More Star Sightings for our Day in LA!

During our recent day in LA, we made a brief visit to Hollywood Boulevard and Madame Tussauds Hollywood wax museum (see Just a Little Bit of Hollywood).  After escaping the insane crowds of Hollywood and Highland, we made our way to peaceful Los Feliz for lunch at the Sidewalk Grill.  The food was delicious, but I wish we had ordered a bit of a variety. All four of us got the chicken (three with chicken skewers and one with chicken souvlaki)! I think it was the heat, hunger and exhaustion that clouded our judgement and sense of adventure.  But, I can say with complete conviction, the chicken is good!  And the cafe is a lovely stop on the way to Griffith Park.  I was insanely jealous of the people enjoying their pints on the patio…but we drank Diet Cokes inside. (again, delirium!)  The people watching is fun because Los Felix is one of those places where the cool people live:  not the fancy celebrity people, but still pretty cool people.  I would use the word “hip”, but my tween says that only old people use the word “hip” these days…so I guess I’ll have to find a different word.

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After fueling up, we headed to the Griffith Observatory.  Our original plan was to park up at the observatory, hike to the Hollywood Sign, grab a snack, watch a planetarium show, and see the exhibits.  Once it got dark (assuming that it would after we had done all of that), we would go look through the observatory telescopes.  Well, so much for planning because the rest of the day did not go that way.

First of all, as I mentioned in the previous blog, it was a holiday weekend in the summer. So, obviously, it was crowded.  And, we were arriving at about 2pm at the edge of the park. There was pretty much zero chance we would get parking in the small lot up by the observatory.  As we drove in on Vermont, traffic slowed dramatically at the Greek Theater (which is at the base of the hill where the observatory sits).  There was parking at the Greek Theater because there were no showings that evening (hint…don’t go to the observatory on days there are concerts at the Greek).  So we parked at the Theater with the other crowds.

The next challenge was actually getting to the observatory.  It turns out, for 50 cents, a “Dash” bus will give you a ride up the hill to the observatory.  Sounds great, right?  Well, my husband, being the ambitious outdoors man that he is, declared that we could easily hike to the observatory.  Ha!  In all fairness, he was right; there are several trails in the area to hike up to the observatory.  But, just because they are there doesn’t mean that you should hike them!  The trail we found was below the Greek entrance and across from the Roosevelt Golf Course.  The trail head was just beyond (to the right of) the picnic benches in the park area.

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Just beyond these picnic benches to the right is the trail head.

It is called the Boy Scout Trail which totally shamed me into agreeing to follow it.  Those scouts are clearly in good shape because the first part of this trail is straight up…and the vertical climb lasts for several minutes before it levels off.  Once I stopped complaining, I realized that the trail gave us some beautiful views of downtown and Beverly Hills (and got a bit easier after the initial ascent).

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Almost to the top!  Total hike was only .6 of a mile. 

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After arriving at the observatory no one was in the mood to hike further.  So we scrapped out Hollywood Sign hike and just enjoy the views of the sign from the observatory.

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This view would need to be good enough!

We went inside to catch a Planetarium show.  The show schedule is posted on the observatory website.  They only sell tickets for the next possible show (not several hours/shows in advance), so we just went with the next showing that was minutes away.  We did get a tip to bypass the ticket line and use the ticket kiosks to buy the tickets.  We were able to waltz right into the showing and get our seats.

After the show, we grabbed a snack in the cafe and enjoyed the deck and the views.  Then we went to the ground floor for the planet exhibit that does side-by-side comparisons of  Mercury through Pluto.  Weigh yourself on Pluto…it will help your ego!

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Overall, it was a really fun visit to the observatory.  We may try to hike to the sign another time when the weather is not as warm.  Also, in the winter, we won’t have to stay late to wait for darkness and use the telescopes!

 

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Just a Little Bit of Hollywood

We decided to do a day in LA last weekend.  We live an hour outside of Los Angeles (two hours with traffic at times) so you would assume we know the city well.  Well, not so much.  Los Angeles can be a tough city for tourists…it’s very spread out and the public transportation, while emerging, is still less than convenient…especially from the burbs. Although, my friend from New York recently visited LA and got around quite well with the Metro (but she was staying downtown so that helped).  However, in true Southern CA style, we drove our car.

We had several LA-based destinations in mind when we planned our day, but hitting Madame Tussauds wax museum on Hollywood Boulevard was high on our list.  A friend had recommended Madame Tussauds for our London visit.  Since we have this museum in Hollywood as well, I decided to visit it there and save my London time for other things.

Madam Tussauds is at Hollywood and Highland, which is basically tourist central. Hollywood and Highland is an intersection of those two streets, but there is also an open air center there called Hollywood and Highland.  Inside the center (where there is a ton of parking) are all the usual mall stores, but since they are in LA, they are much cooler!  My daughters thought the Hot Topic store there was MUCH better than the one at home. (go figure!)  The center also has a huge Dolby Theater a lot of restaurant options, including the Hard Rock cafe.  But, we just parked, used the restroom, browsed briefly and bought an Aunt Annie’s pretzel to validate our parking, so that’s all we can comment on!

We headed south on Hollywood Blvd (away from the mall and toward Madame Tussauds), and we saw the Hollywood Stars on the sidewalk.  We stopped to take a pic with Christina Aguilera as a tribute to my daughter’s love of The Voice.

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Be aware that during high tourist season, this side walk will be very crowded and people will stop abruptly to take pictures of the sidewalk or even selfies with the sidewalk.  So watch your step!  Also note, there are a lot of actors/pan handers dressed up in costumes roaming this part of Hollywood Blvd. They will do crazy things to get you to take their picture (and then expect you to tip them).  Sometimes they will even grab your arm to get your attention so be aware.  My daughter’s arm was grabbed a couple of years ago…no harm, but it freaked her out.

We went on the worst possible day, and we knew it.  First, it was summer.  Second, it was a weekend day.  And third, it was a holiday weekend.  So we didn’t spend much time wandering and enjoying the sites and people watching.  But, I guarantee you, this people watching is some of the best and most entertaining anywhere!

I did stop to take notice that there were several “hop on, hop off” open-air bus options, including Starline Tours.  I later looked them up on Trip Advisor and they don’t get great reviews. But I can’t help but think this is kind of a fun way to see parts of LA since it is so spread out.  Maybe something to consider.

Amidst this chaos we found the Chinese Theater (and yes, its actually still a movie theater inside, but it’s no longer owned by Sid Grauman) and in front of the theater are the handprints and footprints (cast in cement) of many famous celebrities.  My favorite was the cast of Harry Potter, but since it was so mobbed, we didn’t stick around and explore more.  To the left of the handprints is the entrance to Madame Tussauds.

Entrance to the wax museum was a bit pricey.  We went on the 3rd of July and took advantage of a 50% off discount for military families. That discount is over, but I just saw another “Buy One, Get One Free” offer through Subway that is good until 12/31/16.  The promotion code is Subway2016.  I suggest you buy your tickets online, use the code and print them out in advance. We bypassed several families waiting in line to buy tickets, which is always fun.

We were pleasantly surprised by the Wax Museum.  Some of the figures were better than others for sure.  Betty White and Justin Timberlake were two of the best!  But, what we enjoyed the most was the ability to interact with the scenes that they created for the wax figures.  There are costumes you can put on and props you can use.  You can sit on a camel with Lawrence of Arabia or sit and have breakfast at Tiffanys!  Or even get in a shower! This made the museum experience come alive for us and caused us to take a ton of fun photos!

After the museum there is the requisite gift shop.  This part of Hollywood Boulevard has a lot of stores that sell trinkets and trash.  Across the street from the Chinese Theater is much less crowded for shopping.  Across the street are also two destinations we’ve enjoyed in the past.  El Capitan theater is a fun place to see Disney movies.  They have a soda fountain/diner and store attached to the theater to make it a complete destination. LOL!  For a more adult experience, we love the Hollywood Roosevelt and the burgers at the restaurant 25 Degrees, where I can still taste the delicious burger (and wine perfectly paired with it) that I ate a while back.

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A view from the museum toward the Hollywood Roosevelt. Across the street was much less crowded!

We decided to leave Hollywood and have lunch in the quieter Los Feliz.  In the spirit of exploring LA, we wanted to visit a few different neighborhoods.  Then, we made our way to Griffith Observatory to check out some different types of stars!  Check out our blog More Star Sightings for our Day in LA!

Muggles visit Hogsmeade and Hogwarts

Living in Southern California has its perks, especially when it comes to entertainment. Our family has never visited Orlando and had debated whether it should be added to our infamous “list” of #futurefuntrips (sorry, Insta has made us a bit hashtag crazy).  One of the biggest of the draws to Orlando was a potential visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWHP) at Universal Studios Orlando.  Well, imagine my glee to find that Universal Studios Hollywood would be opening a WWHP of their own.  Check that one off the list!

Now, mind you, I just stated that we have never been to Orlando so I cannot compare the two.  If you have experience visiting both, I welcome your comments.  Based on our visit to the WWHP in Hollywood, we would give it SIX thumbs up!  (hubby didn’t go…his vote will come in May)  This is a very fun visit!

We visited on March 31st during one of the soft openings/technical rehearsals.  The “real” opening is April 7th.  We learned about these openings by following #PotterWatch on Twitter.  People would tweet when WWHP was open…it was inconsistent.  A big shout out to @NERDSLIKEUS who quoted insider scoop and told us that it would be open on March 31.  We took our chances and went.  As we entered the parking lot, we checked Twitter and saw that it had just opened. There was much rejoicing!

Our first stop was the Butterbeer line.  I got Butterbeer from the tap in a souvenir cup.  I had the option to get the Butterbeer frozen, but I don’t think it would have had the foam (which was super sweet). It was a tough call.  I will say the Butterbeer from the tap was not very cold…think English beer.  So you will have to weigh the pros and cons.  Overall, Butterbeer is not my favorite, but I don’t like sweet drinks.  I drink water, black coffee and dry red wine. So, perhaps I’m not a good judge.  The taste is that of a very sweet cream soda with butterscotch.  And the aftertaste was a bit too artificial-sweetener-ish for me. Sorry to be a downer.  Others love it, so you must try it for yourself.  The girls got Gilly Water (which was overpriced bottled water…but it must be done).  Next time I plan to try the Pumpkin Juice just because.

 

Next we went wand shopping.  We saw the line for the wand show.  Apparently there is a way for a “wand to choose you.”  We did not go that route, so you may want to explore that option.  We went the capitalistic/consumeristic route:  let’s just pay a lot of money for someone else’s wand.  All sarcasm aside, a wand is a must-purchase in Hogsmeade. Inside Ollivanders, wands are stacked floor to ceiling.  The box will tell you to whom it belonged (Harry, Hermoine, etc.).  The gold stickers indicate interactive wands.  Those are about $50 and the non-interactive are about $40.  An interactive wand can be used throughout Hogsmeade to perform “spells” and make store window decorations move (among other things).  See my girls in front of the Honeydukes window below. Honestly, I do not understand the point of a non-interactive wand.  You will be so sad if you can’t do spells. You’re already spending money…so what’s $10 more?

After touring around and visiting the “spell stops” indicated on the wand map (inside the box), we shopped at Honeydukes for signature sweets from the Harry Potter series.  The must-purchase item is the chocolate frog.  Inside are wizard cards, just like in the book/movie.

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After looking at owls and shopping for robes, we lined up at the castle for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  This is a ride and a 3D adventure all rolled into one that takes you through scenes/stories from the movie.  The Quidditch ride at the end was our favorite!  But, the warnings they give about motion sickness are no joke.  If you struggle to watch a regular 3D movie, you will feel the effects with this one.  In my old age, I get sea sick and can’t ride roller coasters anymore.  However I did this ride anyway because I wanted to go inside the castle, which is a must see.  The castle is so well done…so much detail…with many of the rooms from the books/movies.  I’m not sure if you can go through the castle (which is essentially your hour-long line to wait for the ride) without getting on the ride (?)  That would be interesting to know.  I did in fact survive the ride, but I regretted the Butterbeer for sure.  And, I needed to rest and get my land legs back afterward.  No joke.  I won’t do the ride again, but I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.  The girls LOVED it!  They will go again with my husband for sure.

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We passed on the Flight of the Hippogriff ride.  It is a traditional outdoor roller coaster. My kids aren’t too fond of roller coasters and after the Forbidden Journey, I was toast.  So, the Hippogriff will have to be a #futurefuntrips experience (sorry, couldn’t resist).

After Harry Potter, we went into the rest of the park.  We loved the Despicable Me Super Silly Funland, by the way.  We bought CA annual passes to Universal Studios Hollywood so that we could visit multiple times this year. We still have yet to the see any of the shows in WWHP and we didn’t take photos with the Hogwarts Express.  Also, I think there were some shops that weren’t open during technical rehearsals.  In addition, we will eat at Three Broomsticks next time when I’m not so motion sick.  But, I am glad that Universal Studios Hollywood has so many other fun attractions to add value to our annual pass, because I think after a couple more visits to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, we will have seen all there is to see in the WWHP.  That said, overall, it is a must-add to your family list!