I’ve wanted to do a big American road trip for a long time, but as I can’t drive, my voyages to America have come in spurts; frosty winter in New York, Pretty Baby cocktails in New Orleans and watching a lethargic Britney Spears in Las Vegas.
You can’t always tackle America as a free for all buffet, you have to order entrees.
I combined three weeks of leave for a sojourn up America’s west coast. I chose LA for it’s decaying decadence, San Francisco for its iconic easiness and Portland for it’s picture-perfect charm.
I was warned against going to LA.
‘See it, but don’t stay.’
The truth is LA is worlds apart from the publics perception of it. It’s a gritty, dirty town, riddled with homelessness, almost combusted by it’s own hedonism. This is the city where stars are born and made, endless wannabe models, actors and musicians descend upon the city followed by the thirsty agents, producers and directors. LA is a hard, rough city as a result. It’s worn, the morning’s are surprisingly grey before the sunshine breaks through, and there’s a resigned boredom on the faces of locals who aren’t so impressed by the cameras and Hollywood walk of fame.
Despite the warnings, and despite the truth that LA is a little grotty, I couldn’t help but love it. After all, the very nature of cities is to carry a certain ugliness. Naturally, upon arrival, I wanted to dive into as many touristy things as I possibly could.
I’m not a drinker, but my first night was spent drinking far too strong tequila’s at a little place not far from my hostel. This is also an excellent place to order takeaway tacos!
West Hollywood is renowned as the gay district and the Abbey forms a playfully controversial part of that. Here you’ll find more strong cocktails and dancers with barely-there outfits frolicking for tips.
Known as the epicentre of LA’s rich and famous, I was mildly underwhelmed by BH. I have seen prettier houses in Takapuna and Nice. That said, it’s still fascinating to see the house that belonged to Michael Jackson, as well as the former home of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Elvis Presley and various other celebrities. I still wouldn’t knock it if someone wanted to buy me a house there.
Beverly Hills leads neatly into Rodeo Drive, a privileged hub of shops, restaurants and bars.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame
One of LA’s most iconic sights, the walk of fame stretches for 1.3 miles and new stars are constantly being added for the stars of the future. There are also blank stars on which you can pay to have your name added for a gimmicky tourist photo. Although the locals view the stars much as Londoners view pigeons, there are few things as comparable to catching sight of the star of a celebrity you love.
Hop on hop off bus tour
My favourite bus tour to date was the trip I took in Las Vegas. New Orleans followed closely behind. LA’s bus tour was slightly underwhelming, the bus itself was grotty and not well-maintained and the information was provided via earphones rather than from an animated speaker. I still adore these bus tours as a quick way to get a glimpse of the city. It helps me orient myself and figure out what I might want to return to. Catching glimpses of Sunset Boulevard and the infamous Viper Room was a highlight, as well as seeing the Comedy Store and the Groundlings, where endless famous comediennes got their start.
The Hollywood Sign
The Hollywood sign is synonymous with LA. It represents stardom, fame and opportunity. It’s the red flag that calls actors from far and wide to Tinseltown. Naturally, everyone wants a picture with it. I took a tour via my hostel, but you can just as easily go alone or book a tour through a company.
LA LA Land fans will recognise the Griffith Observatory. I was driven up here up night via Uber, just missing the sunset, but interestingly, my Uber driver had quite a lot of dirt to dish on Tom Cruise and Scientology, so it was worth it for the celeb gossip alone. In fact, my Uber driver on the way back down also had some dirt to dish on Tom. Side note: If you want first-hand celebrity gossip, take an Uber.
The planetarium experience is incredible and incredibly relaxing. The views of LA are brashly beautiful.
The Viper Room
I’m into the sordid side of Hollywood. Much tragedy has taken place here. The Viper Room, previously owned by Johnny Depp, was the location where River Phoenix, brother of Joaquin Phoenix, overdosed. Surprisingly, the club was empty, but ethereally lit in green and red and we spied a famous actor from Walk the Line, not a bad celebrity spot.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
Sight of the famous Hollywood hand prints, a tour of the theatre illuminates Hollywood’s heady past. Immortalised in glass cases are outfits belonging to Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Vivien Leigh. The cinema itself is the definition of grandeur and an evening spent watching a film here would not be wasted.
Downtown LA is definitely worth a visit. As well as the Walt Disney Concert Hall (quite frankly a bizarre building), El Pueblo de Los Angeles (the cities birthplace) and the impressive City Hall. There’s also an impressive food market here that sells absolutely every kind of food imaginable.
Special shout-out to In-N-Out Burger. No further words required.
Pool Party at the Hotel Roosevelt
Every Wednesday, there is a NightSwim at the Hotel Roosevelt, renowned for housing Marilyn Monroe and Shirley Temple, amongst other famous inhabitants. You have to sign up online and the doormen can be a tad douchey. Only when we walked away did we eventually get let in, but it’s worth it for the cool ambience inside.
Venice Beach and Santa Monica
LA’s beaches are almost celebrities in their own right. Whether you want to swim, eat, shop, drink or check out where Arnie used to work out at muscle beach, you can do it here.
Venice Canals Walkway
Despite the fact that tourists flock to this area, it still feels very subdued and tranquil and away from the fray. A taste of Venice is captured in the canals, and the quirky houses that line in.
Known for it’s technology, cable cars, piers and iconic landmarks, I was surprised by the fog that douses the city daily. Midday is the perfect time to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, when the whipping wind gives way to boundless blue sky.
Most of my time in San Fran was spent eating. I consumed so much sushi and so many tacos, that I am pretty sure I am slowly transforming into some hybrid of both. Tacorea is a fusion of Korean and Mexican food and there is delicious sushi to sample in Little Japan. Coqueta sells Cuban food by the Embarcadero and SushiTown is an intimate little sushi diner not far from the centre. Hot Sauce and Panko is another must try!
Hop on hop off bus tour
Ah yes, another famous hop on hop off bus tour. SF is a kaleidoscopic city, there is colour everywhere. The happy hippy era of SF still seems alive and well in colourful art murals and eccentric shop fronts. My friend described SF as being like a donut, the centre comprising of the Tenderloin, can be a place to miss, whilst the outside is full of the good stuff (icing and sprinkles.)
Some of SF’s most famous residents are hootin’ and hollerin’ sea lions, who laze about Pier 39. The residents weren’t too hot on them at first, but when they realised they weren’t going anywhere, they soon acclimatised to them. Now, the sea lions draw visitors from far and wide. As well as the sea lions, this is a great place to shop, eat and drink.
Mrs Doubtfire’s house
2640 Steiner Street, otherwise known as the house from Mrs Doubtfire, is worth a visit if you’re a hard-core Robin Williams fan. The houses are all swanky and beautiful and carry a little movie magic.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Windswept is the word I would use to describe myself after walking the entirety of the Golden Gate Bridge. A walk to the Battery Spencer viewpoint gives you a gorgeous view of the bridge, city and Alcatraz, perfect for the photo album. Remember, if it’s blue skies you want, head there at midday when fog is less of an issue.
My whirlwind trip through Oregon involved a nudist beach, camping at Bagby Hot Springs, checking out Tilamook and Astoria, heading to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland and exploring Cannon Beach to see Haystack Rock, another filming location from The Goonies.
I didn’t take many pictures in Oregon, my camera was the last thing on my mind! Oregon is renowned for its diverse landscapes. You’ll find forests, mountains, beaches and farmland as well as a city pulsing with life.
All these three weeks have done is left me longing for more of America. ‘Til next time.
All my love