Part of the reason I love to travel so much is because of all the planning I get to put into it. To me, there is no better activity than researching things my friends and I can afford to do, the best ways to go about doing them, and then compiling what I find into an itinerary.
The first trip I organized without the help of an adult was my venture to the City of Angels to meet my friend Tamara. We were exchange students in Austria together and had been anticipating seeing one another after a year of being apart. The timing was off for our third counterpart, Claudia, to join us, but Tamara and I went full steam ahead to plan our week in LA.
Although we had different winter break schedules, the week between Christmas and the New Year overlapped. I flew in December 28 from Montana, Tamara flew in from Canada later that day, and we departed separately on January 4.
Tamara and I went through a good list of locations before we decided on LA and it was largely due to the fact that we found airfare priced roughly similar for us both. With me in Montana and her in Ontario, we wanted to make sure one of us wasn’t spending significantly more than the other to reach the destination.
I prefer to fly out of the Bozeman airport because it’s close both to Lewistown and Missoula (“Close” by Montanan standards. I’m talking 3 hours) and it generally has the cheapest flights. I found a good deal with United for this trip, flying direct on my way there. I left LA from the Bob Hope Burbank airport with a short layover in Salt Lake City.
(I shouldn’t have flown with United! Allegiant Air has great deals to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and LA from Bozeman, which I will be detailing in my spring break post.)
After we booked flights, we needed to find a place to stay. In Europe, we frequented a few hostels and looked into the hostel options in LA. We settled on Banana Bungalow Hollywood for 1) good reviews 2) price and availability and 3) great location. We are both well under the respective age for car rentals so we needed a place with a metro station and attractions within walking distance.
As you can see, we were on the west end of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and 2 1/2 blocks from the Hollywood & Vine metro station.
Tamara and I were both very pleased with our decision to stay in a hostel. A hotel or Airbnb would have been either too expensive or out of the way. We loved Banana Bungalow because of the reasons I listed above, but also because it offered:
- discounted tours and excursions
- on-site activities almost every night (great opportunities to meet our roommates and other travelers!)
- occasional $5 dinners throughout the week
- included breakfast
It was like staying in an all-inclusive resort, but the open bar was a cooler full of Modelos and we shared a bathroom with 6 other people.
We each spent $260 for 7 nights in a 12-person dorm (never filled to capacity, thankfully) which helped us be able to afford all of the fun we had!
What Happened There
Day 1 – Hollywood Boulevard
Leading up to the trip, Tamara and I created a shared document to brainstorm activities. We dedicated a day to exploring the Hollywood Strip. Banana Bungalow offered a discounted (albeit, still overpriced) celebrity tour bus we took for the sake of not wanting to walk 3 1/2 miles to Hollywood Hills. That was one of our only tourist-y splurges for the entire trip and it was worth the $37 + tip we each had to cough up in cash.
That afternoon, we made our way to the Griffith Observatory for the sunset. We took the subway to a bus stop to wait for a shuttle to take us all the way to the top. We had a difficult time determining which bus stop it was, exactly, because there were several with vague Observatory references on the same mile-long section of the road so we jogged between them until we saw one pull up to the curb and could chase it down.
That shuttle was uncomfortably packed and being sweaty from running all over didn’t help. But we sure timed it right. I will always remember it as one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen.
The Fonda Theatre is a block away from the Banana Bungalow so we looked ahead and discovered a band we liked, Cherry Glazerr, happened to be playing there that night and tickets were appropriately priced. We also really enjoyed the opening artist, Vagabon.
Day 2 – Santa Monica & Venice Beach
Via the Los Angeles Metro Rail, we set off with our 7-day metro pass to Santa Monica for a beach day. Each way took about 2 hours, but time is a sacrifice that must be made when you are under 21 and traipsing around the city.
We checked out the pier and then rented a tandem bike to take to Venice Beach. I would highly recommend this activity purely for hilarity. Tamara and I looked like total idiots trying to operate that thing.
After people watching at Venice Beach, we sat on some rocks by the water and then wandered around the town of Venice. We walked up and down the canals and nosed our way into the expensive boutiques.
Day 3 – Downtown LA
Tamara and I hopped on the subway again to visit Downtown LA and Chinatown. We got off at Union Station and stepped directly into a Mexican market at El Pueblo. After finding some delicious sugar cookies we walked to Chinatown to peruse its shops. It was very hot and we weren’t interested in buying anything, so we meandered our way around Grand Park (it was inconveniently closed to prep for the New Year’s Eve party happening that night) to find the Walt Disney Concert Hall and two art museums. We weren’t about to try to get into The Broad, so we went to The Museum of Contemporary Art close by instead.
I don’t know anything about art but as I mentioned above, it was air conditioned, therefore I would recommend it.
I had read about the gritty glamour of the LA art district in Condé Nast and put it on our itinerary. I should have realized that filtered photos with graffiti-ed murals are reserved for upscale hipsters who can afford to Uber directly there and in-between each gallery. Tamara and I do not recommend using public transportation to navigate LA’s art district from downtown because the bus route suggested to us by Google Maps passed directly through Skid Row, as we found out.
There is no shining entrance welcoming visitors to the art district. Instead, at the bus stop that signaled arrival at our destination, there was only a locked building with a sign claiming the neighborhood was “safe” and “clean”. Perhaps if you are comfortable in big cities and can read a map better than Tamara or I, you can explore the area on foot. The two of us felt like we were highly at risk of accidentally walking down a street where we could get jumped so as soon as we found a mural to take a picture with we quickly called an Uber and skedaddled out of there.
That night we returned to the hostel for a New Year’s party that was being thrown. Guests from the Banana Bungalow West Hollywood were there to join us. There was karaoke, games, and a courtyard full of
coke the typical debauchery young travelers are privy to taking part in.
Day 4 – Recovery and Bitter Disappointment
Our planned itinerary was ignored on January 1st. Tamara and I would have done well to sleep all day, but as hostel dorm rooms are certainly not meant for lounging in, we went for a walk in nearby Thai Town to find
something that could cure our hangovers lunch. We spent a miserable few hours in a booth of a restaurant staring at our heaping plates of fried rice and pad Thai while sipping on Sprites as families loudly gathered at the other tables to celebrate the New Year.
There was a museum I had seen featured on Nick’s season of The Bachelor called the Museum of Broken Relationships that was located conveniently close to us on Hollywood Boulevard. We wanted to go, and made plans to with a friend we made at the hostel who bailed last minute before we left. When we arrived we realized that they had switched out the exhibit to overwhelming, immersive life-size murals. We walked far enough that we shrugged and coughed up $25 each. I have possibly never wasted money on something so pointless than this “museum”. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Annoyed, we caught a movie (Pitch Perfect 3, another thing I wouldn’t recommend spending money on) at the famous TCL Chinese Theater.
Day 5 – Sunset Strip & Beverly Hills
For me, an appealing point of Los Angeles was the rock n’ roll history that took place on Sunset Boulevard. We journeyed there for a day to explore the Sunset Strip. Our first stop was the Amoeba Music record store and I could have spent a whole week wandering around. If you like music at all, go. I left with several T-shirts, CDs, posters, and stickers.
The tour we went on the first day already took us by some of the popular sites of the Sunset Strip (the Whiskey a Go Go, Chateau Marmot, the Beverly Hill Hotel, the Laugh Factory, and a Wahlburger). We meandered from Amoeba to the Rockwalk at the Guitar Center, where I found Jimmy Page’s hand print.
From the Rockwalk, we caught a bus to Beverly Hills to wander around Rodeo Drive. Tamara and I have never felt so poor and inferior, but we had a lot of fun ogling at the rich and beautiful people spending their money. After that, we headed to dinner.
I’m a huge fan of Led Zeppelin, so I had to see the infamous “Riot House”, now known as the Andaz West Hollywood. Luckily for me, dinner at the hotel was more affordable than staying there so we enjoyed our poshest meal of the week that night.
Day 6 – Paramount Studios
Our last day in LA we made reservations for a Paramount Studios tour, which was located conveniently close to our hostel. There was only one other person in the tour group and our guide was a hoot so we really had a good time.
Most memorably, I sat on the Dr. Phil stage and the set of Grace and Frankie. We learned a lot of fun facts about Hollywood and filming movies and would definitely recommend the tour.
Later that night, Tamara and I bought tickets for an Upright Citizens’ Brigade show called Facebook that was hilarious. The tickets were each about $7, and it was a short Uber ride away from the hostel, and it was easily one of the highlights of our trip!
Day 7 – Departure
Tamara and I had flights leaving in the early afternoon that day from different airports. We said farewell and parted ways, thankful for all of the interesting memories we had to take with us from our time in the city.