Thursday, March 24, 2011

L.A. Weekend

This past weekend Jenny and I shared a drive to Los Angeles, catching up on conversation while we visited some cool sites. L.A. has always been a tricky destination for us: far enough away to be a hassle, congested enough to evoke dread. Yet there's so much to see and do that I can never stay away for too long. What follows is a basic trip summary - no literary pretenses here. Just a reminder of some places worthy of recollection.

Jantzen "Diving Girl" sign on Route 66
For lodging I usually aim for Pasadena's Saga Motor Hotel, or maybe the Safari Inn in Burbank. This time we tried Jerry's Motel, a 10-room relic in Filipinotown. Sketchy neighborhood aside, Jerry's was well worth the $75 nightly rate for a clean room and amazingly close proximity to downtown. After settling in we headed to West Hollywood to check out the neon signs of Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards (aided by a handy map produced in collaboration with the Museum of Neon Art). The highlight was a glowing Jantzen Diving Girl and the googie glory of a Mel's Drive-In.

Mel's Drive In, 8585 West Sunset Blvd
Following a tasty meal at Baby Blues BBQ, we dropped in to Tiki-Ti, one of the best old school polynesian-pop relics in the country. Jenny, a dedicated teetotaler, kindly tolerated the place, even when I insisted on ordering a Blood and Sand. Actually, she kind of enjoyed that part. The drink is a real spectacle, with patrons yelling, "Toro! Toro! Toro!," while Mike Sr. pours a frightening volume of tequila over an orange-flavored concoction and mechanical toy bulls rampage the bar pushing empty glasses with their horns. That pretty much wrapped the night up for me.

Jenny on the Ferris wheel, Santa Monica Pier
Saturday called for us to sleep in for the first time in weeks, which meant that breakfast became brunch, a perfect time to visit Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria. Clifford Clinton designed this Depression-era gem to transport diners to the Santa Cruz mountains - transforming a potentially pedestrian meal (yes, they serve Salisbury Steak) into a vacation for urban-dwellers. Today's visitors queue to stack individually priced items on plastic trays while kids salivate at the prospect of getting a toy when they clean their plates.

Deco Delight in downtown L.A.
Afterward, Jenny and I strolled down Broadway in search of art deco and street art. The highlight was Jenny's discovery of Banksy's Parking. We also made our way to a median where I took some photos of the Bonaventure Hotel, that infamous West Coast capital of late- and post-modern architecture.

"The city bristles with malice" - Mike Davis
We then motored to the Santa Monica Pier, where we strolled and chatted - sometimes stopping to watch contortionists and magic acts. We even found one of those fellows who will paint someone's name on a grain of rice. Jenny made sure we picked up this special souvenir for Vienna. Of course we also shared a ride on the Ferris wheel, hanging below a friendly sky to gaze upon the city. Every once in a while I found myself checking the news on my phone - the U.S. had just launched a missile attack on Libya - and I felt the inevitable dislocation of being in two places at once.

Contortionist at the Santa Monica Pier 
Dinner called us to Culver City and Jenny's first visit to Johnnie's Pastrami, a cash-only joint with working jukeboxes and sublimely fatty sandwiches. From there we navigated clogged roads to catch Rango at ArcLight Hollywood - a pricy but impressively upscale way to see a movie. We figured on wrapping up our evening with a quick photo in North Hollywood; I just had to capture the creepy Clown Liquor store at night. Then - would you believe it? - I caught a glimpse of tiki torches. Turns out we were driving by new place meant to evoke the classic Polynesian vibe: Tiki-No (for North Hollywood). Definitely worth a stop.

Creepy clown sells you alcohol
After another leisurely night's sleep we awoke to pouring rain. At once our Sunday plans began to melt away, especially since the L.A. Marathon was snagging traffic all over town. Originally we'd hoped to visit the La Brea Tar Pits, one of those tourist traps that had infected our imaginations since we were kids watching Bugs Bunny. But once we confirmed that many of the exhibits are indeed outside - again, this was no drizzle; it was a deluge - we opted to reschedule that part of our trip. So we wrapped our weekend up at Burbank's Smoke House, packing away a decadent brunch buffet. Then at last, stuffed and exhausted, we began the long trip back north.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)

1 comment:

Brett Lucas said...


Sounds like a great weekend getaway. I love the shot of Mel’s Drive-in. I have yet to hit Clifton’s Cafeteria, but may do that on another trip. Living here in the Spokane area, Southwest Airlines offers specials to Las Vegas, so we may use that as a base of operations for future googie investigations in Southern California. Barstow is the quintessential Route 66/railroad town out in the desert. The Denny’s in Barstow is classic googie.