Weekend Getaway: Los Angeles
The countless times we’ve spent navigating the chaos of Los Angeles over the past few decades, we realized we’ve never really played tourist. It’s always a straight-line to a few days at (insert mega-tourist-thrill-ride-theme-park here), sleep at the closest hotel, brief comments about the smog and cool sports cars, then straight back home.
So… for this family vacation, we explored Los Angeles!!! Here’s how my wife, our two daughters (12 & 14) and I spent 2 days & 1 night in the City of Angels.
Day One: The Hotel
After a beautiful drive down the 101, a LOT of the La La Land soundtrack (did we mention there were two teenage(ish) girls in the car), and the typical oohs and aaahs that come with seeing LA after being in San Luis Obispo for so long… we rolled up to our hotel in the early afternoon. For this weekend’s home-base, we chose the Tilt Hotel Universal/Hollywood, a fun hotel property adorned with a healthy dose of movie posters, bright neon lights and quirky style.
Now that the kids are older, we chose to get 2 rooms with adjoining interior doors… and it was awesome! All the comforts of having your family close, but without having to look at each other 100% of the time. 🙂
The rooms were better than we anticipated considering the nightly rate and close proximity to Universal Studios (close enough to see the lights, but far enough away to not hear all the noise). Plenty of closet/drawer space to unpack everything, clean (even by the standards of my germ-a-phobe wife), good selection of Coffees & Teas, fridge/sink and comfortable bed. Everything you hope for in a room, and a little more. Plus, free popcorn & cookies in the lobby!
After a quick unpacking & change of clothes, we jumped back in the car and cruised off to…
A short 15min drive from the hotel (okay… 15min drive to the base of the hill, then another 20-30min in the slowest moving traffic EVER), we found ourselves at this beautiful and iconic building. BTW Parking SUUUUCKED, and the walk was gnarly!!!
If you’ve never been to the Griffith Observatory it truly is an incredible sight. We arrived during an uncharacteristically gloomy LA afternoon, yet oddly clear (even by LA standards), and you could see across the cityscape for miles! Having grown up in Cali, my wife has never seen the Hollywood sign in person… so it was cool to stand on the green observatory lawn and easily spot it on the neighboring hillside. I’ve rarely felt like I was in an iconic Californian moment quite like I did right then. After a few too many photo-ops, we navigated the shorts steps to the entrance.
From here, we do think it’s only fair to mention the real Griffith Observatory is NOTHING like the one you see in all of those silver screen moments. It’s the same building, but they magically CGI out the HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE crammed inside (UGH!). I’m glad the facility is able to offer so much knowledge to the masses for free (only cost is if you want to watch a show), but duuuuuude. That crowd was icky. We did the best we could to spend quality time with the exciting variety of exhibits (check out the pictures below). A low cloud-cover interrupted our chances to really gaze into space, but they do a good job making up for it with pictures, videos and more.
We took in a show about Norse Gods in the planetarium (their programs are all time-based so choose the one you want to see early, or you’ll be stuck with whichever is next or not sold out) which was a tad hokie, but still fun and educational. Next we strolled about finding fun exhibit after exhibit with a myriad of interactive elements and visual effects. There was a really neat line-up of each planet with a scale showing what you’d weigh on each one. There’s also an active richter-scale, measuring activity tucked back in the corner. (for an added bonus, get your group to all jump at the same time and see how much you can move it) After having our fun, we found our way to the rooftop. Now slightly past the twilight hours, the lights of the cityscape were simply breathtaking. I’ve attached a few pictures (above), but they really don’t do it justice. We could’ve camped out there for hours… but we were hungry for dinner, and we saw on their website a cafeteria was located downstairs with a great offering of delicious sounding options and a salad bar.
We entered the cafeteria… and there were no delicious specials available, the salad bar looked pathetic (at best), and everything was picked over like they missed their last few shipments. It was still HOURS before the Observatory closed AND dinner time. What was going on? We scrounged what we could and made our way to the register. Even though the website made no mention, and we didn’t see any signs on the door, the employee said they were about to close. (Despite the long line of hungry visitors) The bummer part is #1. did I mention it was dinner time, and #2. it’s the Griffith Observatory… there is NOWHERE else to go. We ate what we could, and moved on. Food would come later. Our last stop was the gift shop where we discovered a healthy dose of science, touristy name-tags/mugs/etc, and fun apparel. We picked up a few items… snapped a few more pictures from the front of the building at night (again, breathtaking)… took the long walk to our parking spot… and took off back to the hotel.
After a day of driving, and the huge disappointment at the Observatory… for dinner we opted to go somewhere close & easy. As we were rolling up to the hotel, we spotted a cute little Thai restaurant next door. Winner Winner!!! We parked, strolled over, and found ourselves inside of our first ever Thai Vegan restaurant. Only seating about 15, the Veggie House was surprisingly great. Of course, I’m the only person in my house that eats Thai food… but after the bad dining experience earlier in the evening, this was a welcome treat. Sidenote: their menu shows “chicken”, but it’s all faux meat. We took the food back to our rooms and chowed down while watching mind-numbing hotel TV.
Day Two: Hollywood & The California Science Center
After a good night’s sleep & showers, Day 2 kicked-off with a quick walk across the street to Starbucks for coffee, breakfast sandwiches (including their new GF option), and fruit.
Our post-breakfast goal was to trek Hollywood Blvd and go uber-tourist with pics of the Stars, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the works… but, the Acadamy Awards had another idea. The big event was that evening (we may have forgotten about that one) and the entire strip was closed to traffic. Bleck! Instead we cruised Santa Monica Blvd to Beverly Hills so the kids could check out houses of the stars. With dreams of McMansions in their eyes… we rolled on.
The California Science Center was our final destination of the weekend. General Admission is free, with an additional cost for special exhibits (we visited the Endeavour & Pixar special exhibits, plus an IMAX screening… all were added fees). Parking is $12 and CASH ONLY. We had to track down an ATM.
Tucked neatly alongside the University of Southern California, and at 400,000+ square feet of interior space, the Science Center is a behemoth of knowledge. I had no idea it was so big! Side-note: getting there is super sketchy. It’s not for too long, but you definitely pop through LA’s seedy underbelly on your way in. (be prepared)
Bottom line… this place is cool! There is so much going on across the spectrum of science that it is difficult to write about it all. For instance: In case you didn’t know, the Science Center is home to NASA’s Endeavour (the actual space-craft!). They dedicate a great deal of their real estate to it, and we loved every inch! From the special hangar housing the remarkable craft to the short-film & imagery showing how they got it from the airport to the center (spoiler, they towed it!!!), the little science-geek inside of me was beyond ecstatic. So. Much. Awesome!
… and that was just part of it.
We were lucky enought to be there during a killer Pixar exhibit put on in partnership with the movie studio. They had everything from how they build the clay 3D versions (including video with Pixar’s key staff explaining their process), step-by-step key animation tutorials and life-size representations of their world famous creations. We would have paid the same amount JUST for this exhibit alone. Super badass!
(make sure you check out our pictures from throughout the day)
The day was one for the record books… and now we were hungry. After yesterday’s bad food experience, we wearily took the escalator to the lower level so we could check out their food-court, and… huzzah!!!
They had a TON of options!!! We settled on a little pizzeria near the back and were delighted to discover they sold Gluten Free crust. We happily chowed down then digested our lunch with a stroll around the rose-garden out back (separating the Center and USC’s campus).
It was getting late, and we still wanted to catch one of their feature presentations in the IMAX theatre so we mosied over to check it out. It was cool… and a nice way to cap-off a weekend of cramming knowledge. Plus, our feet were killing us from all the walking, and sitting down was mandatory!
Finally… we meandered through the massive gift shop near the entrance, picking up a few fun novelty items for the girls. It was time to grab some coffee and head home.
We ordered our caffeine in the food-court (burned coffee and over-sugary “fancy” coffees, but it got the job done) and headed out to the car.
Admittedly, it was a little scary when we got outside. Not realizing how empty it had become… we arrived in the parking lot to find our vehicle one of only half-dozen or so left. Security was gone, it was dark and nobody was around. Remember the area we were in? Yeah… we didn’t take our time here. Quickly to the car, easily navigated to the on-ramp… and home we went.
5-ish hours later we pulled into our driveway and promptly crashed in our own beds.