11 Hours in L.A.

Layovers. The bane of most traveler’s existence.

But if they’re juuust long enough you can have some fun with those suckers!

This was the case for a couple of my friends on their way from New Zealand up to their new home in Canada! They had approximately 11 hours to fill and asked me to whirlwind show them around the great city of L.A. Yay!

Coffee–Necessary for Human Functionality

While customs took forever we eventually found each other and hopped in my car so I could scare them to death weaving through lanes and crazy drivers on a freeway with an amount of lanes that amazed them. We wound up going to Starbucks, a quintessential American stop, to meet another friend from Japan and plan out our day!

A Comprehensive List of Starbucks in L.A. (The city, not the county)

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Coffee is life and life is coffee. You know I’m right.

Hollywood–The Land of the Rich and Famous! … Or Not

Of course on a beautiful sunny day we had to make the hike up to the Hollywood sign! We saw snakes (to one’s dismay), squirrels (to the other’s delight! Did you know there are no squirrels in New Zealand?!), horses (cue my happy dance), and tourists with selfie sticks in their natural habitat.

Technically we only went part of the way–to the viewpoint. Going up the entire “mountain” (Mt. Lee) is fine when you have the time but all we really wanted were pictures!

The hike winds up the slope and eventually takes you behind the sign for a hopeful glimpse of downtown through the smog. The weather must be your friend and you must ask for its merciful graciousness, which we *ahem* didn’t.

However, if you look on the other side of the mountain the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank is usually visible by the freeway as well as the beautiful SoCal mountain ranges. Perfect!

Here is Hiking Guy‘s guide to Hiking the Hollywood Sign with Directions!

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Hiked to the best (front) view of the sign

Lunch–So We Don’t Eat Each Other

While L.A. has an edible diversity that may astonish and confuse some people until they wind up crying at McDonald’s because making all those amazing choices is just too much pressure… you really can’t go wrong with a burger. In fact, the U.S. practically demands you eat a burger once you cross its borders so you can hop on board the juicy, beefy bandwagon!

Now let me tell you, Astro Burger does it right.

The menu is diverse and even extends to both Greek and Mexican food, but do yourself a favor and go for a burger, fries, and a shake. Then send yourself to heaven by dipping the fries in the shake. Welcome to America!

The place is unassuming, the food simple, and in that simplicity you will realize why Americans eat approximately 50 BILLION burgers in a year. Yeah, we’re obsessed.

The location we ate at is also walking distance from Paramount Studios which makes for an interesting walk.

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So nice to reunite over a burger and fries

MORE Hollywood–The People-Watching Capital of the Universe

A quick tour of L.A. is hardly complete without the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. While I always feel bad for contest winners that get a trip there (it’s kind of sketchy in areas…And let’s just say I may not always take young children) it is actually fun catching all the names with more than one star (I’m looking at you, Bob Hope).

Here is a List of Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with Locations

Information on the TCL Chinese Theater

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My personal hero

Venice Beach–Muscle Beach, Marijuana, and Graffiti

Venice Beach is an unmissable (yes, that’s actually a word) stop in any trip to California. It is eclectic, laid back, and anything-goes. Basically it’s every stereotype of a southern Californian on one beach! My friends loved the palm tree lined streets and the groves of them everywhere. Very L.A..

It’s the site of the new Muscle Beach and you can watch buff dudes and crazy strong chicks showing off at the beach-side gym. It has an entire area of walls, barrels, and palm tree trunks that are covered in legal graffiti (epic self-expression) that changes daily, even hourly. It’s the only place I ever see people roller blade anymore and still look cool doing it!

They have awesome bread pudding and the gnarliest street performers. (See how all my old Californian adjectives are emerging?) It’s an ideal place to wind down and cool off after the craziness and the heat of the city traffic and people watch for an afternoon.

Santa Monica–Carnival on the Sea

The starting line of Historic Route 66, the original Muscle Beach, and my favorite place to sit and unwind. Santa Monica has a pier with games, rides, food, and everything that a good carnival needs! This is a fun, family-friendly spot with tons of restaurants, shopping, and a weekly farmer’s market just a few blocks from the beach.

At sunset on the pier, it was undoubtedly our favorite stop of the day! We even saw dolphins!

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Santa Monica Pier
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The crew on a gorgeous summer day

The Crazy Waitress at Dinner

The day concluded with a bit of a rushed California Pizza Kitchen dinner and a waitress that literally froze, gasped, and then proceeded to FLIP out when she heard my friends’ New Zealand accent. Apparently her boyfriend and she are obsessed with all things New Zealand and our arrival made her life!

Later at dinner she even came over and asked to record a video of them saying hello to her boyfriend. The whole thing was hilarious! You’d have thought we brought in a couple of movie stars.

Traffic–Why We’re Famous for Road Rage

In this section I’ll give you all some tips and tricks for dealing with L.A.

  • Rent a car. This is a bustling city with substandard (though improving) public transportation that we all laugh a little to ourselves if we hear someone is thinking of taking. Most people have an hour or more commute to work every morning so audiobooks, CD language courses, and radio are big. You don’t truly experience Los Angeles culture unless you sit in traffic, get honked at at least five times, cut off twice, and steal someone’s parking space right in front of them with no regrets. (2019 UPDATE: Uber and Lyft are now a thing and you’ll get a similar experience without having to worry about parking or stress over driving yourself.)
  • Take surface streets. While it’s true Los Angeles freeways are things of legend, you will see more of the city if you avoid the masses and take surface streets. Red lights might take as long as bumper to bumper traffic but you’ll experience so much more!
  • Find a crowded hole-in-the-wall restaurant and eat there. I think this is Travel 101, but if you see a bunch of locals all vying for a seat in a tiny little place bets are it’s the best. Eat there.
  • Here is a list of the museums in L.A. and when they’re free! You’re welcome!

In a city of nearly 4 million people, with cultures from all around the world (check Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Filipinotown, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia, Thaitown, and Koreatown), more than 80 districts and neighborhoods in the City alone, and in an area encompassing 469 square miles you’re sure to find something up your alley.

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View of downtown at sunset from the freeway (and oops a waterbottle reflection)

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