An August 2005 trip
to Los Angeles by funrun_9602
Quote: SIGGRAPH, the world's largest conference of advanced computer graphics and interactive techniques, was held in Los Angeles in 2004 and 2005. I student volunteered the event in 2004, but all my spare time was spent trying to enjoy my first visit to this big Californian city.
After my experiences with the above, I recommend renting a car, but only if you are an aggressive driver with a passive personality. I've never seen so much traffic congestion and so many insane driving maneuvers before in my life! However, having your own car is the cheapest, quickest, and most convenient way around L.A.
Hotel | "Ramada Limited Downtown Los Angeles"
From all outward appearances, this Ramada Limited seems to be an average hotel with free continental breakfasts. The standard hotel room seems right for about $85 per night. As a visitor that knows nothing about L.A., the listed features, such as proximity to the L.A. Convention Center), etc., are the usual things to be expected from the average hotel. Upon arrival, my first impression was that this certainly isn’t anything special, but it’s just like any older Holiday Inn that I’ve stayed at elsewhere.
I got dressed in my bathing suit and cover-up clothes and starting walking towards the Mexican festival I’d seen going on around the block. Not 5 minutes out of the hotel, a passing truck driven by a Mexican male shouted something at me to the effect of "Hey there, sexxxxy laaaady!" The incident seemed sooooo stereotypical Californian.
The next morning at the hotel, I discovered that the Mexican hotel staff picks out the continental breakfast items. In addition to the usual bagels, bread, cereal, waffles, juice, etc., the main features were huevos and carne (translation: eggs and meat), or more specifically, hard-boiled eggs and breakfast sausage links. Seeing a bunch of hard-boiled eggs sitting in a metal warming pan with the label huevos did not make me salivate. I soon discovered that the exact same foods were served every day. The "fresh" fruit had obviously been sitting out for at least a week before I arrived, and the same fruit continued to deteriorate through the six days of my stay. Thankfully, a street vendor around the corner was selling fresh Bing cherries.
Ramada Downtown LA is a huge misnomer. The hotel is no where near walking distance of the downtown skyscrapers, and the drive to the L.A. Convention Center is not as close as you might infer from the 1.4-mile advertised distance. I think they measured the distance as a straight line. I visited much closer and nicer hotels in the actual downtown area.
The most disturbing aspect about this Ramada was revealed after I'd been there a few nights. If taxi drivers know everything, then you'd be wise to mark this one's words. As he rounded the corner towards the hotel, he realized where we were going and said, "They (SIGGRAPH) put four young girls in this place?! I have seen dead bodies on the sidewalk here! You should not be staying here, please be careful."
As a volunteer for the SIGGRAPH Conference, this was a pre-assigned, free hotel stay for me, but "free" isn’t worth a stay at the Ramada Limited Downtown Los Angeles.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on August 4, 2005
Ramada Limited Los Angeles Downtown
611 S WESTLAKE AVENUE
Los Angeles, California 90057
I went to this particular location with a large group of convention student volunteers, so of course we split lots of different pizzas. CPK offers more than 25 unique topping combos, so making a group decision on something everyone would eat was a timely undertaking. In the end, I believe we settled on BBQ Chicken, Santa Fe Chicken, Five-Cheese & Fresh Tomato, and Hawaiian pizzas. I didn’t try all of them, but as a group, everyone liked the ones they tried. Five-Cheese & Fresh Tomato seemed to be a big favorite, so we ended up ordering an extra one. I don’t know which five cheeses were used, but their flavors worked together very well.
Trying to describe exactly what makes a pizza so good is always difficult to pinpoint and always seems to be subject to so many personal preferences. In this case, I think what stands out the most is the sweet-tasting crust. Sugar must be a fairly unique major ingredient, because I don’t recall ever eating a pizza and thinking, "Mmmm, the crust tastes sweet."
With enough unique toppings to please any palate, the typical factors by which people judge pizzas become more irrelevant. For those who just need to know anyway, the amount of sauce seemed to vary with the type of pizza we ordered, and the crust was fairly thin, with a more bread-like chewiness than crispiness. My all-time favorite pizza style is a deep-dish Pizzeria Uno's pizza, but overall, the sweet crust and variety of options at CPK puts it on my list of top pizza joints in the country.
CPK’s appetizers consist mostly of different toppings on focaccia bread (essentially, it's a pizza). Options for main dishes are pastas, pizzas, sandwiches, soups, and salads. Desserts such as tiramisu, chocolate soufflé cake, and cheesecake are also served. Unexpectedly, this pizza joint also serves cocktails, beer, and wine.
Luckily, California Pizza Kitchen has many locations all over town, which can be looked up on its website (above). This particular location's hours are Monday to Thursday 11am to 9:30pm, Friday 11am to 9pm, and Saturday and Sunday 12 to 9pm. They offer curbside service, a special delivery service that brings your pizza to wherever you are in downtown buildings (it worked for me at the L.A. Convention Center), and patio seating.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 27, 2005
California Pizza Kitchen
735 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, California 90017
Attraction | "SIGGRAPH Conference at L.A. Convention Center"
I'm not going to give my impressions on the SIGGRAPH conference, because I am inferring that readers are more interested in what you can expect when you go to the LACC for your own conference. SIGGRAPH has its own website to explain itself, www.siggraph.org.
LACC, while outwardly an impressive structure right next to STAPLES Arena (where the L.A. Lakers basketball team plays), is really in a horrible location, functionally speaking, for the thousands of conference attendees that need to eat and sleep without renting a car or busting their budget. LACC is about 3 city blocks too far for most people to seriously consider walking to the places they need to get to downtown. The convention center neighborhood is also rumored to not be one of the safer ones. Why can’t the subway have a stop here?! That would be logical!
When a person spends eight hours a day, 5 days in a row, at the LACC, you tire of their cafeteria food by day two. As you would expect, their food is a bit pricy and not bad, but not good. The nearest restaurant, across from the arena, appeared to be a family-run version of Taco Bell. Their food also wasn’t bad, but as you would expect, it wasn’t great either. I think everyone enjoyed it just because it was a change. A better option is the California Pizza Kitchen, but it’s about a 15- to 20-minute walk towards downtown, up Figueroa Street (and don’t forget that you’ll have to walk that same amount back on a full stomach). By far the best option is delivery food. The SIGGRAPH convention had free Internet kiosks, so with the Yellow Pages and a map, you can call the nearest Chinese or pizza place for delivery. California Pizza Kitchen delivers, too!
I assume conventions usually have free shuttles to the convention-sponsored hotels, but if you miss the last shuttle or can’t wait 45-minutes for the next one, you’ll have to start walking or find a taxi and pay that hefty fee. One evening I got stuck at LACC past the last shuttle, so I figured I could walk to the Marriott downtown. The worst part is that the whole way is slightly uphill. I think it took about 45 minutes to get there at my brisk pace. I think a taxi would suit most people better.
Overall, I was really shocked to discover how desolate downtown L.A. is for visitors, and particularly those who have regular 8am-to-5pm jobs. I hope I never have a reason to go to LACC again—at least until the neighborhood gets an urban revival.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on August 1, 2005
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 South Figueroa St
Los Angeles, California 90015
+1 213 741 1151
The revolving motion is so slow that you would never notice it unless you looked outside every five minutes to see that the buildings were in slightly different places. (No seasickness pills required.) A complete rotation seemed to take about 45 minutes to 1 hour, so you should have no problem enjoying the entire city view in one night.
Overall, BonaVista is a stereotypical cocktail lounge like I imagine from movies. It’s impressively upscale, if not a bit stuffy, with live piano music, expensive drinks, and romantic views. They serve light bar fare and specialize in creative mixed drinks. Valiant efforts were made to go beyond just pouring liquid in a glass and tossing a lemon wedge in. The variety of specialty cocktails was impressive, as were the prices. I think Martinis started at $9 and some drinks were more like $12. I’m used to paying those prices for whole meals, not one drink! If I had not been attending a free party, I would not have ordered anything at those prices. I recommend reserving your time at the BonaVista for very special occasions. Hint to guys: This is the perfect setting to get down on one knee and propose to your lady!
Hours of Operation: 4pm-1am
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 19, 2005
404 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, California
Well, since that logic hadn't worked so perfectly the first time, I asked the bus driver to tell me when we were at the nearest stop to the ocean. And good thing I did, since water was nowhere in sight when the bus driver told me to get off in the middle of an eclectic, small downtown scene—Venice Beach.
As the bus drove off with a poof of sandy dust, the first thing I noticed was a hostel on the corner. I had never seen a hostel before. The hot Australian guy I sat next to on the airport shuttle ride told me he was wandering the western U.S. coast alone, sleeping in hostels. Looking at the gloomy, un-air-conditioned building, I understood why someone my age could afford to do that.
I continued walking in a westward direction, and sure enough, the ocean was right behind the buildings in front of me. Well, not right behind. Between the water and me lay a daunting amount of sand like no beach before had prepared me to see. Thankfully, I wasn’t there to swim—yet—as Venice Beach had too many unique shops that I couldn’t ignore.
I started strolling along the famous, wide, rollerblade-smooth sidewalk that runs along the coast. I headed north towards toward Santa Monica, which on the map, looked like a 15-minute drive north. The shops along this sidewalk in Venice Beach must be the closest, most legal, American imitation possible of the free-dealing shops of Amsterdam. I wouldn’t advise bringing impressionable children here. For one thing, I’ve never seen so many illegal drug-related products in so many shops in one small area, and secondly, most of the non-drug-related shops sell California fashion (i.e. things you don’t want your preteen daughter wearing). A side effect of these California clothing stores is the clienteles they attract. Not only will you see the teeny-weenie-bikini beach babes that California is famous for, but you’ll also see those same teeny clothes on body types who shouldn’t subject the public (and your children) to anything less than an oversized T-shirt and shorts.
Venice Beach is California’s version of a New England arts-and-crafts town. If you can look past the surface sleaze, then you can begin to appreciate Venice Beach for what it really is–a place that thrives on free spirits, avant-garde culture, and personal creativity. A few young fashion designers and artists are trying to get their starts here, so you can expect to pay boutique prices for one-of-a-kind designer items. Other storeowners probably buy in bulk, so they only need you to pay $10 for a Venice Beach souvenir shirt. By the way ladies, there is no such thing as a large(read: normal woman)-sized souvenir shirt anywhere in Venice Beach.
All the shops contained in structures (some are tents, some are real buildings) are on the opposite side of the sidewalk from the beach (the eastern side). This leaves the beach side of the sidewalk open to transient painters, musicians, and street performers who can claim a piece of cement to do whatever they love to do. A wandering comedian on stilts stopped and entertained a crowd of about 50 people for longer than I wanted to wait around.
I stopped and bought a massive piece of three-cheese pizza from a sidewalk stand. All I remember was that it was the best-tasting piece of pizza that I’ve ever received from an outdoor vendor.
Sometime after the pizza, I realized that the shops were getting fairly spaced out, so I must be leaving Venice Beach. At the next surf rental shop I came across (there weren’t as many as I expected), I rented a surfboard for an hour and headed to the ocean. The sand was full of debris, so I was glad I wasn’t trying to lay in it. The ocean was colder than I was expecting, so I understand why surfers seem to wear wetsuits most of the year. In my hour timeframe I managed to get myself half standing on the board a couple of times. Judging by the fact that no one else was surfing at that time, I don’t think the waves were really big enough, but they were just right for me to get acclimated to the techniques and wanting to do it again.
After a long week of walking all over the convention center, combined with this long day of walking, and then spending an hour fighting waves with a giant, heavy surfboard, I sat down and refueled at a sidewalk café, alfresco style. The only memorable part there was the ocean view alfresco dining—you just can’t get waterfront dining in the Midwest without feeling like mosquitoes are eating more of you than you’re eating your food.
A few minutes of walking past the restaurant and all of the sudden I noticed a giant wooden pier with amusement park rides on it—the Santa Monica Pier! I couldn’t believe I had walked so far on one sidewalk.
The old, worn wooden boards, the amusement park rides, and the boardwalk vendors all created that good-ol’ days, wholesome, family-fun feeling. As you may have figured out by now, I originally planned for this day to have no plan, but I did deliberately start myself off at such a time and place that if everything happened to fall in place, then I could do something that a stranger recommended as something that should be part of any one-day trip to L.A.—watch the sunset from the Santa Monica Pier. As fate would have it, I was a half-hour early.
I took my time strolling down the pier and bought my first white hot chocolate drink (the ocean breezes were getting a bit chilly–the sun was going down after all). At the end of the pier is a restaurant/ bar up on top a wide flight of steps. These steps are an excellent position to watch the sunset. I was surprised, and hugely disappointed actually, to see that, despite being on the West Coast, from this vantage point, the sun sets behind a craggy mountain range that juts out into the ocean instead of over the ocean itself. It’s not nearly as spectacular as sunsets that I’ve seen dip behind the waters of Lake Michigan and even Lake Erie.
Right after the sun disappeared, I had to hurry back to the hotel to get my luggage and go to the airport. This is when I realized that I needed to use the bathroom before the impending 45-minute bus ride. Santa Monica is crammed with stores, restaurants, and people, but everywhere I went, signs on the front doors sternly stated "NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS" or no restrooms at all. Regardless, I was almost to the bus stop I had used a week before, so I was running out of options. Then I spotted a familiar place, P.F. Chang’s restaurant, and I knew no one would notice whether I was a waiting customer or a person from the street.
Little did I know that this was the last bit of adventure or fun that I would have for the next few days. First, I got stuck on an express bus that had to make extra stops for the local line bus passengers because their bus had just broken down right in front of me. Later on, at the subway stop right before mine, a thief snatched my purse off the seat next to me and ran off the subway with it. My camera full of the day’s beach pictures was gone (hence none posted here), along with all my IDs, credit cards, and most of my cash. I am happy to report that my loving boyfriend and parents, at 4am their time, got all my accounts canceled within minutes. I missed my flight while filling out the police report, which served as my ID to get on the plane the next morning. I had to stay awake all night, alone, in the nasty, dirty L.A. airport. Going anywhere and doing anything for the next few days was extremely difficult to do without access to money and ID, but eventually, everything turned out for the better. If not for that loss, I would probably still have the same blurry-prone camera!