We’re here. We’re finally here.
Honestly, that was my over-riding thought as we watched the sun set over Venice Beach two weeks ago.
We had originally planned to be in the US a month ago, but at the last moment Flea’s ESTA was cancelled.
For those who haven’t been to the US recently, an ESTA is a travel authorisation that you need to visit the US. Without it, you aren’t even allowed to board a plane.
Ours were both checked and renewed in June. Except when I went to check in for our flights in July, suddenly Flea didn’t have an ESTA. I applied for a new one – and it was denied.
If this ever happens to you, then you have my sympathies.
Your only option is to get a visa, which is a long, complicated and expensive process. In our case we also had to rearrange flights and cancel four weeks worth of accommodation, which was also a complicated and expensive process.
Anyway, after three weeks, we had Flea’s passport returned from the embassy complete with a US visa. We think her ESTA was cancelled because we’re in the process of applying for dual citizenship. But nobody can tell us for certain.
The important thing is Flea was able to travel, and a few days later we were here!
We kicked off our trip to LA with a visit to Venice Beach.
I love it here. We sat at the Small World bookstore, famous for being home to the world’s best bookstore cat, Conan the Librarian. There’s an adjoining cafe where you can order burgers and watch the world go by. This is Venice, so the “world” going by is pretty interesting. Where else would you have a psychic palm reader AND someone busking on a baby grand piano while you eat dinner?
Venice Beach is a great spot to walk around, with loads of indie shops and stands, local artists and street performers. Flea always loves to watch the kids at the skate park, and this year we also checked out Muscle Beach and the guys working out there.
Shopping at The Grove
We always try and keep our first day in LA fairly low-key. The jet-lag is real in this part of the world, and for the first week you’ll be waking at 5am and flagging by dinner.
We headed over to 3rd and Fairfax for the LA Farmers Market. We feasted on pancakes at Dupar’s, and then browsed the weird food stalls inside the Farmers Market.
On the other side of the market is The Grove. It’s a street lined with shops like Gap, Sephora, Barnes & Noble and more. Flea shopped up a storm in Sephora (I think I still have retail PTSD), and then we went to see a movie, before heading back to our Airbnb.
Honestly, Disneyland in California is my very favourite Disney resort. There are actually two theme parks next to each other – Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
You can buy tickets online and a Park Hopper Ticket for both sites will cost around $150 per person. Expect to pay $20 more for parking and $10 for the new MaxPass service, which lets you book FastPass tickets from an app on your phone.
Flea is definitely a fan of BIG rides, and so we obviously rode Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, and the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride is fabulous. But we also love the silly rides like Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters and It’s a Small World.
Personally, Disneyland California is my favourite Disney resort. It’s not as big and hectic as Florida, and it’s got a slightly more laid-back, retro feel to it. It’s easy to do both parks in a day, or two.
Oh, and the sunshine doesn’t hurt.
Shoot my Travel
Despite it not being our first time in LA, there are huge parts of the city I’ve never seen.
On this trip, we booked a photo shoot in downtown LA with Shoot my Travel. Our photographer, the fabulous Marisa, was part photographer and part tour-guide.
We got to spend a couple of hours exploring the best spots in downtown LA. Along the way Marisa took some fab photos of us both, and Flea’s Instagram feed is going to get a lot prettier in the next few weeks.
I loved learning about the downtown area, finding out about the best restaurants, book stores and spots to explore.
Shoot my Travel sent us a link a couple of days later, where we could choose 25 images to download in hi-res as part of the photo shoot fee.
Sometimes on a trip you need to do something completely random.
And so our third day in LA was spent a the Cat Cafe. Basically, this is a cat shelter in Culver City that homes 30 cats and kittens. And visitors pay $25 each to have a drink and a snack, and hang out with cats for an hour.
The shelter makes money to support itself, and the cats are socialised, which helps them to find new, forever homes. The shelter doesn’t reject any cat in need, so some of them are extremely nervous around people.
Honestly, it was lovely and Flea had a blast, once we’d persuaded a few of the cats to let us play with them.
We were keen to see how Universal Studios Hollywood has changed since the new Harry Potter area was completed.
One of the things I like about Universal is you can pay for Express tickets that let you jump the line once for every ride in a day. It does make me feel a bit better about buying expensive tickets when you only have a day – because it guarantees you’ll be able to go on all the rides you want.
We kicked off our day touring the new Hogwarts area and it’s lovely – almost brick for brick identical to the Florida attraction. There’s the Ride of the Hippogriff coaster and the Forbidden Journey. If (like me) this ride makes you feel travel sick, head to the Quik-e-Mart and they sell motion sickness tablets.
After that we took the studio tour, which was great and a lot of fun. My favourite bit of trivia was seeing that Miss Marple was filmed on the same set as Jaws!
After that we toured the best rides – our top recommendations here is the Walking Dead experience. Basically you walk through a Walking Dead set where a combination of animated models and real life actors scare you SILLY. I don’t think I’ve screamed and laughed so much in a long time.
Warner Bros Studio Tour
You can’t go to LA and not take a studio tour. This year, we booked onto the Warner Bros Studio Tour and it was a-ma-zing.
We booked online at around $60 per person, and parking was $12 on top.
The tour varies depending on the day and what’s happening on the lot. I’d read online that it’s better to visit at the weekend as the studio is quieter, so you get to see more. But if you’re wanting to see celebs, you’ll be disappointed on a weekend.
During our tour, we got to go onto various stages for shows like The Big Bang Theory, Ellen and Lucifer. You can’t take photos on the stages, but it’s fascinating to get an insight into how it all works. I was also a bit excited to be on the stages where ER was filmed!
The second part of the tour is the back lots where you get to see various exteriors. This was the best part of the tour for me. Getting to see ACTUAL Lorelei’s house and Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls? OMG. Sometimes it’s fascinating to see where sets have been used in multiple shows, and how the “Anytown USA” set has featured in everything from LA LA Land to Gremlins to Pretty Little Liars.
The third part of the tour is a sound stage that’s been turned into an interactive experience. There’s the chance to get photos on the Friends set – although it’s not the original stage, they’ve created a replica using all the original sets and props. You can also try some Harry Potter experiences (these will be familiar to anyone who’s visited the Studio Tour in London).
We had an amazing day here, and would thoroughly recommend visiting if you get the chance.
Venice and Santa Monica have great beaches. But they can get hectic, and sometimes aren’t the most family-friendly of places.
For a great beach day, head 30 minutes up the coast to Malibu.
Malibu Pier has some amazing little restaurants and great views where you can enjoy breakfast. From there, it’s a few minutes further to Zuma Beach. If it’s quiet, you can park just on the road, otherwise there’s a parking lot where you can pay $15 a day.
We love this beach because there’s great surf, along with restrooms, showers and a small cafe, selling drinks and snacks. Lifeguards are also present, making this a great beach for children to get their boogie boards out.
Perhaps my favourite thing about this part of the coast is Paradise Cove. This is a tiny beach a mile South of Zuma, which has a beach cafe, and a tiny wooden pier. It’s the most amazing spot to have dinner and watch the sunset. Portions are huge here, so feel free to go cheap and share between the table.
We had an amazing week in LA and I hope you enjoyed our top recommendations of things to do in the city with a teen. See more recommendations for what to do on a California road trip here. You can also find recommendations of what to do in LA with kids here.