As my last visit to southern California was a quarter century ago, it’s fair to say I have very little memory of that trip. But now, with family living out there, it was time for an updated visit. So I took a long weekend and flew out to visit my sister and explore the multicultural city of Los Angeles.
The first thing that surprised me about Los Angeles was that I was able to take public transportation all the way from LAX to my hostel in Hollywood. When I travel, I prefer to use public transportation when possible instead of renting a car (I hate driving!), but Los Angeles never struck me as being a place were that would actually be possible. I always thought of Los Angeles as a “car city”, like Houston. Actually, I still think of it that way, but I was pleased with the extent and usefulness of the train and bus network, which meant that I only had to use Uber for short trips.
My first order of business upon arriving was a visit to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, but not to pay respects to its strangely large population of deceased Russians and Armenians. Rather, I went on a virtual trip to Iceland to see my favorite Icelandic musician in concert. Iceland happens to be the only Nordic country I have yet to visit, and a place that is high on my list. Incidentally though, this weekend was precisely the right time for a virtual, as opposed to real, visit to Iceland, because it was also the same week that one of the country’s two airlines suddenly went bankrupt and left passengers stranded on both sides of the Atlantic. Anyway, I was happy for the chance to hear captivating songs (like my favorite, “Dýrð í Dauðaþögn”) while confident in the ability of Southwest Airlines to get me home!
On Saturday, my sister and I explored just a few of the city’s myriad ethnic districts. We walked through Chinatown with its dragon gate entrance, temples, and pagoda-roofed gas stations (true story), and left with bubble tea in hand. Later we visited the winding pedestrian path through Little Tokyo with its mochi shops and sushi conveyor belts. The latter, evidently very popular on Saturday evenings, had a two-hour wait for a seat, which we passed at another nearby hotspot, the Angel City Brewery. The brewery serves up an interesting selection of house brews in its century-old industrial building painted over with colorful geometric patterns and surrounded by food trucks for good measure.
For Mexican culture, it is not necessary to go very far at all – the city has a Spanish name, after all, and is home to a tenth of the country’s Hispanic population. Much like in Houston, there is a Mexican restaurant on every corner, but there does seem to be more variety than the typical Houston Tex-Mex. For example, I came across a great little Oaxacan restaurant, and was able to try a style of Mexican food I had never heard of before.
We also took a stroll down Olvera Street, one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles. This crowded pedestrian zone is lined with shops housed in historic brick buildings and selling Mexican handicrafts, food, and horchata. Olvera Street is also home to the Avila Adobe, the oldest adobe house in Los Angeles, which was the city residence of a local ranching family in the 1800s. The adobe is open to the public, so we took a look inside to get a glimpse of how the early Californios lived (and how short they must have been, judging from the size of their beds!).
The rest of the weekend included a visit to the unusual Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels, a walk through the busy and historic Los Angeles Farmer’s Market, a tour of the Paramount Pictures studio, and an afternoon enjoying the festive atmosphere of Santa Monica Pier and the beach. It was a busy few days but overall a fun trip and a nice visit with my sister! (And I was not “Wowed” on the way home!)