Jigsaw Falling Into Place

Once Coachella was done and dusted, I still had three weeks left before hopping on a plane in New York City to return to my homeland. I have my family’s longtime travel agent to thank for that; she said that if I stayed in the States for just under a month, I’d get a ridiculously cheap deal for my inbound and outbound flights from the country. In between: it was up to me how and where I went.

As stated in my San Francisco post, I had the good fortune of having a place to stay for every leg of my trip, whether it was with friends or with ‘connections’. Before my departure from South Africa, my intended route for my month-long meander had been mapped out, with a friend waiting for me in each city. Los Angeles was still the missing piece in the puzzle, and continued to be right up until I packed my bags to leave San Fran. I had exhausted my list of whatever contacts I had built up in these 24 years of existence, and on a very limited budget, I didn’t have many options. Then I turned to a man who’s been around the block a little longer than me: my father back in SA.

Exasperated, I asked my dad over Skype if he knew of anyone in LA that I could stay with just for a weekend. Finally, we had a breakthrough, and his considerably-longer list of contacts proved far more useful in this accommodation crisis. A friend of his had emigrated from South Africa over a decade ago to start a church in the Los Angeles area, and word was put out through the congregation that I was in need of help. It arrived in the form of Chris, an incredibly kind and hospitable 20-something guy that offered me his couch in his small one-bedroom apartment in Brea. Even though it was at least an hour away from the Greyhound Bus Station in Downtown LA, he also offered to fetch me on the Friday morning, after my overnight bus trip. The puzzle had been solved.

Although accommodation was sorted, the battle of Los Angeles had only just begun. To put it quite simply: the city is GIGANTIC, or more specifically, the county. It’s an interesting bit of nomenclature: Los Angeles the city is actually quite modest in geographical size, but when you look at the greater LA metropolitan region, it sprawls out like roots from an giant redwood tree. People often use the term ‘LA’ interchangeably, and it’s deceptive. Chris’ apartment in Brea wasn’t just down the road from Hollywood; it was pretty much on the other side of this jungle, requiring at least three different forms of public transport to get there. And once I was in Tinseltown, my goal for the weekend could be put into action: see the major sights of Los Angeles from an open-top, hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus over just two days.

Thankfully, I had a chance to rest up in suburbia on Friday afternoon and evening. Chris took me to an authentic Italian market and deli named Claro’s for lunch, and as a big fan of Italian food, I was in awe at the range of products on offer. From fresh Italian sausage, to cheeses, to pasta, and all sorts of other groceries, the place was an ode to Italia, filled with varieties that I had never seen or heard of. Eveningtime saw me pay a visit to a Five Guys Burgers And Fries, home to one of the best burgers I’d ever had the privilege of eating. I had heard of the award-winning eatery through a documentary I’d seen of a typical day in the White House of Barack Obama’s administration, where the president specially ordered from a Washington D.C. branch and went to pick up the burgers himself. If it was good enough for the US president, it was good enough for me, and the In-And-Out Burger I’d tried on the Coachella road trip needed a challenger. It was plain to see how the chain had received so many awards, as there is a strong emphasis on simplicity and freshness. The unlimited free peanuts to snack on whilst waiting for your meal was also an interesting touch.


Five Guys Burgers And Fries in Brea, California

Five Guys Burgers And Fries in Brea, California



The sightseeing bus that I was to take on my tour of LA was the same company that operates in Cape Town, and around the world. In November last year, a group of friends and I spent a day on one of Cape Town routes, and I was excited to see how the hop-on hop-off approach would work in a foreign city. Chris prepped me well and sent me on my way early on Saturday morning. For the first time on my trip, I was actually really nervous about the amount of responsibility resting on my shoulders transport-wise, knowing that if I screwed up just one part, I could be stranded very far from home. But that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling fueled my desire to explore, and after hopping from bus, to Amtrak train, to subway, I emerged from the Hollywood Highland station onto what felt like a movie set – the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


The Hollywood Walk Of Fame

The Hollywood Walk Of Fame


Starline Tours has 3 major routes that encompass the touristy parts of LA, and at the time, they were planning to roll out two more in May 2013. The first one I went on, the Red route, comprised of the glitzy and glamourous Hollywood and Beverly Hills. A transfer to the Yellow route was available in Beverly Hills, which takes you down through the beachfront city of Santa Monica to the Pacific Ocean and the famous Santa Monica Pier, before turning back inland and passing through the lavish Brentwood and Westwood. Finally, the Purple route was within Downtown LA to the east of Hollywood, connected by a short transfer through Koreatown.

Wherever you are in the world: if you’re in town for a very short amount of time and you need a superficial yet informative way of seeing a new place, I’d highly recommend a tour of this nature. It ticked off so many places on my sightseeing to-do list, and because you can freely hop on and off busses, you can spend more time investigating a landmark on foot if you wish. This is what I did almost straight away, as I began the Red route’s run through Sunset Boulevard. One of the first stops was at Guitar Center, the world’s largest musical instrument retailer, and the branch on Sunset Boulevard was known for its size and its many famous clients. It was staggering to see the variety of instruments on offer, and how many sections were devoted to each type. As a drummer, I had never seen an entire floor devoted to drums, and upstairs had all sorts of drum equipment, with a wall of signed snares as you wind your way up the staircase. Elsewhere, guitars adorned the walls of room upon room, and acoustic as well as vintage instruments got their own shrines (the latter decorated like a barn, with a man playing an old amp and guitar in the middle of it). Glancing at some of the price tags wasn’t for the faint-hearted (spotted one guitar going for $24 000, yikes). As with any store of this stature, they’ve collected a sizeable amount of rock star memorabilia, including signed portraits, equipment, clothes and concert tickets, and this location also hosts its own hall of fame, known as RockWalk, where I spotted some of my heroes on the plaques.



Whilst LA, and particularly Hollywood, is known for its world-renowned film industry, the tour I was on was quick to point out music landmarks and highlight the strong influence of music on the area. Other sights along the Sunset Strip included The Viper Room (infamous nightclub previously owned by actor Johnny Depp, and the site where actor Joaquin Phoenix’s brother River died of a drug overdose in 1993), House Of Blues (a chain of live music venues/restaurants) and Whiskey A Go-Go (which started out as a nightclub that popularised the term “go-go dancers”, and soon became the launchpad for the rock ‘n roll scene in LA). After grabbing a quick bite to eat at Saddle Ranch Chop House, I was back on the bus and passing through the retreat of many a silver-screen icon, Beverly Hills. The fashion mecca of Rodeo Drive had many tourists on the bus gawking at the glamour on show, and I took the opportunity to transfer to the Yellow route so I could feel the sea breeze.



The Beach Boys began blaring through our tour-issued earphones as we cruised down Pico Boulevard through Santa Monica, before I stopped off to browse the end of America’s Route 66 – Santa Monica Pier. On such a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, the pier and its surrounding beaches were a hive of activity. Venice Beach was about 5 miles further south, and unfortunately the Green Route there was only rolling out in the next few weeks. But I made a mental note of making a visit there the following day, and caught another bus from the Ocean Avenue (my reference being the Yellowcard song of the same name). When I asked a passerby to take a photo of me below the street sign, it turned out that he was also a tourist (from Australia), and wore a shirt from the entertainment website theCHIVE. Unfortunately our pic together did not make the Daily Afternoon Randomness page!

The rest of the first afternoon was spent finishing off the Yellow route, and catching the second half of the Red route back to where I started – the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The iconic stretch of road has almost 2500 stars over its 2 kilometres (with another 700 metres perpindicular to it), celebrating not only stars of the film industry, but musicians and other entertainers too. Being in the mood for grand ideas, I made it my mission to see every single star on the Walk of Fame, traipsing up and down Hollywood Boulevard obsessively, but it paid off. As I ventured up the quieter Vine Street section, I noticed not one but all four Beatles’ stars in a row. Looking up, I saw that they were outside the landmark Capital Records building (their American record label), with its distinctive circular shape and tall spike on top that makes it resemble a pile of records. With me wearing my Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night” shirt, it was an unintended musical pilgrimage for this Stage 5 Beatlemaniac.



It had been a very long day, exacerbated by me missing my Amtrak train home by just two minutes, leaving me waiting two-and-a-half hours for the last train east for the night. Sometimes you just can’t sync it all up, but thankfully Downtown LA’s Union Station was surprisingly plush and welcoming for this weary traveller. By the time I eventually walked through Chris’s front door at 11:30pm, I realised that I was badly sunburnt from the day’s sightseeing, with my face and arms looking dangerously red. Knowing that it would be much the same setup for the next day, I asked him if he had any sun cream for me. “Hey man, I’m black. I don’t need sun cream!” was his response, and we couldn’t help but laugh at my misfortune.



With me having booked a flight out of LAX Airport that evening, Sunday was to run on quite a tight schedule, but still allow for me to fill in the gaps of what I didn’t see the day before, and enjoy the places that I had liked. Venice Beach was my main port-of-call, with its interesting and quirky boardwalk, but it required planning an extra bus ride or two. It was well worth the trek though, as it was full of food stalls, art vendors and people just chilling out. Compared to the somewhat ‘plastic’ feel of Hollywood, Venice Beach felt more homely and relaxed, and I enjoyed eating a Greek gyros (a form of wrap) under a palm tree next to the beach, watching the many walks of life parade past me. As a huge fan of the TV series ‘Californication’, I definitely recognized this place as a filming site for the show, and it felt good to see things from the anti-hero Hank Moody’s perspective.



On the Starline busses, prerecorded audio takes place of an actual tour guide, and I become quite fond of the British man’s voice and his overtly posh-sounding accent. He was a constant companion over the two days; his little anecdotes and facts perfectly timed with each passing landmark. Although I was repeating certain routes, I conveniently managed to be on the bus over sections where I had chosen to walk the previous day, and thus received the best of both worlds, and an encyclopedia-worth of facts about the City of Angels. Music-related sights were less forecoming on Sunday, as I received a thorough education on the film industry, passing Paramount Studios, 20th Century Fox Studios, and a plethora of places devoted to the arts.


One of the Starline hop-on hop-off sightseeing busses

One of the Starline hop-on hop-off sightseeing busses


Choosing to head to Venice Beach meant that some sacrifices were made, and that was half of the Purple route through Downtown LA. Since I needed to end up at Union Station to catch a bus to the airport, the half that I missed seemed to be the most interesting (at least from a music point-of-view). These included L.A. Live, the Staples Center, and the Grammy Museum, so if I’m in LA again, I know where to go first! It was still an absolute privilege to wind my way through the skyscrapers of LA’s Financial District around sunset, and to see the pecularities of Chinatown to the north.

The whirlwind weekend wound down to a close as I stepped off my last Starline bus at El Pueblo De Los Angeles, home of LA’s historic district. It had been such a humbling experience to witness the grandeur of one of the biggest cities in the world, and I felt like a 21st century explorer hacking his way through the dense urban jungle. But standing on the old plaza (which is the city’s birthplace) and walking the colourful marketplace of Olvera Street, where families gathered together and children played, I realised that there is a lot more to Los Angeles’ history than what is produced in its more famous neighbourhoods of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. You just have to trek through the jungle to find the river’s source.



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