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Trip Report Los Angeles (Hollywood), San Diego Zoo, San Francisco Alcatraz July 2012

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Ok this is my 3rd and last trip report from our California trip.

LOS ANGELES WARNER BROS STUDIO HOLLYWOOD
We were lucky and got to stay with my husband's aunt and cousins while in L.A. They have lived there for 30 years but still got lost and took wrong turns driving us around! The freeways were always busy even Sunday night at 10 p.m.

We got there Friday night and ate with them in Glendale. We also switched our rental vehicle there from a minivan to a cheaper Impala after the 1 week mark to save money. A one-way rental SFO to a Glendale hotel was cheaper than carrying it all the way to San Diego to drop off. We dropped off the Impala Wed at the San Diego airport. That combo was cheaper than one the whole way.

WARNER BROS STUDIO TOUR
Saturday morning we headed out to Warner Bros Studios for a tour. My cousin-in-law works there so we found it easily. There is a tour parking lot you can use. Don't forget they require a photo i.d. for adults. I realized I had left mine in another bag and panicked but luckily she got me in as an employee guest. We bought coffee in the Starbucks in the gift shop and they gave us a 10% coupon for the store. It might be worth a $2 coffee to buy a lot of merchandise. The store is small though. The tickets were $42.00 each plus tax and a transaction fee. A lot of Saturday slots were reserved so we had to get a 12pm one. That was fine because we stayed up late Friday.

The tour is about 2 1/2 hours long and mostly a tram ride. Each seats fit 3 adults but will be a tight squeeze for large people. Our guide asked us which shows we liked. He tried to talk about them if he could. On a Saturday, you won't get to see workers milling about like the weekdays. He said that is ok b/c you never see the actors anyway. Plus on a Saturday there are fewer restrictions on places he can take you since no one is working. A photo of your group is included with a Hogwarts train superimposed onto it.

Here is what we saw/ learned about:
Pretty Little Liars Sets
Big Bang Theory Sets and taping area
outdoor jungle area used in other studios' movies too
pretend town square and shops
pretend residential street
small museum with Harry Potter exhibit and a few tv shows and old movies
(you only have 15 minutes in this museum though so walk fast)
Props building with props to be rented: furniture, lighting, art etc. (I loved this section)
the Friends cafe set Central Perk
hangar with 10 cars from movies and your green screen for your photo

Photos were allowed everywhere except the museum and the Big Bang taping area.
Unfortunately, they didn't talk about movies too much and we didn't get to see inside any of the sound stages used for movies. I would recommend it though as it was interesting and our tour guide was funny.

POQUITO MAS BAJA TACO RESTAURANT NEAR WARNER BROS
My cousin in law eats here at their studio location(for studio employees) but there is also one a few miles from the studio. It was good, had fast service, and we ate outside under a roof. Traffic was quiet on a Saturday. They have fish tacos but other items as well. My son's tostado looked really good and big. They have about 8 dipping sauces. We liked it and we didn't waste too much time either. They have more locations around L.A.

HOLLYWOOD GRAUMAN'S CHINESE THEATER
Next my cousin in law drove us past the Hollywood Bowl and the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are held. We found a parking deck which was $8.00. If you buy something at the pharmacy or shoe store you can get 1 hr or 2 hrs free.
We walked to Grauman's and took photos of the hand prints and footprints. We also took some photos of the stars on the sidewalk. This area is similar to Times Square in New York. It is crowded with lots of stores around and people selling you things. For a few dollars you can get a photo with a costumed person. Some costumes were lame and some were cool.

HOLLYWOOD MUSEUM
Across the street, in the old Max Factor Building, is this museum. It costs $15 a person. It has some old glamour products displays and Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe exhibits. I wanted to try it but didn't realize it was so close on this day. (We found it the next day LOL) My kids weren't interested. The parking there is awful! They barely have any room and the man wants to hold your keys...weird. If you do go, just use the parking deck across the street near Grauman's. Hollywood High School is right near here too and has actors painted all across the front.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM
This is a small museum across from the Hollywood Bowl. It is $7 I think. It has a lot of Cecile B Demille's old equipment and collection. It could be good for old movie buffs. We didn't get to go in it though.

BEVERLY HILLS
Next we drove through Beverly Hills looking for mansions. We rode down the streets you always see in movies lined with tall Palm trees. I stopped to get a homes of the stars map (hokey I know but I am more interested in the 40s and 50s era). She tried to charge $25 and sell it up but when I told her no, she gave me last year's version for $10.00.
We found Jimmy Stewart's and Lucille Ball's houses. Next we rode through Rodeo Drive twice. We didn't have any extra money to shop there so we didn't get out.

My boys looooved all of the luxury sports cars we kept passing. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, Maseratis, Audi R8s etc. (Yes they watch Top Gear on BBC). The funny thing is that it is a fad in L.A. to buy an $80,000 car and put a matte black finish on it. It makes it look like those people that don't have money for a real paint job. Our friend who works at a luxury car dealer there said it is becoming more common.

MULLHOLLAND DRIVE OVERLOOKS
Next, we rode up into the Hollywood Hills. We found the Mullholland Drive (over the Hollywood Bowl) overlook which has about 10 parking spaces. Look up this page for the overlook locations.
http://www.lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=37
The sun had just set and all of the lights were coming on. There is a double set of stairs to get up to the telescopes. You can see the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory from there. It could be romantic for a couple at night. The lights are very pretty. Note they close the parking lot gates around 8:30 p.m. so don't be too late. You could park on the roadside right past it though and see a similar view but not quite as high if the gates are closed.
We just ate sandwiches back at the cousin's house since she got turned around a little bit and we got home after 9 pm.

Yes we do love art museums, history and science museums etc. but I just wanted to do the things we can't find in other cities, especially for my first trip. I love old movies and movie star stuff.

Next: Santa Monica and Venice Beach and Griffith Observatory and Disneyland

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    On Sunday morning, we headed out to find that Hollywood Museum and to our surprise we were just there the day before! I decided to skip it...too much hassle. Traffic was bad and parking worse.

    SANTA MONICA BEACH AREA, VENICE BEACH, SEGWAYS
    We took two hours getting from Glendale to Hollywood to Santa Monica! That is with a local driving us too! We got there around 2:00 p.m.
    We wasted 30 minutes looking for free parking and then just went into the crowded $8.00 lot. It took a lot of time there too because people would stop and wait for someone to pull out which blocked the path.

    It was soooo crowded crowded crowded! It isn't a relax and work on your tan beach. It is a people watching beach. My husband and one son went into the water and it was really cold. We are used to the Gulf of Mexico water....so warm there. The beach is nice and wide but that means more walking to the water. The water was packed with waders.

    SEGWAYS
    Another cousin in law set up Segway rentals for us and the boys were really excited. A 3rd cousin came with spouse and 17 yr old daughter so she could join them. They loved it although the girl and my 13 yr old fell and got bruised and scraped. Not a big deal. I think it is $80 for 2 hours but you can share. Someone threw a shoe in front of one son to trip him. :( But he swerved in time. There are acrobats, stuntmen, people swinging on rings, etc. to watch. They rode the Segways down to Venice Beach and said it was weird but interesting. There are a lot of bikers there as well (bicycle bikers). We parked a mile from the Segway place though so it was 7pm by the time we got to a restaurant in Venice Beach. Someone recommended to my cousin in law that we try Lenny's for a good beer selection. They had a 1 hour wait and we needed to get to Griffith Observatory which closed at 10 p.m.
    Venice Beach was seedy and dirty but could be entertaining for 20 somethings needing excitement.

    IN AND OUT BURGER
    We decided to get burgers to go and head to the Obersevatory. They were so fast and inexpensive! What a good deal! The menu is limited though to double or single burger, fries, and milkshakes. They were good and we were happy we tried that instead.

    GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY
    Unfortunately it took over an hour to get there from Venice Beach. We got there at 9 p.m. but the street was already closed off. My cousin in law couldn't remember the way to the other street so we lost more time trying to figure it out.
    Luckily we found parking up at the top. The observatory is at the top of a hill with limited parking up top. Most people have to park somewhere on the hill. You could be in for a long uphill hike if this is the case. There was probably a mile or more of cars along the road. Bring a stroller if you have kids.
    We got to look around but the big telescope on top had just closed. The view from there is beautiful with the lights.
    It is free; you just pay for any IMAX type movie you watch. It was recently renovated and the cousins said a new cafe and gift shop was added they saw for the first time.


    DISNEYLAND/CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE
    We packed up Monday morning and headed to Disneyland. I know Universal Studios is a lot bigger and better in Orlando so we figured we would do that there later. It was a half day of stuff for $72 so we figured we would get more out of Disney for all day long at $105).
    I bought our tickets right before the price increase. Each one-day park hopper was $105.00 Since the two parks are less than 100 yards from each other it is easy and fast to go back and forth. The bag check is outside that area so you only have to do it once. We found lockers for $7 on an alley right near the Lincoln Experience in Disneyland to put our jackets in. It was warm during the day, but cold at night.

    We utilized single rider lines, which were 15 min or less, since our boys are teenagers and can ride alone if need be. We were also smart with our Fastpasses. I studied the Mousewait app ahead of time to get a good game plan. I wanted us to be efficient and not waste time.

    There was no good way to see Cars Land though (the new addition). Even the last hour before closing, the Radiator Springs Racer ride was a 2 hour wait and the single rider line 1 hour! We just walked through it. Fastpasses for it were gone by 11 a.m.

    Carthay Circle Restaurant
    I got us reservations for lunch but debated wasting the time. It was fine; portions were small. We still had to wait a little to be seated. We sat in the sunroom which didn't have a ritzy 1930s feel like the rest of the restaurant. But the odd thing is the main dining area has the kitchen opened to it which ruins the ambiance. Who wants to hear clanging pans when their meal is $30 or more for lunch?
    We stayed until midnight and did most all of the rides we wanted.

    COMPARING DISNEYLAND AND DISNEYWORLD
    Coming from the southeast, I have been to WDW about 7 times. The main difference I see is as you know WDW has four parks, 2 water parks, and a much larger Downtown Disney area. There is a lot more acreage in each park and a lot more hotels and resorts, plus a lake for boating and skiing and a campgground.
    There is a much longer monorail track system too.
    With more space, you get more elaborate stores and restaurants and more of them, more gardens and floral displays, more sitting areas etc. It just has a more magical, escapism feel to it.
    The plus with Disneyland is you can get around faster. If we are in tomorrowland and want to do a ride in adventureland we can be there in a minute. You can also switch parks quickly and easily. I wouldn't trade Epcot in for California Adventure though. Both resorts are fun in their own ways.

    We spent the night with cousin in law #2 south of Anaheim. We are so lucky and they are so sweet.

    SAN DIEGO ZOO
    Tuesday morning, we headed down to San Diego which was less than 1 1/2 hours from their suburb south of Anaheim.
    The zoo was $42.00 per person but parking was free woohoo! It includes the express tram with 5 stops if you are tired, the sky buckets that go across the park, and a narrated 35 min tour tram.
    We stayed here from 12 pm to 8:30 pm. Granted, we were worn out and rested a lot. (We left Disney at 12:30 am the night before). We watched an acrobat show, saw 2 good bands in concert, and watched a short animal show. It was too kiddy so we left in the middle. We loved the Sky Buckets or whatever they call them. Disney used to have those but closed them before my boys could ride them.
    The park is large (thus the shuttle tram) and has a confusing map. Since each animal has a great, large exhibit it can be hard to see them. It is great for the animals but we actually saw fewer animals than in some less fancy zoos we have been to. You could spend all day here if you aren't rushing. We just ate carmel popcorn and cinnamon rolls for lunch. Sorry I know that sounds bad.

    Kearney Mesa Hampton Inn
    We stayed here after the zoo. It was ok except our shower was stopped up, the tub wasn't glued to the floor and made a horrible noise whenever you moved your feet and the tv picture was fuzzy half the time. Our 13 yr old slept on the chair ottoman and bench combo. They recommended a pizza place nearby so we ate there at 9:30 p.m.

    Filippi's Pizza Grotto in Kearney Mesa area
    This was near the Hampton Inn and it was open until 10 pm. The pizza was good and really cheesy. The service was good too. It has been in business a long time, nothing fancy, like an old Pizza Inn. It was pretty quick service and a good price. They have some Italian dishes in addition to pizza.

    The next morning we flew Southwest out of San Diego to San Francisco.

    SOUTHWEST TICKETING
    I had never flown Southwest before as we live in the southeast haha. I was worried about us having to all sit apart. You can't reserve seats with them. I printed our boarding passes right after the 24 hr ahead mark at my cousin in laws house. We got B9 - B14. This is how they board:
    A1-30 line up first and board first. Another row with signs is for A31-60 line up and board. Next families with kids under 6yrs old and special needs. Then B groups, then C groups. They are much better than Delta about organized boarding. They checked tickets to keep everyone in order. We were able to all sit together so it was all good. Plus we got 2 free checked bags each, wow!
    Our tickets were $100 each but my husband delayed me from the original $85 price I could have gotten. I sure didn't want to drive 9 hours back to San Fransisco to catch our flight home. Yes even with that $500 to get back to SFO, it was still cheaper than flying home from San Diego when I booked our tickets

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    OK LAST DAY JULY 4TH IN SAN FRANCISCO

    I hope I am not giving too much info just thought I would like to learn it all if it was my first time planning CA travel.

    We landed in SFO at 11 a.m. My husband did the AVIS preferred car pickup. I paid $75 for less than 24 hours for a Ford Crown Victoria. I meant to do Priceline but ran out of time right at the end. What a bad deal. This car was filthy. I took out wipes and clean fried chicken grease? off of the seats. My son shirt was stained with some black tar stuff and there was even a used cigarette in the front door pocket. What (*&(%&%*& workers! He would have had to waste 45 minutes in line to complain. But the bad thing is men don't notice stuff like we women would most of the time. We needed a car because we had nowhere to store our 6 suitcases and 5 carryon/backpacks. Since we had to be back at the airport at 4 a.m., we decided not to pay for a hotel. We were staying out late for the fireworks. Plus I knew public transit would be mobbed anyway on July 4th.

    The Embarcadero was really crowded and slow, a real time waster. Again we couldn't get a good signal on the TomTom so I used my paper map. I had printed out a map of parking decks from this great website I found. They all raised their prices for July 4th though. We paid $30 but nearby were $40 and $50 lots.

    LOMBARD STREET, CURVIEST BLOCK IN USA?
    I made the family drive over there even though they complained. There were a lot of people with nowhere to park. It is one-way downhill so we rode down it then drove back up above and I just got out to take photos while my husband drove around waiting on me. It was really pretty with Hydrangeas all over. I could smell everyone's brakes burning. :) The trolley came by but I don't think they could get out and walk around like I could. This took a lot longer than we planned due to traffic and one-way streets.

    FISHERMANS WHARF
    We walked here to eat lunch after parking. It was really crowded on July 4th. There are a lot of stores and restaurants, as they say, touristy. We got crepes to go.
    CREPE CAFE
    I think the crepes were about $8.00 each. It was the only place we saw that was fast and could be to go. We got turkey and cheese ones. We also got garlic fries which were good at $4.50 each. We carried them over to Pier 33 (I think) to check in for our Alcatraz tour. We ate our crepes there so we didn't run the risk of being late. It was now 3:00 p.m. and what we did listed above took 4 hours from the time we got off of the plane at 11 a.m. Traffic.....


    ALCATRAZ ISLAND TOUR
    Our tour was for 3:20 but they want you to be a little early. The tours were sold out for the next two weeks a sign said. Our tickets were $28 each. They have a cheaper family pack but only if your kids are under 12 yrs old. Not Fair
    We got to the island at 3:45. Got an orientation speech, saw a video, small exhibit, small gift shop and then started walking. I got a lot of great photos of flowers, birds, burned out stone buildings, sailboats, and the city across the water. The jail tour can be over an hour with the audio guide. There are things to look at outside behind it too. At 5:40, they started yelling at us to go to the ferry and then followed us. I was aggravated and hurried ahead so I could take a few more photos without them on my heels. I wish we had 3 hours. Two hours wasn't enough time to explore. I am really glad I didn't do the 4:00 tour; that would be no time at all.
    They didn't have night tours on July 4th. I heard they were neat but I wouldn't have all of my neat daytime photos either.

    #9 FISHERMAN'S GROTTO RESTAURANT
    Ok I made us reservations for here. Every restaurant is sooo expensive in San Fran. I picked this because of the large windows and beautiful view and cheaper prices. I knew it wouldn't be great and it was fine, not good or great. It was quiet and restful and we had great views of sailboats and the water and the hills of San Francisco above them. We ate at sunset 7pm and it was nice. You could tell it was fancy back in the day with the 1960s looking bar and coat check desk. We didn't have to wait but people without reservations had a 45 minute or more wait. The service was good.

    MUSEE MECHANIQUE ARCADE
    OK this sounds cheesy but was actually neat. Near the restaurant is this arcade building. It is a collection of arcade machines from as far back as 1900. I thought it was neat to see what my grandmother would have done for fun in the 1920s. I checked out the XXX photos from the 1920s machine which were actually ladies in nightgowns, funny. There were a lot of neat machines you would never see anywhere else and they all work! They are mostly 25 cents each. Behind that building is a submarine and ship you can check out by reading info signs even if they are closed. There is also a good view of the Alcatraz lighthouse.

    We saw the fireworks and spent two hours getting out of the parking garage. It was ok we had time to kill before our 4 a.m. airport check -in.

    GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE AND PALACE OF FINE ARTS
    Once we finally got out of the parking garage after 11 p.m., we rode over the GG Bridge. We got out on the Sausalito side and I took photographs of it. I placed my camera on the brick fence to stabilize the long shutter time. ( I broke my tripod on the trip.) They look cool though not completely sharp. It is redlights of the bridge with carlights and fog. You can see the bridge pretty well though. The toll to get back is $6 I think.
    Next we rode to the Palace of Fine Arts which was built for the Panama-American Exhibit in 1915. It was really cool at night especialy with a full moon. I can tell from the signs parking is difficult during the day. I didn't know if the area was safe or not. But I saw mostly college students and couples. I again set my camera on something to stabilize the nightime photo. It was really surreal with the orange glow reflecting off of the pond around it. It was really pretty and I am glad we didn't skip it just because it was after midnight.

    We tried to drop off our rental car at 1:30 a.m. and go rest in a quiet corner of the airport. But lo and behold such a large city actually has a closed airport at night. There were a few janitors, but no one else and the rental car monorail was closed. We slept a few hours in the parking lot and then checked in after 4 am. It was buzzing by then.

    Last funny note...
    My husband left our own car keys in the security tray in the Memphis Airport. We had to get a friend of ours to send them to his cousin by priority mail. What a scare...
    Also Delta had to top off our flight home by delaying two of our bags. They delivered them the next day. I told the worker, "well we started off with a 6 hour overnight delay getting to California so I guess this is a fitting ending."

    Also the heat index in Memphis when we arrived was 104 degrees. There had been a heat wave the whole time we were gone. It was so nice doing outside stuff in 83 degreees or less in California with little humidity and only sunny skies. Nice! Now back to the real world of heat and storms, sweaty shirts and limp humid hair!

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    "We had caramel popcorn and cinnamon rolls for lunch. I know, that sounds bad". Nope, it sounds pretty good!

    By the way, Delta should give you $100 vouchers for such a long delay, call them and protest if all you got was a hotel room and a $6 meal.

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    Thanks for the info guys!
    My husband did say we got an email after we got home with 2,500 skymiles but that amounts to about $25.00. We checked in around 11:45 a.m. so they gave us each $6 for lunch, dinner, and breakfast so $18.00 each total. LOL Will you explain more about the $100 voucher? Do you mean for use at the airport? Is that per person?

    ***I have a correction to make that shows my naivete. Jimmy Stewart's house was torn down and a bigger mansion put in its place and Lucille Ball's house was so heavily renovated that it doesn't look the same. Apparently extravagance has replaced a lot of the older houses. Here is an article about it. I guess it was still neat to see those streets in Beverly HIlls at least. (Roxbury Dr. and others)
    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117934814?refCatId=1847

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    <<<***I have a correction to make that shows my naivete. Jimmy Stewart's house was torn down and a bigger mansion put in its place and Lucille Ball's house was so heavily renovated that it doesn't look the same.>>>

    My MIL used to take people around and point out the houses, and made up who lived there! This was pre-internet, so I don't think anyone was ever the wiser :-)

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