After an 11 hour flight, I finally felt the warm Californian air at lunchtime on 11/09/2015. Sadly hopping on a plane to LAX was a little less glamourous than it sounds in the songs, and it took me over 2 hours to go through security, collect my bag and get to my hotel thanks to my Dad passing on some lovely Irish genes. Thanks Dad.
Once I stumbled out into the scorching LA heat, I jumped into a taxi to my hotel. I was staying at the Custom Hotel at LAX offered a free 15 minute shuttle, but, well I just wanted a shower and a bed. This being my first time travelling by myself, I decided to stick to where my Trek America tour would begin in 2 days time, making it slightly harder for me to miss the bus.
Once I checked in to my MASSIVE room, I proceeded to attempt to have a shower, which I couldn't work so had a bath (this will be a theme), I had a slight panic. For the first time, I was completely alone in a different country with no friends (yet) to hold my hand when times got tough. Pulling on my big girl pants I decided to venture out to explore. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping, so I headed off to Westfield's Culver City (yes, they are everywhere) and accidentally on purpose fell into a few shops. And yes you will get to see the hauls.
Because I'm a Type A personality, I had to have my free timed planned so I knew I'd see as much of LA as possible. I had no idea how big Los Angeles was until I started planning my day. I mean, it's huge. Although I speak English (albeit the English English variety), I didn't trust myself on buses so stuck mainly to taxi's. After waking at jet lag o'clock (another theme), I got up and jumped in a taxi to Venice Beach. Clearly sensing a new fish, the taxi driver took me on a little tour of nearby Marina Del Ray, a cute fishing port right next to the hotel.
After having a little tour of the area I got out of the taxi and walked along Venice Beach to Santa Monica. I have to be honest, I am not a fan of Venice Beach. Even in the early morning sunshine, it seemed a bit grimy and, dare I say it, sleezy. Santa Monica though, well that was a different story entirely. Think old fashioned English seaside, but everyone smiling, warm weather and everyone smiling.
The Santa Monica Pier is pretty much like any other pier I've been on, except it's got a pretty steep dip down right at the start. It's filled with your usual touristy shops, the Santa Monica Aquarium, the Carousel, Pacific Park theme park and various restaurants, including Bubba Gump Shrimp!
The thing I was most interested in seeing was the end of Route 66. Yes, that iconic road actually ends on the Santa Monica Pier, and as I would actually get to travel on it during the coming days, it was only fit I visited the end while I was in town. Weirdly, "the" sign isn't at the end of the pier. Hmmm. But there is a cute display right at the end filled of memorabilia. The perfect thing to get me excited for my own little road trip.
After a bite to eat I headed off the pier to Starline's Santa Monica Office. Not trusting myself not to get lost, I left navigating the Los Angeles roads to the professional's and booked on to the LA City & Hollywood Tour. So I stepped onto an open sided mini bus, keeping my camera out and sat back and enjoyed the city of Angels.
First stop was Beverly Hills and the infamous Rodeo Drive. Having grown up on Clueless and 90210, I felt like I was now stepping into a film, and this whole trip felt very surreal. One thing I loved about the tour was that the guide stopped at points to let you get off, walk around, take better photos and just experience it all. Well, I definitely had my Pretty Woman moment. Walking past Badgley Mischka and the Wilshire made me smile from ear to ear.
After going to see the Hollywood sign and venturing into the hills to peak at some of the Star's homes, the tour headed onto the Walk of Fame. The road was was actually closed off when we got there as they were getting ready for a Premier that night. The Chinese Theatre was everything I expected it to be, huge and traditional, whilst keeping up with modern times.
I know I keep raving about this tour, but I was so impressed by how detailed it was. I got to see so many sites that I know for a fact I just would not have gone. It was nice to see the different side's of LA too. From the glamour of Beverly Hills, to the edginess of Melrose and Sunset Boulevard and the relaxed vibe of the Farmer's market. Seeing Chateau Marmont in real life, opposed to the glossy pages of a magazine really showed me that I'd finally get to experience everything I wanted to. It was the perfect taster to Los Angeles life.
When I finally got back to the hotel I met up with some fellow Trekkers and had a natter. After a disastrous walk to find an In & Out Burger, I managed to slice both my heels open. The night before a 7 day trek. Two heels hurting and one pair of ruined white leather sandals I decided to get some rest.
We all checked out of the Custom Hotel and met downstairs in the lobby for 7.30am. There were quite a few different Trek's leaving from the Custom so finding my group was a slight mission. Things got even more complicated when we found out there were two groups doing the same tour, the Western BLT. As this date had been so popular, Trek America had decided to do two parallel groups. I think quite a few of us were sad about this, as we were being separated from people we'd already made friends with and knew, but there was nothing to fear because I happened to be placed in an amazing group.
After signing the necessary paper work, given general guidance and making the usual introductions, we loaded up Guinevere (the van) with our suitcases. Although we were leaving LA, we still had enough time to take in some of the main sights on final time. Shawn, our tour leader, took us to the Walk of Fame and gave us time to stroll around whilst getting to know each other. Now I always roll my eyes at people when they say they instantly feel relaxed with strangers, because, really?! But in this case it's the truth. After 15 minutes 11 girls and 2 guys were chatting and giggling aways as if we'd been on the road for ages. It was a good sign. Excuse the pun.
Our final stop in Los Angeles was up on Mulholland Drive, a winding road through the Hollywood Hills. If you are ever in LA, go to the view point. Regardless of whether you love the craziness of La La Land, or not, you cannot help but admit there is something magical about this city from way up above.
And then we headed back on to the road to Laughlin, Nevada ...