Stargazing in Los Angeles – A Californian Labor Day Weekend

Another pro of living in Arizona? We share a border with California, which means long weekends in L.A.! This Labor Day Weekend, me and my girlfriends did exactly that. We packed our bags, booked our hotel and hopped aboard the Greyhound bus, ready for our 10 hour journey to the City of Angels.

First up, the Greyhound. For some reason, the coach company has become one of the icons of American culture. When I told my friends back home I was catching the Greyhound to California they responded with ‘Oh cool! I’ve always wanted to get a Greyhound!’ Now I only have one response: why? Whilst it may be significantly cheaper than flying (our round trip was $120, about £78), the experience is just that…an experience. We left Tucson at 11pm Friday, in order to cheat our way out of a hotel night and arrive fresh Saturday morning. However in hindsight maybe the extra hotel night wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. American’s reading this are probably laughing at my naivety in thinking that the bus would be ‘fine’ and ‘a right laugh’. To sum it up (and prevent myself from ranting on the American system of queuing i.e. they don’t) the Greyhound is unreliable, uncomfortable and most definitely not ‘a laugh’. Fly, hitchhike, take a private jet if you have to. OK…maybe not that far.

As you can imagine, we were pretty exhausted after a sleepless night and 10 hours of travelling. Only one thing appeals to four girls, tired and in need of a tan – the beach. So off we went to Santa Monica pier. Santa Monica kind of reminds me of an English costal town…a really good one. It has the pier, the rides, even the nifty little stores selling shells and keyrings. However, you can’t beat a Californian white sand beach. It was there that we slept for a few hours, burning and crisping under the hot sun. Did we get bad sunburn? Yes. Was it worth it? Now, I can say yes…if you asked ‘tomato-faced’ me the day after, probably not.

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Santa Monica is also a great place to start off your shopping adventures in L.A. The pier offers souvenir items that are essential for any tourist – key-rings, t-shirts, novelty mugs, you know the sort. However if you head down to the pedestrianised 2nd street, you’ll find high-street shops as well as an array of affordable restaurants. We spent the remainder of our day prowling the shops and spending money we didn’t have in Victoria’s Secret (7 undies for $27…come on who can resist?!). To top it all off, we dined out on my favourite cuisine, and one that you don’t actually see a lot of here in Tucson – Italian! It was nice to get away from the fries and Mexican food and just sink my teeth into a cheesy slice of pizza.

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Thankfully, our hotel beds were a lot better than the coach seats of the Greyhound, and we slept like logs our first night in L.A. The hotel (Hotel Solaire) was located in the lesser known ‘Korea Town’, that we later found out was also home to many USC students. This meant that the area was relatively safe to walk around at night, even if a little sketchy. Having spent so much time in London, you would have thought I would be use to sight of homelessness on the streets. However, it is on a whole different scale in Los Angeles. Whilst the city may boast of great new beginnings and attract many migrants a year, the effects of this is short-lived. People literally had their entire life in boxes and shopping carts. Not far from where we were staying, a row of tents lined the pavement resembling a small community. You had to remind yourself that you were still in the developed country of America and not a war-torn village…

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Scenes like this were less common as you got more towards the centre of the city though, where we spent the majority of our second day. First up was MOCA, or the Museum of Contemporary Art. For anyone that knows me, you know that this definitely wasn’t my choice of destination. Whilst I can respect that modern and contemporary art is considered good, I am still unsure as to why. I am the type of person that needs every piece explained to them – why have they chosen just paint a blue circle in the middle of a white canvas? However, MOCA is home to some of the most popular pieces of contemporary art in the world (Warhol, Lichtenstein), and I can say that most of it was at least interesting. It got me asking those important ‘why’ questions, which I suppose is the kind of the stimulation the artist wishes to provoke.

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Next up was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (COLA), and Grand Central Market nearby. The Cathedral was actually the first ‘modern’ Cathedral I had visited. Living in Europe, we’re used to the old designs of religious places – gargoyles, extravagant ceiling artwork, and intricate carvings. This one featured a lot of clean lines and an overall simplistic appearance. I am still undecided as to how I felt about it. It was interesting to see a different place of worship but it just felt too ‘new’ to be a cathedral (only opened in 2002) – however maybe that was me not being used such architecture. One thing I was immediately taken with was Grand Central Market. Located just across from Angels Landing (the shortest railway in the U.S.) and opened in 1917, this indoor market has all types of food on offer. You can do your grocery shopping or simply grab a bite to eat – we did the latter. Out of the selection of Mexican, Italian, and American food I went to a Mexican cevicheria, La Tostaderia, and got fish ceviche. Popular in the coastal regions of Latin America and apparently originating from Peru, the dish is typically raw fish flavoured with lemon and chilli peppers, served with side dishes of your choice. Mine was served with plenty of cilantro, avocado, red onions and tomatoes. Although I’m not the biggest fan of cilantro (and there was a lot of it) I managed to eat around half the dish and appreciate the fresh flavours the dish boasted. Besides, I washed away the cilantro taste with a refreshing juice from Press Brothers Juicery, again available in the market.

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Hollywood Blvd was our fourth destination of the day, something that you have to do on any visit to L.A. I had visited the Walk of Fame and Chinese Theatre a couple times before, but there is always something new to discover along the strip. We actually ended up going to the largest candy store in the U.S.A, where they sold European chocolate! However it was for a price…I paid $4.99 for a bar of Milka. Still, it was nice to see some Dairy Milk on the shelf; I’ve spent my time here living off Reese’s and Raisinets to satisfy my sweet cravings.

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The highlight of the trip though has to be our visit to Griffith Observatory. Located on Mount Hollywood, it’s not exactly easy to reach. We tried an Uber, but ended up trekking the remainder of the route up there. It was tiring, especially the final part going up the sandy hill to the observatory, but it was most definitely worth it. The summit offers spectacular views of the whole of the city in all its glory. It’s times like this that you appreciate the lack of skyscrapers in L.A., as the sprawl laid out before you is truly magnificent. We watched the sun set and stayed to look through ‘the most viewed telescope in the world’, set that night to be pointing at Saturn. It was a wonderful night and the perfect way to end our busy weekend in the city.

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After travelling another 10 uncomfortable hours, we finally reached our ‘home’ in Tucson. We were exhausted but satisfied with the eventful weekend we’d just accomplished. Los Angeles is one of those cities that keeps on giving. It doesn’t matter how many times you visit, you will always find something new and discover a different location. I definitely plan to visit again – next up on my list the Getty Villa, somewhere that we planned to go to but never got round too. Two days in the city just simply isn’t enough!

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