hollywood, california, travel, budget
Humor,  Motherhood,  Travel

California….On a Kari and Anna Budget

A few years ago, Anna and I talked about going on a girls trip after she graduated high school. Kind of a Gilmore Girls-ish style getaway before Anna went away to college.

I don’t remember exactly when we started talking about it but over the past two years, it became less talk and more action. Because when your teenager ASKS to vacation ALONE with you, you take it seriously. We also had free airfare thanks to my husband’s airline miles through work travel, which made the decision even easier.

We settled on California for a couple of reasons: the weather is amazing, there are lots of fun things to do, and we are kind of obsessed with anything celebrity, television, movie and real housewife of the Beverly Hills kind.  Anna had been to California previously when she was 12 with her dad for a cousin’s wedding but she didn’t get to do the whole touristy, celebrity, Hollywood thing. Just the whole, cousin, family, wedding thing.

To be clear, I won’t do the touristy Hollywood thing the next time I go, but you really should experience it at least once in your life if you can.

Also, we were on a serious budget AND we only had four days and three nights to spend in California, therefore we crammed as much as we could into it.

California is expensive, especially the whole touristy, celebrity, Hollywood things we were looking to accomplish but there are ways to see it for a lot less and if we know how to do anything, it’s doing anything on the CHEAP.

hollywood, california, travel, budget

Getting there

First, if you live anywhere east of Colorado, you may as well be resigned to the fact that you need to fly in order to see California. If you have a fear of airplanes or flying, then driving is indeed your only option which may actually be cheaper than airfare. But driving from the Chicago area wasn’t feasible as we only had a limited amount of time to travel. Personally, I really want to do the Route 66 drive someday, driving from Chicago to Los Angeles but for this trip, that wasn’t a possibility.

Having free airfare was really exciting for us because it was one less thing to have to save up for because flying is stupid expensive. Another exciting thing was that we had a flight attendant on our flight (to AND from LAX) who looked exactly EXACTLY like Matthew Broderick (aka Ferris Bueller). So much, that in fact, I couldn’t concentrate during either flight on anything but him. I get why people become stalkers because I had the stalks on this guy the entire time I was up in the air. Then I felt the need to share with all of you what he looked like as proof by trying to get a picture of him. But trying to get a picture of your flight attendant without looking like you are trying to get a picture of your flight attendant is a lot harder than it looks. I did get to talk to him briefly about how much he looks like Ferris Bueller ahem I mean Matthew Broderick then he laughed and said he gets that all of the time.

I bet you do sweet cheeks.

I bet you do.

What were we saying?

Oh yes, so we tried to get a picture of him but got this one instead:

california, girls trip, airline, airplane, hollywood

YES, WE KNOW HOW TO OPERATE A CAMERA PHONE.

Once we got to LAX, we had to stop at baggage claim to pick up our free checked bag. We always do carry on when we travel because it is a lot cheaper than checking a bag. Also, I have anxiety about losing the bag especially on the way to the destination because then we won’t have underwear, toothpaste, etc. etc..

But sometimes the gate attendant will offer to check your bag for free and then I forget all about losing my bag because I like a deal more than I like to have my underpants on night one of vacation.

So after scooping up our free checked bag (never gets old), we headed to the Uber/Lyft spot at LAX to get a ride.

california, lax. LA, hollywood, airport

Getting around 

I don’t mean to be bossy but for the love of God, don’t rent a car in California if you are planning on only seeing Hollywood. For what it would have cost me in gasoline and sanity alone, I could ride in comfort and relaxation in the back of a complete strangers car. There is no way you want to drive in LA traffic. I knew it would be bad but I had no idea how bad it would be. I wanted to french kiss the drivers in Chicago when I got home.

Uber it was. Until it was Lyft.

Long story that you won’t be remotely interested in.

To start, we had the best Uber and Lyft drivers although as I age I am realizing that if you are nice, then you get nice people for the most part. It’s called mutual respect and I am learning that there are a lot of shitty humans out there.

I don’t care how busy you are if you have an Uber or Lyft driver who starts a conversation, engage. It’s really not that hard. I enjoy talking to people but even if you don’t, look at it as a way to get to know the area. I picked our drivers brains about where to eat, where to go, what to do, even how in the hell they can afford to live there. Some of the most memorable times we had on the trip were while in an Uber or Lyft.

The first driver on the way to our hotel happened to be friends with one of the actors in Ferris Bueller. I would never have learned that if I sat quietly in the back seat so there is something to be said for being a chatterbox.

I also learned the following from all 15 of our collective drivers over a four day period:

Montreal is beautiful this time of year; El Pollo Loco has really good deals and really good chicken; June Gloom is when it is cloudy every morning in June but the sun comes out every day around 10; Cameron Diaz took an Uber to LAX but sat on her phone the entire time; they think it’s cold when it is 60 degrees in February; Lisa Vandeprump is taller than you would think but most celebrities are really short: the cops in LA turn on their sirens just to get through traffic; Randy’s donuts by the airport has the best donuts; Roscoe’s chicken and waffles is the only really LA restaurant around, otherwise there isn’t any food that is “California” other than tofu; most people aren’t from LA, they are from everywhere else which explains the food situation. 

california, hollywood, travel, budget
Traffic in LA is a “thing”. This was at 11 in the morning.

See? If you stuck to your expensive rental car, you would be stressed out in traffic and you wouldn’t have learned all of the above!

Also, there are budget options for Uber and Lyft as well so don’t take the big SUV’s if you don’t need them. Most budget options offer room for at least four seats (four people) and save you double the cost. We opted for Uber Express Pool which is sharing a ride with another person and also being dropped off near your location (usually a nearby intersection). The difference for us at one time was $30! When we did the express pool, usually the driver took us to our exact destination if the car was empty but also, it pays to be engaging and nice. SO BE NICE PEOPLE. geez.

california, hollywood, travel, budget, girls trip
What kind of tree is this?? Beautiful.

We’re Here! 

First thoughts of Los Angeles? It’s a little dirtier than I thought it would be. With all of that fresh air and sunshine, I never dreamed it would look this way. It’s gorgeous in areas and in others, not so much. But the weather more than makes up for that. No humidity, the brightest sunshine I’ve ever experienced, and lots of great landscapes I had also never experienced. Purple flower trees, the hottest pink flowers on bushes, and just green. What amazes me is that all of this exists with the exception of rain which they rarely get. I can see why people love living here.

california, la. hollywood. budget. travel

The above is what I like to call my “panic attack lunch”. Once we got to our hotel in Hollywood and checked in, we decided to Uber to The Grove in LA. If you aren’t familiar with The Grove, it’s an outdoor mall with lots of restaurants and shops that adjoins the Original Farmers Market.

It also is the home to the television show EXTRA hosted by Mario Lopez, which was the real motivating factor for stopping there.

We got to The Grove a little after lunchtime and realized we hadn’t really eaten yet. So we went to the first place we saw that looked inviting: Marmalade Cafe.

There was no rhyme or reason in us going here and apparently, it is a local restaurant but the food was just okay. Or maybe it was the fact that I had a small panic attack while sitting at the bar waiting for our food to arrive. I can’t explain when or why I get them but this one had to do with the fact that the reality set in that I had just flown cross country and was far away from Mike and Ella.

I had to calm myself internally all the while eating a very expensive very rubbery calamari/ artichoke dip/quesadilla appetizer platter that Anna and I split.  The food was icky, I was beginning to get a travel headache, the bathroom had a giant poop in the toilet, and my phone was at 30% and rapidly draining. I needed a little comfort and was not finding it in our subpar appetizer platter. I mean, who the hell serves calamari without marinara sauce?

BREATHE.

I collected myself with a Starbucks coffee to help with the headache, and some California sunshine to help the soul. It was while I came down off of the panic attack that I turned around and saw this:

california, la, hollywood, travel

The Writers Guild of America. Where my screenplay is registered.

Whoa.

It’s okay. The signs are there. Everything will be good.

Plus, I got my girl with me.

We are in California, we are healthy, we are together, we are here.

Back to reality, another money saving tip is to split meals. Anna and I split nearly every single meal we ate in California with the exception of our last night (read on for that). It saved us so much money and we never finished the food anyway because we weren’t that hungry with all of the walking, being outside, and just excitement of being in LA.

california, la, hollywood, travel

But we didn’t split this meal:

in and out, burger, california, hollywood

Uh-uh. No way.

When we first went to In and Out Burger in Utah two years ago, we fell in love but heard some snarky comments on social media from friends who live near them and are apparently burger connoisseurs.

They’re good, really good for fast food. Stop being so judgemental and ruining it for others. Geez.

We ended up at the In and Out on Sunset Blvd. across the street from Hollywood High School which was pretty cool, but there was nowhere to sit inside or outside. Apparently, everyone else in Hollywood loved In and Out Burger as well, so we Ubered back to the hotel with our bags of burgers and fries and ate them in the hotel room. They were cold by the time we got there but they were still wonderful.

california, in and out, hollywood
You’ll only get why I took a picture of the spread if you read my screenplay. Head here if you have no idea what I am talking about.

Speaking of my screenplay, being in LA helped me to realize I might need to tweak parts of it which is what a good screenwriter does, right? Researching for the craft! Look at me being all Hollywood writerly! Maybe I can write the trip off as “research”. Looking into that…..

california, hollywood, walk of fame, LA

There were signs everywhere.

Not actual SIGN signs but spiritual signs.

Our flight attendant. the Writers Guild building just popping up, stars on the walk of fame.

california, LA, hollywood, walk of fame
Someday……

Hollywood Walk of Fame 

The Walk of Fame is smelly, dirty, and kind of gritty, I even wrote that exact review on Trip Advisor. But this is the thing, IT IS THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME. Go for the whole touristy thing, soak it up, ignore the scammers dressed up as Superman, don’t take CDs from the “performers”. Be safe but also have fun because you are walking in the steps of your favorite celebrities. Will we do it again? No. Am I glad we did it? You bet.

Also, you don’t need to do a “tour” to see the Walk of Fame. It is pretty self-explanatory but know that it winds around for blocks and in some areas, the sidewalk is not highly visible and on some side streets, so be aware of your surroundings because nothing makes you look like a tourist in Hollywood like walking around looking at the ground and taking pictures.

california, walk of fame, hollywood, travel
Top to bottom left to right- Hollywood Walk of Fame; Scientology Building; Grauman’s Chinese Theater; My “star”; scamming superheroes on Hollywood Blvd.; there will be lots of tourists.

Anna and I were able to walk to the Walk of Fame from our hotel our first morning there but that was really the only thing we could walk to. We were just down the street from the Hollywood Bowl as well but there is nothing to see from street level. Our neighborhood was a little gritty in spots but nothing was really walkable. If you go to the Walk of Fame, go early in the morning before the crowds get there.

If you want a more walkable experience, plan to stay on Sunset Blvd. or the strip as it is called. Much more to walk to than where we were staying, which made us regret our choice a little. Also, downtown Los Angeles is not close to any of this so if you are thinking the downtown is a good place to stay if you are looking to do the touristy things, it isn’t unless you have an unlimited Lyft or Uber budget.

california, la, hollywood, travel
Left to right- Anna and I on the Starline tour bus; the apartment in the last scene of Pretty Woman; church used in Sister Act and Gilmore Girls; Katy Perry’s “assistant”; the Viper Room.

Starline Tours

The biggest investment in our trip (besides the hotel), was doing a celebrity homes tour. Yes, it’s cheesy, yes it’s a touristy thing to do, yes it’s invasion of privacy but if you are in Hollywood, try to take one of these tours. It’s fun, it’s more than just celeb homes, and it’s kind of a rite of passage, like popping your Hollywood cherry.

Definitely book your tour before you even leave for Hollywood. I booked it three days before we left Illinois and saved $50. I feel like when you get in vacation mode, you end up spending way more than you would at home. I also did research before booking so rely on reviews etc.. to help you make your decision. One thing I have learned over the years is that there are whiny-ass people in the world and those people LOVE to leave reviews. So use good judgment when using reviews to make your decision.

Also, don’t choose the “pick you up from the hotel” option for Starline or any other celebrity tour. It was an extra $20 per person that I thought was a good value. In hindsight, it would have been cheaper to take an Uber or Lyft, so skip that option. 

I chose Starline Tours because it has been around forever. I initially wanted to do the TMZ Tour because I wrote them into my screenplay but it was way more expensive. Essentially these buses go to the same places (celebrity “homes”, movie sites etc) but I wanted one that visited Beverly Hills as well as the Hollywood Sign. If I had to choose again, I would probably still do Starline but there were a few disappointments like, we didn’t get much viewing of the Hollywood Sign.

I guess I thought we would get closer than this:

hollywood, hollywood sign, la, california, travel starline

As you can tell from the clarity, that picture is zoomed in. We stopped on the side of Mulholland Drive to get this picture. To give you an idea, we were in a little tour bus on a very curvy mountainside road FAR FAR away from the actual sign. I am sure this is probably the closest we could get without being a billionaire or a mountain goat but it was a little disappointing and made me wonder how in the hell all those kids from Beverly Hills 90210 got up there after graduation.

Yes, I realize it was made for television, geez.

california, hollywood, travel

But we got to see Drew Carey’s trash cans so it was all good.

Our favorite part of the tour was Beverly Hills because it really is just stunning. Our tour guide really loved his job and it translated into being an amazing tour guide. He told us stories to fill gaps of time at stoplights, let us know how he loved old Holywood glam (me too) and gave us back stories on certain parts of the towns we were going through.

It was when he didn’t look at his binder of required information that the tour became much more than the usual celebrity homes tour.

california, beverly hills, hollywood
Left to right; top to bottom- The Beverly Hills Hotel; Wilshire Blvd./Beverly Wilshire Hotel (where Pretty Woman was set); palm trees lining the streets of Beverly Hills (also known as the intro to Beverly Hillbillies); street signs in BH; Gwen Stefani’s house when it wasn’t JLO’s house.

But this is my takeaway from this portion of the tour- we are paying our celebrities and music artists WAY too much money.

Wayyyyyy too much money.

WAYYYYYY too much money.

Also, I get why celeb-types are always so thin. We were outside more in the four tiny days we were in California than we had all summer in the Midwest so far. To be fair, the Midwest does have beautiful summer days. When it’s not raining. Or 75% humidity. Or pollen is at an all-time high. Or the mosquitoes are so bad you have to make a Pinterest inspired recipe to kill them but it doesn’t work and so you revert to DEET because DEET kills those mother effers.

Where was I……

beverly hills, california, la. hollywood. travel

Make an Itinerary

I didn’t regret spending the money on this tour at all but I would spend more time researching tours to see if there were more things I could see. Next time, I would find a tour that shows more of the movie and television locations rather than celebrity homes. Because honestly, I could care less where Justin Bieber lives, I just want to see where Chico and The Man was filmed.

Which leads me to research! It is such an important part of trip planning that needs to be talked about. With my anxiety, I need to do research before a trip otherwise I will feel off-kilter the entire time. But I usually don’t start doing that until a week before. Oh sure, I pin ideas months in advance, know vaguely what I want to see, and book things like hotel and airfare way in advance but as far as the day to day, I leave that until almost days before we leave.

What I have started to do in the past couple years when we travel somewhere big is to create an itinerary. I know I sound like a nerd right now but that’s okay because it is something I need for many reasons most of which is so that I don’t miss out on anything I want to really see. I haven’t gotten to travel much until over the past three years, so my fear of never getting back to these places is real. I hope to get back there if I love it, but deep down I am afraid I won’t because of expenses, or life situations. I am working through that but until then, I will have an itinerary!

Here is an example of part of the itinerary I created for our California trip:

Day One- Check-in, walk to The Grove (hour walk) See Hollywood High School along way and Fat Sal’s (1300 N Highland) eat lunch along the way, and visit the original Farmers Market Uber or walk (47 minute walk) to the skinny palm trees at 4656 W 5th St and take pictures. Eat dinner at The Grove or back near the hotel. Uber back to the hotel. Walk to Hollywood Bowl (13 min walk from hotel).

We did most of this but some of it we didn’t and that is okay because it’s just a plan. But we made sure each day we knew we were going to something we really wanted to see, and when we left, we didn’t feel like we missed out on much. If you always feel like you leave a destination vacation a little empty, make an itinerary! I created mine in a Word document (i know, nerd), and sent it to my email then added it to the notes on my phone. I also budgeted for each day as well, breaking down expenses so that I would have an idea of how much money I was spending as well.

Budget/Money

Brunch/coffee- Free

Tip for tour driver- 10.00

Souvenirs- 30.00

Coffee/Snacks- 15.00

Dinner- 50.00

I never went over the budget and usually was under, but I need something like this to keep track of what I am spending or not spending and where I have extra.

california, santa monica pier, hollywood, travel
My feet at Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Pier

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, don’t listen to people when they tell you not to go somewhere on vacation.

When we visited Salt Lake City for the first time a few years ago, someone suggested we not visit the Great Salt Lake and I didn’t listen to them. I had read about the Great Salt Lake since I was a child, both my girls learned about it in school, and it’s a national treasure so why wouldn’t I stop there?

Not everything means something to everybody which is why when people ask me what not to see when they visit areas, I don’t tell them. What I might like, you might hate and vice versa.

Case in point- Santa Monica Pier.

A friend of ours told us it was dirty, touristy, and not worth our time.

How do they know what our time looks like?

BUT I almost listened and didn’t visit.

Then I decided that we would rent bikes in Santa Monica and ride the beach up and down (didn’t happen, see, ITINERARY), and see it that way.

After a 45 minute Uber ride in traffic, we finally got to the pier and saw the sign in front of us and both of us got embarrassingly giddy.

We walked the pier and it was indeed dirty and touristy, but we loved it.

IT’S SANTA FRICKING MONICA PIER, PEOPLE.

My Three’s Company loving self-was in heaven.

Sigh.

Of course, Anna had no clue of Three’s Company but she fell in love with the dirty touristy pier all the same.

I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before and honestly, I didn’t know that I ever would get here.

This part of the trip was emotional for me.

I was taking pictures of the pier, of the ocean, and I just got completely wrapped up in the moment.

santa monica pier, california, la, hollywood, travel
Left to right. top to bottom- Anna and I in Santa Monica; Santa Monica Pier sign; the Pacific Ocean; Zoltar!; the end of route 66.

I started crying.

Anna looked at me and put her arms around me and I told her that I was crying because I couldn’t believe I was there, that I was crying for all of the people in my life who would never get there for different reasons. It wasn’t a normal cry but rather something unexplained, if that makes any sense.

I dried my tears and we walked all over the pier, soaking it in, looking for souvenirs, and inhaling that ocean air.

I told this story (and the fact that I cried yet again) on Instagram, so I don’t want to repeat it all over because this post is getting long but it was hands down, my favorite part of the trip.

And I never would have had this moment if I had listened to someone else.

I lost those amazing four dollar Forever 21 earrings on our last night. Worth it.

Livin’ It Up in The City 

On our last night, we planned to go to a cool restaurant called Pump, owned by our favorite Real Housewife of Beverly Hills, Lisa Vanderpump.

We got dressed up (in my 20 dollar Amazon jumpsuit and Anna in her 7 dollar Forever 21 dress, thank you very much), and I asked Anna to do my makeup because I have no business doing makeup but especially if I am gonna possibly run into my favorite housewife.

I ended up looking possibly the best I have ever looked in my life.

I wish she could make me look like this every day of my life, but then no one would recognize me so……

beverly hills. california, boys town, santa monica boulevard, travel
Left to right, top to bottom- the interior of Pump; exterior of Pump; the Pumptini; Anna and I after dinner; the bar we got into.

We had an amazing dinner, ordered the least expensive options on the menu (grilled chicken caesar salads for both of us), had a pumptini (or three) that I let Anna sip (don’t judge), and sat in the open air restaurant, talked and held hands.

It was such a great end to an amazing girls trip.

We didn’t get to see Lisa Vanderpump but we did get to know our beautiful inside and out server who was from South Africa. We chatted with the ladies at the table next to us from Texas who were there for the same reason we were, and a little bit disappointed not to see Ms. Vanderpump.

The vibe in this neighborhood was infectious; we didn’t want to leave and in fact stayed at the restaurant for over two hours and never felt rushed.

We spilled out of the restaurant and decided to hit the streets of Santa Monica Boulevard at 10 on a Thursday night (Friday eve as it is known in our neck of the woods) and live a little on our last night in Los Angeles.

This neighborhood is known as Boys Town, a predominately LGBTQ neighborhood, and to describe the aura (California is rubbing off on me) is hard to put into words but the best word I can think of is acceptance.

And love.

Walking down the street, I had two different gay men tell me I looked GORGEOUS, HONEY. Honestly, that was the best compliment I have ever received.

For this mom of two, who has bags under her eyes, cellulite on my thighs, and anxiety like none other, I left LA feeling better about myself.

Over the course of two hours on our last night, we got into a gay bar, danced with amazing human beings that never questioned our being there, met three guys whom I am now friends with on Instagram, and left hugging like we’ve been friends forever.

It was the most amazing trip but the ending was almost, dare I say, magical.

california, girls trip, budget, travel

That up there is the reason we went to California on our trip. I would go to the ends of the Earth for my girls, or at least, the other side of the United States.

It was magical. The whole thing. Even on the plane when she would just lay her head on my shoulder, or on Santa Monica Pier when instead of being embarrassed by her mom’s menopausal meltdown, she comforted me by putting her arm around me, sitting at Pump holding hands and talking about the memories we had just made.

Oh sure, we could have made memories staying in Illinois doing versions of the above but there is something about heading out on an adventure with your child, going places neither had been before, doing things that we had never done before, that takes a relationship to a new level.

Someday, when Anna is working full time,  is married, or maybe rocking her babies, she will think about this trip and smile. Maybe even tell her children about the time their grandma ran down Santa Monica Blvd. barefoot, laughing, hugging strangers, and being in the moment.

I know she will never forget it.

And neither will I.

I love to write about my family, John Hughes, tacos and Bruce Hornsby. Not necessarily in that order.

17 Comments

  • Mrs K @ Mrs Kringle's Kitchen

    I’m so glad you had that quality time with your daughter and the fact she asked you to do it is a testament to your good parenting. A lot of kids her age are giving the “I’m too old for that” line when, in fact, they aren’t. But you have brought back many good memories for me. I spent my summers in LA by court mandate once my pops moved out there for work and it was far different then. I learned to drive traffic there (which was still awful even then, I can’t imagine it now), I was able to walk the Walk of Fame before people started scamming as faux superheroes and the strip was where the hair bands were hustling just before grunge killed it all. LOL And girl, OWN the “touristy” thing. I don’t know when it became a dirty word but somewhere in there locals in any town but especially places like LA and NYC started muttering “tourist” loud and judgy enough to make people feel self conscious for trying to be a part of what the city is known for or part of it’s rich history. Pssht, sip on your craft beer and shut it.

    I would much rather walk in the footsteps of the great John Ritter, take pics of the Hollywood sign and all of the history behind it including when it was falling apart and almost got torn down and seeing Gwen’s house (my future best friend) than hanging out somewhere someone deems “trendy.” Le barf. We have LA on our radar because the hubby’s never been there but we’re likely driving and making a month long adventure out of seeing movie locations since that’s our thang. Of course, we’ll drive the strip and see where our teen bands got their starts and we’ll do the touristy thing proudly because I’m never seeing those people again and hope to make as many wonderful memories as you did!
    Mrs K @ Mrs Kringle’s Kitchen recently posted…Frozen Banoffee TreatsMy Profile

    • Kari Wagner Hoban

      It was SO cool and now I think you are cool that you spent summers in LA, even if they were court mandated. 🙂
      You’re totally right about the touristy thing although when I mentioned it, I meant it as a safety precaution lol.
      But being a tourist in a new city is soo good, and meeting new people is even better.
      I am missing California now and cannot wait to someday get back, AND I WILL GET BACK!

  • Jessie

    Kari, this is beautiful. I’m glad you two did it! You are like my friend when it comes to travel. She takes care of the research, itinerary, plans while I stress.

    No humidity. Oh, I want some of that.

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