Once upon a time, I went to Los Angeles. Sort of. People that know me now are often surprised to find out that I used to be a celebrity following, tabloid reading, WhoWhatWear style following fanatic. I could tell you which celebrities were dating each other and where they were spotted and what they were wearing. In the early 2000’s I think I wanted to be best friends with Kate Bosworth and, true story, have a pair of gold, sparkly shoes that I bought as an inspiration from her style that ended up being my trademark in college.
I know, this is a far cry from the Appalachian Trail hiking, often covered in dirt, athleisure wearing gal that I am now. But, back then, Los Angeles was a dream trip. And then one of my college friends moved to Huntington Beach just south of L.A. Yes. Please.
Okay, disaster might be a slight exaggeration. But it wasn’t good. While my friend had many great qualities, being a good host was absolutely not one of them. My friend was renting from one of their friends’ families and the family was also staying in the house at the time. Additionally, my friend didn’t take time off of work while I was there. The combination of those two things meant that I ended up spending a lot of time with strangers in their home without my friend there as a buffer. While some people might thrive on that, my introverted, social anxiety riddled self was very, very uncomfortable. When I wasn’t doing that, I was wandering around the beach area near the house waiting for my friend to get off of work because, being too young at the time to rent a car, I was without any means of transportation.
Did my friend have some days off while I was there? Yes. And the things we did on those days were what my friend wanted to do. Because, did you know, it’s not cool to go to Los Angeles? Los Angeles is SO overrated. So I was told. I wish I had pushed a little harder to do the things I wanted to do because, after all, I had literally flown across the country for my first California vacation. But I didn’t, and my L.A. dream trip turned into me crying on the phone to my parents because I was in an uncomfortable situation that I was too young and inexperienced to navigate and ended up having a horrible time. I left California disappointed having not even seen the Hollywood sign.
Fast forward to just a few months ago me checking my e-mail. Scott’s Cheap Flights has sent a flight deal for round-trip to L.A. for $98. I’m going to be honest: I passed it up the first time. I already had Florida planned and it didn’t seem like a smart choice to impulsively book a solo trip to L.A. on the tail of another trip with absolutely no plan. But then Scott’s sent an updated flight deal which included Hartford, a much easier airport for me to fly out of over the Boston airport from the original e-mail. Done. Say no more. I couldn’t resist an L.A. re-do. Other than a quick (very quick) perusal of rental cars to make sure that I wouldn’t get screwed financially in other trip areas, I booked my flight.
I had a blast. I did all of the cliché touristy things that I had wanted to do on my first trip and loved every minute of it. I saw the Hollywood sign. And you know what? It was awesome. I walked a bunch of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, saw the Chinese Theater, and went to the Santa Monica pier. I walked Rodeo drive (obviously without walking into the stores because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even be allowed in). I did Venice Beach/Boardwalk. Such. A. Tourist.
For the not so touristy things, I fit in my usual travel explorations as well and walked roughly 14 miles around the city. On most of my trips I’ll check out a local brewery (or two), local coffee, and, if possible, local donuts. I did not make it to the coffee shop I wanted to because, in my wandering and exploration of the city, I ended up pretty far away. I went to The Dudes’ Brewery and enjoyed a sour beer (per usual). And I had an absolutely delicious lemon pistachio donut from a completely random place in West Hollywood. I had the L.A. experience I yearned for over ten years ago.
Warner Bros. Studio
The other tourist attraction I decided to go to was Warner Bros. Studios in nearby Burbank. A longtime Gilmore Girls fan, I could not pass up the opportunity to see part of the set. The biggest attraction of the tour is obviously the Friends related stuff, but the tour also included stuff from The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon, Spiderman, and Ocean’s Twelve just to name a few. There were also exhibits at the end with memorabilia from both Fantastic Beasts and DC Comics including one of Batman’s cars.
Overall, I recommend this tour. I genuinely enjoyed the whole thing. Even for the movies and shows I don’t watch it was very interesting to see the backstage stuff and how it works. How one building that was used in some old movie was repainted and used for a modern television show. Or how a seemingly small three story building was used as the front facade of a casino in Ocean’s Twelve.
As for the ticket price: it looks hefty but, for everything included, I thought it was worth it. The tour groups are small and the guide talks to the group before starting to find out what specifically everyone is interested in and then tailors each tour to the shows/movies that is particular to that group. And, once you’re in, you’re in. There’s no extra fee for a singular exhibit; your one ticket gets you into everything. Which is great. I absolutely loath when places charge you an already high ticket price and then you get there just to find out that certain exhibits are not included. Parking is the only thing not included but it was only $5 and there looked to be plenty of free parking within walking distance if you really felt the need to avoid it (but mind you, my idea of “walking distance” tends to be farther than most peoples).
The next leg of my trip I stayed in Oxnard. The hotel was the nicest I stayed in but inexpensive. The location was perfect for the things I wanted to do: Malibu, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and Ventura where the ferry is to get to Channel Islands National Park.
The name itself is dreamy, isn’t it? I think so. But holy smokes is that an expensive town! I was actually hoping for a souvenir Malibu t-shirt but a plain solid white tee with Malibu written in black, block lettering was $69. I’ll get one from Amazon.
Another downside was the congestion. Parts of Malibu, especially the popular parts, were very congested and parking was very hard to find. But the beaches were every bit as pretty as people say they are. I could have, and probably should have, given Malibu more time. I think I originally intended to but somehow it didn’t pan out. Which is fine; gotta go with the flow sometimes, right?
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
I hoped to pass through part of this area on this trip but wasn’t sure that I would have time. I had two days planned for Channel Islands but, on the first day, the ferry was cancelled due to high winds. Which meant instead I got to do a solid hike in Santa Monica Mountains. It was gorgeous. And also very windy. I could definitely see why the ferry was cancelled after going on that hike. What was so different and cool to me was how it literally goes from ocean to mountains as opposed to New England where it’s pretty flat by the shoreline and the higher elevations are inland. I got to the peak of my hike and was looking out at the Pacific Ocean. Very neat.
The last leg of my trip had me farther inland with the main goal to go to Joshua Tree National Park. I did stay in Joshua Tree (the town) for the actual park visit but then I followed it up with a night in nearby Palm Springs as well just to check it out.
I can see why Palm Springs is a tourist destination in and of itself. It’s a very resort-y town with a ton of golf courses, great restaurants, and a ton of shopping. I also had my greatest meal of the trip here. Because can you even go to Southern California and not get tacos and a margarita?
Solo Cali For the Win
This trip was truly an amazing one. I think it’s apropos that I did this trip solo. I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do and didn’t have to compromise anything. In general, I do love traveling with other people and am totally down for the compromise but I am also an advocate for solo travel. After some personal trials, this selfish, solo trip was exactly what I needed. I know there isn’t anyone I could have done this exact trip with. I have travel buddies that would be interested in parts of this trip but no one that would want to do the whole thing.
Side note: I left Joshua Tree NP and Channel Islands NP out of this post because they get their own! If you haven’t seen it already, click here for Joshua Tree and stay tuned for Channel Islands! Oh, and FYI, I still love both Kate Bosworth and those shoes.