The Husband’s high school buddy and his 18-year-old son spent four nights at the Calvo Bed and Breakfast last week. Surprise thunder showers followed by pristine weather meant Los Angeles was at her sparkling best on Saturday. We took advantage with a driving tour of the city that spanned centuries, cultures, and neighborhoods. We zipped through town in the husband’s sporty little car, taking our tourists on a loop of highlights and lesser travelled sites.
Anyone with a car and a map can follow our route. Do this on a Sunday, and park like a pro in any yellow loading zone. Do not do try this move on a Saturday, or you will receive a $53 ticket, like we did.
Tailor your route to your tastes. We think 11 stops without refreshment is a an accomplishment. Skip breakfast (are you insane?) and begin at Disney Hall, or start with Mr. Churro in El Pueblo de Los Angeles. Grand Central Market deserves a walk-through, and requires a bean and cheese pupusa and horchata from Sarita’s. The religiously inclined might enjoy a peek inside the airy, angular Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Our first stop was the Nickel Diner for a maple bacon doughnut. Tourists dig this. I like the savory breakfasts like the pork hash and the chilaquiles, that fill me up for the adventure. No visitor to our home has ever ordered chilaquiles. Dear reader, if you are a tourist headed to my town, and you want to sample the local fare, please taste our delicious chilaquiles, made from fried corn tortillas simmered in salsa. I like them with eggs, crumbled queso fresco (that’s cheese) and Mexican crema (that’s sour cream). The chilaquiles at the Nickel Diner are cooked in a flavorful green sauce and served atop puréed black beans with avocado slices and a poached egg.
The Bradbury building is 5 short city blocks away, that’s half a mile, easily walkable. But not for us, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. The 1893 building is recognizable because Bladerunner was filmed in its soaring wrought iron interior court. The light cascading through the skylight ceiling makes me believe that the open cage-style elevators are time machines, and if I was just allowed to ride one, it might take me to a 1927 party on the roof. But that will never happen, because riding the elevators is reserved for those who have come on official business. Take a few pictures that will not do the place justice, pat the Charlie Chaplin statue on the head, and be on your way.
Take in the short walk back to the car. Let the glory of old Los Angeles stand in the spotlight for a moment. Linger on a street corner, in the whoosh of traffic and people who know exactly where they are headed. Look up at the blue-blue sky, notice the building facades and grand entrances, unfamiliar wares in shop windows, deteriorating theaters. Ok, get a move-on.
Take the 3rd Street tunnel, or if you’re tricky, loop around to drive through the flashier 2nd Street tunnel, to climb Bunker Hill. Tell your guests the hill was once covered in stately mansions, which became flop houses, and were razed by the city in the 1950s. Pull into the passenger loading zone in front of Disney Hall and stay near your car (you don’t want to get another ticket) as you marvel at Frank Gehry’s stainless steel architecture. Wave as you pass City Hall and our new urban green space Grand Park. Do not stop, this park deserves more time than you can spare.
A straight shot across the city to Alameda raises a “choose your own adventure” scenario. Do you turn right, to explore the Arts District, show off to tourists our phenomenal street art murals, wend through Little Tokyo, and spend the rest of the day toasting your travelers at Wurstkuche or the Lazy Ox? Or do you turn left? You turn left. A few blocks ahead is Union Station, the last grand train station built in the U.S., circa 1939. Park in the usually full lot in front of the station, or leave the kindly driver of this tour to wait in the car. Briskly lead your tourists into the foyer, ogle the former ticketing room and art deco ceiling. Take a photo in one of the iconic leather chairs. Duck into the peaceful courtyards. There is not time to have a drink at the bar.
Rejoin your driver and park a few block away, in front of Caveman Vintage Music. The excellent music surging from the open door will call you inside. You will be happy you listened. Vintage instruments, amps dressed in tweed, bins of vinyl records, and a friendly shop owner will all greet you. If you take my husband with you, he will tell you the year and make of every guitar, noting pick-ups and head-stock, while you pick out your favorite guitar based on color scheme.
Walk to Olvera Street, the oldest street in the old Pueblo de Los Angeles. Stroll through the colorful vendors. Perhaps your tourists would like a souvenir lucha libre mask? The oldest intact home in the city, the Avila Adobe, is at the center of this bazaar, down a narrow corridor. There is no charge to walk through the small house, decorated in period furnishings. There is a water fountain in the courtyard where your thirsty tourists can taste Los Angeles’ famous tap water directly from the source.
As you leave downtown, drive beneath the Chinatown gate on your way to the 101 Freeway. You’re headed north, to some prime, untouched territory, the Hollywood Reservoir. Not even Angelenos go there, many don’t know it exists. It will take your breath away. Our shimmering lake, surrounded by fragrant pines, teaming with wildlife. Walk out onto the dam, built by William Mulholland. There is the Hollywood sign on the facing hillside (which did not photograph well this time). That house with the tower was Madonna’s.
Next up is a photo-op at the Hollywood Tower, famous for a number of reasons, including the Black Dahlia murder and for having its own ride at Disneyland California Adventure.
Work your way south, and eventually to La Brea, for more local street art, like this Mr. Brainwash wall and Shepard Fairey’s building-sized mural. Check out the metallic Lenin Head on the corner of 4th.
This has been a long day, and wouldn’t you know, it’s cocktail hour. The best cocktails in a considerable radius are served at Ray’s and Stark Bar in the courtyard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Your tourists will be prepared to drop some dimes for the stellar food as well. We took a moment to refresh at home, but you should feel comfortable visiting our museum in the smart, urban fashion you’ve been wearing all day. Walk beneath our megalith, Levitated Mass, as the sun sets, and pose, like everyone else, in our pretty lights.
We closed the night, and the restaurant, with a luxurious dinner. Our tourists bravely sampled octopus, calf brains, squid ink, kumquats, hamachi. If your crew are not omnivores, there are pizzas, some exciting pastas, and delicately dressed salads to please even the wimpiest palate.
It’s taking me forever to create a map (I really don’t think that’s going to happen), provide all of the links, write proper directions. In the meantime, here are the addresses. You live in the digital age, I am sure this is plenty to work with. Have fun, we did.
Nickel Diner 524 S Main St, Los Angeles · (213) 623-8301
Bradbury Building 304 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA
Walt Disney Concert Hall 111 S Grand Ave · Los Angeles
Union Station 800 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA
Caveman Vintage Music 650 N. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Avila Adobe 10 E. Olvera Street, Los Angeles, CA
Chinatown Gateway intersection of Cesar Chavez and North Broadway then take the 101 North
Hollywood Reservoir – take the 101 to Cahuenga, right on Odin, left on Holly Drive, right on Deep Dell, sharp left at Weidlake, all the way to the top.
Hollywood Tower – 6200 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, California Cahuenga south to Franklin, turn left to Argyle.
Mr. Brainwash mural on La Brea at
Continental Graphic’s building Shepherd Fairey mural at 2nd and La Brea
LACMA, Ray’s and Stark 5905 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90036(323) 857-6180