Missus and I made our first long trip together by driving down to Los Angeles for the Thanksgiving weekend . We spent 3 days there, starting on Wednesday(23rd) afternoon and returned on Sunday(27th) afternoon to San Jose. Hopefully, this post has some useful tips for you if you are planning to visit L.A.
Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States and has so many attractions that it is not possible to visit all of them in 3 days. Our original plan was to cover just a few of them – Universal Studios(a film studio and movie-based theme park), National History Musuem of Los Angeles county, Getty Center and the beaches(there are 3 beaches each at Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu). We booked an apartment through AirBnB in downtown Hollywood, right next to Hollywood walk of fame.
L.A is about 350 miles from San Jose and there are 3 routes to L.A – the I-5(an inland, no nonsense option that takes about 5.5 hours to reach L.A), the 101-S(more scenic than the I-5 I’m told, but also takes about 6.5 hours) and the CA-1/Pacific coast highway/PCH(scenic of the 3 as you will be driving along the Pacific coast; takes about 7-8 hours.). Mind you all these estimates are optimistic, best-case estimates. Depending on when you start out and when you get close to L.A it can be much worse.
Since, we started our trip on Wednesday afternoon just when the long weekend was about to begin, we chose I-5 to avoid any traffic on the road. We reached L.A around 8:30 pm spending about 6 hours on the road. Our pro-tips for the drive would be:
- Google Maps is your indispensable friend. Enable ‘Traffic’ option on Google Maps so that it can watch out for traffic incidents and re-route you to alternate routes. This happened at least twice during our drive, once on our way to L.A and once on our way back. We avoided sitting idle in the traffic and saved at least an hour or so in both directions. (As a bonus, most of these alternate routes are through farms which was quite thrilling)
- Traffic gets really bad as you get close to L.A. Plan your drive such that you either reach L.A before or after the peak traffic time: 3-7 pm.
- Have a portable charger ready because it is very likely that your phone will run out of juice.
- There are spots along I-5 that don’t have any cell reception and hence no data. Just an heads-up!
Day – 1: Universal Studios
Universal Studios is a film studio+movie-based theme park. What this means is that you get to enjoy two 3-d rides(based on Harry Potter and the Transformers; these were our favorites where we had the most fun), a stunt-show(based on the movie – The water world), some actual film sets(like the one below from War of the worlds starring Tom Cruise), couple of TV series sound stages(only from the outside) and three roller-coaster like rides based on movies(Jurassic Park, The Mummy and the Harry Potter again). A warning: the wait-time for each ride can be anywhere between 20-120 minutes.
There are multiple options for the entry ticket – annual pass for $149, one day pass for $109 and a front-line pass for $179 where you get to skip the general queue. Once, you pay for the entry ticket, you don’t pay for anything else besides food inside the studio. You can also find coupons and discounts for the entry ticket online. My employer, eBay had a $40 off per ticket on the annual pass which I used. Parkings costs about $18,$25 or $35 depending on what option you choose.
Our pro-tips for Universal studio would be:
- It is going to be super-crowded and the place opens at 9 am. To have the most fun, arrive at the place as early as you can.
- Like I said, the wait-time for each attraction can vary any time between 20 to 120 minutes. Instead of waiting for an attraction in a queue for that long, visit other rides that have lesser wait time. Towards the evening, the wait times for the popular ones reduce to 10-20 minutes. You can try the popular ones then.
- The studio closes at 9 pm, but some of the rides end by 6 pm. Check their daily schedule and plan accordingly.
- Due to the crowd and the wait-time, it is very likely that you won’t see all of them in a day, but you will certainly have a fantastic day. So, it is not a bad idea to get the annual pass. Beware, it is not enough if you buy the ticket online, you also have to register your day of visit. If you buy the annual pass, you have to visit the studio within 30 days of buying the ticket. For accurate details, visit universal studios website and follow the instructions there. Also, you need to have a valid id on you to enter the studio.
- If you are vegetarian, there are not a lot of options inside the place except for cheese pizza. It is better to pack lunch for the day.
Day – 2: National History Museum of Los Angeles County & Griffith observatory
On day 2, we visited National History Museum and spent close to a whole day there. Entry tickets were $12 per person and the parking ticket was another $8 bucks. There is also a cafeteria in the same building as the museum. Highlights of the museum were the Dinosaur exhibits and the mammal halls. You can take a look at some of the pictures I snapped by clicking the images below:
Our pro-tips for the museum would be:
- The museum has a lot to offer – it has a section for L.A’s history, a section for gems/minerals, a section for artifacts from ancients civilzations such as Aztec, Mayan, a section for insects and a section for birds. We originally thought we would spend about half a day, but ended up spending close to 3/4th of the day. So, plan accordingly.
- In case you finish the museum early, California Science Center is only ten minutes walk from the museum – perhaps, you can combine them together in a single day and save on parking.
After wrapping up at the museum, we proceeded on to Griffith Observatory. This turned out to be a mistake on our part. By the time, we arrived at the Griffith Observatory, it was already 5pm, the sun was down and we were pretty tired. As a result, we didn’t get to enjoy our visit at the observatory. We decided we would visit the observatory and spend more time there in our next visit. Our tips for the observatory would be that
- Parking is free. You can park your car in the parking lots of Griffith Park and hike up for about 10 minutes to reach the Griffith Observatory. When you hike up to the observatory there are a couple of vista points from which you can take pictures of L.A downtown. eg:
- There is also regular shuttle service available to take you from the parking lot up to the observatory and back. The shuttle service costs about 50 cents per person in each direction. So, make sure you have a couple of dollars handy.
- The observatory has a couple of telescopes that allow you to look at the sun. But, they operate only when the sun is out – so make sure you are there at the observatory when the sun is out.
- Entry to the observatory itself is free. However, there are regular shows in the observatory discussing various science topics – these shows cost about $8 per person.
- Don’t miss out the night view of the downtown from the observatory at night.
Day 3 – The beaches, Malibu Hindu Temple and L.A traffic
On day three, we stopped by the Santa Monica beach and the Venice beach and spent some time people-watching (the Venice boardwalk looked a little rough). There is a bike path that stretches between both the beaches(about 6-7 miles) and it looked like it would be a lot of fun renting a bike.
After that, we went to Malibu Hindu Temple located in the Santa Monica mountains. It was a scenic drive through the mountains and the temple itself was serene and very beautiful.
After wrapping up our visit at the temple, we decided to go to California Science Institute – this is where things took a turn for the worse. It started raining heavily and we got stuck in the infamous L.A traffic. We spent about an hour driving in the traffic and reached California Science Institute around 3 pm. When we reached near the institute, we found out that USC Trojans were playing Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the L.A Memorial Coliseum which was nearby. The traffic was pretty bad and the parking lots were all full. So, we decided to head back to our apartment and just spend the rest of the day taking it easy.
Later that day, after the rain subsided we walked along Hollywood Boulevard doing the walk of fame tour. The street was pretty rough-looking too, but one of the locals we met in the elevator told us that it was pretty safe and not to be worried to much. We finished walking, had our dinner and went to bed early to get ready for the drive next day.
The variety of food and cuisines you get here in America is nothing short of amazing (yes, even for vegetarians). Yet, of late, I have been sticking to only Indian food when eating outside.
We ate at 3 Indian restaurants while we were in L.A – Lal Mirch, Mayuri and Annapurna. Both of us felt that the Indian restaurants in L.A were not as good as the Indian restaurants in the bay area. They were also pricier than bay area restaurants. The dining places within Universal studios were also a pretty sad picture. Overall, if you want to eat healthy and are on a budget you are better off bringing your own lunch.
From my experience in the US so far, I have developed a theory about Indian restaurants here –
Food from Indian restaurants that have English-sounding names like Royal India, Taste of India is generally not as good as food from Indian restaurants that have Indian-sounding names. I also usually see more Indians in restaurants that have an Indian-sounding name than in restaurants that have English sounding names. Next time, you are in an Indian restaurant take a look around and see for yourself if the theory holds up true.
Back to San Jose
We started from L.A on Sunday morning around 7:30 am and reached home at around 1:30 pm. We again took the I-5 route to avoid any traffic jams. We wanted to take the PCH route, but decided against it when we learnt it was going to rain a lot.
Overall, the L.A trip was a lot of fun. We didn’t visit some of the attractions – The Getty Center, The Disneyland, Griffith observatory, several museums, a couple of state parks and a few spots along the coast. We are saving them for the next time.