6/8/09

LA STORY

LA STORY…Hollywood, Downtown, Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu, Silver Lake and Beverly Hills are all districts & cities under the umbrella title of Los Angles, CA and it took me nearly three weeks to get the briefest outline of this complex multi city state and experience a smidgen of its diversity. I met residence who told me it had taken them years to feel confident enough to drive and navigate this heavily populated diverse area, home to approximately 10.5 million people.Rule number one: get a really good map! You’ll need it!

WHAT TO SEE If you use West Hollywood, Hollywood Boulevard as your starting point, then you’re close to the best parts of LA. One direction brings you to the‘little London’ of LA, Hollywood & Highland. I thought it was rundown and unbearably commercial, but with Mann’s Chinese Theatre, Highland shopping centre housing a large Virgin Megastore, Spehora you can spend an hour or two here. There’s also Fredrick’s of Hollywood lingerie and H & M down the road, with the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame underfoot as you stroll about. Once you’ve seen Jimi Hendrix or Rita Hayworth or who ever your hero is,then you will be forgiven for thinking it’s time to move on. The Observatory, Griffin Park sports the best view of the Hollywood sign and so much more. You can cycle or horse ride through the largest municipal park in the US and it houses the LA Zoo, an antique merry-go- round and a 1930s theatre and out door concert area. Reservations are required for shuttle services. www.griffithobservatory.com


The Getty Centre & Santa MonicaIt’s a cultural crime to visit LA without going to the beach and Santa Monica’s beach really deserves the praise because it’s simply beautifully preserved and tourist friendly (maybe overly so). Stroll along the famous pier, ogle some muscles on Muscle Beach and catch a sunset. There is lots of commercial shopping on 3rd & Santa Monica Blvd. with all the big brands, but nothing distinctive. Blonde LA was by far the best ladies fashion store on the very long and drawn out Main St. www.blondela.com There was also Planet Blue 2940 Main St Venice and Venice Vintage on Abbot Kinney BL worth a visit. I did all that shopping and never got to The Getty Centre or The Getty Villa. Shame on me, as I heard they are arguably the most stunning highlights of LA. http://www.getty.edu/ for details on both areas.
There are lots of hotels on the beachfront but I stayed at The Huntley, about ten minutes walk from the sandy beach of Santa Monica. Strange that it’s rated ****star but has no pool or sauna or steam room! Nor had it a balcony in either of the two rooms I stayed in. I felt claustrophobic in December when the weather was just 19 c. Imagine this place in summer. www.thehuntley.com Nice hotel, but my advice is get a hotel with a pool ! There are plenty to choose from.

General Tours LA.
I’m obsessed by shopping as you may know by now, so maybe you will fancy a shopping tour with Urban Shopping Adventures. Owner Christine Silvestri lets you pick an area and brings you on a bespoke tour. Alternatively she decides what will suit your needs best. This can be good if you are trying to get your bearings in LA www.urbanshoppingadventures.com Consider doing a literary, true crime, architecture or rock and roll tour with a really cool company called Esotouric B us Adventures. I did a Thursday night ‘art crawl’ in Downtown which was great fun including a visit to www.thehivegallery.com (they ran a collective exhibition evening full of new upcoming LA artists).
I was lucky enought to meet up with LA's artist Art Weeks and got a chance to view and buy one of his works. See Art's work here http://www.artweeks.com/

Esotouric tours let you hop on and off a specially decorated bus for free, with entertainment on board from a variety of local acts. www.estouric.com

SHOPPING & MARKETS
A few blocks down Fairfax ave and Melrose you can visit the Fairfax High school Market which was the best out door market I’ve experienced. (It’s especially good if you have a love of 50’s vintage clothing and oddities: Only open Sundays 9-6pm). 0n the corner is a vinyl collector’s dream The Record Collector with rooms of rare and unusual records. 7809 Melrose Ave, Hollywood www.therecordcollector.net
Look out for the delightfully unique Mimi a La Mode across the road. It’s a kitsch little shop specialising in ‘bathroom, spa and beyond’ accessories Mimi a La Mode 7716 Melrose Ave. Vintage stores in this area are excellent. AaardVarks 7566 Melrose Wasteland 7428 Melrose and American Vintage 7575 Melrose all in Hollywood, all just mere meters from each other. The perfect Sunday is a visit to Fairfax market from 9am and then stroll down Melrose Ave and visit all the shops mentioned, as Sunday sees them create their own on street mini markets. Also on Fairfax (3rd and Fairfax) is The Grove, a farmers market with many different food stalls with an appendage of a huge manicured shopping centre with all the American greats including Victoria Secrets, Abercrombie & Finch, American Apparel. It’s quite a tourist trap but if you have the time it might be worth a visit on a Sunday.

The FASHION district in Downtown is a strange mix of ethnic knick knack shops, fashion trimmings, South American communion shops and fabric warehouses. Be prepared for a good morning of rummaging around as it would be impossible for me to tell you where or what to look for here. Suffice to say if you want feather boas, frilly knickers, unusual fabric, weird and wonderful beaded or lace trimmings, bridal head dresses they are all here. I used Mapel St as my centre point and wandered around. You can pop into the fashion book store 110E, 9th st. Lobby 19. www.thefashionbookstore.com a treasure trove of fashion books and international magazines. They pay homage to all Italian style mags and some cool London glossies.There is a definite 1980’s feel to most of the fashion retail shops in this area and to be honest, the only fashion gem I found in Downtown was the unique and bizarre store owned by designer Stella Dottir. The shop is over run with her much loved cats that climb on chairs and underfoot! Not at all like the old store in Galway ( was it called Toffs?) which was a test of endurance to enter, (I think their animal of choice was dog!) this is a little haven, with a gorgeous vintage Steinway & rails of unique corsets and gothic inspired creations. You would be forgiven for thinking Mz Dottir was some kind of exotic white witch as her white dreads tumble from her turban and she drolls in an exquisite Icelandic accent. Stella Dottir is a true unique find in LA. http://www.stelladottir.com

Hotels & BARS
My first resting spot was Hollywood B and B nestling at the foot of the Hollywood hills on Orange Grove & Hollywood Blv. (My taxi driver was unawares of the ‘B & B’ concept, so a proper address is a must.)This purple palace has only three rooms to rent out, making lots of space for guests. My deluxe room had its own kitchenette, sunken jet bath and a gorgeous private balcony. There is a communal living room and a large pool area. It was the only place on my three week holiday that included breakfast (you order the night before from Nina the lady of the house!) William (Nina’s husband) collects all kinds of antiquates and bric-a-brac and adds them to the already heaving house & I have to say, I just loved the kitschness of the place. I came to LA to experience that unique touch of eccentricity, to chat with locals who actually live in the Hollywood community so with all of that in mind, I would highly recommend staying here for a night or two (I stayed four!) if you want to have your own private balcony, go for hill walks in the star studded Runyon Canyon (Franklin and Fuller Ave )and even hire a car and spin along Mulholland drive on a sunny day. West Hollywood is gorgeous and I felt very safe walking around (I wasn’t brave enough to drive!) checking out the impossibly manicured houses and gardens. Very Stepford…. The Grafton – with average rooms, great pool area and really competitive prices (I was offered 20 % discount straight away) this makes a much better option than the Mondrian which is next door, over priced and vacuous in most ways imaginable. www.graftononsunset.comBy all means go to the Mondrian’s Sky Bar for a drink– it’s a great space but I would advise giving the hotel a miss. I thought the rooms bland and the staff impersonal. This all added to my disappointment when I realised I had left my make up bag with bout 400 euros worth of precious dailies behind on checking out. I called the same day and was told it had been disposed of.www.mondrianhotel.com
You are spoilt for choice around this area. Sunset Tower is two doors up from The Mondrian and If you fancy a more traditional LA resting place try the infamous Chateau Marmont famed for housing many a rock and roll legend, this is an imposing chateau style building high in the hills off Sunset blv 8221 Sunset Blvd. Hollywood, Ca. 90046 www.chateaumarmont.com

Downtown hotels: One of the most unique hotel experiences you could imagine is STAY hotel in Downtown. The idea of sleeping in a glass room – (you heard me! ) which faces out onto the street!! These are just two of the more interesting rooms in this hotel come b and b come hostel. A selection of rooms to suit any budget or pallet! www.stay-hotels.net 6 36 Main St Downtown.
I visited one of in LA’s top bars called The Edison, 108 West 2nd st, Downtown. Electric Picnic favourites Lucent Dossier Circus Troupe perform here every Wednesday night with skilled aerial acts and big dance numbers. 20 $ entry http://www.edisondowntown.com FoodHollywood Blvd has such a strange mix of highly commercial tacky shops and restaurants that is a welcome surprise to find The Geisha House 6633 Hollywood Blvd. www.dolcegroup.com The d├ęcor is wow factor and it’s always busy.
Two good reasons to go!

If you are around the West Hollywood/Sunset area, check out Cheebos restaurant. It’s one of the best mid priced well located haunts in LA. I went back a couple of times during my stay, as I enjoyed the familiarity and friendliness of the place. (not a combination I felt often in LA). Cheebo s 7533 West Sunset Blvd www.cheebo.com

LaLa’s Argentinean grill was a lucky find. I had a great steak, cut Argentinean style. Great outdoor area. Good for a bit of casually dressed celebrity spotting. 7229 Melrose Ave www.lalagrill.com

BEAUTY
Could you cope in LA without a tan? Try a natural Airbrush Tan that promises to make you ‘golden brown not orange’ ! Tan lasts one week with Platinum Image Services , a beauty concierge company with their own range in organic LA tan products who offer lots of tailor made packages for a price – including a big bridal package with facial, tan, nails etc. Basically they can get you anything you need in the beauty line from hair dresser to double massages in the privacy of your hotel room.
I t could be a handy number to have when trusting a beautician that you stumble upon on the street or on line is not an option.myspace.com/platinumimageservices

Property
When I visited LA, Cecil B De Mille s estate was up for grabs at just 23 million dollars and I’m kicking myself since that I didn’t snap it up! Brett Lawyer runs Sotheby's International Realty and is the man to see if you want to purchase a mansion away from home!www.sothebyshomes.com

However, if you are interested in purchasing a more affordable loft in the up and coming Downtown area then check out The Loft Exchange, Inc. There are some unique opportunities in real estate in Downtown in particular try local guy Michael Ferguson(yes he is Irish!!) www.theloftexchange.com
GETTING THERE:
There were no direct flights to LA now that Aer lingus has stopped that service. I flew American Airlines Dublin to Chicago then onto LA and I would suggest exhausting all other possibilities before choosing AA! British Airways also fly from Heathrow.

Sara Colohan has a travel blog www.travelbloggerabroad.blogspot.com