We've been talking alot about how we're going to spend our summer, and one of the things my wife has wanted to do is to take long walks all over town. Since the weather has gone from mid-summer heat back to May Grey (soon to be followed by June Gloom), we decided today would be a good day to start.
After throwing on our best walking shoes, comfortable clothes, sunscreen, and the like, we hitched a ride on the 304 all the way down to where Sunset meets Santa Monica Boulevard. Once we debarked, oriented ourselves, and set our watches, we set off. Our goal: to walk all fourteen miles of Santa Monica Boulevard, from Silver Lake to the Pacific Ocean.
The intersection of Sunset and Santa Monica wasn't particularly interesting; Silver Lake is an old suburb of Los Angeles, and has weathered many ups and downs over the years. Right now it's one of those funky, trendy, slowly gentrifying neighborhoods, and where we were was no exception. We trooped off down the sidewalk, but before long, things got interesting. To our right, we could see off in the hills the famed "Hollywood" sign-- a clear view. If it wasn't so smoggy all the time, the sign would be visible from a lot of places. But we weren't all that far off from the Hollywood Hills, so it was pretty clear for us.
The rain we had over the winter has paid off-- we passed a couple of hillsides covered with flowers, and it made for a very cheery start to our trek. Yet we were still in kind of a sketchy area. There were a lot of warehouses, corner stores, panhandlers, billboards in Spanish, lots of Mexicans and other Latinos walking around, and generally a very economically mixed population. This wasn't South Central (oops, I mean just plain South!) L.A., so we didn't feel threatened at all, but it wasn't the most chic part of town. We passed by the subway stop at Vermont and Santa Monica, just up the street from L.A. City College, so there was a lot of traffic there- families, students, working folks, etc.
Our main goal was to go from one end to the other, but it was understood that either of us could stop anytime we wanted. One of the first things we slowed down to look at was the city's Bureau of Street Lighting. It's an ugly government building (whaddya expect??), but the huge yard was filled with street lights of all different designs. Some were the usual granite types you see everywhere, but some were rather beautifully designed and obviously meant for the more historic districts of town or areas the city intends to beautify. Here's some examples of streetlights
The next major sight we stopped for was the Hollywood Forever Cemetery
. Once known as Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, it was rundown until recently. It was bought a few years ago by a guy who really went in, cleaned it up, and turned it into a profitable enterprise and a rather unusual cemetery (they show movies on Halloween night in the cemetery!). Some of the people buried here include Douglas Fairbanks (and Douglas Fairbanks, jr.), Cecil B. DeMille, Mel Blanc, and Johnny Ramone, just to name a few. We walked along the perimeter of the park, only to realize there were tons of Armenian gravesites. This was really fascinating, because almost every Armenian headstone had an engraved or actual picture of the deceased's face, while some of the more elaborate memorials had a bust or carved sculpture of the departed. Some of the inscriptions were in English, while others were in Armenian. Many of the graves had little gardens planted on them, with different flowers and shrubs.
Even though we didn't have a guidebook or map, pretty soon we found both Fairbanks men, Hattie McDaniel's centaph, Cecil B. DeMille's last resting place, and the lifesized statue that graces Johnny Ramone's grave
. Old Los Angeles was present too: we passed by the monument and graves of Harrison Gray Otis and the Chandlers; longtime owners and publishers of the L.A. Times. There was plenty of shade, thanks to trees all over, and the cemetery even had little paths running through the center. It almost seemed more like a park than a graveyard.
After passing Mel Blanc's grave on the way out, we exited the cemetery and continued our walk. The area we were passing through had a lot of warehouses: some were regular commercial properties, some were for the studios or for the industry in general. At one particular building, we observed a bunch of men standing around. All of a sudden, one started backing away, down the sidewalk, then off onto the street, as another man began advancing towards him menacingly. A fist fight was about to break out, as I saw the aggressor start to remove his t-shirt, all the while surrounded by the crowd, advancing towards the luckless target. Needless to say, we didn't hang around too long.
There's Hollywood, and then there's Hollywood. For most people, Hollywood is the big sign, movie stars, glitzy places, swank bars and eateries, the stars on the sidewalk, Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Oscars... but the real Hollywood is decidedly middle- to lower-middle class, grungy in parts, seedy in others. If you want the "Hollywood" experience, head to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. That's a walk we might do eventually.
We continued walking, and eventually got to the outer edges of WeHo (West Hollywood), where we decided to break for lunch at Astro Burger
. This is a great burger joint, that serves not just great burgers but also grill items, some Mexican, veggie stuff (fried zucchini, gardenburgers, etc.). Has a very retro look, and Hilary Swank actually stopped there for a gardenburger and diet Coke after she won the Oscar this past February. I've been getting different things each time we go in, so this time I had a pastrami and swiss sandwich- delish! Onion rings and a pop. My companion ordered an avocado burger, diet Coke, and shared my onion rings (it's a rather large serving!).
After sating our hunger and relieving our urgent needs in the little boy's/girl's room, we continued onward, approaching the main drag of Santa Monica in WeHo. This part of town is definitely Boy's Town-- WeHo is to L.A. as the Castro is to S.F. and Christopher Street is to NYC and Dupont Circle is to D.C. There are rainbow flags everywhere, gay couples and singles everywhere, and some very *interesting* stores everywhere. Some storefronts were typical for any trendy area, but one or two had, um, rather suggestive clothing in the window. One place modeled some very sexy undewear/lingerie for the gentleman wanting to show off his package, and another had t-shirts with screens of half-naked model types. One store had quite a few interesting books and items in the display case. So it was that kind of atmosphere. But there were plenty of clothes stores, restaurants, and more bars than you can count, including the famous Barney's Beanery
. The place has an interesting history, by virtue of being along Route 66.
Yep, we'd been walking on old Route 66 all this time. The Mother Road, as some call it, has its terminus in Santa Monica. The original road ended in downtown L.A. (Broadway and Seventh), and then later changed to end on what is now Lincoln at Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica; but by the end of the road's days, it concluded at the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier, at Ocean and Colorado. Route 66 wends through Southern California and through the L.A. metro area, down the old Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway), up Sunset, through Silver Lake, and onto Santa Monica Boulevard all the way out to Santa Monica itself. Some of the buildings and sites we'd passed thus far were places travelers would have seen on their journey on 66.
Barney's has been around since 1920 (and at its current location since 1927), so it definitely qualifies. I haven't yet been in the place, but I should stop in sometime. There was a store that seemed to specialize in Goth clothing and materials (lots of skull items-- perfect for Kappa Gamma!), but it was closed, I think because of Memorial Day weekend and all that, but I could be wrong.
We passed by a pet store as we got closer to the western border of WeHo, and there were three parrots outside. By this time it was rather warm, and the owner or employee was standing outside, spraying water on the brightly plumed birds, cooling them down. It was kind of neat to see these large, beautiful birds up close, so we stopped and watched for a few minutes, before continuing down the street.
Just at the intersection of Santa Monica and Doheny, we passed the Troubadour, an old club that's been there for ages. Every time I drive down Santa Monica at night, there's always either a line of people trying to get in, or people hanging about outside, taking a cigarette break or just chatting.
Doheny is more or less the eastern border of Beverly Hills, and at this point we crossed into a new part of the whole L.A. metro area. Beverly Hills is different now than it used to be; while stars still live there, most of the big A-list names no longer live there-- they're spread out, up in the hills and canyons, on Mulholland Drive, in Encino, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, and tons of other places. Still, Beverly Hills is a fabulously wealthy community, and it shows. There's a park (Beverly Gardens Park) that runs along the northern side of Santa Monica Boulevard, and we've both walked/jogged through many, many times, so this wasn't a new part of the street for us. But it's shaded, with lots of grass, and has plots of flowers here and there. We pasesd by some very lovely roses at one point. So it's a pleasant walk. As we got closer to the Civic Center
, we were both a little parched and in need of a pit stop, so we decided to stop at the Beverly Hills Library. I needed to check something in Consumer Reports anyway, so this made sense. Although we live in L.A., we have reciprocal privileges at the Beverly Hills Library, and until recently, it was the closest library to us, so we use it often. It's right across from City Hall, which is one of the more beautiful public buildings I've seen in the United States. The library is a very nice one, with a healthy collection of books, so we lingered for a little while, using the facilities, getting a drink of water, and checking the new books for a few minutes. Once we were refreshed, we went out and up to Santa Monica Boulevard again.
We continued through the park to its central area, where there's a statue of a hunter and hounds (called, appropriately, Hunter and Hounds
)-- it seems out of place. It's something you might see back East, or in front of one of those stuffy Tudor-style mansions or something, but not in the middle of Beverly Hills. A few blocks down is a whole block's length cactus garden, with tons of different cactus. Usually it's neat, but when we walked today, some of the cacti were in bloom, so we got to see cactus flowers, which I enjoyed.
At the end of the park is the Electric Fountain, which is a pretty, circular fountain which has water jets and at night has different colored lights playing over the water. It's always nice to see that. Across the street is the Beverly Hilton, until recently owned by Merv Griffin and it's the annual site of the Golden Globe Awards. Within that complex is Trader Vic's, where the Mai Tai was reportedly invented. It's a rather pricey place for people in our economic bracket, but one of these days I'd like to go over and have a Mai Tai there. *grin*
We were now at the other end of Beverly Hills, and back in L.A., at least officially. Unofficially, we were in Century City, which is mostly a collection of expensive high-rise apartments, office buildings, the Century City Mall, and at its southern end bordering Pico Boulevard, the 20th Century Fox studio. This is also where the nightmare that is the re-construction of Santa Monica Boulevard is taking place. It started not long after we moved to L.A., and was supposed to be finished this fall. However, the rains this past winter undoubtedly delayed work, and since then, I haven't seen much work done-- maybe six people total in the two or three mile construction zone. The L.A. Times ran an article that featured complaints by businesspeople whose business has dropped as much as 60% since. I'm now starting to see signs of activity, but the latest on the grapevine says it'll be completed sometime next year. In the meantime, we all suffer through clogged, re-routed, dusty roads and closed-off corridors. I'll be curious to see if the inconvenience is worth the effort in the end... We passed the southern edge of the Los Angeles Country Club, a rather swanky place that had its moment back in 1947 when Howard Hughes crashed a plane on the grounds and nearly got killed. This incident was featured in the recent flick, "The Aviator."
At the edge of Century City, we decided to take a break and head to our place, which is just off of Santa Monica (ah, how convienent, you say!). We trooped in, used the bathroom yet again, grabbed glasses of cold lemonade (ahh... now I need to get a glass now myself-- all this typing's got my throat dry! *wink*), and checked the mailbox. Once we did that, we decided to continue onward. We'd finished roughly nine miles at this point, and the rest would be fairly easy, we thought.
Five blocks into our resumed walk, we passed by the Mormon Temple. The Los Angeles Temple is on a slope, and has a nice grassy lawn in front. During Christmastime, there are lights all over the grounds, including up the trunks of palm trees and winding through the palm leaves. The construction and ensuing mess continues at this point, up to the intersection at Westwood, and beyond. This is the southern edge of Westwood, the upscale neighborhood south of Westwood Village and UCLA. At the intersection of Santa Monica and Sepulveda (the longest street in Los Angeles County-- 26 miles. If you're planning to run a marathon, good street to practice on!), the overhaul of Santa Monica Boulevard finally ended, and we crossed under the 405 (aka San Diego Freeway) underpass. Now we were in West L.A. and Sawtelle. There's lots of different shops, stores, and businesses along this stretch, including the Nuart Theater, which shows "Rocky Horror Picture Show" at midnight every Saturday. Now that I think about it, we should take advantage of it and go to a showing. My wife has never seen RHPS in its glory, with audience participation.
Down the boulevard a bit we passed Benito's
, which is one of our favorite taco joints in this town. It really is worth it-- cheap and filling. Great fish tacos, so the wife swears. Great tacos, period, so I swear. Decent taquitos too... I always get jamaica when we're there, and my better half gets horchata.
Soon we entered the final municipality on our journey: Santa Monica. By now the miles were starting to take their toll, and our poor feet were beginning to whine. Unfortunately it didn't help that this stretch is mostly auto dealer's heaven, with car dealer and auto shop after car dealer and auto shop... we did spot a couple of new restaurants to try in a small strip mall-- a Greek restaurant and an Oaxacan joint. A future dinner outing is in our future... Yet that was just a moment of respite in what was becoming a boring trip-- at least I know where to go next time I'm in the market for a car!
Eventually the streets become numbered streets, starting with 26th Street, and counting down, so it was nice to know we were nearing the end. As we approached downtown, we could start to smell the ocean, in addition to feeling it. By about 7th Street things got interesting again as we entered downtown and passed by one of my favorite stores, Hi De Ho Comics
. It's not the largest comics shop I've been in, but they have a very good selection of reprinted material, a wide breath of overall comics selections, and a varied set of categories, from comic strip anthologies and compilations, to graphic novels, to manga and anime, to books on pop culture, to books on how to draw and cartoon, all in addition to the Usual Gang of Idiots (MAD, Marvel, DC, etc.).
We soon reached the Third Street Promenade and the trendy parts of downtown, and just a couple blocks past that, Ocean Boulevard. We doggedly crossed the street just as the sun was setting, and ended our day on a park bench in Palisades Park (a park that stretches along the bluffs, or palisades, overlooking Santa Monica Beach and the Pier; lots of gravel paths, joggers, benches, flowers, and homeless folks), watching the tides come cresting in, the golden globe of life sinking below the horizon, and the bluffs and mountains of the Santa Monica range and the beaches of Malibu off in the distance.
After catching our trillionth wind of the day, we stumbled back into the city, and caught a bus home. It's been a long, long day, but it was really worth it. We're already talking about where to forge our next path in this city of ours.