The different side of L.A that's taking over from Tinseltown
IT’S NOT often you get to stay at an exclusive club that was once home to Charlie Chaplin, and where the members list included Walt Disney, Rudolph Valentino and old Tarzan himself, Johnny Weissmuller.
But then, this is Hollywood, the land of make-believe. Anything can happen here.
The oak-panelled walls and stylish hallways of the members-only Los Angeles Athletic Club Hotel in downtown L.A. are reminder of a bygone era, when, in the 1890s, a group of influential businessmen transformed Los Angeles from a bustling town into a thriving metropolis.
Now, more than a century later, the City of Angels is starring in its very own sequel - LA: The Rising.
We travelled last month on board Aer Lingus’s inaugural flight from Dublin to Los Angeles - and in true red-carpet style, the TV crews and press photographers were there to greet us as we touched down.
It was as if we’d been given a walk-on part in the summer’s biggest blockbuster.
Downtown L.A. is very much the hottest property in Tinseltown at the moment. Iconic neighbourhoods that were once forgotten have found their mojo and have been transformed into thriving hipster havens.
Take a stroll along the famous Sunset Boulevard – situated in the Silver Lake area of the city – and you’ll find that the once run-down stores and dilapidated warehouses have been replaced by antique shops, art galleries, trendy restaurants and coffee bars.
Silver Lake, which was home to Walt Disney’s first studio, might only be a 10-minute cab ride from downtown L.A, but it’s a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
Here, you’ll find the laid-back Angelenos sitting at sidewalk cafes, sipping espressos and detox juices.
We take a peek inside the Juice Served Here store on Sunset, just to see what’s en vogue with the health-conscious locals.
Amongst the whole host of weird and wonderful tipples on sale, they’ve got juices like The Scoby, The Pipe Cleaner and The Pixie – brews that sound more like nicknames for Dublin gangland figures than detox drinks.
They’ve even got a Charcoal Lemonade, which the girl behind the counter tells us “has magnetic
properties which will help drag the bad stuff from your body”.
Or as one wag in our party suggests: “will help drag the dollars from your wallet”.
We take a short stroll down Sunset Boulevard to the old stomping ground of Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio.
Echo Park has recently had a $45million facelift, and the boating lake that forms the neighbourhood’s centre-piece is the perfect place to watch the world go by on a sunny Californian afternoon.
The area is also home to the famous Dodgers Stadium, the second-oldest baseball ground in the US behind Boston’s Fenway Park. It’s also where a young Michael Jackson went to school.
All around you in L.A. you’re reminded of the city’s celebrity status.
Back at our base at the Los Angeles Athletic Club (431, West 7th Street), we take a tour of the hallowed and storied halls of this historic old building.
Black-and-white photographs of famous sports stars and Olympians adorn the oak-panelled walls, along with memorabilia from the ages.
The club, which still has the feel of a private gentlemen’s hideaway, is unlike any other city centre hotel, in that it not only boasts its own swimming pool, but it also has its own full-size basketball court and several handball courts.
Just a short stroll away from our hotel is the Downtown Arts District.
At first glance, it’s a barren wasteland of abandoned warehouses, industrial units and grafitti.
But on closer inspection, it’s a burgeoning hub for L.A’s young, professional and creative types.
The neighbourhood is crammed with art studios, loft apartments, stylish boutiques and some of the best restaurants and bars in the city.
The area even has its very own craft brewery, which is serving some weird and wonderful concoctions.
Housed in a former factory, which in its previous incarnation manufactured cables for suspension bridges, Angel City Brewery is a unique establishment in that it also doubles as a thriving bar, crammed to the rafters with the ‘in’ crowd.
A range of amazing pale ales, rye beers and stouts are served – and there’s even a brew named after me: Belligerent Bloke.
But it all gets a little weird when it comes to the brewery’s Salted Caramel brew and Srirachelada beer, which is like drinking a bottle of cold tabasco sauce.
The one thing about Los Angeles that most people won’t realise is that, unlike most other cities in California, L.A. is a brilliant walking and hiking town.
Just a 10-minute spin from downtown is Griffith Park, home to the famous Hollywood sign, Greek Theatre and Griffith Observatory.
All through the park there are dedicated tracks and trails, which offer heart-stirring views of the Santa Monica Mountains and the massive L.A. sprawl below.
Although the dirt trails are well-trodden and packed with enthusiastic keep-fit fanatics, it’s advisable to take one of the brilliant guided tours (with bikesandhikesla.com) as it can be quite easy to lose your way in the vast mountain range.
Our guide, Stephen Spano, takes us on an amazing two-and-a-half hour hike, pointing out along the way the spots where scenes from movies like Back to the Future and Rebel Without a Cause were shot.
Although not originally from Los Angeles, Stephen’s knowledge of the city is quite astonishing.
He offers an insight into the history of this great metropolis that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
As we’re in energetic mode, we decide on one final walk before our return home – the Hollywood walk of fame.
No trip to L.A. would be complete without a stroll down America’s most famous boulevard.
The Dolby Theatre – the permanent home to Oscars – Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the hand and footprints of movie megastars like Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Robert DeNiro and George Clooney are a must-see at this Hollywood mecca.
The names of the celebrities past and present that adorn the 2,500 sidewalk stars on this two kilometre stretch, evoke great memories of the golden age of cinema.
However, one star in particular has of late been Trumping the others – that of the great hairdo himself.
In recent months, the crowds that gather daily to pay homage to the monument that honours the presidential hopeful have become an attraction in themselves.
Only in America is it remotely possible that a man who has been branded a racist, a sexist, a facist and business buffoon could be in line to become the leader of the free world.
But then, this is Hollywood, the place where ordinary folk, or queer folk, become superstars and dreams really to do come true.
GETTING THERE: Aer Lingus operates a four-times-weekly, year-round service direct from Dublin to Los Angeles. Fares (incl. taxes and charges) start from €299 each way for travel during September and October. Full US customs and border protection pre-clearance processing is completed at Dublin airport, meaning Aer Lingus passengers clear US immigration and customs before departing. Ireland is the only European country to offer these state-of-the-art facilities. See aerlingus.com
WHERE TO STAY: Brian stayed at the Los Angeles Athletic Club, 431 W 7th St, Los Angeles. The hotel is steeped in L.A. history and is a sports
enthusiast’s paradise. See laac.com
WHERE TO EAT: The Grand Cental Market in downton LA (317 S Broadway) is a food emporium of 40 vendors, ranging from Mexican, to Asian, to some of the best barbecue in California. It’s a great place to sit, grab a burrito, sip a cold beer. See grandcentralmarket.com.
DO THE TOURS: • A two-and-a-half hour hiking tour is a brilliant way to see the best of L.A. The good people at bikesandhikesla.com have a huge array of tours on offer, including; • L.A. in a Day Bike Adventure – a full-day bike tour allows guests to see the city in its entirety over a 32-mile, six-hour cycle. • Hollywood Bike Adventure – For those craving the sights of Hollywood’s legendary landmarks. • Movie Star Homes Bike Adventure: A tour of the the iconic 90210 zip code, home to LA’s rich and famous. See bikesandhikesla.com
EXTRA INFO: Check out the official visitor information website of Los Angeles at discoverLosAngeles.com. Join the more than one million people who follow L.A. Tourism’s Facebook page at facebook.com/LosAngelesFan, or follow @discoverLA on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.