CategoriesTravel

What Visitors From Abroad Need to Know About Los Angeles

Los Angeles
One of my favorite LAX landmarks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever I connect with travelers visiting the U.S. from abroad, there’s one destination that’s invariably on their itineraries: Los Angeles.

I like Los Angeles – probably more than most Americans. But it has some highly visible warts. And my foreign friends are so eager to see it that I cringe at the disappointment that can follow. I’d like to prepare them for the reality of Los Angeles with this list of observations gleaned from way too many visits to the area.

Hollywood – All the Grunge, Little of the Glamor

Los Angeles
Definitely an icon.

If you have dreams of Hollywood glitz, lower your expectations. It’s shabby and run-down with its best years decades in the past. I actually like the Sunset Strip quite a bit, but not for the usual reasons – the place is packed full of guitar shops selling some serious pro-grade gear. And you can walk from one to the other (perfect for a guy like me who spent way too much time playing in local bands), unlike my city where I could spend a day driving around and never find anything interesting. By and large, dining is pretty much focused on chains. I suppose things could get interesting if you’re interested in seeing where celebrities live or once lived – they have all sorts of tours for that sort of thing.

Los Angeles
Tanning beds not required at Muscle Beach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Beaches are Meh, But People Watching is Amazing

I know, I know – it’s sunny SoCal! The water should be warm and inviting, right? Nope. This is, year-round, some chilly water. Navy SEAL operators train just 120 miles away because the water is cold enough to test their endurance and fortitude. If you want warm, clear, sparkly water, you will not find it on a Los Angeles beach. You will, however, find absolutely epic people watching. Venice Beach, Muscle Beach, all the spots in Santa Monica -- I’ll just say to bring your camera. The fun part of Muscle Beach is watching people try their hands at some of the activities; my wife once saw an amazing wipeout on a slackline, and we both wished she’d been rolling some video of it.

Los Angeles
Have a mammoth time at La Brea Tar Pits. (Wikimedia Commons)

Natural History in the Concrete

My favorite place in LA is going to surprise you: the La Brea Tar Pits. Here’s the deal -- Los Angeles is a huge mass of concrete. Here, the earth looks completely static. But the La Brea Tar Pits are a reminder that the earth is alive, that it is moving and living right under our feet – even in a city that appears locked into its current form. You can watch scientists at work there, dredging up clues from the earth’s long history. It’s absolutely hypnotic, especially jammed into the backdrop of concrete, crowds and traffic.

Speaking of Sprawling

Travelers from abroad are often used to public transit. If you’re from Tokyo, London, Frankfurt or Seoul, there’s literally nowhere you can’t reach thanks to their world-class public transit and inherent walkability. You will not find that here. Just leaving Los Angeles International Airport is difficult. There is no Tube or Metro to zip you to the most-interesting parts of the city (compare that to Stockholm, where a sweet rail system can help you make the most of a 7-hour layover). There is allegedly some sort of rail system under construction. For now, you’re best-off making prior arrangements. You have taxis, but they can be hit-and-miss from a quality standpoint. I never thought about this before being a parent, but booking something in advance can make sure that you’ll have a car seat, adequate space, a knowledgeable driver -- all very important to get a trip started off well. I’d lean toward booking a car service from LAX.

Los Angeles
Hollywood celebrities and dignitaries at Roosevelt Birthday Ball activities in Washington, (left to… – NARA – 199317 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tons of Theme Parks

If you have kids that watch too much TV, chances are they’re clamoring for a visit to a certain rodent-fronted theme park. It’s here, it’s sprawling and it’s absolutely astounding in its ability to absolutely dominate everything about Anaheim. If you’re traveling without little people, you’ll find better rides at Magic Mountain Parkway or Knotts Berry Farm. But there are other theme parks and attractions, from paintball fields to racecar-themed parks. Los Angeles is pretty astounding that way – if there’s an obscure hobby, you can find people practicing it here.

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CategoriesTravel

Travelling down the West Coast of the US

West Coast US
A look at some of the sights you might see on the West Coast.

You’ve finally decided to do it: see all of the great cities and beautiful landscapes along the West Coast of the US. You’ll travel by auto from rainy Seattle, Washington, the birthplace of grunge, to hot and sunny San Diego in southern California. You could take Interstate 5 all the way down; that’s the fastest route. However, the best way to see the west coast is to take Highway 101 and Highway 1 along the coast. Leave time for sightseeing, plan plenty of side trips, and avoid scheduling your holiday during the winter if you plan to camp or hike in Washington and Oregon.

The adventure starts as soon as you touch down at the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport.

Washington
Washington has the city of Seattle, forests and mountains. Start by spending time in the city. You’ll find delicious locally brewed beer and good food in the pubs. Be sure to catch a gig; Seattle is known for its live music scene, and for good reason. The Space Needle is fun, if touristy, and the Pike Place Market in the city centre may be the longest-operating farmer’s market in the US.

West Coast Portland Weird
Find out why “Keep Portland Weird” is a popular West Coast catchphrase.

The Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains are to the east, and they are absolutely stunning. The best way to experience Washington’s coast is to take Highway 101, which begins in Olympia, south of Seattle, toward the north. It may seem like backtracking, but it is well worth the small amount of extra time it takes. Highway 101 loops around the Olympic peninsula and through a series of stunning forest parks and small towns. Take it all the way to Oregon.

Oregon
Like Washington, Oregon is mountainous and forested. And a highlight of any visit to the West Coast. It has a single large city, Portland, which is well worth the trip away from the coast. Portland is a centre for laid-back urbanists, and it has a sophisticated and relaxed culture. Be sure to visit the city centre, the old town and the Pearl District. After exploring Portland, go back to enjoying the Pacific Coast along Highway 101. If you love camping and hiking, then don’t miss Oregon’s enormous national forests. The 101 will take you straight through the Redwoods National Park, where you can see some of the most majestic trees in the world.

West Coast US
It’s good to be a seal in La Jolla, Calif..

California
Northern California has the state’s wine growing regions and the city of San Francisco. The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are just to the north of San Francisco, and the tours and tastings are unmissable for wine lovers. San Francisco is famous for its huge and lively Chinatown, for its food and for its fun, liberal, Bohemian culture. Yosemite National Park is to the west of San Francisco and is worth a visit, if you have time.

Transfer to Highway 1 south of San Francisco so that you won’t miss Big Sur and the rest of the magnificent California coastline on the way down to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, explore Santa Monica and the Hollywood Hills by car. Go on a studio tour, shop the designer boutiques in Beverly Hills or explore the city’s many ethnic neighbourhoods.

Finally, drive the rest of the way down the West Coast to San Diego, on the Mexican border. Visit the famous San Diego Zoo. Enjoy the fantastic Mexican-style food, and don’t forget to spend some time on the beach.

It’s advisable to arrange services such as Avis car rental in the US prior to travelling. Having a car will give you the freedom to choose to stay in a city, in a scenic and out-of-the-way town or in the wilderness. You’ll be able to plan your routes according to the weather, and you’ll have an opportunity to get off the beaten track.

This is a sponsored post containing a link to an advertiser.

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CategoriesUncategorized

Great Ideas for Urban Planning – The Scramble Crosswalk

I’m on the corner of 5th Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe, Ariz. It’s summer. Most of the students from Arizona State University have flocked home, so it’s relatively quiet.

But it’s not so sleepy that’s it’s easy for a car to turn onto Mill. Even with a green light, a steady flow of pedestrians makes it maddening.

This makes me think back to an even busier intersection in Auckland, New Zealand. But planners there figured out a way to get pedestrians and drivers to interact in harmony: Instead of "Walk" signals that correspond to the traffic signals, all vehicle traffic stops for the "Walk" signal. And you can cross on the diagonal to save a step. When the cars stop, it’s a pedestrian free-for-all in any direction. Apparently, this is called a Scramble or Diagonal crossing. See the videos below to watch the dance in action.

And when it’s car time, you don’t have pedestrians horning in. It’s all-clear for the cars.

This is one of many reasons why travel is such a great thing: You see new ideas and interesting solutions to old problems. In retrospect, this is an obvious way to get traffic moving better.

Here’s something funny: Los Angeles once had it (straight from the video) in the 1950s. It pulled the plug a few years later, and has brought a few back. But I’d never heard of it until my visit to Auckland. It’s a great idea, and needs to be in widespread use.

CategoriesUncategorized

Los Angeles is Perfect for Alternative Thanksgiving

Have a mammoth time at La Brea Tar Pits. (Wikimedia Commons)

There’s nothing fun about sitting around with a belly distended and sore from overindulging on turkey, mashed potatoes and the other traditional Thanksgiving food. It’s a ritual that I’ve grown to like less every year. A few years ago, I stumbled on a great "alternative Thanksgiving" idea:

Go to Los Angeles.

My wife wanted to visit her sister, who was attending Cal Arts in the Los Angeles area. We arrived to find the city virtually abandoned. I guess all the transplants who moved to the area seeking fame and fortune fled back to their ancestral homes for turkey and stuffing.

The infamous LA traffic? Virtually non-existent. Long lines? Nope, none of those either.

That makes Thanksgiving weekend the perfect time to explore LA. And you won’t even have to do dishes.

So what’s there to do? Plenty, even beyond the beach and the theme parks. Despite the holiday, you’ll find plenty of open businesses, restaurants and attractions. Here are a few off-beat ideas to get you started: Continue reading