“Why did I come to America?” that’s all I can think of as I gradually edge my way to the front of the four hour line at LAX Customs. “Why on earth did I do this to myself?”
Let’s face it, US Customs don’t have the best reputation, and that is entirely warranted.
The Customs officer spent a good ten minutes examining my passport, finding the visa to Russia particularly suspicious. I don’t think the beard I’d grown since the passport photo was taken was particularly helpful.
This man could not be less subtle in his Americanness; the American flag in his booth and the pistol on his hip make it abundantly clear that I am now well and truly on American soil.
“Bussiness or pleasure?” The curious customs officer asks me with an accusatory glance. Well, I’m actually here to go travelling with my girlfriend who has been working in the States for three months.
He lets out a deep sigh and slumps in his chair, I’ve never seen a man so bored by a single sentence. He seems to be waiting for the day that his rigorous questioning will force some would be criminal or terrorist to confess all and make him a hero.
After some further rather rigorous questioning of my intentions for my stay in the US, eventually he let me through. Another half hour waiting for my bags to come through and I am finally in LA…what a disappointment.
On the drive to the hotel, I felt very much like one of the kids from 90210. I may have been in a slightly dodgy looking unlicenced taxi rather than a Ferrari or a chauffeur driven Merc, but I had my shades on and I could vaguely make out the Hollywood sign through the smog.
This enthusiasm didn’t last long.
We’d never been to LA before and had no idea where to stay. Naively, we assumed that the Downtown area would be perfectly positioned for all the tourist spots and easily accessible via public transport – BIG MISTAKE!
Downtown LA is not tourist friendly. During the day it’s the haunt of LA businessmen, and at night it’s pretty much deserted, apart from the occasional homeless person or drug addict.
We stayed at the Figueroa Hotel which was nice – the rooms were simple but comfortable and the pool was welcoming after a nine hour flight. However, the hotel was certainly more catered towards businessmen than travelling students.
The hotel was perfectly situated for the Staples Centre, but not much else. TripAdvisor reviews raved about this proximity, which we, not having a clue what the Staples Centre was, assumed to be a good thing. As it turns out, it’s just a giant conventions centre with a basketball ball court attached – not really a cultural hotspot.
LA is not a city for walking, and has appalling public transport. Coming from London, this felt totally unnatural. Boris bikes have made there way to Gambia, you’d think LA could manage something half decent.
Rather than Downtown being perfectly situated, it was roughly two hours away from any significant tourist attractions.
What to do
The only real tourist attraction in walking distance of the hotel was the Original Pantry Cafe, an LA institution which claims never to have closed since it’s opening in 1924.
For $11.95 you can gorge yourself on two eggs, two pancakes, two sausages the size of frisbees and a plate of fried potato.
This is all we could find on our first day. We walked for hours trying to find something of interest in Downtown, but that breakfast was as good as it got.
In fact, ambling around Downtown is actually quite ill advised. After several hours of fruitless searching, we inadvertently found ourselves walking the wrong way down Skid Row, home to around 6,000 of LA’s homeless population. Needless to say, two middle class British students searching for tourist hotspots were not overly appreciated.
On the second day, we tried to get to Venice Beach. It took us three hours, two busses and a changeover in an area of LA we recognised from Grand Theft Auto.
Venice Beach is an odd place, it’s kind of like Camden on sea. The only difference is the weather, the weightlifting Arnie wannabes, and the numerous medical marijuana stores that dot the boardwalk.
It’s only when you get to Los Angeles when you realise, there really isn’t anything to do there.
It’s a city built around the movie industry and all the city’s “attractions” feel incredibly artificial and soulless.There’s the Hollywood sign, Walk of Fame and the Scientology centre, but what are you actually supposed to do with them? You could see everything there is to see in LA in an afternoon, if it didn’t take several hours to get from one attraction to the next.
After three days in LA, we couldn’t be happier to be leaving.
Just around the corner from the Hollywood Scientology celebrity centre, we boarded an eight hour bus to get to San Francisco.
I’m sure LA can be a great city to visit if you can afford to stay in Santa Monica and can rent a car, but if you’re travelling on a budget, I would say it’s best avoided.