It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, so I wanted to make this next one worthwhile.
Last month, I completed an eight-year odyssey in completing my 170 list just before my 30th birthday. I wanted to celebrate finishing my list and this milestone birthday in a big movie way, so I decided to take my first trip to LA. Together with my friend Stephanie, we spent six days and six nights making our way through the Hollywood Walk of Fame, movie studios, and Sunset & Vine. Here’s how it all went down last month.
(For over 300 photos of my trip, click here.)
We departed from New York’s JKF Airport and touched down at LAX on Tuesday, November 8. For years, I had heard about how great In-N-Out Burger is, but all of the restaurants seem to be concentrated around the West Coast, so I knew our first stop after landing had to be the famous burger joint where the food is always fresh. I had a Double Double with fries and a shake, and I have to say, although it was very good, it was just a burger and some fries. I’m left scratching my head, wondering where the hype ever came from. But this was just the beginning of what would be a long and exhausting day.
Stephanie and I took our rental van straight to Hollywood, where we headed straight to the Kodak Theatre, the home of the Oscars. I had been wanting to take a tour of the theatre for a long time, so I was excited to finally get the opportunity. We were the only ones on our tour, which made our trip through those hallowed halls a private one, making it that much more special. Our tour guide’s name was Barbara, and I have to say she was pretty awesome. A movie buff herself, she was thrilled to have Stephanie and me on the tour. She said that some people take the tour without ever having even heard of the Oscars! Blasphemy! She said she was happy to have real movie folk on the tour and Stephanie and I both engaged her in an educated way. In fact, the 30-minute tour was extended to just passed an hour, and no one minded. This was the highlight of my entire LA trip. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
Next up was Hollywood & Highland, the outdoor shopping mall that sits right in the heart of Hollywood (and just outside the Kodak Theatre). I was surprised to see a Crumbs Bake Shop there, as I didn’t know my favorite cupcake shop existed outside New York. Of course, I had to pay a visit. It was the day before my birthday, after all.
Next door to the Kodak is the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which was being set up for one of its many premiers to be held later that night. The film was The Artist, which will undoubtedly be a Best Picture nominee this year. Since the inside of the theatre was closed off, we had to come back another day. More on that later.
We walked down Hollywood Blvd. and found ourselves at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, which was playing some AFI Fest films. (The festival was running during the first days of our visit, though we didn’t partake.) We stepped inside to take a look at the lobby and snap some photos before heading over to the Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Academy Awards in 1929. Stephanie and I made our way inside, taking in the 1920s decor. I felt like we stepped into a Bogart film. The hotel was beautiful, inside and out.
You can’t really venture around Hollywood without taking notice of the hundreds of stars aligning the sidewalks. We walked up and down the streets, finding our favorite celebrities’ stars and taking pictures. I filled up most of my camera phone with pictures of stars and even “collected” the cast of some of my favorite movies, including snapping photos of the stars of some key Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (my all-time favorite movie) personalities, including director Frank Capra and actors Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Raines, and Beulah Bondi. And, of course, I had to find both of Alfred Hitchcock’s stars. (He earned one for film and another for television.) In total, there are five categories for which a person can receive a star: Radio, Motion Pictures, Recording, Television, and Live Performance. (Gene Autry is the only person to earn all five stars.) Along the Walk of Fame, we encountered the famous Capitol Records building, which was smaller than I had envisioned.
In general, the “main” part of Hollywood (where most of the attractions are) felt like a mini Times Square. It was all smaller than I expected and everything was within walking distance. It was a little disappointing how small it all was, but I had a great time, nonetheless, and we found ourselves heading back there several times before leaving LA.
That night, we dined on chicken and waffles (I always wondered what that unlikely combo was all about) at the famed Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘N Waffles. Whoever came up with pairing chicken with waffles was some sort of genius. (I suppose that might have been Roscoe, but who knows?) We capped off the night with a drive by Sunset & Vine, just by Roscoe’s, where we took in Sunset Gower Studios and Nickelodeon on Sunset, where TV shows iCarly and Victorious (among others) are shot. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was so exhausted that I was almost ready to head back to New York.
November 9. My birthday.
When I was younger, I used to watch Jeopardy! and always think that I’d love to sit in that audience some day. (Nerdy, I know, but it was a dream.) Well, I fulfilled that dream on my birthday at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. We watched three back-to-back tapings of shows that will air in January. We witnessed two new Jeopardy! champions and even saw one of them standing behind us in line at Subway later on. It was fun watching the inner workings of one of America’s most beloved and longest-running game shows. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see that 98% of the audience was over the age of 70. Hey, old people love me. (The show tapes an entire week’s worth of episodes in one day. One audience watches the first three episodes and a new audience is brought in to watch the last two.)
Following the tapings, we headed to Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory, where we took in some amazing views of the Hollywood Hills and the Hollywood Sign. In general, I was surprised at all of the fantastic mountain views we drunk in almost everywhere we went during the trip.
After an educational and entertaining visit to the observatory, we headed back to Hollywood for my birthday dinner, where we were joined by one of Stephanie’s friends and a friend of my own who lives in the area. It was great catching up with her after about seven years. Following dinner, we headed to LA Live in downtown LA, where our friend from New York had begun her four-day camp-out with hundreds of others, waiting for the premiere of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1.
This day consisted of a few “drive-bys,” where we headed by landmarks to take a picture before running off like bandits. This included the Hollywood Bowl, Paramount Studios (and the famous arches), and Hollywood High School (where several celebrities went to school). Across the street from Hollywood High is Mel’s Drive-In. We had breakfast at the beloved 24-hour diner before heading back to the Hollywood & Highland area for a walk through the Hollywood Museum, where we saw some classic movie memorabilia, including the famed ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and costumes from Ben-Hur and 127 Hours.
Following the museum, Stephanie and I went straight to Warner Bros. Studios for a 2+-hour tour of the studio’s backlot and other areas. This was a great tour because we got to ride through several locations that were featured in movies like Psycho and Jaws and TV shows like Desperate Housewives (we rode through Wisteria Lane), and we got to leave the tram from time to time to walk through actual sets, including one for the TV series The Mentalist. One of the highlights of the tour was a stop by the actual set of Central Perk from Friends, which had been moved to a new location on the lot. We got to take pictures and sit on the actual couch the friends often sat on during so many episodes during the iconic series’ run. Aside from the Kodak Theatre tour, this WB tour was my biggest highlight of the trip.
Stephanie’s cousin, who’s an actor, then caught up with us and took us on an impromptu walking tour through Toluca Lake, an affluent residential neighborhood where several celebrities have their homes. I nearly lost my urine when he pointed out both Jerry Seinfeld’s and Larry David’s houses, just across the street from each other! We also saw the homes of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Bob Hope, Kirsten Dunst, Hillary Duff, and George Lopez, among others. I was surprised at how small the houses appeared from the street (though I’m sure they’re much bigger on the inside), as well as how close they are together. The neighborhood looked like a nicer version of a standard suburb in Anytown USA.
After leaving Toluca Lake, we headed back to LA Live (home of the Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre), where we decided to expand beyond our movieness and embrace another art form: music. With that, we headed into the Grammy Museum and enjoyed some interactive exhibits. This museum continued the trend of parts of LA that are smaller than I expected. It did not take long to walk through the entire museum. And when we were done, we headed to the nearby Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill for dinner, because we were in LA, and you just have to eat in one of Puck’s restaurants when you’re in LA. He is the quintessential Los Angeles chef, after all. (He’s also the official chef of the Oscars’ Governors Ball.)
For about the third time during our trip, we headed back to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, where we were finally able to take a tour of the theatre. Grauman’s is a working theatre that was showing Moneyball at the time. It’s the home of America’s largest screen, at 90′ x 50′. The theatre’s lobby has classic Hollywood costumes on display, including one of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses, as well as Judy Garland’s famous blue dress from The Wizard of Oz and Elizabeth Taylor’s white dress from A Place in the Sun. We also spent some time outside, taking in all of the celebrity handprints and footprints that have been immortalized in cement in front of the theatre.
We took to the road and spent the next couple of hours at the Getty Center, which is a massive art museum complex with gorgeous grounds. We didn’t spend much time inside the complex of buildings, but had a good time wandering around the grounds and taking in the stunning views of the Valley.
We finished off the day back at Warner Bros. Studios for a taping of Are You There, Chelsea?, a new NBC sitcom that will premiere in January. It stars Laura Prepon (Donna from That ’70s Show) who plays Chelsea Handler. (The show is based on Handler’s book Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. Handler stars as Prepon’s sister, though she wasn’t in the episode we saw, which is titled “Boots.”) The 30-minute show took about six hours to tape, all the while we were “entertained” in between takes by an annoying warm-up guy and several students from the nearby Chapman University.
We spent nearly all of this day at Universal Studios, where we took a backlot tour (which included the Bates Motel and Bates Mansion from Psycho) and enjoyed some rides and more amazing views of the mountains. Once again, I was surprised at how small the theme park is, but I had a fun time, nonetheless. We then headed back to what had become our de facto “home base,” the Hollywood & Highland area, where we did a little shopping in the enormous Amoeba Music, the world’s largest independent record store, before heading next door to the famed Cinerama Dome for a 3D screening of Immortals, by one of my favorite directors, Tarsem Singh.
For our last full day in LA, we decided to leave the city and take in the sights in Santa Monica. We met up with several of Stephanie’s friends for breakfast before heading over to the Santa Monica Pier, which I didn’t find particularly interesting. It’s basically just a nicer version of Coney Island. Been there, done that.
Stephanie and I then headed back to LA where we visited the La Brea Tar Pits, where several animal fossils are regularly found preserved in oil (not tar, as the name suggests), before taking a quick stroll through the small Craft & Folk Art Museum, then a walk around LACMA’s grounds. While outside LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), we spent some time walking through the famous Urban Light art display, which has been featured in movies and TV.
We finished the day by taking in some more “drive by” sights and taking picture. These included Beverly Hills and Rodeo Dr. (the part with the posh stores is only a couple of blocks long—really, really small), the Sunset Strip, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and its stunning architecture by Frank Gehry, and the Bradbury Building (which is featured in many movies and is rather nondescript from the outside). Finally, we finished off our night with another trip to In-N-Out Burger, where I had to get another Double Double, but this time I did it “animal style,” which basically means they throw a bunch of stuff on the burger and fries and make them far more fattening then they need to be.
We woke up, checked out of our hotel, returned our (slightly damaged*) rental van, then headed back to LAX, where we boarded our Virgin America flight and took to the skies, bound for New York.
Our trip felt longer than it was, which I guess means we got our money’s worth. I had a fantastic time and definitely want to return, but hopefully the next time it will be to take some meetings with producers and filmmakers.
To recap, my biggest surprise was seeing how much smaller everything was than I expected. I was not totally surprised to see the poverty and low-income areas around the city. The gloss of LA that we so often see in TV and movies takes up maybe 15% of the entire city (that I saw, anyway); the remaining 85% is dirty and doesn’t appear very safe. That was a reality check. It also reinforced my appreciation for New York City, my home sweet home.
*Let’s just say Dan shouldn’t be driving a large, boat-like van.