More links to days exploring Big Sur at page end.
Sat 27th August : Arrival from Las Vegas – 2 nights in the City of Angels
After our amazing week in Utah and Arizona, worry bead me began to fret that our next 9 days in California just wouldn’t have the wow factor we’d found in the desert National Parks. I looked down at the raw, empty dusty landscape below as we hurtled through the air from Las Vegas to LA and thought of all the other places we’d considered for this trip’s ‘second half.’ Alaska. Glacier and Yellowstone. Grand Tetons. Hmmm….we’d visited Big Sur before 3 years ago, loved it but with such a big wide world to discover, why had we come back?
I knew exactly why. It had been Chris’s choice. He has a great sentimentality for returning to places we know and love. He is very wary if not downright cynical at times about the ‘charms’ of new places which I get fixated on visiting, whereas I love exploring the unknown. I do love our old favourites too, absolutely. It can make for a more relaxing trip, more of a holiday rather than a travel experience. But Chris had got me at a weak moment and convinced me that we still had more to see in Big Sur. Our last trip had been a bit rushed, hadn’t it? We’d hadn’t really done the area full justice.
It was a nice re-introduction to Los Angeles to arrive at tiny (9 gates!),highly civilised Long Beach airport in the late afternoon where your baggage arrives outside the terminal. More out of habit than necessity, we did our usual trick of Chris waiting for the baggage while I headed across the tarmac to Alamo Car Hire , literally seconds walk away, in case there was a queue.
An arrest at the airport
There wasn’t. In fact, I was the only customer. Albeit I walked into the police arrest of a fraudster, who had tried to steal a car with false paperwork ( so the wide eyed staff told me later.) He was a heavy guy and sat head down, huddled on the floor below the front desk and hand- cuffed. It was like walking into a CSI episode.
’Hey George,’ an enormous bald headed, black American cop stood up as I approached the desk, addressing his colleague.’ Make way for the lady,’ he drawled.
George, who’d been slouched against the front desk, while the felon sat slumped below him, stood quickly aside. The whole thing was surreal but mildly thrilling (mostly because of being referred to as a lady.I’ve never got over the ‘scruffy tomboy’ tag of my early teens.)
Our Airbnb in West Hollywood
It was 5pm by the time we drove off (in another Nissan) but Saturday afternoon traffic was light and we knew our way about these Highways now – hah! – unlike the fiasco of arrival day a week ago. Got onto Hwy 405 and headed west. Our Airbnb in West LA was easy to find, on South Cochran Avenue, a beautifully converted small church, surrounded by a garden in a really attractive, safe and quiet residential area. We loved it right away. Lots of antique furniture, nice fabrics, a piano, interesting prints on the wall. Our en – suite bedroom was charming. And we had access to the kitchen and fridge – ideal.We also had free, safe on street parking right outside with a guest permit Rebecca gave us.
All in, $100 a night – not bad for an upmarket area of West Hollywood.
We could have walked to the nearest Ralph’s Supermarket, (a brilliant shop), the whole area was very safe and it was only 10 mins away but we wanted to stock up and didn’t fancy lugging heavy bags of messages back, so off in the car we went.
Got the usual health foods of wine (sparkling for me), Lays crisps and…again!….a hot BBQ’d chicken and excellent potato salad. Stocked up too on fruit – nectarines and oranges and my much needed Good Dark Chocolate.
We felt at home right away in Dave and Rebecca’s place. It was a balmy night and we had access to the garden patio, all lit up now with fairy lights. Gorgeous. Drank to the next half of our trip and hoped that it would match the success and sheer joy of the first half.
Airbnb is very inconsistent in that you never know what breakfast awaits and it’s as if the bed and breakfast part is in name only. It’s not a huge deal as we aren’t big on breakfast, but sometimes it’s nice to have a croissant or some bread to toast. No breakfast here, but I’d got a few pain au chocolats in Ralph’s to tide me over.Chris decided to, as he describes it, ‘survive on his hump’ and skipped anything except gallons of tea.
What a relief it was too , to have a longish lie after a week of getting up at a ridiculous hour to catch sunrises (mostly underwhelming) in the desert!
The Getty Centre
Finally set off at 10am (unheard of so far in this holiday – we’d usually been up four hours or more by this time). First stop: the Getty Centre high on a hill above West Hollywood, mainly because I wanted to see Van Gogh’s ‘Irises.’ It was an easy drive along Wilshire Boulevard, past very attractive shops and glossy modern buildings. And all made more elegant by towering palm trees. I liked West Hollywood already.
If only all modern buildings could look as lovely and feel as good to wander around as the Getty Centre! What a superb place. Got there about 10.45am and although there was a queue for the little train that takes you up to the main buildings it all worked super smoothly. I thought there might be a mad dash to see this most famous of Van Gogh paintings, but we were the only two people in front of it. It looked as if it had been painted yesterday. Some of the most beautiful things created by man, to me, are by Van Gogh. When I saw ‘Starry Night’ in New York, I was almost in tears.
There was plenty else to enjoy as we wandered around the incredible collection, worth billions, priceless really. The antiquities collection was particularly impressive. I was a bit disappointed in the Illuminated Manuscripts, probably because of what we’ve seen in the British Museum and we are spoiled in Europe with the range of top Impressionists on display. But it was a fine, fine place, somewhere to keep revisiting and discovering.
Got a café latte and took it out onto the outside patio area, surrounded by flowers. Beautiful. The gardens themselves were a real delight to wander through. In fact, the whole place was so life affirming.
Next stop – Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Park to see Marilyn Munro’s resting place. I’ve always been fascinated by MM, as well as some of the other big Hollywood stars during the 1950 and early 60s. Got parked very easily in an adjacent underground car park and had a wander round the tiny, tiny plots and markers that make up the cemetery. I had a map but there was one on display there so you could work out where the graves were. I assume the plaque marks where her ashes were buried; it was covered in fresh red lipstick kisses. Also saw where Dean Martin and Burt Lancaster were laid to rest. Never did find Roy Orbison’s grave. I was surprised at how small an area of ground it all was.The graves were tiny, no headstones, just small name markers.
I’m not much of a shopper but I’ve always been attracted to really posh up market shopping areas (Puerto Banus near Marbella in Spain has that same appeal as have some of the incredible shops around Monaco and St Tropez.) Must be my inner glam. I never have plucked up the courage to actually go in though, in case I set off a ‘scruff alert’ somewhere and get tossed out by those scary looking security guys.
Got into an empty underground car park below a hotel , no charge for the first two hours – there was a lot of that kind of parking round LA, very civilised!
It certainly is a beautiful area, Beverly Hills, fringed with tall elegant palm trees, pricey cafes and some gorgeous shops. Roberto Cavalli, Dolce and Gabbana, Dior, Gucci. Neither of us had taken much to San Francisco despite all the hoo-hah that’s written about it. LA so far, was much more enjoyable and attractive to us both.
The cafes were all packed so we decided we’d seen enough after an hour of aimless but pleasant wandering in the 8OF heat. Time for a coffee, so headed back to a place nearer our accommodation which Rebecca had recommended as LA’s best bakery, the La Brea Avenue Café, just 10mins drive away.
Very smart place it was inside too, with some decent looking cakes and pastries on offer but still not quite as appealing as our own baked goods at home. (I have to say, this was a bit of a disappointment during our whole trip, as I love a good selection of home baking to choose from.) I think our cold damp climate has honed our baking skills to a very high level – we need the comfort food! Finally settled on a blueberry scone (no butter served with it! shock!) and Chris had a glass of white wine. We were sort of saving ourselves for dinner, as we’d decided to eat out PLUS we could both do with missing a meal or three given how much we were packing away during this holiday.
Still had a couple of hours left of the afternoon, so took a toddle into central downtown as I really wanted to see City Hall and the Disney Concert Hall as well as the newish Cathedral of the Angels.
I was driving with Chris navigating (after his wine consumption) and all went swimmingly until we hit the one way grid system of Downtown. We could see City Hall on the map but could we actually get ourselves along the correct street to admire it? Not a Scooby’s! Round and round we went in an endless circle of left turns which took us no nearer.
Suddenly Chris shouted to me to turn right, a last minute manoeuvre into a road we’d shot past several times already. I pulled the steering wheel down hard, surprised at the sudden instruction and we took the corner at speed – going far too fast to see the large ‘No Entry’ sign. We’d just turned the wrong way down a one-way road – not a street – but a city centre four lane highway! Jesus H…..
There were a group of guys lounging around and chatting by the corner and two of them actually jumped up onto their feet in astonishment at the suicidal mad woman driver in front of them, expecting a head on smash.
But incredibly, the big wide road ahead was empty, not a car in sight. In a jiffy, I did a quick U – turn and pulled up so hard at a red light, we would have been through the windscreen if we hadn’t been belted in.
“How the hell did you not notice that was a one-way street?’ I shook my head, glaring briefly at my shaken husband.
Oh, the joy of not being to blame! Not a pleasure I enjoy very often. This was Chris’s fault. Actually I was feigning my ‘outrage’ because it had worked out fine and plus – we all make mistakes. However, Chris NEVER makes mistakes and has come down on me like a ton of bricks at times over ‘minor ‘ navigational errors. So I was revelling in a touch of schadenfreude. I looked across to the group of men, some waving at us, others shaking their heads. One or two were laughing. I gave them a big thumbs up as the lights changed and we drove off. Chris, meanwhile was staring at the map – ‘Okay, okay……’ I knew that tone. Defeat!
Finally, we arrived outside City Hall. Beautiful building, the Daily Planet of Superman fame. Just wish we’d had time to visit it properly and go inside. Then Chris waited in the car as we parked (illegally) outside of the new Cathedral while I raced inside for a look. What a building! I’m not usually a big fan of modern design but I thought it was very impressive, incredibly grand. It’s now the world’s third largest cathedral.
Frank Gehry’s masterpiece Concert Hall was next and what a wow that was.Just had time to take some outside shots before we had to move o, given the lack of parking. A whirlwind tour of a tiny part of Downtown that didn’t do it justice and just made me wish we’d booked another day in LA. We’ll just have to come back!
A meal in Rascal’s
It took us 20 minutes to drive back to our neck of the woods and park outside the house. A casual bistro, Rascal’s, five minutes walk away was, according to our hostess, excellent for burgers; they did a very attractive $5 food deal plus $5 happy hour on cocktails. Who could resist that?
We got a window table and were served quickly by a young guy. Ordered burgers with chips, a wine for Chris and a Margarita for me. Oh, I was looking forward to this!
Well, I’ve never tasted a Margarita like that in my life…nor do I wish to again! What on earth had they put in it? It wasn’t tequila,that was for sure. It actually didn’t taste of a lot come to think of it. You gets what you pays for. Had a sinking feeling that that might apply to the burgers too and – it did. Never tasted a burger like that before either…was it actually beef? Or soya? The chips were ok thankfully. Doused them in tomato ketchup and salt and they filled a space.
Sauntered back to the house and Chris poured me a glass of fizz and himself some wine and we nibbled on crisps and pistachios. The light was gone by 7pm but it was lovely to sit in the balmy evening and just relax after another long and mostly great day. A memorable for many reasons!
Next Day – The Big Sur Coast: LA to Cambria
Following days – The Big Sur Coast: LA to Cambria