Ahhh California. A state of perpetual sunshine, delicious fresh juices, and who could forget the glamour of Hollywood?
And traffic. Loads of traffic. Our second full day in California was hardly postcard-perfect. After bidding a sad goodbye to Anaheim, Dan and I hopped into our rental car and made for Hollywood. It wasn’t long before we were caught up in one of California’s infamous traffic jams. It was stop and go for nearly two hours as we navigated past Downtown Los Angeles and found our next hotel, nestled in the hills of North Hollywood. At last, we thought, our day can finally begin!
Wrong. I try to stay positive in the face of whatever life throws at me, but there is just no denying the truth: our second day in California sucked. Our hotel, which had a charming Japanese theme, was little more than an overpriced motel.
We didn’t get the best vibe from the area, and changed quickly into our hiking clothes so we could head up to the Hollywood Sign. Laugh if you will, but this was one of the things I most wanted to see while in California. Sure, I had seen it from afar, but I wanted to make the effort and actually hike a bit, and get lost in nature.
And get lost we did. Our GPS took us up to Griffith Park and ran us in circles, directing us to nonexistent roads and then backtracking, constantly adding more time until we would finally reach the Hollyridge Trail trailhead. After twenty minutes of driving aimlessly around the park, we stopped to consult our old friend Google on how anybody managed to find this damn trail! It turns out, the trailhead was closed…and had been for several months. At this point, we were just frustrated and hungry, and sick of being in the car, so we skipped any alternate hikes, changed into our street clothes, and headed straight for the ultra-touristic Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Writing this now, I feel like slapping myself. If I had the chance to do everything over, I would have taken a calming breath and headed to the Griffith Park Observatory like a normal person. Dan and I would have wandered around for a while, maybe gotten a quick snack, and planned our next move. If we had known then that the Observatory houses a Tesla coil, I’m sure Dan would have been begging to spend some time there. Instead, we drove to the Walk of Fame, paid $20 to park the car in a relatively safe-looking lot, and clutched our wallets as we stepped onto the world famous, star-studded sidewalk.
To anyone who has visited the Walk of Fame before, it should come as no surprise that we didn’t stay long. I wasn’t impressed during my visit to Hollywood in 2012, but somehow things had deteriorated even more before Dan could see it for the first time. The Walk of Fame was a filthy assault on the senses. People vied for our attention on all sides, handing out CDs and flyers, aggressively selling tours and scoffing when we dismissed them, or, at the very least, walking into us as they craned their necks to look at the famous buildings all around us. I’d like to think that once upon a time, the Walk of Fame was just another road, albeit one studded with famous theaters and hotels. Any shred of old Hollywood glamour dissolved as soon as we stepped foot on that sidewalk. Dan and I were swept across the street in a throng of camera-toting tourists to feast our eyes on Grauman’s Chinese Theater, famous for its array of celebrity handprints. We pulled out our own cameras then, and tried to take a single photo devoid of other tourists, which was much easier said than done.
We strolled along the sidewalk, but couldn’t go too far in either direction before the shiny tourist scene gave way to broken chain-link fences, increasingly seedy-looking people, and a generally bad vibe. After just thirty minutes in Hollywood, we were more than ready to leave. On a happier note, we did see Jimmy Kimmel and a large camera crew shooting something or other in a side street as we hightailed it to the car. Ah, Hollywood.
At this point, we had still not eaten anything since breakfast. Broke, hungry and frustrated is no way to spend a long-awaited vacation, so we went to the one place we knew we could visit free of charge: Universal Studios Hollywood. Dan and I were both Universal Studios employees at the time, and we had arranged two days worth of free park tickets, just in case we ran out of things to do. So we headed over to Universal City, paid another $15 or so in parking, and entered the park half an hour before closing time. We didn’t do much that first night. We decided to save most of the big attractions for the next day, and just soak up the atmosphere for a while.
Now, I am by no means a Universal nut. Do I enjoy the parks? Yes. But you won’t find me raving about it on the street corners. Still, I felt our troubles melt away when we stumbled upon Super Silly Fun Land, a Despicable Me themed area of the park. The area was clearly intended for children and families, but with only a few minutes to spare before the park closed, we hopped onto a Dumbo-style ride.
I loved the bright colors and silly faces on the vehicles, and exhausted my phone battery taking pictures of the adorable little area. After the park had officially closed, Dan and I took our time walking back to the front gate, taking pictures here and there with my backup camera. And hey! We saw Andy Dick! Of course, Dan had to explain to me who Andy Dick was…and most shameful of all, I only knew him from the movie Employee of the Month. I know, I know. For shame.
Finally it was time to eat dinner. We did a quick lap around Citywalk, a dining and nightlife complex on Universal property, and settled on a pizza place called Hollywood Pizza and Gelato. It may not have been our first choice, but for a budget-minded traveler, it wasn’t bad! We ordered two personal pizzas, took a seat on the patio, and waited…and waited…and waited. It was nearly an hour before our order was finally ready, but at that point, I had mellowed out enough to brush it off without too much of a fuss. I was just happy to have food at last! We enjoyed our pizza in the cool November breeze and people watched for a while, then made our way back to the hotel for the night.
I debated whether or not I should publish this post. What if I offended people? What if people (gasp) disagreed with me!? I know I can’t speak for everyone, but let it be known, Hollywood was definitely not my cup of tea – at least, not the version we experienced. Next time, I know to plan ahead and tailor our experience to whatever makes us happy…not what we know our friends back home will want to see. It may have been an overall crappy day, but I’m glad it at least ended on a happy note. All the while, I tried to see our mishaps as a great adventure, and in the end, we created many fond memories on our trip. Tomorrow would be a better day.