Get to know Los Angeles' neighbourhoods and sell it from a different perspective, says Robin Searle
When I first landed in Los Angeles 15 years ago as a fresh-faced backpacker, I found myself in a grubby hostel sharing a room with a cocaine-addicted actor from New York, a glass cutter from Tottenham and a man from Chicago who’d been there so long he’d constructed a door on the side of his bunk bed.
Outside my des res, things didn’t appear much better. While I was happy listening to NWA and Ice-T waxing lyrical about South Central on my Walkman, I didn’t overly fancy taking a wrong turn and ending up on an impromptu tour of the area on foot.
Fortunately, the hostel was a stop-gap before some LA-based friends came to pick me up and moved me to more suitable accommodation.
And over the next couple of months in the California sunshine, I found the best way to approach Los Angeles is to view the city less as a single overwhelming entity and more as a sum of very different parts.
Whether arriving by air, road or sea, your clients’ first impressions may still be a never-ending sprawl of low-rise buildings dissected by 12-lane highways.
But beyond the freeway barriers there is much more hiding behind the scenes.
Don Skeoch, chief marketing officer for LA tourist board Discover Los Angeles, explains: “We are starting to put a real focus on the neighbourhoods to showcase the diversity and range of experiences available across the city, particularly for repeat visitors.
“People have their idea of Los Angeles, so we want to show them that they can have different experiences at the beaches, in the valley, Downtown or in Hollywood or Westside. The UK is an important market for us, and we know many visitors come to LA as part of longer California trips, so we want to show them why they need to extend their stay here.”
Bouncing back from a rough patch that saw this epitome of glitz and glamour become more synonymous with grubbiness and grime, Hollywood is once again a place where you can take the kids.
The Oscars have returned to the swanky Kodak Theatre, which is part of the vast shopping and entertainment centre at Hollywood and Highland and is also home to the new Cirque du Soleil show, Iris.
Of course, no visit is complete without checking out the iconic sights, such as the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Bowl and the stars along the Walk of Fame, and you can get a great idea of the area’s rural past while taking in some striking views with a stroll along the trails around the Griffith Observatory.
Expert tip: Nandita Patel from Funway Holidays says: “Stay in the new W Hollywood (pictured below), a chic and trendy hotel located on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, under the shadow of the iconic Hollywood sign and surrounded by the star-studded Hollywood Walk of Fame. After a long day of shopping along Melrose Avenue, enjoy the contemporary facilities on hand at the hotel, from the Bliss Spa to the rooftop nightclub, Drai’s, which is popular with locals and tourists.”
Sometimes you can visit places made familiar by films and TV shows, and they bear nothing more than a passing resemblance to their on-screen representations.
In LA, the beaches are exactly as they appear – whether it’s the surfers and lifeguard towers familiar from Baywatch on show in Malibu and Santa Monica, or the bodybuilders, skaters and human tattoo canvases providing Venice with its distinctive atmosphere.
If your customers are looking to base themselves at the beach, then Santa Monica is the best bet.
Quality hotels and great shopping along Third Street Promenade sit alongside a clean and safe beach, the famous pier, and the beautifully refurbished Annenberg Community Beach House, which is free to use.
Expert tip: Gail Dunwoodie from Attraction World says: “Santa Monica’s beaches are wonderful. My advice is to get up and get out really early in the morning – they are just so relaxing and beautiful at that time of the day.
“If you want a special treat – why not enjoy an LA beaches helicopter tour of the southern peninsula of LA; the gorgeous South Bay area that is a hidden gem most tourists don’t get the opportunity to see.”
Just a few years ago, Downtown LA was a great place to play a game of “spot the pedestrian after dark”, as there was so little to do there when the office workers went home.
But over the past five years, it has become a viable place to stay and play, with the opening of the LA Live entertainment complex and new Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels.
The area has also been revitalised by sport, with the likes of David Beckham regularly snapped attending basketball games at the Staples Centre, which is also home to the championship-winning LA Kings ice hockey team.
For culture buffs, Downtown boasts the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the LA Philharmonic, the Grammy Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, while the beautifully refurbished Natural History Museum is just a five-minute drive away next to the LA Coliseum.
Expert tip: Mary Walsh from Major Travel says: “I’d recommend the Reyner Banham Loves LA: Lowdown on Downtown tour offered by ‘off the wall’ bus company Esotouric. It provides a fantastic menu of ‘get you under the skin’ excursions around this extraordinary city.
"It’s difficult to seek out the true ‘heart’ of LA, but these tours provide an insightful exploration of what makes LA tick. The Reyner Banham series specifically explores LA’s social development through its architecture and cuts the city’s history down into digestible chunks.”
Unless your customers have got seriously deep pockets, then they might not be able to stay in the neighbourhoods of Westside for their whole visit, but you can’t beat a bit of people watching in Bel-Air, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood.
Other slightly less well-known areas, including Westwood, Century City and Culver City, are also worth a visit, with Westwood in particular a great place to relax and soak up the archetypal West Coast college vibe around UCLA.
While many clients may like to pretend that celebrity-spotting is beneath them, few of us can resist the temptation to see how the other half lives, so it’s worth earning some extra commission by pre-booking one of the movie star tours available through the likes of Attraction World or Do Something Different.
Expert tip: Jonathan Couch from Travel 2 says: “The area known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ between Rodeo Drive, Dayton Way and Bright Way in Beverly Hills has the best shopping and trendy cafes, and make time to visit Wolfgang Puck’s famous flagship restaurant Spago. West Hollywood is the place to be for a great party any night of the week. No trip is complete without a visit to Sunset Strip to experience music at House of Blues or the legendary Rage and Micky’s Bar nightclubs.”
There are two major valleys in LA: the San Gabriel Valley with Pasadena at its heart, and the San Fernando Valley, which is the home to major film and TV studios including Universal Studios Hollywood. While the former is worth a visit, it is the latter that is known as ‘The Valley’ to locals and viewers of reality programmes such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
The opening of Transformers: The Ride 3-D at Universal and the recent refurb of the King Kong attraction make it a must for first-timers and return visitors, and TV and film buffs can get more fixes with tours of the other major studios. Scheduled to open at Six Flags Magic Mountain is Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom, which will be the world’s tallest vertical drop ride.
For a more relaxed scene, there’s the NoHo arts district, and Ventura Boulevard’s array of shops and restaurants.
Expert tip: Tom Samuel of Do Something Different says: “Take the Universal Hollywood VIP Experience as you get to see part of Universal Studios not see by the general public, including film and TV sets and the amazing prop warehouse. The ticket also includes front-of-line access for the rides.”
Nandita Patel from Funway adds: “For a different style of film glamour, visit North Hollywood – home to the arts culture of Los Angeles. Stop by the Arts District, home to more than 20 theatres, a number of art galleries on Lankershim Boulevard, and live music performances. The NoHo Gallery LA is worth a visit too.”
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