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Planning a Family Trip to Los Angeles
Choosing a Hotel
When planning our recent family trip to Los Angeles, I began my hotel search by asking my family which area attractions they were most interested in. With the exception of Disneyland (see my other article), the list included the Hollywood movie and music sites, the Griffith Observatory and Hollywood sign, Malibu, Santa Monica, a trip up the PCH and Universal Studios. I used Tripadvisor's website for family-friendly hotels and looked at 4 or five-star hotels in the middle of these attractions. Hollywood seemed to be central to all that we wanted to do. This left me with the Magic Castle and the Loew's Hollywood Hotel. The Loew's looked much nicer online and the rate wasn't much higher than the Magic Castle, so we chose this hotel. The location is fantastic! It is just around the corner from N. Highland and Hollywood Blvd. Attached to the hotel itself is the Dolby Theater, where the Oscars are held every February. It also has attached an outdoor mall with a variety of restaurants and shops. We couldn't have asked for a better spot! Upon arrival, we met the valet parking attendants who were helpful and informative. Like everywhere in LA, you must pay to park. (Although I know there are some room packages that cover this expense.) We opted to not use valet and self-park. However, if you are coming and going from the hotel, it is more economical to valet.
We checked in and were upgraded to a view room, we had booked a hotel view. Boy was the view spectacular! We looked out at the Hollywood sign and the Capital Records building. Our room was clean and sufficient. The chamber maids even put sunglasses and arranged my daughters' stuffed animals on the beds.
Our second night at the hotel we had made reservations for a nice dinner. I asked the concierge about calling a taxi. He informed me that all Loew's hotels have a complimentary Fiat service. A concierge worker will drive you in a Fiat anywhere within a 5 mile radius. Fantastic! Our restaurant wasn't too far, but I didn't want to walk around Hollywood in stilettos. The Fiat driver was informative and shared some information about the area as we drove through.
Every interaction we had with staff here was positive and cheerful. When we called for a wake up call each night, the chamber maid, the Fiat driver, the concierge, the cocktail waitress. Everyone was not only helpful, but went beyond our request to make us feel even more welcome and pampered. I would definitely book a Loew's hotel again after this experience.
We used the pool on two occasions: the night we arrived and the night before we left. We had a tough time finding towels the first night. The towel attendant was nowhere to be found. However, the salt water pool overlooking Hollywood at sunset made up for our soggy selves going back to the room.
In addition to the hotel itself, we ate at many of the restaurants in the attached mall. Starbucks, Auntie Anne's Pretzels, French Crepe Company, Johnny Rockets, Cabo Wabo Cantina and the Hard Rock Cafe. Again, the location couldn't be better. If you are looking for a hotel in Hollywood, it is worth the stay. That being said, if I go to Los Angeles again, I would not stay in Hollywood. It is too dirty and too crowded. it reminded me a lot of New York City, but with smaller buildings and warmer weather.
Our first stop in Los Angeles was Disneyland (please see additional article. After that we headed north to Hollywood. We spent our first day checking out the some of the music and movie sights in LA. We went to the Grammy Museum first in the downtown area. It was a quick trip, but had some super interactive exhibits. There was a viewing room upon entering with some of the best acceptance speeches throughout Grammy history. This lead into a room with various exhibits. Our favorites were the genre listening station and the decades listening stations, which featured the most influential artists and genre of each decade. On the way down to the next floor there were various instruments to play. We literally had to drag my younger daughter (age 10) away from here. The shop was pretty good too. We ended up picking up some 80's and 90's trivia cards, as we often play in the long New England winter months.
Our next stop for music nostalgia was the Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood Bowl Museum. some of my favorite artists played here, like the Doors, Motley Crue, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, etc. The museum needs a bit of updating. It was free and interesting, but I had hoped there would have been more to look at.
Next we walked the Hollywood Walk of Fame, self-guided. It was extremely crowded! Robin Williams had passed a few days before and we stopped to take a photograph of the memorial left to him. We also stopped for musicians and movie stars we greatly admired. It didn't take very long. I feel like the Walk of Fame is one of those things you should see, but it's not all it's cracked up to be. I also wasn't as impressed when I found out that the celebrities paid for their own stars. It seems kind of like an ego-trip when you think of it that way.
A Trip Up the PCH
A Trip Up the PCH
The following day was a Sunday and we felt like doing something a little more relaxing. We headed out to Pacific Palisades and then north on the PCH to Santa Barbara. We chose Santa Barbara because it is listed on one of the 100 most beautiful places to see and because it was far enough to leave LA, but not so far we would be tired out. We weren't disappointed! We arrived along the harbor and parked in public parking. Then we walked out onto Stearn's Wharf and then up State Street. Stearn's Wharf reminded me of New England. It was made of wood and had small tourist shops and restaurants. However when you turned around, the landscape was far different from the east coast! There were breath-taking views of palm trees, mountains and Spanish-style architecture.
After leaving Stearn's Wharf, we visited the Giessinger Winery. We had our daughters with us, b ut couldn't pass u the opportunity to taste wine in wine country. Our girls sat at a cafe table and we sat at the bar. The bar tender was very friendly and informative. We purchased a bottle of red zinfandel to bring home.
State Street is full of distinctive shops. We went into World Market. Now, I know those are popular in other parts of the country. However they are only available online in Boston. It was Pier One meets Home Goods. I could have done some serious damage in that store! We also went to a record store, like when I was a kid, and a hat store. Along with the typical high-end retailers you would expect to see, State Street had a unique flare.
We finished the Santa Barbara part of out trip by eating at Eladio's on the corner of State Street and West Cabrillo Blvd. It was here I noticed how many Europeans visit Santa Barbara. Aside from the waitress, I think we may have been the only people speaking English.
The best part of the vacation was next. We were driving back down the PCH towards LA. Due to traffic and a desire to see the coast, we would hop off at exits and follow the ocean. Once we got to Malibu, the traffic was dead stopped. I have an illness in which I cannot be in the sun, but the beach (because I grew up on one) is the most soothing place for me. At this point of the day it was about 6:30. We pulled off the PCH onto Zuma Beach. It was now safe to be in the sunlight and we could wait for the traffic to dissipate. Zuma Beach has to be one of the most gorgeous places I have ever seen! I think it surpasses Santa Barbara, even though that is beautiful too. People were surfing, the sun was setting, and I could put my feet in the ocean. It was an extremely peaceful place. If I ever get the chance to go to Malibu again, I will bring a hut and spend the day. Don't miss this chance if you are out there! It is the Pacific Ocean meets the laid back California vibe.
Universal Studios Hollywood
My oldest daughter is a thrill-junkie. So we headed to Universal Studios. We were also interested in seeing the studio lot tour. I have to say, I was completely disappointed. The people at the park were rude, there were only eight rides. All but 2 of these rides were virtual 4-D. First of all, that gives me motion sickness, but secondly my kids were bored very quickly. The only ride they liked was the Revenge of the Mummy ride, which broke down when I went to ride it with them. The lines were obscenely long for anything halfway decent. We went to see "Universal's Animal Actors". It was cute, but not worth the price of admission. The studio lot tour was really great! We enjoyed the CSI area, Jaws and the Dr. Seuss village. There was even a movie being filmed while we drove through. In hindsight, Sony and Warner Brothers offer studio lot tours as well. I think this may have been a better choice, as they are 1/3 the prices. At well over $300 for a family of 4 for the day, Universal Studios was a rip off.
As we left Universal Studios, we went to my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles for families with children: The Saddle Ranch Chop House. We started off riding a mechanical bull, then headed into dinner. The menu consisted of steaks, ribs and macaroni and cheese, which pleased each of us. I also had a drink called the Ranch AMF. It had 6 different liquours, was blue and came out in a wine carraff. It was delicious and strong. The music they played was rock and roll and some occassional country. We even had a man serenade us to "Wanted Dead or Alive" by request. Our waitress gave us cmplimentary s'mores on their open fire pit. If you are traveling to Los Angeles, be sure to check this place out. There is also another location in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip, that was equally as good!
Hollywood Part 2
Hollywood Part 2 & West Hollywood
The next day we stayed close to the hotel, visiting the TCL Chinese Theatre. This was a quick visit, as it only takes about half an hour to see all of the names and they were also setting up for a movie premiere for later that night. The TCL Chinese Theatre also functions as a traditional movie theatre. We were tempted to go see something, but weren't interested in the choices available that day.
In addition to the TCL, we also visited to Dolby Theatre. This is attached to our hotel, but you need to purchase tickets in the hallway behind the Hard Rock to gain admittance. It was very interesting and informative! We even had the opportunity to stand on the stage and look out at the theatre. It is much smaller and older than I had imagined. Sadly, you cannot take photographs here, but you do receive a complimentary postcard at the end.
We finished this day by taking a ride to the Griffith Observatory. The observatory is home to the Zeiss Telescope, the most viewed telescope, with close to seven million visitors since 1935. Admission to the observatory itself is free. We also chose to see the planetarium show for a small fee. This was well worth the trip. The lady who narrates the show tells the history of the constellations and planets much like reading a children's storybook. He voice is soothing with the appropriate incantations. Also, if you aren't lucky enough to get a view of the Hollywood sign from your hotel room, this would be your best bet in viewing it. It is the closest you will get without taking a 45 minutes hike up a steep canyon. There are also terrific views of the Los Angles skyline.
West Hollywood is the reason I have always been drawn to LA, with the Sunset Strip, Melrose Ave and Kat von D's tattoo shop. There is a lot of walking to be had, but if you are interested in LA's music and pop culture from the 70's through the 90's, it is worth the exercise. We ate breakfast at a place called Kitchen 24. It was delicious! Definitely worth the visit. it is located at 8575 Santa Monica Blvd. The menu is huge. The food is fresh and the decor was funky: all pink and white.
After breakfast we walked down to Melrose Ave and walked through various shops. I knew my wallet couldn't handle Rodeo Dr and I wasn't interested in dealing with tourists. This was a much nicer, more local alternative. We went into various designer stores such as Vivienne Westwood, BCBG Maxmara, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Vera Wang. The man in Vivienne Westwood was extremely kind! My younger daughter wants to be a fashion designer and he kindly showed her the fall line. It was wonderful to be treated like a star! There are many designer secondhand shops as well. These shops carry things like Gaultier and Versace, gently worn. We also found a jewelry store Avant Garde, with great chunky, fun jewelry. they are also available online at www.avantgardeparis.com.
After shopping on Melrose, we headed up to the Sunset Strip. I had to see the Whiskey and the Viper Room. We took pictures out front. I was hoping to find a shop to buy a t-shirt or something, but no such luck. We ate at Mel's Drive-In on Sunset Blvd (and also on N. Highland Ave) for lunch. A tradition for Hollywood with reasonable prices and a large menu.
On the way back to the hotel, I pulled off on N. La Brea to see Kat von D's shop, High Voltage. I was a big fan of her show and enjoy the art of tattoos. She was in there working on a client. That was kind of cool to see her! The wait to get tattooed there is typically about a month, and it will cost you a bit more than a regular tattoo parlor. But, if you are looking for a portrait tattoo, Kat is the best. So it may be worth going online and reserving a time before your trip. In addition to the tattoo area, there is also a shop with Kat-influenced knick-knacks, some books and clothes. If you enjoy tattoos or the show, it's worth the stop in.
Santa Monica & Venice Beach
Santa Monica & Venice Beach
We finished our vacation at Santa Monica and Venice Beach. We headed out to the Santa Monica pier, had lunch, looked in some shops and went to the aquarium. My girls decided not to ride the amusement rides, as they were $6/person/ ride and they didn't want to spend that much of their own money on something they can ride at home. The rides were the typical carnival rides that come through your local county fair every year. They did choose to take a quick ride on the carousel behind the aquarium instead.
We walked from Santa Monica to Venice Beach. There were a lot of tourist shops and some restaurants. If you are looking for reasonable souvenirs to bring back to your family and friends, this would be the place to pick some up. Venice Beach had a very eclectic group of people. I found beauty in the artists and their work, while my husband and younger daughter were nervous walking around.
We ventured off the boardwalk to see the Venice Canals. These are beautiful canals with houses along them, similar in a sense to Venice, Italy, except with California architecture. It is a quick stroll off the beach and worth seeing.
We walked along the surf going back to Santa Monica. Again, I felt peaceful listening to the Pacific with my toes in the ocean. Santa Monica is much more crowded than Malibu and not quite as beautiful. However, if you want a beach area with more to do than just sit in the sand, it is worth a visit.
Our final dinner, we headed back to West Hollywood and ate at the Saddle ranch Chop House yet again. This time we were serenaded to with a song by my favorite band, Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home". It was the perfect finish to a terrific vacation!
A Quick List
What You Need
Zuma Beach, Malibu
Saddle Ranch Chop House
In & Out Burger