Weekenders…are ya with me?! Or did you forget about me…
Happy 2019! Welcome back to the blog and…my life. Granted the start of the new year has been off to a busy one for me, with lots of new goals and changes, late nights at the gym, visits with family/friends and of course, work. I wanted to take a few minutes of downtime to catch up with everyone and step back a couple of months (eek!) to share a with you a wonderful trip I had gone on in December.
Have any ideas? (If you follow me on Instagram, you’re not included in his so-called guessing game..)
**drum roll, please**
If you guessed CALIFORNIA, then you win! No, I don’t actually have a prize for you but once you get to the end of this post, you will hopefully have gained some extra knowledge and be ready to take on your own West Coast adventure.
A visit to the Cali has always been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. Growing up in New York and having taken tons of family vacations to spots all along the East Coast, I had often wondered what life was like on the other side of this big old country. I was always intrigued by what I’d seen on TV (reality TV is my guilty pleasure) and knew that at some point I NEEDED to experience California in all its glory.
A couple of months ago, I did just that. Only a 6 hour red-eye, deflated airplane neck pillow and a very rowdy family seated behind me separated me from my newest travel destination.
And in usual Amanda fashion, I am sparing no detail of my experience in the hopes that these tips may come in handy for your own travels! From restaurants and attractions, to some of my favorite highlights…right down to some highly overrated points and eateries (yeah, I said it!)…I’m giving you the play by play. Without further adieu, let’s dive into it..
(I stayed for 4 nights but would totally extend my next trip to a week to catch some other cities/attractions.)
Click on each attraction to be taken to its website!
This little boutique hotel is absolutely perfect (and affordable) for your first trip to the Los Angeles area. The Grafton meshes California glitz with California charm, especially if you’re not going for that uppity Silicone Valley vibe. With a full-service bar/lounge, live music and courtyard pool overlooking LA, it’s a beautiful place to watch the cotton candy sunset and simply relax. Not to mention its proximity to absolutely everything on Sunset Blvd. and surrounding attractions. Restaurants, clubs, coffee shops, you name it! This is the area you want to be in. I was definitely pleased with this choice.
For me, Cali had A LOT to live up to coming from NY. Our food is some of the best (aside from Italy’s), so I was curious to see what the restaurants would bring to the table. Aside from the usual spots the general public will tell you to try, I did some research on popular restaurants that I felt would really gel the whole experience together. And I’m glad I did!
Guys, I’m putting this first simply because I want it out of the way first. In my humblest of opinions, McDonald’s blows In-N-Out away in every aspect. Try if you must, especially if it’s your first time in Cali. I get it because I felt the same way. But don’t expect the hamburger angels to rain down on you while your taste buds dance. I honestly didn’t derive much satisfaction from the burger or fries (they were pretty bland to be honest) but gained more from the experience of waiting on line and scratching my head when I only saw a few basic items on the menu, which I thought was odd. (apparently there’s a secret menu but I was NOT about to be that person. Come on, Cali!). Sure, the burgers looked DELICIOUS enough for a quick Instagram boomerang but on a scale of 1-10, I’m going to give it a 6 at best. Sorry, Californians! Don’t sue me.
Mama freakin’ Mia! Okay, redemption achieved. Now this place was more my speed. Authentic Italian cuisine, outdoor dining and pleasant ambiance. What more could you ask for? Il Pastaio was one of the restaurants I had researched prior to my trip simply because it was one of the first names to pop up over and over again whenever I was looking. Apparently, it’s a breeding ground for all types of celebs (Andrea Bocelli was seen waiting for some fresh parmigiano-reggiano to be grated on his pasta) while the lesser celebrities (like myself) enjoyed a gigantic antipasto board and bolognese. Surf their location on social media and you’ll see what I mean. Reservations are a must at this place but they’re pretty lenient with rearranging if you need to! Get the tiramisu!!
If you like specialty breakfasts (specifically pancakes that are bigger than your face) you MUST come to the Griddle when you’re in the Hollywood area. From the outside, it’s a typical store front cafè that attracts a line of people down Sunset Blvd. every morning. I suggest getting there no later than 8:30AM (especially on a weekend), as you will most likely have to wait outside since they only let a few patrons in at a time. HOWEVER, the wait is worth it! From omelettes to sandwiches to decadent pancake and french toast flavors, there is something that appeals to everyone. Keep in mind that the portions are huge! A short stack equals 3 gigantic pancakes that practically spill over the plate…and an omelette could feed an army! I loved the vibe of this cafè…right down to their campsite-like coffee pot that’s put on each table. Talk a walk, Starbucks… because this coffee was strong! Check out the link above to see some of their dishes..
If you come here strictly for the sunset view, that’d be enough. I’m not saying it was the best food I had eaten on the entire trip but I felt like I had stepped into a tropical resort for the evening and the drinks were delicious! Elephante is a massively open, airy restaurant with an upscale clientele, good music, three bars and a gorgeous terrace view of the Pacific Ocean and palm trees. It is known that most people go there around 4:30-5 in the evening each day not only to catch happy hour…but one of the best sunset views from a restaurant in Santa Monica. Reservations are required, especially on a busy weekend..but if you’re spending an afternoon at the Santa Monica Pier, swing by here afterward! For those who love to document their travels like myself, keep in mind that the back terrace will be swarming with bloggers and influencers alike, aiming for that perfect photo! I didn’t get my perfect picture but hey, I actually took it all in with my own eyes 😉
Ugh. Anyone know who I can write to to get one of these built on Long Island?! At first glance, I noticed this massive yellow rail car on the side of the road and my last thought was that it could’ve been a restaurant (at least not one I’d eat at). It wasn’t until I read the sign ‘Carneys Express Limited, Hamburgers and Hot Dogs’ that I realized this was in fact an eatery and people were swarming in! I thought to myself that this could be no better than In-N-Out, therefore, I wasn’t rushing to try it. It wasn’t until the last night that I found myself sitting in a booth inside the rail car with a cheeseburger, train wreck fries (cheese, grilled onions and thousand island dressing drizzled across a pile of french fries) that I realized how amazing Carneys was. It should truly be the new In-N-Out. Known for their hamburgers, specialty hot dogs and fries, it’s the perfect place to go when you want to eat the classic cheat meal. What did I have for dessert you ask? How about a chocolate-covered frozen banana! If you head to the West Coast, do not come back before trying this place!
There’s lots to see and do when in Cali, specifically if you’re staying in the West Hollywood/Beverly Hills area…you’ll most likely run into some touristy hot spots. To be completely honest, tourist traps are not my thing so I made sure to balance them out with more unique attractions and activities. I visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which I had no idea was the Hollywood Walk of Fame until I noticed a series of large red stars at my feet). For such a prestigious walk, I couldn’t believe how tiny, unassuming and garbage-ridden this trail was! Not what I expected. You’ll walk past the Dolby and Chinese Theatres and the occasional Church of Scientology but aside from a quick photo opt and a Michael Jackson impersonator, there’s nothing spectacular here. I felt like I was in Times Square.
If you love shopping, definitely hit Rodeo Drive. It’s beautifully decorated and a little less, (how do I put this nicely)…tacky.
To gain the full experience, rent a car (convertible preferably ;)) and drive through the residential areas of Beverly Hills and Hollywood to see some gorgeous houses and mansions. Mulholland Drive is exquisite..but beware of those narrow, winding roads!
Here are my personal top favorite attractions and activities that made my trip worthwhile:
I know what you’re all thinking. “This girl just said she hates tourist traps..Disney?!” Yes, Disney. If you don’t know this about me already, I grew up frequenting Disney World with my family, it’s just in my blood. I love everything about it, the attractions, the hotels..you name it, I know it. I couldn’t come all the way to California without visiting the park that started it all, Disneyland! I’ll start off by saying that this is a pricey place as most of you know and it has only gotten increasingly more expensive over the years. They will try and get you to roll into a park-hopper pass where you can gain access to California Adventure as well, but I wasn’t interested in anything additional. On the plus side, you don’t have to worry about not having enough time to get everything done or staying in an onsite hotel, which is an added expense. Disneyland is about a quarter of the size of Walt Disney World and can be managed in one day…if you’re staying at an offsite hotel like I did, you can get to the park within an hour or less if you rent a car. With driving also comes a massive line of cars waiting to get into the multi-level parking garage (as well as a parking fee). As long as you show up before or close to opening time, you’ll be fine. Although this park is a lot smaller than the Florida location, it is packed with charm! I recommend downloading the Disneyland ap prior to your trip. It enables you to fast-pass any rides you want to go on and keeps a folder of all the professional photos that you may have taken at the park…absolutely free!
This was one of my absolute FAVORITES! If you follow any sort of celebrity on social media, you’ve probably seen a picture of them in some trendy work out gear at the top of a large hill overlooking Los Angeles. This my friends, is Runyon Canyon. It’s also where I snapped that glorious cover photo for this post! If you’re someone that likes to mix a little bit of healthy with fun activities on your trips..you have to go for a hike at Runyon. Most people will park on the residential streets just outside of the park’s entrance (I’m not exactly sure how many entrances there are) and make their way through. Keep in mind..this isn’t some baby trail that requires no effort. I quickly realized just how steep and winding it was. *Queue heavy breathing and curse words* Runyon is ELEVATED and can actually be potentially dangerous, as there are no barriers separating you from the trail’s edge which plummets down to god knows where. I did see lots of sand bags though, which I’m assuming were a precautionary measure for the LA rain. This park is dog-friendly..in fact, these dogs could run circles around me! Runyon breaks into little landings and rest stops until you reach the top and are blessed with views overlooking LA and the Hollywood sign.
I have mixed reviews on this tour company particularly but all in all, it was a cool experience. Would I recommend it to you? Probably not. Because I can tell you exactly how to conduct a replica of this tour…for free. When I had seen Starline Tours advertise this, I was intrigued because I was dying to get up close and personal to these celebrity homes. Granted, this was right after the devastating fires so I wasn’t exactly sure if the tour would still be running but to my surprise, it was. The tour office operates and starts on the Santa Monica Pier so it was a great way to see the pier’s attractions before heading over to Malibu which was about 30 minutes away. Make sure to double and triple confirm your reservation if you use Starline because the office mixed my tour time up..thank god I had nothing else planned for the day! A group of about 10 of us filled a small little tour car which was lead by our fearless leader (tour guide)..who did not stop talking, even for a second. For over just shy of two hours, we cruised up Pacific Coast Highway and saw the residences of Leonardo DiCaprio, Barry Manilow, Courtney Cox, Justin Bieber, Mel Brooks, Ozzy Osbourne and more. Although I feel that you could ultimately do this yourself in a rented car, the tour guide gives you great background stories and tidbits that you wouldn’t necessarily know of by just passing through. He pointed out Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite diner and a popular surf club restaurant, Moonshadows, where a drunk Mel Gibson was kicked out of. If you’re looking for a fun afternoon learning about celebrities in their natural habitat, I’d say go for it.
A lot of people forget that LA can have temperamental weather and it’s not ALWAYS warm and sunny. I went in December and it was actually pretty cold! Pack accordingly.
Traffic. Traffic. More traffic. Are you catching my flow? LA makes New York look like a small town. Factor in that a simple 5 minute trip up the road could actually take 35 minutes or more. To this day, my mind is still blown.
Venice Beach=an absolute no from me. I’m sorry to those who liked it here but I do not recommend visiting the Venice Beach boardwalk (especially with children), unless you want to see vagrants and other things I will not make mention of.
Well friends, that’s all she wrote. I hope you enjoyed my trip recap and these tips come in handy if you ever make it out West!