On my flight back home from Hawaii, I happened to have an eleven hour layover in the so-called City of Angels. Los Angeles had always been on my bucket list anyway and since me and my friend naturally didn't intend on spending eleven hours at the Los Angeles airport, it came in quite handy.
The city already made an impression during our approach on our outward flight to Hawaii. I've already got about quite a lot but I've never seen a city as huge and extensive as Los Angeles. Millions of houses, nestled between the ocean and the mountains, the famous Hollywood sign outstanding in the middle of all of it and a stunning California sunset. As you can imagine, I was looking forward to dive into it.
Getting around LA
After arriving early in the morning, there was the decision to made on where to go. Hollywood? Walk of fame? Rodeo Drive? Venice Beach? Santa Monica?
As we weren't ready to say goodbye to the ocean and the beach, we chose famous Santa Monica Pier as our destination and since our travel budget had already been pretty haggard from two weeks in Hawaii, the bus was our chosen means of transportation. Getting to the bus terminal near LAX is easy. Take the LAX bus shuttle C to the parking lot. It's for free and will drop you off right in front of the bus terminal and will also pick you up on your way back to the airport.
There are several bus stops with the particular bus route and its most important stops written down on each stop. The so-called big blue bus - number 3 - will get you directly to Downtown Santa Monica but bring some patience. Google may tell you it won't take longer than half an hour but the traffic in Los Angeles is unbelievable and there are dozens of bus stops along the route. It took us about one hour to get to Santa Monica but at least it's cheap. One bus ride only costs $1.25. There is a machine inside of the bus, where you can pay with coins or notes.
All that glitters is not gold
Downtown Santa Monica or 3rd Street Promenade is a shopping promenade and if you're into surfer brands like Rip Curl, Oakley, Volcom or Quicksilver, it's the place to be. Those clothes are cheaper than in Germany and if I hadn't already been shopping in Hawaii, I'd probably gotten all loose there.
But since it was still early, we decided to stop by at Starbucks for, well, breakfast and free WiFi primarily and this was, when we first discovered something for the first time that had puzzled us.
Besides us and the regular residents of Santa Monica, getting ready for work there were several homeless loitering right in front of Starbucks and all over 3rd Street Promenade.
There are quite a lot homeless people around Berlin and I've also been living in London and there are likewise people, living on the streets but never as publicly as there.
We didn't reflect on it for a very long time as we enjoyed our breakfast and our internet connection on the inside and went down to Santa Monica Pier afterwards.
At first sight, it's the characteristic California scenery, everyone around the world knows. Tall palm trees, the enormous broad beach, ocean glistering in the bright sun on a blue sky, the iconic Santa Monica Pier entrance across the Ocean Avenue. All clean, shiny and bright but, well, only at first glance.
On second sight, we saw even more homeless people. Gathering in park in front of the pier, two were still asleep in the middle of the grass, snoring. They were literally everywhere. Every third person, I've came across on this day, was a homeless one – honestly, no exaggerating.
The pier itself was nice to see. Again, the neat facade. There is a Bubba Gump Shrimp company with a bench next to it, dedicated to Forest Gump. The well-known ferris wheel, pictured on every photography of Santa Monica and a sign, that marks the end of famous route 66.
The beach is the weirdest one, I've ever seen. As I already mentioned, it's very broad and spacious. Somebody is apparently raking the beach smooth, probably every night, since there wasn't a single footprint on the sand to be seen. Several lifeguard houses are distributed along the beach as well as dozens of seagulls and even more homeless people, sleeping at the beach. I have to admit that even the baltic sea in Germany has more beautiful beaches than Los Angeles has. There is nothing pretty, nothing special about it.
After a while, we decided to walk the 1,6 mi/ 2,6 km along the beach down to famous Venice Beach.
The walk itself is rather fine. Palm trees, lots of classic cars parking in front of it. It's picturesque but those typical California photographs never show the huge amount of street people, which are still present. The most disturbing part is, that you can smell than even before you see them. This isn't meant to be mean, it's just the way it is and I'm not unworldly. As I said before, Berlin also has it's dark corners as well as every city around the world but this, this was a whole new level.
The vast contrast of luxurious beach front houses, shops and tourists and on the other hand, people living on the streets, keeping all of their belongings in carts, trying to survive and drowning their problems in alcohol. The shiny and polished veneer, that is all tinsel and glitter, shouts at the tourists to distracted them from looking too closely.
Everyone knows the Boardwalk along Venice Beach from TV or the movies. The colorful buildings, street artists, rather dubious fortunetellers, Muscle Beach, where people rather show-off their bodies instead of really working out, the famous skate park where the pros do their thing next the ones, that want to attract the right sponsors with their next trick. It's all there and it looks like it does on TV but what they never show is the dozens of people, lining up at the beginning of Venice beach, hiding beneath their torn up blankets, begging for money in order to afford drugs.
Past Muscle Beach, the touristic scenery turns back into expensive housing mingled with hang loose surfer lifestyle. Everything is sunny in Los Angeles and all is easy going but to me, it's simply a way of ignoring the harsh reality of those dozens of shattered dreams, living on the streets with the people that have lost everything. It's a way for the locals to look away from the truth and an attempt to hide it from the naive tourists.
The bottom line
I was utterly disappointed and also quite shocked by Los Angeles and I know, if I'm ever going back there, it won't be for long. Hang loose means here nothing more than a wall to hide behind.
But still, as you can see, it may be quite easy and also cheap to get around Los Angeles for one day but be ready for not finding the California dream, everyone is looking for and that Los Angeles is still just a tinseltown after all.
Until then, happy traveling.