What better place to head off to for a bit of December R & R than sunny L.A.? Many Californians even string colored Christmas lights on their palm trees, so the sunny 75-degree days won’t stop you from catching a bit of the holiday mood. A lot of people I know are afraid to drive around Los Angeles and go to San Diego instead? Are you insane people? Yes, you are. Like the blue haired old lady in tony San Diego cut across three lanes of traffic and sideswiped my son the first time he drove through that cursed town. At least in L.A., the drivers are skillful.
The first spot to hit after landing at LAX and renting your convertible Mustang is the Farmer’s Market at Fairfax and 3rd Street for a bite of breakfast. The Market’s famous clock tower marks the meeting place for generations of the town’s shakers and movie makers who meet for a meal and make million dollar deals. The outside walkways between various small shops selling good eats to eat right there or gourmet meats and fresh fruit to take to your hotel room for later. Inviting a hooker from Sunset Boulevard to your room is illegal. I repeat, illegal.
Next head to the Griffith Park Observatory with its perfect view of the HOLLYWOOD sign on nearby Mt. Lee. Although the destination of hordes of horrid schoolchildren on elementary school field trips, the spot is still the epitome of Hollywood. Rent the film Rebel Without a Cause before you fly out and you’ll already be familiar with both the inside and outside of the observatory as you watch Natalie Wood, James Dean and Sal Mineo acting out the famous film’s dramatic climax that was filmed on the observatory grounds back in 1955.
No trip to La-La Land would be complete without a trip down the pink marble stars of Hollywood and Vine Streets’ Hollywood Walk of Fame. The star of your day should entail a long stop at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard to try on the cement footsteps of Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart and just about anyone else you have ever seen on an old movie rerun. Try some on for size and down the street watch for any ceremony awarding some D-list moron with enough money to snag one of the pink stars along the sidewalk. The whole cache of these sidewalk stars has been diminished when they started letting people like Wink Martindale and Howie Mandel.
Even if it is not Halloween season, I still love to visit a good graveyard. The lush lawns, serene statuary and thought-provoking tombstone inscriptions of Hollywood Forever Memorial Park at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard is the final resting place of such notable personalities as Jayne Mansfield, gangster Bugsy Siegel and punk rocker Dee Dee Ramone. After years of free admission, the more recent owners now charge to enter the place and why not? It is worth every penny and even the dead have to eat? I mean pay the water bill for those gorgeous green lawns. Second best place to see not only beautiful grounds but famous past citizens is the Hollywood Hills location of Forest Lawn, which overlooks the studios of Universal and Warner Brothers. The historic cemetery is home to Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, and sadly not only Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, but also their son Ricky. My paternal grandmother is buried here I think.
Head to Westwood Memorial’s small cemetery to pose in front of the iconic marker where Marilyn Monroe is. Joe DiMaggio was still having roses delivered to the metal vase on her plaque when I was in my 20’s, but now only fans leave flowers there now. You can visit other stars who died tragically, like Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, Dominique Dunne and Dorothy Stratten.
If you crave a bite of lunch after hanging out with all those dead people, I suggest Cole’s in downtown L.A. at 118 E. 6th Street — rumored to be the 1908 birthplace of the French Dip Sandwich when a patron who just had some dental work done asked the cook to dip the bread into the au jus of the roast beef pan. Then again, Philippe’s Original at 1001 North Alameda in L.A. claims they created the first French Dip in 1908 too! Their legend goes that a cook preparing a roast beef sandwich on a French roll for a local cop dropped the bread roll into the au jus pan, and the cop told the cook to give him the wet bread on his sandwich anyway. A food star was born! And just like in Hollywood and Washington, D.C., who knows where the truth ends and the lies begin. Try both restaurants and make up your own mind.
Feel like Mexican food instead? Then visit the oldest street in Los Angeles. Olvera Street has been closed to automobile traffic since 1929 to allow pedestrians a leisurely stroll through the large Mexican mercado where vendors demonstrate their glassmaking skills, sell hand-tooled leather goods and make some tasty tacos and other treats. You’ll think you’ve been shanghaied and dropped off in Tijuana. At least you don’t need a passport to get home. (Friendly reminder- you damn well better not leave the country without a valid passport ever again after January of 2007 or good luck getting back over the border. Olvera Street with its cheap ceramic bulls and tiny colorful glass animals was always my favorite field trip growing up in the ‘60s.
No visit to California would be complete without a drive up PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). That crappy map the rental car company gives you will show it as Highway 1. Drive past Malibu and the hidden homes of everyone you’ve ever seen on the silver screen. You can pay a lot of cash and eat at one of the overpriced restaurants there or better yet, stop at the Ralph’s grocery store and buy the makings of a picnic lunch on the beach. You might even spot some celebrities at the grocery store picking up tampons or tuna. Walk down the dusty shoreline past those same celebrities’ mega-mansions because no matter how much money they have, the State of California keeps the beaches public for all of to use, so there David Geffen. Too bad for you when the state finally enforced your agreement to keep the public walkway open when they allowed you to build your uber-mansion and you tried blocking the people’s access. Shame on you.
Hey, who knows, maybe you’ll pass the home of some hot shot director barbecuing on his glass enclosed patio, who when he sees you pass his house, your perfect profile against the backing of a perfect West Coast sunset and he will call out to you because you have just the right look for the epic film he is desperately casting for just the right unknown to star in. CUT!
Yeah right, dream on…..then again, if you really believe that might happen to you, maybe you do belong in la-la land.