L.A. tips from the city's Blogfather
When Tony Pierce became editor of LAist.com, he pumped up the site's metabolism by tapping a lot of great writers and pushing them to cover the city's music scene and outrageous headlines smarter than any other L.A. website.
And his vision seems to have paid off, as LAist's pageviews have soared. The crosstown behemoth L.A. Times has been so impressed that they're hiring Pierce away to be an overlord of many of their blogs, including the spectacular Daily Travel & Deals blog created by Jen Leo.
Today, Tony answers some questions from our readers about L.A. Here are outtakes:
Q: What's the biggest mistake out-of-towners make when they visit L.A.?
A: They go to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica or City Walk at Universal and pretend that they're not at an outdoor mall with palm trees. You're in an outdoor mall with palm trees. Get out. In fact City Walk will even charge you to park there. I call it the Tourist tax. If you really neeeed to shop and you love outdoor malls, fine, go to the Grove in the Fairfax District. But on your way there drive down Melrose and I betya you will say Oh This Is Where I Should Be Shopping! Cuz it is.
Q: If I want to stroll around a neighborhood to get a good vibe of how the locals live, where would I go?
A: You will find two things in Beverly Hills, tourists and people who look like tourists. It's a great city to stroll in, but LA locals don't spend a lot of time there. So stroll but realize you're in a really bizarre (in a good way) faux city. Like Venice, Italy without the charm.
WeHo [West Hollywood] has two different major strolling areas. If you're gay or just appreciate alternative lifestyles, you're going to have a great time strolling down Santa Monica Blvd. Start at Doheny which is right at the West Hollywood city limits and stroll East. See if you can get a drink at the Troubadour, one of our many famous rock clubs. Then as you head East enjoy that culture.
The other street is Sunset. Find out where the Keyclub is. That used to be Gazarri's. All your favorite hair metal bands like Guns N Roses and Motley Crue got their start on the Strip. Knock back a drink at the Rainbow Room which is not even a half block next to the Key Club, say hi to the Roxy, walk past the Hustler store for some giggles, check out famous (and gorgeous) Viper Room, as well as the classic Whisky-A-Go-Go. All of these are within a very very short walk of each other. If the night is still young by the time you make it there, keep walking up Sunset (east) and the party will go on at the many swanky bars on that road.
Q: My buddies and I want and only-in-LA concert experience. Help.
A: Concerts in LA are like concerts anywhere if you go to huge arenas like Staples. So if you come in the Summer, figure out when a band you love is playing at the Hollywood Bowl or the Greek Theatre. Two awesome outdoor venues in wonderful locations. If you like smaller acts, go to one of our many rock clubs - The Troubadour, The Viper Room, The Roxy, The Key Club, in West Hollywood. If you are adventurous and you can figure out how to get there Spaceland in Silver Lake is one of my favorites - it's small, packed with hip locals (god I hate that word) and you can find really great bands that you hear on the radio playing there for low prices and its super small.
In Echo Park there are also some really great clubs like The Echo and the Echoplex that are also small, filled with the cool kids who live and breath indie rock. Beck played the Echoplex just a few weeks ago for $20. Have a PBR for me!
Q: Where should I go to see a celebrity in public? (The stars! They're just like us! Some of them even pick up their own dry cleaning!)
A: Go where the paparazzi go: The Ivy on Robertson in Beverly Hills, the Urth Cafe, and Kitson. In Hollywood on Sunset there's a grocery store called Ralphs. No I'm not crazy, go to the Ralphs. It's nickname is The Rock n Roll Ralphs because so many old and new rock stars get their groceries there. (You're right, they ARE just like Us!) Also camp out at LAX (the club, not the airport), Hyde, and/or the Mondrian's Sky Bar. But just keep your eyes open, they're everywhere.
Q: Universal Studios: Hot or Not?
A: Universal Studios Hollywood is an amusement park more than a real Studio Tour. Get yourself (free) tickets to a show taping at Jimmy Kimmel (which is right across the street from the Chinese) if you really wanna see what a tv taping is like, and the best part is its over in an hour so you can enjoy the rest of your trip.
Q: Will be at the LAX Marriott for 3 days in April. I don't drive. Any suggestions for what two seniors can do?
This might come across as snarky. But if you're here for 3 days and you don't drive, please relocate to Santa Monica. The hotels aren't as cheap as at LAX, but there is nowhere to walk to for seniors near that location. Spend a few extra dollars and actually Enjoy your stay here. Get away from that airport. Those hotels are meant for one-night layovers for business travelers, not people who will be here for multiple nights who don't drive. If a travel agent booked that for you, call them up and ask, "why do you hate me?"
Q: What are the city's best cheap eats?
You are talking to the king of cheap eats. Most people don't know that LA has an excellent culture of hamburgers and tacos. And we're not talking that crap they serve in Oconomowoc. You've probably heard of In-N-Out Burgers, which has definitely got its fanbase (and long lines), but throughout our fair city you will see Fatburgers, and Tommy's Burgers. Both of these are very different type of hamburgers. Fatburgers are probably the most expensive hamburgers you will come across, but still cheap when considering what dinner normally cost. And when was the last time you were asked if you'd like an egg on your burger? Meanwhile Tommy's Original *comes* with chili on top. But warning—beware of imitators like Tomy's and Tony's.
When you get sick of that, don't overlook LA's biggest secret cheap eat - our taco trucks. Yes, they might look like everyday "roach coaches", but for a dollar a taco (on average) you can get some of the most delectable soft tacos you've ever had. And it will be a dining experience that 99.9% of tourists here will never have. This is where the real Eastside and Hollywood locals eat after a night of clubbing, working, or just hanging out. If you're really letting your hair down, may I recommend the tounge taco - the Lengua. Me, I usually get three tacos, the asada (steak), the pastor (because of the carmalized onions), and a pollo (chicken) and dress it with some hot salsa.
Q: What's the best nightlife guide for L.A.?
A: For decades the LA Weekly has been a Must for locals and tourists. It's free, they have great great listings, and you can pick it up anywhere. They have also just renovated their online presence and their calendar is killer. [Plus, their restaurant critic, Jonathan Gold, recently won a Pulitzer.] The blog that I edit, LAist doesn't have as many listings, but we trim the fat and tell you 5-10 of the best shows (in our opinion) that you should see that night. We usually post our list around noon each day.
Q: I've got an 11 hour layover in LA. What can I do during that time?
A: I'd recommend renting a car and driving down Lincoln (north) to Venice and Santa Monica. Car culture in LA is like the jazz and creole food culture of New Orleans. Even if you got stuck in traffic, at least you can say, so THIS is what they're talking about.
If you really don't wanna rent a car, take a cab to Venice Beach($25 each way - told ya to get a cab)and walk around at a leisurely pace. Yes there is public transportation. You can take Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus sorta from LAX but they don't make it easy. If by some miracle you can get on one they're super cheap (75 cents each way) and it will take you down Lincoln (if you get on the right one) and you can explore safe and clean Santa Monica. But I totally stand behind my tip to rent a car. And get the insurance.
Q: Pinkberry: Hot or not?
A: Pinkberry is hot. But so was the hula hoop in its day. It's yogurt. Big whoop. And it cost $5 for a good sized cup that can be split between two people. Eat one, laugh, and get back outside.
MORE ON L.A. Free weekend tours highlight artworks in the L.A. metro stations. Check out BudgetTravel.com's slide show.
Movie Quest: Atonement
Opening tomorrow in theaters nationwide, Atonement is a startlingly faithful adaptation of the 2002 best seller by Ian McEwan. Set in Britain before and during World War II, the movie traces how 13-year old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) disrupts the budding romance between her older sister Ceclia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy) by accusing Robbie of a crime. Here's the preview: And here's how to re-create the movie's best moments: MANOR HOUSE Key interior and exterior scenes were shot at Stokesay Court, a late-Victorian mansion built in 1892 of honey-colored stone and English oak in South Shropshire, about 160 miles northwest of London. Hop a three-hour ride on National Rail to the market town of Ludlow (011-44/845-748-4950, nationalrail.co.uk, from $20 round trip). From there, it's a 15-minute and $10 cab ride. The owner of the private home, Caroline Magnus, now offers one-hour guided tours of all the rooms featured in the film, followed by coffee or tea in the dining room, and an opportunity to roam the grounds, which include the lake where Cecilia swam and the grottoes, woodlands, and pools that starred in the film. The filmmakers left many props, such as a fiberglass-and-foam "stone" statue of Triton that had been placed in the center of the fountain that was created over the existing fountain to make it deep enough for Cecilia to dive into. The fake fountain itself has since been removed. No minimum size for tour group at Stokesay Court, but most tours turn out to be with small groups of about 5 to 10 tourists. (011-44/158-485-6238, stokesaycourt.com; about $25 per person; by appointment only, usually on Sundays; no children under age 8). HISTORIC SHORES Near the film's climax, Robbie staggers among hundreds of British soldiers awaiting evacuation on the shores of Dunkirk, France. The five-and-a-half-minute continuous shot was filmed on Redcar Beach, which is a three-hour train ride northeast from London. National Rail offers daily service from London's Waterloo Station to Redcar (Central), a ten-minute walk to the beach and promenade (011-44/845-748-4950, nationalrail.co.uk, from $103 round trip). The French cinema that Robbie wanders through is Redcar's Regent Cinema, a red-roofed, wooden structure on the seaside promenade (011/44-164-248-2094; $7 for an adult ticket). THE BLITZ Cecilia takes cover in a Tube station during an air raid. At the Imperial War Museum London, visitors can step inside a reconstruction of a similar 1940s air-raid shelter (011-44/207-416-5320, iwm.org.uk, free). THE RESCUE AT DUNKIRK The film doesn't have time to offer historical context on how 338,000 British and French troops were evacuated at Dunkirk largely by hundreds of civilian fishing boats. For details, visit the Second World War galleries of the Imperial War Museum London. Among the relevant items on display are a 15-foot fishing boat that participated in the evacuation, a letter from a Captain in the Royal Navy describing events first-hand, and a German wound label attached to a casualty who was captured during the retreat. (011-44/207-416-5320, iwm.org.uk, free). SLIDE SHOW We rounded up the year's most travel-inspiring flicks into a slide show, in which Bud Travel pops into the films in a Zelig-like way. RELATED See our Web roundup of the places where celebs hang out in L.A. and N.Y.C.
Hotels '08: The Bjorn Prediction
The most respected forecaster in the hotel industry is Bjorn Hanson of the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. His predictions are closely read by investors and hotel owners. He has earned trust by issuing annual forecasts that have proven more accurate than everybody else's for 16 out of the past 17 years. I wondered if Bjorn's 2008 forecast would be of interest to the average budget-conscious traveler. So I dropped by his annual press conference yesterday to find out. Here's what he said: —Expect the largest hotel chains to launch more small brands. For example, Best Western plans to debut a brand called Atria, featuring bigger lobbies than their standard hotels, and offering similar amenities to Courtyards by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inns. In 2008, the first Atrias are set to open in San Antonio, Texas, and New Bern, N.C. Another new brand--being launched in 2008 by independent investors, is CitiStay Hotels, loaded with modern architectural motifs and the latest technological gadgets but priced for budget-conscious twenty-somethings. —Expect more fees. Bjorn predicts hotels will charge about $1,900,000,000 in fees and surcharges for mini-bar restocking, baggage holding fees, in-room safe surcharges, and other services that used to be complimentary. He says that revenue from such fees should rise about 8 percent from this year's revenue. He also predicts increases in the number of hotels charging fees as well as increases in the amounts charged. He also predicts an increasing range of fees. Argh! —Expect room rates to rise, on average. Rates dropped dramatically after the events of 2001, only to return to their old levels this year, if you adjust rates for inflation. But this year, many hotels will start raising rates higher than they were in the last peak year of 2000. Profits this year are expected to be about $6,644 per available room on average, and will be strong again next year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers research. So don't cry for the hotel owners. —You'll be seeing somewhat fewer mid-market hotels that offer food and beverage on their premises. This type of hotel chain, such as Holiday Inn, Doubletree, Ramada, and Quality Inn, is the only category of hotel chain that will receive fewer visitors next year. (By contrast, luxury, upscale, and economy class hotels will grow, both in visits and in the supply of rooms.) MORE ON HOTELS Pod hotels open this year inside London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports, for taking naps or staying overnight. At the Omni Houston, you'll never call the front desk again.
The Future of Travel
A colleague of mine and I were recently marvelling about the speed and frequency of online travel giant Trip Advisor's site redesigns. Like clockwork, just yesterday I received yet another announcement that the website had a new look, and this time the changes aren't simply cosmetic. Trip Advisor has always been a community site, successfully leveraging the voice of everyday travelers, but its earlier incarnations sought a careful balance with 'expert' opinions from, for example, the New York Times travel pages, Fodor's, and other big travel brands. Trip Advisor's new design is not so cautious, and it's inching ever-closer to abandoning the voice of established 'experts' once and for all—or maybe it's just more accurate to say that the site continues to place greater trust in the hands of its users. The trend is not new, of course, but it's no longer a simple fad. Publishers who are still wedded to the idea that social media—the voice of the masses—is an indiscriminate and largely useless cacophony of uninformed opinions are missing the bigger picture. Social media is getting better, and the information the digital phenomenon produces is more useful by the day. There are three inter-related trends coalescing right now that should make all old-brand publishers think hard about how they want to position themselves for the future... First, critical mass has been reached; the number of people willing to share their stories boggles the mind, and it continues to grow at an astronomical pace. Second, social media publishers are finding super-smart ways to reward valuable members, and to give special prominence to really good user-generated content. It's no longer enough to be a prolific contributor to a website. Unless other readers like you, and express their sympathy by voting for you, well, your voice is just never heard. Only the strongest survive. Finally, publishers are mining huge databases of behavioral information to connect you to people who are more and more like you—it's not just that you're getting opinions that many readers say are useful, you're getting opinions that are useful and are also attuned to your tastes. The 'similarity' math that many sites are now using is taking us into some new, periodically comical territory, and it's hard to know just how far it can be pushed. I checked my Netflix 'friends' page a few days back, and saw that I had some new 'recommended' buddies—folks I did not know in the proper sense, but who were between 56 to 78 percent similar to me. When I took a quick look at these proto-buddies, well, they were an awful lot like me. When someone gets to 99 percent, I'm thinking I may dig a hole somewhere and disappear...I don't want to know me. The social media 'revolution' has always had the ring of exaggeration, but give the emerging model some thought and it seems far more plausible. Web sites with a travel angle—from Yahoo! Travel, to Trip Advisor, to Yelp—are becoming huge publishing empires built on the foundation of user generated content. The social media systems are only getting stronger—and they will continue to find new ways to identify the best user-generated content, and to match it to your interests. A serious question looms, and while I'm a bit tired as I write this, I don't think it's overstated: In the future, will the experts be you, or us? What is the future place of the editor? I tend to place my bets in the middle—and so I think that the publishing model of the future will probably succeed best where it manages to find new and compelling ways to let experts—folks who have dedicated a good part of their lives to learning a field—share their opinions with ordinary folks with informed passions. There's still a great deal of value left in the idea of craft and expertise. But surely the era of the unchallenged 'expert' opinion is behind us, and only the nostalgic are looking back.
Which destinations are on your radar?
It's that time of year for taking stock of where we've been and where we're headed, not just in our daily lives, but in our travels. When we recently asked readers how the weak dollar is affecting their plans, we received a flood of more than 200 comments. Many discussed seeking out alternatives to Europe—such as Argentina, Thailand, India, Croatia, and China—and staying closer to home (Alaska, Texas). We have our own list of places that have recently piqued our interest (more on that after the jump), and we'd like to hear from you: Where are you headed in 2008? Photo of a little cove in Bermuda, between Warwick Bay and Horseshoe Bay, by Buff Strickland (yes, that's his real name). Montenegro: a newly independent country that's small in size, but big on the next-destination map. Lalibela, Ethiopia: Home to 11 intriguing ancient churches carved into the Ethiopian earth. Brooklyn, N.Y.: These days, the most interesting part of New York is across the East River. Sangkhla Buri, Thailand: A Thai cultural melting pot with Buddhist monks who are commonly spotted crossing the old wooden bridge at sunrise. New Orleans, La.: As the city continues to rebuild for years to come, there's plenty to rediscover. Bermuda: With sand as soft as sifted flour, blue-green water, and an influx of low-cost flights and affordable lodging, the island has never been more appealing. Caraíva, Brazil: A car-free, rustic beach town at the southern tip of the Brazilian state of Bahia. Waitsburg, Wash.: Near Walla Walla, the sleepy town has neat shops and cafés like the Whoop, a hit with both wheat farmers and wine snobs. Yarra Valley, Australia: You don't have to like wine to enjoy this region northeast of Melbourne (but it helps).