I travel a lot. One might even say, excessively. Part of that motivation to travel comes because Singapore is such a small island that after living there for nearly 20 years, you realize that there’s probably more to your world. The US is different though. The sheer landmass of the country opens up so much variety within their borders that many need not even leave the country to experience sun and snow in the same week. In that spirit, for Spring Break this year, to escape the cold of Chicago, a bunch of my closest friends and I packed our bags, rented a car and explored the famous West Coast.
This adventure starts in Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood and where American culture is thought to originate. Los Angeles itself is a large city though, divided into distinctive neighborhoods, and surrounded by other interesting localities such as Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Our AirBnB was in Hollywood itself, and we could immediately see how much of an effect that had on the community. Hollywood culture was everywhere, with large filming studios, monuments and posters boasting stars and celebrities.
Walk not too far into the main Hollywood district near Hollywood Blvd and you’ll notice the ground is painted with stars. Who are we kidding, these are probably one of the main reasons why you’re even in Hollywood. From musicians to actors to basically anyone famous in the media industry, the Walk of Fame pays homage to the personalities that shaped American popular culture. It’s quite the adventure, hunting for that one actor or personality you have a special affinity to, but that same hunt leads you to explore the Boulevard and the other sights peculiar to the area.
One of these many sights is of course the Chinese Theatre. There’s an Egyptian theatre too, and a bunch of interactive museums, but this was definitely the most memorable for me. Built using distinctive oriental motifs, the Chinese Theatre is grand and boisterous, and very non-Chinese. It’s ironic that American’s heart of popular culture has a focal point that is essentially the appropriation of a whole ‘nother culture. It’s worth the visit though, to see how Americans saw the Chinese culture as ‘exotic’ and ‘alluring’, and in some way this reveals the historical tendency of Hollywood to tell stories of escapism and adventure to the world at any and all costs.
Popular culture irks me sometimes. I love movies and television, but because fiction in many ways shape realities, when done irresponsibly, I fear for the future of our society. What does inspire me though is science. Science, when unrestricted to everyone, encourages to look at the world as it is, and confront realities. You can’t pick and choose what you like, you must deal with the complete laws of the world. The Griffith Observatory is one of Los Angeles’s best examples of opening science up for the masses. Set up on a hill, the observatory is a grand statement to how small we are in comparison to the universe. We were fortunate enough to go on a night where they opened up the telescopes to the public and we managed to catch sight of Jupiter. It was pretty much one of the more beautiful nights.
The next day, we went out of Hollywood and to the actual West Coast. Venice Beach was our first visit, where we spent a few hours exploring the colorful beachfront with attractions such as street performers, a skateboard park and Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym where only the truly built occupy both physical and egotistical space.
The beach itself is large and expansive, and with some thrilling oceanfront attractions including rock crags and surfboarding attempts. The only thing that surprised me was that the waterbody at the beach was literally the Pacific Ocean, meaning that the water would have been incredibly cold. Yet, people were still surfing without bodysuits, but I guess if you do it enough, you could get used to it.
Near Venice Beach is Santa Monica Pier and the neighborhood. One of the richer neighborhoods in LA, this area is populated with boutique shops, famous brands and hipster restaurants. Food trucks line Ocean Avenue and 3rd Street is the place to go for street musicians and promenade style shops. It’s a good place to see why LA people love LA.
We’ve seen popular media, we’ve seen science and we only had art left to encounter. The Getty Center, accessible primarily by a tram that goes uphill, is set on a hilltop over West LA, and is a quiet recluse from the busy city. Funded by J. Paul Getty, this campus is made up of multiple exhibits including art museums, sculpture gardens and open public spaces, It’s a beautiful escape.
Again, one of my favorite parts of this was with the exception of parking, there was no cost associated with visiting this Centre. Art and space was open to everyone who was interested. Be warned though, phone reception here is poor so don’t leave your group.
Now we proceed to my favorite part of my travelogues : food. LA food is known for two distinctive cuisines : Mexican and Asian. Historically, there’s many reasons for this, but we won’t delve too much into that. One of my top choices was Ricky’s Fish Tacos – a taco food truck set near Hollywood that won Food Network’s Best US Taco Award.
They have both fish tacos and shrimp tacos and a combo version, which of course I took advantage of. The seafood is extremely fresh, and evenly battered. Every bite cut into a pleasurable amount of batter before exploding into the soft fish or shrimp meat. You can add your own choice of sauces too, and the hot sauce was my go-to, making the taco even more exciting.
In our pursuit of Asian food, we headed to Koreatown to try what people note as some of the cheapest and best valued Korean BBQ in the US. Honey Pig is famous for its Pork Belly, but their service, adding kimchi, bean sprouts and vegetables to the plate was very much welcomed. They end the meal by frying rice with your leftovers to make a delicious summary to the experience. They also have a Thai Village and Chinatown we never visited, as well as multiple Ramen shops I could only dream of dropping by at, but yes, the Asian food in LA is in the multitudes.
Finally, of course, LA, home of American culture, needs to have some good ol’ American food. Pink’s hot dogs are famous for their themed dogs – hot dogs designed and named after famous Hollywood movies or phenomena.
I got the Lord of the Rings dog, which classically had Onion Rings drizzled in BBQ Sauce placed on my hot dog. Delicious , sure. Eligible to become a regular dish in my life – probably not.
Leaving LA for San Francisco gave us the opportunity to take Highway 1 and witness the overwhelming beauty of the West Coast. This was the famous roadtrip, the story shared by those who dared, of the most beautiful road in the US. There were many sights, some of which will be shared today and some of which will be shared in my next post.
One of the most unique aspects of this trip was the various Spanish themed cities that we went through including Santa Barbara and San Luis OBispo. Beautiful beachfront cities, we tried our best to enjoy every one of them, and truly relish the historical profoundness of how these cities came to be. One of my favorite sites was this Bubblegum alley in San Luis OBispo, where apparently tourists are able to stick their own gum on a gallery of what is thought as ‘bubblegum art’. Disgusting or captivating – that’s up to your interpretation, but sights like this are representative of the curious things I was witness to. Such pleasures are only given to those who go off the boring roads.
In the next post, we look at the actual coastal beauty of the West Coast, San Francisco City and more of the Bay Area.