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