Last October, I took a trip to Los Angeles which I had dreamed of doing for years. Armed with a new-found confidence for solo travel, I decided to test the waters by exploring Santa Monica and Hollywood on my own.
In my previous post I detailed my time in Santa Monica and how I cycled along the famous Venice beach, hiked canyons, shopped and caught up with old friends. This was a great introduction to LA and after four days, I packed up my bags and headed to Hollywood.
I chose to split my stay to add more variety and to make sure I made the most of the eight days there. I was warned before I went that I wouldn’t be able to fill eight days in LA and with this in mind it made sense to make my trip a twin centre to keep it varied. I stayed in USA Hostels Hollywood, which had great reviews on Hostelworld and was well located from the main Hollywood strip. Some had said that they felt uncomfortable with the area around the hotel as there was a car park which seemed to be popular with the homeless community in the evenings. I never felt unsafe so don’t let this deter you from this location.
I was staying in the hostel over Halloween so there were a number of activities laid on with this theme in mind. The hostel also ran several trips to the Hollywood sign and Beverly Hills and I eagerly signed up to these. These trips are usually inexpensive, allow you to have local guides and are a great way to meet fellow travellers.
I checked in in the evening, after a packed day in Santa Monica so simply got myself situated in my mixed dorm room and found a local pizza shop for a slice for dinner. My dorm mates here were mostly male and also quiet, a few from neighbouring states with their own agendas for their time in LA.
On my first day in Hollywood I joined the Beverly Hills tour. This was a quiet affair, with only two other travellers signed up. We enjoyed our time regardless and our guide was great, showing us all of the main homes in Beverly Hills and the stories behind them. Beverly Hills is a stark contrast from some of the other areas in LA. There is a huge disparity in wealth and it is quite a shock to see it so brashly. Once you enter the Beverly Hills area, you are straightaway taken back by the size of these homes and the seclusion and secretly behind each one.
It is also amazing to see how many famous people lived side by side but probably had no interaction with one another. For example, on one street was the home where Miley Cyrus grew up and Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson lived. Each home has strict security and looks quite lonely, separated from the city and the outside world.
Our guide took us down the most famous streets and we also were able to get a photo with the infamous Beverly Hills sign. After this we took a trip to Rodeo Drive and walked down the streets filled with some of the most expensive and lavish shops in the world. It wasn’t really the place for me since I’ve never really been into designer shops and clothes but it was fun to walk amongst it all for the experience.
This was a great introduction to Hollywood and after this morning tour I spent the rest of the day walking around the main Hollywood strip and popping into Trader Joes to prepare for the evening. Bre, my friend who lived in LA, had graciously invited me to her pumpkin carving evening with her friends. Not one to say no to an opportunity to partake in a famous American pastime, I headed over, armed with the best pumpkin I could find.
On my walk back to the hostel with a pumpkin under my arm, a passerby commented on the odd item and shouted back to me ‘Yes girl, go get that arm workout!’. This gave me a chuckle as I continued walking.
That evening was lovely and it was so nice to meet her friends in LA. We all got creative and made unique styles. I went for an owl design that in the end came out quite well, I was pretty proud and sad to have to throw the pumpkin away after carving it, I didn’t have any need for a pumpkin whilst backpacking!
After a fun night with great company I headed back to the hostel, ready for another busy day. I got up and joined a hostel tour once again, this time to the Hollywood sign. This was a more popular tour and I was joined by around 10 other travellers. We took a local bus to the bottom of the hill and then walked the rest of the way. Once at the top, we had great views of the sign and took the standard tourist photos.
I was surprised that the tour wouldn't be making the trip to the top of the sign. I was told that this would take around an hour or so to do and no one else seemed up for the climb. I therefore said goodbye to the rest of the group and started the ascent. I had always wanted to see the sign from the top and get a shot of just the Holly part for laughs.
The hike in the end wasn’t too hard, although it wasn’t well signposted and you really had to rely on either knowing where you were going or trying to follow the trails on googlemaps. Eventually I got there and got the desired photo, all worth it for the gram!
I then pondered on what I wanted to do next. It was still early and I had the whole day to explore. I could see the Griffith Observatory in the distance and wondered if I could walk there. After a quick search it looked like a hike of over an hour but it was doable. I still had a lot of water and was also armed with snacks so I decided to try it out.
The walk from the Hollywood sign to the Griffith Observatory turned out to be lovely, quiet and peaceful. Walking along the canyons ridge with an amazing view of LA below felt like I had really stumbled upon a hidden gem. There was hardly anyone else on the path and I listened to music and just enjoyed taking in the view I had seen so many times before in movies.
Finally at the Observatory, I explored the various free exhibitions and was reminded of the Space Observatory I had been to in Wellington not more than a month before. The view from the observatory is also spectacular and I made sure to take some photos which took in the downtown area of the city and went all the way to the coast.
I was amazed that the Observatory is free to enter and only had a few paid attractions. This makes it a must do in LA and is the perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon. I took an Uber back to the hotel from here and had the typical Uber experience in LA. My driver was an actor and artist as well as an Uber driver on the side and asked if we could listen to his mixtape in the car. After the journey he was keen for me to add him to Instagram to see how he processed in the city of dreams. This was the LA I had read about and seen in movies and I wished him the best with his dreams in this competitive city.
That evening was a relaxed affair and I ate in the hostel and went to bed early, unable to really meet anyone to hang out with in the hostel.
On my third day in Hollywood I was really looking forward to experiencing Universal Studios. I found a great deal online which was two days for the price of one and decided to take my time exploring all that the theme park had to offer. I took the subway to Universal which was easy to navigate and then took the Universal tram to the entrance of the park.
I chose Universal over Disney as it seemed easier to get to and also had Harry Potter world. The first thing I thought when I went through the gates was wow! The park was huge and had almost every theme imaginable. From the elaborate Simpsons set to the many country themed areas, there were hours of fun to be had here. Hearing that the Studio tour would become busy later in the day, I opted to head straight there.
This is an hour long tour of the Universal lot and was so much more immersive than I expected. The tram is guided the whole time and takes you through live lots, old sets and amazing example lots of special effects used in the past. It was so good that I decided to go on it again the next day. Thinking I would have a different guide and therefore a brand new experience, I was surprised to jump in the car and have the same guide again!
Next up was the Simpsons lot which is very realistic (for a cartoon show) and has lots of restaurants and buildings from the famous TV show. I had lunch here at Krusty Burger. The food wasn’t anything to write home about but the novelty of sitting in a bright burger restaurant whilst Simpson episodes ran on the TV was quite something,
The main attraction in this section is arguably the Simpsons ride. Universal operates a single rider line which was great for me as it meant I could skip quite a lot of the queues. This was not the case for every ride though and I spent around an hour waiting to try out this attraction. The rides at Universal were new to me in that they didn’t really move at all but instead relied on special effects and simulation to replicate the movement of a ride. This was still very effective though.
The park also had a section for Jurassic Park, Stranger Things, Transformers and more. The highlight for me was of course the Harry Potter World. This featured a realistic Hogsmeade complete with shops, a train station and a huge model of Hogwarts. I was in awe of the scale of this model and how amazingly immersive it was. I spent the majority of the first day going around the shops in Hogsmeade, trying out Butterbeer and grinning like a kid.
There are two rides in the Harry Potter world in LA. The first is the Flight of the Hippogriff which is a relaxed roller coaster, usually short queues here and not worth queuing for if the line is long. The second is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride takes you on a tour of Hogwarts with a plot line featuring dragons, spiders and broomstick rides. It isn’t a roller coaster but it does have some amazing special effects that make you really feel like you’re flying with Harry and the gang. This ride does have a single rider line and it meant I skipped a queue of around an hour for the ride. Pleased I could do so, I then proceeded to go on the ride another three times until the motion of the ride made me feel a little queasy.
Universal was well worth a day and a half of my time in LA and despite going alone I was never made to feel unwelcome or out of place. It was one of my favourite things I did in LA because of this.
My final day in LA after spending half in Universal was spent seeing the famous Chinese theatre and other hotspots in Hollywood. I didn’t particularly enjoy the crowds filled with promoters and dress up actors so I didn’t stay too long but was able to look at all of the hand prints and signatures immortalised outside the Chinese Theatre.
In the evening, I headed a few blocks away to the Hudson Theatre where I would be watching Starkid Productions perform their newest musical, Black Friday. I was there for opening night and was so excited to watch a Theatre Company I had watched for years in real life. Starkid was a group I got into 10 years ago during my musical theatre kid days and I had casually supported from afar for many years. To see them perform one of their shows in real life, knowing I was one of the first to see it was a privilege and another highlight of my time in LA.
I also met some lovely people in the audience that evening and didn’t feel at all left out. After the show, I stayed for stage door and was lucky enough to meet the majority of the cast and get into conversation with a few. This led to me being one of the last to leave the venue and as I walked with the other fans I had befriended towards their cars I felt like I had really cemented my LA experience.
The night of Black Friday was also Halloween and I was glad I had spent it in the company of Starkid and not at a party. I have never been a fan of Halloween so this felt like the perfect way to spend it. The next morning I packed my bags and headed to the airport, ready to say hello to Mexico.
My time in Hollywood was packed, had lots of variety and boosted my confidence in my skills solo travelling. Although I didn’t meet many people in the hostel, I found comfort and enjoyment in my own company and got to do everything I wanted to do with no compromises.