A city like any other

So it turns out L.A. has museums. Who knew? I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I suppose with all the Hollywood associations one has with L.A. it's easy to forget it's a city like any other.

And they are quite good museums, too. Our 3-year-old has recently developed quite an interest in dinosaurs, so our first trip in towards the city was to the Natural History Museum, where, most fortunately (or perhaps the clever folks who planned the layout simply know what all kids are most excited about), the dinosaurs were the first exhibit through the door:



After the dinosaurs there was still quite a lot else to see, from dioramas depicting bison and jaguars to clear overhead pipes with real live rats running through them. We took a brief saunter through most of the halls but all agreed that the dinosaurs were the best bit.

A few days later we returned to the museum part of town (I can understand why museums are often located near each other but who has the mental energy to visit more than one a day?) and this time went into the California Science Center. Much of the content was too advanced for our kids to appreciate, but they did enjoy pressing buttons on some of the interactive pieces, and were quite happy to have a run around the hall when we came to the exhibit Mr H and I were there to see: the space shuttle Endeavour.


The experience really was quite breathtaking. When we first walked into the hall there were very few other people there, and the tranquillity made this battered, incredible piece of engineering all the more majestic.

As with all overwhelming sights, after too short a time you're not sure how to keep on appreciating it so, after a brief stop at the dedicated gift shop for some mementos for the kids we headed back, congratulating each other on our timing as a group of schoolchildren poured in through the doors. (Aside: school groups are the major downside of visiting attractions during the week.)

To help make the whole space shuttle thing make a bit more sense to our 3-year-old, we decided to buy tickets for the simulator, which was great fun. School groups don't get to go on these thankfully so we walked straight up as there was no queue and had it all to ourselves - hooray!



The museums are right by the campus of the University of Southern California (USC), so we strolled through the grounds one afternoon as they're always good places to let kids run around given they're mainly pedestrianised - you just have to watch out for the occasional cyclists and skateboarders. I'm not joking. It's not just something they do in the movies; these people actually skate to class. And what's more, they look cool doing it. I'm just imagining me whipping out a skateboard in Glasgow to nip between the English cloisters and the Theatre building. Ha ha! I ought to do it as a piece of street theatre and just watch the reactions. (That's assuming I stayed upright to see them.)

Anyway, here are some shots of the campus. It's really quite pretty, which is strange given this location is quite close to some of L.A.'s poorest and dodgiest 'hoods (check me with the lingo - clearly all I need is that skateboard and people will mistake me for a local).



In contrast, the other day we visited UCLA, the famous university (of California, Los Angeles) which neighbours upmarket Beverly Hills but which is far less visually impressive.


UCLA is a collection of blocky, uninspiring buildings which look like they're stuck in the seventies, and only seem fitting when they house the dental school or teaching hospital. (For some reason I find this sort of architecture appropriate when on a large scale with healthcare going on inside. Suggestions on a postcard, folks?)

Now, Beverly Hills, on the other hand, looks like this:



 The famous Pretty Woman hotel:


So: museums, universities, flashy streets - and yes, it even has a regular CBD. Turns out not everyone is employed in the film industry. Mr H has some insurance friends that work in downtown L.A. so we figured it might be interesting to take a look around. We thought it might be even more interesting for our little ones if we took the train in (plus we could avoid the famously horrendous traffic), so we merrily set off one morning for our nearest park 'n' ride and waited for the next city-bound metro.

As we were at the end of the line the carriage was empty, but as we got nearer the city, and particularly when we changed lines to the one that went right into downtown, we found ourselves to be somewhat of a minority traveller. Now, I know that late November isn't exactly high tourist season in California, but let's just say that everyone who got on looked at us like we were several socio-economic rungs closer to hopping in a taxi than they were. Music and attitude oozed out of some of our fellow passengers as loudly as tattoos of their affinities shouted from their forearms. One young man kindly offered me his seat, and when he later told us he'd been in the county jail for the past seven months I did wonder if I should have accepted, but he very good-naturedly told us how much his nephew enjoyed Hollywood Boulevard and insisted we should definitely take our son there. Mr H and I lost no time in assuring him it would be next on our itinerary.

With a newfound appreciation for driving we stepped out into the city and started taking in, well, a normal city. The familiar financial institutions are there; we walked through relaxed outdoor foyers with pop-up coffee stands which reminded us of Melbourne; and a large California Pizza Kitchen attached to a shopping centre provided an easy, child-friendly lunch stop. Oh, and the main public library sits prettily in amongst it all:




The following day was the weekend, so we decided we'd done quite enough adventuring and had some low key beach trips.




I went for a leisurely cycle along the boardwalk one afternoon when Mr H took the kids to the park (we take turns giving each other some sanity time):


And we all caught up on our reading:


Coming up: another zoo, another aquarium, and a real American Thanksgiving. 


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