A Guide To The “Real” LA
Clear the smog to see beyond Hollywood Boulevard.
When you tell fellow Australians you’re planning on visiting Los Angeles, there’s a good chance you’ll be met with a slack-jawed “Why?” After spending a significant amount of time in the city I have managed to crack the mystery of Australians’ reticence when it comes to the City of Angels: Hollywood Boulevard.
More specifically, the fact that a good deal of Australian tourists will head straight for Hollywood Boulevard when they visit LA, and the problem is that Hollywood Boulevard is one of the worst places on earth. Try to imagine if Disneyland and King’s Cross had a baby and you’re part way there. In terms of a place giving the wrong idea about a particular city, the Walk Of Fame and its shonky accoutrements is up there with Times Square and Docklands.
There are various levels of “Hollywood Boulevard” in LA; the places everybody tells you to go, having forgotten that most of those places are well beyond played out. With that in mind, here are a handful of other Angeleno highlights that won’t have you trying to organise a swift deportation to avoid the rest of your holiday.
Chinatown is where the movie buffs head (I’m surprised there’s not a fine for saying “Forget it, Jake…” in public these days), but it’s the epicentre of North America’s biggest Japanese American population that is the undiscovered gem. Little Tokyo’s (relatively) tiny centre is jammed with shops (hit Maneki Neko for a deranged range of makeup – green glitter mascara and snail trail face masks, anyone? – and cute things), exquisite temples, amazing food, and for space buffs, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial.
If you’re looking for a place to take that definitive Instagram of the LA skyline, this is the place to be. Of course, there’s much more to it than that: the most-visited public observatory in the world provides free education about the cosmos, with free telescope access (and parking) every clear evening (which is most of them in LA, let’s be real), tours, the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, and the privilege of walking around one of the city’s most magnificent buildings in your own time.
The Fashion District
There’s shopping, and there’s something approaching a post-apocalyptic survivalist scenario – but with sequins. The latter is what happens Downtown in the Fashion District (variously if vaguely incorrectly referred to, depending on your needs, as the fabric and garment district, too), where bolt upon bolt of deranged spandex and multicoloured fun fur spills onto the sidewalks as people yell at you about deals. (It’s also packed with fashion wholesalers, if you’re in the market for a few hundred dresses or mystifying slogan t-shirts.) Grab a paleta (fresh fruit ice pop) from an ice-cream cart and wander around to soak it all in. The true Aladdin’s Cave is Zip Up Zipper on Wall Street (the other one), where towering shelves of trims threaten to bury you alive.
That’s right, chumps, they don’t call it a “cinema” here. But they do appreciate cinema, which means that Los Angeles is overflowing with brilliant repertory theatres (as well as traditional new release theatres, like ArcLight Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome, that come with their own rich history). For starters, check out Cinefamily (for cult, classic and everything in between), the New Beverly (for double bills; recently taken under the wing of Quentin Tarantino), and American Cinematheque’s venerable Egyptian (for talks, classic screenings, and previews of upcoming releases). And when in Rome, do as the Romans do and get a hot dog and a giant root beer to take in with you.
I’m not kidding. Many visitors to Los Angeles are amazed to discover that the city has a functioning public transport system. In fact, it’s not just functioning, it’s actually really great. A mere $25 will get you a seven-day TAP card, which will get you unlimited travel on all Metro buses, trains and light-rails. The Expo Line will get you to the Natural History Museum (and the Space Shuttle Endeavour!), the breezy Gold Line takes you through the aforementioned Little Tokyo on its way to Pasadena, and the big, red Metro Rapid buses go just about everywhere in a flash. Like London’s double-deckers, it’s a cheap way to see the sights (and a helluva lot more real than those hop-on-hop-off highway robbers). Plus, play your cards right and you get to spend quality time at the magnificent Union Station.
(Lead image: Edward Conde/Flickr)