Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier

 

Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier are probably two of the best-known beach areas in the world, simply due to the amount of exposure they receive in movies and tv series. Both beaches are quite different, Santa Monica’s pier area is far more family-friendly tourism. Venice Beach, on the other hand, is quite a unique experience where you will meet and see some very interesting people, stores, and performances. The Santa Monica Pier offers restaurants, a small amusement park with a roller coaster and small nicknack and souvenir stores along with a few more traditional performers and artists. You will probably want to spend about an hour (or two if you have children) there. Venice beach, on the other hand, can provide an entire afternoon worth of entertainment. Walking along Venice Beach’s esplanade you will find every manner of souvenir store, particularly t-shirt shops which the beach is well known for. You will also find plenty of places to eat, a large number of tattoo parlors, marijuana dispensaries and small galleries. What the beach is most famous for though are its performers, artists and small stall owners. You will see everything from classic dance performances and magic shows to people on rollerblades wearing amps shredding heir way along the beach and people who simply play music, pretend to be statues and then scream uncontrollably when someone gives them money. As far as store owners and artists go, one of the most famous things for sale on the beach are hand painted Mexican skulls in all shapes, sizes, and colors, these normally go for a reasonable price. Then, as always with touristy areas in the US you will have struggling and up and coming musicians trying to sell you their mixtapes in everything from jazz, hip hop, rap to rock and RnB. Venice Beach is also home to the famous Muscle Beach, which moved from its original location on Santa Monica Beach to Venice Beach and is where world famous bodybuilders and athletes such as Arnold Schwarzenegger have worked out and trained. If you have time I highly suggest paying a visit to these beaches, especially as they are only a 5-minute drive apart.

 

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Beverly Hills/Downtown LA

Beverly Hills is a whole other level of Hollywood within Hollywood itself. This is where the Hollywood elite lives and shops. Almost every store in this area is boutique/luxury shopping and most of the homes are mansions. This is home to the famous Rodeo Drive, a hub of designer brands and sports cars. While in Hollywood it is definitely worth visiting, even if you just walk down Rodeo Drive or drive through the suburbs of Beverly Hills to see how some of the wealthiest people in the world live. Downtown LA is not a far drive from Hollywood has enough to do and see to spend an afternoon there. I personally as a music lover spent my time at the Grammy Museum which features artifacts from artists such as Michael Jackson, Elvis, Bob Dylan, the Ramones and Daft Punk among others. The museum always features one special exhibit so it’s worth seeing who is on display before going. At the time of my visit, the special exhibit was The Ramones and so the museum had a fantastic collection of their merchandise, instruments, outfits, and posters. While visiting that area, I suggest you also pay a visit to the famous Staples Center and its surrounding courtyard areas.

 

Universal Studios

Universal Studios is probably one of the best-known theme parks in the world due to it representing the almost countless achievements of Universal Studios as a production company. This park is worth visiting not just for the thrill rides but for the behind the scenes studio tour (the highlight of the park in my opinion). In addition to the thrill rides and studio tour, the park has a fantastic amount of movie/television themed atmosphere, along with highly engaging and informative stage shows and educational performances showing how movie magic happens. The studio is located in Hollywood of course and is an institution in both the city and film history. As stated, the behind the scenes tour is the highlight of the park, so I suggest prioritizing that over all other attractions. On this tour, you will pass through filming studios working on shows currently in production before heading into the sets used in numerous blockbuster hits. Some of the most famous sets of all time are located in this studio, such as the city block seen in numerous films including Bruce Almighty, the crashed plane from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, the flooding subway set during an earthquake used in numerous films, famous cowboy and western sets, the town from Jaws, the town from The Good Place, Bate’s Motel, amongst countless others. Along the way, you will get to see numerous special effects in action such as flooding, pyrotechnics, earthquakes and more. This tour also includes 3D immersive rides such as King Kong and Fast and Furious. The second best attraction after this tour would be the studio’s Water World stage show which is honestly amazing. A team of actors with speedboats, jet-skis, high-pressure water cannons and some fantastic pyrotechnics and fake guns put on an incredible action-packed show full of stunts, fight scenes and explosions. The studios created themed world sections of the park such as Harry Potter World, The Simpsons World, Jurrasic Park World etc are also well worth seeing. The amount of detail in Harry Potter and The Simpsons worlds is extremely impressive and if you are a fan of the show/movies then its a must see. Finally, the rides at the park are a lot of fun, particularly in my opinion the Harry Potter 3D rollercoaster and the Mummy. Also worth visiting is the Walking Dead zombie walk, if you are a fan of haunted houses you will enjoy this. Make sure to stay late enough in the day to witness the Harry Potter Hogwarts light show as it is well worth waiting for and a great way to end your day in the park.

 

Hollywood

Hollywood is a place that needs no introduction, it’s a brand that sells itself to the world without even needing to try. Hollywood Boulevard is probably one of the best-known streets in the world and attracts millions of visitors every year. I won’t bother going into detail regarding what and where Hollywood is, aside from saying that it is a suburb of central Los Angeles and the central hub for most of the worlds media. I would suggest spending at least a full day, maybe two exploring Hollywood Boulevard and the surrounding suburbs. On the Boulevard itself you can find famous theatres such as the TCL Chinese Theatre, Dolby Theatre and Disney’s El Capitan Theatre amongst others. As well as these you will find the world-famous Walk of Fame, the strip in Hollywood featuring the stars of celebrities throughout Hollywoods history deemed worthy of recognition. In addition to these, you will find high-end wax museums, Ripleys Believe it or Not, Hard Rock Cafe and other great ways to spend a day. If you are looking to do some shopping, the Hollywood and Highland Center is the place to go, the mall features a three tory replica of the Babylon scene from DW Griffiths 1916 masterpiece Intolerance. Make sure to soak in the atmosphere of the  Boulevard and the people that you see and meet on this street. You will find everything from low budget spidermen and Elmos, to high-end Star Wars characters, from street artists who are selling their wares to struggling rappers trying to get their mixtape out there; not to mention doomsday protestors and Scientologists amongst others. If you leave the central area of Hollywood you will find the famous palm-lined roads throughout the surrounding suburbs. I suggest visiting the La Brea Tar Pits for a taste of something different. The tar pits have naturally existed in this location for centuries, the oldest material found in the pits dates back 38,000 years. If you enjoy archaeology, paleontology or just like mammoths and other animals from the glacial period then this is something you will enjoy. Additionally, if you are still interested in shopping then The Grove near La Brea, is the mall that you should visit. This is an extremely high-end shopping experience and features a fantastic outdoor food market. A key attraction of the area is Universal Studios which will be discussed further in another article. Overall, I think that at least once in a person’s lifetime, they should visit Hollywood and see where movie, film and music’s magic happens.

 

Vanuatu: Port Vila

Vanuatu has had one of the most turbulent histories of any island nation in the region due to repeat recolonization. As a result, the country has an unusual mix of cultures and buildings present and sadly has a lower population than when the first contact was made with Europeans. In my opinion, Vanuatu has a fantastic atmosphere to it, a very happy and welcoming atmosphere, more so than New Caledonia. A key highlight of visiting Port Vila is the central marketplace, which acts as a hub for the entire town. In this market, you will find every fruit, vegetable, and meat available in the country. Additionally, you will find a traditional food area serving all local dishes, as well as goods market which sells every manner of tourist nicknacks and garments. I also suggest making the walk to the top of the central hill in town as it offers a beautiful view of the island in all directions. The city also has a fantastic kava shop, stocking every variation of kava available. If you are not familiar with kava, it is a traditional substance consumed throughout the Pacific. It is a sedative that causes relaxation and numbness and is normally used in large social settings. Port Vila overall is a nice place to spend a relaxing day and take in Vanuatu’s culture and cuisine.

New Caledonia: Noumea and Mare

New Caledonia is a Pacific Island nation located just east of Brisbane Australia. The nation is a former French colony and has a rich mix of French and traditional tribal culture. Noumea is the largest and most developed city in the country, as well as being the nations capital city. In Noumea, you will find some fantastic markets and some great French and traditional cuisine. If you have some time, make sure to visit St Josephs Cathedral in the center of the city, aside from being a beautiful and historic building, it offers a great view of the city. Mare, by contrast, is mostly undeveloped and still has a traditional tribal feel to it. Most residents either still live in traditional thatched huts or small more modern shacks. The island is home to beautiful beaches and palm/pine forests. Here you will find traditional foods and beverages, along with fresh coconuts and French beer. Mare is a fantastic way to spend a day on the beach, eating traditional food and drinking cheap French beer, soaking in the Pacific Island sun and making the most of the clear blue waters surrounding the island.

 

Ben Tre (Mekong Delta)

Ben Tre is located in what is known as the Mekong Delta, a lush sprawling agricultural area interwoven by rivers and tributaries. Located throughout this region you will find small villages surrounded by farms and workshops of all natures. For instance, on the day tour I took, we visited several coconut, honey, and fruit farms, along with a coconut candy workshop. Shrimp farming is also extremely popular in the region. As far as entertainment goes, cockfighting is extremely popular here, as it is in many rural areas in SE Asia and you will find that a large number of people keep roosters on their property in small cages. If you manage to visit this area try to take a small paddled boat ride through the regions palm-lined canals as it is a very enjoyable experience. Additionally, if you haven’t had a chance to see them up until now you will be able to see plenty of water buffalo on the farm properties here. Ben Tre definitely makes for a nice way to get out of Ho Chi Minh hustle and bustle for a day.