El Lay and My Other Happiest Place on Earth

The Urban Lights outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts.
The Urban Lights outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts.

I really do love Los Angeles. There have been magical memories made there and I still hope I can work and make a living in what I will now refer to as El Lay (LA) in the future. After my three months of living there and having a taste of my dream job as an entertainment reporter in 2010, I’ve considered The City of Angels my second home. I lived in a sublet—a sorority house—near USC, because in another life, I was a Trojan. However, I spent a lot of my free time in Westwood, the neighborhood where UCLA is located. I knew the big streets like I knew the alphabet: Hollywood, Sunset, Santa Monica, Beverly, Wilshire. I will never forget the evenings spent at CBS Studios and The Grove (Covering So You Think You Can Dance every week) and LA Live. And I always had a soft spot for the Metro system, even though commuting was an EPIC drag and was always stinky and sometimes shady.

I can tell you everything else I don’t like about LA and why, but that would take too much effort. I can tell you that it’s like the days that I don’t like fog—I don’t like the Bay Area fog sometimes, and I don’t like crowded MUNI buses, but that familiarity and those little cliches are part of what gives San Francisco its charm to me. That’s how I feel about the car culture and materialism and all about LA. Plus, there is still more than plenty to love about it.

I knew there was still plenty more to discover in LA after I left, but I also knew I would want to go back and revisit some of my favorite places, including a little bit further south to return to Disneyland after more than four years. So when I found out in November that a low-cost express bus service called Megabus would be offering promotional fares to coincide with its California launch, I rounded up my two best friends for a weekend to explore the other side of the West Coast.

Californians who frequently want/need to go back and forth from SF to LA and vice versa, I do highly recommend the Megabus. $1-3 promotional fares sounded too good to be true, but even now at it’s typical price of $9 per way, it’s actually quite the bargain. The seats are comfortable, the atmosphere isn’t terrible, you get about eight hours to doze off, listen to your music, or watch movies on your personal tech device of choice (There are electrical outlets so you can charge ’em), and the bus driver gives you a 30-minute break in a designated “travel center” in the middle-of-nowhere to let you pee, have a smoke, and grab a meal or coffee. The downsides: Be prepared to use your smartphone to use the Internet because their Wi-Fi is shit. A nice stretch of I-5 is full of stinky cows, so do what I do and block your nasal passages. And do what you can to avoid the lavatory because ugh. But the next time I go to LA, I will likely use the Megabus again. I will take eight hours and ~$20 roundtrip over going through TSA and shelling out $100+ roundtrip for an hour-long plane ride. Unless I become famous, which may or may not happen.

We arrived at Union Station on a late Thursday evening and took the Metro to our downtown hotel, where our room’s toilet had a seat warmer and a bidet. One thing that genuinely surprised me was finding out how early things close in the Little Tokyo area—at least it felt early to me, but thinking back on it now, the business hours were standard. It was a blessing in disguise though, to scour and see how adorable the neighborhood is. We also discovered that Yogurtland is one of the good places still open until midnight, and Daikokuya is crowded as hell every minute till closing time in the early morning (We never got to try it out for that reason). Eventually, we found Ebisu Japanese Tavern was still decent and open for our late dinner: ramen and strawberry sochu.

A shot of Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.
A shot of Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.

Day 2 was seeing as much of the city as we could because really, it would be our only full day of seeing Los Angeles itself. We started by eating breakfast at Cafe Take Five and exploring Little Tokyo in the daytime. Once again and frustratingly so, everything was closed. We did discover the existence of the Little Tokyo Galleria, which housed even more cute shops, restaurants, and a karaoke bar.

I then introduced my ladies to some of my favorite places in the downtown area (Not before passing by about 14 bong shops in a row): Angels Flight, the shortest (and a damn steep) railway in the world, which led to Angels Knoll, best known for being the setting in the most critical scenes in the ultimate hipster movie 500 Days of Summer. The architectural wonder known as Walt Disney Concert Hall (We saw a bride and groom taking their wedding photos here!). Cobb’s dreamworld in Inception, which consisted of the Music Center and the John Ferraro Building. Downtown Los Angeles is really just perfect if you’re a nerd for architecture. No wonder filmmakers love to make movies there!

The view from Angels Knoll, most well-known for being the backdrop in scenes from '500 Days of Summer.'
The view from Angels Knoll, most well-known for being the backdrop in scenes from ‘500 Days of Summer.’
I spy a wedding dress at the Walt Disney Concert Hall!
I spy a wedding dress at the Walt Disney Concert Hall!

We then headed to the tourist trap known as Hollywood and Highland: home of the Oscars, Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and a line of cheap-looking Disney characters, superheroes, and celebrity impersonators who will do anything for a quick buck. We ate lunch at California Pizza Kitchen, looked out to the Hollywood sign, discovered the ultimate candy store (And I mean ULTIMATE—like, when you think the term “kid in a candy store,” it would be the candy store you’d want you or your kid to be in. Actually, it might be a nightmare for you if it was your kid) called Sweet!, and took pictures at the Dolby Theater, Chinese Theatre, and our favorite (Or not-so-favorite) stars on the Walk of Fame.

After we missed the bus several times, we made it to the Los Angeles County of Museum of Art (LACMA). Aside from the world-famous Urban Lights on display outside, we viewed many exhibits from all art periods, from different parts of the world, and of a variety of mediums. This place is a must-visit if you’re in the city, whether or not you’re a fan of art, because you’ll have a new appreciation for it. It was a bummer that you had to pay extra to get into the Stanley Kubrick special exhibition. We also found out as we were planning our trip that one of my favorite directors Christopher Nolan would be there for a special event following a screening of his first film Following, but tickets were sold out and the standby line was too long—plus, we wanted time to spend at our next venue so alas, we had to skip it. To think I could’ve been in the same place as Mr. Nolan at the same time though…makes me regret all the times I missed him in 2010!

A Lady Named Zoa says 'Boo!' By Edward Kienholz on display at LACMA.
A Lady Named Zoa says ‘Boo!’ By Edward Kienholz on display at LACMA.

We capped off our jam-packed day in LA  by heading to The Rooftop at The Standard Downtown LA. HOLY UPSCALE TRENDY BATMAN! It’s as cutting-edge, hip, and fabulous as it is in photos! The view of the city skyline is breathtaking. There are waterbed pods you can lay in all night. WATERBEDS, PEOPLE!!  The pool is pretty and awesome (Though no one in our late-night crowd swam in it). A movie was playing on a projection screen on a building right across from us, and a biergarten and pool and ping-pong tables were nearby. Oh, and the drinks? Potent. If you’re a fan of nightlife, you absolutely need to come here. Whoever conceived and constructed this place is a genius.

Look at the view from The Rooftop, not at me double-fisting.
Look at the view from The Rooftop, not at me double-fisting.

After waking up late and taking the second-longest public transit journey of my life, we arrived at Disneyland in the early afternoon. All throughout the day, we were enlightened by two of the biggest no-duh lessons: 1) Don’t spend the previous night drinking because you can’t go to Disneyland late in the day and 2) Multi-day passes are must-haves! It was a mad bummer to not take pictures with characters (No shame, it’s still cool to me!), miss out on my favorite rides Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, and Star Tours due to the ungodly wait times, and miss out on Fantasmic! and some of the fireworks so we could pack in as much rides as we could.

But when you still have a productive day at The Happiest Place on Earth, you can’t really complain. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Matterhorn were my big thrills and they were the most jolly of times. I remember enjoying the submarine ride as a kid, and I’m glad I got to go to the remodeled and rebranded version of it with the Finding Nemo theme. We discovered Innoventions, a multi-level spinning platform of high-tech and science-themed exhibits, including a model of an ultra-modern “dream home.” I beat my friends in Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. Best of all, we caught the last of Disneyland’s holiday magic for the season! It’s a Small World was upgraded 100x with the inclusion of holiday songs, more cultures represented, and actual Disney character integration. I have to say, however, that I am more appreciative of the original Haunted Mansion than I am of the seasonal The Nightmare Before Christmas transformation.

After the day I wore Minnie ears without judgment, I left El Lay on a Sunday morning, loving the short Little Tokyo stroll to the Metro and the authentic busybody vibe of Union Station for one last time before I braved the eight hours back to San Francisco. I thought about how I treasured bonding with my best girlfriends, revisiting Mickey Mouse’s kingdom and my favorite sights, and discovering the treasures in LACMA and The Rooftop. And I thought about how eager I am to do it all again and much more real, real soon.

Our professional snapshot by Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, but I took a picture of it with my crappy cell phone camera, hence the quality. :)
Our professional snapshot by Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, but I took a picture of it with my crappy cell phone camera, hence the quality.

(PHOTO CREDITS: My Flickr [Angels Knoll, A Lady Named Zoa], my Instagram [Little Tokyo], Nicole’s Facebook [The Standard], my camera [Urban Lights, Walt Disney Concert Hall], my crappy cell phone camera [Disneyland])

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