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Category Archives: Travel

Monday: Downtown Trudgery

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Our Los Angeles trip report continues.

  • Monday — We set aside an entire today to do an architectural walking tour of downtown. Lots of research online and through Charles Moore’s wonderful book Los Angeles: The City Observed taught me that there’s an overabundance of great buildings around here, from the public library to Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall. We wanted to see it all, and so we got an early start. Our first stop was the furthest away — the Eastern Columbia Building, tucked away several blocks to the south. I was a bit leery about walking that far on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, but it was totally worth it. This building is a total Art Deco vision in shades of periwinkle and teal. I would have loved to have seen the giant clock all lit up at night. We walked down Broadway towards breakfast, checking out the mixture of fellow walkers along the way. This area used to be a swanky destination; now it’s a mixture of the homeless, Hispanic shops and upscale condos. There’s also a lot of old theaters in various states of disrepair. We arrived at our next site, and breakfast at the famed Clifton’s Cafeteria. This eatery used to be a chain; the Broadway location is the last remaining one. I took a ton of pictures in this kitschy delight, starting with the delightful terrazzo tilework in front. The woodsy-themed dining room was a bit worn down, but totally charming. We got our trays, filled with run of the mill but tasty food, and settled down upstairs (I wonder if they have a lot of stair-related accidents there?). After finishing, we noticed a third floor, closed off to diners. Being the braver one of the two, Christopher decided to venture up there despite the floor being completely dark. We found a great little museum of Clifton’s memorabilia. An employee found us looking around. Instead of getting angry and kicking us out, he offered to turn the lights on for us! At least it gave us an opportunity to see things better. Bellies filled, we continued walking Northward towards the Little Tokyo district. There were a few independent bookstores I wanted to check out, but it was still early and they were closed. In Little Tokyo, there was a Japanese bookstore called Kunokuniya that looked intriguing. Luckily once we got there they were open for business. What a place! Shelves of manga, books on every kind of Japanese subject imaginable, and tons of beyond cute stationery, craft supplies and (my favorite) toys. We spent 80 bucks there. From here we walked towards City Hall and took more photos. This was the tallest building in L.A. when it was erected in 1928, and even today it impresses. Strangely, it never occurred to us that you could tour the building until a gentleman seeing us staring brought it up with Christopher. We got our passes and took a succession of elevators all the way to the top, where open balconies allow you to see the city vistas from all four sides. It was wonderful, and we had that whole top floor to ourselves! The building contains a lot of neat Deco-era details everywhere, making it the highlight of the day. Out of City Hall, we were getting ready to head back to the hotel when we suddenly remembered two other L.A. landmarks that still needed seeing — the Bradbury Building and Angels Flight. The Bradbury isn’t much to look at from the outside, but the interior central court is justifiably famous for its beauty. I’ve dug this building ever since seeing it in Blade Runner, and experiencing it for real was a genuine pleasure (as seen in the photo above). Angels Flight came next. Unfortunately, this famous hillside trolley is closed indefinitely — but that didn’t stop us from snapping a few pics of the bright red boxcar. By this time, it was mid-afternoon and our feet were getting tired. We went back to the hotel for a rest and change of clothes. Not for long however, since our next stop was Disney Concert Hall. This place was gorgeous, especially with a second floor garden winding around the back. I loved how the interior was such a complete design, right down to the custom font used on the lobby’s donor wall. We took the hour long audio tour, which was apparently popular since there were lots of other tourists wandering around the place carrying those unique audio wands that day. I took several shots of Gehry’s famous undulating walls on that perfectly sunny afternoon. Our final stop that day was the Los Angeles Public Library, thankfully located close to the Westin. This is another gorgeous Art Deco structure, although by this time we were too tired to fully appreciate it. The library happened to be hosting a show of drawings and sketches by the architect Richard Neutra, so we spent a good 45 minutes or so looking at that. Anyone in the area should check that out. Feet and backs aching, we trudged back to our hotel — tired but happy that we had such an eventful day.

Sunday: Hollywood!

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Can you believe how long this day was? More of Matt & Christopher’s fabulous Los Angeles trip report:

  • Sunday — Our Hollywood day! I was looking forward to the idea of taking the Metro from downtown to Hollywood, but we had a few stops that required driving our car. Before heading out, we had a serviceable breakfast in the Bonaventure’s food court. Over bacon and eggs, I snapped a bunch of photos of those glass towers and tile floors. I liked the Bonaventure signage, too – Helvetica in lozenge shapes, color coded by area. Very 1979. Obviously, I must have looked somewhat bonkers to other guests when snapping shots of the restroom sign off the food court. Whatever. The nice, uncongested drive out to Hollywood turned a bit harried when we couldn’t figure out the area parking meters. A call to the hotel concierge helpfully smoothed things out, however, and we were off walking down Hollywood boulevard in no time. I wanted to take photos of Joyce Compton’s star in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, so we made that our first destination. Even though it was only about 10 a.m., the hurlyburly of tourists and vendors was already under way. Much of the boulevard is as trashy as ever, but there are also a lot of cool Deco-era buildings everywhere. I took pics of those, and the Egyptian and Graumans Chinese theaters, noticing the ever present people dressed up as superheroes in front of the latter (notice Spiderman in the photo above). The street also had some kind of slick new mall-type development that was swarming with tourists, which I couldn’t understand — who travels across the country to shop at a mall? Now, shopping at a cool movie-centric bookstore like Larry Edmunds I can understand. That was our next stop, but unfortunately we got there too early and the place hadn’t yet opened (their website had the wrong hours posted). So we headed back in the car and drove around the tiny yet upscale neighborhoods in the Hollywood Hills. Lots of neat little Spanish-style homes settled on twisty little roads reside here. Getting near the top of one drive, I was surprised to find John Lautner’s Garcia House — an amazing ’60s home that was memorably demolished in one of the Lethal Weapon movies. I actually snuck up on the driveway and took a picture of the home’s breathtaking view. We also saw High Tower Drive, one of those quintessential L.A. spots featured in the movies The Long Goodbye and Dead Again. I so want to live in that Streamline Moderne beauty on the right side. We drove to the Hollywood Bowl, took pics of the awesome sculptures out front, then parked and waited for the Hollywood Heritage Museum to open. This gem is a restored barn that was originally used as Cecil B. DeMille’s offices in his earliest years of filmmaking. The museum is a small affair with lots of fascinating mementos relating to DeMille, Paramount Pictures, Rudolph Valentino, and assorted restaurants and nightclubs that no longer exist. Christopher and I spent about 90 minutes there, a good chunk of which was spent talking to the volunteer manning the place — a guy who works for a local prop house designing period-specific paper ephemera for film and TV productions (man, I would love to have his job). The fact that this place was empty at the same time the boulevard was swarming with mall-craving mouth breathers says a lot. If you’re considering a trip to Hollywood, go to this museum. Ahem. We drove back to central Hollywood and spent about an hour exploring the funky Larry Edmunds bookstore, buying a small stack of books and film stills. Time was approaching for a late lunch. Originally we planned to dine at the legendary (and old) Musso & Frank Grill, but being closed Sundays forced us to pick something else. I spied a cute little hot dog joint nearby, so we went there instead. Skooby’s was an excellent choice, a place whose menu included fresh-cut fries and Mexican Coke in bottles. We ordered to go and had a relaxing meal in nearby Selma Park, just off the street of the same name where we parked. At this point, I want to mention that Selma Avenue also adjoins Crossroads of the World, which is possibly the cutest place on earth. Meal finished, we got in the car and headed back downtown. Back at the hotel, we explored the rotating restaurant and bar on top of the building, gawking at the gorgeous cityscape at night. Then we bought some smoothies for dinner, and settled into the hotel room and watched The Simpsons. We knew we’d have a busy day Monday, so we got to sleep nice and early.

Saturday: L.A. Is My Bitch

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We’re back from our trip to Los Angeles. We did a lot in five days. In the end, both of us agreed it was the best trip ever. I will have some photos to share later on, but first a travelogue of what we did. I was going to write up all of our trip in one blog post, but there was simply too much! For now, I will regale you with what we did the first day.

  • Saturday — An early morning. Left at 5 a.m. and got to Long Beach at about 10:30. We had a lunch scheduled later on with our friend Dan (who lives there; lucky him), so after finding a parking spot we walked around the piers and the commercialized areas around the aquarium. It’s funny how, after all these years, the ocean is so exotic to me. Since Christopher was in a seafood mood, we settled at the King’s location downtown for a long lunch of good conversation with Dan. This was an excellent, relaxing way to start off our trip! We said our goodbyes to Dan and headed off through the treacherous freeways towards downtown L.A. (actually, the traffic was surprisingly okay for L.A. the whole time we were there). After a bit of confusion with the one way streets, we finally located the fabboo Westin Bonaventure Hotel where we were booked for two nights. I always loved this hotel, going back to when it was the setting for the waitressing sitcom It’s a Living. Architecturally, the place is forever stuck in a retro-futuristic ’70s, which is totally cool with me. It’s also laid out in a crazy way, with elevators going only to certain floors and restaurants and shops perched confusingly on rounded balconies above the expansive lobby. I dug it! Luckily, our wedge-shaped room was furnished with tasteful late ’00s decor. Later that night, we met with Christopher’s old friend Shirley for dinner. Shirley once worked as Edith Head’s assistant and now has an office at FIDM (where the current Project Runway season was filmed). She had tons of entertaining stories about everyone from Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn to Joan Crawford. It was such a trip driving around in her car and having her point out every important building in the area! She took us to a trendy Beverly Hills eatery called Orso. This place had the neatest outdoor patio with giant trees and subtle lighting in an environment that vaguely reminded me of the restaurant inside Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. As we sat down, I noticed a beautiful woman sitting at the table next to us that looked exactly like actress Wendy Malick of Just Shoot Me fame. I tried hard not to stare (luckily she was in the same sightline as Christopher), but this lady did speak with actressy hand gestures to the gentleman dining with her, so I’m gonna say it was her (and damn, she looked great). Although it was after 11 p.m. when we finished our meal, we weren’t exhausted at all. Shirley drove us around, showing us Bullock’s Wilshire, Paramount Pictures and all the fancy homes in that area. All in all, a night that could only be described as magical.

Dog-Gone (Temporarily)

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For the next week, Scrubbles.net will be on vacation in Los Angeles. While we won’t be able to visit a locale as exquisite as the dog-shaped café above, we have a full itinerary and will be taking tons of photos to share later. See you then!

Image from California Crazy by Jim Heimann and Rip Georges.

Rest Stops, R.I.P.

Via his Twitter feed, Tim Halbur alerted me to a cool but depressing article on that now endangered piece of roadside Americana, the rest stop. I love the uniqueness of rest stops from state to state, the wild architecture (check out the photos with the article), the local historical lore. Visiting them is one of the little pleasures of traveling by auto. What a crying shame that they’re are being replaced with pee stops at McDonalds!

True story: when I was a young tyke, my family took annual drives through Nebraska to visit the grandparents. One particular summer at our first rest stop, I came across a brochure showing modern sculptures installed at several rest stops along the state’s main highway. For the rest of the trip, my patient parents made a point to visit every stop with a sculpture we could — just to indulge their art-crazy kid. It was a memorable trip. Nebraska’s 500 Mile Sculpture Garden came about during the Bicentennial; a documentary on the project can be viewed here.

Grand Canyon Diorama

Just back from our long weekend to the “undisclosed location” — Grand Canyon. Although we’re both Arizona natives, it had been a while since we’ve visited our own landmark. My last visit was in 1995, and Christopher hadn’t been there since he was a child — so our trip was long overdue. This was my fourth time in the canyon, but I never get tired of it. The sheer size of the area never fails to catch me off guard. It’s breathtaking, and kind of scary (I could see where people could slip and fall off the edge).

For this particular trip, we entered the park via the Grand Canyon Village containing the historic El Tovar Lodge and Hopi House (designed by Mary Colter in 1905). These were both nifty, and luckily they haven’t been modernized much. Actually, the developed portion of the rim is blessedly free of distracting modern touches. We explored the visitors center and watched with a tour group as the sun set over the horizon. The air was a bit hazy from controlled burns on the afternoon we were there, but the canyon was still gorgeous. We booked a package with the Grand Canyon Railway, which allowed us to pig out on free buffet food and browse through a bunch of tacky souvenir shops in the town of Williams. I only bought one thing: a night light with a Native American-style image of a bear, for my parents. On the way back home, we detoured to a local attraction where one can feed a herd of deer (see the last pic with C. getting mobbed). The photos below are just a few highlights from the trip:

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona

Williams, Arizona