Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
“There’s no place like home.”
That famous line spoken by Dorothy Gale (as played by Judy Garland) in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz swirled on repeat in my head while gazing into a dreamy display case containing a pair of glimmering ruby slippers.
Yes, those slippers. The magical shoes, sought after by the Wicked Witch of the West, that sent Dorothy and Toto back to Kansas after she clicked the heels together three times, are one of the most valuable pieces of film memorabilia.
Several ruby slippers were made for the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical movie, but at least one screen-used pair can be seen up close at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, a new attraction dedicated to the history, science and impact of the Los Angeles film industry.
Unbolting its doors in September 2021, this three-floor space, set in the epicenter of filmmaking, unlocks cinema history with exhibits that spotlight Oscar moments, iconic costumes and props, and timeless characters like E.T. and Edward Scissorhands, while contextualizing (and challenging) narratives around moviemaking.
There’s even a simulated “Oscars Experience” room where visitors can experience the thrill of winning an Academy Award while holding a real, eight-and-a half pound Oscar trophy.
This Miracle Mile museum at Wilshire and Fairfax is proof there’s no place like L.A. (to paraphrase Dorothy Gale), and it was one of many stops PAX made on an exclusive Air Canada FAM to Los Angeles from June 14 to 17.
Air Canada flies direct to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal, and joining the adventure, hosted by The Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, were three Canadian travel advisors – Travel Edge’s Carolyn Smith and New World Travel’s Teri Hwang from the Greater Toronto Area and Direct Travel’s Elena Kube from Saskatoon.
The trip unfolded not long after the U.S. lifted its pre-arrival COVID-19 testing rule, which makes travel to America way easier, and as LAX undergoes a $15 billion-dollar upgrade.
This project will touch all nine passenger terminals and build new facilities, including an Automated People Mover (APM) train and a consolidated rent-a-car (ConRAC) facility.
READ MORE: Canadian advisors get the Hollywood treatment with L.A. Tourism & Air Canada
“One of my favourite aspects of Los Angeles is that it is always evolving,” Tamy Martelli, regional director, North America at L.A. Tourism, told PAX during the trip.
Just like the movies
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is just one example of how L.A.’s tourism wheels are always turning as the creatively-charged city continues to churn out uniquely-local experiences.
There’s new-ish attractions in town, such as The Broad, a contemporary art museum – featuring the works of Basquiat, Koons, Warhol and other local and international stars – that philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad opened in September 2015.
And new film-inspired experiences.
Los Angeles is a metonym for U.S. cinema and, in many ways, ground zero for pop culture moments.
L.A. has served as a backdrop for thousands of films and TV shows, and one could easily build their own itinerary that visits familiar on-screen settings.
L.A. Tourism, in fact, has already curated a dreamy list of things to do in Venice Beach, where the live-action Barbie film, due in 2023, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, was shot.
Barbie and Ken-inspired activities on the list include roller skating on the boardwalk, shopping on Abbot Kinney Boulevard and chilling on the rooftop with your pooch at Hotel June.
But that’s just the tip of the California palm tree.
As Martelli put it: “You could visit Los Angeles countless times and still have new things to explore.”
The boutique boom
Our four-day adventure revolved around sunny ways to #StartYourComeback – as the itinerary’s official hashtag suggested – by showcasing sights both new and familiar.
When visiting L.A., a sprawling area divided into unique neighbourhoods (“88 cities in one city,” as some say), and a city of many nicknames (La-La Land, Tinseltown, City of Angels…etc), you’re almost always guaranteed to have a funky roof over your head.
There’s been a boom in boutique hotels, starting with the Downtown LA Proper.
Located in downtown’s South Park District, this hip 147-room property updates an historic Broadway Corridor landmark, blending Mexican and Spanish design. Think cactus chic.
The hotel’s gorgeous rooftop, a leafy oasis with an intimate pool and panoramic skyline views, serves fab apps (the white trumpet mushroom with fontina is divine), tacos, oven and grill mains (like spiced lamb ribs) and super sippers, like the Passionfruit Caipirinha.
“We’re a looser kind of luxury,” said Maureen Leary, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We’re not a five star, but we’re above a four.”
Proper, with other locations in Santa Monica, Austin and Portland, attracts well-travelled types who are “looking for something immersive and creative,” Leary said.
Back in Hollywood, which is undergoing a revitalization (streaming giant Netflix has moved in), there’s the 178-room Dream Hollywood, which opened in 2017.
“Hyper-chic and comfortable,” with mid-century architecture and garden elements, this glam hotel (which hosted us) has mixed-media art exhibits in the lobby and a sexy rooftop, called “The Highlight Room,” which has a restaurant, lounge and pool overlooking the Hollywood Hills and city.
Come with a fully-charged phone, because epic selfies start here.
Not far from there is the 190-room, 16-suite Thompson Hollywood, which opened in August 2021 and has a high-end residential feel.
The mid-century and modern lobby, which gives off serious Mad Men vibes, is worth the visit. The Thompson, too, has a rooftop with city views, and there are three dining concepts that serve French, Mexican and Italian fare.
Hyatt’s footprint in L.A. is growing – there’s also Tommie Hollywood, which opened Dec. 1.
This nine-storey building has 212 rooms and is located on the same block as the Thompson, at Selma and Wilcox Avenue, which is a 10-minute walk from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Pantages Theatre.
Compared to the Thompson, everything is a little more playful at Tommie, which is still upscale and tends to attract clients seeking shorter stays.
Desert 5 Spot is the hotel’s rooftop lounge with 360-degree views, live music and a Western-retro Palm Springs aesthetic.
This spot, like the Tommie, is considered an “it spot” in L.A. right now. It’s caught people’s attention, and quickly.
(Click here for an expansive guide to L.A.’s many rooftop bars).
On the ground, KA’TEEN, with 5,000 square feet of outdoor dining space in a jungle-like setting, is the signature restaurant, serving up innovative dishes inspired by Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
KA’TEEN means “afresh,” and the taco fritos, potato taquitos, scallop ceviche, prescado zarandeado (grilled fish), carne asada ribeye and corn chips with guacamole we devoured matched that description deliciously.
Dining at this lush hideaway may require an intervention because it’s seriously hard to stop eating. The food and drink is that good.
Take a hike
It’s said you need a car to get around Los Angeles (there’s truth to that), but locals aren’t totally against walking.
Hiking is popular in L.A, which has a vast network of trails with interesting geology, wilderness and high-up perches that offer views of architecturally-diverse homes (Spanish, modern, colonial-style. You name it.) and the city itself.
For us, this meant a visit to Griffith Park, a municipal park at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains, with Bikes and Hikes L.A., an outdoor tour company.
Our guide, Sarah, who is also a working comedian (in L.A., everyone is linked to showbiz in one way or another!), led uphill, through chaparral-covered terrain and parkland, which encompasses 4,000 acres (five times the size of New York City’s Central Park!)
And Sarah just knew things. Like the history of Griffith Park (named after eccentric philanthropist Griffith J. Griffith, who donated a bulk of the land to Los Angeles in 1896) or where Mick Jagger and Cass Elliot used live.
Griffith Park is also home to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, and the Griffith Observatory.
When hiking, the photo ops are endless. Sarah led us to the best place to snap a pic in front of the Hollywood Sign, the summit of Mount Hollywood, which is not as accessible as one would think.
It’s a lot of weaving around cactus-lined roads and dusty paths (at times, it felt like we were trespassing in people’s backyards), but the picture-perfect spot we arrived at made the 90-minute journey worthwhile.
“If you want to get a good picture in front of the sign, you have to earn it,” as Sarah put it.
Nature turns up the A/C the higher you hike as cool breezes roll in. But dress for hot temps, regardless, when hitting the L.A. trails. And expect to break a sweat.
My rookie mistake was wearing a thick polo tee when I should have worn a light tank.
A city that lives outside
Los Angeles, with near-perfect year-round weather, is a city that lives outside, which makes it a great fit for travellers seeking space, outdoor ventilation, and a connection to nature.
As Direct Travel’s Elena Kube pointed out, Canadians don’t have the luxury of being able to eat, shop and go to concerts outdoors, 365 days of the year, like people in L.A. do.
Amid the rise in demand for outdoor activities during COVID, “People might feel more comfortable coming here,” she said.
L.A.’s Original Farmers Market is another outdoor experience and one that’s been enjoyed by locals and tourists since 1934.
An open-air space with more than 100 vendors, from gourmet grocers to sit-down restaurants, the market is a great spot for people watching and soaking up local life.
Market favourites include Magee’s Kitchen (known for its corned beef sandwiches), Magee’s House of Nuts, Littlejohn's English Toffee House and Light My Fire hot sauce shop.
But it was Kaylin + Kaylin Pickles, a pickle-tasting bar (the market’s first) that opened in 2020, that caught our eyes and taste buds.
Frustrated by the shortage of quality pickles on the West Coast, and guided by the belief that “pickles bring people happiness,” owner Scott Kaylin set out to create his own New York-style pickles with diverse flavours, like Jalapeño, kosher dill, half sour, horseradish, mustard, spicy dill and honey mustard.
There's happiness in every crunch, as we learned after sampling a small batch, and a local pickle craze appears to be gaining steam.
Shortly after our trip, Kaylin + Kaylin hosted its first annual “Pickle Palooza,” a pickle-eating contest that welcomed local talent, foodie and TikTok influencers, chefs, and pickle lovers.
Let’s just say it was a big dill, with competitions for feasting on pickles, overseen by judges that crowed winners on both the quantity of pickles eaten and technique.
Directly beside the Farmers Market is The Grove, an outdoor shopping district with mid to high-end clothing stores and restaurants.
“We are lucky to have 300 days of sunshine a year and a large variety of outdoor offerings that make it easy to plan a trip to fit the safety and comfort levels of each traveller,” Martelli said. “Whether it be hiking to the Hollywood sign, visiting a botanical garden or taking your family to the beach.”
Outdoor dining has also continued to grow throughout Los Angeles, she said, as restaurants expand existing outdoor space.
“We’ve seen a rise of open-air rooftop restaurants that offer gorgeous skyline views of downtown,” Martelli said.
And don't forget outdoor sports - at Dodger Stadium, home to the Los Angeles Dodgers, it's worth joining thousands of fans in catch a baseball game (if only to try the "Dodger Dog," a 10-inch pork wiener wrapped in a steamed bun).
Lights, camera, action
But no trip to L.A. is complete without visiting a movie studio or two.
At Universal Studios Hollywood, there’s the famous studio tour, which takes guests on an exciting 60-minute, 13 city block adventure – hosted on video by comedian Jimmy Fallon – that goes behind the scenes of filmmaking and special effects.
There are close encounters with King Kong, a Boeing 747 wreckage site from Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds and even a high-speed chase inspired by Fast & Furious.
New in 2022, visitors can see the original Jupiter’s Claim set from Jordan Peele’s latest horror film, NOPE.
Inside the theme park, where classic figures like Frankenstein, Dracula, Beetlejuice and the Scooby-Doo cast roam, there are worlds to discover, from Springfield (the Simpsons) to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the dino-stomping (and thrillingly realistic) Jurassic World ride, and new attractions, like The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, a super cute, omnimover ride that debuted in 2021 as part of the park’s full reopening.
Call it the paws that came after the pause. With 64 robotic animal figurines, Off the Leash has already garnered praise, winning a 2021 Thea Award for “Outstanding Attraction.”
Coming soon to the park is famed plumber Super Mario as he takes the Hollywood stage with the launch of SUPER NINTENDO WORLD, opening early 2023.
The Friends couch
Another option is the famed Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Burbank, which offers a deep dive into one of the world’s oldest film studios over a two, three-hour period.
Here, guests can see city and neighbourhood templates that have been used for hundreds (if not thousands) of productions, and sets for shows like Friends, Big Bang Theory, and Gilmore Girls.
You can actually visit the original Central Perk set from Friends and snap a photo on the famous couch; Big Bang offers a similar experience.
There’s even a Central Perk-themed restaurant for lunch.
There's more of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and Fantastic Beasts) with recreated sets, movie props, costumes, and fun experiences (like a tutorial on how to properly hold a magic wand).
This is also the place to connect with the DC universe as authentic costumes, props and vehicles from franchises like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are on display in Gotham-like settings.
A great boutique hotel for families that’s near Warner Bros. is The Garland, a whimsical, retro-chic California oasis that was opened by legendary actress Beverly Garland, and her husband Fillmore Crank, in the 1970s.
Relaxed and unpretentious, the orange and wood-toned hotel with funky decor is close to many points of interest and has a fantastic California-casual restaurant, The Front Yard (great for brunch), and a general store.
The Brady Bunch house is a couple of blocks away.
Magical ruby slippers, the Hollywood sign, the works of Warhol, dreamy rooftops, epic hikes, the Secret Life of Pets, King Kong, prized pickles and crime-fighting heroes - all within arm’s reach.
Dorothy’s Land of Oz may have been a wonderful and enchanting place of make-believe, but in the city of Los Angeles, the fantasy is real.
For a “three days of luxury” itinerary in L.A., click here.
Travel advisors that want to roll out the red carpet for their clients can visit L.A Tourism’s trade site here.
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