Off to bowls then...

Before we hit the open road to Yosemite National Park, some tips on car hire and getting about LA/California in your box with the steering wheel on the wrong side πŸ˜‰

“No one walks in LA” is a sentiment you’ve probably heard on many TV shows and movies, its not until you get there and venture passed the tourist spots do you realise how spread out it is and how much a necessity it is to have your own transportation. Our first time in LA we stayed in Santa Monica and only really explored the Hollywood area, so bussing between the two areas was manageable as there’s quite a few services that do that route, but like most cities, finding the right bus and the stops to catch them from can be difficult and time consuming. Fine if you’re only there for a few days but staying any longer its best that you hire a car, not just for convenience but you will also get to see a lot more of the place and have your own personal porter.

LA's notorious freeways

First stop, car rental. There are plenty of places to hire cars from at the airport, but of course the best deals come from pre-booking it online or via your travel agent. We hired through Dollar Rental purely on their cheap prices and even cheaper price found via our travel agent, but be warned, all is not what it seems. Details of hidden charges in my separate review over at Yelp.com (a good source for business reviews in the USA).
We ended up with a less than favourable Ford Focus thanks to space limitations of the other cars available (no other car had a boot big enough to conceal 2 suitcases) but it did the job albeit in its own poor ergonomic and uncomfortable way.

So you got your motor running and are about to get out on the highway, but first some quick tips:

KEEP RIGHT. Start the mantra before you even get in the car each day. It might sound a little silly but anything that can break your years of previous experience will help because once you’re in the thick of it, your first instinct will be to go to the left side of the road, especially when turning left.

Turning right on a red light – Yes, its legal. Basically the red light becomes a give way sign (confirmed with the local boys in blue) This is a little strange to see at first but after breezing down the right hand lane and not having to wait for some of the long light changes you’ll soon wonder how you lived without it and why its not done here!

Turning left at the lights – This is always a little nerve racking, mainly because turning lanes from both directions line up with each other and because the intersections are so big you need to drive to the center to be able to make it across if you don’t have an arrow light. Of course the person travelling in the opposite direction is doing the same except they’re driving a block of flats, so you essentially have more chance of seeing the dark side of the moon than what could be barrelling down in the other lane. Just edge forward and when you see your chance, floor it. If the lights turn red, don’t sweat it, they’re surprisingly patient when it comes to people being stuck in the intersection.

Merging/exiting on the freeway – Sooner or later you will have to get on a freeway. They spaghetti above the city and connect every major area and can be a breeze at the right times.. just be prepared for peak hour. Getting on and off is something else, what you have is a “no man’s land” area of 2, 3 or 4 lanes, unmarked. A lot of on-ramps join to almost immediate off-ramps, good if you’ve taken the wrong turn, bad because there’s on-ers and off-ers trying to share the same space.
This is usually where things get ugly, instead of letting someone exit, an entering car will try to over take the exitee instead of merging behind it and taking its place in a lane. Entering vehicles will also use the smallest of openings to join the freeway, usually as immediate as they can resulting in cutting someone off, rather than using the merging lane to speed match and find an appropriate spot to merge. A tip around this is to watch your right side mirror, if you see someone burning up the merging lane, just as they’re parrellel with the car behind you, speed up just a little bit. This closes the gap in front of you and widens the one behind. They pretty much always take the bait πŸ˜‰

Parking – Street parking is rare and expensive so use it for “get in get out” stops only, make sure you have plenty of quarters too otherwise you’ll be racking up the fees on your credit card. The other option is parking garages and lots. Unlike Australia this is a very cheap alternative, usually in the range of $3-6 a day, most with no “enter before” or time restrictions. One of the best sites I found for this is http://losangeles.bestparking.com/index.php#1 which displays locations and costs. Some even display real time vacancies. Don’t fret if you haven’t pre-planned where to park, almost all parking lots have a guy in a hi-vis vest with a flag waving you into their lot. Try not to get these guy confused with actual road workers!

GPS – This is a given, though some might prefer a paper map to forgo the cost of hiring one. While the GPS is almost useless in the downtown area thanks to the skyscrapers, it will more than likely save you many times when making direction changes or finding locations on the fly. Depending on who you hire you’re your car through, it can be around $5-15 a day so if you’re driving for a week or more, an option is to buy a cheap one locally from places like Best Buy (There’s one in the Westfield next to the airport). Alternatively you can rent maps for other countries at a discounted price (usage time limited) via your local GPS manufacturer. Or you may be lucky enough to buy an AU one with a promo deal for a free international country map rental like I did πŸ˜‰

Paper maps – I know… ewww! Thing is they’re not going to lose their signal or try to tell you to go somewhere you don’t want to go or take you in a 2 block loop instead of doing a U-turn. They will also be a godsend when it comes to getting around road works or randomly closed streets instead of continually redirecting you to the same dead end! Also handy when you’re on foot. Google maps is also your friend for detailing specific areas.

Doin' 80 on the freeway, po-lice catch me if you can..

In general LA drivers, while quite bad (possibly due to the complacency and laziness of all those automatics :p) are rather tamed, cars meander all over the road with many near misses but it seems the most they get is a horn toot and a “now would you look at this sonofabich”, possibly due to the less dense laid back lifestyle, possibly a catastrophic coronary brewing under the surface. In saying that, like any where, even if you’re doing 80mph in the left lane there will always be someone tailgating you or trying to over take you, usually in a Prius. Maybe its their cloud of smug giving them little man syndrome? :p Just keep your calm and let them go, you’ll more than likely overtake them at the next back up of traffic or hill πŸ˜‰

Get used to this view of never ending brake lights

With that in mind, we say farewell to tinsel town and make our way up to Yosemite!

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

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰
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 πŸ˜‰
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 πŸ˜‰

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

If you have even a passing interest in cars then this stop should be mandatory on your LA itinerary. A large two level building covers not only the history of motor cars but also an extensive range of modern super cars, hot rods, movie props, motorcycles and even a Hot Wheels toy section!

1921 Model T Ford

The lower level starts of with the forefather of motoring, the Model T Ford and the earliest Cadillacs evolving to the first race car complete with era specific dioramas. Strangely, possibly due to space restrictions, a very Vegas neon lit section displays a 24ct gold coated Delorian and 1994 model Bugatti GT.

Gold plated De Lorean

1994 Bugatti GT

Also speckled through out the displays are era related details, including the evolution of the petrol bowsers/fuel pumps, corner store and workshop garages.

Era replica petrol/gas station

Petrol bowser/Gas pump evolution

Era replica Chevrolet showroom

"Elvis II" and "The Egyptian"

The pinnacle of race engineering, the Indy car 625+hp V8 engine and car, and the future of cars and car designing round off the lower level.

2007 Indy car V8 engine

Car designs of the future

Paintings and photos adorn the escalators to the top floor we’re you’re hit with another vegas style set up this time from the one and only Speed Racer. Shown here in MK5 form it was one of the props used in the live action movie.

Speed Racer MK5

Other show stoppers include, the 90’s Batmobile – looking more like a top fueler up close than a “toy” with is Mickey Thompson slicks and all business cockpit; Green Hornet‘s Chrysler Imperial; THE General Lee from Duke’s of Hazzard complete with “authentic” front end – one of hundreds destroyed in the TV series; Magnum PI‘s Ferrari – warning! Standing too close will cause an unwilling desire for Hawaiian shirts and moustache rides; everbody’s favourite bug, Herbie – in Nascar mode, found in the days when Lindsey wasn’t a complete trashbag, and finally they even have Professor Fate‘s…err… six wheeler “car” from “The Great Race” movie.

90's Batmobile

Dukes of Hazzard - General Lee

After a terrible segue of the history of alternative fuels, hello steam powered cars and the very first hybrid (it seems the smugness was prevalent even back then), the floor opens up to every teenage boys wildest dreams (before the internet). There’s no messing about with the first car being the seminal Bugatti Veyron, then a Maserati MC12 and Mercedes CLK GTR. Germans and Italians go at it like Ford and Holden (only with more style and character) with their dream teams, Porsche 959, Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari F40 and F50 Spider.

Bugatti Veyron

Porsche 959 and Lamborghini Countach

Ferrari F40 and F50 Spider

Grease Lighting” sits by its lonesome, probably in shame for looking so hideous. Unsoiled by the abomination outside, the hot rod section its all chopped, dropped and blown with more custom jobs and glitter paint than a Hollywood A list party.

Grease Lightning

Hot rod - Peterson Museum

Hot rod - Peterson Museum

Hot rod - Peterson Museum

Further along, needless to say the Hot Wheels exhibit was a personal favourite. Easy over a thousand different models on display along with the very first incarnations and processes on design and construction, some of which making its way into the full size productions.

Hot Wheels exhibit

Hot Wheels exhibit

The top level is rounded out with a look at competition drag racing, top fuelers and dragsters and a small exhibit of about 15 motorcycles for those organ donor types.

Drag car simulator

If you didn’t drive, take a quick pop out to the parking garage for a few bonus vehicles. One being some kind of rocket car. Everyone loves rocket cars!

Skeleton Bike

Afterwards, check out the extensive range of merch and a crazy skeleton motorcycle in the gift shop. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, or are craving the classic American diner experience then a stop in to Johnny Rockets is a must. Service is fast and friendly, meals are reasonably priced and thankfully not overly clichΓ©d covered in grease and you get a smiley face in ketchup! Enough to put a smile on any petrolhead’s dial (:

Johnny Rockets LA

Travel tip: Check the opening times! Allow approx. 2 hours for a relaxed look, more if you want to read all the plaques and info snippets. Also keep an eye out for free parking or discounts paired with Johnny Rockets.

Photo tip: Wide angle and high ISO is the way to go. Wide angle lens to fit in full shots of cars, especially if there’s a few people about and high ISO for the usual dimly lit exhibits. Most are manageable but there are some sections that are a bit darker.

Next up we wind down LA by hitting the ‘burbs for one last shop.

Complete Peterson Automotive museum photos here

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

Hollywood sign

Even though you’ve probably already caught many glimpses of the sign from around town (and destroyed in countless movies), there’s nothing quite the same as seeing it up close and personal. There are plenty of places recommended on the net but nothing gets you closer than Canyon Lake road (There is no (legal) physical access beyond this). The road is easy enough to find on a map or via GPS. A slow drive through winding residential roads, you will come across a clearing on your left with plenty of place to park but go a bit further up where the road ends and it becomes a little one way street to get that little bit closer. This is a no parking area so you will have to park elsewhere and walk. Remember this is a residential area so show some respect and don’t go parking in/across driveways, unless of course you “live there”.

Photo tip: If you have a 200mm+ lens handy, you’ll fill the frame with the sign nicely. If not, a wide angle will capture some of those rolling Hollywood hills.

Farmers Market LA

Farmer’s Market

It’s the place where Walt Disney sketched out plans for Disneyland and where James Dean had breakfast before forgetting how to drive, the LA Farmer’s Market.
LA Times has also listed these markets as one of the best places to spot celebrities. While we didn’t catch any in their relaxed habitat, possibly because we were there before noon, by all reports it’s a popular spot for meetings and “alternative” foods (that being not from the 5 basic American food groups of meat, cheese, salt, sugar and grease) and subsequent veritable gold mind for idolisers. Personally if I wanted to see someone that gets paid way more than me for doing way less I’d just look up at the tiers of managers above me :p

If celebrities aren’t on the menu then getting there early is the best way to go. Any time before 11am and its rather quiet. There’s ample covered and uncovered parking, unfortunately validated at only a select few stores (not even the by the big retailers like Nike!) but don’t sweat it, couple hours is only a few bucks.

Outside the actual fresh food section is an open air mall with a cinema and the clothing and “body” shops that would cater to -that- crowd. A Nike store sneaks its way in amongst the designer labels but sticks to the down the line active wear for the tennis instructor you’re trying to impress or the paparazzi you’re trying to fool. A large 2 level Zara store is close by for that last minute wardrobe change before your next “I’ve got a good feeling about this one” audition.

Inside its like your everyday fruit and veg market with fixed fixtures, no fresh food laid out on the ground for us! For those that have been to the fresh food markets in Coorparoo, Brisbane, it is very similar, but in a semi open air location. As with all good markets of this type its covers anything and everything, stuff you’ve never heard of before and stuff you probably wished you didn’t. Especially when it comes to some of the weird meat/fish products. Plenty of eating to be done as well, with countless hot and cold food stalls. Want to lapse back into a diabetic coma? Just take a glimpse at the dinner plate sized stack of pancakes covered in chocolate sauce and icecream and topped with a bacon heart attack, just in case you get cold feet heading into that coma.

Souvenir stores line the outer ring of the market stalls, some with slight variations of style/products but generally the same thing and generally with the extra “locality tax”.

If however you are craving a bit of show biz authenticity you may be lucky enough to catch a live filming of a news clip or entertainment program brief like we did. Mario Lopez (yes the token ethnic kid from Saved by the Bell) was there doing a bit as co-host for entertainment news show Extra. Complete with latex thick make up and Liquid Paper white teeth looking more like the young Jeff Bridges in Tron, he was none the less entertaining and the process (and numerous takes) interesting to watch. If you caught the episode, try and spot me in the crowd throwing up gang signs πŸ˜‰

Mario Lopez at Farmers Market LA

While we were here, we popped over the road to the Peterson Automotive Museum, that’s next!

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

Steel Panther

Are you ready to ROOOCCKKKK??!!!

Some would say they’re kind of a revival band for the spandex, big hair, 80’s cock rock movement, but they’ll probably tell you they’ve been doing it for years, maybe even more!
Steel Panther encompasses all that was so right and at the same time so wrong with the music of the time, they switch between original material and some of the greatest karaoke songs of all time, all the while with their tongue planted firmly in their cheek, a hand on their crotch and the other giving you “The Shocker” (also the title of one of their most infamous songs).

Alevela

Run Devil Run

Shacked up in their one of three weekly haunts, LA’s House of Blues, support on the night was from Alevela, and Run Devil Run, both with a more standard rock fairing. However, there was no mistaking when the SP guys took to the stage through a cloud of hair spray. Over the top lighting, huge tiger print banner, more hair flicking than Romy and Michelle’s prom and more phallic symbols, sexual innuendos and poor taste jokes than an episode of The Footy show. All delivered with unashamed arrogant showmanship and gusto. Dick jokes, bum jokes, sex jokes, jokes about sex with pregnant women, nothing was left untouched, figuratively or physically!

The only real surprise was how much trouble they had getting the girls on stage to get their kit off even though it seemed fine for them from the audience! Modesty, it can strike and the most inopportune time.

Travel tips: Free parking is available at the venue down the side street off Sunset Blvd. There is also plenty of metered parking out the front, however max. is 2 hours. The House of Blues is a multi level venue/restaurant with a footprint deceptively larger than that of the Arena in Brisbane. Three large bars on the concert level with fast and friendly service and drink specials through out the night. ATM also on site.

Complete Steel Panther @ The House of Blues photos here

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

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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰

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 πŸ˜‰ 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

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