In July 2014, I had the holiday of a lifetime, although I can’t wait to go back! I visited Los Angeles and stayed with a friend Trevor in his apartment near Paramount Studios. Although a short 15 minute walk straight to Sunset Blvd, his street was quiet and was quite different to the Hollywood lifestyle and tourist spots just on the main street. I had a great time exploring the majority of the city and wanted to share not only my photo montage of places we visited but also some tips that I learned on my travels.
Trevor said that he saw more of LA that week with me, touring all of the Back to the Future filming locations, than he’d done in 15 years of living there! We visited Chinatown, the Charmed House, Blade Runner locations, MacArthur Park and had a drive around Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Bowl.
I am very grateful to him and his lovely friends for the great welcome, stories and margaritas! As well as my extensive photo montage (with the appropriate film scores) I’ve included three unedited videos of Back to the Future filming locations and the restored Delorean.
- Get your visa waiver (ESTA form) through the official $14 website not a third party one costing $$$
- Ensure your bank doesn’t suspect fraud if you then buy an expensive plane ticket after the ESTA payment!
- Fly direct if you can – this was so much less stressful for my first flight to the USA.
- Fly out to arrive early in the morning. I arrived around noon and got through customs in about 10 minutes rather than the expected 90 mins.
- Fly home overnight to reduce jetlag – I think this worked for me.
- Take a pen in your hand luggage – for that extra customs form you have to complete.
The restored Delorean at Universal Studios:
- Get a good hire car with Sat Nav – this is a must. I had a good medium size car which gave me more confidence driving on the freeway and in LA generally. Pre-pay and collection allows you to beat the queues. It was really quite cheap for the week.
- Learn that you can turn right during a red traffic light – and look for Stop signs!
- If in doubt, follow the car in front. Avoid driving into “suicide lanes” (2 way filter lanes!)
- You can get a ticket if you park against the traffic flow (I didn’t!) and watch for street cleaning days!
- Driving on the freeway is fine if you can avoid the rush and keep your wits about you. Practice with GTA(!)
Walking around the Universal Studios backlot (Hill Valley):
- Pre-book your visits to the studio tours / theme parks – I did and had tickets emailed to me. No stress.
- Invest in the VIP tour for Universal Studios – expensive but you get valet parking, you jump all of the queues and have a luxury breakfast and all you can eat (amazing) lunch. You get to walk around the studio backlot and visit places privately. I arrived around 10.30am and stayed until 6pm, exhausted!
- For Warner Bros and Paramount studio tram tours, these cost about the same as the UK Harry Potter Studio tour and you can do them each in half a day. Parking costs extra normally.
- Watch lots of films and TV shows before you go.
- Back up your photos online (Dropbox) for safety.
Hollywood Methodist Church aka The Enchantment Under The Sea Dance:
- Drink water – lots of it – and avoid sunstroke.
- Try to eat local Mexican food – La Monarca Bakery & Café on Sunset & Gower was great for breakfast croissants with chipotle and a spicy Mexican hot chocolate.
- Experience Tender Greens near Nickelodeon on Sunset for a tasty salad, followed by a movie at the Dome Cinema (Sunset & Vine).
- Try the “English” pubs on Sunset – not quite right but a nice try!
- Eat Sushi and Ramen noodle soups.
- In & Out burgers are worth the queues!
- All prices are pre-tax so don’t be confused at the checkout!
- Visit Santa Monica beach – I missed this due to a lack of time.
- Take your phone charger & UK/US plug adaptor.
- Plan your visit but then be spontaneous and flexible.
Overall, you won’t fail to enjoy it! I hope to go back and head along the West Coast to San Francisco and San Diego perhaps, with my trusty hire car…
Watch this space!
On the steps of the courthouse from Back to the Future / Ghost Whisperer / To Kill a Mockingbird, just before going inside to find the original columns!: