A California diary… Bob and Tigg on tour in 2005
10 days in southern California… day two
Los Angeles… The Getty Center and Mulholland Drive


From the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected

Normally when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or computer issues over the years.


This entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the site, it was part of the Travel Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.

And that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site, and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that piece and used for the book.

This material was originally posted on July 25, 2005. It was later published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments may have been made while bringing the material back to the site in this posting.

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Day two, Sunday, April 17, 2005

Today turned out to be one of those funny days where everything was still more or less all screwed up, more or less unplanned, and yet worked out so wonderfully that it seemed like I had it planned perfectly all along.

We check out of the Radisson and Justin has made it clear that he expects a Denny’s to be in our plans for breakfast, and that expectation includes his desire that one magically appear in front of us within three to five minutes.

First, before the magic show, a note about the Radisson. It was fine. The room was comfortable and clean. We never had a chance to check out any of the real offerings at the place… heck, we didn’t even need ice… so I can’t offer much more than fine, but overall it was exactly what we had hoped to have for a single-night stay. When the time to head back to LA arrives in the future, I wouldn’t have any problem if one of the first calls was here to arrange a room.

Having arrived in the middle of the night, the neighborhood looks different in daylight than it did just a few hours earlier around 2am. I’m pretty sure the highway is off to the right as we exit the hotel’s parking lot. (I made a lot of right-hand turns getting off of the highway to backtrack to the hotel, so continuing the progression to the right seems appropriate). But with no city map in my hands and no true directions, I’m not 100% certain where I’ll find the ramp to get back on route 405.

So what happens?

I don’t tell anyone that effectively we’re lost, start moving, and turn right out of the parking lot. Straight ahead we see the highway overpass situated so that it appears yet another right hand-turn will bring me parallel to it. So we turn right again and find… signs for 405 North and a Denny’s at the light before the entrance to the highway.

As if that wasn’t perfect enough, the Denny’s is in a shopping center that includes a store where I will find my street and landmark map of Los Angeles. After literally destroying a great reputation built on impressive past travel efforts with two hours of hooker sightings and trying to find a hotel the night before, Tour Guide Bob is recovering nicely on a beautiful April morning in Los Angeles.

(Just don’t tell anyone it’s all a bunch of random potential mistakes that worked out in my favor.)

Anyway… Denny’s… breakfast… time to get a map.

Now… maps…

Something strange happened to me in New York City about twelve or so years ago. I was in the city with some friends, and we were just planning on a casual day meandering around… Empire State Building… maybe a Broadway show if we could get tickets to something we wanted to see. We wandered into a store, and I began to look at a display of maps near the counter. They all were for New York City, but each one was focused on different locations… theaters, museums, points of interest… stuff like that. I bought one that had museums and a few other places listed, and it helped me learn how to love New York City. Beyond finding the regular tourist sites, this map had subway stops marked, was laminated, and always folded up nice and neat. Having it as a resource when needed made me feel incredibly comfortable in New York.

When Jay wound up going to school in Baltimore, we were given a similar map for the city during his orientation. Next thing you know, I’m not having many troubles navigating around Baltimore.

Bringing the map idea full circle and this diary back to southern California… much like accepting the backpack I drag along on trips, Tigg now looks for city maps when she knows I’m going to be driving in a new place. So, the first full day in Los Angeles, no 100% definite plans for later in the afternoon and knowing we would be coming back to LA later in the week, she’s asking if I have a map yet.

We wander into a drug store that shares the plaza with Denny’s. After searching through several maps, I finally pick one made by National Geographic since it seems to contain the best information on landmarks.

Back in the car, we are heading to The Getty Center.


I say that because the property that The Getty Center occupies may be the most impressive museum-type property that I have ever seen. And the total cost for our group of 4 to visit the facility… $7.00.

Yup… seven bucks. The price to park the car. No admission charge. (Which isn’t an amazingly odd thing... lots of museums have free admission or suggested donations for admission. But, most of them are also located in places like New York, and good luck parking the car for $7 there.)

Once you enter the grounds and decide on a path to follow through the buildings, everything works together quite well. The Center is home to an impressive collection of sculptures, paintings and other assorted pieces. Most of the big names are well represented, including selections that will be familiar to everyone.

A tram runs from the parking area to the facility. There is a gift shop… just like all of the regular museum gift shops you’ve probably seen… but I quite easily found prints of two paintings I loved, and I don’t believe I had ever seen either painting before. They were “Sunrise” by Claude Monet and “The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark” by Jan Brueghel the Elder. I mention them because I thought they were both striking, but… art can be an incredibly individual medium for appreciation. There was so much here that picking just two things really doesn’t do the full collection justice.

In addition to some very interesting architecture, The Getty Center also features some amazing and beautiful landscaping. It is set on a hill that has some incredible views of the surrounding areas, has fountains and streams and other elements incorporated all around the property… and has an absolutely stunning collection of gardens.

We managed to walk through most of the facility and the surrounding grounds in just a few hours. Although I know we could have spent more time there -- after about three hours Justin and Tigg had pretty much exceeded their fill -- and as we crossed four hours it was time to leave.

This is where we find out that our National Geographic map stinks.

Our hotel is in San Clemente. It’s not even 4pm as we finish at The Getty Center, and we have time before dinner… which we are planning at a Japanese steakhouse roughly a half-hour away. We also have time before the need to get to our resort… which is a half-hour or so beyond the restaurant, and we have told them to expect us in the evening. So we decide to cruise along Mulholland Drive (with a starting point just north of the Center), head down toward Sunset Boulevard, and see if we can find a good view of the Hollywood sign.

Ever heard of Grauman’s Chinese Theater? I’d find it very hard to believe that you haven’t. It’s Mann’s Chinese Theater now and home to some of the most famous hands, feet and other assorted autographs and imprints ever found in cement. Do you know what street it is located on? Well, when you open up the main map of Los Angeles that I have from National Geographic, Hollywood Boulevard isn’t listed. And Mann’s Chinese Theater is depicted right at a t-intersection where La Brea Avenue meets Sunset. It’s right near Highland Avenue.

We started driving back and forth along Sunset and never find the theater. (Yes… yes… people of LA… later I was shaking my head as well, feeling quite embarrassed. If you flip the map over, look around and eventually find the more detailed version of that area of LA, Mann’s is on Hollywood Boulevard. But how does Hollywood Boulevard not make the main map? Probably the same way that the map can’t possibly follow all of the twists and turns of Mulholland Drive… because it doesn’t, it approximates them. But what a gorgeous, twisting, turning drive it is.)

We stopped at the Stone Canyon Overlook (which is identified as part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the City of Los Angeles). Nice views from there, although the haze we had seen around the city earlier in the day… and especially seen while at the Getty… was still there. We then followed the street into some connecting roads that took us to Laurel Canyon Boulevard and through a portion of Beverly Hills. From there it was Sunset Boulevard and heading away from the coast toward Hollywood.

A quick note on the streets and Hollywood Boulevard. Yes, you would be absolutely right in saying that I should have known Mann’s was on Hollywood. But other than possibly New York City -- and I mean that, possibly New York -- LA has more famous streets than any city in the country… Sunset… Hollywood… Santa Monica… Laurel Canyon… Mulholland… and the list goes on. It really is quite amazing, because even if you get lost in Hollywood, the names are so familiar that you feel like you should know where you are. The end result is, when you are looking at a map that shows Mann’s Chinese Theater on Sunset Boulevard… well… you basically just nod your head and say “right, Sunset, of course it is, I knew that.” You don’t question it.

Around the time we reached Hollywood & Vine while moving along, it occurred to me that we not only hadn’t seen the Hollywood sign yet… for some reason we hadn’t really been looking for it. So I started looking down streets toward the hills and there it was. And in true “Los Angeles doesn’t want you to visit” fashion, trying to get closer to it was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip.

I really should tell you about our car rental.

Tigg and I are thinking about buying another vehicle soon. Right now we have two smaller cars. Having driven an SUV in years past, we have missed the extra space on several occasions and have been kicking around a lot of options… truck, SUV, mini-van. Obviously cost and gas mileage play into it, but some of our biggest debates have involved seating capacity as well as a few of the items we have had to lug around in recent moves. The end result was that when we had the chance to rent a Toyota 4Runner, which was a model we are looking at, we took it. Driving it for a week would be a huge help in deciding if we wanted it.

Well… this thing isn’t huge by SUV standards of the day, but the Toyota 4Runner is big. Big enough that while I believe they have smaller lanes on the highways in California (more on that in a moment), I could definitely see where it might be the car we rented playing in to my perceptions.

You get the idea… big SUV. Ok? Back to the trip…

As we drove up toward the Hollywood sign, we kept turning onto a variety of streets that I felt was bringing us closer and closer to the sign. For the most part, it was, but now as we were driving up and down curving streets of houses and trees, the sign was no longer visible. But the amazing thing was how the streets curled up incredibly steep angles and were narrow enough that, with just a single car parked on the side of the road, they became virtually impassable for our group.

By the time this trip was over, Tigg, Jay and Justin had begun to question the state of Connecticut for granting me a driver’s license. But on this day, I was putting on a demonstration of skills… in drive, in reverse, heck even in neutral and while parallel parking… that I feel comfortable saying none of them could equal.

If you can’t drive and aren’t sure of the direction to drive, take your picture from down below and just try to zoom in on the sign as best as you can.

We finally asked a man walking down one road where we were going wrong, and he pointed us down a side street that we never would have even considered. Three quick turns… one making a selection at a fork in the road where he told us to go to the left… and the sign appeared. Along the way we passed a tour bus that seemed to be having troubles going up the incline in the road… and held a ton of tourists that seemed very impressed by a small house for Hollywoodland Realty (they took a lot of pictures of it, and it does have an interesting history… you can check that out on your own though). If it weren’t for having the walking man’s help, I’m fairly certain only a herd of mountain goats would have been able to lead us there.

Tigg was taking pictures, and decided we should all stand with our hands out. (So she could move around a bit and get the sign on top of our outstretched palms. Folks, I’m telling you… you think I’m kidding when I explain what Jay, Justin and I go through because you know that Tigg is such a wonderful person (and she is). But I’m not kidding… outstretched hands so she can line up the Hollywood sign on them.)

By now it was about 6pm and we decided to head out of LA and toward our hotel. I’m thinking that the best way might be to head back out to the coast, get on the Pacific Coast Highway just north of the Santa Monica Pier, and then turn south along the PCH out of LA and toward Huntington Beach. I thought that was a nice, lazy drive with a good chance for some great scenery.

If you weren’t laughing at me after my description of the neighborhoods near the Hollywood sign, those of you that are familiar with the area are not insulting me in the least by laughing at me right now. I get it. And you’re right. Nice, lazy, scenic drive indeed. But on this evening… I didn’t know any better.

See, route 1… the Pacific Coast Highway… turns away from the coast just south of the Santa Monica Pier. And it heads past LAX and tempts you with a return toward the coast before heading back inland again moving toward the Long Beach Airport. In short, it was a very dumb idea for what I wanted, because of very little time on the actual coast. I give up on it just as we pass LAX and get on route 405 South.

The lanes are definitely smaller.

I’m convinced of it. I don’t know the exact measurements, but the highways are six lanes wide. I’ve got a funny feeling that instead of say a 60-foot wide stretch of road with five lanes that are all 12-feet wide, someone came up with the brilliant idea of improving the flow of traffic with six lanes that are all 10-feet wide.

I’ve already noticed this phenomenon in other places too. The parking spaces seem smaller. I can’t prove any of it. But as we cruise down 405 on this Sunday evening, I’m beginning to believe it has nothing to do with driving a vehicle bigger than the one I have been operating for the past six years. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that at this point in the trip, I don’t recall seeing a single identifying mark on any of the exit signs except for street names. No numbering system… whether 1-2-3 and so on, or by mileage, or whatever.

We’re heading to a restaurant called Matsu on Ocean Boulevard in Huntington Beach. While trying to bring together some information for the trip, I happened to e-mail someone I got to know on-line through National Novel Writing Month… Paula. Before we left, she and I had exchanged information on a variety of things, including her tipping us off about The Getty Center. Since that went so well, and everyone in our group is a huge fan of Japanese steakhouses, the decision to stop at Matsu was an easy one.

I’d like to tell you the dinner was fantastic… it was ok. While almost every Japanese steakhouse I have ever been in served ginger and mustard sauces with the meals at the grill (you know… most places call it a hibachi grill, although I’ve seen it called teppanyaki dining as well), Matsu adds a teriyaki sauce that was outstanding. I ordered a chicken appetizer that I hadn’t seen before. It was a deep fried dish, and it tasted as though it was only partially cooked. I checked the chicken, and it was done, so the only thing I can think of is that enough oil seeped past the coating to give it that texture and consistency when I ate each piece. I think that probably had something to do with the oil temperature, might not be an every-time occurrence… but I wasn’t in the kitchen. Still, that threw me off from the very start. Between entrees that included chicken and shrimp though, everyone in our group came away with a feeling that the meal was fine, and simply nothing too special.

Back on the 405 and we move along to the San Clemente Inn.

We had spent a fair amount of time researching places to stay on our trip. At the start we were looking at places closer to the Los Angeles area… with the thinking being that between LA and Anaheim, we would be spending the majority of time closer to those cities. But three funny things happened… (1) The more we looked at San Diego and places like the Joshua Tree National Park, the more it became quite apparent that the majority of our days weren’t going to be spent in Los Angeles. (2) The traffic is a funny thing around here… and while I had never experienced it before, I had talked with friends about it. One thing they mentioned was getting out of the cities when selecting a hotel, and in essence setting it up so we only experienced one rush hour on any drive. In other words, instead of trying to get out of Los Angeles during the beginning of the morning commute and then going in to San Diego at the end of the morning commute, we’d be significantly better off staying somewhere between the two cities and only dealing with one traffic headache or the other. (3) Ellen and Richard delivered a great option when you consider points 1 and 2… finding and referring us to the San Clemente Inn. Essentially centered between LA and San Diego, it was near a highway, and had plenty to offer. We’ll talk more about the resort as we continue with the diary, but for now…

The boys slept on Murphy beds. In general that was a good thing… they were happy with it overall. But, when pulled down, it cut off the door from the bedroom into the main portion of the suite.

Very nice facility and we were quite satisfied. But, for those of you that are more experienced time-share-facility travelers, don’t be fooled. The San Clemente Inn is much closer to a converted hotel than some of the resort properties I have experienced over the years.

When we were checking in I decided to ask about the Joshua Tree National Park, and I had a very good reason for that… up until this point, no one had ever heard of it.

Paula, my NaNo friend, said she hadn’t heard of it and thought she might want to look into it for her family. When I called the San Clemente Inn a few days before our trip to let them know we were planning on arriving around 8pm or 9pm to check in, I had asked about Joshua Tree. The person I spoke with on that call thought the drive to the park was about 6 hours, but she wasn’t familiar with it.

The two girls at the counter when we checked in also had never heard of it, but they pulled up some information over the internet and printed it out for me in just a few seconds. All of this created a really interesting scenario… where we figured either no one knew about the park because it was horrendous and not worth telling people about, or, it was going to be an amazing day that left us wondering what people in California paid attention to that caused them to miss it.

For now we’ve arrived at our room, have started unpacking, and are trying to organize things for the trip to the San Diego Zoo on Monday.

Life is good.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com