Day two in LA and I decided to get the Hop On Hop Off bus and tour up around Hollywood. I’d been considering a tour of one of the movie studios, but really needed to decide that the day before and get up earlier to make my way up to Hollywood. Going by public bus it’s about an hour and a half from Santa Monica up to Hollywood. Using the Hop On Hop Off bus it’s over 2 hours with all the stops. Given the limited time I had there, I just decided to stick with Hollywood and make the most of the places I could get to.

I had a nice sleep in, and when I woke up there was no-one in the apartment. The night before when I came home the lights in the living room were on, and no-one was around. I couldn’t tell if they were asleep or not home. I left the lights on at the time in case they were still out. This morning, all the same lights were on and nothing in the kitchen seemed to have moved. They could have still been in bed, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, I got ready for the day and walked down to the Main Street in search of breakfast. I found a nice looking cafe, ordered an omelette and sat down to read through my Lonely Planet and brochures about the tourist bus. I wasn’t sure where to buy a ticket, so found a tourist info place in Main Street and went there after breakfast. When I got there it was closed! There was a sign on the door saying the nearest was at the Pier so I walked there only to find they were out on a break for 30 minutes.

It was about 11am at this point and I was keen to get on the bus and start moving, so I just went to the bus stop and waited. About 10 minutes later the bus came, and I jumped on. Fortunately I was able to buy a ticket from the driver, and he could take credit card. I bought a two day pass, figuring it was a lot cheaper that way if I did end up using it the next day as well.

Cruising atop the Hop On Hop Off Bus
Cruising atop the Hop On Hop Off Bus

The tourist bus is broken into five loops across LA – Santa Monica, Hollywood, Downtown, Venice Beach and the airport shuttle. I was on the Santa Monica bus headed to Beverly Hills. I was given a set of headphones with my ticket and there was an audio guide most of the way, pointing out buildings and landmarks, and providing interesting facts about famous people who had dined in restaurants or films that had been shot nearby. I sat on the top deck which had a pretty good view, although it was quite windy. It was a good way to see the city, because everything is spaced so far apart. We drove along Wilshire Blvd, which sounded familiar from all the Michael Connelly books I’ve read, then crossed Rodeo Drive and came to a stop in Beverly Hills.

I got off the bus here so I could take a look around, and later change to the Hollywood loop. The bus stopped near the Beverly Hills City Hall, which was an interesting building with a tiled courtyard and lots of palm trees. I wandered around there a bit, then made my way to Rodeo Drive which was a couple of blocks away. The bus comes every 30 minutes or so, so I didn’t have to worry too much about when I came back.

Beverly Hills City Hall
Beverly Hills City Hall

Rodeo Drive was an nice street, lined with very exclusive looking shops. The footpaths were quite wide, and there were garden beds down the middle of the road. There wasn’t a lot of traffic, and there weren’t crowds of people walking around either. I was expecting something a bit busier, but I guess only certain types of people would go there – the wealthy to shop and tourists hoping to see a celebrity.

Walking along Rodeo Drive

I walked the length of the street, looking in some of the shop windows and checking out the fancy cars parked on the side of the road. There was a black car with a Batman logo on the bonnet, with small yellow Batman witches hats around it. I’m not sure if anyone was actually driving it, or it was just there for show. At the other end was a hotel, and according to the audio tour on the bus it was the hotel used in Pretty Woman. As I walked along I could picture Julia Roberts walking down the strip looking for an outfit to wear to her fancy dinner.

Just around the corner from there I found a cafe for lunch where I had a massive club sandwich and some soba noodles. I also had a fresh juice made of watermelon, lemon and mint, which was really good. It was nice to stop and sit in the shade for a little while. Although it had been windy on the bus, it was quite warm out in the sun.

The Beverly Wilshire, featured in Pretty Woman
The Beverly Wilshire, featured in Pretty Woman

After lunch, I had a look at the map but there wasn’t much more I wanted to check out there. Keen to get to Hollywood, I made my way back to City Hall and waited for the bus. Fortunately I didn’t have long to wait, and about 15 minutes later I was on my way again.

There were some interesting sights along the way, including the La Brea Tar Pits where well preserved fossils are excavated. I didn’t stop there, but it sounded pretty interesting. Driving through the city was a good way to see it, and some of the buildings caught my attention being typical buildings you’d see in a movie. One example was a roadside diner, which the guide told us was no longer operational but remained there for use as a set.

Farmer's Market clocktower
Farmer’s Market clock tower

The bus went past the Farmer’s Market, which opened during the 1930s as a place for local farmers to come together and sell produce. It’s developed into quite a substantial shopping centre now, but still has some of the original buildings which continue to sell produce. The original clock tower is still functional and stands in the centre of the market.

After stopping for a few minutes, we continued on out the other side of the markest. As we drove through I noticed a bakery for dogs! I’m curious to know exactly what they sold there…

Doggy bakery!
Doggy bakery!

From there the bus went down Melrose Avenue which is a busy shopping strip, with a mix of stores selling clothes, jewelery, homewares and music, scattered with restaurants and bars. There’s a famous hot dog shop there, called Pinks Hotdogs. If I’d known that earlier I could have made that my lunch stop, but I wasn’t hungry so continued on.

A little way around the corner we were on Hollywood Blvd, the main Hollywood strip featuring the Walk of Fame. As we drove down the street I caught a glimpse of the Hollywood sign off in the distance. The audio guide explained how the sign was built to advertise a new housing estate in the 20’s – Hollywoodland. After it had served its purpose as an ad, it had become somewhat of an icon so remained on the hill. It’s now protected, and over the years it’s undergone a couple of unauthorised redesigns including Hollyweed when marijuana was legalised in the 70’s, and Holywood when the Pope visited in 1978. I’d hoped to get a bit closer, but that was as far north as that bus route went. Something to do if I’m ever there again!

The Hollywood Sign
The Hollywood Sign

The bus travelled along Hollywood Blvd, and the audio guide pointed out some key buildings and landmarks. There was a lot to see and it went past pretty quickly, but I was getting off at the next stop and could walk back, so it didn’t really matter. The bus stopped near the Dolby Theatre and I got off. The Dolby Theatre is the home to the Oscars, and inside the theatre are pillars with years and the winner of Academy Award for Best Picture in each of those years. The pillars have blank spaces for years going right up to 2071!

Inside the Dolby Theatre
Winner of the 2003 Best Picture award, featured on a pillar inside the Dolby Theatre

In the same complex is a shopping centre, with lots of small shops and some restaurants and cafes. There’s a walkway up on the third floor looking out towards the Hollywood sign on one side, and down on the shopping centre on the other. There are massive statues either side of the square and it was a really cool view.

Outside the Chinese Theatre
Outside the Chinese Theatre

Just next door is the Chinese Theatre. The outside of the building is interesting, built with a Chinese theme. The main attraction of this theatre is a courtyard of concrete squares where movie stars have left their hand (or foot, hair or wand!) prints. The theatre was built in the 1920s by Sid Grauman, an American showman who built several theatres in LA including the Egyptian Theatre further up the road. Apparently, while the building was being finished a celebrity accidentally walked in the wet cement and left a foot print. Sid thought it was a great way to make a record of stars, so started to invite celebrities to leave their prints. There were lots of celebrities, including George Clooney, Whoopi Goldberg (who also left an imprint of her dreadlocks), Steven Seagal and, most importantly, the Harry Potter trio! It was fun to compare my hands and feet to the stars, but there were a lot of people crowded into the area trying to take photos of each other which made things a bit tricky.

Harry, Ron and Hermione's hand, foot and wandprints
Harry, Ron and Hermione’s hand, foot and wandprints

From there I crossed the road to look at the El Capitan Theatre, and the Disney store. I walked along the footpath, checking out the stars along the way until I came to the Egyptian Theatre.

Steven Spielberg's star on the Walk of Fame
Steven Spielberg’s star on the Walk of Fame

The Egyptian Theatre was also built by Sid. It was built just before the Chinese theatre, and was inspired by the exploration of Egyptian tombs at the time. I was hoping to go inside, because when I visited the Museum of the Moving Image in New York there was a small screening room with an Egyptian theme. It was based on this theatre, and I was interested to see if it was the same inside. Unfortunately it wasn’t open when I was there, so I could only take a look from the outside. Compared to the Chinese Theatre it wasn’t as elaborate, but there were Egyptian themed paintings on the walls and Egyptian style pillars out the front.

Paintings on the wall of the Egyptian Theatre
Paintings on the wall of the Egyptian Theatre

I walked along the rest of Hollywood Blvd back the way the bus had come, past the Capitol Records building shaped like a big record stack, up to the Pantages Theatre where I could get the next bus. There were less people along this stretch of the road, and the shops became more tacky with cheap souvenir places, tattoo parlours and seedy looking bars. It had a very different feel to the strech near the Chinese Theatre.

I had to wait about 20 minutes for the bus. It took me back down Hollywood Blvd, continuing around the loop back to Beverly Hills. I thought about catching a public bus up to Warner Bros Studios for their tour, but it was about 3pm and it wouldn’t have given much time to enjoy the studios and there was a chance I’d miss the last bus back to Santa Monica which would have made it difficult to get back. It’s something I’ll have to go back to do another time.

Capitol Records building
Capitol Records building

The bus went along Sunset Blvd, past the Guitar Center RockWalk (similar to the Walk of Fame but featuring the handprints of famous musicians) and past a strip of comedy clubs where comedians such as Robin Williams once did stand up comedy. We also went past a shop called Millions of Milkshakes where they supposedly have a ‘Celebrity GPS’ revealing the location of celebrities around Hollywood.

From there we crossed back into Beverly Hills and the bus stopped on the side of the road next to a Beverly Hills sign. According to the guide, the Beverly Hills emblem is trademarked, and movie studios and advertising companies need to get permission from the council if they’re going to use it in any photos or filming. I think there are only about 5 of these signs around the border of the city, and they’re quite popular locations for shooting movies.

Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills

As we drove down Santa Monica Blvd I could see laneways running behind the houses. The laneways were built so residents could put out their bins and the garbage trucks could collect their rubbish without ruining the beauty of the streets. Also, in that area each street had a different type of tree lining the foot path, and only that tree was planted along the nature strip. Interestingly, Beverly Hills is a separate city to LA and has a few quirky rules of its own.

I changed buses again at the Beverly Hills City Hall, and rode the Santa Monica loop back to the Pier. Along the way we passed the Sony Pictures studio, and a few buildings that have been used in films. One of them was the office building from the first Die Hard film.

Glass office tower (rear building) used in the first Die Hard film
Glass office tower (rear building) used in the first Die Hard film

For the last stretch of this loop there wasn’t a lot for the audio guide to talk about. As we came closer to the beach, it talked about California’s beaches for a few minutes, then pumped out Beach Boys tunes.

Back in Santa Monica, I got off the bus and wandered along the beach, past the pier and up to the main street. There seemed to be more people out tonight compared with the previous night, although I was a bit earlier so that’s probably why. There are a lot of restaurants along the Promenade so I went there and found a cosy looking Italian restaurant where I could sit out the front and watch the action as I ate. There was lots going on, and a busker was playing music nearby. It was a nice place to have dinner.

After dinner, I walked along the shops, enjoying the various entertainers dancing and playing music. One set of buskers actually had a small gathering of people who had just started dancing around them! It was a very relaxed and fun atmosphere. It’s also very pretty, with flowering garden beds and fairy lights in the trees.

I made my way back down to the Pier, not quite ready to go home yet. I ordered a single scoop chocolate ice cream, which came in a big waffle cone, and was piled high with two massive scoops of ice cream! It was soooo big, and only $3.50! Compared to the size of an ice cream back in Melbourne, I couldn’t believe how generous the serving was. In the end, I couldn’t even finish the whole thing.

Pacific Park sitting out on the Santa Monica Pier
Pacific Park sitting out on the Santa Monica Pier

I walked out to the end of the pier, explored the carnival again, and then sat to watch a girl who was singing on the beach. I’d actually seen her the night before, only today she was in a different location. There were lots of people everywhere – at the carnival, walking on the beach, playing games on the sand and having dinner. It really is a busy area at night!

The ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier, lit up like the American flag
The ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier, lit up like the American flag

It was a bit after 11pm and I was ready to go back to the apartment. After the reasonably long walk back the night before, I decided to get a cab this time. There was a taxi rank at the start of the pier, but I had a bit of trouble getting a cab to take me because it was such a short trip. A friendly driver offered to take me, saying it was better to have someone rather than no passengers (also, he was towards the back of the queue so probably had a while to wait). I ended up getting his business card and made plans for him to come back the next night and take me to the airport.

Back in the apartment, there didn’t seem to be anyone around. Again, the lights were on so I left them as they were and closed my door. I wasn’t long out of bed after that. I pulled together most of my things ready to pack in the morning, then went to sleep.

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