It seems like every year, I set a resolution to “travel more.” I pick a few dates on the calendar and I plan a trip or two, but I never do what all I set out to do. This time, I decided not to wait and instead, I started the year off traveling! I set my sights on Los Angeles, California, and on New Year’s Day, my son and I were on a plane headed to the west coast. There wasn’t much time to plan the trip and I’d never been to California before, so I had no idea what to expect. I ended up having one of the best trips of my life.
Day 1: Exploring the City
As soon as we touched down in Los Angeles, I couldn’t wait to explore the city. My son, Erick, went to hang out with family, and I went to check into our hotel. We were staying in the Hyatt Regency at the Los Angeles Airport. The airport was undergoing renovations, so I got a great deal on the room. Unfortunately, that great deal came with a lot of hassles, including my room not being ready when I arrived. As a Platinum Member of the Hyatt program, I was used to getting priority service, but that didn’t seem to exist.
I decided not to let it get me down. I went to eat breakfast at the hotel buffet, then decided that I didn’t want to waste a whole day sitting around waiting for my room to be ready. The hotel concierge checked my bags, and helped me book at tour of L.A. The tour bus came a short while later, and I was headed out to the streets of Los Angeles in the safety of a rather rickety tour bus. The tour bus wasn’t the greatest, but it did allow me to explore L.A., and that was the whole point. Since it was a holiday, my options were limited, as some tour buses had limited service.
The tour bus took us around to all of the typical sites. We first explored celebrity homes in and around Beverly Hills. We stopped by Rodeo Drive, and then went high up into the hills to view more celebrity homes, and the Hollywood Sign. I learned, as most tourists do, that you don’t get an up-close view of the Hollywood Sign, like at all. The tour buses take you to a cliff that’s rather far away, and you get a teeny-tiny view of the sign.
I later learned that there is a way to get closer to the Hollywood sign, but it’s hidden away. Basically, you can hike to the sign if you know how to navigate the neighborhood, and if you’re willing to hike a few miles. The location of the sign, however, will not show up on Google maps. You have to do some sleuthing on YouTube if you want to figure it out. When I visited L.A., it was quite chilly, and I spent most of my time touring the city alone. It wasn’t really safe for me to hike in an unfamiliar area by myself, so I settled for seeing the Hollywood sign from afar.
Our tour bus driver also took us to see sights along the famous Sunset Boulevard, and to a market that’s apparently popular with tourists. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the tour, but I was unimpressed by the market. The lines were long, and a lot of the food options were strange. After we got back onto the bus, the driver started heading back towards our hotels.
I, and the other passengers realized that we had not visited Venice Beach, which was supposed to be a part of the tour. Venice Beach is a famous California Beach that’s been featured in a lot of movies, and is home to its own eclectic culture. I really wanted to check it out. After some finagling and negotiations with a passenger that had a flight to catch, he took us on a quick stop down to Venice Beach. We literally had just enough time to run down to the beach and snap a few pictures as the sun set, but it was worth it.
After I got back to my hotel, my room was finally ready. My relief was short-lived, as I encountered more problems at the front desk. They were resolved, but it took a while. I was exhausted after an early flight and the city tour. All I wanted to do was get to my room! When I finally made it to the room, it was quite nice. As the hotel was under renovations, food options were limited, and I ended up ordering food from a delivery service before I crashed for the night.
Day 2: Escape to Manhattan Beach
The next day, I was, again, on my own to explore. The city tour that I had taken the day before wasn’t cheap, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. After speaking with concierge again, I decided to take a trip to Manhattan Beach. There was a shuttle that left from the hotel, and it was only $5 round trip! It was called the Ocean Express, the Gateway to L.A.
It was really chilly outside once again, and the bellhop warned me to bundle up against the “ocean breeze.” I went back up to my room to grab my gloves, and hopped on the shuttle to head to the beach. It was a really short trip, and I discovered that the shuttle would also stop at a local mall before heading back to the hotel on the return trip.
When we got to downtown Manhattan Beach, I discovered lots of little shops and restaurants. I saw a lot of people heading to a place called Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, so I headed that way as well. This place was really popular, so the line was long. Since I was solo, I was able to be seated immediately at the counter.
I ordered French toast and a delicious hot chocolate. At this point, it was really cold outside, so the hot chocolate was just what I needed. The service was pretty good, and so was the food. But, I wouldn’t recommend sitting at the counter if you can avoid it. The diner is right by the kitchen, and it’s noisy and crowded. It would have been much nicer to be seated at a table, but I was glad that I did not have to wait a long time. The checkout process was a bit strange. My waitress brought the bill, but someone else came to get my credit card. I hesitated, wondering if I was being swindled, but everything turned out to be just fine.
After I paid my bill, I headed towards the beach. It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and I quickly discovered what the hotel staff meant by “ocean breeze.” As I walked down towards the beach, the wind was whipping and I could feel a chill through my jacket. There were only a few people on the beach willing to brave the cold weather. Gorgeous homes lined the shore, and a few residents were walking their dogs.
It was easy to tell who the tourists like me where, as we were busy snapping pictures. Before I headed down to the sand, I walked up the small pier towards an aquarium sitting right in the middle. The aquarium, was small, but free and I checked out the few fish inside before leaving a small donation, and heading out to explore the rest of the beach.
The sandy beach was calm and quiet. I felt an incredible peace wash over me as I walked along the shore. It seemed amazing to me that some people actually lived like this, where they could walk out of their homes each day and take in this view. I spent some quiet time out on the beach, reflecting and enjoying the breeze. Finally, the chilly weather got to me, and I was ready to head to the mall.
The Ocean Express picked me back up, right on time, and I went to next stop, the Manhattan Village Shopping Center. The shopping center was like a mini-mall. There were indoor shops like Sephora, and some outdoor shops like Tommy Bahamas. I really wasn’t interested in shopping, but I did grab some lunch at Islands Restaurant. It was typical restaurant fare, but I sat at the bar and made conversation with a few locals.
It was kind of funny, because a lady I met warned me “not to go to L.A.” She told me it was dangerous and she never goes into the city. I told her I was actually staying in Los Angeles and she seemed to feel sorry for me. She told me to stay and watch a football game, but I had spent most of the day out on Manhattan Beach, and I was ready to head back to my hotel to relax.
The Ocean Express came like clockwork once again. I left a tip before hopping off, and retreating back to my hotel room. Once again, food was hard to come by, as the hotel bar wasn’t accepting service. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say that although the hotel said it was a “Hyatt,” they were still in transition to becoming part of the Hyatt brand, and many of the staff members were overwhelmed.
I ordered out again, did some writing, and relaxed in my hotel as I dreamed of the beach.
Day 3: The Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica Pier
By Day 3, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. I really wanted to check out the Griffith Observatory, but I didn’t have a car to use to explore, and the cost of an Uber to the observatory seemed to be a bit exorbitant, not to mention the fact that I would need to find a way back. After eating out for a few days in a row, I really wanted to save money, so I decided to go with the absolute cheapest transportation option besides walking – the bus.
Once again, the concierge came to the rescue. The concierge provided maps and she showed me the exact route to walk to get to the transportation center, what bus to take, how much it would cost, and where to get off. The hotel staff even made some change for me, so that I would have cash to catch the bus.
The walk to the transportation station was such a short walk that I felt like a sucker for not utilizing the bus sooner. I found the right stop for the Big Blue Bus. I realized I’d hopped onto the wrong one (I took the express one to Santa Monica). It was a pretty easy ride there, and I asked the bus driver which stop to get off on, when he took an unexpected turn. If you ever find yourself riding the bus, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for directions. It’s better to ask than to waste time or get off on the wrong stop.
Once I got to Santa Monica, I headed straight down to the pier. It wasn’t quite as cold as the day before, and this pier was hopping with activity. It was a stark contrast to the quiet of Manhattan Beach. There were families everywhere, and although it was still cold, a lot of people were still on the beach, in the water, and walking all around, everywhere. The Santa Monica Pier is clearly the place to be if want to be around a lot of activity.
There were street vendors selling food and souvenirs, and there were rides on the boardwalk to ride. I ate lunch at Bubba Gump’s and I had a fun time except for one strange thing. A guy followed behind me into the restaurant and at by me at the bar. He didn’t end up ordering anything. He joked around with the bartender before leaving. I have a strong feeling that he was following me to try to steal my camera if I had placed it down on the bar. If you visit the Santa Monica Pier, be careful and keep an eye on your valuables.
The rest of my trip to the Santa Monica Pier was without incident. I explored the Boardwalk and the beach, and went over to a nearby park to relax and snap a few pictures. The park was nice. It was full of homeless people, and some talked to me while I munched on a snack from a street vendor. I was planning to take a tour bus out to Malibu, but it was, unfortunately, completely booked.
It was way too early to head back to the hotel, so I walked around downtown Santa Monica, then checked out the shops. There was plenty of people watching, and more vendors everywhere. After a while, I was on sensory overload and it was beginning to get dark. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake of not having anything to eat back at the hotel, so I bought some tacos from a local shop and rode the bus back to L.A.
Day 4: Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, Rock Creek Canyon, and Hollywood
The next day, I was happy to have my son back to hang out in Los Angeles with. We caught a Lyft to the famous Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. The Long Beach location was too far, so we went to the location in Inglewood. The whole experience was underwhelming. They sat us in a tiny table by the kitchen, and the service was minimal.
The waffles that I was served were so thin and tasteless, that I found it really hard to believe that the restaurant is known for its waffles. I was glad to get the “world famous” experience, but I it’s not on my list of best restaurants. We caught a lift down to Hollywood, which took quite a while in traffic.
Although I had been down to the Hollywood strip already, Erick had not. We booked a much cheaper an shorter city tour, then went to check out the Walk of Fame. We grabbed some snacks for the tour, and hopped on board. Everyone else on the bus was from Australia. Our driver was from L.A., and she seemed to know the city really well.
We checked out some of the same spots that I visited on the other tour, but this one was much different. The tour bus driver gave insight as a native of Los Angeles, and she gave us a lot more time to stop and take good pictures. Erick enjoyed the tour and he got a chance to see the famous sights in L.A.
When we got back to the Hollywood strip, I began to feel a little sad that our trip was coming to a close. Los Angeles seemed like such an amazing city. But, I had only seen the touristy side of it. Erick and I needed to grab some dinner, so we ventured a small ways away from the tourist area to a nearby McDonald’s. Although it was less than a block from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it was like a whole different world.
The McDonald’s was crowded with families, but there were also a number of locals. One guy was standing there, waiting for his food, and shouting about politics. He went on a profanity-laced tirade and it was pretty uncomfortable for all of us, especially those of us who had our kids with us. Maybe this was the other side of L.A.? Either way, I was ready to go home.
Our last incident in Hollywood sealed the deal for me. Erick had just gotten some ice cream, and we had called for our Lyft. Both of us were staring at the map on my phone when a street performer walked up to us and yelled, “Boo!” loudly. We were both startled and he fell out laughing.
I’m a Texas, but I immediately went into New Yorker mode and told the guy to back the heck up. He then yelled a racial epithet at me. I told him this was not a way to get tips. He then said that he was also black, and he was “just joking.” (I couldn’t see him at all under his Spider Man costume. Every other street performer that we had encountered had been friendly, but now that night was falling, the mood seemed to have changed. It was definitely time to head home.
Day 5: Soul-Searching & Starting Over
We had encountered a lot of inconveniences by choosing a hotel near the airport, instead of an AirBnB or a hotel in the city, but the major benefit was choosing an airport hotel was not worrying too much about transportation to the hotel. The shuttle to the airport was pretty packed from the flight crews trying to get to the airport, but we arrived in plenty of time to make our flight.
During the flight home, I thought a lot about everything that I had seen and experienced in Los Angeles. It was a really dynamic and beautiful city, from the celebrity homes to the beautiful beaches, and gorgeous mountain views. I definitely wanted to return to the city again, but more than that, I wanted to capture the feeling that I felt in L.A., that of limitless possibility.
So many people move to L.A. to pursue their dreams. I didn’t even know it, but by traveling to L.A. to visit, I rediscovered mine. What made me so different than the Hollywood stars that shared their gifts with the world? The only difference between me and them was that they had the courage to pursue their dreams.
I spent days reflecting after the trip, and I decided that life was too short to make it anything less than an adventure. I started making changes to my business and my brand to focus more on my dreams and how I can share my talents. My New Year’s trip to Los Angeles turned out to be one of the best trips ever, and I truly believe that it changed the course of my life.