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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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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137 thoughts on “Adventures in La La Land”
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.
It is hard to grasp how big the city is. Fortunately, many of the museums and other places of interest we want to see are concentrated in one or two areas. I’m glad to live in a smaller city, but it’s fun to visit our neighbor to the north now and then.
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.
It is very strange to have tar pits where mammoths and saber tooth tigers got stuck right in the middle of the city (of course, the city wasn’t there then 🙂 ). I remember visiting as a child and being fascinated. We will absolutely go back to visit again.
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.
I remember the smog too. Yikes! It is so much better now… the skies were clear and blue. Thank goodness for emissions regulations.
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?
The air is a lot cleaner now. I imagine that cars and factories could spew just about anything they wanted back then.
I wondered if that was the case
Wow! I did not think I could ever be interested in a knife fight. But this video clip had me glued to the screen, Janis.
Have you ever seen the movie, Peter? I haven’t for a long time but after visiting the Observatory and finding that clip, I want to rent it again.
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!
I’ve only been to one presidential library (the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri) and found it fascinating. Next time we are in L.A., I might check out that one. Thanks for the tip!
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.
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.
You just never know for sure. I’m glad you were able to get through with no problem.
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!
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed LACMA. I thought I would have had my fill of museums by then but it was fabulous! I’m happy to participate in the challenge. Hopefully I can enter my post in the link. For some reason, I have a hard time.
Already done! You get special treatment. 🙂
Thank you! Maybe you can help me figure it out… we’ll talk 😘
Will do! It’s quite easy after you do it once.
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!
I’m not a big city person either but they really have a lot to offer. Once we got to our hotel, we took shuttles or Uber to most places… we let someone else deal with the traffic 🙂
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. 🙂
Yes, I imagine you didn’t see very much at LAX 🙂 I’m sure the rich folks either go by chopper or hire drivers. The best we could do was call Uber.
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.
Hi Bernie. We considered taking the train but decided no for several reasons. Maybe next time, though. And, yes the weather was great… so glad we didn’t go there this week (lots of wind and rain).
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!
While the city we live in would be considered large by many people, visiting LA made me grateful that it isn’t that huge. Much better to visit now and then and go home.
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!
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!
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!
I have a couple of friends who live in – and love – LA, but I don’t think I could handle the congestion full time. I bet those light shows were fabulous… what a great setting!
Yea, too congested for me too. So glad I left!
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 👍
I’m not sure if I’ve been to that museum, but I really like Pasadena (craftsman homes, huge swap meet, Huntington Library) so maybe we need to plan another trip.
Agree. Norton Simon Museum was beautiful
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.
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.
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.
Thankfully, we prefer San Diego too 😎. I was very pleasantly surprised at how clean the air was. They have come a long way in cleaning up the crud.
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!
We love Bosch too (except I know him from the Amazon Prime show). Since we took Ubers just about everywhere, we had a chance to talk to the various drivers. Ironically, most of them said that they love to drive there. Crazy, huh?
Have you watched The Lincoln Lawyer series, Janis? On Netflix I think. Bosch’s half brother. Also set in LA. Highly entertaining.
Yes! I also watched the Bosch Legacy series (which, I read will be continuing later this year). Love Hieronymus Bosch (and the painter too 🙂)!
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. 🙂
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.
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!
Toronto is marvelous! As I remember, it has a pretty good public transportation system. I think I’d ditch the car and ride the metro. I also remember doing a ton of walking. Now I want to go back 🙂
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!
That would be fabulous! When we visited Toronto back in 2016, we met up with Joanne, who, sadly, no longer blogs. I love to arrange meet-ups when we travel!
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!
I hope you go back and let me know when you do. I walk and cycle everywhere in downtown Toronto and love it!
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.
San Francisco has a lot to offer too. Although I’ve been to several small galleries and museums there, I haven’t been to the one you mentioned. Have a wonderful time!
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.
Denver is a lot of fun too. This trip also reminded us that we should take more “field trips” to the city we live in. Sometimes we forget what it has to offer.
Yes, the traffic is awful, but there is so much to see. I enjoyed the fun facts too.
It’s hard to believe that so many people deal with that traffic every day. It must take some workers over an hour to get home at the end of the day… yikes!
Can you share where you stayed in LA?
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.
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.
We did a lot in just a few days! Now I’m inspired to visit a few of our local museums and galleries.
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.
You are so right about museums… I’ve been to some odd-sounding ones, but I always found something(s) fascinating to discover. I hope your museum situations gets resolved.
We do have quite a few historical places here and with a rich Maori heritage so a museum is needed.
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.
L.A. isn’t known for it’s public transportation, so getting around can be challenging. In addition, there isn’t just one center so it’s not very walkable. That being said, there is a lot to see. Please let me know the next time you get to San Diego!
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. 🙂
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!
I go to the Malibu Getty just for the setting! It’s worth it for the beauty. 🙂
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….
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.
I enjoyed this post very much. Would love to visit LA again. The tar pits are great.
I am so sorry that we didn’t see the tar pits on this trip. LACMA is right next door but we had to get on the road home to miss the traffic 🙂 . Fun fact: we didn’t miss the traffic. Next time…
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. 🙂
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.
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!
The Huntington is fabulous and, one of these days, I need to visit again. I really like Pasadena and it’s not quite as crazy as LA.
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.
Yes, scary and exhausting. If you enjoyed the Getty, I’m sure you’d love LACMA.
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.
If I lived outside of California, I’m not sure LA would be on my list of places to visit in the state. But, living relatively close, it was a great opportunity to see a lot in a few days. I’m happy you came along!
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.
Next time, we will visit the tar pits for sure. I love that such an ancient site is in the middle of a modern city.
It is something how the city grew around it isn’t it. 😀
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.
LA has a lot to offer. Be sure to get your Uber app up and running before you get there, though. Best to leave the driving to someone else 🙂
Good advice. Thanks.
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. 😍
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!
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!! 😍
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. 🙂
Big cities are a challenge. So much to see and do, but way too peopley for me most of the time. It was great to get away but also nice to return home 🙂
Too peopley. Yes, and too trafficky.
That sounds like an interesting – if slightly overwhelming – trip!
We packed in a lot over a few days. But, still we didn’t see everything we wanted to.
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.
We were fortunate to get there before the skies opened up this week. The observatory was so interesting… I could have spent more time there but the crowds made me a bit twitchy.
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.
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.
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
Hollywood certainly gets tops billing but there is a lot more to see. In fact, I don’t think we saw a single movie star the whole time we were there 🙂 I’m happy to participate in the link-up… it’s a great way to share a little of our lives and activities.
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.
Interestingly, I don’t think we were ever completely stopped in traffic this time, although that has happened several times in the past when we were driving through. Grrrrrr….
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!
I bet your kids would love La Brea Tar Pits! Just get a hotel downtown and walk or Uber everywhere.
That’s precisely the one that most draws me. I’ve looked into it a couple of times. Never been brave enough to pull the trigger. Not yet, anyway.
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.
I have a couple of friends who are “Disney Freaks” too. Never understood the attraction past age 12 or so.
Exactly! I went there for the first time around that age. Once was enough for me.
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. 💕
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.
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.
It’s too bad that many of us avoid cities – with all they have to offer – because of the traffic and crowds. Sometimes we just need to go anyway and do what we can to make it easier on ourselves (weekdays, Uber, etc.).
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!
Hi Jo. Funny that I don’t visit the many great museums we have here where I live… but when I visit somewhere different, sign me up!
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.
Next time – assuming there is a next time 🙂 – I would probably take the train and stay at a downtown hotel and walk everywhere. There is so much to see and do, you could easily spend four or five days.
It sounds like you really had a great experience! I loved learning these facts about the planetarium.
We had a great time exploring the Observatory… it was so beautiful and full of history. Thanks for the comment!
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.
I guess they are pretty proud of that fact, they even have a bronze bust of James Dean in front of the observatory. There is so much to see in LA that it’s worth braving the traffic for a few days 🙂