L.A. Travel Diary: Universal, Disney, Santa Monica, & More

During spring break, we travelled to California to see the Toronto Raptors vs Lakers and vs Clippers during their west coast road trip. We spent 3 nights in Los Angeles before heading down to San Diego for 4 nights. I’d been to L.A. briefly back in 2015 during my J1, so I was excited to revisit and see more!

During our time in Los Angeles, we stayed at Hotel Figueroa, a gorgeous hotel and building in the heart of Downtown L.A. As we were going to two basketball games in the Staple Center (sorry, Crypto arena), we wanted to be within walking distance of the arena. The hotel was only a couple of blocks away, which was perfect. Every other activity we wanted to do required driving anyway.

Side note: never travelling during spring break again!! This was unintentional on our part – we had no idea it was spring break, and the airports were packed!

Hotel Figueroa
Outside the Staples Center before the Raptors v Lakers game

Hollywood

The day we landed, we had some time to kill before we could check in, so we headed straight for In-N-Out for lunch (when in Rome and all that!) and then for a stroll along Hollywood Boulevard to see the walk of fame. Let’s be real: Hollywood Boulevard is tacky, but it’s just one of those places you gotta see – for the walk of fame and to see where many famous movie premieres take place.

Once we had our fill of Hollywood Boulevard, I had my eyes set on a location for shooting the Hollywood sign (see image below). I stumbled upon this location while scouring Google Maps for go-to locations, and it did not disappoint! It definitely helped that we arrived at this location on a Monday afternoon, as the streets were super quiet, allowing me to spend time in the middle of the street until I got a shot I was happy with.

Hollywood sign from W 5th St & S Windsor Blvd – no gatekeeping here!

Universal Studios Hollywood

The next day, we were up early to spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood. This was my first theme park experience, so I was incredibly excited (and nervous)! We arrived for opening, and I’m so glad we did; we headed straight for Jurassic World and Transformers 3D, where we literally walked straight onto the rides – no queues! By the afternoon, these rides had a 90-minute wait. Definitely worth going early and starting on the lower lot.

Griffith Observatory

After our day at Universal, we headed for Griffith Observatory. It was only a 20-minute drive from Universal; it made sense for us to visit the observatory before heading back to the hotel.

As it was a Tuesday afternoon, it wasn’t too busy. I initially had hoped we’d be there for sunset, but that evening ended up cloudy, so it worked out in the end! Plus, the streaky clouds looked great!

Admiring the view
View of L.A. looking east toward DTLA

Santa Monica and Venice Beach

On the Wednesday morning, we drove out to the coast to spend the day in Santa Monica and Venice Beach. We parked in one of the beach lots near Santa Monica pier and walked from there to Venice Beach, toward the Venice Canals. We also checked out the skatepark, which was awesome! (see video below) and Muscle Beach (which was surprisingly empty).

The Venice canals are stunning and should definitely be on your to-see list if you’re heading to Santa Monica. We walked toward the canals first as it was overcast and misty during the morning when we arrived, which meant the beach was dull and you couldn’t see much, but this meant there was a lovely mist over the canals and along with the morning light, made for some great photos!

Venice Canals
The Venice sign at Venice Beach

We then headed for the infamous Venice sign, before making our way back up to Santa Monica Pier. Luckily, by this time, the mist and overcast weather had lifted, leaving clear blue skies!

Santa Monica is definitely much nicer than Venice Beach, in my opinion. Venice felt more tacky and rundown, whereas Santa Monica had a lot more hotels and restaurants, including the stunning Georgian Hotel, which features in Accidentally Wes Anderson. This is a must-see for architecture and Wes Anderson fans.

Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier
The Georgian Hotel, as seen in Accidentally Wes Anderson

On Wednesday night, we head out for our second planned Raptors game in the Staples Center, against the L.A. Clippers.

Disneyland

On the Thursday morning, we were up bright and early (albeit it was actually still dark) to check out and make our way to Disneyland. We planned to do Disney on our last day in Los Angeles, at it is in Anaheim, which was (kind of) en route to our next destination: San Diego.

Disneyland was so much bigger and busier than Universal. I felt like Universal was a test run for Disney! And I’m sure glad we did Universal first, as Disney was almost overwhelming in that sense!

We got there for the opening, but so did hundreds of other people! We still managed to avoid long queues on certain rides, like Buzz Lightyear, Star Tours, and It’s A Small World. After that, the queues were pretty lengthy. We did try “single rider queues,” which allowed us to almost skip the queues. It just meant we couldn’t sit together – which is totally fine on rides like the Matterhorn.

Me with my Minnie ears!
Disneyland California

Wrapping up on Los Angeles

Los Angeles was great, we were very lucky with the weather for March (I believe it rained the week after we were there!), but it is a very expensive city, so plan accordingly!

I’ll have another blog up soon with details on all of the places we ate in L.A. and another about our trip to San Diego and all of the best places we went! Stay tuned!

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