LA days

Published Tuesday, 08 April 2014
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As my fiancée will testify, I am not a big movie buff. Invariably, she will say "have you seen..." and name a famous big-name film. My answer is invariably "no".

However, I must have watched enough movies to get that "deja-vu" feeling when I visited Los Angeles for the first time. That's probably because there aren't many places which haven't been used in one movie or another over the years. In fact, even the hotel I was staying in, the Millennium Biltmore, has been used as a movie & tv location hundreds of times so it was no mystery as to why I felt I recognised the place.

The hotel reception was used to introduce us to "Slimer" in the first Ghostbusters movie and the swimming pool was used in Cruel Intentions. It also transpired that one of my favourite movies, Phone Booth, was filmed just across the street. Aside from the movie connection, it is a stunning hotel and its rooms are very comfortable. It's also more reasonably priced that one would expect.

The hotel is located in Downtown LA, which is further than you would think from the bright lights of Hollywood. However, I used the Metro underground system to get around and 20 minutes after catching a train at Pershing Square, I emerged into the hustle and bustle of "touristy" LA, at Hollywood & Vine, where I was met by a giant Elmo, Batman and Charlie Chaplin outside Graumans Chinese Theatre. It will give you an indication of my movie knowledge, when I tell you I was over the moon to realise that finale of the recent Muppets movie was filmed in that very spot!

Given I had limited time, I guessed the best thing to do was catch one of the many "hop on hop off" tour buses, that way I was able to see Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive and Beverley Hills as well as spend a couple of hours at Santa Monica pier, overlooking the famous beach used in "Baywatch". I was also able to get a picture of the "End of Route 66" sign (having started my US tour at the opposite end of Route 66, in Chicago).

DGSanta Monica Pier is well known, of course, and has a funfair, restaurants and shops to explore. I could have ventured further down the seafront to "Muscle Beach" but I didn't want all the bodybuilders to feel inadequate.

Back on the tour bus, we made our way back towards Hollywood Boulevard. It struck me how much of LA is "ordinary", for want of a better word. I didn't trip over any celebrities in the shops, or drive past any celebrity homes and see them outside cutting the grass. However, it was explained by the guide that in reality, the famous folk who live there look on the place as "home" and aren't in the business of being a celebrity all the time as they still have to go grocery shopping and do school runs like the rest of us.

Back on Hollywood Boulevard, there's a lot to see, including Madame Tussauds and the Dolby Theatre (home of The Oscars). The "Hollywood and Highland Center" is a great place to get photos of the famous Hollywood sign too.

Overall, LA was a slightly surreal experience. It is certainly a city of extremes. The tourist area around Hollywood Boulevard is quite tacky, whereas the streets around Rodeo Drive and Beverley Hills are virtually paved with gold.

In my opinion, it was interesting from a "been there, done that" perspective, but have to admit I'm not sure I would hurry back.

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David Gordon
David Gordon

David is a Travel Writer & Broadcaster.

He is the producer & presenter of Travelbites, Northern Ireland's only dedicated radio travel show and podcast. He also produces features for travel programmes in the USA, Australia and Europe.

You can hear the podcast here or on Itunes.

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