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

04.21.2010

Yoyogi Park entrance, Harajuku, Tokyo

Amai Undogutsu 😉

Thanks to the ever delectable Gwen Stefani, most people know of Harajuku for its “girls” and its “lovers”, but there’s a reason why Gwen and millions of other people are infatuated by the area and that’s its over the top fashions. Think kandi raving goth punk p0rno star and you’re getting close. A lot of layering, off cuts, frays and safety pins mixed with classic maid or school girl outfits.

Takeshita Street, Harajuku, Tokyo

Straight out of Harajuku station you pretty much fall into the thick of it, ie. Takeshita street (don’t worry, itll get less funny after a day, but then itll get funny again). The closed off street extends a few blocks and is packed with a variety of stores, mostly clothing, with a couple run of the mill sneaker and sport/skate stores. We were there on a Tuesday during school holidays and the street was pretty well jammed moving at a “bottleneck at a music festival” rate. If you’re going to go on a weekend, be prepared to get the elbows out if you want to zigzag between shops.

A side note, watch out for the African looking guys trying to be your friend, they’re only there to drag you into shops or sell you dodgy merchandise/tickets (to who knows what!). They seem to be of European background but speak a few broken languages.

Meiji Jingu Shrine, Harajuku, Tokyo

Speaking of the weekend, it is still the best time to check out Harajuku, mainly for Yoyogi park for its circus of Harajuku girls, performers and those crazy rockabilly Elvis impersonators. While you’re in the park, take the short walk to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of the most popular shrines in Tokyo, to stay a few prayers and maybe bless your feet for all the walking you’re about to do 😉

After Takeshita street, *snicker* venture out into the surrounding streets for more of the larger designer stores. A further block or two you’ll find many little lane ways of designer labels and boutique shoe and clothing shops. Brand stores like Adidas originals, Nike iD, Burton, Element along with some of Tokyo’s finest collector sneaker stores, Atmos, Undefeated, Chapter, Kicks Lab and of course for the everyday releases, the Japanese Footlocker, ABC Mart. While you’re in the area check out the many vintage clothing stores, Heatwave is one of the bigger names. There’s a huge variation in quality and selection so you might have to try a few different places if you’re looking for something in particular but like any “op-shopping” the best buys are the ones that you never expected to find.

For lunch I recommend the pocket kebabs. A little store with the long lunch line near Forever 21 (the American version of Supre’ but they sell guys clothes as well). There’s a few of these places through out Tokyo, basically two European guys with a well established little shop, have a photo of themselves in the window and make a killing. Very friendly and picked the Aussie accent straight off the bat. Crikey! The food is little thrown together because of the pace they work at but still fresh and very tasty.

Optimus Prime, Kiddyland, Harajuku

Finally you cant go to Harajuku and not hit up Kiddyland. I know, sounds a bit suss but I promise there’s no Manga p0rn! It’s pretty much the same as Yamashiroya in Ueno but with some floors solely dedicated to one character. So for all the Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Rilakkuma fans your prayers have been answered. For the lads, by pass the fluff and head straight to the top level for all your action figures, collectibles and vinyls needs. They definitely had one of the biggest selections of Kid Robot, Tokidoki and similar vinyls that I saw in Tokyo.

Heading back to the train station pop into the 100Yen store (Daiso) for any last minute travel basics or pretty much anything for that matter. Basically the 99p/Crazy Clarks Japanese equivalent but everything is 100Y (roughly $1US). Some of the items are very cheaply made while others are actually quite good. We picked up luggage straps, padlocks, stubby cooler, belt and a few other bits and pieces all for a buck each!

Tokyo part #1 – Ueno for a day
Tokyo part #2 – Getting round Tokyo, Ueno Sakura at night
Tokyo part #4 – Shibuya
Tokyo part #5 – Kichijoji and Shinjuku
Tokyo part #6 – Akihabara
Tokyo part #7 – Odaiba and Leaving Tokyo

Photo Gallery Here