After the Disney machine had its way with my inner child in Anaheim, my inner adult was ready to get its piece of the action. I was in search of fortune and fame, the glamour, and the hillside mansions. I wanted the American dream.
However, little did I know that to get there, I would have to make my way through West Coast gangland, and the tall grey buildings and dark seedy side streets of Downtown Los Angeles.
This is an account of my trip through the big city grime that comes before Hollywood.
L.A., or the City of Angels, is known for its glamorous residents and as the place to go to hit the big-time and become a star. It’s also a large city known for its gang violence, and seeing as I left my chrome 9mm back at home (I’m on holiday!), Jessie and I decided we’d take a shuttle tour of the city so we could survive to update our Facebook statuses. We picked a tour that would take us from Santa Monica, through smaller neighbourhoods to Downtown Los Angeles, then Beverly Hills, and on to Hollywood, and our tour guide threw in a few extras for us because we were a nice group, and because he wanted to boost his tip money.
Firstly, the tour started in Santa Monica, which really looks like it would be quite a nice area, but it was raining. Basically, what we ended up seeing of Santa Monica was a few wide palm tree lined streets, a grey wet beach, and a cool looking pier with a rollercoaster and a Ferris wheel, also wet. This was a real shame, because everyone knows that putting amusement parks on piers is one of the greatest ideas in the history of mankind.
Next, we drove through the ‘hood, as the local criminals refer to it. We saw many run-down looking houses and businesses, and many African-Americans and Mexicans. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to take any photos, as the locals might mistake my camera flash for gunfire and retaliate. One thing I can report on the rougher areas of LA is that you’ll find plenty more corner liquor stores than you’ll find friendly smiles.
Next came a stopover for lunch at the Original Farmers Market (amazing food from everywhere), then we took a drive into Downtown Los Angeles to see what we could see, and all that we could see was a lot of tall grey buildings and a lot of homeless people. In fact, Downtown Los Angeles has one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. The central city of LA also has a lot of concert halls and theatres, such as the Walt Disney Music Hall, but the only thing that really stood out for this part of the tour was El Pueblo de la Los Angeles – the Spanish-Mexican historic centre of the city.
Here, right across the street from the Spanish / art deco blend architecture of Los Angeles’ Union Station (known as the “Last of the Great Railway Stations”), you can find Olvera Street – an old Spanish settlement with street stalls, and old Spanish buildings, including the Avila Adobe (the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles, built in 1818), and Our Lady the Queen of Angels Church, built in 1814. I felt that this little area of Spanish history and flavour (they also sell Spanish cuisine) was one of the only interesting parts in the otherwise shady old city of Downtown Los Angeles.
Maybe it was because it was a rainy day, and we were seeing most of the city from a bus window. Maybe Downtown LA would have been more fascinating if we’d walked the dirty streets, fighting our way through homeless hordes like they were hopeless zombies. On foot, we would’ve seen more of the apparently world famous Chinatown of Los Angeles. Perhaps LA would have seemed more exciting if we had been shot at whilst navigating the rough streets of the hood. Nonetheless, with the way it panned out, I wasn’t all that impressed with Downtown Los Angeles and was ready to get a move on.
Luckily enough for me, we were soon back on another iconic giant LA highway, leaving the skyscrapers behind us. As we passed Dodger Stadium (home of the LA Dodgers), and soon after, the Staples Center (home of the LA Lakers), I had a feeling we were getting close. When we passed a giant Church of Scientology building, I was certain. We were coming into Hollywood.
Jessie and I booked the full day Los Angeles Grand Tour with Los Angeles Sightseeing Tours and Charters for $56 (USD) per person. Despite losing a member on the tour group (an annoying guy who would show up late at the end of each stop), we felt that the tour was so good that we felt absolutely no bitterness in leaving a generous tip with the driver / tour guide. The tour company operates out of Santa Monica, and offers pick-up and drop-off from most LA / Anaheim motels.
We were told by our tour guide Mike that the stopover at the Original Farmers Market was a special bonus location for lunch, because we were a nice, small group of 10, without kids. I’m not sure if the tour usually stops here, but if you don’t stop here, you should be annoyed.