Even if you’ve never been to Los Angeles, it’s a city that will seem fascinatingly familiar, thanks to the countless movies and TV shows that have made the place so iconic. Actually stepping onto the streets as a newcomer to the city can feel almost surreal, as you set eyes on the A-list landmarks “in the flesh”. It may sound like a cliché, but there really is nothing like the tingling feeling you’ll get when you spy the Hollywood sign for the very first time.
There are more things to see in LA than you can shake a smartphone lens at, but – if you have to want to get the very essence of this vast metropolis – you’ll want to immerse yourself in movie-land magic, and also check out the exhilarating beach areas, which are about far more than just relaxing on the sand.
Take Venice Beach, for example. Sure, it has as much golden shoreline as you could possibly want, along with the long, lapping waves and sky-high palm trees that look spellbinding in the hazy hues of sunset. But it’s not just the coastal beauty that draws in legions of visitors. It’s also the gloriously eclectic, bohemian culture of Venice Beach, with the notorious boardwalk being arguably THE people-watching epicentre of Los Angeles. There’s a crazy, kaleidoscopic array of shops and stalls here, selling everything from novelty t-shirts to kitsch keepsakes, while flamboyant street performers, fortune tellers, sand sculptors and hustlers all compete for visitors’ attention. It’s a bit like London’s Camden district, but with a distinctly West Coast flair and devil-may-care exuberance.
After a taste of LA beach life, you can turn your attention to the dream factory. This, after all, is the historic heartland of the movie world, and film-lovers will want to make a pilgrimage to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s made up of many thousands of stars embedded in the streets, each one commemorating an icon from the big and small screen. It’s always fun spotting your personal favourite stars’ stars, and being reminded of long-gone names from decades ago. You’ll want to keep your camera handy to take snaps of the stars that mean the most to you.
And, when it comes to selfies, keep the camera handy for when you come across the Chinese Theatre. Some might say this is the single most famous cinema in the world, and that’s not just because of its staggeringly ornate, pagoda-like exterior. It’s also down to the fact it’s played host to countless Hollywood premieres and awards ceremonies over the years, and was the very place where the first Star Wars movie made its debut. You can soak up the atmosphere by catching a movie, or going on a VIP tour behind the scenes of this historic movie temple. Either way, you won’t want to miss the famous “Forecourt of the Stars”, where so many superstars from Cary Grant to George Clooney have left handprints, footprints and signatures in the cement.
If that wets your appetite for all things silver screen, the next stop should be Universal Studios Hollywood. This is more than just a theme park – it’s a real, active film studio, which will give you a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the dream factory. Just jump aboard the studio tour and you’ll be whisked through the lots and find yourself instantly immersed in the blockbusters themselves. One of the highlights of the tour is King Kong 360-3D, inspired by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s take on the Kong legend. Brace yourself for a battle between the giant ape and a fearsome T-Rex, before you’re thrust into the equally exciting Fast & Furious ride, which uses state-of-the-art imagery to make you feel like you’re part of a breakneck, supercar chase.
After catching your breath, you can experience more movie magic elsewhere at Universal Studios – this, after all, is the home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as a suitably nerve-jangling Walking Dead experience.
Another bucket list destination during a trip to Los Angeles involves heading west of the downtown area, to the coastal hotspot of Santa Monica. You’ll soon be looking out at the butter-yellow expanse of its famous beach – an irresistible spot for rest and relaxation. Right alongside is the equally beloved Santa Monica Pier, jutting out into the ocean and boasting the Pacific Park theme park. This is the only place on the West Coast where you can enjoy thrill rides on a pier, and it has everything from a big, jolly Ferris wheel to the terrifying Pacific Plunge tower ride. Hop on board if you’ve got what it takes…
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