The bus belongs to A Day In LA Tours, who regularly come out on top in TripAdvisor as the best tour company in the city, and that’s certainly why we booked, well, that and for a ride in the RastaBus of course. Ahead of us is a busy day stopping at the all the major attractions, including Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Griffith Park.
Departure is from the beautiful Santa Monica on Ocean Ave at 9.45am. If you need parking, there is plenty close by, including 1433 2nd Street. If you have kids in tow, be aware that you can’t take strollers onto the bus.
Muscle men, movie stars and herbal remedy
This being ED’s first visit to LA, we didn’t truly know what to expect. Having been brought up on American movies which have featured the LA backdrop thousands of times, it is near on impossible not to come with some preconceived ideas and stereotypes about this iconic Californian destination.
However, one destination, where I really didn’t know what to expect was our first stop, Venice Beach. How to describe this place? Members of Venice Beach’s homeless community sit opposite million dollar beach homes, beautiful, ultra-healthy LA residents roller-blade along the beachfront passing by small shacks which are licensed to prescribe marijuana. It’s a weird juxtaposition of influences, which seems to be underpinned with a bohemian, arty, independent spirit.
We off-load from the Rasta Bus with strict instructions to return within 30 minutes, and take a short walk to discover more of this odd kaleidoscope of influences. One of these are the modern-day Adonises who hone their “guns” at the outdoor gym next to the beach. Ever since the movie Pumping Iron which starred a then relatively little known Austrian body builder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have posturing muscle men become inextricably linked with Venice.
We have a quick look at the famous Muscle Beach Gym before a walk along the beachfront and onto the long sandy beach itself, which is dotted with the type of lifeguard huts which were made famous in the TV series, Baywatch. Before we head off to location number two, we head past some of the huge murals which adorn the sides of homes and buildings all along the beachfront.
Bingeing on bling
Our next destination, Beverley Hills, couldn’t be more of a contrast. And, unlike Venice Beach, this is a place that I’ve seen countless times in movies down the years, from Beverly Hills Cop to Pretty Woman, but, they really don’t do justice in portraying its absolute outrageous level of glamour. Forget dripping in money, Beverly Hills, and more specifically Rodeo Drive, is awash with a tidal wave of cash which flows into some of the most exclusive, desirable shops in the world. They are palaces of bling, and, after the RastaBus has pulled up at the end of Rodeo Drive, we take a walk, briefly submerging ourselves in this beacon of wealth.
We have around 40 minutes to pass along Rodeo and up to the iconic Beverly Hills sign on N Santa Monica Blvd, which is of course worth a selfie or two. Before we get that far, there’s loads to gawp at, including some of the most expensive luxury clothes shops on earth, none perhaps more so than Bijan. Opened by the fashion designer Bijan Pakzad in the 70s, this fashion emporium claims to be the most expensive shop in the world, with suits costing a reported $25,000.
But, it was the man himself which made the store so recognisable. He introduced an appointment-only policy (sorry you won’t be able to just pop in and pick up a suit) which instantly made it stand out from the Rodeo Drive crowd. Despite his death in 2011, we still pose for pictures with his bright yellow million dollar Bentley parked outside.
If you are taking this walk, too, don’t miss the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, just off Rodeo, which is where the closing scenes of Pretty Woman were filmed. Head inside and use the toilets (free to the public), for a quick look around.
This little piggy went to market
After our well-informed driver picks out a few more famous movie locations for us, it’s time for lunch at The Original Farmers Market, which dates back to the 1930s. Over the years it has been embraced by the great and the good, from film-stars to presidents, and more recently by modern-day celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsey who filmed here.
The food, so typical of California in general, is fantastic, and we are genuinely spoilt for choice. In the end we are very happy to settle on Pampus Grill, where there are loads of different types of meat cooking away on spits in front of you. It’s a no-frills self-service set-up, simply load up on veg and potatoes, then choose your barbecued meats, weigh your plate, pay, and try not to salivate before tucking in! An average plate costs us around $15-16, plus drinks.
If you have time, take a walk around the market, there are dozens of stalls selling all kinds of food.
This is pure Hollywood
Once back in the cool, comfortable RastaBus, Hollywood beckons for us! Unfortunately no starring roles await, but we are only too happy to have a stroll along Hollywood Blvd. One unmistakable aspect about taking a tour such as this around LA is the way you are dropped in and out of such diverse places, and no one place is really alike, whether that’s through the people, the sights and sounds, or the general atmosphere. Perhaps this is what makes LA so unique, and almost seemingly unreal.
No-where sums this up better than this street. I stand waiting to cross the road with Darth Vader to my left and a Christian preacher to my right, blaring out messages through a loud speaker. Before I’ve had time to consider the irony of “seeing the light” and “the darkside” we are whisked along by the general flow of tourists to the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which is now one of the most recognisable sights on the Walk of Fame, opening in 1927.
You can’t really miss it, the front resembles a Chinese pagoda, and there is a huge dragon and some lions thrown in for good measure. Subtle it ain’t, but this is the alternative universe that is Hollywood. Again, it’s cameras at the ready as we sink our hands into just a few of the hundreds of prints left by the stars in the cinema’s forecourt.
Unless you’ve been living on the moon, you’ll also know the boulevard is home to gleaming stars enshrined into the pavements on both sides. With the names of four Parkers already emblazoned on the pavements, it seems my namesakes have beaten me to this particular honour. Still, I can console myself with a free gift from nearby giftshop, Hollywood Souvenirs, then it’s back to the RastaBus!
Getting high on the Rasta Bus
It’s the last stop of the day, and we are getting high on the RastaBus. No, no, not in that sense, we are heading into the Santa Monica mountains, and more specifically to the vast Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the US. Along with its stunning views right across Los Angeles, a big draw is the Griffith Observatory, which is free, and has all sorts of space-related displays. And, there is still time for one more iconic sight. As our driver explains, the once at-risk Hollywood sign sits proudly on the hills beyond. Perhaps the only drawback is that we never really get as close as we’d like, however, there are separate tours which provide much closer access.
Oh, what a day!
Our departure stop is back in Santa Monica, however, the tour guides are very accommodating and can drop you at other locations.
This is a busy tour, as there’s a lot to pack into the day, however, it’s truly memorable thanks not only to LA’s diverse attractions, but also the knowledgeable, friendly tour guides, excellent tour buses, and very well organised schedule.
Tour time: 9.45 to 5.30pm.
Find out more about the RastaBus at www.adayinlatours.com