So it was time to say goodbye to Vegas (for now!).
Once I had packed up and checked out, I headed to the Megabus terminal. Now, those of you from England will think “what the hell is this guy doing getting a Megabus….” (for those of you unfamiliar with the Megabus in the UK, the service is dreadful!). However, I can confirm that the US equivalent is miles ahead in terms of comfort and value (USD 28 for a single from LV to LA)!
Before I booked the journey, I did some research on Megabus US and the one thing that was recommended was to arrive 30-45 minutes early. There are two reasons for this:
1) If the bus is full, you will have to take the subsequent bus (3.45pm rather than 7.45am)
2) You get awesome top deck front row seats, with views like this:
The bus itself (more like a double decker coach) was roomy, had a working toilet and plush leather seats. Although the journey was just under 7 hours (including two stops, one at a gas station and one at Riverside), it flew by. We even arrived 30 minutes early!
Now, a couple of hints if you intend to take the Megabus:
1) The Vegas Megabus service runs from the Bus terminal on 6575 Gilesepie St, Bay 9 – a fact that isn’t disclosed on the Megabus website. If you intend to take the Megabus, I would recommend writing this address down as you might end up at the Greyhound bus stop (urghhh…..).
2) Despite how deceptively close the Megabus terminal looks on Google Maps (relative to the Strip), I would highly recommend getting a taxi (USD 17 with tip): Vegas can be very humid and the walk, with luggage, would take around an hour. Trust me, you do not want to be the BO guy no one wants to sit next to.
3) Tell the luggage guy that you are going to L.A – You do not want your luggage left at Riverside!
Once at Union Station, I headed to the kiosk to buy myself a 7-day TAP card (USD 22). This enabled me free access to all Metro (and affiliated) transport links for 7 days – an absolute bargain!
With a TAP card in hand, I headed off onto the Metro red-line to Hollywood.
So, I know what you are thinking. Hollywood (or Hollyweird, as the locals call it), what a tourist!
And I will put my hand up to that. Although Hollywood IS a tourist trap, it is really well connected and contains some excellent restaurants (the remaining good ‘uns are largely located in Downtown and Venice). Plus, there there are some nice and reasonably priced hotels there.
Before heading out to L.A., I went to a few websites to look at hotel reviews and prices. The one resounding piece of advice from other travellers? Pay a little bit more. Horror stories of the cheaper hotels include:
1) Bed bugs
3) Thieving hotel owners
4) Being followed outside of the hotel
Now, I would take these reviews with a pinch of salt. However, it is always better to be safe than sorry, so, I decided to pay a slight premium and booked 5 nights at Le Bon (Hollywood) – a relatively cheap (c.£100/night), clean and well-connected hotel (2 minutes walk to Hollywood/Vine Metro).
My thoughts on the hotel was that it was clean, accessible and had ridiculously comfortable beds. However, the owner, Yogi, was slightly dodgy: he would not let me read the contract he wanted me to sign – his excuse being “This contract is between me and Bookings.com”. He also, unusually, wanted to scan my credit card, my passport and my drivers’ license. However, no identity fraud has occurred so far (touch wood), so I’m inclined to believe him.
What I can say though, is that my stay at this hotel was very good (despite the initial issues with Yogi) and would wholeheartedly recommend it. If you are looking to stay in L.A, get in touch with Yogi directly and refer to me. He has promised readers a discount!
Once I had unpacked, I headed off to explore Hollywood. The Walk of Fame is actually quite cool, especially when you spot a big name:
Once I reached the west end of the Walk of Fame, I spotted Canteloop – a self-serve frozen yoghurt place. Deciding that I needed to cool down, I headed over….and found the most awesome place. Canteloop serve 6 flavours of froyo (I tried the peanut butter, peach and green tea, which were all awesome) and had tons of toppings, ranging from fruits to marshmallows. The best bit? You only pay for however much your cup weighs (c. $1 per 100g)!
With froyo in hand, I walked back towards the hotel on the other side of the road….and stumbled across this gem:
The Chinese Theatre is one of the three theatres designed and built by Sid Grauman. Now, I won’t ruin it for you, but there are so many secrets associated with this place, making the tour (USD 15) a must do. Hint: Take the tour when they are not showing a film inside – otherwise you don’t get a chance to explore the newly refurbished interiors (which includes a state of the art IMAX screen and sound system).
Outside of the theatre, there are some famous prints, some of which you may recognise:
(Jackie Chan has some really small feet!)
You can also watch a film at the theatre. The IMAX there is one of (if not) the best out there! They even hold premiers here!
Having done a fair bit of walking, I went to have my first taste of a Californian burger (the locals claim that L.A. have the best burger…..Londoners will disagree!)
Umami burger is a chain that is quite unique: You cannot customise your burgers!
However, when you have burgers that look and taste this good, I couldn’t care less:
Honestly, this burger blows all other burgers (Meat Liqor included) out of the water. The medium rare patty and fragrant roasted garlic aioli coupled with the umaminess of truffled cheese and a truffle-glazed brioche bap made it an unforgettable burger. Seriously, I am dribbling just thinking about it!
I also got some sweet potato fries (when in America…..), but these paled in comparison with the burger. The fries needed to be much crisper, were too oily and very one dimensional. However, credit goes to the house-made ketchup, which was almost as good as Heinz (no mean feat: many have tried and failed at this!)
Deciding that I needed something sweet to finish off the meal, I paid up and headed over to Canter’s Deli, an old-school bakery renowned for its cookies and cakes.
And ended up devouring a Hungarian cheesecake.
(Apologies for the lack of photos – it was messy!)
If you are in L.A. and need a sugar rush or have to buy some last minute gifts, this is the place to go!
To walk off the bazillion calories I just consumed, I checked out the Robertson shopping area – an area famous for celebrity spotting.
Although I didn’t get to see any celebrities, I did manage to buy some souvenirs:
If you are looking to buy cosmetics, Macy’s is definitely the place to go: the Origins creams I brought were £22.50 each, £11.50 cheaper than the UK and came with a load of freebies!
I also ended up stumbling onto this place:
The Farmers Market is a permanent market in L.A. and has been there for 70 years! Some highlights include Magee’s freshly made peanut butter (they literally have a machine there roasting and crushing peanuts however you want them) and the freshly made donuts from Bobs.
Seeing as I signed up to a bar crawl later that night, I headed back to the hotel and prepared myself for a night of mayhem. However, little did I realise what I signed up to: it was Cinqo de Mayo and my nemesis, tequila was everywhere. Its safe to say that my memory was a bit hazy, as evident by the photos on my phone and the hangover I had the next morning.
The night out was probably a mistake, particularly as I had to wake up at 8am to get to Universal Studios – the first of my Go Card attractions.
(For those of you unaware, the Go card is a pass to all the main attractions in L.A.. Depending on how many days you opt for (the longer it is, the more it costs), Universal Studios is included/excluded. The Go card also gives you access to some special deals and queue jumps. I think it is a good deal IF you make the most of it by going to the attractions and using the discount here).
How would I describe Universal? Despite my hangover from hell, it was EPIC!
Using my Go Card, I went to the VIP kiosk to get my ticket – saving myself from queuing in the sweltering heat. Once obtained, I raced to the gates in anticipation of the mad rush that is expected when 40,000 people are queuing to get in. Now, everyone who has been to Universal tells me that you should always head over to the “behind the scenes” tour first. And boy am I thankful that I heeded this advice.
As soon as the gates opened, at least 100 other people were doing the same thing as me: running to the tour gates. Luckily, I made it onto the first cart and missed a 50 minute queue.
You may ask why this tour is so popular. Well, the tour takes you around some of the studios and special effects locations where filming is done.
One of which is the King Kong 4D ride, which is unbelievably realistic (I ended up with T-rex spit all over me).
You also get to visit a plane crash site
And also get to up close and personal with Jaws.
There are some other surprises along the way, so I won’t spoil it. Just remember to sit tight!
But, I would highly highly recommend sitting on the left hand side of the carts: you will be getting a better view and a much better first hand experience!
Once I finished the tour, I headed over to the newly opened Transformers ride.
Getting up close and personal with Bumblebee:
And bumping into Gru:
Feeling a bit nauseous from the 4D rides, I headed over to the Pinks Hot dog stall for some much deserved grub. However, despite all the hype, Pink’s hot dogs have nothing on Bubbledogs in London. The hot dog itself had a nice bite; however, the chilli was very slimy and the food was barely warm.
To recover from the disappointment, I checked out the Special effects show. Despite the lame and awkward introduction, the show is actually quite funny and gives you an insight into how the special effects are made.
You even get to participate if you want!
Before I left Universal, I headed over to the Watershow, expecting a standard showing. However, this was probably my favourite attraction at Universal.
For starters, the actors get the crowd interacting by doing some tricks, spraying buckets of water on passers by (yeah, you get WET!) and asking for volunteers (to get involved in a water fight!).
Then, it was like Die-Hard on water, with explosions, flamethrowers and machine guns everywhere!
Seriously, if you miss this, you will regret it!
Just don’t sit in the front……..
Feeling a bit peckish, I headed over to Portos, a short bus ride away.
Portos is a family bakery famous for its Cuban sandwiches and snacks and is always busy. By the time I arrived (3pm), the lunch time queue was still here!
But the queue was well worth it. The sandwich was filled to ridiculous proportions whilst the Porto’s balls (Chilli filled croquettes) were so so good. I mean, look at that!
The bread is probably what they are best known for: the baguettes are crusty and crunchy, but retain a soft chewy centre – the holy trinity that all bakers strive for.
Finishing up, I got the short bus journey to Warner Brothers Studio, the second of my Go Card attractions.
Arriving at 4pm, I was on one of the last few tours that evening and was shown around by Berlin. Once she had asked everyone what their favourite TV show was, she tailored the tour and associated trivia to this!
We started off checking out some of the Friends sets:
(The stairs that Ross walks down in in a tux and afro)
Before visiting Merlottes
And the Big Band Theory Paintball shed
We also got to walk around inside some of the sets!
At the halfway point, we were invited into the Warner Brothers Museum, which houses some of the original props, including:
- The infamous red jumper
- The hangover baby
- The Marauder’s map
- The Sorting hat
(Obviously I’m a Gryffindor!)
We then went to see the Bat mobiles:
Before going for a coffee at Central Perk!
Berlin even told us how Gunther got to be in the show. (He was a one-time extra, but because they liked his hair so much, they made him a permanent character!)
As a final hurrah, Berlin took us into the Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half men studios. Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed inside, which is probably for the best: They had just finished filming Big Bang Theory and I saw a massive spoiler!!!
As a side note: For those of you interested in going to live viewings (free tickets, includes food!), head over to TVtickets.com. However, the popular shows get sold out almost immediately!
After a long day, I headed back to the hotel for a quick nap, before heading out to Korea town.
You see, Korea town is the home of Lock and Key, a secret bar that requires you to find the hidden door.
It is also guarded by a dodgy looking guy and has no sign, making it even more difficult to enter.
After pretending to be Korean (I often, unluckily, get mistaken for the singer of BEAST), I walked inside to find a dark room with hundreds of door knobs. Luckily for me, I guessed right the first time. However, I imagine it’s possible to spend 20 minutes in there and still not find the right one!
Once downstairs, I headed to the bar and was invited to a whiskey tasting event, free of charge! But not before I tried out the infamous Torpedo.
During the evening, I learnt about the different types of whiskies, how they are made and how to drink them. My favourite was the 10 year Yoichi, which was very smooth and slightly fruity.
I ended up making some new friends, who insisted on taking me to the Line Hotel to sample the food at POT.
Maybe it was the alcohol talking, but I really enjoyed my meal there.
Barley water (so much more vogue than cucumber water), Kimchi Fried Rice, Yellow fin tuna salad, baby anchovies and fried squid were all incredible and offered a great introduction to innovative Korean food. However, true to America, the portions were huge and the 4 of us ended up with Doggy bags each.
Although not cheap (USD 40 per head, inclusive of tip), the service and the food made it very good value for money.
Koreatown is probably one of my favourite parts of L.A., with its Shoreditch like vibe, great restaurants and bars and super friendly residents!