Not Your Ordinary LA Travel Guide

by Julie Carroll

Not your typical tourist guide. Discover there's more soul to LA than shallow Hollywood types...

If you're thinking of going to LA, but want to see more than just your typical tourist haunts like Universal Studios, Disneyland and the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, our regular travel writer Julie Carroll shares her itinerary for a trip through LA that's a little left of centre.  


West Coast sunshine or Sydney winter? Forget the flu shot, a couple weeks in California is good for what ails ya. Just one of the reasons I came up with to justify my latest jaunt to LA LA land. I need no excuse to book that flight, no excuse, California is really putting a crimp in my renovation plans. I do confess that for me, Los Angeles is usually a bi-product of going somewhere else, tacking on a couple days at the end of a trip. It took years of flying through LAX to go past the transit lounge, it just didn’t appeal that much. A work trip forced my hand and once I started exploring the city of Angels I discovered there’s much more to it than shallow Hollywood types often depicted by, well, Hollywood.

California Time

You’ve heard of Island time? California time is the same thing - must be all the palm trees. The folks are surprisingly friendly, in no real rush and that laidback vibe lends it a different feel than East coast destinations like New York or Boston. When you holiday here it’s ok to shift down a gear, walk a little slower, take a siesta. There aren’t a lot of cities that have you feeling chill when you leave. Just give yourself plenty of time to make the airport amid that legendary LA traffic so you don’t lose your cool.

Admittedly I was pretty relaxed when I arrived in Downtown Los Angeles this June. Catching a ride with Tesloop from Palm Springs took all of 2 hours and cost only $59US. If you can avoid flying within the States you’ll save on time, money and stress. The electric car ride service is my favourite new discovery, using them to rd trip from Vegas to Palm Springs earlier that week saved me approx $350AU in airfare and baggage fees.

Esloop Park
Credit: Tesloop ride up from Palm Springs., Banksy mural outside Downtown ACE.

The newly revived Downtown area is a slice of NYC in LA. I wander past a Bansky mural and gothic skyscrapers on my way over to the Ace Hotel on South Broadway and most importantly it’s rooftop pool. The rooms are a mix of Cali colour and urban concrete that perfectly reflect the inner city landscape. Sipping a cocktail as the sun sets on this skyline is heaven.  

Ace Hotel
Credit: The Front of ACE Hotel
Screen Shot 2018 08 01 At 2 16 50 Pm Screen Shot 2018 08 01 At 2 16 39 Pm
Credit: Image curtesy of Ace Hotel Instagram., ACE Hotel on South Broadway

The next morning I hit up The Last bookstore (California’s largest new & used book/record store) for some holiday reads. The name says it all, if you’re a book nerd like me and love hunting for literary treasures then this place is a must. There’s also great clothes shopping and food options amongst the art deco buildings, Urban Outfitters is set in a beautifully restored Rialto theatre.

HOT TIP: For a cheaper option the Freehand Hotel Downtown is a cool twist on hostel accomodation. Bed, locker and rooftop pool/bar will only set you back $79US a night - it books up fast. 

Credit: Freehand Hotel
Under the Silver Lake

Time for a change of scenery, LA is a town where it’s fun to try out a few areas, West Hollywood and Santa Monica would be on my list of glitzier suggestions. Ride share services have made it easy to get about, I Uber over to hipster haven Los Feliz for $13US.

HOT TIP: There is now an option to tip your American Uber driver. You can do this via the app, however, locals tell me your rating may slip if you don’t tip them cash. I’m a generous tipper but vetoed this option and relied on my Aussie charm to get me by. Still a solid 4.86.  

Nestled amongst the cactus and colour of this charming neighbourhood (Los Fey-LEASE) is the family run Los Feliz lodge, a little gem I love as an alternative to pricey hotels. The cosy Casitas have their own kitchens but there isn’t a pool so be prepared in case of heatwave. I took air conditioned refuge at the nearby Vista vintage cinema. There’s something special about catching the latest blockbuster in this 1920s stunner, maybe it’s seeing the Hollywood Hills off in the distance while you’re buying tickets.

Feliz Felz1
Credit: Cactus and colour line the streets of Los Feliz., Los Feliz Lodge - Red Casita.

Across the street on the infamous Sunset Blvd is the ever cool Rudy’s Barbershop. Kristen Stewart’s best friend CJ Romero (Instagram CJscissorhands) cuts hair at Rudy’s when he’s not styling his celeb pal. CJ’s enjoying his lunch at an outside table as I stroll home and he’s obviously wondering if I’m trying to snap a shot of him or the building. Busted! Later that night he’ll get papped by the pros while dining at Scout in Silver Lake with KStew and Stella Maxwell - fixtures on the Los Feliz scene.

Credit: Rudy's Barber shop
Credit: Image curtesy of Instagram User: CJ Romero

Silver Lake is the equally cool and lo-fi adjacent neighbourhood. Known as coffee central you’ll be spoilt for choice when it’s time to take a break. Intelligentsia at Sunset junction is for the serious caffeine snob but I find Casbah a little less earnest. Jet-lag cured, time to scour the eclectic mix of boutiques scattered along the Blvd. Entering grungy Surplus Value Centre, a no-frills Mecca for everything military, I spot Penn Badgely from Gossip Girl. Actually he spots me first and I’m pretty sure he’s admiring my high tops. Busted! 

S1 S2
Credit: One of the many Coffee options in Silver Lake., The white washed Sunset Pacific Motel art installation on Sunset. On the walk down to Silver Lake from Los Feliz.
Credit: Sunset Junction sign, Intelligentsia coffee is right next door.

Heading back to Los Feliz Village I pass no less than two film crews. Kristen Wiig filmed her episode of Comedians in Cars getting Coffee at House of Pies, an old fashioned diner famous for it’s pastries (I can’t visit without ordering a slice of Cherry Pie & coffee - so Twin Peaks!). The Jolie-Pitt clan reside in the Los Feliz hills alongside Katy Perry and that pesky convent. So if you think that hipster sipping their latte looks familiar, chances are… 

Credit: Angelina Jolie At Gleesons Supermarket
Going Green

In January cannabis became legal in California. It's safe to say locals have embraced the change in legislation, that distinct aroma was ever present. If you’re thinking of partaking be aware there are rules to follow. You will see and smell people openly smoking in public but that’s actually not allowed so do your research before pulling out a bong at dinner. 

Flying with your marijuana cigarettes is a big no no, as is entering National Parks (Govt Land) with them. Hiking while high has become a popular pastime but go easy - Edibles (snacks containing THC) are much stronger and unpredictable than plants. To visit a dispensary you’ll need to be 21+, have photo ID and take cash, most don’t take credit cards because banks won’t deal with them. If a simple bottle of beer is more to your taste have that ID ready too, you’ll get carded at most bars. If you’re as old as me you’ll find this is it’s own kind of high.

I like to balance my days of shopping and nights of Margaritas (Ye Rustic Inn and Tiki Ti Bar should be on your list for nightspots) with a little nature - not the wacky backy kind - but a good old fashioned hike. There are some great trails around the Los Feliz area including Griffith Park (The Observatory, featured in Charlie’s Angels 2, for a view of the Hollywood sign) and Runyon Canyon. Eco friendly ‘Bikes and Hikes LA’ offer a variety of group tours around LA if you prefer a guide.

Glitz, Grunge, sweet Ganga - Tinsel Town caters to all travel tastes. Plan it right and you’ll be able to sample them all.


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