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Tuesday September 25th 2018

Visiting Los Angeles


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Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
I’m sure there’s an airport somewhere around here... oh wait, I see it. Welcome to L.A.

“Awesome!” enthused the waiter as I plumped for coffee. It seems that, against all odds, I'd made the perfect choice of beverage to accompany breakfast. It made me feel so damn good. Welcome to LA.

There really is nowhere like it. It has a street named after L Ron Hubbard and a suburb named after Tarzan. Oh, and they make movies here.

They make films in lots of places, of course, but where else can claim to have been home to Rick’s Bar, Frankenstein’s laboratory, Scarlett’s Tara and the Land of Oz?

Which makes visiting the city an experience like visiting no other. When irate Transylvanian villagers had doused their flaming torches, these are the bars they retired to for a cold beer. Chorines chowed down on well-earned burgers in its diners after a day’s precision drilling on revolving sets. And, once plans to conquer the Universe had been thwarted one more time, these are the modest bungalows back to which the green-skinned aliens plodded.

Heat filming location: Hilton LAX
Motor city: West Century Boulevard from the tower of Hilton LAX

To calculate the amount of time we probably spend watching Angelenos earn a crust by playing dress-up inside enormous concrete sheds is sobering. It’s tough to think of a city which has insinuated itself into our consciousness as deeply (and as unnoticed) as Los Angeles.

It’s too easy to confuse LA with Hollywood, though.

After running a movie locations quiz a while ago, UK daily The Independent revealed that the question which tripped up most entrants was “Where was the 1941 Oscar-winner How Green Was My Valley? filmed?”

South Wales – which is where John Ford’s mining drama is set – was the most popular response. The paper gave the correct answer as “Hollywood”.

Well… not quite.

The Welsh mining village was built a long way from Wales, sure, but on the Fox Ranch at Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles and a good 20 miles from Hollywood.

The Theme Building at LAX
The 1961 Theme Building at LAX

But having said that, it is the movie business itself which has potential to open up so much more of the city. Since the early years of the 20th Century, the industry has plundered the city’s varied neighbourhoods to provide cinematic backdrops: suburban homes, rugged coastlines, European castles and scuzzy backstreets.

LA can seem less a single city than an agglomeration of cities: a small state that’s undergone liposuction to remove all its redundant space.

Your itinerary doesn’t have to be limited to the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, wax museums and souvenir shops, with the odd trip to Venice Beach or Disneyland: so buckle up and explore the city.

With JJ Gittes, Tyler Durden, Norma Desmond, Jim Stark, ‘Easy’ Rawlins, Vincent Vega, Dirk Diggler, Michael Myers and The Dude as your tour guides, how can you go wrong?

Assuming you're arriving by plane, you’ll soon get the layout of the city: the flat, orderly grid hemmed in by mountains and sea, dotted with thousands of turquoise swimming pools.

On the ground, your first glimpse is LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, with its arched concrete 'spider'. The Theme Building – 1961’s Jetsons-style idea of what the space age would look like – houses Encounter Restaurant. I don’t know anyone who's ever eaten there. And chances are, you won’t be able to now. It seems the restaurant finally closed its doors in 2013.

The Theme Building at LAX
Hilton Los Angeles Airport, seen in Michael Mann's Heat

Unless you’re bravely picking up a rental car immediately after the flight, you’ll probably want to spend your first night at one of the strip of large corporate hotels along West Century Boulevard alongside the airport.

All the regulars are lined up here – Radisson, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Travelodge, Best Western – but if you want to kick off the movie theme right away, head for the glossy black tower of the Hilton Los Angeles Airport. This is the hotel at which Michael Mann’s Heat winds up, before the climactic shoot-out spills out onto the airport runways.

Heat filming location: Hilton LAX
Motor city: West Century Boulevard from the tower of Hilton LAX

The stops on the airport’s Lower Level, outside baggage claim, are helpfully colour-coded: blue for the free LAX shuttle between terminals or to Aviation Station on the Metro Green Line; purple for the ten or so major car rental companies; and red for hotel courtesy buses. The swirl of traffic is relentless and you’ll rarely have to wait more than a few minutes.

A cab to Hollywood or Downtown will cost around $30.

Los Angeles finally has a Metro system and, though it’s still growing, it’s pretty basic and nothing like the New York subway or the Paris metro. LA without a car? Don’t even think about it.

Freeways can be intimidating if you’re used to strict lane discipline. You can’t simply tootle along in the slowest lane – the outside lane peels off at each junction. Frequent traffic lights and the sheer volume of traffic, though, mean that city driving is comfortably laid back or infuriatingly slow according to the mood you happen to be in.

Parking can be a headache. Don’t set out without a pocket full of quarters.

So choose your neighbourhood and start exploring...


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