I spent the first 53 years of my life living on the East Coast. I heard all of the classic digs against Los Angeles— that it was “The Land of the Lotus Eaters” or LaLa Land— that it was a place where abundant sunshine encouraged sensuality but bled away the intellect. Within hours of arriving in L.A I saw for myself what a lie that was. For every airhead stoner there were a dozen sharp and ambitious people from all corners of the world. It was also the most multicultural city I’d ever seen, where a five-minute drive would take you through five ethnic neighborhoods.
I’ve only been in L.A for a few years and I’m still finding my way around. This blog will be a combination of sorts. It will describe out-of-the-way places I discover, as well as keep you up-to-date on tourism news. Since it’s a work in progress, feel free to give me suggestions on what you’d like to see covered, or add a comment about what’s on your mind, whether positive or negative.
A shrine at Olvera Street on the Day of the Dead
Visiting the Chocolate Fairy
During the recent Day of the Dead ceremonies I wandered down to Olvera Street in downtown L.A in El Pueblo State Historic Park. Olvera Street attracts plenty of tourists but also has appeal for the local Mexican community. Everything was kicked up a notch for the Day of the Dead— more people, live music, costumed performers on stilts, colorful shrines and, as you’d expect, skulls everywhere, from candy confections to key chains.
My son spotted a sign for Casa de Sousa Coffee House tucked away from the bustle of Olvera Street. Wending my way through racks of embroidered dresses and guayabera shirts that obscured the path to the door, I couldn’t help thinking, “There might be a café back there.”
Once inside, we wandered among the tables, examining the dense collection of artifacts and handicrafts on the walls. We ordered coffee and corn tamales, which were vegetarian and much lighter than the usual Mexican fare.
Café de Sousa
When I talked to Conchita Sousa, the co-owner (also known as the Chocolate Fairy), I learned that Café de Sousa had been named “Best Vegetarian Restaurant” in LA News’ Best of Downtown. I also realized I should have ordered the organic hot chocolate— a specialty of the house. You’ll have to search a little to find Casa de Sousa, but if you’re visiting Olvera Street, it’s a relaxing respite from the crowds. The café is half way down Olvera Street from Paseo de la Plaza, on the left (north) side, and up a short flight of stairs. There’s also an entrance on 634 N. Main St. Casa de Sousa is open seven days a week (213-687-0363). The café doesn’t have a website, but you can read more about Conchita at www.myspace.com/xocofairy.
Iconic Hotel Restores its Shine
One of L.A.’s iconic hotels recently came back on line after a $30 million refurbishment. The Art Deco Shangri-La Hotel was built in 1939 and has a long history of hosting celebrities. This was its first renovation in 20 years. The Shangri-La Hotel is in Santa Monica and is perched high enough to provide Pacific Ocean views from all of its suites and rooms. The hotel now has 71 rooms and suites (an increase of 17 rooms), a courtyard with elevated pool and cabanas, restaurant and rooftop bar. The hotel’s General Manager is Troy Pade (cell: 323-868-1057, [email protected]). Pade has over 12 years of sales experience working with high end leisure and corporate agents worldwide and is always open to VIP inquiries from agents. By the way, the Shangri-La Hotel doesn’t have any affiliation with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.
The Melrose Trading Post
The Melrose Trading Post
I know people who if you offered them a choice of tickets to a World Series Game, box seats at The Met or three hours in a flea market, they’d choose the flea market every time. If you have clients that fit this description, tell them about the Melrose Trading Post the next time they’re heading to L.A. It’s a large outdoor flea market on the corner of Melrose and Fairfax that is open every Sunday. You’ll find all sorts of stuff, from retro furniture to books, music, clothes, artwork and handicrafts. There’s usually live music— the day I was there a jazz combo was playing a tribute to legendary jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker. The Melrose Trading Post is also a great place for people-watching. There’s a certain type of L.A. resident who is waiting to be discovered by Hollywood and it seems like a lot of them gravitate here on a Sunday. Maybe it’s the low admission price: $2 per person, $1 for students or 55 or older.
LAX Layovers Lighten Up
I’m in and out of LAX at least once a month, and I often overhear travelers mention long layovers for connecting flights. Now they have an alternative to balancing a cup of Starbucks coffee on their knee. Last month saw the opening of the reLAX Lounge, the first pay-to-use, business lounge at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. The $25 admission charge gives you three hours use of the lounge, which includes free refreshments and WiFi. (You have to be 21 or older to use the lounge). The lounge is located before passenger security screening at the center of the terminal’s mezzanine level. Passengers with flights at other terminals can also use the lounge. In a nice nod to travel agents, they’ll receive a commission for selling the lounge. For information, agents can email Walter Vergara, marketing director for the lounge's operator, Airport Terminal Management ([email protected]).
I’ve heard people claim you can get around L.A. by mass transit, but I haven’t put it to the test myself. To get the most out of your time in L.A.— especially if you want to hit the beaches— it’s a must to have your own wheels. You can suggest your clients get a taste of green by renting a vehicle from Econation Green Limousine Service. The company is making a name for itself by providing environmentally-friendly luxury ground transportation and limousine service with reservations around the clock. Green vehicles from the company include Town Cars that run on compressed natural gas, hybrid SUVs and sedans— even a biodeisel bus perfect for groups. To book, contact Ben Block, managing partner of Econation, at [email protected], 877-326-6286.