Thursday, June 25, 2009

Los Angeles: A Cultural Yet Gastronomical Tour

The Getty CenterI've been to Los Angeles plenty of times (shoot I even lived there for about six months when I was two) but this last week with Andrew, hands down, was the best time I've had there yet.

It could be because it was grown-ups only so I didn't have to tie anyone's shoelaces or cut up anyone's meat or scout for the quickest route to the bathroom but I must say, a good time was had by all.

Here are a few of the things I saw--thanks to everyone for their recommendations!

The Getty Center1. The Getty Museum. I had lots of you out there recommend that I catch the Getty and while I'd heard of it I was surprised how many said it was a must-see. One Mom, Coffee Mom, J Fife, Angie of Seven Clown Circus, gerwegirlie, An Ordinary Mom, Halala Mama and Cathi from Cathi's Kitchen all gave glowing reports so I planned on spending a day there with Jenna from Cranberry Corner to not only enjoy the museum but a blogging friend too.

Well schedules never quite matched up so I ended up doing a whirlwind tour all by myself but I will definitely say that it's the most beautiful museum I've ever seen. Hard to believe? Well it's located on top of this hill overlooking the city and while you park in this large underground parking garage at the bottom of the hill there is a tram that winds around, taking you up, up, up to the top where the five or six buildings that make up the center sit.

The Getty CenterSo on top of this hill with an amazing view is this network of buildings of glowing rock that feels like a modern Roman forum complete with fountains and sculptures and arches framing views of the city below. Breathtaking would be an understatement.

And while I was only able to spend an hour or two on the upper floors which held the Getty's collection of paintings (European masters from the 12th-19th century) it was enough to get a taste.

Van Dyke, Rembrandt, Monet, Pissaro, Gauguin, Reubens, Titan, Gainsborough, Breughel, Steen, Turner (and on and on and on) all the biggies are there. I love that photo of the man above looking at the portrait--it's like they're identical twins separated by about 300 years right down to the beard--though my favorite picture is the portrait of the peasant woman you see here on the right.

And if this isn't long enough you're welcome to view this video I took.

The Getty Center2. Other Treasures. I also found this fun little treat outside at the Getty that must be some kind of seed pod. I picked it up and kept it in my pocket for a few days, reaching in and playing with it every once in a while because I loved the texture.

Eventually I found it, still in my pocket, at the airport during the flight home and it was shriveled and rather mushy. It was almost as pretty as the paintings. I have no idea what it is but I like it.

3. Traffic Like No Other. Luckily I'd had the foresight to think of bringing my little handy dandy GPS unit (the Navigon that I reviewed last summer) and it took us right to our hotel, slick as anything. We stayed at the Marriott on South Figueroa Street in the financial district and I've never really driven in L.A. before so I was one hundred percent chicken to try anything on my own.

I was completely nervous that I'd get lost and that they'd find my mummified remains somewhere along the Ventura Freeway in late 2010 but Andrew was tied up with his conference and I figured if I didn't get some guts and just do it I'd be sorry so I grabbed my GPS and the addresses and hit the road.

And you know what? I was spectacular. I didn't even make a wrong turn. Yes I know you skeptics can give all the credit to the machine that did all the brain work if you want but seriously, someone had to listen carefully to the computerized creepy-voice directions and look at the street signs and make all those proper turns and exits or the whole thing would have been a rat's nest so I deserve at least some credit for conquering the roads.

After making it all the way to the Gettty and back by myself (through rush hour traffic no less) I felt completely powerful. I could have bent steel rods with my bare hands if someone had just given me one.

4. Cars, Cars and More Cars. Which reminds me . . . I've never seen so many fancy cars in one place before. Does everyone drive shiny new cars there? Where's the dust? Where's the caked-up tires? The bumper stickers? The rust spots? The pick ups??

I think it's a pre-requisite for living in California that you have to have a new car and wash it diligently every week.

Here's a shot of a Lamborghini we pulled up behind at one stop light--just earlier than that we sat next to a Ferrari that was on the back of a tow truck which somehow struck me as humorous.

I mean, if you're going to own a Ferrari wouldn't you darn well expect it to be in perfect working order at all times? That's kind of part of that $500,000 price tag I would have thought. Seems really wrong to have to pull one's Testerosa over to the side of the road because the timing belt broke or the radiator leaked. I just don't see that happening to Robin Masters. . . .

5. The Lakers. I felt like a complete goober but I'd forgotten that the L.A. Lakers had won the championship the week before so when I stood at the concierge desk, asking for directions around the downtown area and was told there was going to be a parade blocking the street, I said, "Really? A parade? What for?"

I got this disgusted though polite look that said, "You're obviously from out of town. And a goober."

Though she was nice enough to say instead, "The Lakers are having a parade for winning the championship. It'll be going down the street in a few hours."

"Oh." I said. Then I went to Macy's. No offense Lakers but I'm just not that into basketball. Or purple.

6. Pepperdine. One night after the conference Andrew wanted to do some driving so we struck out on our own and even turned off the Navigon, trusting our fate to the direction of the sun and moss growing on the north side of the palm trees.

We went down through Beverly Glenn Road, through Bel Air, and ended up in Malibu where we just had to see the beach and enjoy that perfect ocean air.

But Andrew happened to see the university up on the hill as we drove by and wanted to get a closer look. You see we did law school in North Dakota and there's this little tiny part of him that says, "Wow. We got North Dakota. What schmucks when we could have had this instead!" because he'd heard how gorgeous the campus was and he'd thought about applying there all those years ago.

And it's true, after the quick drive up the mountain I'll admit that Pepperdine has got to be about the prettiest campus I've ever seen but then I've also heard it's the about the most expensive too. Ah well, the road not traveled right?

7. Cholada Thai. That night we ended up having dinner out in Malibu at this little shack that had that unique blend of looking like it might be under investigation from the health inspector but with extra piles of beach side chic. It's a blue hut by the side of the Pacific Coast Highway and the food was "wow!" good.

The dumplings were luscious and I had the Pad See-Ew which was really just Pad Thai with broccoli, which (in my humble opinion) only made things that much more lip-smacking good. I'm a hot-food whimp so I was pretty timid about trying anything too "out there."

Andrew had the barbecued chicken with their house rice and thought it was great too, though our two plates could have probably served half the L.A. Lakers themselves. And I didn't even have a way to save my leftovers. Dang. I'm still remembering those tasty wide noodles with dark sauce slipping around my fork . . .

8. Phillipe's. Thank you to Hollywood Underground Diner, Melanie at Write Stuff, Angie at Seven Clown Circus and Linda for the head's up about this place--we ran over there just before going to see the Dodgers' valiant efforts against the A's and your talk was not just hype.

Best French dips ever.

It is not pretty, it is not fast food but boy is it good. Both Andrew and I had the beef with American and I really wish I could have gone back to sample the pork and the lamb--I can only imagine how great those too would be. A French dip and a lemonade on a sunny summer evening--does it get any better than that??

9. Pink's Hot Dogs. And while I'm at it I'm going to continue with my "Calories across America" reminisces by including a little blurb about Pink's.

I'd seen a piece on television about this famous hot dog stand a couple years ago and at the time I remember thinking, "Someday I'm going to eat there. Oh yes, someday."

You see I'm a huge hot dog fan. Yes I know what is supposedly in them but it doesn't matter, if liking dogs is wrong then I don't care to be right. Anyway, it's supposed to be this fantastic place for hot dogs that's famous enough to have dogs named after all sorts of celebrities and I remembered my vow to taste of their goodness when I was planning this trip.

I had planned on having Thursday to myself while Andrew was in conference but his meeting ended early so he asked where I wanted to go for lunch. I felt stupid telling him of My Quest. It kind of felt like confessing that I needed to travel to a nearby volcano to get rid of this evil magic ring or something if I told him I wanted to travel half an hour through nasty traffic to the other side of the city just for a hot dog--especially with him starving for food already.

But being the great guy he his, when I told him where I'd planned to go he humored me and said he'd be up for a hot dog too. I plugged in the address in my little GPS and away we went.

We drove and we drove and we drove, trying to get to 709 North La Brea and after half an hour I kept looking around and thinking, "You know . . . this just doesn't look like what I'd pictured . . . this seems so residential."

About the time I realized that I'd accidentally punched in 709 North La Brea in Inglewood we pulled up in front of a dry cleaners--that didn't even sell hot dogs! Oops. Of course by then we were another half an hour from where they must have moved Pink's to--in Hollywood--but did my man complain? Nope. We punched in the real address and were off again, even though his eyes were beginning to look slightly sunken and his skin rather sallow and droopy from the malnourishment.

Another forty minutes (traffic) and we were back in Hollywood and I said, trying to be optimistic, "Hey! Well at least we'll beat the lunch time rush, right?"

He couldn't quite muster up the energy to smile. He tried but collapsed in exhaustion as his organs began to shut down just as we turned the corner to find . . .

Pink's. And apparently we weren't the only ones. You see that picture there? Oh it's accurate. Even at 2:30 pm on a Thursday afternoon the triple-layer line went out the front and then went around the back side of the building. Yea, they don't show that part in the photo do they? Liars.

We parked and looked at all those people slowly frying in the hot sun, waiting for their chance to order a glorious Bacon Chili Cheese Dog (could they cram any more protein in?) and I gave up. I couldn't do it. Andrew wouldn't have survived without resorting to cannibalism and by that time even I was starting to get darn hungry so I hung my head and turned to go and I promised him that the first place we saw that had food in the window would be ours.

And that, my friends, is the story of how I didn't get to eat a Pink's hot dog. With onion rings. Because I was totally craving onion rings and was going to go for broke by ordering a side along with another glass of lemonade. Curses. Where's a good street-clearing-drive-by shooting when you need one?

10. Universal Studios. And finally, to bring this to a close, on Friday Andrew and I decided to be total tourists and go to Universal Studios. He'd never been and it had been 30 years since I'd been so we figured how else were we going to drop massive amounts of money?

Of course we had a great time, what's not to love about strolling around in the absolute optimal temperature for human happiness with the guy you find fetching by your side? The only way the day could have been a downer is if the park had been taken over by Libyan terrorists or something.

However, I would point out a couple things that made it a little better than it normally would have been. First, Universal Studios offers "Front of the Line" passes which are really just First Class tickets. It's $67 to get into the park (gasp) but $105 will get you to the front of the line. At the ticket booth they give you your passes to wear around your neck and then any time you go to an attraction or ride the operators see your passes and say, "Why hello there Honored Guest! Please step this way into the special A-List line. Would you care for ice cream? Can I fan you? How about a foot massage?"

Or at least something like that.

But really, it was suh-weeet. I think most of us have labored through the dungeons of the theme parks where you stand in line for eons for a mere 60 seconds of "whoopee!" and due to the wonders of capitalism Universal Studios has fixed the problem. We had coupons which brought the price down though we'd never have done it if it weren't just us two but boy was it nice. Every ride, walking right on and then getting the front of the cars or the front of the rows.

And then you kind of feel like royalty--I'm embarrassed to say it--but being able to just waltz in everywhere makes you feel like a million bucks. Though in California a million bucks isn't quite what it used to be I hear--not after taxes.

Anyway, I've wondered if they couldn't extend this idea into real life. What would you pay to have a little pass around your neck that allowed you to never wait in another check out line or toll booth or stand behind the sweaty guy at the DMV? Maybe that's what Bill Gates' life is like.

So Andrew and I went on the Simpsons ride over and over again. It's by far the best--in fact most of the rides are only okay. I thought Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando is much better as a theme park but the Simpsons ride was a hoot. I kind of felt cheated with my Front of the Line pass because I didn't get to stand in line and enjoy the witty cartoon repartee they've prepared as they set up the story behind the ride. Of course after the 11th time I kind of had the basic plot down.

This ride alone is almost worth the price of admission but then I'm a huge Simpsons fan. (Guilty secret). It's even better than Spongebob in my book.

And did you know about Cool Zones? Universal has these stations set up all over the park: under awnings, in the lines, by the concessions--all where they blow a cool mist out and you can stand in it if you're hot. Amazing. It's so fun and so smart it makes you wonder why--if global warming is such a problem--they don't just hire Universal Studios to put out these Cool Zones all over the parts of the planet that are a little too warm so those of us up north can bake as much as we like? Best of both worlds.

And finally, above you can see the picture I took from the studio tour where they had the 747 from War of the Worlds strewn about like a teenager's messy room. You remember the scene? The plane crashes at Tom Cruise's house, he wanders out the front door and the entire neighborhood is destroyed, covered in wreckage and crushed under pieces of fuselage. So he jumps in his minivan and drives right down the conveniently ploughed path, just big enough for his car, through the debris and right out of the subdivision without so much as a popped tire. I love that.

But not as much as I love the Simpsons.

Sponsored by Pak Naks--decorate your stuff!


MelADramatic Mommy said...

I've lived here so long I don't notice the new car thing anymore. We have such great weather it takes forever for our cars to rust. And, so many car wash places will offer a free re-wash if you get your car done and it rains the day after, our cars look new longer. I've been here since I was 9 and haven't been to Pink's. No one wants to wait in line with me!

Kathy G said...

#2 IS a seed pod...from a sweet gum tree.

It's wonderful that you could find the beauty in it; if you had to live with it you wouldn't be so kind! They drop from the tree in the fall and don't decompose, so they have to be raked up each spring. They're dangerous to walk on barefoot (remember those spikes?), and it's easy to turn an ankle or trip if you step on one with shoes on.

Patricia Linehan said...

Ditto what Kathy G said. We call them gumballs, which probably isn't a good idea with preschoolers as they then try to chew them. :) Looks like you did indeed have a wonderful trip!

Janelle said...

Another ditto to Kathy G. I grew up in Anaheim, and we called them dingle balls. But they're not great when they're everywhere and prickly.

Pepperdine is definitely a gorgeous campus. I'm glad you got some good hole-in-the-wall food on that little road trip, too.

Did the Lamborghini in front of you make your whole car vibrate? A couple of years ago, I flew home to Ohio from the Orange County Airport (formerly the John Wayne Airport), and I pulled into the airport behind one. Suddenly I felt really weird and I couldn't hear my car radio over the purring of the car in front of me.

govision20/20 said...

I'm jealous! One day I'm gonna travel to California, too. But I tell ya, if the Lakers were to have a parade when I was in town, I'd check it out, even though I'm a Boston fan!

flip flop mama said...

Well looks like a couple ladies beat me to the punch. Those spiky balls are of the devil. They fall from the trees and litter the sidewalk for months. Evil little spiky balls....

Glad you had such a great time!

Heart2Heart said...


Thanks for sharing some of you wonderful places you stopped to visit. I've lived here for 45 years and out of all the ones you listed I have been to Universal Studios and Philleps. I will have to check the others out.

Sad isn't it!

I am so glad you had fun, next time your in town, email me and I will be your personal guide to wherever you want to go and perhaps I can see something I've never seen before.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

angie said...

I'm glad that you had such a great trip.

I've never had a Pink's hotdog, even though I'm near the stand at least twice a month. It always looks like that. Always.

Cathi said...

Ooooo....I thought perhaps your pocket pod was from a sycamore tree but I believe Kathy G and Janelle are correct and it is from a gum tree.

Scribbit said...

I'd wait with you Mel--I've saved my Front of the Line Pass so it should get us right in.

And sweet gum? I bet once they're brown and dried they would hurt to step on for sure.

Tracy M said...

Once they're brown and dried, they do hurt in bare feet, but they're still pretty. The actual name of the tree is the Liquidambar Tree. Sweet Gum is a popular common name.

Terresa said...

Sweet travelog! I still haven't been to the Getty but totally need to go and will, next time I can swing it.

The L.A. Public library is pretty awesome, too...maybe on your next visit there.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I am glad you liked my Mother Land :) !!

John and Laura said...

You went to Phillipe's! My family loves that place. My L.A. cousin traveled to AZ for my mission farewell 12 years ago and put Phillipe's on dry ice to bring to us. Glad you enjoyed it. :)

Sweet Serendipity said...

Looks like a fabulous trip. I've always wanted to take a tour, but have never made it that far west. I'm an east coast girl. And we have a backyard full of gum balls. We rake them by the bags full in fall...along with all the pine needles.

Thank you for sharing your experience and allowing me to live vicariously :D

Pencil Writer said...

I could be wrong, but that little green spiky ball looks like it could be a sweet gum ball. I normally only see them when they're brown and dried, but we have tons of them around Louisiana. They're a hassel to rake and keep under control, but the trees in the fall . . . the color is (color's are) spectacular! Not far from our house there were three or four very large sweet gum trees that had multiple colors of leaves on in the fall: some green, some golden, some orange, some red, and some purple! Where else do you see all those color leaves on one tree? I was so sad when the power company had them cut down. I'll miss their amazing color display in the fall.

Alice Wills Gold said...

The beach was the most important visit.....but I hope you stayed for the sunset. Oh, how I long for the California is in my blood and I can never rid myself of it. It never feels totally at home without a beach close by.

And I can't believe you didn't mention any Mexican food. I SO miss Carne Asada Burritos.

Laurel Nelson said...

After years of living in LA, I never saw the Getty, and I don't like basketball (sorry Lakers), but I can tell you that yes, there are WAY WAY WAY more fancy cars there per capita than most other places. In fact, when I went to Utah to go to BYU for college I was struck by the dearth of fancy cars there (when I would go normal places, of course I knew they weren't in Provo). And Pepperdine - oh yes I've driven by there many times on my way to Zuma beach, and I knew lots of people who wanted to go there precisely because it was across the street from the beach. A good friend of mine is married to an attorney who did go to law school there. :) And costs be darned, maybe Andrew should have just gone for it - think of the wonderful memories you could have had of laying on the beach while he studied his heart out in the library instead of digging yourself out of snowdrifts in North Dakota...

Lori said...

First of all, the Lakers are terrible! I say that, not just because I'm from Northern CA (though have no allegiance to the Warriors or Kings), they're just complainers or worse!

Then, I have to politely disagree with Kathy G. We have those everywhere, including every house/dorm/apt. I've ever lived. It's from either a Sycamore (very common) or a Liquid Amber (a little less common due to water needs and is more frequent on the eastern seaboard).

Inkling said...

My mom wants to move to Alaska now that she realized the green thing in your hand that is the bane of her existence wouldn't be an issue. She picks up those sweet gum balls from the time they are green to the time they are brown (and hard and very sharp) every single time she wants to mow the grass at her house. She even bought this whirly gig contraption to help her out. But now she's in raptures thinking that Alaska may save her from that chore. Then again, I probably forgot to tell her that she wouldn't have that many months to work on her tan or wear shorts if she moved to Alaska. I guess she'd get a rude awakening come the first snow you guys get....what in September? =)

gerwegirlie said...

so happy you had fun in LA! loved your stories.

i'm also happy to know those pods are from a sweet gum, i've *always* wondered. my nine-year-old calls them "sky balls" because they fall out of nowhere on her head ...

Melissa-Mc said...

I'm glad you had a great trip. You sure were able to get a lot in.

luckyzmom said...

Fabulous post. Thank you for sharing.