LA Is Still The City Of Dreams

rolls royce in los angeles LAOn my first night in L.A., I had pizza with a rock star and an actor. I didn’t confirm it, but the guy who handed us our slices probably has a screenplay in the pipeline. Los Angeles is still the city of dreams and dreamers.

I’m fascinated by cities people flock to in order to pursue a vocation. Writers love New York. Techies settle in the Silicon Valley. Car people need to be in Detroit. Those who are interested in politics and government go to D.C. And anyone who wants to work in the entertainment industry moves to L.A.

Every city also has accountants, police officers, teachers and the rest, but L.A. wouldn’t be the same without the swarms of people who moved there in the hopes of becoming famous. If you live in a city that’s saturated with people who’ve all moved there for roughly the same reason, I can see how it would be a bit annoying. I’ve lived in D.C. three separate times and never warmed to the place in part because it’s a transient city filled with hyper-achieving, my child is going to speak Chinese better than your child, type A personalities.


But while living among the aspiring and working actors, directors and musicians in L.A. might get old, I never get tired of visiting the place. On the first night of my recent trip, my wife and I fell into conversation with a guy who had movie star good looks while waiting for slices of a pizza in a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. I don’t watch enough Hollywood movies and T.V. to know if he was famous, but he looked the part. But then again, there are all kinds of beautiful people in L.A. and only a fraction of them are famous, the rest wait tables, take off their clothes in strip joints and do 1,000 other things to pay the rent while keeping their dreams of stardom simmering.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask him, “hey, are you on TV?” because I didn’t want to be too much of a rank tourist. We went outside with our slices and sat at a table next to a guy with a big mop of curly blonde hair and two slices of pizza. He had a guitar on his lap and I couldn’t help but ask him what band he was in.

“We’re called the Mowgli’s,” he said.

The name meant nothing to me but immediately resonated with my little boys, who are fans of “The Jungle Book.The young man told me his name was Michael Vincze and, while I naively assumed that he was just an eccentric dreamer that liked to walk around L.A. with a guitar, he casually mentioned that they’d recently played at the House of Blues in Chicago and on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

In many ways, emerging artists like the Mowglis are forced to be consummate travelers. Vincze told us that his band had crisscrossed the country in a van several times, playing gigs in towns and cities all across the fruited plane.

Later that evening, I rode an elevator at my hotel with a strikingly attractive black woman and thought, she’s probably famous or soon will be, and later found out I was right. It was the British R & B singer Laura Mvula.

Of course, if you’re serious about stalking the mega-stars while in L.A., the real household names, there are a number of websites that list their home addresses, where they eat, pray, shop, etc. I have little interest in celebrity stalking, but I love to simply drive around L.A. and marvel at all the ridiculously expensive cars.

I saw more Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis in four days in L.A. than I’d see driving around Chicago, my adopted hometown, in a lifetime. These kinds of cars would be considered ostentatious in most corners of the planet but in L.A., hardly anyone seems to bat an eyelash.

On our last day in L.A., I was reminded what I like most about the city after reading a beautiful, heartbreaking story in the Los Angeles Times about Seth Burnham, a struggling “Mid 30s-ish, early 40s-ish” actor who moved to L.A. to pursue his dream and, like many, hasn’t made it but keeps hope alive. The story is part of a series called Chasing the Dream that neatly encapsulates how hard it is to make it in the entertainment business.

As a traveler, I like to be in a place that’s filled with dreamers like Seth Burnham. D.C. is filled with practical, serious career climbers, the kind of people who pay obsessive attention to their 401k portfolios and have panic attacks if they go more than 3,000 miles without an oil change.

But L.A. is chockfull of impractical people following dreams, people who carry their guitars around with them, waiting for inspiration to strike, people who, if given a million dollars, would rush right out and spend it on a Rolls Royce, people who, when you ask them how old they are, respond: “Mid 30s-ish to early 40s-ish.” L.A. doesn’t get much love from travel writers but there is no better place in the country to rub shoulders with fun, idealistic people who are this close to making it big.

[Photo credit: Frankenmedia on Flickr]

Photo Of The Day: The Walt Disney Concert Hall In Los Angeles

One of Downtown Los Angeles‘ great treasures is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry-designed structure home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Major Chorale. It is captured brilliantly in today’s Photo of the Day, taken by Flickr user Nan Palmero using a simple Canon Powershot S95. The sky’s brilliant blue casts a cool hue upon the structure’s stainless steel exterior, illuminating what is truly a building of the future.

Do you have any photos of great architecture? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.[Photo Credit: Nan Palmero]

Food Trucks Gone Wild: A Video Tour Of LA’s Melrose Night


Care for a $5 ice cream sandwich made with fried chicken and waffle flavored ice cream and a gluten-free coconut almond cookie? Or how about some Hawaiian breakfast sliders, made with Portuguese sausage, sautéed onions, and Shoyu scrambled eggs on Hawaiian bread? Those of are just a couple of the tantalizing selections I noticed when I stumbled across Melrose Night in Los Angeles last Thursday night.

On the first Thursday of each month, more than a dozen food trucks and an assortment of shops set up on Melrose Avenue between Ogden and Curson between 6-10 p.m. The event began in January 2011, and the crowds and vendor list continues to grow. I counted 15 food trucks at Melrose Night last week and almost every one of them had something I wanted to eat.There was gelato on a stick ($4) at Cool Cow Feel Good, Frito pies ($6) and chicken and waffles ($8) at the Trailer Park Truck, red velvet chocolate chip pancakes ($6), lobster rolls ($12) and a host of other goodies. One truck was even selling flatiron steaks at $15 a pop.


I love the gourmet food truck trend, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to order a steak or fried chicken and stand on the street eating it. I will order tacos, ice cream, lobster rolls, burgers, basically anything that doesn’t require a knife and fork, but I really don’t want to be eating pancakes, omelets, steaks and the like on the street.

My other issue with some gourmet food trucks is the high prices. Some are offering very good values. We had a rocky road ice cream sandwich that I thought was pricey at $5 until I realized the thing was big enough to feed my family of four!


But others are pricing their menu items as though they were restaurants. There is a difference between standing on a street corner eating something and being able to sit down at a restaurant, be it fast food or sit down. I do expect a discount at a food truck, but I think a few food truck proprietors are getting a bit high and mighty.

I know that they need permits and have overhead as well, but their fixed costs are lower than restaurants, so I don’t expect to pay $11 for a veggie burger and fries at a food truck when that is roughly the same price I’d pay in a restaurant.

Those minor beefs aside, I highly recommend checking out Melrose Night. Show up hungry and you will definitely eat well. It’s also a great area for window-shopping and people watching. L.A. isn’t much of a pedestrian city, but this is one of the few opportunities to walk around on sidewalks that are full of people and life. You might not save a ton of money by dining on the street, but you’ll eat well and have a blast.

‘Riot House’ No More: A Review Of The Andaz, LA’s Coolest Hotel

pool andaz hotel west hollywood riot houseI’m a budget traveler who has spent more time in dives with droopy mattresses than luxury hotels with spa treatments that cost more than Suriname’s annual GDP. So on the rare occasions when I get to stay someplace truly swanky – usually when the Priceline roulette wheel shines favorably on me or if I’m accompanying my wife on a business trip – I sometimes feel a bit like Jed Clampett arriving with Hillbilly family in tow in Beverly Hills.

Did I shave that day? Is my car the cheapest one on the premises? How much do I need to give the bellboy who is charging over to open my car door? I had this same fish-out-of-water feeling when we pulled up to the Andaz, a luxury hotel in West Hollywood that is part of the Hyatt chain last week. But the place turned out to be very different than any other fancy hotel I’ve ever stayed in.


andaz hotel west hollywoodFor starters, the young man who opened our car door and took care of our suitcases was our one-stop check-in person. After loading our suitcases on a trolley, he escorted us into the sleek, dimly lit lobby, checked us in himself and then brought us up to the room as though we were at a small B & B.

“Now everything in the minibar except the alcohol is free,” he said to my surprise and puzzlement. “So all the soft drinks, bottles of water and snacks are free.”

I asked him to repeat that because I’ve never heard of a free minibar before and I didn’t want to get a bill for a $9 bag of chips, but I’d heard him right. The Andaz also has free wireless Internet and serves good, free California wines from 5-7 p.m. each night. Before I gush about this place a bit more, I should point out that unlike many “reviews” of luxury hotels, this is not a paid endorsement or quid-pro-quo deal. At Gadling, we do not write about free press trips or accept other free travel perks, so you can trust the integrity of our reviews.

andaz west hollywoodOur double room was stylishly decorated and had a curtained off little section in the back with a love seat, comfy chair and Ottoman. My kids immediately claimed this area as their clubhouse, but it was also useful for my wife and I after the kids went to bed.

The hotel was renovated and turned into an Andaz property, one of just nine around the world, in 2009. Gene Autry once owned the hotel and in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, it was known as the Riot House because rock stars used to routinely trash their rooms. John Bonham reportedly once rode his motorcycle down the hotel corridors, Keith Richards once dropped a television set from his room out onto Sunset Boulevard, and Jim Morrison lived there until he was evicted for hanging out a window by his fingertips.

Those days are long gone, but recording artists still patronize the place. A big contingent of Brits including the singer Laura Mvula was there during our stay. And they still play great music in the lobby – I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to The Smiths at any other hotel I’ve ever stayed at besides this one.

andaz hotel west hollywoodThe Andaz has everything you might expect in a luxury hotel: incredibly comfortable beds, high-quality toiletries and linens, plus a very nice rooftop pool that offers lovely views of the area. We found the Sunset Boulevard location to be convenient but thanks to the notorious L.A. traffic, it can take a lot longer to get around than you might think.

And now for a few niggling complaints. No hotel is perfect and that includes the Andaz. I found the free wireless to be extremely slow at times and when I called down to inquire I was transferred to an off-site tech support person who suggested I pay a premium to get better speed. No thanks. The valet parking is $32 per night (there is no self-park option), which isn’t exactly a bargain and the sumptuous buffet breakfast is strictly expense account territory at $26 a head.




view from rooftop pool andaz west hollywoodBut you don’t come to a luxurious hotel like this one to pinch pennies, you’re there for a treat and the Andaz certainly is one. Aside from the free snacks, soft drinks and wine, my other favorite perk was the selection of free newspapers. I’m an old-school hard copy newspaper reader and the fact that the Andaz was willing to deliver copies of the New York Times, the L.A. Times and the Wall Street Journal right to my doorstop made me very happy indeed. On my last night at the Andaz, our neighbors stumbled back to their room at 2 a.m. and commenced a noisy party worthy of the hotel’s glory Riot House days. At the time, I was annoyed but in retrospect, it was a fitting end to a memorable stay.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Traveling Otter, Rachel Kramer Bussel, and FiskFisk on Flickr]

The J. Paul Getty Museum In Los Angeles: The World’s Best Free Museum?

getty museum in los angelesFrequent travelers like myself can get very jaded. The more you travel, the harder it is to find a place or an experience that really floors you. It’s very easy to bang around from one place to the next, devouring travel experiences whole and then concluding that was nice, what’s next? But every once in a great while, some place or some experience will shake me out of that spoiled, travel-induced stupor and into that giddy discovery buzz that reminds me why I travel in the first place.
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I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those delirious discovery moments at a museum though, until I visited the J. Paul Getty art museum in Los Angeles last week. I appreciate fine art and photography but before visiting the Getty I’d never really been to a museum that I didn’t want to leave.


paul gauguinAside from their jaw dropping collections, the place is like an idyllic refuge of beauty and serenity perched high above a gritty and, in some ways, unattractive sprawl of a city. You pay $15 to park, but admission is free. After parking, you board an electric, cable driven tram system that whisks you ¾ of a mile up to the museum, which sits 881 feet above sea level. The museum’s designer and architect, Richard Meier, designed the place in order to give visitors the feeling of being “elevated out of their day-to-day experience” and the complex of modern white buildings, fountains and gardens feels very much like an escape from L.A’s gritty, noisy bustle.


getty museum family roomI was at the Getty, which opened in 1997, with my two little boys, ages 3 and 5, so we started our visit in the Family Room, where my sons made masks, drew, and lounged in a replica of a fancy 18th century French bed against the backdrop of replicas of some of the remarkable works of art we were about to experience. My boys insisted on wearing their masks all day and they left the Family Room in such a great mood that they happily let me wander the galleries and grounds for hours, feeling like little celebrities as loads of people stopped to compliment them on their masks.

The current headlining exhibition at the Getty is “Florence at the Dawn of the Renaissance,” which focuses on art from the first half of the 14th Century and runs through February 10 (most of the same pieces will also be in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario from March 16- June 16). It’s an extraordinary collection of pieces from museums and churches around the world that’s never been displayed in one place before.

The last time I was in Florence I was 24, and spent more time courting Scandinavian backpackers than soaking up the treasures at the Uffizi and other museums, so the icons, paintings, stained glass, manuscripts and medieval books were all new to me. As was their exhibit of the earliest illuminated copies of Dante’s masterpiece “Divine Comedy.”

getty museumI’d never even heard of featured artists like Giotto di Bondone, Bernardo (Who’s Your) Daddi, and Pacino di Bonaguido before, but their works of art absolutely floored me. Seeing their ornate, colorful, majestic works of art, many of them created to honor their religious faith, and digesting the fact that they were created 700 years ago made me wonder if people in the year 2712 will be as moved by anything that’s being created today the way I was by these works of art.

We also lingered over some remarkable black and white photos of Chicago and Philadelphia from the ’60s, and really set up shop on the upper level of the West Wing, where we basked in the glory of the great impressionists and had a good laugh watching every member of a Chinese tour group dutifully pose for a photo in front of Van Gogh’s “Irises,” which the museum paid $53.9 million to acquire. Oddly enough, none seemed interested in another painting just steps away that I think is far more interesting: Paul Gauguin’s painting “The Royal End,” which depicts the severed head of a Polynesian man.

It was a glorious sunny day, and we spent time checking out the South Promontory, which is a re-creation of a desert landscape, and the Central Garden, which has a reflecting pool with a maze of 400 azalea plants, before repairing to the café, where we were in for another surprise: damn good food at reasonable prices.


view from getty museumAs we sat at an outdoor table, and tucked into some truly outstanding chicken quesadillas, basking in the warm sun like lizards and enjoying the almost-alpine views of pine trees and green mountains in the distance, I felt the bittersweet sadness that comes at the end of any great trip. I thought about buying an expensive T-shirt or coffee table book to commemorate what had been an idyllic day but decided instead to simply let the experience linger in my memory.

The truth is that I don’t just want to go back to the Getty some day – I want to live there amidst the art, the gardens, the vistas, and the wonderful cafeteria food. I don’t think I could afford the parking and the place closes at 5:30 p.m. each day, but a guy can always dream.

Note: If you have a Garmin GPS, don’t use it to find the museum, as it will get you lost in a residential neighborhood below the museum that won’t get you to the Getty. Follow the directions on the museum website. And if you can’t make it to L.A., check out the museum’s YouTube channel to get a flavor of the place.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, SodanieChea on Flickr and the Getty Museum]