I love traveling as a family, but after our recent adventures as a foursome, the husband I were ready to drop the kids off with grandma and head somewhere warm for a weekend alone. The prospect of planning a getaway that didn’t centre around child-friendly activities and focused on activities that would let us recharge and reconnect as a couple was an exciting one. But where to go? After some research for somewhere close, fun and adventurous, we decided Los Angeles was the perfect choice: you could spend a lifetime in the city, and never run out new things to do or places to eat. Our biggest challenge was narrowing down our options and fitting as much as possible into our five short days there.
Beach and Boardwalk
When vacationing on the coast, quality beach time is always a priority for us. Staying at the Santa Monica Wyndham at the Pier was the ideal location for the perfect start to our weekend.
Situated steps from the famous Santa Monica Pier and right across the street from the famous 3rd Street Promenade shopping district meant we never had to drive to find holiday fun.
And should you want to venture further than your feet can carry you, the hotel provides complimentary cruiser bikes. If you have little ones in tow, there is a bike rental across the street that can trick your ride with a child bike seat or Chariot-like trailer.
Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier Contact Info:
Visit a Tesla Showroom
One of the highlights along the 3rd Street Promenade is the Tesla car dealership. Tesla is a local California car company that is turning the auto world on its head, producing electric cars that are changing the way the world thinks about alternative energy. One of my husband’s biggest thrills of the weekend was having the opportunity to take Tesla’s new Model S out for a test drive along the winding roads of Santa Monica. The Model S can travel over 425 km before it needs to be recharged, and is a sexy, powerful ride.
Petersen Automotive Museum
No trip to LA would be complete without a stop at the Petersen Automotive Museum for my car-enthusiast husband. The museum is unrivaled for its history of cars and L.A. culture, where Hot Rods and Hollywood played a huge role in the development of the automobile. With over 300,000 square feet on four floors, it is home to more than 200 cars, making it one of the largest automotive museums in the world. The museum’s namesake is Robert Peterson, the founder of Hot Rod and Motortrend magazines.
Our visit began on the main floor and traveled through time, giving us a glimpse of the evolution of the automobile from its past, present and potential future. Rather than looking at a bunch of cars on display, the exhibit features complete scenes showcasing them in their natural surroundings, adding a touch of Hollywood realism to the exhibit. The second floor reveals the Petersen’s latest and greatest exhibit that changes every three to seven months. On this floor you’ll also find famous cars from the silver screen in Hollywood Hall and a Hot Wheels exhibit.
A hands-on and interactive displays that kids of all ages can enjoy is found on the third floor in the Discovery Centre, but my favourite part of The Petersen tour came when we entered The Vault. Access to this area is not included in general admission, but it’s worth the additional cost, as this is where cars that don’t fit the flow of the other displays are kept. Most of the cars have an amazing story or piece of history and while I’m not a car buff by any stretch of the imagination, I found myself oohing and aaahing over many of the ones in The Vault. Because this is a guided tour, you’ll learn the history behind the cars, told by staff who are passionate about these vehicles. With a large gift shop full of automotive memorabilia, this is like Disneyland for gear heads.
When my husband had satisfied his need for speed, it was time to tackle my own LA weekend getaway bucket list. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do the Hollywood stargazing experience: take a tour of movie stars’ homes, visit the Madame Tussauds wax museum, stand in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Our second day in Los Angeles began with a visit to the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and although we did not go inside, it was the perfect starting point for everything we had planned for that day. The theatre is located by the ticket purchase counter for Starline Tours, is next to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and is a good place to begin following the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In front of the theatre, you’ll find handprints, footprints and even hoof prints squeezed into the wet cement. We had some time to kill before our Starline Celebrity Homes Tour began, so we started meandering along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I originally thought it would span a couple of blocks, only later to discover that 2,500 stars are scattered along 15 city blocks. We didn’t have time to see them all but it was fun finding a few of our favourites along the way.
I was trying my best to avoid sound like a giddy schoolgirl, but as we prepared to start the Starline Movie Stars Homes Tour, I had a hard time containing the 13-year old girl inside me. I remember driving through Los Angeles as a child while on our way to Disneyland, and begging my parents to take a detour past some celebrity homes. The answer was always an exasperated no, even though it would have been my own personal Happiest Place on Earth.
Starline Tours is the oldest and largest sightseeing tour company in Los Angeles. Our hilarious, energetic tour guide offered endless amounts of trivia and historical tidbits about restaurants, theatres and famous bars along the way, as well as great gossip that was better than anything I’d ever read in Tiger Beat. Even though much of the tour essentially consisted of looking at massive gates with an even larger wall, rather than the actual house, I loved seeing who was neighbours with whom and keeping my eyes peeled for a shirtless Brad Pitt (he has to return from France sometime, right?). The only home visible was Simon Cowell’s new digs and it was likely only because it was a new construction and the fence just hasn’t been built yet. You can purchase a map and go on a self-guided tour, but having a great guide to provide trivia and pull out large images of the homes behind the fences and gates made it a worthwhile experience. It was everything my teenaged-self imagined it would be.
Our final stop of the day was the Madame Tussauds Museum, where I hoped I might still see a shirtless Brad Pitt, even if only a likeness of him. My first visit to the museum was both incredible and a little scary, standing next to perfect replicas of famous celebrities that are even made perfectly to scale. Who would have guessed Salma Hyack is so tiny or that John Wayne was so tall?
Hollywood stars always seem a little larger than life on the big screen anyway. My husband took full advantage of the baskets of props located throughout the museum, posing for silly photos while I laughed, rolled my eyes and took pictures to use as blackmail evidence in the future (the Lady Gaga wig probably seemed like a good idea at the time).
No visit to Hollywood would be complete without a visit to Universal Studios. We had booked an entire day to visit but apparently going on a week day in winter is the best time to visit if you want to avoid lines.
The weather in Southern California was still lovely but there were no crowds (except at the Flinstones restaurant,where people had apparently traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to line up for freakishly large stone age-sized turkey drumsticks). We zipped through the rides and shows with no lines, went for round two, and then spent the rest of the afternoon scouring Universal City for fun and unique souvenirs for our kids. The City Walk is great for shopping, dining or letting loose, with night clubs, a bowling alley and a movie theatre. It was a surprisingly relaxing afternoon, though presumably maybe not for the folks who waited an hour for ribs (a Yabba Dabba Do-Not for us).
Shop Til You Drop (Or your husband cries)
After spending two nights enjoying the Santa Monica beachfront scene, we headed downtown to the funky, boutique hotel, The Orlando, nestled between West Hollywood, Beverley Hills and the historic Los Angeles Farmer’s Market. Valet parking, a perfect view of the Hollywood sign from our room and a chic rooftop pool made everything about this hotel Hollywood fabulous. The Orlando has an arrangement with a nearby restaurant, The Churchill, to offer room service to guests. After a full day, we were just too tired to venture from the hotel to look for sustenance, so we opted for a dip in the pool and some room service. We were delighted at the unexpected surprise of some of the best wood-fired pizza and creme brûlée we’ve had yet.
The Orlando is also surrounded by some of the best shopping in Los Angeles (good thing hubby got in his car-gazing while he had the chance). On one side is The Beverley Centre, home to upscale shops such as Louis Vuitton, D&G, Gucci and Burberry. Across the street from the Beverley Centre are the more budget-friendly Target, TJ Maxx, Ross Dress for Less, Marshall’s and Nordstrom Rack. On the other side of the hotel are at least 10 solid blocks of eclectic boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and cafes that lead to the Farmer’s Market and The Grove Mall, which has a trolley running down the length of it. My wallet let out a whimper as soon as first pulled up to the hotel and spotted the plethora of shopping surrounding our hotel. Or maybe that was the mister.
The Orlando Contact Info:
Address: 8384 W 3rd Street, Los Angeles, California 90048
Where to Eat
If you Google best breakfast places in Santa Monica, The OP Cafe is consistently voted as being the place to go on most foodie review sites and it didn’t disappoint. They have a amazing selection of gluten free food options and their GF pancakes were the best ones I’ve had.
If it’s that perfect blend of a euro-hippie garden cafe you’re after, Urth Caffe in Santa Monica is one of the prettiest I’ve seen. They also happen to offer a huge selection of healthy food options, which you can enjoy with a good coffee next to a greco Roman-style trickling fountain and the wildflowers growing in their patio garden.
The Best Bang for Our Buck award of the weekend went to Fat Sal’s Deli, home of the Big Fat Fatty, a massive 27-inch sandwich that costs a mere $49.95 (if you can finish it in under 40 minutes, it’s on the house). We weren’t quite up the challenge but were still craving one of their crazy offerings, so we opted to share their highly recommended Fat Texas BBQ. Served a hero bun roughly the same diameter as my head, the Fat Texas toppings included BBQ pastrami, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, bacon, grilled onions, melted cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, fries and mayo. Not only were we both stuffed with our half of the sandwich, at $12.95 including fries and a drink it also ended up being the most inexpensive, yet most memorable meal of our trip. Fat Sal’s has three locations – two in Los Angeles and one in San Diego.
We discovered the Farmer’s Market one evening when looking for affordable dinner options, and promptly returned for breakfast the following morning. There are over 100 places to eat, grab a coffee and buy fresh produce. From fine dining french fare to grab-and-go gourmet hot dogs, the choices are endless with a price point for everyone. This Farmer’s Market, established in 1934, is a local landmark and worth stopping by for a visit.
Five full and very busy days flew by, and after packing so much into such a short period, I briefly wondered if we managed to exhaust ourselves more than our kids ever could. In the end, we both got to choose some activities that appealed to our unique interests and that would have bored our little ones to tears. But next time I visit, I expect Brad to be waiting outside his mansion with a welcome sign. It’s the least he could do.
A big thank you to the Wyndham Santa Monica at the Pier and The Orlando for hosting us at their lovely hotels.
For more great ideas of fun things to see and do in Los Angeles (with kids or without), be sure to visit www.discoverlosangeles.com.
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