A Los Angeles Layover: The Easy 12-Hour City Guide of La La Land

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Hollywood 1I come to La La Land every year for a while now; I still remember the first time I visited Los Angeles, I was a teenager and we explored Disney World, the Six Flags Magic Mountains, and the Universal Studio. Now, the only place that I visit is actually… LAX – Los Angeles International Airport. Los Angeles is the transportation hub of California, and I usually just stay in the airport for the next flight to the other places that I was visiting. In fact, the airport has been under renovation for the last decade and I witnessed that airport is getting better and better. It is no secret that mass public transportation in Los Angeles is harsh, the city has a bus system and now we have Uber; However, getting around the city using the metro takes time, shuttle services usually stuck with traffic jams, and given the city is in such an enormous scale, it is not easy to just leave the airport and take a quick spin in the city (I did in some other cities like Doha).

I thought that it was such a pity as I was never really able to spend some quality time in La La Land. So, one time, I decided to hop on a bus, and then the metro and headed to Los Angeles downtown for a quick spin during a layover. It is impossible to experience all the city has to offer – yet I had a taste of what the city is like; hopefully, I will come back for more someday.

The Los Angeles Essentials

Los Angele, the City of Angels, or the La La Land… however you call it, this is an iconic city sprawling on a basin in South California by the Pacific Ocean, with a population of nearly 13 million people, and an urban area of over 12000 square kilometers. It is the second-most populous city in the US and it has a substantial influence on every aspect of people’s lives. First of all, this is the epicenter of the entertainment industry, with six major film studios in Hollywood; It has diverse ethnic and cultural groups, a vibrant market of luxurious estates, pristine beaches under Mediterranean climate, eleven top-level professional sports teams, and an exciting number of museums and galleries.

Tom Bradley Airport, Los Angeles, USA
Travel back in time again – arriving Tom Bradley on a Friday Night at 9 pm.

If we break it down one by one, one will probably take days to see and do them all. Just imagine how many places you need to cover after watching La La Land.

For first-timers, check out the landmarks that are known to the world! The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Angels Flight, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Griffith Observatory, Getty Villa, Stahl House, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, L.A. Live, Theme Building, Bradbury Building, U.S. Bank Tower, Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood Bowl, Watts Towers, and Olvera Street.

Fancy going to the beaches? Head to Venice Beach and Long Beach, or Walk alongside Venice Canal Historic District and Broadwalk and the beachside promenade up to Santa Monica Pier during sunset.

If you are an art buff, design your own art tour. Explore the Broad Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (check out the urban light!), Getty Center, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Huntington Library, the Natural History Museum, the Battleship USS Iowa, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Want to do something active? Drop by the oceanfront skate park at Venice, rent a bike, or take a hike all the way up to the Hollywood sign. Want to see something active? Catch a baseball at the Dodge Stadium, watch NBA, or catch a show in a theatre.

If you are a family traveler, there is a lot of fun in the city! I am sure the children will have a great time visiting one of the theme parks from Disneyland, Universal Studios, Six Flag Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm, Pacific Park, Legoland California, and more!

I guess what I am saying is, the list goes on and on and it is just a reminder of how much I didn’t get to see for a 12-hour trip in the city’s downtown. Having said that, I cover a few of the city’s landmarks for a short period of time.

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Everybody comes to… Hollywood

Since 12-hour is only enough for an area or two (and remember, I don’t have a car!), I went to Hollywood and Downtown – maybe it was because deep down, I was hoping to run into some Hollywood A-listed celebrities as I walk along the Boulevard… Of course, it didn’t happen. What I did was taking a bunch of pictures and saw a lot of excited tourists walking along the streets. Now that I think of it, it is possible to get around the city taking Uber if I have a better plan. I could have got to different spots scattering in the city – if you do, try to give your day trip a theme: gallery hopping, Instagram spots, or ethnic enclaves. Anyway, there were enough interesting places to see in Hollywood and Downtown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeing the world’s capital of movies and entertainment, the word “Hollywood” represents glamor and sparkle. The neighborhood was depicted as a luxurious dreamland where fabulous and trendy movie stars or TV personalities just “hang out” and “live” and wave hello at each other…

Sadly, in reality, it was very unlikely that a down-to-earth (or even below-the-earth) “ant citizens” (like me) run into a Hollywood A-listers such as Tom Brady … or Jennifer Lawrence, just so happens that they are picking bananas at a grocery store, or sipping double espresso at a road-side Café, reading the people. No Way. Yet, I could still strut my way down the sunny and wide Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard just like an average person, and enjoy the few famous attractions that the area had in store.

Hollywood is a celebration of “crazy” people’s dreams and fantasies of creating out-of-the-box movies, TV Shows, and so much more live performances. After all, all the creativeness happens in the studios, where it is not exactly located on both sides of the Hollywood Boulevard, the streets are a tourist and shopping districts that had (in my taste became too commercial and “forced”. In the end, the neighborhood attracted millions of tourists each year, and I was one of them.

Hollywood is a huge neighborhood, and I supposed the most robust and bustle area should be within the Hollywood Boulevard between the two subway stations “Hollywood/Highland” and “Hollywood/Vine.”

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Three Things to See in Hollywood

Dolby Theatre


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The theater (formerly called the Kodak Theatre) is right outside the Hollywood/Highland” subway stations, and it is where the touring office is. I reckon it is a good starting point to explore the Hollywood area.

The Dolby Theatre has been the (with the capital “T”) venue for the Oscar Academy Award ceremony since 2002. Inside the theater, the name of the best pictures is listed on every pillar of the structure. Although there are a bunch of best “movies” that I don’t agree with (Among with a big bunch of others – some movies just won without any logical understanding…), in the end, it’s simply the “best” that matters. Because only the best would be the name that stays in the hall of fame forever, not the nominees!

At the corner of the crossroad, there was a time capsule on the ground that says “This is where it all begins” – marking the location of the first eight stars that installed in the Hollywood Walk of Fame since 1958.

Walk of Fame


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Technically the Walk of Fame is merely a line of five-pointed terrazzo on the sidewalk on the boulevard, yet it represents a tremendous honor to be able to be listed with their accomplishment and achievements in the entertainment industry. Now the entire Walk of Fame has over 2,600 stars that take up more than 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard – which means even you have got your name on the road; you could be drowning and overwhelmed by some stars, and it could be confusing for fans to locate your name! Currently, there are 20-25 stars added each year.

I’d say the walk on the Walk of Fame would be much more interesting and meaningful if visitors could do some preparations and research beforehand, or actually, join an excellent local tour that guides visitors through the road, providing funny stories and history of the environment. Because I felt (and obvious) that the area filled with stories and Hollywood – even fun facts or trivia, like, “who is the only artist on earth to receive a star on the Walk of Fame with all FIVE categories?” / “Which family has the biggest collection of stars?”

Weirdly, there are a bunch of fictional characters on the road – too!

  • There are 16 cartoon characters featured, including Winnie the Pooh, Shrek, the Muppets, Snoopy, Snow White, Bugs Bunny, Kermit the Frog, and do you know what are the rest?
  • What has most stars on Holywood Walk of Fame? Gene Autry is the only person to be awarded stars in the five fields recognized on the Walk of Fame: film, TV, radio, live performance, and music.
  • Who was the first star on the Walk of Fame? Actress, Joanne Woodward
  • Who is the youngest Hollywood Star? Patty McCormack, 15 years old.

Some super A-listers do not have a Star (mostly because they turned down their nomination), and the most shocking celebrities include Leonardo DiCaprio, Bratt Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Geroge Clooney, and Julia Roberts.

Taylor Swift does not yet have a Star on the Walk of Fame, but Ariana Grande does.

Hollywood Sign


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The Hollywood could be seen everywhere as it stood on the almost 500-meter high peak of the Hollywood Hills (in Santa Monica), and each character is actually 14 meters tall. It is a world-recognized landmark, and I think it is as iconic as the Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge, or Statue of Liberty. It is interesting though as much of a landmark it is, unlike the others it does not very “welcome” large groups of visitors come close to the signs based on the reasons of quietness to the residents and traffic safety.

Driving and Hiking to the sign is possible. (But the best view of the sign is always from afar) 🙂

Landmarks in Los Angeles Downtown

On the way back to LAX I had a quick stop at the Civic Center / Grand Park Metro Station, and it’s the downtown area of Los Angeles. The city hall was in view once I stepped out of the exit in the Grand Park and it’s the finest example of American city architecture.

Then I walked my way to the Union Station and Little Tokyo. The Union Station is a time capsule of which the retro interior has been featured in more than 30 big-budget movies like Pearl Harbor.

Buddhist temples, Asian restaurants, galleries, and museums, were found in “J-town,” little Tokyo. There were some great Japanese comic and animation stores, and I heard that the California roll was invented right here in Little Tokyo! Across the road, the Japanese American National Museum featured a Hello Kitty art exhibition with lots of Hello Kitty limited edition products.

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Walt Disney Concert Hall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the other end of Grand Avenue (111 South Grand Avenue) was the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a modern architectural wonder that stood in front of the skyscrapers in the Downtown area. It’s a famous concert hall made with stainless steel and home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The building was initiated by Lilian Disney, presented as a gift of live performance venue to the locals, and tribute to Walt Disney for his dedication to art in the city.

The Concert Hall opened in 2003, designed by Frank Gehry (whose pattern and shapes are quite obvious, this is a fine example of his signature works), and it was the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center. What’s better than buying a ticket and truly admire the interior of the hall during a concert or orchestra? The hall has a capacity of 2,265 people and it’s now a performance of concerts and shows in many genres. If you visit the hall during the day, take a guided tour, or download the surreal walk self-guided audio tour and explore the ground at your own pace. The self-guided tour was recorded by artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, it is a step-by-step guided tour that explains the art and concept of this magnificent architecture.

  • The concert hall was an initial gift of US$50 million from Lilian Disney to the city in 1987, making it the largest single gift in U.S. History for a cultural building.
  • The building was completed in 2003, with the final cost at US$274 million, in which US$110 million was used for the parking garage.
  • The concept of the building is to capture the motion of Los Angeles and representing musical movements. A total of 6,500 stainless steel panels were used, and none of them are the same shape or size.
  • The stage of the hall was made from Alaskan yellow cedar and this material provides resonance. The calibration with Yasuhisa Toyota and many acoustic studies creates a space called “acoustical clarity“.
  • The rooftop of the concert hall is one of the quietest, most secluded gardens in the city – with 45 trees planted on the roof, including Orchid trees and pink trumpet trees.
  • The rose-shaped fountain in the center of the garden is another major artpiece, designed by the architect, and honoring Lillian Disney, the wife of Walt Disney.

The hall is also featured in many different TV shows, movies, and even video games. Like Collateral (2004), Fracture (2007), Iron Man (2008), Get Smart (2008), The Soloist (2009), Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012), Furious 7 (2015), an episode in 24, Top Chef, a pitstop in the Amazing Race, and video game Midnight Club: Los Angeles, just to name a few.

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