The last time I went to LA was in 2007. Pre-smart phones, pre-Uber, pre-apps. Somehow I looked up all the buses to take me to all the tourist attractions. I had seen the Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood star walk, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica Pier. This time, I had two goals: Hike to the Hollywood sign (which I didn’t do the first time), and hang out with my friends.
Ingrid is a friend I met while living in Florence, Italy. She worked at the international school where I did my one-year artist residency program. Originally from LA, and back there again now, she is what instigated the trip. I wanted to visit her before leaving the country again.
Megan and Jesi also joined us on our weekend adventure. Megan and Jesi are co-workers from my online job. While we have technically known each other for a couple years, we had never met in real life. Jesi lives just outside LA. I convinced her to come into the city for the weekend, and she convinced Megan to fly in from New Jersey. And so, the weekend crew was formed.
One by one, our group grew. Ingrid picked me up from the airport at 8am. We went and had breakfast and a very long walk while we waited for Megan’s flight to arrive. Once we scooped up Megan, we headed to the Airbnb, where Jesi found us just a few hours later.
Our Airbnb was in an apartment downtown, so we had easy access to supermarkets, coffeeshops, and the Cecil Hotel if we so desired. That first evening consisted of not much more than walking to the supermarket, Jesi tripping on a sidewalk, frozen pizza, and beer.
The next morning we got a very slow start, as we drank coffee, ate eggs and pan-fried toast (there was no toaster), and everyone doo doo doo’d to shower and get ready. We had marked a few locations on the google maps, so we headed in the direction of the first one: The Last Bookstore.
The ironically named Last Bookstore is one of the largest independent bookstores in the world still standing- with both new and used books, as well as vinyls, graphic novels, and artist galleries on the second floor. There is something about the smell of books that feels so nostalgic, and kept us there for a good while, roaming through stacks of books, and popping in and out of the galleries. The Last Bookstore was also on the itinerary of Elisa Lam, the woman who went missing from the Stay on Main Hostel (Cecil Hotel) in 2013; she was most known for her strange elevator behavior, as well as the focus of Netflix’s Cecil Hotel.
On the second floor of the Last Bookstore, we found mural artist Ricky Sencion, who was exhibiting some of his work, most notably a large mural in a neon color palette, representing his dreams. For the last 5 years, Ricky has painted one of his ‘moonsters’ straight onto a canvas after waking up, representing what he saw and felt in his dream. Some of the dreams he can no longer recall, but there is painted evidence that it once existed.
By now it was late afternoon, and we were hungry. Jesi left us to meet up with another friend, while Megan, Ingrid and I continued on to the Grand Central Market. Originally called the “Wonder Market,” when it opened in 1917, was the largest public market on the west coast, and fireproof at that. The market has over 40 food stalls to choose from, ranging from Bento boxes to Pupusas to tacos to Filipino rice bowls and more- a beautiful tribute to the immigrant communities who make up LA.
Thankfully we found an outdoor table right as we walked up, and then took turns strolling through the aisles of this grand market, assessing which international delight felt the most right to our stomachs. The sun felt warm on our skin while we ate, as the rays of light passed through the passageways and streets between buildings. The sun started to get lower, and we realized we should get going if we want to make it to the Cecil Hotel before dark.
We walked back in the direction from which we had come, and went the 10 or so blocks towards Skid Row, where we found the Cecil Hotel. The Cecil is closed down now, and has chains on the front door, though the Stay on Main next door is still operating. We saw lights on and movement in the 5th floor windows, while the windows in floors 2-4 remained completely dark with shutters drawn. The Cecil Hotel has a dark history with mysterious suicides, murders, and disappearances, such as the aforementioned Elisa Lam story; it was also the residence of Richard Ramirez, a serial killer known as the Night Stalker. As an obsessive true crime podcast listener, I needed to see this in person.
We had zero interest in attempting to go inside the Stay on Main lobby, so we just stared at the building from the outside for several minutes before moving on.
Just around the corner from the Cecil Hotel is a tattoo shop named Suerte Tattoo. As we were passing it, we thought ‘why not go in and see what flashes are available?’ Megan and I went in curious, and came out a few hours later with new tattoos. Ingrid passed. Jesi met up with us again just before we left Suerte Tattoo, and we all headed back to the Airbnb.
I made spaghetti and salad, and our other co-worker, Garrett, came over for a night of games and drinking. Garrett was another co-worker we knew only from behind a computer screen, but became a real person in our Airbnb living room.
Without realizing, the time was suddenly 3:15 in the morning. Garrett left, we slept, but still managed to get up the next day early enough to leave the apartment by 10am. This time, towards one of my goals for the trip- The Hollywood sign!
Before starting our hike, we stopped at a coffee shop at the bottom of the hill to fuel up with coffee, tea, and of course bougie pastries- Jesi’s goal for the trip. She found the perfect chocolate swirl bougie pastry of her dreams, and her weekend was complete! We made a few friends on the outside patio, including another Nicki (though she spelled it Nikki), after she was mistakenly served my drink. We bonded over the spelling of our names, and our childhood whims to constantly change the spelling for weeks at a time to see how it felt. I guess it’s a Nicki thing.
Fueled up, we got back in the car and drove up towards the trail head, parking in a neighborhood side street. We entered the Brush Canyon Trail through Griffith Park’s main entrance. There and back was about 3 hours, though that included a few breaks on the way up to wait for those with shorter legs (cough, cough…Megan), as well as about 30 minutes to stand in awe once we arrived to the viewing spot.
You can’t get up close to the sign, but you can view it from an enjoyable distance, and get great photos. I even took a shot at using my new drone for the first time. It was all worth it. The goal to get there, the hot sun hike, everything. Even though we kept thinking we would arrive just around the next turn, no the next, no the next, we did finally make it.
By the time we all got back to the car, we were exhausted and needed food. Just a few minutes away was Hollywood Burgers, and we headed there immediately. Too tired to speak, we chewed our burgers, and sipped our beers in silence, as we sat outside watching locals and tourists pass by the star walk of fame, along Hollywood Blvd.
We were tired after our hike, but still had a few things we wanted to see, so we did them quickly. We drove down Hollywood Blvd, passing by the Chinese Theatre, on the way to the Urban Lights.
Across the street from the Urban Lights, is a piece of the Berlin Wall. These ten original panels from the Berlin wall make up the largest collection of wall pieces outside of Berlin. These wall segments were installed in 2009 as part of the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Berlin Wall coming down, with murals painted on them by four artists, both local and European.
We admired these wall panels, and then crossed the street to admire the lights- the Urban Lights, which is an art installation consisting of 202 solar powered lamp posts. The idea originated from artist Chris Burden who started out collecting these lamps from all over Southern California, where they eventually ended up in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, at the urging of the museum’s director. You may recognize these lights from movies such as Valentine’s Day and No Strings Attached.
After we took in this one last Los Angeles hot spot, we grabbed some more water and wine from the supermarket, and headed back to the Airbnb where we finished off the evening with our feet in the hot tub.
The weekend passed by so quickly, and before we knew it we were packing up our bags the next morning, sending several bottles of beer and wine down the trash shoot, and saying goodbye. Megan had a flight back to New Jersey to catch, Jesi and Ingrid back to their LA lives, and I was on a train down the coast to San Diego to visit family before leaving the country once more.