My parents visited us last month for the first time since we moved in January to L.A. My goal was to expose Charlie and Frances Hill to the things I love about living in Tinseltown so they might better understand why I moved across the country.
The last time my parents were here was for a family vacation. It was the summer of 1988. I was a teenager with a perm and pink sunglasses, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was shooting the movie “Twins” — and was not a former governor facing a love-child scandal.
Whether my parents intended it or not, the trips we took each summer fueled my passion for exploring new places and my willingness to try new adventures.
I’m not sure whether it was my Mom or Dad who planned and organized those trips, but it was fun to have the chance to return the favor this time.
Our first destination Saturday morning was The Grove, which is adjacent to the Farmers Market on 3rd Street near Hollywood. The Grove is an outdoor shopping center with high-end chain stores and restaurants centered around a fountain. The Farmers Market, which opened in 1934, has all manner of permanent food vendors and restaurants.
The experience highlighted the difference between my parents’ personalities; my mom wanted to have lunch on the outside patios at one of the full-service restaurants in The Grove, while my dad was content to order a seafood salad from one of the rustic vendors. Both areas are a bit touristy, but each provides good people-watching. We stayed in the market, and Mom and I ordered from The French Crepe Co., while Dad found a beer to wash down his salad.
After fueling up, we started our driving tour of Los Angeles: working our way up Mulholland Drive; stopping for smoggy views of the Hollywood sign; braving the 101 briefly; and getting stuck downtown in an authentic L.A. traffic jam.
For Dad, we managed to get a quick look at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry. And for Mom, we caught a glimpse of the Nokia theater, where crews were preparing for the “American Idol” finale the following week.
After driving down Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, we stopped in Beverly Hills for cupcakes at Crumbs. The New York-based cupcake shop had the audacity to locate just down the street from L.A.’s Sprinkles, which claims to have started the cupcake craze. There might be lines outside the door for Sprinkles, but Crumbs’ cupcakes are more moist and have better icing.
We walked down nearby Rodeo Drive, where neither my Mom nor I bought a thing.
On Sunday morning, we headed back to Beverly — Hills, that is — where we had brunch at the Beverly Hilton, where the Golden Globes are hosted. The hotel opened in 1955 and retains the retro Hollywood glamour. It was another good spot for people-watching, but it would have been better had it been sunnier and if more people had been lounging around the poolside cabanas. The young lady at the table next to us might or might not have been a princess from Saudi Arabia — at least from the bits of conversation we (and the rest of the room) overheard.
The brunch buffet was definitely fit for the rich and famous, and included an omelet station, lobster bisque, lobster claws, oysters, a sushi station, as well as more traditional options for breakfast, lunch and dessert. We each had several courses. (I regret that I don’t have a photo from the Beverly Hilton. I guess the overcast weather didn’t inspire me to take out my camera. But that just means Kenley will have to take me back there.)
Mom wanted to see homes of movie stars, but the rest of us refused to get on one of those touristy open-air buses. Without the aid of a “star map,” I easily googled the addresses for two of the most famous homes in Beverly Hills. The first, Aaron Spelling’s former manor, was in 2009 the most expensive home for sale in the U.S. There wasn’t a for-sale sign in the front yard, but I couldn’t find reports that it had sold, so you might still be able to buy the 56,500-square-foot, 100-plus-room mansion for a mere $150 million.
The second home, the Playboy Mansion, is right around the corner. Not sure Mom appreciated that one too much.
She was impressed by one Bel-Air home that had hundreds of potted plants lining the street. She exclaimed, “Lord, help us all,” in her most proper Southern accent. Kenley felt that was a perfect way to sum up most of Los Angeles.
We headed up the coast that afternoon, where, despite the overcast day, my parents were equally impressed by the views of the Pacific Ocean, particularly as we drove through the Pepperdine University campus in Malibu. How could any student concentrate in such beautiful environs?
On Monday morning, we visited Sony Studios, which takes up several blocks in downtown Culver City. Sony Studios is best known for being the location where “The Wizard of Oz” was filmed, as well as more recent movies such as “Charlie’s Angels,” “Men in Black” and “Spider-man.” The Columbia Pictures building below served as Peter Parker’s high school in one of the films (really broke the bank on that one, huh?). Columbia Pictures is a division of Sony.
During the walking tour, we got to drop in on the “Jeopardy!” set (Take a practice test here, but just know that the No. 1 reason that those who pass the test fail the subsequent audition is that they fail to smile.).
We also stopped by the “Wheel of Fortune” studio (where Myrtle Beach native Vanna White still turns the surprisingly small letters).
We were teased with what turned out to be a faux sighting of Britney Spears, who was scheduled to be rehearsing in one of the large sound stages. Rihanna reportedly also was practicing on a separate stage, but no sight of her either.
Mom and Kenley were more disappointed that Sony’s “Days of Our Lives” wasn’t filmed on the Sony lot, so no sighting of Bo Brady or the DiMeras.
We did get a glimpse of Dan Patrick, the former ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor, getting into a car. Minutes late, Patrick’s longtime friend, Adam Sandler (who has production offices on the Sony Pictures lot) walked around the corner and waived at our group. So Mom got her celebrity sighting, though she didn’t seem too impressed by the “Happy Gilmore” star.
“Chlorophyll? More like BORE-ophyll!” (Kenley says Sandler fans will get that.)
As we were leaving Sony Studios, I was briefly mistaken for a celebrity myself. A Sony employee who had her back to us heard my distinctive laugh — I’m told it carries — and asked our tour guide whether Cameron Diaz was in the building.
So, Cameron, if you ever need a laugh double, I’m available.
Coming soon: We were given a sneak peak of two upcoming Sony Pictures movies. One stars Diaz, and the other features my favorite cartoon characters from childhood.
Remember those little plastic Smurfs you collected? Well, they’re back. Smurf happens:
That afternoon, Dad was ready to mix with some “real people,” so we had lunch at The Sidewalk Cafe on Venice Beach, where we enjoyed front row seats to a very different kind of entertainment: stoners; skaters; mangy mutts; grungy vendors; “free-spirited” artists; musicians of varying levels of talent; a guy carrying a “kick-me-in-the-nuts-for-$5” sign; and one performance artist swinging a large palm-tree branch while balancing a drink on his head.
“Lord, help us all,” indeed.
After lunch, we walked down the boardwalk to Muscle Beach.
On the way home, we stopped by the Venice canals, an idyllic area tucked just a few blocks away from those cacophonous and slightly disturbing scenes at the Venice boardwalk.
Canals, you ask? In California? Why yes. In 1905, a man named Abbot Kinney attempted to create the “Venice of America” by building several miles of canals in the neighborhood. However, as cars increasingly hit the roads in the 1920s, most of the canals were filled. Those that remained were renovated in 1992, along with their bridges. It’s where Abbot Kinney Boulevard gets its name (and where Lindsay Lohan was recently arrested).
This is how my mom preferred to “experience” Venice.
So parental visit No. 1 is complete. And Kenley’s parents arrived last night, so “Operation Get Colin Young on a Plane” is already a resounding success.
More on that trip will follow.