After many years of wanting to explore the ‘City of Stars’, I decided to make it part of my journey back to the UK at the end of 2019. Previously when I had lived in Utah, USA, I had dismissed travelling to LA due to the lack of interest in a trip from friends. After a further three years of travel and a newfound confidence in my ability to travel by myself I booked my trip.
With eight days booked in the LA area, I decided to split by time between two main areas. I first spent four days in Santa Monica and a further four in Hollywood. This post will recount my time in Santa Monica and my top things to see and do here.
I first landed in LAX at a very early 8am. My flight had left Auckland at 7.30am that same day so this was an odd experience, knowing no time had passed and I was set to embark on the longest day of my life. I left the airport and went in search of my shuttle service to the hostel. This was easy to find and I was glad I had pre-booked a shuttle as the Uber system has recently changed making the pickup point a trek from the terminal. The shuttle dropped me off right outside of the hostel, HI Los Angeles Santa Monica Hostel, which was well located in the middle of Santa Monica.
Since I had arrived at the hostel so early, I was fully expecting to not be able to access my room until a lot later. Luckily, this was not the case and I was given my room from the off! I used this opportunity to have a rest and a shower. I felt so stiff from sitting on a plane for so long that I decided the first thing to do was to go for a walk.
My walk took me over the highway to the promenade a couple of blocks from the hostel. I was amazed at how expansive the beach was, it seemed to go on forever! I walked along the beach and enjoyed a bit of a paddle. The sun was starting to get quite hot around midday as I sat under the Santa Monica pier and simply people watched. The pier reminded me of the many videos that had been filmed under here and I could not believe I was in LA after so many years of wanting to go.
After a walk and this short break under the pier the time was only midday! I could not believe I still had half of the day to go when all I really wanted to do was sleep and start afresh. I headed for some lunch on 3rd street promenade and went to the T-Mobile store to get some data to use in the US. Interacting with Americans again was a slight culture shock as their attitudes are typically less subdued than Aussies and Kiwis. After a few days though, I was back into the swing of being in America and felt comfortable.
I spent the rest of this long day chilling and napping, desperate to not fall to jetlag. I headed to Chipotle for dinner and tried to plan out what I wanted to do for the next four days. I was yet to meet anyone in the hostel as the girls in my room were quiet.
I went to sleep that evening excited to hopefully meet some more people in the hostel and explore the area fully.
The hostel I stayed at was the only hostel in the area and was highly rated. It did seem to lack the charm of other hostels I had been to around the world and served more as a hotel than a place to meet other backpackers. That morning I headed down to the breakfast and everyone was seated alone, not engaging with others. Finding this strange, I adhered to the social norm and ate alone, amazed at the amount of plastic the hostel deemed necessary. Ever heard of individual slices of bread wrapped in plastic?!
After speaking to the reception, I was recommended a good place to hire a bike from and made my way there. This bike shop was a walk from the beach but offered a good rate for the day and I was also able to score a sweet pink bike for my cycle trip!
Armed with my new mode of transport, I made my way to the pier once again and onto the famous boardwalk that spans the whole beach district. I started by cycling to the right, towards Ratner Beach. This route takes in the expansive beach and is generally quieter than going towards Venice. I enjoyed a quiet bike ride all the way out to Ratner where the trail stopped. The path was dotted with other cyclists, stylish runners, and well-off fast walkers.
I stopped on the way back for a quick drink and a sit down and spend the next 30 minutes trying to find my Fitbit which had fallen off on the ride! After retracing my steps and feeling confident that it wasn’t coming back, I kept on going back towards the pier.
I continued all the way to Venice Beach. This was fascinating to see after seeing it so much on the TV and online. The main beach street is packed with interesting people and a huge variety of stalls. Across the path from here is the famous skate park where I stayed to watch a few skaters show off their tricks to the crowd. Further on from here was muscle beach where there were many pumped up sweaty athletes working out. My PT back in New Zealand has suggested I get a pass for a few hours and work out there but looking at the people I think I would have looked very out of place!
I continued from this iconic spot and made it to the end of the ride trail at Marina del Ray. The bike lane goes inland from here and then back out at the beach after the airport, but I didn’t fancy navigating a busy main street. Instead I used the opportunity of the end of the trail to have a late lunch at a small sandwich spot. I left my bike and strolled back to Venice and the famous Venice canals. The houses here were all large and fully decked out for Halloween, I am always amazed by how America decorates to the full for every holiday.
I reunited with my pink bike to leisurely cycle back to the Santa Monica Pier. I made sure to take a break to sunbathe and have a little paddle in the water. The coastline is so expansive that there is a huge amount of room for everyone, it seemed a world away from the city of LA that I knew was bustling a few miles away.
Back at the pier I took a brief walk along the boardwalk, again so familiar from the many movies and online content I had watched over the years. I decided to come back here in the evening and try out some of the rides and food.
Back at the hostel I freshened up, feeling 100% better than I had the day before and feeling proud of my ability to beat jet lag this time around. At dusk I made my way across the road to the pier and bought some tickets for the rides. They are quite expensive for what they are, $10 for the roller coaster and Ferris wheel, but it felt like something I had to do since I was there.
I went for the roller coaster first and enjoyed the short but sweet bumpy ride as the sun set. Next up was the Ferris Wheel where I learnt about the dreaded no single rider rule. I assumed I would be bundled up with a group of two or four and be able to ride but it seemed that the Ferris Wheel only put people who knew each other in each carriage. Since I had already bought my ticket, I was told I would have to wait until someone else wanted to find single as well. Luckily after a minute or so of waiting, a man was called over and agreed to join me. He was also travelling solo and was in LA for a business trip. We both took photos of the other for them and enjoyed the view from the Ferris wheel.
I tried to get a glimpse of the Hollywood Hills and what lay ahead for the rest of my trip, but it was a little too dark and far away to spot. After the ride was over, I made my way to get a pizza and stroll along the pier until nightfall. Although it was a little embarrassing to be outed as a solo traveller by the staff at the Ferris wheel, I was happy I had ridden it regardless and that I had taken my first big step on an unusual solo outing.
The next day I had a mission in mind which was to conquer 3rd Street Promenade. I set out and explored the shops, some familiar and some new to me. One of my favourite things about America is the shopping so I happily spent the morning snapping up Victoria Secrets deals and trying to convince myself that I had enough room in my backpack to fit these extra clothes.
After a successful morning, I met up with my friend Bre for lunch. Me and Bre met in a hostel in Auckland and I was excited to see her again in her city. We went for lunch at The Misfit on Santa Monica Blvd. and enjoyed a catch up over what we had been doing since we last had seen each other.
We went for a walk around Santa Monica after lunch and then headed into LA city and K-Town. We had a fun afternoon together and I was amazed to be with her again but in her own surroundings of LA. That evening Bre invited me to watch her play at a bar on Universal walk where she worked. Bre is a really talented artist and did many gigs in New Zealand and record a live album at her hostel (ps. Check it out, it is amazing). Watching her again was fab and I was really happy I had made the trip to LA and was able to see her perform again.
On my final day in Santa Monica, I signed up to do a walk of the nearby Temescal Canyon with the hostel. Around 10 people signed up for the hike and we made of own way to the start using public transport. I was thrilled to be around a group of travellers who wanted to chat, and we had a really fun time hiking to the summit.
There were quite a few Aussie’s in our group and after successfully completing the hike and making it back to Santa Monica we went for lunch together where I tried my first beyond meat burger. It was insane how much the texture resembled beef! I had spent a lot of the hike regaling one of the Aussies about the joys of the Cheesecake Factory. After my pitch he was sold, and he joined me for a mid afternoon snack at the famous restaurant. Jack was suitably impressed with the cheesecake; I was thrilled to finally have a slice after many years and we spend a few hours just getting to know each other.
After this I headed back to the hostel to grab my bags and get in an Uber to my next hostel in Hollywood. My time in Santa Monica was perfect. It was the perfect amount of time in the city and a great first impression to LA. The smaller city and laid-back vibe settled me back into America again and without this I think I would have found Hollywood overwhelming. Santa Monica is also where I first dipped my toe in solo travel on this trip and I was proud of myself for enjoying my own company and ticking off everything I wanted to do.
The next few days in Hollywood allowed me to explore more of LA and get a different side of the city.