Category Archives: Los Angeles

Road Tripping up the PCH

Nick & Bee Say: One of the best things about California is the sheer variety of landscapes on offer. From sandy beaches, to mountains, forests, and deserts, it truly has it all. One of the most scenic ways to explore it is driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, a trip we’ve been lucky enough to do on several occasions, including during our epic 6 month backpacking trip that launched this site.

Now we can do it on the weekend, and take the time to see some of the places we drove through before. Case in point, wine country! We took ourselves to Paso Robles, looking a lot like Tuscany, for some wine tasting, then drove past to visit the magnificent elephant seals, who call California home too.

Bookending this trip is a quick look at what else we’ve been up to – mini golf at a castle, and hiking with the Los Liones trail with ex-Angeleno Katie, who had had looked after us on previous visits to LA.

Oh, and we return to the UK next month for a bit! See you all soon!

Venturing In Ventura

Nick & Bee Say: Hello everyone! Hope 2016 is treating you well. We certainly seem to be racing through it already… Over here in California the El Nino storms briefly came in with a period of rain and cold weather, but the temperature is now soaring again and shorts and t-shirts are the order of the day.

This meant we decided to take a road-trip up the coast. Ventura is a city about 2 hours lazy driving on the way to Santa Barbara. We didn’t know anything about it really, so it turned out to be a amazing discovery for us, and a place we’ll be sure to check out in future. But don’t just take our written word for it, see for yourself below.

We’ve also had our second visitor while here, Nick’s brother Phil! He came over for a few weeks, and we used his trip here to basically eat everything. Our trim Latin America days are long behind us. We’ve also become quite the avid basketball fans since moving, almost as much for the halftime entertainment as much as for the game itself. Behold the madness…

Christmas in California!

Nick & Bee Say: Merry Christmas everybody! While no doubt many of you reading this will have been wearing warm winter clothes for weeks, and preparing for some snow, us in So Cal have been a little…hotter. We’re used to that though, seeing as we spent Christmas 2013 in Cartagena, Colombia. So we’ve still managed to get into the holiday vibe, and this year have incorporated a very special film into the festivities (spoiler it’s Star Wars!)

Here’s the latest in our Los Angeles YouTube escapades, a little Christmas bonus for you. We have a few blogs to come in the new year about weekend escapes from L.A. but in the meantime have a brilliant Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Twentysomething Burnouts are now on YOUTUBE!

 

**Announcement!**

Bee & Nick Say: Whilst we will still be keeping the blog trucking, we’re branching out into YouTube to capture some of the crazy whirlwind life adventure we are on. We are totally new to this (hence the Blair Witch camera shakes and questionable editing!) but will do our best to share some of our shiny new lives through the power of video. Feel free to send any questions, queries or requests for things you’d like us to film! Here are our first forays – Our Last Week in London / First Week in Los Angeles.

Living in California

Nick Says: Hello! Sorry for the slight pause there on the blog – turns out getting married (woohoo!) and then moving your entire life to the other side of the world is fairly time consuming. But we have lots to talk about, so let’s get started…

While we may have travelled for months at a time over the years, neither me or Bee have ever lived permanently in another country. About the closest I’ve come was 6 months in Australia, where I rented a room in Melbourne for 2 of them. But setting a up a home somewhere else? Brand new territory. So how can I sum it up so far? Exhilarating, terrifying, overwhelming, incredible. The superlatives are endless. And the cliche true by the way, visiting somewhere and living there are very different things.

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At some point, we will do a ‘how to’ guide for those who move to the USA – we’ve had to work out lots of things that would have been handy to know, from getting a social security number, to leasing a car, and finding an apartment. But for now, let’s give you highlights of what we’ve been up to in since moving here.

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Moving to Los Angeles so soon after our wedding meant we had to put our Honeymoon plans on ice for a bit (yes, I realise California isn’t a terrible alternative…). But we still wanted to decompress and celebrate our new marriage a bit, so we took our first weekend here to drive 2 hours south down to Laguna Beach. It was truly magical, and the perfect introduction to our new life as Californians. A beachside resort down in the O.C. Laguna Beach feels very much like an outsiders view of California distilled. It’s got the beautiful beaches, the beautiful sunkissed people (some with more work than others), the laid-back arty vibe, with the local gallery showcasing paintings of a giant grasshopper riding a motorbike down the Pacific Coast Highway, and some of the most dramatic sunsets I’ve seen in a long time, and as anyone who travels knows, you see a lot of sunsets. So take my word for it, these are very special.

We decided to treat ourselves and stayed at the Casa Laguna Inn & Spa, which was set a little bit out of the main town. During summer months though, a free trolley bus operates up and down the PCH, with a stop just outside the hotel, which meant we could ride to where all the bars and restaurants were located incredibly easily. The trolley itself looks like something from the beginning of the automobile age, made of wood and with no windows. Enjoy that sea breeze!

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As well as sunning ourselves on golden beaches, eating incredible food such as crab stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon washed down with jalapeño margaritas from fancy Mexican restaurant Carmelita’s, or having dessert generously paid for by a couple who sat next to us at another fancy restaurant (as a welcome to the USA gift!), we also stopped for lunch at a super cute diner just down the road, which required us to possibly illegally trespass over a fence into what seemed to be a school, in order to reach it by foot. They do not make things easy for pedestrians over here.

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When not stuffing our faces (USA! USA!) we found time to enjoy the hotel. From our little balcony at the back of our room, we had a view of the Pacific Ocean. Mornings would find us sat here at the little table and chairs provided with a cup of coffee each just admiring the view and not quite believing any of this was real. Despite being on the highway, the hotel felt amazingly secluded and peaceful. Done up in Spanish colonial revival style, they brilliantly told us the historic part of the house was from the 1920s (our flat in London was from the early 19th Century I believe). Getting fully into the relaxed zen vibe, Bee had booked us onto a ‘togetherness’ massage – which meant we were massaged while lying next to each other. I think it was meant to be extremely romantic, but we were far too English to fully relax ha! Much better was the bit after where they turned on the hot tub, which is outside and also overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and gave us a bottle of champagne. So we downed the bubbles, and watched the sunset from our own private jacuzzi. One week in and we’d changed.

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Of course, it hasn’t all been swigging champers in hot tubs and enjoying the beach. We’ve also been exploring L.A. Which due to the fact it was about 40 degrees when we got here, actually did mean enjoying the beach. Making the most of our rental car, we spent the next weekend up in Malibu, an easy 45 minute drive north up the Pacific Coast Highway, with spectacular views of the ocean to keep you occupied while sat in the occasional traffic jam. While Zuma beach is probably my favourite, a wide expanse of golden sand which you can walk along for miles, and never feels crowded despite its popularity, a little treasure trove of a beach is definitely Paradise Cove. To avoid the $40 parking fee (yep…) I would recommend parking up the hill on the PCH itself, which is free. Then it’s a quick 5 minute walk down a hill to the beach itself. It’s set up like a mini resort, with a restaurant serving food, and a shop selling beer for you to drink while sunbathing. The sun loungers and chairs were all free to use (I double checked with one of the many helpful and friendly staff) which was a unexpected bonus, and it was pretty easy to while away an afternoon here. No sunset view to be had, but one of my fave beaches so far.

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But there’s fun to be had at nighttime too in L.A. Which is lucky, as at the moment it gets dark about 5pm so that’s a lot of hours to fill. One of our favourite discoveries so far is First Friday’s in Venice. Venice itself is infamous as the weirder side of L.A. Head down here if you want to see Muscle Beach, t-shirt hawkers, and a Sikh man in full turban rollerskating along the bike path playing an electric guitar with a mini amp strapped to his back. Basically, it’s the Camden Town of Los Angeles – but by the sea and sunny. Anyway, every first Friday of the month around 20 of the best food trucks in the city all gather together for a big event. It used to be 70, but then it got a little bit out of control, loads of people got drunk and caused mayhem, and they scaled it back down. Still, it’s pretty epic and has a fun festival feel. It also introduced us to the best food we’ve had since arriving here, Howlin’ Rays Nashville style hot chicken. Words will never describe the taste sensation it was. Also a fan of this food truck was a pretty famous face. Bee noticed a man in the queue looking pretty intently at us, having clocked our British accents. Then Bee whispered to me, “is that Chris Martin?’ You know what Bee, it was. Then seemingly to make sure we really knew it was him, the Coldplay frontman started singing and dancing in front of us. I genuinely am not making this up. We snapped a paparazzi shot of him, but as it’s got one of his kids in the background I won’t put it up. We then saw on Twitter that he’d gone into a local shop and offered everyone free chicken. Incredible scenes.

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It’s not all been eating (mainly it has). While we were staying in Miracle Mile for the first month (a pretty central area which seemed to be 25 minutes away from everywhere else in the city) I took myself off to the La Brea Tar Pits for the afternoon. If you ever visit then I definitely recommend a trip here – the park is free, but the museum is worth your $12 for sure. They have millions of fossils on display, perfectly preserved skeletons of mammoths, sabre tooth cats, and other giant creatures, plus real tar (asphalt actually) which bubbles up from the ground all over the park, so watch where you step. It’s a fascinating look into the natural history of a place we associate with modernity, entertainment, and urban sprawl.

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Bee Says: Thank you for bearing with us on our life hiatus! As Nick said, we might have ever so slightly underestimated that leaving one job/house/city, getting married and moving around the world to a new job/house/city/life/culture basically feels like stepping onto the waltzers. It feels like we are only just starting to know our heads from our toes again! And now that we have, we are really excited to share our little corner of the world with you again. There’s more to talk about than we can possibly expect you to read in one sitting without an intravenous of coffee, so I’ll pick a few highlights and then I promise we’ll be back soon(er) with new news. As Nick mentioned when we first moved here we were living in an Air BnB in Miracle Mile for a month. Whilst the location was great (and when I say great you can read “walking distance from an Umami Burger) we quickly learnt that living in an Air Bnb is far from ideal on a long term basis. The apartment was sweet, but absolutely fit to bursting with someone elses stuff! Which meant we couldn’t unpack, I was having to try and dress appropriately for a new job every day without the ability to even properly unpack my suitcase and generally we felt like intruders in someone elses home. It has made a HUGE difference to get our own place.

Whilst I was at work Nick had the daunting task of house hunting; pretty overwhelming when we were shiny new off the plane and unaware of good areas, good deals or what was what. We were under the time pressure of having to find somewhere before our Air BnB ran out and to reduce my commute. Everywhere we viewed was not quite right; the most not right being a flat that looked lovely online only to turn out to be somebody’s GARAGE they had converted?! As the realtor said “you need to pass through the family home to get in and out, but they are ever so nice” we started to get a little bit of the fear that we’d never find somewhere. Lady luck shone on us though, and one day Nick saw an advert on “hot pads” with no photos, no text and just a phone number. Luckily he persevered and rang the mystery number, making an appointment to view. We turned up to a beautiful block decorated in batenburg shades (in typical me style I decided I wanted to live there based on how cute that would look on Instagram) and found an open door to an apartment with no one inside. After a quick scout around, we couldn’t believe it when we realised the place was a two bedroom apartment yet on the market for a one bed price. A Guatemalan lady called Paulina soon found us lurking inside an we basically leapt on her and signed up there and them, forcing a deposit on her as more and more couples arrived to look round. Being the first over the stoop gave us first refusal and the rest is history! Amazingly (and unlike in the UK) in the week between signing and moving in, Paulina worked her socks off to get us new flooring, an A/C unit and a professional clean. We also both have a walk-in wardobe! Living the Cher from Clueless dream.

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Having a proper home has instantly got us feeling more settled. Another key to the LA puzzle is the fact it’s in an area we are completely besotted with. Culver City is actually its own independent city in the county of Los Angeles. It’s the original “Hollywood” where the film studios were first set up – such as MGM in the 1920s. Its motto is “The Heart Of Screenland” & The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, King Kong and ET were all filmed here. It’s so the “real Hollywood” that in 1937 the Culver City Chamber of Commerce petitioned to have the city name changed to Hollywood (as the sign had become so iconic) but it was declined. As a result, studios such as MGM started placing “Made in Culver City” front & centre of the credits before all their films!

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The area is safe, pedestrianised (RARE for LA!) and super buzzy. To get a sense of it… The Wonder Years filmed its outdoor scenes on our street! The area is super well maintained; fairy lights twinkle from the palm trees and there is a real community atmosphere. We are walking distance from my work, a Trader Joes, an In-n-Out burger, a coffee shop that makes a mean Mexican Mocha, gift shops, banks, about 40 restaurants, an Arclight cinema and a Cold Stone Creamery (lethal). We also have a diner, S & W Country Diner, that is everything you’d wish from a local hangout. Kitsch decor, booths, a menu as long as your arm and insanely friendly staff who remember you and your preferences! We go every weekend and it’s basically our new second home.

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What with all this eating, we are also fortunate enough to live next to Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. This is a great hike that takes you up some gruelling vertical steps (where we regularly see the USC Trojans training!) to take in a 360 view of LA from the top. We tend to head up there at 6.30am to catch the sun rising, and I could honestly sit there for hours just watching the planes take off and land over at LAX… the sea lapping in the distance and the Gotham-like towers in Downtown. It’s always a wrench to head back down and into the day.

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An unexpected event is that we have both become big Clippers fans. Obviously there is an endless choice of sports to get into in America but basketball zoomed into our hearts the quickest. When we first moved here, Nick’s old housemate and our good friend Laura was spending her last month as an Angeleno before moving to NYC. This was perfectly timed for us to team up on a ton of our firsts/her lasts together. One of these was an introduction to the Clippers. From the moment we arrived at the Staples Centre, I knew I was about to become addicted. Firstly, basketball is easy to follow. There are no crazy rulebooks to digest and it’s obvious when someone is winning. Secondly, it’s so much more about the experience than the sport! We saw fireworks, we saw babies racing across the court to win their parents a jeep (!) we saw the National Anthem being sung, we saw “kiss cam” where the big screen display people who must then kiss on demand (I think they try to go for the people they have sussed are couples…) we saw randoms from the audience come up to try and score a slam dunk, we saw celebs lazing on the front row… the list is kind of endless. There is way more faffing about with entertainment than actual spot. That said, the sport is really nail biting. We witnessed the Clippers win 67-66 by scoring with 0.03 seconds to go… the crowd went CRAZY! It’s super good fun and the key – it’s cheap. You can get nose-bleeder seats (where the best atmosphere is I reckon!) for as little as $8 (about a fiver!) and we can ride the metro there and back, which costs about £2 return. No wonder we are averaging a game a fortnight! Those Clippers work hard too, they play about 5 games a week and are even playing on Christmas Day.

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Another great experience was heading to the Día de Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We had wanted to visit the cemetery for a while; it’s iconic for being the final resting place for more Hollywood founders and stars than anywhere else including Johnny Ramone and Toto the dog from Wizard of Oz. It’s a surprisingly tranquil and beautifully maintained place; it isn’t tacky at all which is what I was fearful of. There are various cultural events and celebrations throughout the year, but Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one close to Nick and I’s heart after we celebrated it with locals on Isla Del Sol in Bolivia. Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular the Central and South regions, but also acknowledged through various other parts of South America and the world. The holiday is used to gather family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help “support their spiritual journey.”

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Ever since I learnt about the holiday I’ve been completely in awe of it. To me, it seems such an incredibly healthy and necessary way to talk about and deal with mortality. It’s actually how even the British used to deal with death (we learnt this at Highgate Cemetery tour) by creating mausoleums and huge shrines that were visited and decorated in a not dis-similar manner. However after World War 1, for obvious reasons, this changed dramatically to the more private, sheltered and intimate attitude to death we experience now. Having a day dedicated to talking about and remembering those we have lost is such a beautiful thing; and my favourite part is that this is a real celebration. There is amazing food, dancing, music and costumes. Everywhere has their own approaches (in Bolivia they fly kites) but the positivity is infectious. At Hollywood Forever we listened to an amazing Mariachi band playing The Smiths covers, we brushed off our Spanish to chat to some of the wonderful artists and people crafting, and we felt incredibly privileged to join in this special moment of the year, in such an amazing location.

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So that’s a little glimpse of Los Angeles life. We’ve been packing it in right? Don’t worry, we still have time to nest on our new sofa and binge watch Master of None and Jessica Jones. I’ll leave you with a classic Bee and Nick quote. Driving back into LA from a weekend away we were driving through a nice looking neighbourhood. Nick: “These are such lovely houses. What area is this? Why don’t we live here?” Bee *checks Google Maps* “This is Beverly Hills.”

 

We Are Moving To LA!!!

Bee Says: Crikey, ok. Where to start? I guess the beginning would be a good place and trust me the beginning is really really recently. Before we went travelling I worked for a great visual effects company setting up their social media and digital marketing. This job took me out to their West Coast office (I blogged at the time about it here & here) which was a hoot. I loved the studio in Los Angeles when I visited; really soaking up the family-mentality and collaborative, supportive approach to work. I also appreciated the quality of life that the employees there seemed to strike a pretty perfect balance at; sure they worked super hard… but there was a big importance attached to going surfing, or to leave on time & go on an adventure whether that be to the desert, the mountains, the beach or the “wild west”. However time ticked by and I left that job to take the opportunity to travel South & Central America; and this blog was born! The end of our trip saw us back in… LA! And as you probably remember; we rather left our hearts there.

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We’ve had a few conversations since we got back from travelling about the future. Another epic backpack excursion doesn’t seem financially viable as it took us 3 years to save for the first one! We’ve also both enjoyed elements about getting our teeth back into our careers (although less about being back in pesky pricey London!) and so we have multiple times talked about wishing we could relocate to another city… another country… namely LA. However; it seemed like that ship had sailed. That moment had passed. That door had closed. Or so we thought.

I was approached by a colleague that I grew close in my previous role. And it just turned out they had an opening for a Head of PR & Marketing in their West Coast office, based in Los Angeles. And they wanted me. *insert general life imploding and ALL the feelings*

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I’ll skip over the business bits; but safe to say there were processes and long phone calls and interviews-but-not-interviews and negotiations and discussions. Overlaid on this were the soul searching, deep-digging conversations Nick and I had to have… and pretty quickly as all this has occurred in the space of weeks rather than months.

So yeah. We are moving to LA! We will head off rather promptly after our wedding in September; making the move a sort of perma-honeymoon. Obviously there are cons as with any life decision (I will miss my friends and family desperately, I’ll be sad to leave a position at Penguin that I’ve worked blooming hard at and colleagues I admire, we are going to be oh so far far away etc) but ultimately this opportunity feels like to us like we have won the lottery. What a way to start married life? With a whole NEW adventure. There is something so intoxicating and alluring about moving to California. The lifestyle, the trips we can take, the sunsets, the fact we will do our “grocery shopping” in TRADER JOES. I could talk about my thoughts and brain whitterings endlessly (and am sure I will – obviously we’ll be documenting this process in the usual method of blogging away) but they tend to revolve around “will I need black tights in LA”, “shit, I need to relearn to drive stat” “am I going to lose my northern accent?” “what the heck is a sloppy joe?” and “will we make new friends ok?”

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It is such a huge relief to have this out in the open. We actually haven’t told anyone bar family up until this point so please don’t be offended if you’ve seen us recently and we didn’t spill all (even when drunk – how impressive?!) We just didn’t want to tell anyone until we had our interview with the U.S consulate and our visas accepted. Because honestly until then it was all still pie in the sky – and I knew it wasn’t a done deal until we had that stamp. We wanted to just know for sure before doing well.. this! Getting excited! The whole process has been mind-blowing in that we’ve been working with an attorney (ooh la la) and I really extra appreciate that her last name was Cohen (fans of The O.C hands up). But here we are, and we are official, and it looks like California here we come…

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Nick Says: LA!!!!!!! That’s about all really. It really was too much of a great opportunity to say no to. It was the right time, in the right place. So while I’ll be sad to leave behind the UK (again), I cannot wait to go and explore a new part of the world. So expect a North American focus from TwentySomethingBurnouts over the next few years, as we see what the USA, Canada, Mexico and all the others have to offer. I’m already planning road trips, train trips, and back country adventures. I reckon we’ll be perfectly positioned in California to make the most of our time there. And for those who find themselves on the West Coast, look us up and we’ll go grab some fish tacos.

I loved my time in LA, way more than I expected to, and can’t wait to go back there, but this time to see it as our new home. It’s going to be a challenge for sure, but we’re lucky enough to know a few people who have lived abroad (and some in LA too) and will be asking them for all the advice we can. So see you all in LA! But before we go, we have the small matter of our wedding to sort out…

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Hollywood? Jolly good.

Nick Says: Latin America was behind us. Now it was time for the last three weeks of our grand adventure, and also time for a complete change of scene. We would be saying goodbye to the rough and tumble of Central America, and hello to the slick bright lights of the USA. It would also mark a change in the dynamic between me and Bee. Where before she had been the one in the unknown, having never backpacked around the developing world, we were now jetting to the West Coast, a place I had never been to, but where Bee had lived and worked previously, and knew very, very well. We would also be staying and seeing friends and family, so would no longer be relying on our sometimes unreliable wits to get ourselves around and out of scrapes. It would be a hectic and very different last few weeks, and one which should provide a refreshing and acclimatising end to the 6 month journey.

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To get to LA though, we first had to catch a flight from Cancun. We’d heard rumours about bad weather in California, but basically dismissed them as shameful lies. It never rains in LA! But halfway through our 5 hour flight the captain came over the intercom to warn us of a massive storm system we were about to fly into. LA hadn’t seen weather like this in years apparently, which was obviously just our luck. The crew started preparing the cabin for a bumpy landing an hour before we hit LA, and just in time too, as the turbulence slammed into us and rocked the aircraft all the way to our destination… although since our 8-seater plane ride back in Panama, we are cool cucumbers in these situations! As we neared the city, our pilot was able to skirt around the giant, almost cartoonish looking storm-clouds, and I could peer out of the window and see the bright lights of the City of Angels. It looked spectacular, and also massive. We were back in the Western world.

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Bee’s cousin David, who lives in LA, had kindly agreed to put us up during our stay there. His partner Katie, who is a genuine American and not just an interloper, picked us up from LAX and decided to give a Californian newbie the perfect introduction to the city – an immediate stop at In-n-Out Burger. YUM! Despite my exhaustion (we’d been up for a loooong time by this point, plus you know… 5+ months in South & Central America) it was every bit as delicious as had been promised. Imagine a delicious McDonalds, and cheaper; for once the burger hype was justified. What followed over the next few days was a whirlwind re-immersion into life as we once knew it. On Saturday we were invited to the 1st birthday party of Katie’s nephew, and got to spend an afternoon surrounded by family. If there was one thing we had been lacking over the last few months, it was these type of interactions. We’ve been lucky enough to meet and stay with some of the most incredible people, but I guess there’s no substitution for a day of quality family time. It was both comforting and made us feel further away from our own families. That evening, we tagged along with Katie and David as they went to the launch party of a video Katie had shot (this being the home of Hollywood, she’s of course a hotshot big-cheese cinematographer). Despite buying new threads back in Cancun, me and Bee felt like we were on Mars – we were at a party in downtown warehouse, surrounded by fashionable LA hipsters, chatting about cool things, and we had almost no idea how to engage with it all! It was like remembering a language you once knew, and feeling your way through it. Luckily the people we did chat too were all really friendly, and I think we managed to fake our way through it with wide eyes.

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Our packed weekend finally ended with an iconic LA event, the Oscars! In a previous job at Sky, I had to work the UK transmission of this once; and pulling an all-nighter fuelled by Haribo and coffee was not fun. Much more civilised was being able to watch it during the evening, with a few beers and knowing it was all happening just a few miles away. We were back with Katie’s family, and played an Oscar ballot. Despite the fact we haven’t seen almost all of the nominated films, we still managed to guess our way through a few categories and came home with a mighty $14. Oh, and to cap the night off the documentary that Katie had helped film took the Best Documentary prize, so I guess we watched the event with a (very modest) Oscar winner!

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Bee Says: As Katie headed off to work on the Monday, we got lucky and David’s scheduled translation work was late arriving which meant he could pack us into the car and zoom us up to Beechwood Drive. From there we hiked an hour through the rambling Hollywood Hills and eventually got up close and personal with the iconic sign. Despite visiting many times, I had no idea you could get so close to the sign and enjoyed seeing the imperfections and jaunty angles that aren’t visible from a distance.

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I wrote a couple of quite detailed blogs last year during my weeks in LA, here and here. If I’m honest, I have a chequered past with LA and one that other readers might empathise with. The first time I visited LA, I came as a tourist off the back of a road trip with Craig, and we had two days to explore. Whilst the company and the food was wonderful, I really didn’t like LA. We went to the walk of fame, we saw the sign, we hung out in Hollywood, sat in traffic for longer than we spent on Santa Monica pier and attempted to find Mullholland Drive but got lost, about five times. LA is tough as a first timer, and also as visitors with no locals to help guide you into the treasure troves off the tourist trap worth seeing. I actually think without some heavy research or on-hand help, it’s virtually impossible to enjoy LA. I left that experience thinking I would never come back. In a lucky twist of fate, I’ve now been back multiple times through work! When I returned last year, I had my wonderful friend Nora and my cousin & Katie to show me around and it made an incredible difference. Before, I had impatiently shrugged LA off as plastic, pedestrian-impossible and lacking any sort of community. Now I know that there are incredible (walkable!) neighbourhoods, a shed load of free local fun to be had and that it is actually one of my favourite places in the world to visit. I was SO wrong before, but I wanted to mention it to anyone who might have similarly discounted it, based on the opinion that it’s all celebrity home tours and stars on the sidewalk.

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For this trip we have been based in Echo Park, an LA suburb that has enough to explore you could basically spend a week here alone. A few of our favourite places to lurk have been The Brite Spot diner, where we even spotted a famous-looking band having a meeting with their elderly, cigar-touting manager. Here you can eat breakfast all day (God bless America!) and other such beauts as peanut butter pie and tuna melts. We had a nose around the Time Travel Mart, the Dave Eggers inspired creative writing work shop for local kids, disguised behind a futuristic store front. Here we picked up an amazing CD called Chickens in Love which features lyrics written by the kids and recorded by local artists like Fiona Apple and The Cold War Kids. The songs are so good, and one even got used in a Judd Apatow movie last year meaning all the kids involved had enough royalty $ to pay for college. We spent some time lazing in Stories, an achingly cool bookshop and coffee shop that serve up a mean iced mocha to slurp whilst you browse their vast local history section.

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We ate pizza slices as big as our heads at Two Boots (an NY institution that I was so excited to see here on the West Coast), we nosed around the endless great value vintage shops and I bought myself an is-it-too-much? letter jacket to keep me snug in San Fransisco, if I dare to wear it. Echo Park is named after the beautiful park, funnily enough, which had a total revamp last year. We have been feeling the loss of regular mile long hikes now we are in car-crazy Cali, so we took daily walks around the lotus-covered lake to stretch our twitchy legs.

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The best day for me was when we discovered a brilliant book called Secret Stairs by Charles Fleming that Katie had received as a gift. The book is inspired by my favourite style of British hiking book, the ones that start and end in a good country pub! Secret Stairs has tons of walking guides in all areas of Los Angeles, and I think would be a really great gift for anyone moving to/visiting LA as it totally busts the myth that you need to have a car to enjoy it. We picked out route 11, taking us two hours around Echo Park and Angelino Heights. The book draws your attention to the mysterious antique urban stairways that dot LA, as well as how to spot the most beautiful Victorian houses. At one majestic old home I stuck my nose up to the original iron gate and fell in love with a huge wild flower meadow garden. My snooping was spotted by the owner and he came out and chatted to us all about his flowers, vegetable patch and ways he kept his home authentic. He even gave me a huge bloom to take on the rest of the walk.

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We made a cat friend, fell in love with nearly everything we saw and ended the hike with a plate of “Southern Decadence”; Chicken fried chicken, egg, plastic cheese, southern biscuit and sausage gravy.

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The next day we veered off the Secret Stairs itinerary and free-styled with a hike to Silver Lake, another nifty neighbourhood packed with things to explore. We chose to take in the delights of a $1 fish taco stand called Seven Seas and the foot sign which apparently is a local institution.

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A huge treat for us in LA came courtesy of my last tour-guide Nora, who now lives in Berlin so wasn’t here, but who I thought of constantly whilst retracing our steps. When she heard of our engagement, she offered us a very generous present to celebrate in the shape of her uber-talented Hollywood photographer mum, Denise. She very kindly took some official engagement photos for us, out on Santa Monica beach as the sun dipped into the sea. We dashed around in the waves, threw seaweed at each other and generally messed about thinking we hadn’t really got started with the proper bit. Little did we know that Denise is such a photography wizard that she caught all the magical moments we were sharing and produced a gorgeous set of snaps that will hopefully gain us iconic status on our parents’ walls (an aim we haven’t yet achieved!) Not only was Denise a talented artist, she was also amazing fun to hang out with. I can see where Nora gets it from! We passed the crazy LA traffic hours there and back nattering about all sorts and were really sad to wave goodbye to yet another new LA friend.

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Nick Says: One of the most fortunate things in our lives is the fact we have friends spread out across the world. LA seems to be a particular hot-spot for them though, as a week into our stay here we were able to meet up with Julien, a super-stylish Frenchman we befriended at the same Edinburgh TV Festival where me and Bee met. The five of us went to dinner at Umami Burger, a small chain of burger joints which Bee had rhapsodised about since her last trip out here. At the risk of turning this into a food blog, it was sublime. Feeling powerful, I took on the Manly burger – a calorie busting concoction of a delicious beef patty covered in beer battered string onions, bacon lardons and secret Umami sauce. I’m dreaming about it now. Afterwards, we hit up the Dresden, made famous from the film Swingers, where we drank Blood & Sand (a classic LA cocktail) and listened to the iconic Marty & Elayne play tunes such as ‘Stayin’ Alive’. I felt so money baby.

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Transferring to Julien’s swish West Hollywood condo for the next few days, we got to explore yet another side of LA. We’d spent a week in the cool neighbourhoods similar to those we’d lived in while in London, now Julien was going to show what made LA so diverse and rewarding to visit. One of the best things about visiting a friend or local in another city/country is that they always have their favourite spots to show you, and often a ready-made itinerary to take guests on. I know I was the same in London, where I would take guests to my favourite cafes in Kentish Town, then normally the British Museum and one of the parks, before a few of the best pubs in North London. Julien was no different, and he started the day with a coffee and a stroll around the Hollywood Boulevard. We took in the Walk of Fame, the Dolby Theatre, and Mann’s Chinese Theatre, and while I know it’s the MOST touristy thing you can do in LA, I couldn’t help but get a massive kick out of seeing it all. I liked the fact they have prepared the way for Oscar winners up to 2076 on the pillars displaying the names of past winners (what happens after though is a mystery). I liked being reminded of my favourite actors on the Walk of Fame. And I especially liked how crappy the footprints and handprints of the stars were outside of the Chinese Theatre. I guess I always expected it to be a very slick affair, but it was really DIY and rough. Basically if you out your hands in wet cement and scrawled ‘Morgan Freeman’ or something with a stick, you’d basically get the same look.

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After this though, Julien (who had become incredibly LA and bought himself a convertible) drove us through the mountains to one of his favourite places to get brunch, The Old Place on Mullholland Highway. Decked out like a Wild West Saloon, it was the perfect place to spend a few hours, and meet up with Aud, Julien’s fellow French friend who was up for the day. It definitely felt like we were getting to experience what life was like in LA for locals. Unlike London and New York, they don’t seem to be all consumed by their work and putting the crazy hours in which really benefit nobody. While of course they’re just as obsessed with getting ahead as those places (perhaps even more so with the nature of the entertainment industry), it also feels like they have a good work/life balance. People know when to take time off and relax, they’re not chained to their desks, and to be honest no-one seems to be doing the traditional 9-5. It overall seems like a far more relaxed big city then some of the others I’ve been to. A perfect example of this was the next stop on the Julien tour – Malibu! We chilled for a few hours at Zuma Beach, and Julien explained that no matter how hectic his work gets (and he’s another mega cheese), he can just come to the beach at the weekend, forget about all his stress, and feel like he’s gone on a holiday. Not bad. It also seems necessary to have this escape route when you have to deal with the LA traffic, which had been particularly nightmarish for us all week. Seeking to escape it on our return back to town, Julien pulled up to a swish bar in Malibu for cocktails – despite the obvious fanciness, no-one batted an eyelid if you rocked up in boardies and flip-flops. Hmm, seems like I could have just worn my backpacker clothes in LA after all…

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Bee Says: Alas, our LA week was over far too quickly and it was time to hop on a $5 megabus (A great British company! who knew they were in the US too?) to take us from the City of Angels to… Sin City! I’ll leave you with a few gems that we like to call “overheard in LA”, which we genuinely did hear in the last week:

“I just can’t change this look. This is the look that sells.”

“I’m not contacting HBO until they call me back”

“I play the keytar on occasion”

“I’m thinking of moving to Portland” (three times)

“I’ve quit smoking, I’ve quit drinking, I’ve even quit drugs. My only vice now is eating at The Brite Spot.”

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