Our good friends Wayne and Martine come to California pretty much every year, and know LA inside out. Wayne was kind enough to put together some highlights for us to hit, and given our lack of other itinerary we decided to follow his suggestions for our remaining time in the area. On the way to pick up the car from where we'd parked it the previous evening, we noticed that one of the roads was filled with bizarre leaning things, be they trees or signposts. It might seem like I've just taken this at an odd angle, but you'll see what I mean if you compare the angle of the signpost on the right with the straightness of the wall directly behind it. It was all very strange, as if a strong wind had battered through there during the night.
First up: The Getty Centre. Not to be confused with its little brother, the Getty Villa, it's as close as California gets to the Louvre. Whilst not on the same staggering scale, it's still mightily large and it's unlikely you'll get around the place in a day.
There is no entrance fee; you just pay for parking and take a gondola up to the main complex. There are a number of free tours running throughout the day, and I'd highly recommend taking at least one. We decided on the garden tour, which talks through the stunning architecture and gardens, the latter of which are designed as a work of art themselves.
The heat was, as usual, blistering. Gilly was glad of her umbrella (provided by the museum, of course), but it was a great time to visit as we could hop in and out of the grounds between exhibits. The two main exhibitions we saw were the line drawings of Gustav Klimt, which I was a little disappointed by, and the photography of Herb Ritter, which was astoundingly good. If there was a celebrity of note between 1980 and 2000, it's likely he'd snapped them.
The Getty provided our lunch (mmm....burger), and we took a drive to Hollywood Boulevard in the afternoon and parked up on a side road a few minutes away. It's the tourist heart of the city but it pales in comparison to Vegas when it comes to souvenir tat shops and pushy ticket touts, so we felt pretty immune to their hard sell. We were in the area to see the Cirque Du Soleil show Iris at the newly renamed Dolby Theatre (Kodak went bust and the sponsorship was changed) but there are a few sights to enjoy on the same road - not least a few crazies, including a man who sits in a bin.
The gaudy Grauman's Chinese Theatre wasn't accessible, since it was cordoned off for a red carpet event - the last ever performance of the Dirty Dancing stage show. Lots of people who were probably famous were getting screamed at from a distance by fans, but we didn't recognise anyone.
Also on this road: The Hollywood Walk of Fame. Yes, if there's a film or music star, they're likely somewhere on the walk. I tried to find the late, great Peter Falk, and failed. Probably because, as I later discovered, he doesn't have one. This is an outrage. However, two important people I did spot were Dean "Al" Stockwell, and hyper=creationist and gun rights-lobbying conservative karate king, Chuck Norris. Contrary to popular belief, behind Chuck Norris' star is not Chuck Norris. Or even a fist. There's a sewer, probably.
The most important star was saved for last though:
Into the Dolby Theatre we went, grabbing some massive muffins en route and listening to a band playing in the main shopping area. The Theatre is the home of the Oscars, but it seemed surprisingly small to me.
Iris was superb. A much different beast than the spectacle of KA, it felt much more personal and less bombastic, but no less of a delight. There were a lot of acrobatics, some very clever props, and some Chinese contortionists that quite possibly had spines made from Silly Putty. All told, it was as enjoyable as the previous Cirque du Soleil show we'd seen, but for very different reasons. I wouldn't hesitate to see another. Sadly, Iris didn't perform as well as other shows and is closing in January 2013 after 2 years in the Theatre, but there are plans to take it to other cities in the country.
For our final day in LA County, we took a trip to Griffith Observatory in the morning. This is an iconic building which has featured in many films, including Rebel Without A Cause and a couple of Terminator films.
We were early - it opens at 10am. Even then we were a little unsure how to get in, as the signage was somewhat confusing.
Some of the exhibits include a Foucault Pendulum, and a wall with boxes containing all of the elements currently discovered (though I suspect the gases may not have been in their respective boxes). Downstairs, you can find a planetarium of sorts, which we skipped over since we'd seen a similar thing in Kuala Lumpur.
The ability to actually "observe" anything was sadly missing though, the one telescope that is open for public use was closed off.
Now, for lunch. Ever since I mentioned going to LA, Wayne had been insistent that we visit his all-time favourite place for pizza: Sotto.
Apparently, the pizzas here are created by angels, and some of the ingredients include faerie tears, the sparkles from a will-o'-the-wisp, the laughter of a dryad, and powdered unicorn hair. Such is their position in Wayne's esteem, that I imagined that upon consumption I would be instantly compelled to move to California, just to be within easy reach of such sublime cuisine. Having scanned the menu and found it to be slightly pretentious, I opted for Salsiccia e friarielli (sausage, broccolletti and chilli), whilst Gilly went for a mackerel sandwich.
My verdict? It was OK. I'm not really a fan of burned bits on a pizza (Wayne assures me that this means it is done in a Neapolitan style, and probably means I'm just uncouth). However, it was good enough that I ate it all, and that's praise enough consider how MASSIVE it was.
Gilly's sandwich fared equally well in the size stakes.
I certainly wasn't disappointed in Sotto; I knew my enthusiasm for the place probably wouldn't match the heady heights of esteem my friend held it in, but then such is the beauty of opinion. It certainly didn't compare to Vientiane's Aria restaurant, which I would rank as making one of the best pizzas I've ever had.
Much exercise was needed, so we drove up to the next item on Wayne's suggested itinerary - Greystone Mansion - and had a a walk around the grounds. Another popular movie location, this one has been featured in X-Men, Ghostbusters 2, and the Spiderman trilogy to name a few.
A wonderful place to stroll around, the mansion's grounds are quite extensive and have plenty of water features, and nooks and crannies to explore over the space of an hour or so.
We topped off the day with a visit to the Annenberg Space for Photography, which was running an exhibition called "Who Shot Rock And Roll?" - a huge collection of "before they were famous" shots of everyone from Nirvana to the Rolling Stones, taken by some of the world's greatest photographers. A free audioguide is definitely worth getting to make the most of an exhibit like this, as it provides a lot of background to the artists and their relationship with the snappers.
We got back to Santa Monica, and Bill put together some fantastic cheeseburgers and fried potatoes for an evening meal, and we settled down to watch a film for the evening. A more charitable host, you cannot wish for. I say that about every CouchSurfer we have stayed at, and it is never not true.
It was our last night in the city; we were heading up the Pacific Coast Highway the next day on our journey, which would ultimately end in Seattle.