Los Angeles without a car

Wednesday 3 to Wednesday 10 June

By the time we arrived in LA we were starting to come to terms with the fact that we would be travelling back home for less than two weeks to help Evan and Steph celebrate their wedding.

The wedding was planned at short notice as Steph has a study opportunity in New York, and their research showed the best option was for Ev to go on a spouse visa while he looks for work there.

We had spent 10 days doing nothing in San Pedro, Belize, so our first need was to get some exercise.

After a walk in search of breakfast and a supermarket to stock up for future breakfasts we headed north on the Venice Beach / Santa Monica Boardwalk. The boardwalk is in fact a concrete path with a separate bike path. It was Thursday, not particularly busy but there was a constant stream of walkers and runners and others on all sorts of wheels – skate boards, tandems, low bikes as well as the traditional bicycle. Bike hire places are on every side street along the boardwalk.

We found decent coffee in the Aussie Pie Shop. Then wandered past the Santa Monica city hall where OJ Simpson was tried and convicted in a civil court. The building is a beautifully proportioned art décor, like much of Los Angeles.

We walked on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and were entertained every few hundred feet by yet another musician.

We walked past up-market condos and then along Palisades Park above the beach cliffs. A famous place to exercise, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

We stopped at the Santa Monica pier. The end of Route 66 has been relocated here from Santa Monica Boulevard. A great place to catch tourists’ attention and sell souvenirs of famous travellers who have made the journey.

Santa Monica pier is also famous for its fun park including a Ferris wheel that is driven by solar power.

There were the usual fast food outlets, including Gump Shrimp in memory of Forrest Gump’s famous shrimp business.

This is when we learnt that LA is an enormous sprawling city. It looked an easy walk to the Eames house just north of Santa Monica but we didn’t make it. It was just too far. That day we walked more than 23km and fell into bed with aching limbs. We are out of practice.

The long walk back was enough to force us to take a nana nap before heading out to dinner.

We took the hop-on hop-off bus. In fact six routes run around Los Angeles each taking 1.5 to 2.5 hours each. We managed three of the routes.

The green route took us from Venice Beach to Santa Monica. We finished that route next day via Marina del Rey to the south where we stopped at Fisherman’s Beach and watched some frisky seals frolicking in the early morning cool air.

The yellow route took us up Santa Monica Boulevard to Beverley Hills, with lots of anecdotal stories about which location was used for what movie and which actor lived in what area. Bruce & I are bouncing off our memories. 77 sunset strip, Beverley hillbillies, Lucy, etc.

The commentary was slick and entertaining, probably the best we have ever been introduced to. Curiously, the commentator had an English accent, last thing I’d expect in the depths of movie land.

We also passed the U.S. Memorial gardens and cottages for veterans. A massive complex. U.S. veterans are always asked to boards planes first, are offered reduced fares on public transport and along the roads you will sometimes see an ode to the veterans – thanking them for their work, remembering those lost.

The red line took us into Hollywood, past Paramount studios and on to Hollywood Boulevard. Here we spent time walking the boulevard, checking out the entertainment places such as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Guinness World Records, Madam Tussard’s wax museum to name a few. There are also heaps of costume stores and undoubtedly at night, a myriad of bars. The Walk of Fame runs both sides of the Boulevard for nearly 2km and number over two thousand five hundred stars, but we found many ‘stars’ were duplicated. ‘Stars’ represent cinema, radio, song, TV and even theatre.

The hand and foot imprints are more special, in the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre.

On Saturday we took advantage of the last leg of our bus tour to stop off at the south end of Venice Beach where we explored the Venice Canals. These were developed by Albert Kinney early in the 20th century, in the marsh areas of the Los Angeles River, that were to replicate the canals of Venice. Unfortunately the canals were not deep enough, so didn’t flow and soon became clogged with waste and sewerage. Most of them were filled in for health reasons. A few canals have been restored leaving a delightful place to wander over small white bridges past modest, multi-million dollar homes.

We then wandered onto the Venice pier, a popular fishing spot.

One of Venice Beach’s hotspot is Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym where bodies are most certainly on show. It came out of the Californian fitness craze of the 1930s.

There is also a set of half tennis courts and a big skate board park with three steep bowls for the serious skaters and a heap of humps for the youngsters.

The boulevard is lined by stalls selling feathers for your hair, unclassy artwork and sunglasses – three pairs for $9.99.

All this set around skate boarders, cyclists, runners and walkers on the boulevard. But there is more than the fitness freaks.

The beautiful people never left Venice Beach. There are the oldies still living the life and the young ones who mimic the style – floral or stripped suits, flowers in their hair. Sadly, there are also a lot of street people, with their camps set up on the various grassy knolls along the walk. Clearly, many had seen better days, brains clearly riddled by abuse. This is the sad part of USA. There is no official social support for these people.

And amongst all these are the budding artists waiting to be discovered. They wander up and down the boardwalk talking loudly on their cell phone about their next audition or shoot, or they work the bars, looking particularly cool.

We struck the ‘June gloom’ in LA. Whilst downtown is sunny and very warm, the coastline is misty. Some days even the water, the blue Pacific, was not visible from the boardwalk, and not every day did it eventually burn through the mist.

We watched young teenagers and families already on their summer break, coming for that magic Californian holiday, only to sit shivering on a misty beach.

But whoever we saw and whoever we met, the folk are friendly. Young adults would approach us in a bar and chat, telling us their aspirations and marvelling at our adventures.

An older couple from New York told us how disappointed they were with the cool misty beach – it was warmer in NYC, and then two Mexican ladies chatted to us about a gruesome family shooting.

On Sunday we defied the LA public transport myth and took two buses to the Getty Center. The buses were slow, with many traffic lights, so after one and a half hours we were within a mile of our destination, with the extra distance on foot. Two Japanese girls who had also been given public transport directions tagged along. I was only hoping that I was properly following the instructions I was given at a gas station.

We arrived at the car park. The Getty Center is free but parking is $15. A tram takes you up the hill where white marble and travertine buildings house a massive collection of art.

We had a dinner appointment, and by the time we arrived our visit had to be limited. But still, we have seen a lot of European Art which is the main focus of the exhibitions. Instead we enjoyed the views at various angles over Los Angeles and the gardens, looking pristine against the white marble.

The centre was close to bankrupt a few years ago, and that is surely due to the extravagance of the buildings and the management of the beautiful gardens.

It appears, however, that there is no shortage of philanthropic money.

On Monday we fell into the LA lifestyle and explored by car. We drove 112 miles, about 180 km.

Our first stop was north to Malibu Beach and a drive through the beautiful cliff top avenues where multi-million dollar homes sit.

The beach was full of school children on their famous summer camps. They were energetic, playing ball games and swimming in the surf. However the mist was as thick as we had seen it.

We returned to Los Angeles with a view to touring some of the famous houses, particulate of Frank Lloyd Wright. We didn’t manage to enter any – it was up one way street, there was no parking, it was under renovation, or preparing for a new exhibition. And of course it was Monday so the other half were closed.

We also drove up to Griffith Park, first to see the Greek Theatre, home of Neil Diamond’s famous Hot August Night – one of our favourite travelling albums. The Griffith Observatory was also not open, but we had a great view over LA & the famous Hollywood sign.

On Tuesday we again tamed the public bus system to go to LACMA the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It takes up a large block in the Miracle Mile area, along with the tar pit and La Brea museum.

Our focus was on contemporary American art and to that end we saw a fantastic installation exhibition by Noah Purifoy. He came from a sugar farming family and had a career in carpentry, so he was adept at fixing and creating what others would describe as ‘junk’. In his later years he created numerous 3D installations and displayed them on his 10 acre property Joshua Tree in the Californian desert. Some of his art was displayed here.

Another worthwhile exhibition was from the photographer Larry Sultan. He had combined professional commissions with his own personal passion of photography and the exhibition was a mix of these genres. He had photographed his parents in formal poses and also in candid shots, and he had assembled family photos in an attempt to see his inner self.

We also visited an exhibition in the Art of the Americas building, showcasing furniture and objects from the 1920s and 1930s period when Los Angeles became famous for its movie making, and fortunes in all areas were to be had.

As we left Los Angeles for the long flight home we felt, although we skimmed the surface of this massive city, we had also done justice to understanding its soul.