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California road trip, July 2017 - Part 2 - Los Angeles

August 21, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

This is part 2 of our California trip (here is the 1st part)

Also, the full collection of photos from the trip is here.

Day 3

While looking up hotels in LA over these couple of days we found that it is easy to find one for 3 nights without advanced reservation... unless you're looking for a decent hotel for a reasonable price in a safe area. In this case it's practically impossible. Also we do have a bit of information about some of the LA's 3692 neighborhoods (the number is approximate), but not enough to cover the whole map. There are also distance and traffic to take into account. We even looked at internet forums about "safe" area to stay, with one post offering a hilarious and, possibly, effective, suggestion: "just look for areas around Whole Foods stores"... 

Anyway, we decided Los Angeles is large enough for us to move around. The first night we'll stay in Anaheim, which has Crystal Cathedral that we planned to visit, is close to Laguna Beach (for Pageant of the Masters), and has reasonably priced hotels. So, even though we're not going to Disneyland, we will benefit from proximity to it :) For the second night we'll move to Glendale, where I stayed a long long time ago during my 1st visit to LA. I remembered it as a nice area with Armenian community. Also, it is close to places we want to walk around, like Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Griffith Observatory. Finally, the 3rd night we'll spend in Santa Monica, which we also want to visit, close to Route 1.


We found out yesterday that Crystal Cathedral is under long term renovation and not accessible to public, so we just had a view from a parking lot, apparently reserved for construction workers. That's ok, it wasn't that high on out priority list. Curiously, about half of the cars on this parking lot are expensive models of German manufacturing...

_7180765_7180765Crystal Cathedral, Anaheim

Laguna Beach

Checked in to the hotel, and we're off to Laguna Beach. Another Californian feature I've never seen before is traffic light at the entrance of a highway. Learned by our San Diego experience, we park early and walk to the the Art Center to pick up our reserved tickets. We have enough time to have dinner and walk to the beach. It's a very nice beach with a boardwalk, and the sunset makes beautiful hazy cliffs.

We don't photograph a beach often, and this trip gave us an ample opportunity to do so, despite closures on Pacific Coast Highway.

_7180772_7180772Laguna Beach

_7180798-2_7180798-2Laguna Beach

The sun is setting and it's time to get to the theater. Actually, the Art Center hosts a festival with some expositions and other events, rather than only the "Pageant of the Masters" performance. We walk around it some more and buy the book about the paintings and sculptures featured in this year presentation, before getting to our seats.


Photography and video recording are prohibited at the show and instead of a thousand words to replace each picture I'll replace all the pictures with one word: awesome

This year they made it a "Grand Tour" story. I don't know exactly how it's done, my guess is with both back- and front-lighting, but I'm not sure. Attention to details is really impressive!

The show ends late at night, tomorrow's highlight is Getty Center.

Day 4

Los Angeles 

Driving from north side of San Diego to the center takes 5-10 min. Curiously enough, this is not the case with Los Angeles... On this trip we decided not to torture ourselves with early rises, so our aim is usually to take the road after the rush our. Our drive from Anaheim took 1.5 hour, which may not have been horrible by LA standards, and with help from an experienced navigator (Tamara) we are finally in the downtown. I really wanted to see Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, that's the main reason we're in here.

_7190810_7190810Los Angeles

There are some good-looking buildings around too. There is no street parking available and we don't want to stick around long enough for a parking lot, so we make a rather quick job of looking around.

_7190824_7190824Los Angeles

_7190821_7190821Los Angeles


The Getty

Getty Center turned out to be a little smaller than I expected (again, spoiled by The Met), but a great museum and I really liked not only the building and the views but also the way collections are structured. 

_7190894_7190894Getty Center, LA

It is a gorgeous sunny day outside

_7190931_7190931Getty Center, LA

The location on the hills makes for wide vistas...

_7190915_stitch_7190915_stitchGetty Center, LA

_7190924_7190924Getty Center, LA

By the time we are back to the car it is already evening. Our plan is to get to Griffith observatory and get some views of Los Angeles and Hollywood Sign (I personally don't share the excitement about the sign, but it's high on Tamara's list and Anne seems to really want to see it).

The reality turns out to be, however, to visit Griffith Observatory on a late Sunday afternoon you have to be ready to walk uphill for a mile or so and after walking around the museum we're not willing to do so. We already had a pretty good view of LA from the hills at The Getty Center (to be honest, it is not the most attractive vista), and we'll see Hollywood Sign from somewhere else. We drive to Glendale via local streets, love doing it when I can in an beautiful city!


The hotel, Vagabond Inn, is really a motel (which is just fine by us for the price) and there is a mall with Cheesecake Factory nearby, actually right across the street although it is not seen. You cross the avenue, go into a narrow passageway and - voila - a busy pedestrian plaza filled with relaxed pedestrians, beautiful buildings and an awesome fountain. Makes waiting for the seat very enjoyable. A guy with 2 large dogs (Husky and German Shepherd) provides even more entertainment for Anne (and other kids). A very nice place and a beautiful sunset.

_7190954_7190954Glendale, CA

_7190952_7190952Glendale, CA



Day 5


The breakfast in Vagabond Inn is not something to write home about, so we ate it instead. A short drive along the local streets to Hollywood Boulevard, we parked right near of what happened to be Capitol Records Building. Not only it's an interesting looking structure but the sidewalk features stars for musicians, there are many names Anne recognizes, she knows more old musicians than old actors...

_7200970_7200970Hollywood, CA

Stars of all the Beatles, Buddy Holly and others grab Anne's attention.

We walk along Hollywood Boulevard until we reach Dolby and Chinese Theaters.

_7200973_7200973Hollywood, CA

_7200980_7200980Hollywood, CA

We spend some time in front of Chinese Theater. This seems to be the tourist meeting place in Hollywood...

Tamara's interest are the classic movie actors and actresses. Anne is more attracted by the plate with Harry Porter crew's traces, though Judy Garland does get recognition and attention.

_7200990_7200990Hollywood, CA

We walk through Dolby Theater. Looking at the lists of Oscar winner films I'm reminded again how bad they are on average :) Going through a mall to Babylon Court we get a view of Hollywood Sign. It's a very nice vantage point but not a good photo opportunity, at least not if one has Hollywood Sign on his mind :)

_7200998_7200998Hollywood, CA

A pleasant courtyard though...

_7201000_7201000Hollywood, CA

We mull getting a tour but I object: I don't quite share the degree of Toma's fascination with Classical Hollywood, and suspect the tours may not concentrate on it anyway. Crowd and heat can make an uninteresting tour simply unpleasant, and a waste of time. An alternative suggestion is to go to Beverly Hills as planned, but take a detour through

Mulholland Drive

A little research maps the route from Highway 101 to Coldwater Canyon Drive down to Beverly Hills. It is a very sunny day and it's nice to spend an hour or so in an air-conditioned car. Mulholland Drive offers some beautiful scenery. Here is the view of the sign we wanted, mission accomplished.

_7200010_7200010Hollywood, CA

There are some negative reviews on Tripadvisor about Mulholland Drive and I humbly disagree. The views are definitely worth it. Maybe it's possible to get them elsewhere but why not here?

_7200014_7200014Mulholland Drive, LA

Beverly Hills 

Even if we didn't see the vistas from Mulholland Drive, approaching Beverly Hills on the Coldwater Canyon Drive is worth the detour. We've seen this street view with high palm trees in the movies and, I don't know, it can probably be found in other places in LA, but it is grand nonetheless...

_7200051_7200051Beverly Hills

Parked in a lot, lunched in Cheesecake Factory (served, clearly, by a striving actor, a good-looking fella who is an amazingly bad waiter), ready to do some walking. Just like in Hollywood, I didn't expect much more than a pleasant walk of Beverly Hills center. I get it, there are shiny stores... also many tourists and some bored store attendants... 

_7200029_7200029Beverly Hills

fancy cars, sometimes

_7200024_7200024Beverly Hills

2 Rodeo Drive is a very nice addition though.

_7200031_7200031Beverly Hills

It leads to Wlshire Hotel, a major point of interest for Tamara and a hotel/movie prop/minor curiosity for me :) We walk along Wilshire Boulevard to the fountain.

_7200036_7200036Beverly Hills

This is a longish walk for a day this warm and sunny and I was prepared to be disappointed by the fountain and it didn't disappoint, I mean it kind of did, I mean... Although it's just a fountain, it is nice and has shade and stone benches and no people around... Such a good place to rest a bit! Also, there is a rainbow...

_7200044_7200044Beverly Hills

You think we walked all the way here just for the fountain? Turned out nope, Tamara has some plans to see interesting houses this side of Santa Monica Boulevard.

This one is a meticulously constructed witch house.

_7200045_7200045Beverly Hills

A Gaudi-inspired design

_7200047_7200047Beverly Hills

Santa Monica 

It is evening already but the day is long and we still have enough time to walk a bit in Santa Monica before going to the hotel. Driving there on the beginning of former Route 66...

Turns out Santa Monica beach is actually down a significant cliff from the streets, so we're just looking...

_7200056_7200056Santa Monica

Taking a stroll on 3rd Street Promenade, a pleasant pedestrian street with shops. Today we dine here.

_7200066_7200066Santa Monica

Day 6

Getty Villa

Our first stop today is Getty Villa. The tickets are timed and Toma ultimately decided to reserve them during breakfast. It's a good thing she did because time slices are going fast. You know how museums can be a bit stuffy? You know, many rooms with no windows, artificial light and so on. Getty Villa does not make this impression at all. It was designed to be as close to an ancient Roman villa as possible, located on a hill with a view of the ocean, its own amphitheater and gardens...

_7210075_7210075Getty Villa

_7210088_7210088Getty Villa

and wide passageways and open doors...

_7210093_7210093Getty Villa

_7210076_7210076Getty Villa

I don't like mixing photos of museum collections with personal and travel photos, for many reasons... I'll post a family photo instead...

_7210098_7210098Getty Villa

We always spend a significant time in museums' antiquity sections, this time the whole museum is one antiquity section! By the time we are on the road it is already lunch time, but before we have lunch we need to drive to...

Santa Barbara

All my knowledge about Santa Barbara before the trip, despite hearing it mentioned quite a bit, could be summarized as "a nice town in pacific coast, also there is some oil there somewhere". Well, at least the part about "nice town" is evidently true, there is a nice view of the hills...

_7210111_7210111Santa Barbara

We arrive at about 3:30PM and have a lunch in The Palace Grill restaurant, we are the only customers here. It's a nice restaurant, also with a funny bathroom interior... After lunch - walking around the historic center visiting a couple of museums

_7210114_7210114Santa Barbara

I like the design of the houses here, with a lot of ceramic tiles...

_7210116_7210116Santa Barbara

The more tiled roofs and palm trees the better, as far as I'm concerned...

_7210107_7210107Santa Barbara

with an occasional citrus tree...

_7210108_7210108Santa Barbara

We decide against going to shopping mall passageways - we plan to go to Hearst Castle tomorrow, and with tours, shuttles and so forth it sounds like we should be there in the morning. Hearst Castle is a very long distance from here, so after the walk we drive uphill to Old Santa Barbara Mission. While Toma and Anne are reading inside I'm experimenting with lens flare

_7210123_7210123Santa Barbara

A view with the fountain...

_7210118_7210118Santa Barbara

The road between Santa Barbara and Solveng goes through very picturesque hills, there are a couple of observation points with parking.

_7210126_7210126Between Cambria and Paso Robles, CA


Solvang was founded by Danish immigrant in the early XX century and it keeps the Danish ambiance on. North-European style houses, a statue of Mermaid, a windmill, flags of Denmark... it's a charming town, with Californian hills in the background.

_7210131_7210131Solvang, CA

It's a small town and we only walk around a small part of it. All is quiet in the evening. We see a good looking bakery and consider pastries for dinner...

_7210136_7210136Solvang, CA

but in the end opt for a full meal in a restaurant.

_7210140_7210140Solvang, CA

It's getting dark and we drive north to San Luis Obispo for the night. I'm sure the road surroundings are quite pretty but this time we don't see them.

The hotel in San Luis Obispo is at the bottom of a hill, which makes for some funny math when it turns out that are our room 403 is, basically, on the first floor :)

Day 7

Hearst Castle

Just like with Getty Villa, Tamara decided to reserve the tickets, basically, while going there, instead of purchasing them at the location, and both times it made the difference. Yes, it is risky, especially driving a considerable distance, traffic and finding a parking spot can make one be late.

Driving along Route 1 we see glimpses of scenic parts of Pacific Coast Highway. Toma notices a sign saying "Elephant Seal Vista". Very curious, but looks like the place is farther north than the turn to Hearst Castle. We have a note to return to the highway and find it afterwards. Horses in the field is always a popular sight with Anne, but this time she sees something unexpected too... Zebras, she exclaims - what are they doing here?!?! As we found out later, it's all a part of Hearst Castle, traces of a private zoo. They seem to be happy grazing along with cows and horses...

We did make it on time to pick up our tickets with about 15 min in reserve. We would have lost at least an hour, however, if we did not reserve our time... A ride in a bus, and we're on the hill, near the castle. Of course, Hearst Castle is not a castle, I would call it a very large mansion. The real name of the main building is Casa Grande, which describes it much more precisely.

_7220141_7220141Hearst Castle

We reserved both lower and upper floor tours, figuring that, as long as we're here might as well finish it up, so we don't have an urge to return and go again through the process of getting shuttle, gathering for a tour, getting back and so forth. The tours are quite interesting and the interior elements are amazing.

_7220196_7220196Hearst Castle

_7220204_7220204Hearst Castle

After the tours we spend some time enjoying the views of the house...

_7220153_7220153Hearst Castle

_7220223_7220223Hearst Castle

and the surroundings...

_7220151_7220151Hearst Castle

_7220211_7220211Hearst Castle

Neptune Pool, unfortunately, is being repaired...

_7220144_7220144Hearst Castle

but Roman Pool is in order...

_7220228_7220228Hearst Castle

It's interesting and unusual to visit Hearst Castle, it doesn't feel like a museum since it is a residence and designed as such with no changes. This is, after all, what individual collectors do as opposed to art galleries. However, at times it felt a little... I don't know, cramped with rarities? Maybe because the objects didn't always come together, though often they did... The impression Getty Villa leaves is "here was a man who had a serious fascination with ancient Rome and a lot of money." Hearst Castle's impression is "here was a man who was fascinated with mediaeval Europe, had loads of money and really liked to show it off..."

We are back to the parking lot in the late afternoon, after having a late lunch in Hearst Castle Visitor Center. Now, where was that Elephant Seal beach?

Elephant Seal Vista

It's a good thing this sign was on the road before Hearst Castle and it's good Tamara was paying close attention, because we have heard nothing about this place (which is just a stop on the Pacific Coast Highway) anywhere. Not sure how common elephant seals are on the pacific coast but for us it is a unique opportunity to see them in nature.

_7220274_7220274Pacific Coast Highway, Elephant Seal Vista

Just like with the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, the beach is filled with elephant seals of different ages and sizes. They are not at all as agile as sea lions and move, basically, like giant caterpillars, to our enjoyment. Yes, I know it's just because they're on the ground, I'm sure people swimming look funny to them too... I'm officially allowing any Elephant Seal to ridicule me aloud while I'm swimming!


Contrary to La Jolla, there is no easy access to the beach itself, and we wouldn't want to get too close to elephant seals anyway based on what we've heard about their temperament.

_7220280_7220280Pacific Coast Highway, Elephant Seal Vista

Turning back south we are stopping frequently at Route 1 observation points, taking in the scenic vistas of Pacific Coast Highway.

_7220287_7220287Pacific Coast Highway, Elephant Seal Vista

_7220311_7220311Pacific Coast Highway, Elephant Seal Vista

This beach is filled with birds!

_7220301_7220301Pacific Coast Highway, Elephant Seal Vista

Tonight we're going to drive deep into the middle of California and stay for the night in the city of Visalia. On the map it seems to be a fairly large town (got its own Convention Center) located conveniently enough to go to Sequoia National Park next day. In the next couple of days (we're not sure whether it's 2 or 3) we want to visit Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite with night stays in Visalia and Fresno. One possible problem: the weather forecast for these two cities is very consistent for this week with today's high in Visalia as 104F! Frankly, at this point we have little choice as it is far too late to get cabins inside the parks and all places outside are likely to have the same weather pattern. Oh well, we're just spending nights there anyway.

The road from Cambria (where we turned inland from Route 1) through the mountains is extremely beautiful! I should have stopped at a couple of more points with some view of the ocean but, alas, we passed them. 

_7230319_7230319Sequoia National Park

We knew that California is a major farming land and not surprised to see many farms. This area is filled with wineries... No wonder, Toma says, this looks like Tuscany.

After crossing the mountains the landscape turns flat with occasional hills, and the temperature on the dashboard climbs past 100F. The only color we see on the ground is yellow - everything is covered with dry grass. This grass turns green in the winter (at least that's what we were told by a tour guide) and yellow - in the summer. What is absolutely amazing is that we see farms even in the flattest hottest places! Even when there are no farms growing grapes we pass a herd of cows here and there.



Close to our destination we see an interesting road sign: 1 1/2 Avenue in what seems to be pretty much a farmland. I should have stopped to photograph it but I didn't. Later I found through Google Maps that it was in a town of Hanford and this is not the only interesting street name there, it fact it seems to be the convention:


We arrive in Visalia by about 8:45PM, the temperature outside is 97F. We find a restaurant that seems fancy - The Southern Pacific Depot, in what used to be an old railway station - and get in right before closing. We are the only ones here. The food is very good, this is the first time any member of our family besides me tries oysters (I really like them). This member - Anne. Before leaving I ask our waitress whether today was a hot day. It's an the cool side, she says, it can easily get to 110F...

Well, half of our trip is now over - the other half is here



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