragmentation concept of design resulting in an impressive piece of infrastructure.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale also features performances by famous musicians throughout the year.
It is astounding to know that the city boasts a total of 841 museums and art galleries. We drove west to the Miracle Mile and museum row on Wilshire Blvd. to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The museum houses artwork from Africa, the Americas, the Ancient Near East, and Pacific, and include displays of European sculpture and German Expressionism. In front we marveled at a collection of 202 street lampposts collected from L.A.’s streets over the years and displayed as a whole and lighted at night.
Nature and Vista View
To get away from the urban crush, we went up north to Griffith Park, one of the largest city parks in the U.S. Entering from Vermont Avenue; we passed The Greek Theater to our left, a popular open-air concert venue. The rock band B-52’s is doing sound check for tonight’s show. We continued on the winding road thru a tunnel and emerged on top of the hill at the Griffith Observatory and
Planetarium. It offers a majestic view of Los Angeles and surrounding areas day or night. On the western slope sits the famous Hollywood sign and on the eastern base are the Los Angeles Zoo and the Museum of Western History.
Maybe you might want to hit the beach, or simply go for a hike. Perhaps enjoy an afternoon cup of coffee, catch a movie premiere, watch a concert, or go up to the mountains for a day of skiing (during winter). All are within driving distance.
If you want to soak in the sun, Santa Monica Beach is the most convenient spot. Grab your beach towel and head to the pier. You can’t miss it with its roller coaster and Ferris wheel rides. Arrive early though because the pier is usually packed with tourists. Also pack a light jacket as the marine layer can cool down the temperature at dusk.
We parked at ‘Santa Monica Place’, an open-air shopping mall, and walked towards the pier on Colorado Boulevard. We took in a few hours of sun and headed back towards the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian mall three blocks long. Sidewalk performers entertain for tips as we did some leisurely shopping and souvenir hunting. Sonoma Gardens on the top floor of ‘Santa Monica Place’ is a great place to wind down and taste the wide selection of California wine. The ambiance of the wine bar is patterned after Sonoma wine country in the north.
North Coast Cabernet from Asti Winery, Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, and a glass of Bien Nacido from Santa Maria are just a sample of a whole vault of fine wines. We ordered the cheeses and Italian meats tray and a side of Truffle Fries and Pork Belly skewers.
There are countless large malls throughout the 80 districts of Los Angeles. There is the Grove, the Beverly Center, and The Americana just to name a few. For locals though, Melrose Avenue is the place to be. Made famous from the television series ‘Melrose Place, one can find a long street lined with colorful eclectic and chic shops, restaurants and bars.
Melrose offers a whole collection from vintage, to trendy chic fashions. Melrose is one of the few genuine pedestrian neighborhoods, with its unique and quirky and slightly demented personality all its own. To appreciate Melrose, you have to do it on foot. This is a great place to spend the afternoon of people watching. Who knows, you may even get lucky and spot some celebrities.
If you experience the touristy commotion, it is okay to change your mind and go up the hills of Santa Monica Mountains.
Driving uphill, we navigated Mulholland Drive from the 101 Freeway near Universal City. The landscape quickly changed from structures and concrete into rolling green scrub hills and canopies of trees. At Beverly Glen is the gated Mulholland Estates to the right. This is the residence of actor Charlie Sheen.
Following the gentle curve of the highway, you have a vista view of Universal Studios and Burbank and the San Fernando Valley as backdrop. At Beverly Park, another gate leads to the home of actor Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Sylvester Stallone, among others.
A bend in the road marks the approach to director Quentin Tarantino’s compound. But the real prize is stopping at a turnout near Runyon Canyon, where 67 wooden steps lead you to a lookout offering a panoramic view of Los Angeles with Hollywood Bowl, another great concert venue, just below.
It’s easy to spot Hollywood with the circular landmark Capitol Records building.
Looking south and west are Century City and Westwood. Tour guides claim you can see the rooftops of the homes of Ben Stiller and Ice-T, but with a breathtaking view like this, who cares?
Waiti ng for Sunset at The Perch
Our journey brought us back to downtown, taking the elevator up to the 15th floor to the ‘Perch’, a tri-level restaurant bar with the atmosphere of a French bistro accompanied by a unique list of cognacs, armagnacs (brandy), beer and wine. A DJ was spinning party music as we waited for sunset sipping our drink on the top deck, relaxing on wicker lounge chairs with open fireplace and fire pits by the side. Down below is Pershing Square and on the background is the wall of skyscrapers and the setting sun. What a perfect way to cap another weekend in L.A.
Wish You Were Here
Next time you visit, book a window seat for your flight to Los Angeles and be embraced by the welcome sparkle of a million lights as far as your eyes can see. Los Angeles is forever changing but always memorable. You might just ponder the question; what could you give to stay just a little bit longer
Nickel Diner 524 South Main Street Los Angeles, California 90013 www.5cdiner.com
Disney Concert Hall 111 South Grand Avenue Los Angeles, California 90013 www.musiccenter.org
Los Angeles County Museum of Art 5904 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, California 90036www.lacma.org
Santa Monica Place 395 Santa Monica Place Santa Monica, California 90401www.santamonicaplace.com
Perch Bar and Restaurant 448 South Hill Street Los Angeles, California 90013www.perchla.com