Adventures in La La Land

Los Angeles, the monolithic city to the north of where we live, is usually just a barrier we must get through on our way to somewhere else. Because its rush “hour” lasts most of the day, driving on L.A. freeways with the least amount of congestion and stress means leaving our home very early or very late. When we finally make it to the other side, we breathe a sigh of relief.

Like any large city, though, there is a lot to see and do in Los Angeles and, last week, we braved the crazy traffic for a few days to visit some highlights.

Getty Center

The Getty Center’s architecture and gardens are works of art themselves.

We spent the better part of two days enjoying this spectacular museum with its extensive collection of pre-20th century European paintings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts. Not all of the beauty is on the inside, though. Equally as impressive is the Center’s stunning architecture, gorgeous gardens, and expansive views overlooking the city.

L.A. is huge. Those tall buildings aren’t “downtown”… downtown is in the distance.

Griffith Observatory

Renovated in 2006, Griffith Observatory’s Art Deco exterior was maintained… thank goodness.

Opened in 1935, the Griffith Observatory’s mission was to make astronomy accessible to the public, as opposed to the observatories located on remote mountaintops and restricted to scientists. This Art Deco marvel includes several fascinating exhibit halls and a planetarium. The two shows we saw in the planetarium were top-notch and – like the Getty Center – the building’s architecture and views were stunning.  

Tesla Coil in action. Picture credit: my brother.
Ceiling in the rotunda painted by muralist, film producer, and author Hugo Ballin in 1934
The iconic Hollywood sign in the distance.

Fun Fact: during World War II, the planetarium was used to train pilots in celestial navigation. The planetarium was again used for this purpose in the 1960s to train Apollo program astronauts for the first lunar missions.

Another Fun Fact: the Griffith Observatory has been featured in several films, including the knife fight scene in the James Dean classic, Rebel Without a Cause.  

Where the knife fight was filmed

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Our final day in L.A. before heading home was spent at the LACMA. It is the largest art museum in the western United States, and we could have easily filled another day enjoying the exhibits.

A couple of my favorites:

From Picasso’s Blue Period.
Portrait of Frida Kahlo by Diego Rivera.

If we had had even more days, we would have loved to explore several of the other museums in the area, including La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the Peterson Automotive Museum, and the Craft Contemporary Museum.

So much to see, so little time.

Because we had come to view L.A. as a massive but unavoidable obstacle to be endured at the beginning of just about any road trip, my husband and I had lost sight of the many great things the city has to offer. My brother and sister-in-law (who took the train down from Northern California) came up with the idea to meet there and explore L.A. together, and we are happy that we said “yes!”

Now that we’ve been reminded of how much there is to see and do in L.A., we would like to return… but maybe not anytime soon. I still don’t like the traffic.  


I’m linking this post to the What’s Been on Your Calendar? monthly wrap-up challenge hosted by Donna, Jo, Deb, and Sue. Please visit their link page to see what other bloggers have been up to in February.  

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Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

137 thoughts on “Adventures in La La Land”

  1. It definitely has enough interesting things to warrant another visit. What a fascinating city. My only impression of it was from photos and TV shows and all I ever saw was sprawl and, of course, traffic. I enjoyed your visit there very much. It left me with a better impression.

  2. Being a native San Diegan, LA was just a place to drive through. From Sacramento we always took the long way around to East County, going down the 210 to 15. There is no best time to drive through! I like the area you visited, Janis. We passed through there when I drove my daughter to UCLA years ago and always wanted to visit those places. Looks like you enjoyed everything! I have visited the tar pits, strange to see it all in downtown.

  3. As a junior in high school, I visited an uncle in San Diego with the idea of visiting Claremont and other schools in LA. But my eyes were burning so badly from the smog that we never got to the campus. I knew I could never live in the area. I understand the smog was cleared up long ago, but not in time for me. A shame. There’s so much to see and do there.

  4. It’s a lovely surprise to find someone you have avoided has so many attractions. I noted the smog level over the city had improved since James’ Dean days – or perhaps it was fog int he fight scene?

  5. The Getty Museum is magnificent. Another interesting place is the Reagan Presidential Museum and Library. We used to have our Social Studies Council meetings there from time to time. Los Angeles is so huge and does have a lot to offer, but, like you said, Janis, it’s not easy to get around! You’ve introduced me to a couple of places I’ve never seen. Thanks!

      1. I’ve been to the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta. It was fabulous, too. One of the best exhibits was the video of his average day as a President. I wonder how they go through their day when they can’t possibly get everything done or know everything.

  6. Our thoughts exactly. Living in San Diego, LA is a place you “get through” — and you plan very strategically to make it minimally painful. Surprisingly, we left Agoura (just south of Thousand Oaks) yesterday/Thursday at about 9 am and expected, based on google maps, to face major delays with multiple 15 minute delay accidents. But we sailed through.

  7. Hi, Janis – I loved seeing Los Angeles through your eyes. The Griffith Observatory and the LACMA were excellent choices to explore. What a wonderful place to meet up with family/friends!
    Thank you for joining us for WBOYC. We greatly appreciate it!

  8. I’ve been to SF a few times and San Diego once, but never through LA and I don’t think I would want to! I’m just not a city person, at least not one who deals well with gridlock. I suspect I would go well out of my way to avoid driving through there but I applaud you for your determination to have some adventures. Those all looked like great fun!

  9. My entire experience of LA is an unscheduled night in an airport hotel at LAX, due to bad weather. Obviously I missed a few bits. 😉 Surely, in the home of Hollywood, someone has invented a commuter chopper service to get around. 🙂

  10. Would you be able to take a train in like the family from the north did? Leave the driving and find a more stress free way to get around. Just a thought. You highlighted places I’ve never heard of. The weather looks divine! Glad you had a good time.

  11. I’m definitely a small town girl, but I do appreciate the cultural, educational and dining opportunities offered in our larger cities. It’s the best of both worlds when you live close enough to an urban area to take advantage of those opportunities, but can easily return home to enjoy life in the slower lane. Love your pic of “Downtown and Not Downtown” – that’s a gorgeous and very impressive view!

  12. We do tend to forget about “seeing” what’s special about the things that are closest to us. An exhibit of Diego Rivera is coming to Crystal Bridges, the museum near us soon. I reread The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver remembering that he and Frida were characters in it. If her depiction was accurate, he was quite a character!

    1. The Lacuna is one of my all-time favorite books (written by my favorite author)! From what I understand, the depiction of both characters was pretty accurate. I visited Rivera’s birthplace home in Guanajuato, Mexico which featured some of his original works. How lucky that you’ll be able to see his paintings close to home!

  13. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! And for also reminding me of why I left L.A. I grew up there in the 70s and graduated from CSUN in the 80s, moved away a couple of times. But love all three of the sites you visited and have fond memories of the laser light shows at the Griffith Observatory. I think I’ve only been to LACMA once, would love to go back. Lovely photos!

  14. Oh, also. If you enjoy art museums, go to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena if you haven’t. I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy it 👍

  15. Hi Janis, we have been to LA twice (passing through) and neither time was pleasant. Just picking up a rental car there is a nightmare. Consequently, I have never thought of LA as a destination to explore. Thanks for showing this side of the city. You’ve redeemed its worth in my eyes. Great museums I can handle, traffic, not so much.

    1. If we go again, we may take the train. They have a fairly decent metro system now so between that and Uber, maybe we can ditch the car completely (and the $40 a night parking fee at the hotel). It seems that most big cities have the issue of a lot to explore but crazy traffic.

  16. I live near NYC and when younger would go there often. It’s so much easier to navigate there. I was in LA once and can’t say it was relaxing. It was during the “smog era” when the sun didn’t come out until 3 p.m. It sounds like you found all the right spots though. I much prefer San Diego myself. More manageable.

  17. I’ve always thought of LA as a place to just get through also. The traffic made me grit my teeth and clutch the armrest the whole time my late husband and I were driving there. Ironically, one of my favourite police/detective book universe (Bosch, et al.) is set in LA and I do enjoy visiting it in print form 😁.

    Thanks, Janis – for this look at what I’ve been missing!

    Deb

  18. I have several good memories/experiences in LA – here’s one you might find interesting.
    LACMA was one of only 2 or 3 art museums in the US to be chosen to host/present the huge Van Gogh lifetime exhibition with the paintings from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam back in the early 2000s. Middle daughter was in HS at the time. She and I flew in from our home in CO to spend an extended weekend to view the exhibit. We stayed in Santa Monica at the historic Georgian Hotel and had the same cabbie take us to and from there (and the Getty after the BIG event at LACMA). That was the locals ‘trick’ – taking a cab was the best tip we’d been given even if expensive, etc. But we felt a measure of protection, too, not only not dealing with traffic etc.
    LA gets a bad rap…but being a westerner, I prefer it to NYC!
    😎
    Santa Monica had a great ‘free’ transit system and was walker friendly from the Georgian. We enjoyed it as our home base AND it was close to the Santa Monica Pier/beach. 🙂

    1. Once we parked our car, we took Uber just about everywhere. The one time I drove, I just about had a nervous breakdown… Yikes! That Van Gogh exhibit sounds wonderful and worth flying out for. I remember being mesmerized by the paintings in Amsterdam. The Getty had one Van Gogh, but most of the art was much older.

  19. It is amazing what gems we can find not too far from home, isn’t it? I understand your aversion to the highly congested city. We live about 45 minutes outside of the city of Toronto and avoid it most days because of the traffic and congestion. Having said that, when we do venture into the city, I am reminded of all of the wonderful things there are to explore!

      1. It is a great city! Their transit system is pretty good although parts of the city are more challenging to access. If you ever do, be sure to let me know. I’ll make a trek in to the city!

          1. I still have Joanne’s contact info and she is on my list to connect with when the weather is a little more agreeable. She & I have met on a few occasions and I always love to see her. I miss her blog too!

  20. Great post, Janis, and your trip brought back memories of when we lived down there and visited these wonderful places. You’re right, so much to see, so little time. We live less than an hour from San Francisco, and yet we just don’t go into the city that often. But tomorrow for my husband’s birthday, we’re going to the Legion of Honor to enjoy a day at the world famous art museum. Thanks for sharing, and it’s wonderful that your brother and sister-in-law were able to join you.

  21. sounds very fun. Its a good reminder to check out things close to home. Denver is my near big city and I’ve started doing some occasional local “field trips.” I’ve found that using public transport to get downtown makes things less aggravating.

    1. Of course. Since we were planning on two days at the Getty, we stayed at The Hotel Angeleno (the round hotel close to the freeway in the second picture). It provided free shuttles to and from the Getty. In retrospect, though, we should have moved to a second hotel closer to the downtown area for the rest of the trip. It would have been much more convenient to be able to walk to the museums and restaurants.

  22. Not sure how I missed your post, Janis. Pleased to have caught up, and wow, what a place to explore. Expansive and people-watching would be interesting. We certainly miss visiting an array of museums. You certainly made the most of your trip.

      1. I find museums always have the ability to surprise in a good way. No local museums here, a much debated topic and a lack of funds. We shall wait and see.

  23. We love exploring cities. But LA has always seemed daunting…much more so than NYC, San Francisco, Boston, or any of the other big cities we’ve happily taken on in our RV travels! Eric grew up in LA but has had no desire to return. (Even though we’ve been many times to San Diego, where he has family.) I’ve always wanted to go to the Getty Museum, so thanks for the tour! And I love the Frida Kahlo portrait from the art museum. You certainly made the most of your time in LA.

  24. I always enjoy hearing how Los Angeles is perceived by those who do only know it peripherally. I understand that urban congestion is an issue and our traffic is significant, but I have always made a game out of it. I have too many favorites and I always cajole others to accompany me by reminding them that at least we aren’t confined to traveling by horse or stagecoach, like our forebears.

    Don’t forget to add the Malibu Getty to your must-see list, and the Lucas Museum that should open next year is going to be incredible. I’m glad you enjoyed yourselves and had a positive experience. 🙂

    1. I would love to see the Getty in Malibu. I typically enjoy more modern art (late 1800s on) but I bet the antiquities there would be fabulous, to say nothing of the architecture and setting. I don’t know about the Lucas Museum… must research 🙂 Thanks for the tip!

  25. Thanks for pointing out all that Los Angeles has to offer! Like you, I’ve always been afraid of it because of the legendary traffic jams. But sometimes, dealing with traffic is worth it….

    1. I become an old lady driver in situations like that. I change lanes very early so I don’t have to at the last minute. I’m sure I drive other drivers nuts but oh well… Of course the best thing to do is get someone else to drive. With so much to see and do, it’s definitely worth the effort.

  26. Can you take the train to LA like your brother did? Looks like a very interesting and enjoyable city trip. And those blue skies…

    Thank for including the scene of the movie underneath the photo you took at the observatory. The telescope seems to have been modernized, but still exists in the same location. 🙂

    1. We thought about taking the train but decided against it for several reasons… one being that, because of cliff collapses close to the ocean, some of the track has been deemed unsafe. We would have to get off the train and take a bus to another location to get back on again. Sound like fun? 🙂

      I was thrilled to find that clip and realize that I had taken a picture of that exact location.

  27. These are places I’d like to visit. My last time in the area, I was in Pasadena to visit the Huntington Library (and gardens and art museum). The Getty was closed, so I didn’t do that, but visited the Reagan Library during the Pompeii exhibit. I totally agree with you about the traffic. It terrifies me!

  28. I enjoyed this post. The Griffith Observatory and the LAMCA look great. Last time I was in LA, I visited the Getty Centre. The traffic in LA is exhausting.

  29. What a great visit you had not only with the city but with family. I haven’t driven in LA traffic in years, but can’t imagine how more congested it has become. I think I’ll have to pass on the opportunity so thanks for taking us along on your tour.

  30. We used to go down via 101 and 1 and avoid as much of the LA traffic we could when driving down to visit our son who lives south of LA as well.

    There are a lot fun things to do and see in the LA area though. I recommend the La Brea Tar Pits and museum. It’s been over a decade since I last visited them myself.

  31. I’ve been through LA in a car or via the airport, but never to LA. It’s on our list of places to visit and your photos make me want to bump it up the list. I’m so glad you had a good time and shared it here.

  32. Thank you for enduring the traffic and sharing what you discovered. I LOVED seeing the blue skies and green grass and people not dressed in winter clothes. The photos you used to feature what you saw are great. That mural is disturbingly fascinating. I had never seen that knife-fighting scene before, that’s cool that you shared it as well. Your post was like taking a mini-vacation from the comfort of my home. 😍

    1. We were so lucky that we went the week we did. This week it rained like crazy. I even heard that there was a dusting of snow on the Hollywood sign… that must have been a sight! I loved the mural… but then I love most things Art Deco. I’m glad you enjoyed your armchair travels, Shelley!

      1. I’m impressed at how you’ve been so successful at planning trips at just the right time! I bet the snow was quite the sight to see.
        I’m so impressed with murals on ceilings – I get a neck ache thinking about how that must be to paint it. You do have an eye for beautiful Art Deco objects, I enjoy seeing what you find during your travels. Thank you for sharing them!! 😍

  33. I find big cities intimidating, Janis, but they do have so much to offer! Especially in the arts, and wandering museums is a great pastime. I’m glad you found a reason to do just that. Thanks for sharing the trip. I hope you don’t wait too long to do it again. 🙂

  34. It’s funny how sometimes it takes a while to get around to seeing things that aren’t that far away from us. I’ve been to the observatory and it is stunning!! Look like you had some beautiful blue skies for your visit too.

  35. I’m glad you planned your trip before the blizzard! 😂 Looks like a wonderful couple of days museum hopping. I love the image of the art in the Getty Center’s rotunda.

    1. You are right, a week later and we would have been dealing with lots of rain. As I mentioned in another reply, even the Hollywood sign had a dusting of snow. Fortunately, when we were there it was a bit chilly but sunny.

      That dome painting was amazing! I love all of the images and how they work together.

  36. Hi Janis we visited Los Angeles many years ago and at first thought it was just about Hollywood. We soon discovered there was much more to this City of Angels and enjoyed our visit. I still learned more about the city from your post and enjoyed your photographs. Thanks so much for linking up and participating in our What’s Been On Your Calendar? I look forward to reading what you have been up to in March. x

  37. I’ve heard of the bad traffic there – I think everyone probably has – but I remember seeing an early scene in La La Land in which the traffic was simply stopped. Wow. Bad traffic is enough to put me off nearly anything, but I’m glad you found a reason to rediscover your neighbor to the north.

  38. That’s really cool. I 100% understand what you mean about leaving early or late to get past L.A. and all that traffic. We’ve done that, but have never made it our destination. You just might sway me!

  39. I’m not a big fan of L.A., but I do regret never having seen Griffith Observatory. Something like that would be right up my alley! Instead, I used to be married to someone who is a Disney freak. Once was enough for me, but if she had it her way, she’d be there once a month.

  40. Hi Janis, It is always fun to see other parts of our planet. About three decades ago we drove through L.A. on the freeway and even then it took us many hours. I was not aware of Griffith Observatory’s mission. I met a number of astronomers through my work and they were either going to Hawaii or coming back from working on high mountain areas. I have been to the planetarium in Vancouver many moons ago, not at all like the one in L.A.. Thank you for sharing the fun facts. Like you say, so much to see and so little time. I loved the photos, Janis. 💕

    1. Hi Erica, nice to “see” you here! I really liked that the Griffith Observatory, although it had two pretty impressive telescopes, was focused on educating the public. I’ve visited the observatories on top of the mountain on Hawaii… but only from the outside. It was so interesting to see one from the inside.

  41. I feel the same way about Tampa near me… too much traffic to enjoy the visit. Not nearly the LA traffic, but it’s a mindset! I’ll have to rethink that as yes, there are a number of museums and parks to explore there.

  42. Now, that’s a side to LA I could totally get on board with…I love a good museum and I do love a good fun fact. Thanks for linking up!

  43. Hi Janis, what a great recap of your visit to LA. I’ve only ever flown in and out spending a few days doing touristy things many years ago. The traffic sounds horrendous, like any big city, so I may not visit again for a few more years yet, but if I did come I know what to see and do thanks to your informative post :). Thanks for joining us for WBOYC this month.

  44. I’m glad you had the opportunity to enjoy LA, Janis, and thanks for sharing your beautiful photos with us. The traffic situation also discourages me from going there, but perhaps I should reconsider. Also, I had no idea the Rebel without a Cause knife fight scene was filmed at the Observatory. Thanks for that little bit of trivia.

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