It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of LA.
After my brief stop there ten years ago, I always said I wasn’t bothered about ever going back. But it felt kind of unavoidable on a road trip that was leading us down the coast of the USA, and in some ways I did want to go back one day to prove my past self wrong. Surely my more travelled self would find all of LA’s redeeming features and my experience would write off everything I hated about the city in the first place.
After all, my trip to the States in 2008 was one of my first ever trips abroad. It was my first time travelling “solo” (I was in LA as part of a TrekAmerica group) and it was my first time really seeing homeless people, drugs, and – dare I say it – it was probably the most multicultural place I had experienced. I didn’t feel unsafe as such, but as a sheltered, naive 19-year-old on the other side of the world, parts of it did make me feel uncomfortable. But now that I’d been all over the world and seen all of this on larger scales, I was convinced it wouldn’t be as bad as I remembered it.
But that is kinda why we only planned one day there.
And that meant I wanted to pack a lot in.
First thing on the list? The Warner Brothers studio tour! (I have of course done the UK version which is all Harry Potter, and while this does have a tiny bit of HP, it focuses on absolutely loads of Hollywood movies, and one highlight for most people is the Friends’ Central Perk set!)
I had no idea what to expect from the traffic in LA (well, I did – I was pretty sure it was going to be a shit show) so we left our motel bright and early to head over to Burbank.
The traffic, incredibly, was not a shit show. In fact, we got to the general vicinity of Warner Brothers’ studio a full hour and a half before our slot tour, so we decided to whizz on by and go up to the next thing on my list: Griffith’s Observatory.
10 years ago, I was really, really underwhelmed by the Hollywood sign. It’s tiny. So I wanted to get a bit closer (if we’d had more time, I’d like to do the hike up to it).
I quite enjoyed the drive up there – through a fairly nice neighbourhood (for LA!) and along the side of the hill.
We also made a massive mistake because we, idiotically, paid for parking approximately 20 seconds before realising we didn’t need to. So for reference – if you go up there before midday, you do not need to pay for parking.
Then the observatory was closed. Our second mistake. Again, for reference – if you want to go into the observatory, it’s closed on Mondays.
It was also smoggy as hell.
Despite the clear skies in one direction, we literally couldn’t even see the city from up there!! A completely wasted opportunity for a great view, and we’d accidentally paid for the privilege. I think if we hadn’t done that, it wouldn’t have been such a bummer.
And the Hollywood sign? STILL TINY.
It’s okay guys, you don’t need to get your glasses. I zoomed in a bit.
Overall: a fantastic detour to Griffith’s Observatory!
But no matter, we were about to have a GREAT time on the Warner Brother’s tour!
The price of the tour is really good for what you get; the parking is not. We had to pay a whopping $12 which technically lasts all day but realistically you’re only going to use it for a couple of hours. But at least we had been expecting that.
The great thing about the tour is you never really know what you’re going to get or what you’re going to see. This is because it’s a tour of live, working sets. Obviously if they’re filming, you don’t get to watch, so you don’t get to see that lot.
But we did see the Gilmore Girls’ café, a theatre building that’s been used in loads of films, and we walked around the New York which has been used for countless movies and TV shows including Friends.
The productions that shoot on the Warner Brothers’ lots aren’t all Warner Brothers. Other studios regularly rent out the lots, and they can do what they like to them as long as they’re returned to the state they were rented out in. Therefore a lot gets repainted, things can get blown up, and there’s a square of tarmac where they shot an advert (of all things) where they broke the ground and had to re-tarmac it so now it looks really obvious. I cannot remember what the advert was!
Anyway, it was really cool getting to walk around on sets, and we even got to go into Conan O’Brien’s studio (strictly no photos, though) – obviously while it wasn’t filming. We saw Ellen’s building, but didn’t get to go in.
Some of our highlights:
The stop at an exhibition building full of superhero and Harry Potter costumes and props – two of my favourite things! Unfortunately, I’m a Marvel girl and it was DC… and it was mostly Fantastic Beasts rather than Harry Potter… it was a bit like when we went to Hobbiton excited to see all the cool LOTR things in the shop, and it was full of Hobbit movie merch instead, which let’s face it, just isn’t quite as cool.
But – I loved it in here! While I’m not a huge fan of DC, it had loads of Wonder Woman stuff which was really cool!
AND! AND! We got sorted!
BY THE SORTING HAT!
For the record – after always being convinced that I would be in Gryffindor, I am officially a Ravenclaw. I’m actually okay with that. Is it okay that Ash is a Gryffindor, though?
The other highlight was the freaking warehouse of Batmobiles.
Like, for real, does it get any cooler than this?!
After our fun drive back through the back lots, passing little buggies for various TV shows and we even got a sneak peek at the Camp Crystal Lake set for Freddie Vs. Jason, it was off to Stage 48 where the guided tour ends.
This is where the infamous Central Perk set is, and also an actual Central Perk café (without the couch, but you can get a cup of coffee in a Central Perk cup!).
It’s also got an incredible exhibition of costumes and props through the ages, as well as interactive bits and pieces and even photo opportunities like flying on a broomstick.
There is some seriously cool stuff here – like check out these outfits from Casablanca, and James Dean’s infamous red jacket!!
There are props and sets from absolutely loads of movies like Beetlejuice, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, Gravity, Interview With A Vampire and Nightmare On Elm Street, just to name a few. You could watch audition tapes of lots of stars, scripts that I wondered whether they had been used or rejected, photos from the filming of some ace movies like 300, Inception and a ton of classics. It was just endless.
Even the gift shop is fun!
I had SO MUCH FUN on this tour, and it was definitely my highlight of LA.
Next on the agenda was, as a natural progression of course, the Hollywood strip. I think if Ash had been to LA before, we might have skipped this, but it’s sort of a must-do on your first visit.
And so we found ourselves on the chaos that is Hollywood Boulevard.
I had amazed myself by successfully driving there, and not only that but we managed to park at the Hollywood & Highland shopping centre car park, which is $2 per 20 minutes, but if you validate your ticket at a participating retailer, it’s 2 hours for the $2 instead. Much better than the $12 we had just paid.
And that’s how we found ourselves on Hollywood Boulevard with hot chocolates in our hands in the Californian heat. Because we panicked and we wanted our $2 parking, dammit.
Anyway, I sort of had fun following the stars and finding the people I wanted.
But it was soooooo busy, to the point that Ash almost had a panic attack. When we were in Bangkok, we were “warned” about how chaotic this market was near the Grand Palace. That was a walk in the park, especially compared to other places in Asia, and we laughed about it afterwards. Hollywood? It was just crazy. I was having to time my photos of the stars between people’s legs. People dressed as Bumblebee and Batman and storm troopers were just constantly in our faces.
We ducked into the Chinese Theatre courtyard, thankful to “get away” from it all.
I actually sort of missed the Chinese Theatre last time. I don’t remember looking at the hand prints and foot prints at all. But it is SO much cooler than the stars! It’s almost like a piece of the stars, rather than “another plaque”.
Ash was very proud that he has bigger feet than Bruce Willis. But smaller – unsurprisingly – than Samuel L Jackson. (Also my hands fit snugly into Emma Watson’s!)
We also looked for the oldest one – the earliest one we could find was Jackie Cooper (aged 8) in 1931! But apparently there are a few from 1927.
And the Star Wars ones are cool, too!
But soon, we were getting overwhelmed again and we headed back to the car to attempt the drive to our next destination.
Not realising that we would be directed ONTO HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. I DROVE DOWN HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. FOR FIVE WHOLE MINUTES. (Because we were stopped for 90% of it.)
Anyway, we were off to Santa Monica. Santa Monica is the only place I remember enjoying last time I was in LA, and it was short-lived because at that time we didn’t know how far apart everywhere is in LA, and two of us had a flight to catch. So as soon as I knew I was coming back to LA, Santa Monica was the one place that immediately made the cut.
If the day had been longer, we might have rented bikes and cycled down to Venice beach and back, but remember when I said parts of LA had made me feel uncomfortable? One part was a homeless guy shouting that he wanted money for drugs at Venice beach. I remember being shocked by how run down it was, considering it was VENICE BEACH.
So I definitely didn’t feel like going there when there was only limited daylight left.
Santa Monica was the perfect way to end the day.
We wandered down the pier, grabbed some unhealthy pier food, and waited for the sunset to roll in.
I wasn’t expecting much, being that it was cloudy and the sun was so obscured that colours were scarce. But I’m glad I kept a look out, because suddenly:
We continued our wander – mostly to make sure we avoided the worst of rush hour – but it was time to head south, utilising our spare day to visit San Diego! We were glamming it up in a rest stop for the night, making our last-minute motel reservation the night before very worthwhile (it meant I didn’t look like a tramp in LA!).
So I came away from LA feeling surprised about three things:
- The traffic was nowhere near as bad as I expected. I had factored in way more time than necessary for our journeys – as you do in LA – but found ourselves getting between places in more or less the time it said it should take. I feel like we just got lucky, though!
- As much as I still wouldn’t call myself “a fan” of LA, I do think we could have easily spent more than one day there. We did all the main things on our list, except go to an In N Out burger which luckily we did in San Francisco AND Las Vegas! But there are some other really cool things I’d like to do (um, hello Disneyland and Universal!), it wouldn’t be bad to have a beach day, and we could have been more choosy about when we went up to Griffith Observatory too. We could have found some cool bars or eaten great food too, but at the end of the day we achieved what we wanted from LA.
- I wouldn’t actually rule out going back to LA one day! I won’t go out of my way to, but if I have the opportunity then I won’t immediately write it off.
Have you ever gone back to somewhere you didn’t like? How did you find it the second time around?
While you’re here, you might also like some of my other posts about our USA road trip:
⭐ The Perfect Day(ish) In San Francisco
⭐ Yosemite In A Day: All Of The Incredible Views In Yosemite National Park
⭐ Hiking Angel’s Landing In Zion National Park
⭐ Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend: The Gems of Page, Arizona
⭐ Finding The Weird, Wonderful & Awesome: Driving From LA To Las Vegas
⭐ Ticking Off A Bucket List Road Trip: Driving Highway 1 & Big Sur
⭐ Hikes, Sunsets and a Crazy Camping Adventure at the Grand Canyon
⭐ That Time We Were Trapped In Monument Valley
⭐ Arches National Park and a Surprising Stop In Moab
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