Greetings!

It was our last day in LA so we thought we’d see it off in style… from the sky!

Orbic Air is a helicopter tour company running out of Van Nuys airport – one of the biggest airports for private aircraft in the states so you may even catch a glimpse of a celeb stumbling out of a fictional “G6″ clutching a bottle of Don P. dregs 😉 There is a wide range of tours to suit any budgets and interests with selected scenic spots like the Getty Museum or LA Live arenas or you can go all out with an “ultimate” tour which covers all the major highlights. There are also dinner packages which include meal vouchers at the luxury restaurants in and around the airport. That said, there was really only one thing we wanted to see and that was what makes LA, LA…. Hollywood!

The process is very straight forward. After arriving, you get to wait in very nice waiting room before a short brief then a golf buggy ride out to the runway. Our pilot was very friendly and explained everything clearly and simply.

Los Angeles - its flat

LA Freeways

LA Valley college

The tour obviously focused mostly on Hollywood however you could easily see the downtown area and further. It begins with a view of some of the many snaking freeways that spaghetti the LA landscape. As the pilot said, if only he could take the helicopter home to avoid that infamous LA traffic! Universal studio city was next which looked like a permanent circus from above if it wasn’t for the War of the Worlds jumbo jet wreck and drive in movie screen sized blue screens.

Universal City

Universal City back lot + War of the Worlds plane crash

Next is the iconic Hollywood sign, you thought it was pretty cool looking up at it from Canyon Lake road? Its nothing compared to looking at it front on from about 50 metres away.

The postcard at the start of this entry was taken @30mm on FF, yep, THAT close!

Hollywood Blvd, downtown LA in the distance

Hollywood walk of fame, Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood and Highland

It was cool to fly over the main tourist spot of Hollywood Blvd and be able to pick buildings that we had visited earlier. Being the focus of the tour, you get a nice slow circle of this area before heading over to Beverly Park (Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Hollywood hills are also covered) where hundreds of the most famous and disgustingly rich celebs are out admiring their gold plated shark tanks or are building a guest house for their guest house or simply tearing down the original house and building a new one – I’d probably do the same if it was previously occupied by one of the Kardashians.

Beverly Park

Beverly Park

Beverly Park

Overall it was an amazing experience (more so if you’ve never flown in a helicopter before) made even better by the very friendly and professional staff. Special thanks to Merlinda for making the booking and admin process a breeze.

If you’re reading this Merlinda, hoping you kept that (modest) tip for yourself! We all know those pilots already get paid too much 😉

Photo tip: if you’re quick on the lens changes, take a long lens to pick off sites on the horizon. Generally I would recommend a wide to mid-range zoom to capture the vastness as well as zooming in on some of the luxury homes, cool movie back lots and landmarks.

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

The stores covered in this section are the ones that are just that little bit further away from the “hot spots” and require a dedicated visit. This is where a car really comes in handy. Not only do you have a mobile porter with REALLY big arms but you also don’t have to worry about timing/finding transport. So of course it would be silly not to take advantage of it.

These will be covered in their respective ball park regions.

-Hollywood-

California Surplus mart

California Surplus Mart – one of the biggest and most comprehensive online stores for work wear (Dickies, Carhartt etc) and army surplus. Unfortunately the retail store does not do it justice, only carrying the “popular” colours and styles. Sizes were sporadic at best and the range sadly lacking. Still the biggest in the central area but not what I expected. Prices are average, if not a little high compared to department stores and the downtown area.

Undefeated LaBrea

Undefeated La Brea – the store from that ep of Entourage at the barren concrete end of La Brea. Not a bad range of stock, definitely the most lush looking out of the three in LA. Friendly and helpful staff, fascinated about how colourful (and durable) Aussie currency is 😉

And Still – clothing store right next door to Undftd. Big range of team apparel and vintage styled sports apparel. Lots of Starter gear. Larger double store with locker room inspired decor.

Off Broadway Shoes

Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse – At the Santa Monica end of Sunset Blvd, OBSW can not be missed, a huge two story warehouse style building with only one level. This one is definitely for the girls with 2/3’s of the massive range falling in to the “girlie” strappy, slippy, boot-y, healy, slutty (!) range of woman’s footwear. They also have a large selection of sneakers for guys and girls but all in the active wear vein from staples like Nike, New Balance, Puma, Asics, but don’t expect anything very “fashionable” for these. The guys also get a big selection of work boots and hiking wear from Caterpillar, Mack, Timberland, Merrell, Northface etc. Even though the “talent” isn’t the best, the prices are more than reasonable with true clearance pricing of discounts on top of discounts. A perfect place to stop when you realise the mistake of wearing Chucks or Shelltoes as travel shoes 😉

Hollywood and Highland

Hollywood and Highland – They were asleep at the wheel when they named this shopping complex, being the cross streets the building sits on but most people would know it as the building with the big elephants on the roof. Planted right in the middle of tourist heaven(or hell to some) it stands grand with its Egyptian theme. Conversely, the shopping center itself is quite small, consisting of the usual combination of high end and regular souvenir stores. There is a Sanrio store but like most, only stocks the Hello Kitty range. On the plus side you can pick up a Hollywood x HK exclusive with the kitty sandwiched in a movie scene marker ^__^

This is also a good viewing spot if there’s a premier (Pirates of the Carribean – On Strange Tides while we were there) at the El Capitan theater across the street. Take some binoculars for some celebrity spotting.
H & H also has a wide range of eateries and restaurants. Our recommendation for a quick and healthy bite is the Mongolian BBQ place tucked in the back corner. Pick your own ingredients and the chef fries it up. Reasonably priced as well.

The Church of Scientology is just down the road too if you’ve sinned and need to say a couple hail Tom Cruise’s.

Church of Scientology

-Beverly Hills-

Niketown Beverly Hills

I know a lot of people would die to shop on Rodeo, but realistically the best most could muster is window shopping and attracting glances that suggest you either just threw up on yourself or “you’re wearing THAT???”. Suffice to say, the majority held very little interest for us other than the Nike flagship store. Being The ‘Hills it had more focus on the active wear side of things (LEFT!! LEFT!!! – re: Spanglish), personally I preferred the Santa Monica store. One of the reasons you’d come here is for the dedicated store tee’s “Nike – Beverly Hills” though you will need a large amount of finger snapping to help pull that one off. Which I no doubt would struggle with and hence respectfully declined the purchase.

-West LA-

Giant Robot 1

Giant Robot 2

Giant Robot 1 and 2 – Yep, there’s two stores with in about 100m of each other. Thankfully the same stuff isn’t rehashed over both stores, #1 has more of the stuff you’d expect from a vinyl collectible store. Blind boxes, collectible figures, cute plushes, anime/Threadless inspired tees and a small selection of related books. #2 has a slightly more grown up feel about it with a large range of books and clothing in a more vintage style rather than cutesy. They also have some house wares like retro patterned travel mugs. Definitely worth a stop in if you’re out Santa Monica way.

Blackmarket LA

Blackmarket LA – No, not the legendary UK DnB DJ, it’s a store in a similar vein to the GR’s and is next door to GR1. A double lot store which has a clothing side with lesson known brands but more than likely rating high on hipsters’ wish lists. They also have a limited range of shoes and accessories. In the second room there’s a wide variety of kitschy knick knacks, Asian style ornaments, a small selection of Kidrobot vinyls and some Lego keyrings and clocks which we didn’t see anywhere else. Prices are a little high on some items, easily notable on the KR merchandise being $1-2 more on top of the usual retail price.

-East LA-

Citadel Outlets

Citadel Outlet Mall – very much in the same vein as Harbour Town on the Gold Coast – a large outdoor mall with outlet stores from major brands. It is also the home to the worlds biggest Nike outlet store with a floor dedicated to each sex (kids stuff is upstairs with the women’s wear). Once you’re off the Santa Ana freeway on Telegraph road its pretty hard to miss the row of giant LED signs topped with Sphinx like statues. Inside, its all your fave stores but in discount form – Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Puma, Journeys, DC Shoe, Converse, Skechers, Vans, Volcom, Under Armor, Quicksilver, Billabong. Prices range from “ok” to “crazy fire sale clear out!” but like any outlet stores its more about being there at the right time when the stock is there…. and in your size!
Also take a moment to visit the rest rooms, strange request but you’ll thank me, easily the most lush ones I’ve seen at any strip mall!

Nike Outlet - Citadel Outlets


-Silverlake-

Undefeated Silverlake

Undefeated Silverlake – This is the largest of the 3 LA stores. Wider range of colours and styles. Clothing is on actual hangers instead of being folded up, much better for customer friendly browsing.

Secret HQ LA

Secret Headquarters – couple doors down is this comic and graphic novel specialist and right next door is Vacation Records – for your rock music on vinyl, you know, those big black plastic round things.

Wacko - Soap Plant

Wacko / Soap plant – This is one of those places that you’re so glad that you made the effort to pop out to. I know it’s a pretty big call but I would have to say it is THE best toy store in LA for variety and quantity when it comes to collectibles. The store is huge compared to your regular niche vinyl toys and collectibles store and swaps snooty arrogance for down to earth friendliness. From the outside the building is eye catching with “hippy” style colours and art work yet rather unassuming along Hollywood Blvd’s other randomly coloured buildings. The company itself has a rich and long history in LA dating back to the 70s (see website).
You might feel a bit uncertain walking in and seeing rows and rows of books but don’t doze off just yet, these are the sort of books that are conversation starters and should adorn everyone’s coffee tables. They’ve got it covered from pop culture and low brow to fine art, to technical and historic books, they even have the Big Book of Breasts…in 3D! You’d seriously need a bigger house to fit in all the Win!
As you make your way to the back there are sections of plush toys and household and stationary items which then blend into movie and TV merch, clothing and then a back area with “the good stuff”. Blind boxes galore, many older series and series you’ve never heard of before like CI Boys work, the only place I saw these in LA. They now join their other buddies from the same series I nabbed in Japan 😉
Plenty of older models or out of run items next to rarities like the So So Def afro man, this and a lot more on top of our big purchases would have found a new home if we weren’t already shipping 3x 10kg boxes back home! The list goes on with wind up toys, vintage style pop culture items and a general assortment of “oh COOL!” knick knacks. My only disappointment is not being about to “have all the cats” ;p

All items are reasonably priced for their value and the staff are friendly and helpful. The website has a few items but doesn’t do it justice.

-Van Nuys-

Big Kid Collectibles

Big Kid Collectibles – Definitely out of the way unless you’re going to the Van Nuys airport, but if you are, its worth a look in, especially if you’re over 45. I know what you’re thinking, its all penny whistles and moon pies, not so, but you’re along the right lines. A vintage lounge complete with clear plastic covering only adds to this.
They boast an extensive range or original and replica vintage items, brand/sporting memorabilia and lollies/candy – how some of these are still being made (or are actually edible) I don’t know! They even have original Dr. Pepper glass bottles!
Preowned items adorn a lot of the cabinets (original Smurf and Winnie the Pooh figures are in there too) along side classic faves like Etcha Sketchs. There is also a clearance table, not quite 1950s prices though 😉
Staff are friendly and only too happy to have a nostalgic yarn.

Up next we close out our epic stay in Lala land by taking sight seeing to a whole new high 😉

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