Hollyweird and (Some of) the Greater Los Angeles Area

I hate to admit when I have a less-than-stellar time in any given place. Maybe it’s an ego thing because I always take pride in enjoying the good, the bad, and the ugly of any location and therefore taking off the rose tinted glasses here and there. But among the metropolitan components that often get lumped together as "Los Angeles," the bad and the ugly have stuck out a bit more on my two visits to the City of Angels than I expected.

After reading about improvements made to the metro system that reaches from Pasadena to Long Beach to Santa Monica and more, I was a little surprised that simply getting around was still such a pain point. Of course my phone accurately showed all possible transportation routes wherever I wanted to go, but even going a short few miles entailed two -- if not three -- bus/metro transfers. These ran few and far between, which could be because LA is notorious for having the worst traffic in the United States. Patience is definitely required for LA’s public transportation, but it’s hard to have patience when you’re a little on edge due to unpleasant surroundings. Instead of taking public transportation like the good little budget traveler that I am, I found myself often saying, “Screw it. I’m getting an Uber.”

LA is old Hollywood glam, 60s and 70s hippie rock stars and singer songwriters, luxury brands, and anything else show-biz. However, it’s also trash all over the streets, grim convenience stores, and anything else sketchy. The extreme gap between Los Feliz, Runyon Canyon, and Beverly Hills versus parts of Inglewood or downtown is disheartening even though some of these places don't have LA in the actual address. Even the area around the artsy Petersen Automotive Museum wasn’t the nicest, despite proximity to major organizations like the SAG-AFTRA headquarters. Don’t get me wrong. I can’t think of any major metropolitan area in the world that doesn't have plenty of struggling people who resort to digging through trash cans or even violence. It’s just weird to see this when the most prominent people and companies of the global entertainment industry are in mansions just a few miles away.

Petersen Automotive Museum

All is not lost in the megapolis of LA, however. There is plenty to do and see, especially showbiz things. I may often disagree with who and what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chooses for the annual Academy Awards, but the Academy Museum was still entertaining. The building offers exhibits on the components of movie making like casting and costume design, and features real Oscar trophies on display. There are also temporary exhibits highlighting specific films and filmmakers, screenings of previous popular films, and a (distant) view of the Hollywood sign from the top floor. Check its website often to see if archives from your favorite films will eventually get on display. When I visited, there was an exhibit on "The Godfather" and "Casablanca," each with fascinating behind the scenes stories.

The Oscar for Shrek on display

Studio tours are enthralling insights into the movie making industry. These tours allow you to see film and TV sets that have often been reused and repurposed for more than one project. For example, the Warner Bros studio tour in Burbank includes the fountain from the opening credits of "Friends" and props from the "Harry Potter" series. Universal Studios in Universal City has a studio tour and amusement park rides inspired by major film franchises like "Kung Fu Panda" and "Harry Potter" again, thanks to a weird licensing agreement with Warner Bros, apparently. Paramount Pictures in LA and Sony Pictures in Culver City both have tours too. When narrowing down the studio choices, think of your favorite films and TV shows and see which studios are responsible for them. Of course not every project ever created will have something on display, but you're bound to find something from a piece of beloved pop culture on any of these tours. I will say, however, that my creative prop guy coworker absolutely loved the Warner Bros. tour if that offers any guidance.

All is especially not lost when you check out entertaining places with quintessential California feelings around the greater LA area. Venice is definitely one of them. The canals and the houses around them are fun to gawk at even though Venice Beach is the main attraction. The beach is extensive with plenty of space but the buildings and stores that line it are even better. The section of Winward Ave with the VENICE string lights is great place to start. Here and along the beachside walkway that the street leads to, you'll find clothing, skateboard shops, and vintage stores selling clothes that would be completely at home on Jim Morrison, who used to frequent the area. I donned some of my favorite boho clothes for the occasion and pretended it was the late 1960s. As for food, there's plenty. Belles Beach House was my personal favorite. Artsy murals combine surf and skater imagery with a hint of fantasy while artists sell their own artwork or even play chess on the walkway. Muscle Beach is here too. It was definitely memorable to see people with orange-y spray tans near the outdoor gym equipment. There is even a skatepark right on the beach.

A skateboarding store on the pedestrian walkway

The iconic Venice string lights

one of the murals near the beach

stores near the beach, also a "Barbie" filming location

mural and stores

Muscle Beach's outdoor gym

Buildings with stores along the beach's walkway

Hippie vibes turn into glitz and glamour in the areas surrounding Venice. Marina Del Ray to Venice's south epitomizes yacht rock with dozens of boats sporting witty names throughout the docks. While some are big and luxurious, even the smaller sailboats are envious. You may even spot a sea lion or two.

Just north of Venice is Santa Monica, a nearly utopian atmosphere that is again, not technically LA. While some of its shopping and pedestrian-friendly hotspots have declined in popularity (like the Third Street Promenade), downtown Santa Monica still has plenty of high-end shops lining walkable streets. However, the area's biggest draw is Santa Monica Pier. From restaurants to amusement park rides to the iconic End of Route 66 Sign, the pier is touristy, but not unforgivably so. Those amusement park rides offer great views as well.

Third Street

view from end of the pier

Route 66 sign halfway down the pier

close up of the amusement park rides

entrance to the pier

Santa Monica is not the only shopping paradise. More iconic swanky shopping opportunities are famously on Rodeo Drive. This street actually commemorates big names in fashion with a collection of plaques called the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style. Designs from the major brands on Rodeo Drive usually find themselves on celebrities. Think Cartier and Ralph Lauren. These brands are in plenty of other cities which ritzy people frequent like Paris and even Las Vegas, but these particular Rodeo branches happen to be in Beverly Hills. Lots of celebrities live in the hilly areas just slightly north and west of West Hollywood (hence the sweeping views from many of the homes there), but Beverly Hills might be the neighborhood that comes to mind first. Its perfectly tree-lined streets ooze with elusive success if that makes sense.

Beverly Hills sign

somewhere close to residential Beverly Hills

Places along Sunset Blvd like Specialty Car Collection (peek in the windows to see luxury cars) definitely show how the other half lives too, but this street has more emphasis on showbiz. The section known as Sunset Strip is infamous for the highs and lows of celebrity. The Chateau Marmont hotel is still a working hotel and a place for celebrities to host parties, but it has also long been a place for the rich and famous to do whatever they want -- even in the early decades of Hollywood. You can guess what I mean.

The sex, drugs, and rock and roll themes of Sunset Blvd don't end there. It is practically a pilgrimage site for rock music fans. When I spent some time near the street’s iconic Whisky A Go Go concert venue, I wanted to pretend it was the 80s and Motley Crue was gonna walk by at any minute. They got their start on Sunset, along with the likes of Guns N Roses and The Doors. Just feet away is the Viper Room, formerly known as Filthy McNasty’s. Mick Jagger and Elvis Presley were known to stop by this very bar. It's no wonder that both hangouts are mentioned in "Daisy Jones and the Six," a fictional but realistic tale of a rock band gaining fame in 1970s LA (the Chateau is a key location in "Daisy Jones" too). Whisky A Go Go and the Viper Room are both still in business too, but check their websites for hours and performance schedules.

zoom in to see bougie houses overlooking Sunset Blvd

The Viper Room ft. me

Hollywood Blvd isn’t too shabby either, plus it is fairly walkable. You'll come across a few remnants of Old Hollywood like the historic Pantages Theater built in 1930 and El Capitan Theater from 1926. "Jimmy Kimmel Live" is filmed right next to El Capitan. Across the street is the Dolby Theater, which hosts the Academy Awards each year. The Hollywood and Highland shopping area next to the Dolby has great Hollywood Sign views too.

Walking along the stars on the Walk of Fame is lots of fun, but you might want to research locations for the stars you want to see. The list is ever-growing and some are not exactly on Hollywood Blvd. For example, all four Beatles have their stars outside of the can't-miss Capitol Records building on the intersecting Vine Street. What might be even more fun is checking out the cement handprints in front of the TCL Chinese Theater. This theater still hosts movie premiers as it has done for decades. As a pop culture history junkie, I loved seeing this particular piece of Old Hollywood.

Capitol Records (made to look like a stack of records)

Chinese Theater

Guess which star I was most excited to see

one of many iconic prints at the Chinese Theater

Every time more of my favorite celebs gets to put their handprints at the Chinese Theater or receive a Walk of Fame star, I want to visit LA again. But then I remember the hassle of getting around. Ubers add up and the area's airports (there are more than just LAX) are not super close to the aforementioned fun hotspots that match the glitzy image that movie premiers and celebrity mansions evoke.

The best way to catch all of the above highlights is a hop- on hop-off bus tour. As I’ve already explained, this metropolis is quite spread out. These bus tours double as audio guides too. I loved riding by places once visited by the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Elizabeth Taylor, places I would have missed without the bus tour’s audio accompaniment. Tours will set you back around $55 bucks, but so will a just a few Uber rides. Check the maps provided online to see where these buses make stops. You can start and end from any of the stops too, which adds to the convenience. Sometimes taking pictures from these open-top buses means you’ll have people’s heads in the pics, though haha.

Maybe next time I’ll venture out to the parts of LA that have a bit more separation from the “LA” umbrella like Burbank. Here is where Warner Bros is located. Or Long Beach so I can grab a ferry to Catalina Island. Despite my qualms with LA public transportation, there are metro lines that can get you to these areas.

Not to sound like a YouTuber, but if anyone has any tips on where to go in LA, leave a comment so we can all hear some advice. Or if you know any celebs who would be willing to show me around LA’s more relaxing and idyllic sides, give them my contact info (Austin Butler, please help a girl out here). I’m not ready to give up on this city!

P.S. For a better explanation of what is actually LA versus independent cities (which are like suburbs to LA and are still interconnected via public transportation), click here.