When we returned to Los Angeles for the third week of our month in California we were curious to head inland. The first week of our stay had been based in the trendy and eclectic LA seaside hub of Santa Monica but I longed to get a bit closer to the hills and canyons. Despite not being particularly huge on movies or reality tv I was also slightly curious about the world-famous home of celebrity culture that is Hollywood – I fancied taking a nosey to see what all the fuss was about.
These days, Hollywood has lost a lot of its famed glamour and glitz of the golden film age. The centre is crowded equally with tourists and performing artists after a quick buck. The surrounding streets are fairly drab and uninviting – not a place I would particularly rush to base myself in with a young family for more than a day or so. Most film production these days has moved elsewhere although the famous studios still have bases in LA and put on studio tours for older families. These are reportedly pretty good fun if you’re into your movies but would have been totally lost on me and the girls, the latter of whose combined movie knowledge extends to about ten films.
AirBnB in Los Feliz
Instead of renting a place in Hollywood, we based ourselves within easy reach of the tourist sites but easier reach of some fantastic walking, choosing a lovely AirBnB property in lofty, trendy and green Los Feliz – an easy commute too for my husband to downtown LA and only a ten minute drive or so to Hollywood.
Our property was a compact but beautifully styled 2 bedroomed, 1 reception/kitchen guest house in the grounds of a gorgeous property perched halfway up the hillside on the edge of Griffith Park. From the pool we had far-reaching views across Downtown LA whilst above us and within a manageable walk lay the imposing Griffith Observatory – a Mecca for star-gazing enthusiasts and those in search of one of the very best views across Los Angeles.
Our hosts were unfailingly hospitable and accommodating, going out of their way to make our stay enjoyable. Roo and Beth made the most of playing with the hosts’ lovely children – glad of some little friends of their own after several weeks starved of the company of other kids.They even picked up a few words of Spanish! This was AirBnB working at its best – your own private base with the option to interact and get to know local people who truly know the surrounding area and fantastic hosts happy to do whatever they can to make your stay comfortable. Once the pool has heating (it was a little bracing in autumn but our host said he had plans to install heating in 2016) I’d be back like a shot!
It didn’t take us long to begin our explorations of neighbouring Griffith Park – probably LA’s best known natural space. It’s a large expanse of parkland set up in the canyons that not only includes some great hiking trails but also a lot more familiar attractions. Griffith Park is the home of the Greek Theatre – an impressive venue that hosts open-air concerts up in the hills. There are playgrounds and picnic sites, with the girls favourite play area being Shane’s Inspiration on Crystal Springs Road – the first accessible playground in Los Angeles where both able bodied and the less mobile can play in the same place with plenty of fun to be had by all. Merry-go-rounds, pony rides, bike hire…you name it, you can do it in Griffith Park but if all else fails, hit the hiking trails!
The Griffith Observatory
Our first port of call was the famous Griffith Observatory and it was so impressive we went back again to show hubby later that week. Perched on a hill-top overlooking Los Angeles, the roof of the Griffith Observatory is one of the best places to get a birds-eye view of the city. At night it is particularly impressive, with the neat orderly rows of streets lit up in a never-ending blur or twinkling lights. In the sky above the city it is fun to count the planes. LAX is one of the busiest airports in the world and due to the flight paths, you can pretty much always spot three air-planes in the sky at any one time approaching to land.
A visit inside the Griffith Observatory is equally worthwhile. Downstairs we were taken on a journey through our galaxy whilst in the upstairs galleries space, science and our world are explored in thematic sections. A lot of the content was beyond Roo’s tender 4 years but she loved seeing space rocks and learning about comets, finding out how much she’d weigh on the moon and learning about the seasons and moon cycles through the fantastic interactive displays.
Visit at night and the Griffith Observatory has even more on offer. There are regular screenings in the onsite cinema, tour guides demonstrating some of the more elaborate equipment (the Tesla demonstration is well worth it) and the chance to gaze at distant stars through the giant telescope housed up in one of the observatory’s domes. Admittedly we nearly gave up on the latter – it was after bedtime for Roo and the queue to get inside the dome took us a good twenty minutes plus of waiting. Roo was determined to wait it out though and behaved impeccably as we snaked inside the hushed dome in the company of a very adult audience. Children are not banned but we did get some odd looks from our fellow guests. I was tensed ready to leave at the merest hint of a squeak from fortunately snoozing Beth.
Roo delighted in eventually climbing up the ladder to gaze through the phenomenal telescope at a pair of stars. Her little face crinkled up in puzzlement when we tried to explain that they were so far away that not only were they not visible to the naked eye but that the image she had seen of them was as they would have been long, long ago – even longer than when Great-Nanny and Great-Grandad were born! The Griffith Observatory visit and her trip to see the Endeavour space shuttle at LA’s Science Centre marked the start of Roo’s current obsession with all things space, still going strong four months later. Thanks to LA we seem to have a future Helen Sharman and Tim Peak on our hands!
Hiking in and around Hollywood
It was from the roof of the Griffith Observatory that Roo first really clocked the famous Hollywood sign. Stacked up on the distant hillside of Mt. Lee, Roo wanted to know what the letters said. Of course, the concept of Hollywood and its world-famous sign was completely lost on her but she remained drawn by the giant letters. When I asked her what she wanted to do the next day she replied simply ‘walk up to the big white letters Mummy’. Well, OK then…
The hike up to the Hollywood sign and back took us the best part of four hours (you can see the full walk description, route & maps here), with almost an hour of that perched up the top of Mt. Lee admiring the views and scoffing down our picnic lunch. The hike is hot, hard work with a baby on your back, with little shade on the way but Roo to my amazement marched determinedly onwards, eyes only ever leaving the ever-nearing white letters to scan for rattlesnakes (we had chanced across one in Runyon Canyon a few days earlier).
The ever changing presentation of the letters of the Hollywood sign amused her as each zigzag we made altered their composition, hiding some from view.’Mummy, what does it say now?’ was Roo’s never ending question as we ascended. That and ‘which one is Daddy’s office’ as we paused at each turn-back to admire the ever-increasing views across Los Angeles and down to the Pacific Ocean.
At the top our first view of the Hollywood sign was rather depressing. Fenced off by an imposing chain-link fence it’s hard to get a good view of the letters and the prominently displayed signs warning you of CCTV, hefty fines and criminal records for trespassing beyond makes you feel as though your presence is less than welcome.
Fortunately, one more turn up around the bend and you reach a dusty little summit from which the chain link fence is obscured and you can gaze across uninterrupted views around you, with the white letters of the famous Hollywood sign peeping up below. It was well worth the effort and Roo was thrilled at her achievement. Beth on the other hand was totally underwhelmed. She snoozed the entire way up in her carrier, munched a banana in silent contemplation of the view and then promptly fell asleep again on the way down. Oh well!
Over the coming days we explored other areas of Griffith Park, including a very short and child friendly stroll to Bronson Caves – the film location of the Batcave made famous by the 1960’s TV series of Batman. For Roo and Beth it simply meant the chance to go tearing through the few short tunnels that have been quarried through the rock-face. A wonderful spot for mini-explorers with the option of a playground to retreat to back at the car-park – not that my two were remotely interested after the intrigue of the dark tunnels of the Bronson Caves.
Other hikes that week took us over to Runyon Canyon – supposedly the most popular outdoorsy spot near Hollywood to see and be seen. I donned my most fashionable baggy trousers, ill-fitting top and clunky hiking boots and joined them. It was definitely much busier than any of our other hikes so far and there were plenty of beautiful people in skimpy sports bras, bootylicious bottoms and designer shades marching purposefully up the hillside. Despite the stereotypes, everyone we passed was super-friendly, passing the time of day, chatting and encouraging the children and offering to take our photo whenever I got the camera out. It was refreshing. It was one of our fellow hikers that told us about the rattlesnake on the path ahead. I’m grateful they did – we got a great view from a good distance away. Thank goodness for kind passers-by and camera zoom lenses!
The most popular and accessible walk in Runyon Canyon takes you along wide tracks to a look-out from which you can see across LA and back to the Hollywood sign. It’s a perfect, nearly totally flat pushchair walk. If you’re willing to lose the crowds though the canyon has much more to offer. We spent half a day exploring, with the view from its highest point worth the climb on uneven paths.
Our week certainly proved that there was plenty of star factor to be had well above Hollywood itself. Amazing views, fantastic hiking, wildlife and plenty of cosmic and big-screen related encounters. We did of course give in briefly to the lure of the more traditional side of Hollywood too and made some star encounters of a rather more Hollywoodesque kind. More on that next time…
Read an account of the rest of our adventures in and around Hollywood in “Hollywood & Griffith Park Part 2: …to the Stars Below” , coming next week…
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