DSCN0287-19

Did they just skip a whole entry and jumped straight to #2? You betcha. You’re not going crazy, we’ve had a few requests for a review of this event so we’re skipping the prelims and are jumping straight into it!

Getting there: The website for the Tokyo Big Sight venue has quite clear instuctions and caters towards foreigners well with detailed maps and directions in English. Even without a major event on, when you arrive at Kokusai-Tenjijo station (Rinkai line) its pretty much a straight run to the venue. There’s a lot of open space and the unique architecture of the building makes it hard to miss (keep walking past maccas), but with something like the Toy Expo on the cards it was as simple as following the slews of scantily clad cosplayers. Done and I mean done!

IMAG1361-1

Travel tip: The event is a trade expo which goes for 4 days, first 2 are for resellers and the second 2 are for the general public. Getting there before doors open and beating some of the crowd is the key to maximising your viewing time.

Travel tip: Lockers – Having jumped straight off the shinkansen at Tokyo Station with all our luggage, the choice was either to spend time looking for our hotel to ditch our bags or head straight there to try and beat -some- of the people that slept in. We were already on the run so we decided to just take our luggage with us. In hindsight we probably should have just left them at Tokyo station but of course there’s never a locker when you need one! (or one big enough for our 30kg suitcases!). Not to worry, the venue has plenty in various sizes, as long as you get there before lunch you shouldn’t have too much problem scoring your choice. There is a change machine nearby in case you havent stocked up on Y100 coins.

Travel tip: Plan ahead – head to the event website before hand and find out which exhibits you want to see first. I recommend doing the big ones first then back track through the smaller vendors that don’t have any queues.

DSCN0386-95

First thing to keep in mind is that this is a trade expo, a lot of stuff you see is not for sale (yea, bunch of dirty teasers they are!) but where you cant buy, you can try. At least half the items are out of their cardboard prisons and are available for you to add your grubby fingerprints to. Ever wanted to see how that RC controller fits in your hands? Go for it, grab your fave car and take it for a spin while you’re at it. Or how about what you’d look like with a giant inflatable hat and dreadlocks? Throw it on and take a tote of your imaginery spliff, Cypress Hill style. Best of all you don’t need feel guilty or rude and you definitely wont get “the look”, in fact its quite the opposite, you’ll have someone on hand to show you how it works so you can nag your mum for it for xmas 😉

The major draw card AND biggest downside of the event is that its free. This means every man and his cosplaying kid dressed as a dog is there. Think of it like Disneyland or any major theme park for that matter, you will spend the majority of your time queuing…and queuing and just when you think you’re on the final stretch… some more queuing. The plus side is, unlike park rides, once you get in, the “ride” lasts longer than 5min! So back to the queuing, you thought Londoners knew how to queue? You havent seen anything till you add Japanese effeciency to the mix.

DSCN0397-103

Welcome to Line Town, population, you. First queue is to get in, these were reasonably short as there were several halls to enter. We enter the downstairs one first, simply put, if you’ve ever been to Japan before, its like entering a Pachinko slot arcade for the first time, or for the less initiated, think of hearing every radio station and seeing every TV channel all at once to a backdrop of a 1000 fireworks while drowning in skittles and you’ll be getting close. Take it in for a moment but don’t let it consume you, and it will, find your bearings then make a bee line to… the line.

DSCN0398-104

DSCN0262-4

One of the main attractions for us and just about everyone else was the Bandai exhibit occuping the most real estate of the whole event and this is where the real queuing starts. Don’t be misled by thinking you can just waltz in the exit, even by accident, security are quite strict (it was an accident, I swear!). Tour group style signs and town criers on megaphones are most likely giving clues as to where the queues start and how long the waits are but that wont help for a second if you don’t understand Japanese, following the branding is much easier. A bit of pre-trip research found the wait was about 30-45min but finding the end of the queue with a mere 10-15m from the entrance I thought we were in luck but then the queue started to zig zag like a bank queue. No problem, 15min in and we were on the last “zag”, but …hang on why are we turning away from the entrance?? Dishearteningly the line took a tangent and headed off behind the vendor stalls and just kept going.

The distracting and time passing sights of people watching and spotting stalls to add to the “must see” list disappeared and we were left with the cold white walls of an event hall and rabbit runs for staff. Like the speeding up and changing into third of a traffic jam there’s glimpses of hope as you spot the entrance and try to estimate the amount of time left but its as much a mirage as a handicap carpark at the shops. Unless you arrived as the doors opened, save yourself a trip on the emotional rollercoaster and just go by your watch. 30-45min is a pretty good time estimate, we took around 40min, however the wait is well and truly worth it starting with a sample bag on entry, perhaps a “thank you, for not slapping the parent of that screaming kid or punching out the guy dragging his feet and staring at you the whole time” more than anything else but like a kid with ADD you’ll quickly forget those woes as the complete Bandai catalogue comes alive and tries to eat you.

DSCN0269-9

DSCN0277-13

DSCN0271-10

DSCN0293-24

The first half of the display is targetted mostly to the younger kids, especially girls (and the occassional business man) with classics like Sailor Moon, Anpanman, Power Rangers (and other local tokusatsu style shows), Tamagotchi (and its spin offs like Dream Coffret Salon) to favourites like Monsters Inc. A lot of these sections included make and create tables for the little ones. Continuing around we crossed what you could loosely call the sporting section which housed a variety of weapons that shot, darts, water, pellets or paintballs but what I was interested in was the last sections, namely the very extensive Space cruiser Yamanto and Gundam sections. Basically if it was released or going to be released, you’d more than likely find it here from out of the box kit builds to full weathering and detailed dioramas, its all covered.

DSCN0307-34

DSCN0305-33

DSCN0314-39

DSCN0321-45

Just off to the side of the exit there was one of our fave artists, Mr. Knucklebear himself Touma putting brush to canvas for a piece that was to be a lucky door prized. The cuter than cute Milky girl had her own section as did our favourite way of getting rid of coins, the toy equivalent of the pokies – gashapon! Just remember, a lot of items are display only so try not to get your hopes up too much if you spot that chaser you’ve been after for months!

DSCN0344-58

DSCN0355-68

DSCN0339-56

DSCN0364-77

DSCN0387-96

DSCN0417-7

The rest of the event which included kids faves from My Little Pony, Mario characters, Lego and those creepy people-like mice Sylvannian Family (complete with their own stage show for the IRL creeps) to big boys toys and collectibles with air rifles, RC of any imaginable vehicle, Nanoblocks, exquisitely detailed movie characters from Hot Toys and even a stand of musical equipment from KORG all required little to no waiting. Unless of course you head upstairs to the Tomy stall, which of course had a line for the escalator, a line to get in to the exhibition hall, THEN a line for the stall. Needless to say we cut our losses and saved some time, more so because Gotemba outlet mall was calling! That’s up next…

DSCN0400-106

DSCN0411-3

DSCN0408-1

Travel tip: Exhibition eats: there are several “food court” areas essentially selling the carni’ equivalent Japanese food. Plenty of fried items and traditional event food like hotdogs but they also had rice dishes along the lines of teriyaki beef with kewpi and cabbage and gyozas which definitely left our stomachs with a much less weighed down feeling. Perfect to keep on running!

Tokyo International Toy Expo 2013 highlight photos

DSCN0361-74

 

 

DSCN0365-78

DSCN0382-91

 

DSCN0320-44

DSCN0300-30

DSCN0392-99

DSCN0409-2

DSCN0403-109

Complete Tokyo Toy Expo 2013 gallery here

If you have any questions on our travels, where to buy, what to do or just want to share your own stories, hit us up on the Soulbridge media facebook page.

Japan 2013 part #1 – Arrival
Japan 2013 part #2 – Tokyo International Toy Expo
Japan 2013 part #3 – Gotemba – Premium Outlets mall
Japan 2013 part #4 – Tokyo – Studio Ghibli Museum
Japan 2013 part #5 – Tokyo – Kichijoji and Nakano
Japan 2013 part #6 – Tokyo – Akihabara
Japan 2013 part #7 – Tokyo – Tamiya HQ, Diver City
Japan 2013 part #8 – Yokohama – Zoorasia
Japan 2013 part #9 – Yokohama – Ramen Museum
Japan 2013 part #10 – Nissan HQ and Yokohama
Japan 2013 part #11 – Osaka – Nanba Shopping
Japan 2013 part #12 – Kyoto
Japan 2013 part #13 – Tokyo – Harajuku, Shibuya
Japan 2013 part #14 – Osaka castle, Umeda Sky building
Japan 2013 part #15 – Osaka Aquarium and Tempozan wheel
Japan 2013 part #16 – Osaka Universal Studios

Japantown is pretty much an outdoor mall (Japanese Village Plaza) and its surrounding streets. The plaza has a good mix of the stores you’d expect. Sanrio (Hello Kitty), traditional style souvenirs and apparel, authentic cuisines, bakeries and grocery markets. Sneakers are covered with Footland Sports. They stock a good range of current items including colourways and styles that you’d expect from a much larger store. Very few of the items have prices, when asked, they’re all around standard RRP but with a “I give you a special price” post-fix, so there’s a bit of bargaining to had if you’re purchasing a few items. There’s also a sale wall at the back with old season stock.

Sanrio - Japantown LA

Outside the mall the sneaker fun continues with RIF LA, the downtown consignment answer to West Hollywood’s Flightclub. Similar range, though the prices were higher. As with any bricks and mortar store, the benefit would be being able to go in, handle the shoe and try it on rather than taking your chances on ebay and the like.

RIF LA

On the northern side of the plaza is easily one of LA biggest and best anime stores, Anime Jungle (second store on the southern side). Huge selection of Manga, cosplay outfits, Gundam model kits, tees and anime related merch. The store itself isn’t very obvious with “Cure shop” on its front window but its unmistakable once you walk in.

Anime Jungle

A block to the west you have Weller Court, a small mall with a nature strip and Japanese gardens, perfect for taking a rest from all that walking! The last stop is Q Pop, a mid size store with a good selection of vinyl collectibles, clothing and books. It differs from the usual with a more advent guarde approach to the clothing and artworks, a bit more twisted and a little less cute, there’s also a selection of finer arts like paintings and sculptures. They of course still have the cheek squeezing super cute stuff if that’s more to your liking.

Q Pop LA

Q Pop LA

Next up, we ditch the shopping bags and hit up a string of sight seeing and entertainment!

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

Downtown LA

Most cities around the world tend to have a CBD which is based loosely round a large mall or group of shops, not so much for LA. Its CBD is strongly focused on the ‘B’ and can throw off first timers expecting more, very much like ourselves. First stop and possibly only stop for most people is the infamous 100 block “fashion” district. I use the term “fashion” very loosely as it seems like its more targeted to certain demographics and it seems one of the biggest markets are middle age to elderly women, not too unlike the mother of Nanny Fine. You know the look, big loose clothing with violent clashes of colour and patterns or an unashamed overuse of glo-mesh and bedazzling.

Coming a close second are the hoochie mama outfits. If you finally got that part as “background dancer #14″ in your friends rap video (yes we know, it’s a foot in the door till your boyfriend/manager sorts out that demo for you) then this is the place for you! Store after store of leggings that look like jeans, jeans that look like leggings and mannequin bums that look like two pigs fighting under a blanket. Starting to see a pattern yet?

YA RLY

Unfortunately the guys gear isn’t much better, while some of the prices are good, the range is limited to basic work wear, athletic gear and Ed Hardy styled fashion. On the upside there are plenty of suit stores and tailors, a lot with questionable designs and dated cuts to go with their outlandish sitcom drug dealer style shirts but there are some good places with classic designs and vintage flare.

One thing to note is a lot of the stores are wholesalers (some don’t actually sell to the public) so the prices can get very good if you’re looking at buying in bulk eg. For your team, school, work. One of the Dickies sellers mentioned he supplies a few stores in NZ and AU.
But remember these are the UDM (US domestic market) work wear variety, not the “Dickies Street” version sold by stores like City Beach in Australia, which incidentally have very little difference to the work wear ones.

In the way of sneakers, you’re best to just keep walking. The few stores we ventured into were a mixture of fakes, factory seconds and low end “rubbishy” models. There were a couple worthy toy stores with less commercial product, one I found in the most unlikely of places selling wind chimes and jewellery, everything BUT toys. But they did have a shelf in the window of collectible vinyl in a hiphop/graffiti vain which look liked they’ve sat there for years. Pieces which I’ve seen around the traps ranging from $50-200US as limited runs in selected Kidrobot stores and the like. When asked on prices, they were clearly made up on the spot from a guy that should really never play poker! I’m sure I could’ve haggled a better price out of him, but with numbers between $10-15US it was hard to keep a straight face. Needless to say, I cleaned them out 😉

The rest of this precinct is divided up for flowers and textiles. The flower section has a huge selection of cut flowers and potted garden flowers and plants along with associated accessories. Obviously the weather dictates a lot of the seasonal/regional flowers but its still a surprise to see massive 10-15 flowered Phalaenopsis orchids for a throw away $10ea. Similar items would fetch between $50 and $100 mark here. The cut flower arrangements are what can only be described and typically American. Big, bold and brash, like a brand new Escalade with chrome wheels or your mum’s hair style from the 80s, they feature a fanned peacock tail arrangement with a random selection of “pretty” flowers. Roses, sunflowers, tulips and ample Baby’s Breath are all slapped together in a tribal head gear fashion with cohesion and colour blocking coming in with a DNF. If you really want to dazzle your loved one you can even go for the pieces that feature a large plastic gold plated ornament! Needless to say, if you are buying cut flowers, you’ll do better buying a couple bunches and putting them together in the dark 😉

Textiles on the other hand, while still having the patterns/styles of a Rugs-a-million clearance rug, are saved by sheer variety. Even if you have a brief passing interest in sewing its worth a look, if you’re at the other end of the scale and are already thinking how many fat quarters you can get into a suitcase then you may want to consider ditching some of those sneakers :-0

iPhone case anyone?

Its probably best to just park your car as close as possible to the area you’re visiting, then move it to the next area and pay the few bucks again as the blocks are loonngg. If you want to brave it or aren’t driving, walking does have its advantages in stumbling across stores and flea market style centres with electronics, souvenirs and general plastic crap, not too unlike your average Asian shopping “centre” and all at prices less than the usual tourist spots. For example, souvenir tees were around 20-40% less than places like Santa Monica and the Farmer’s Markets.

Big Man Bakes

As you’re venturing north take a detour to South Main street for Big Man Bakes, nothing as suss… or big …or manly as it sounds! Simply some very tasty gourmet cupcakes. Try the Red Velvet – a traditional southern style cake, the caramel apple or the “old school” – yellow cake with chocolate butter cream icing; the list goes on and they get cheaper the more you buy.

Further north is the “Toy District“, which was in all accounts disappointing. A whole district of toys?? Yes please! Unfortunately, from the several blocks we walked through it was nothing more than novelties and knick knacks bar a few remote controlled helicopters and cars. There’s also a scattering of home wares and car accessories stores. There’s a Hello Kitty store, or should I say a store that sells Hello Kitty items. Hard to tell if they were real or not but the branding and packaging looked authentic as did the HK car mats. Hello Kitty as a robot with Astro boy styled rocket feet flying through a rainbow? Just try and stop me!

By now you’ve probably ready to hurt someone if you see another battery powered car that flips over when it hits a wall or a “live” ball with a tail, but don’t despair, Japantown is just around the corner.

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

So we’re back in West Hollywood. Kinda like catching up with an old friend really. You know their quirks, you know what you have in common, you by pass the touchy subjects and jump straight into reminiscing.

We covered the bulk of the West Hollywood stores previously here and here, but just to quickly recap, Flightclub LA and Sportie LA are always good stops for consignment/pre owned gear, though some of their prices are starting to get a little greedy. If you worry more about how good you look while skateboarding than how good you can actually skateboard then you might wanna pop your head into the stores of
Supreme, Diamond Supply and Crooks and Castles. Each trying to out do each other in hipster arrogance and poor service. What’s worse is none have the inventory to back the attitude, with limit range and sizes, give the glorified check out chicks a miss, there’s nothing you cant buy online or at another store for cheaper.

Flightclub LA

Sportie LA

Johnny Cupcakes is always worth a stop in for in store exclusives. A recent subtraction from this cluster of shops is Loyal Army, sadly they pretty much upped and closed their store overnight with very little notice. They are however still selling online and from their San Francisco store in Haight.

Japan LA

On the plus side, JapanLA has moved on to Melrose not too far from their old location to a newer and bigger store. Still the same good selection, abundance of Hello Kitty merch, friendly staff, sale items and now also sporting a small gallery room at the back with works from local artists.

Meltdown Comics

Last stop in West Hollywood was Meltdown Comics. Easily one of the biggest comic stores we’ve seen in awhile. Huge selection of comics and just as big selection of collectibles, figures, toys and plushes ranging from movie/comic based items to urban vinyl collectibles and blind boxes. They also have the complete range of So So Happy merchandise, which means if you’ve got a sweet tooth for the sickly cute and colourful you’ll no doubt go into a diabetic coma here.

Pop Killer

While you’re there, pop over the road to Pop Killer. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling of vintage and vintage styled new items. Mostly clothing but also a range of accessories, knick knacks, novelties and house hold items.

Mulholland Drive

As the sun slowing slipped away at a leisurely 8pm we took a drive up to Muholland Drive. Just follow the road up to the lookout (with fixtures and signage, not just dirt!), even though there are spots before this, parking is a little hit and miss as is the view. Don’t forget to take a jacket as well, those mountain breezes are very unforgiving! The view here is mostly of west LA, to see more of downtown follow the road around and head east through the tiny residential streets. You will eventually go over the mountain and start heading down, half way down on a rather Mt. Akina style of road, there’s a dirt spot to pull over to get your cityscape pano on.

LA cityscape (click for big)

Next up, we hit the downtown area where dodgy and awesome go hand in hand like Jesse James and Kat Von D!

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

“You can stick your well laid plans up your well laid ass!”. Ah yes, another pearl of wisdom from Mr. Jackson and nothing short of the truth for the opening leg of our latest trip. It’s true, there’s no amount of preparation that will prevent curve balls from external influences.

Things started off with a nervous check in thanks to our travel agent putting completely wrong passport numbers into our flight booking. Not the best thing to have against your name flying into the states with their current “everyone is a terrorist” standing. Luckily, after half
an hour of “Border Control” TV show style questioning, accusing glances and hushed phone calls it was all sorted and we were on our way around the world!

We scored some crazy cheap flights via star alliance, which led to the bulk of the flights being covered by Lufthansa. I’ve only flown once domestically with them which was fine for a short trip but I was a little skeptical with what the service would be like on a long haul – no thanks to a lot of comments and :S faces from friends and random strangers. However I’m happy to report it was great (: Service was good albeit it a bit hurried at times and the accommodations were nothing short of lush, being on a 3 week old A380 definitely helped with this. Exceptionally quiet, engine noise was easily half of a regular A300 or 747. Seats were comfy and the touch screen LCD complete with 3 external live cameras was great for in flight entertainment. Don’t forget your LAN or USB cable to plug your devices into your arm rest 😉 Best of all, it had that fresh off the floor, new plane smell.

Noisey kids, idiots bumping our seats, jet lag and the inescapable 2 hour crawl through LAX customs/immigration later, we were free from the clutches of commercial transit. Grabbed our rental car from Dollar Rentals (review here) and headed straight for West Hollywood.
(tips on driving in California in a coming installment)

The biggest speed bump I always find on holidays is store trading hours. The majority of places I have travelled to in the world (except Australia), retailers open around 10-11am (sometimes 12 or later for boutique stores), some bigger stores/malls might swing the doors open around 9. This might work well if you’ve had a big night but it seriously eats into your day when you’re travelling. So a good thing to try is to tee up sight seeing or community events to do in the morning while you’re waiting for the stores to open.

Random bits and pieces

First stop for us was the Melrose Trading Post at Fairfax High school which is pretty much what you would expect for a popular Californian market. An abundance of quirky brick-a-brack, hand made arts and crafts and vintage items galore from cute plush monsters to taxidermy to thousands of random photographs and negatives from people’s personal collection. How? Why? Who knows, it’s LA baby!

Vintage Coke Esky

Hand made plush toys

Framed butterflies

Vintage photo frames - $5

Buy someone else's personal photos

There’s also a selection of vintage and modern cameras and accessories. Forget over bidding on ebay for a used Vivitar flash, they were available here for throw away prices. Plenty of army surplus items as well, right down to aircraft instrumentation and war memorabilia.

Camera stuff... and hand mirrors

More camera stuff

Ammunition case

Aviation memorabilia

Photo tip: while there are plenty of tourists and arty types snapping photos, take care when shooting some of the stalls, especially the ones of the local designers who seem to be very particular with others “stealing” their ideas. I witnessed a guy get chased down and verbally abused by one owner. While the empty threats of “That’s stealing! I’m calling the police” may not mean much, it is definitely a conflict best avoided. Or at least wait till you’re about to leave anyway :p

Travel tip: Head to their website for half price entry coupons

Depending on how thoroughly you browse, it only takes about 1-2 hours to do the whole event. Take advantage of the food and (especially) toilets while you’re there. Parking is free when you drive into the grounds, (just follow the directions from the traffic controllers) so to save a few bucks, leave your car there and check out the surrounding shops, most of which should be open by now….

Next – Shopping in West Hollywood and a spot of sight seeing at the famed Mulholland Drive.

Los Angeles 2011 part #1 – Arrival, Melrose Trading Post
Los Angeles 2011 part #2 – West Hollywood shopping, Mulholland Drive
Los Angeles 2011 part #3 – Downtown shopping – Fashion District
Los Angeles 2011 part #4 – Downtown shopping – Japantown
Los Angeles 2011 part #5 – Steel Panther @ The House of Blues 17/5/11
Los Angeles 2011 part #6 – Hollywood sign, Farmer’s Market
Los Angeles 2011 part #7 – Peterson Automotive Museum
Los Angeles 2011 part #8 – Greater LA area shopping
Los Angeles 2011 part #9 – Hollywood sight seeing with Orbic Air
Los Angeles 2011 part #10 – Driving in Los Angeles/California

Complete Los Angeles 2011 photo gallery here

Santa Monica pier

If you’re staying in Santa Monica, its only natural that you find yourself making a bee line to the Santa Monica pier, thanks partly due to its ferris wheel beacon. The wheel is accompanied by a small group of amusement park rides and “side show alley” type games. There are also a few restaurants/eateries including Bubba Gump Shrimp (yes the one and the same), souvenir shops and a historic display case to mark the end of the famous Route 66.

We were expecting some spectacular sunrises while we were there with the cooler mornings and clear days, unfortunately the one morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am it was completely fogged over. Not only that, it continued right into the early afternoon! We had never seen anything like it. The fog casted a blueish tone over everything, and with the odd sign board creaking, it definitely added to the eerie deserted boardwalk at that time of the morning. We were just waiting to catch a glimpse of a shadow of a zombie scurrying between the carts of the rollercoaster! Lol

Santa Monica pier

By chance, our stay coincided with the LA marathon (could be why the breakfast buffet was full of people in shorts while it was < 10C outside) so there was some setting up of the festivities for the finish line party on the beach as well as a war memorial for fallen soldiers. [caption id="attachment_571" align="alignnone" width="600" caption="War memorial Santa Monica pier"][/caption]

Photo ops: end of the pier looking back at the ferris wheel, on the amusement park side shooting the pier, down on the beach below the pier and also back on the road just north looking down over the pier and beach. This time of morning is probably the only time you get to see the paths and boardwalk relatively empty as well.

While the beach area is by no means vast and you can leisurely walk down and back in a few hours, it doesn’t beat the fun and convenience of hiring a bicycle to get around. I recommend Sea Mist Rentals, one of the cheapest places, yet the quality of the bicycles are still well above average. For $6/hour or $15/day you get a choice of several different style of bicycles and a bicycle lock, but when in “Rome” you cant go past a beach cruiser. Fixed gear and a fat comfy seat will have you looking cooler than the ‘Fonz in no time. Though if you don’t ride very often or that style of bike you may find the position a little uncomfortable after an hour or 2. Your forearms may get a little sore and sun burnt too so remember to lather up before hand.

Santa Monica beach

Off down the boardwalk, remembering to keep right and watching for the crazies that ride flat out, you’ll see the beach “scenery”, volleyball courts and kite flying areas. Further along, you’ll come across the legal graffiti walls and the Santa Monica skate park. Check out some of the little grommets there, without a doubt the breeding ground for the next Tony Hawk’s. Some of the kids look like they should be singing along at Wiggles concerts but instead they’re busting huge Method-air grabs over transitions 5 times their height!

Legal graffit walls - Santa Monica Beach

Santa Monica skate park

Once you hit the markets you can either keep cruising along the boardwalk or dismount and wander through. There’s plenty of buskers and performers but all the drummers and percussion types all seem to culminate to a grassy knoll area where they just go at it like a Swedish masseuse. Picture the dude in the Brunswick st. mall on a Saturday night but times 30-40 in a large circle with belly dancers and hippy types getting down in the center. Quite the aural and visual spectacle indeed. Also keep an eye out for the KUSH Clubhouse a medicinal Marijuana clinic while you’re in the area. God bless America.

edit: as of June 2010 it is now closed thanks to a new ordinance which has ordered over 400 dispensaries of this “nature” to be closed in LA.

Percussion jam session - Santa Monica beach

As the bongos fade and you get further into Venice Beach, the beach side buildings go from tatty markets to lush modern townhouses and New Orleans styled houses. The bike path ends at the carpark for the Venice Beach pier, but you can still pedal up the long pier and see scores of people fishing. Thanks to the fog that day we could barely see the beach from the ocean end of the pier! Back on land, there are plenty of restaurants and seafood eateries to choose from, all bustling with tourists and locals alike.

Venice Beach pier

If you’ve only hired the bicycles for half a day, keep an eye on the clock so you don’t have to pay extra, though if you ride quickly you
could probably make it back in 20-30min.

Early to bed, early to rise, cos next up is a trip to the happiest place in the world, Disneyland!

Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing

Before embarking on our trip, we didn’t hear the end of how trashy LA is and how much better NYC was, but I’ve always chosen 2pac over Jigga :p
I guess it’s the same as what most Brisbane people think of the Gold Coast, but like the GC, if you avoid the touristy/trashy areas you can appreciate the laidback lifestyle and friendly locals. It also helps if you don’t stay in Hollywood or downtown LA, so what better place to stay than Santa Monica.

The trade off for choosing any hotel in a coastal area is usually distance to beach/view versus cost. We found that unless you were within a block or 2 of the ocean it was pointless spending the extra to wake up with sand in your teeth. If you planning on spending more time in your hotel room than outside, then the extra money will be worth it, but you also have to ask yourself why are you wasting your holiday in doors 😉

The happy medium is finding a nice hotel within a short walk of the beach, enter Double Trees, Santa Monica. This is a well known hotel chain in America (they have the one right in the middle of Times Square NYC) and for the average traveler facilities are quite luxurious. Price is a little more than what you would pay for similar places on the Hollywood side of the Pacific Coast Hwy but being on 4th street its only a 10-15min walk to the beach and 3rd street Promenade, which brings us to the shopping.

Shopping

3rd street Promenade is very much the Queen Street mall of Santa Monica minus the Myer Center. Chain clothing stores, eateries and plenty of boutique stores, everything you’d expect from a buzzing commercial hub. This is also where you’d go to catch a bus to downtown.

Nike SB Greenbay Packers

Sneakers are covered with Adidas, Footlocker, Skechers and Puma. Special point of interest is CCS which stocks a leaning towards skate wear, so plenty of Nike SB’s and Dunks along with the usual skate and skate inspired footwear brands, but is one of the few places I saw in LA that sold Nike SB apparel (tees and hoodies).

Journey has less “sport” brands but plenty of Chuck Taylors/One star Converse and Doc Martins also deserves a quick look in.

For toys, figures and games you can’t go past Puzzle Zoo. They stock a big range of commercial action figures, collectibles and anime. They also cover those little mind game puzzles and quirky toys (unlink the rings, roll the ball bearing thru the wood maze anyone?) similar to what you’d find at National Geographic stores. They’re also big on souvenir and personalised gifts, license plates, mugs etc.

If you need to take a break, grab a Wetzel Pretzel, pull up a bench and watch one of the many street performers that frequent the area. Anything from breakdance routines to juggling. If the pretzel wasn’t enough there’s plenty of places you can grab an “English” pub style lunch and a pint.

Hang around the promenade long enough re: till the sun sets and you will see the street lit up like it was Christmas!

3rd Street Promenade

Lastly for the music heads that want to get their fingers dusty, head in about 1km on Wilshire Blvd from 3rd St Promenade for Second Spin. One of several stores in LA that has a vast collection of new and used music and dvd’s, records and cd’s. Prices are very reasonable and there are usually deals if you spend a certain amount or for multiple items. The stores also carry different stock than the website. I thought I could save on postage by ordering online then collecting from the store but their online stock comes from a separate warehouse and is subsequently sent from there. Turns out this was a good thing since I ended up ordering over 70 albums :p

Boardwalk/Venice Beach
Big multi-nat corp shopping not your thing? Then its time to mosey on down the boardwalk. It, like most of LA is pretty flat so walking is a breeze. If you want to get around a bit quicker (and don’t have too much to carry) then hiring a bicycle is the way to go.

Starting at the Santa Monica Pier end we chose to follow Ocean Front Walk down and then come back via the boardwalk. There’s not much to start with but once you get about 1/3 of the way towards Venice Beach, it quickly becomes cluttered with market stalls, tourist shops and a slow meandering Ekka style crowd. The markets themselves stock all the usual things you’d expect to see, from hand crafted jewellery and ornaments to the “hand painted” clichés of LA and movie stars. I say “hand painted”, because a lot of the stuff is made to look that way and could very well be, but its mass produced so you’ll see the same “original” pieces over and over again. Also be on guard for anyone approaching you trying to sweet talk you into buying a product or service, they will literally tell you anything to part you from your lucrative tourist dollars!

For a change of pace, head in land two blocks to Main st. This has more of a James st. in New Farm feel with a plethora of boutique shops, designer and quaint indies. For sneakers, Undefeated is the spot, yes the one and the same from the episode of Entourage when Turtle is trying to track down his Fujiyama customs and Vince is pipped by the late DJ AM at this store. Check out the clearance section near the register for some bargains.

Undefeated Santa Monica

Clothing wise there’s plenty of vintage stores but a must see for a nostalgic moment is the ZJ Boarding House shop, better known as Zephyr Skate. Pretty much the birth of skateboarding and further made famous by the movie Lords of Dogtown. Since 2007 it has been officially listed as a LA landmark. Even though the store is now a shallow existence of its former self (looks like every other mass produced surf/skate shop out there) it is still owned by the same people that rebirthed it back in 1988 even if Heath Ledger isn’t drunk off his tits throwing surfboards off the roof 😉

ZJ Boarding House

Further towards Venice Beach there are a couple sport stores but none I found of much interest.

Next up, the cheapest and possibly the best thing to do at the beaches… sight seeing! 😉

Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing

If you missed the first part of our LA adventures, check them out here

Sunset Blvd

Keep on cruisin down Melrose and you’ll come across a skate shop – few less cliché skate items/brands and a few Nike SB items; Fat Beats for your hiphop music needs; forget trying to find the Footlocker, its gone but is still listed in directory searches; plenty of little boutique clothing and jewellery stores; then a few metres right, into N Fuller Av is JapanLA. As the name suggests, they stock cutsie Japanese inspired fashion, mostly Tokidoki but with more variety and generous sale items. There’s even boxes of clearance items at the back, hello Gloomy Bear figures for $7. The staff are very friendly and very easy on the eyes 😉 They also stock Mr. Egg and Mr. Toast! ^__^
Shopping in between season means you get winter bargains like Tokidoki hoodies for $30-40US. Winner!

The vinyl obsession continues a couple doors down with Munky King. This store is set up more like an art gallery than a retail store. Minimal lush fittings and an art space towards the rear of the store. They stock a big range of the usual Kidrobot and associate style vinyls as well as a few other more obscure designs and artists. There’s also a small selection of apparel. Definitely the place to visit if you’re getting sick of Dunnys or Labbits.

On the subject of vinyls and similar toys/action figures, be ready to pull them out of your carry on at American customs, especially those with small parts like Revoltech figures. Thanks to the unusual shapes and small parts, under the x-ray machine they tend to come up as “unknown”.

The shops start to thin off after this, but hook a left into La Brea for a couple of LA’s colourful landmarks. First is Pink’s Hot Dogs, no, not the singer but just as famous with many celebrities choosing to pop in for a quick bite and also being featured in many movies and TV shows. We weren’t disappointed when we walked passed and saw a banner “Pink’s welcomes David Hassellhoff“. Sure enough, The Hoff was there slingin dogs to a line half way down the block. Though a long line up is hardly out of the norm and is classed as part of its charm. We didn’t have time to sample the cuisine but all reports say its worth the wait.

Pink's Hotdogs on La Brea Hollywood

If you didn’t want to wait for food there’s a few fast food places including Macca’s as you head north on La Brea. Couple blocks on, you’ll also come across a Best Buy (like a cross between Office Works and Harvey Norman) and a group of shops including Target. In this centre, if you walk up the stairs to Target, there’s a landing where you have a clear view of the Hollywood sign. Perfect if you aren’t going up in the hills to check it out. Photographer’s tip: for a nice big shot of the sign – point and shoot users – you’ll need at least a 10x zoom; dslr users – 200mm is ok but 300mm if you want to fill the frame. Another photo op is available on Sunset Blvd at the intersection looking west at sunset (they don’t call it that for nothing!) against a backdrop of the clichéd palm tree lined street.

Hollywood sign

A block and a bit further you’ll come across everyone’s favourite tattooist, Kate Von D and her famous LA Ink store aka High Voltage Tattoo. If you’re familiar with the TV series, the store is just as crazy in real life with wall to wall decorations of memorabilia, varies knick knacks and art pieces. Even if you only have a passing interest in the pierced and painted, simply hanging round the store sees all matter of subjects from the quirky to the down right weird! Good luck getting an appointment on short notice tho!

If you’re Google mapping, search for “High Voltage Tattoo” which is the actual store, “LA Ink” shows up as its studio which is further down the block.

LA Ink - High Voltage Tattoo on La Brea, Hollywood

Beginning of Hollywood walk of fame

About 4 blocks after that and passing Jim Henderson’s Muppet Studio, you’ll hit Hollywood Blvd, which is the start of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and home to iconic landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Madame Tussauds, Ripley’s Believe it or not and Capitol Records Tower.

Hollywood Blvd

There are also plenty of tacky tourist shops on this strip, but the pricing for the most part is reasonable and you can pick up multiple souvenir tee’s for $10US. Just check their quality first, even though the design might be the same, the consistency of the shirts tend to vary.

Hollywood Blvd

By now you’re probably just about spent but if you’ve still got a couple bucks left in your wallet and the shopping bags haven’t completely severed your fingers off, jump in a cab and head to the Beverly Center
On the cheap: find a bus that goes all the way down N La Brea to W 3rd St then get another that goes from there out to La Cienega Blvd.

The Beverly Center is probably the closest you’ll find to Brisbane’s own Myer center. Couple large higher end Department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s and then the countless specialty shops with the majority leaning towards female shoes and apparel. There is a cinema and food court on the top level but the real reason to head here is for the view. There’s an outdoor courtyard on the top level with a nice broad 180 degree view of LA.

Photographers tip: bring a tripod to set on a chair to shoot over the glass partition or a point and shoot to sit on top of one of the frame if you’re shooting at night to get pass the reflections, unless of course you carry a black bed sheet around!

LA at night - view from the Beverly Center (click for big)

In the way of sneakers you have a choice of 2 sporting stores Champs and Finish Line and 1 specialist (on the top floor level 8 ) Shiekh Shoes and Footlocker (floor 6). While only Shiekh Shoes has a selection of slightly more obscured models and colourways the real benefit is they all have a good selection of items on sale at great prices. 2 pairs of Adidas Attitudes for $50US? Don’t mind if I do! The Footlocker here is quite large as well so there’s a chance you’ll find a few extra colourways.

Useless fact: In the movie “Volcano” they have scenes when the center was still under construction.

By now, you’ll probably be as broke and broken as we were. We contemplated paying $50 for a cab back to Santa Monica but with a bus stop on the corner, we caught one up La Cienega Blvd to Santa Monica Blvd, got some booze and aspirin from the CVS drug store and then another bus all the way back out to 4th street in Santa Monica for a fraction of the cost.

Back in Santa Monica we hit the hay so we could hit boardwalk the next day.

Next up… Santa Monica and Venice Beach!
Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing

Melrose Av West Hollywood +cliche' cop car

After a day stopover in Ueno, Tokyo we were on our way to Los Angeles. Crossing the International Date Line meant it was going to be the longest Saturday ever, even longer than that 3 day bender in college where I was down to drinking Vodka and cordial dregs from the night before by the end of it… but that’s another story.

It’s true what they say, “nobody walks in LA”. Simply because everything is so far apart… and to add to it, the public transport is pretty rubbish for a major city. So your best bet if you’re staying longer than a 2-3 days is to hire a car. Being the USA this can be quite cheap but remember you will need to find and pay for parking.

Since we were only there for 3 days we opted to skip the car and go with the alternatives. Coming from the airport, the easiest and quite reasonable option for door to door is to use Super Shuttle, a private shuttle bus company at pretty much every major city in the States. They’re easy to spot as you leave the terminal, big blue vans with bright yellow writing. You can just go to the stop and wait for one or pre-book, save a few bucks and guarantee yourself a seat, roughly $20-25US. Note that you will more than likely be sharing with other passengers over several pickup and drop off points so the journey can take some time. We also noticed there can be a lack of order/priority at times between the driver and the representative at the pickup point, pretty much whoever yelled/nagged or was stubborn the most got their way!

If you’re on a tight budget then your only real option is to catch a bus which may not be feasible if you have to make 3 transfers and still have to hike it with all your luggage. The up side is it’s a fraction of the cost (round $5US) and you don’t need to tip the driver.

After circling LAX 3 times with a full van load we hit the motorway along with LA’s oblivious sloth-like drivers. A bit over an hour later we were at our hotel, the modestly luxurious Double Trees in Santa Monica. 4 star/3 diamond rated, short 10min walk to the beach, 15min to the pier and definitely one of the better priced hotels for the location. The big warm chocolate chip cookie on arrive was a nice touch :) Room size was more than adequate, large lounge area with kitchen space and large bedroom. Not to mention it was so good to have a shower after wearing the same clothes for more than 56hours!

I wrote a more detailed review on Tripadvisor, complete with a whinge about housekeeping taking our shoe boxes!

West Hollywood

We only really had one major day for shopping in LA so we wanted to make it count. While downtown has it perks you really cant go past the one stop shop, that is West Hollywood. If you want strictly high end designer gear than you’ll wanna keep going till you hit Hollywood for some Rodeo Drive action, otherwise this is a great place to start for modern streetwear, quirky vintage, good selection of sneakers and a generous serving of everybody’s favourite retail dish, sales!

First stop is Melrose Ave. complete with “Melrose place” (the street, which looks nothing like the show and no one actually comes back to life after they die (if only it was the same for the show)). This stretch of 10-15 blocks is great for a day, or even a half day power play shop-over.

We started down the western end at Burton/Analog. Plenty of ski, surf and skate wear, relaxed staff and even their pet dog lounging next to the counter. A little further along is Fred Segal, kind of like “Country Road” meets Roger David and Cue, mostly noted for its vine covered building and in store toilet (a godsend since there’s no public toilets that we could see till you hit La Brea Ave more than 1km away!)

Heading east you’ll hit Bape, Adidas Originals and then a little cluster of the coolest group of shops you’ll ever come across. Kidrobot, Tokidoki and Loyal army covers the Japanese inspired art, vinyl collectibles and apparel so cute you’ll leave with sore thumbs from pinching the cheeks of everything there!

Loyal Army and Kidrobot on Melrose Av

Paul Frank continues this theme with their large store. They had quite a few items on sale but on the day we were there they were also handing out scratch-it coupons where you received a mystery %-off discount. The shopping gods smile upon us that day as we scored 40% off. If we didn’t have to try and get it home, the beach cruiser bicycle would be sitting in my garage right now!

The last shop of mention in this group is one of our favourites, Johnny Cupcakes. For those that don’t know, no, unfortunately they don’t actually sell cupcakes, but they do sell cupcake related clothing and accessories in a less cutsie and more So-Cal rock kinda way and the store is set up like a 50’s bakery!

Retro ovens, display cases, fridges and even a black and white checkered floor. Most of the items are in the fridges and a café pastry style display case. Not only that Mr. Cupcake, Johnny Earle himself is quite the entrepreneur and only too happy to share his knowledge on his blog and tours business seminars to uni students and work expos. The designs range from baseball and sport themes to their classic cupcake and bones logo, all in a variety of bold and vibrant colours. What makes the designs special is they are all limited, once the batch has sold out that is it forever. Definitely one way to not be another General Universal Pants clone.

Johnny Cupcakes on Melrose Av

A couple blocks along Melrose, you’ll hit North Fairfax Av. With Flightclub LA and Supreme. Flightclub has a feel of a Hong Kong or Tokyo shoe store. 2 large walls from floor to ceiling of shrink wrapped sneakers, very impressive. They also deal in pre owned items like K-Skit but don’t opening advertise it as such, so if you’re after brand new, you might want to check first. Either way, you’re in for some bargains and maybe some rare finds. The selection is predominant Nike and Jordans with a scattering of other brands, a small rack of tees and a selection of G-Shock watches and New Era caps. I picked up 2009 Nike SB Greenbay Packers for $60US, which are more than double that to buy locally at $160AU rrp and 2009 Nike AF-1 Armed Forces Ltd Ed. for $70US.

Most of the sizes are on display but don’t hesitate to check with them, just in case

Flightclub LA

Further down Fairfax is Supreme if you have a penchant for the more designer stuff or love muppets apparel 😉

If you’re still feenin’ for sneakers, back on Melrose is Sportie LA, which is divided up into 3 separate stores, new footwear, new apparel and preowned. The new footwear store is one of the few places that focus less on Nike, in fact they don’t even have a brand listing on their site, instead they opt for Converse, Adidas, Vans, Asics, Supra and even LA Gear. Though if you’re looking for some rarities or a bargain or just something a bit different than the norm, the preowned store is the one to scope out. There are some items that have clearly been on display forever and are subsequently “shop soiled” and dusty (no shrink wrapping), but the majority of the stock is in good/mint condition. Further in to the store is all new stock, with plenty of boots and dressier shoes for the ladies.

Stay tuned for part #2 when we continue to cruise down Melrose, up La Brea to Hollywood Blvd.

Los Angeles holiday photos here

Los Angeles part #1 – West Hollywood
Los Angeles part #2 – West Hollywood(pt 2)
Los Angeles part #3 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Shopping
Los Angeles part #4 – Santa Monica and Venice Beach Sightseeing