Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and the area make a great vacation

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Every year around the holidays of Christmas and New Years, I like to take the advice of the newspaperman, Horace Greeley. He said: “Go West, young man.” So, off I did again this season to Los Angeles, California, one of my favorite American cities.

There is a lot to see and do in this colorful, sprawling municipality by the Pacific Ocean, and also in areas close to it, like the town of Glendale. Plus, up the road, a wee bit is the city of Santa Barbara. It was on our let’s-check-it out-this-year list. And, when I”m out this film-making way, I love taking in the latest movies.

My wife, Ann, and I began our holiday trip on Christmas Day, December 25, 2019. Rather than using LAX, we prefer to fly from Baltimore into the “Hollywood Burbank Airport,” originally named after the late comedian, Bob Hope. Burbank is smaller and easier to get in and out of. Besides, it’s closer to where we were staying with relatives.

Our family members live on the fringe of Griffith Park, in Glendale. It is within spitting distance of the Los Angeles River, along which I enjoyed my daily walks. It’s also close to the fabulous LA Zoo and the Gene Autry’s Museum of the American West. (We had lunch there one day and it was delightful.)

Christmas night we got invited out to dinner at a home of friends located over in the Studio City area of LA. They laid out a huge delicious spread of food for their guests. Meanwhile, a recording of holiday music filled the air. It was a lovely way to spend the evening with family and friends.

The next day we rested up, but not before taking in the movie Richard Jewell. It was playing at a theatre in Burbank, which was all lit up for the holidays. Burbank is just up the road from Glendale. (Jay Leno, NBC-TV star, used to do his talk shows from there. He was one of my all-time favs. A few years ago, I got a ticket to see Leno do his thing. Not long after, sadly, he folded up his tent.)

Getting back to the film by Clint Eastwood about a young security guard, Richard Jewell, (played ably by Paul Walter Hauser) –  discovered a bomb and alerted everyone to evacuate. Unfortunately for him, he, unfairly, became the number one suspect in the crime, now known as, the “Centennial Olympic Park” bombing.

The movie worked for me. The acting was first-rate, with Kathy Bates, playing Jewell’s mother. The storyline, however, could have been stronger. I’m giving Eastwood’s flick, three out of five stars.

We like going to LA’s downtown area, too. City Hall is looking as great as ever, as are the surrounding neighborhoods. They have had an expensive but spirited rebirth in the last few years.

Los Angeles City Hall

There’s a lot happening around there on an almost daily basis: festivals, music-making, dancing and theatrical shows of all kinds. One night, we had dinner in the “Little Tokyo” area of the city, and also enjoyed some shopping there.

On another evening, we got invited out for dinner at “The Magic Castle.”  It’s located on 7001 Franklin Avenue in Hollywood — a mansion that serves superb dinners and also has a very strict dress code. After the meal, with a drink in hand, we enjoyed “magic” performances — some were on stage and some were up close. Bottom line: “The Magic Castle” is, indeed, a special night out.

I had a chance the next afternoon, down on Hollywood Boulevard, to take in the film, Knives Out. I especially enjoyed seeing fine actors such as Don Johnson, Daniel Craig and Jamie Lee Curtis doing their acting thing to the tenth degree. “Knives Out” is a very entertaining movie.

Later that evening, we had dinner in a restaurant in Glendale, located in “Kenneth Village” mall. You can’t go wrong choosing from the seafood menu in any town near the coastline of California.

Early the next day, we took in the “Travel Town Museum,” that borders on Griffith Park. It featured old railroad cars and engines. It reminded me of growing up in Baltimore’s Locust Point community, then dominated by the mighty trains and steam engines of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. We had our grandson (age two) with us for this one and he couldn’t have been happier.

The City of Santa Barbara was next up on our holiday agenda. It was my first time. In order to reach it, we took a two and one half hour train journey north of LA on the Amtrak’s Pacific “Surfliner” train. I had a window seat and was able to enjoy the sprawling waterfront scenery along the spectacular 90-mile route.

Santa Barbara is a beautiful coastal town of white adobe structures and a population of about 90,000. It is a prime tourist attraction and very family-friendly. It reminded me somewhat of Ocean City, MD, in the summertime. The Spanish influence dominated the environment of the city and its surrounding. They even have a trolley that runs up and down its major streets.

The city sits right on the Pacific Ocean, with its Shoreline Drive, and it has a long pier that juts out into the water k/a “Stearns Wharf.” The waterfront area is very inviting for swimmers and surfers alike.

That first night there, we took in the wartime flick, 1917. I’m not surprised it is getting a huge amount of positive reviews. Suggestion: Put 1917 on your don’t miss list.

The next day we visited Santa Barbara’s fantastic county “Courthouse,” built in 1929. It is by any definition a “grand” structure done in the Spanish Colonial/Moorish style. When going through its beautiful rooms and corridors I thought I was inside a medieval European museum. From the courthouse’s rooftop, you can see most of the downtown area. Its courtyard is wide and with plenty of green gardens. It is often used for weddings.


Santa Barbara’s Courthouse
Santa Barbara’s Courthouse

Another attraction that you don’t want to miss while you are there is the “Santa Barbara Mission.” It was founded by the Franciscan Order of Friars on December 4, 1796, the feast day of Saint Barbara. The naming of the city followed the mission’s birth.

Santa Barbara’s Mission
Santa Barbara’s Mission

Before going home to Baltimore, on January 3, 2020, I was hoping to get in some night shots at the Griffith Observatory. The city truly sparkles from there. It worked out, however, that I couldn’t. It was just raining too hard.

The iconic observatory is a beacon to many visitors, myself included. However, I did find a photo of it from years past that I can share with you as I say a fond good-bye to Los Angeles, environs and its very hospitable residents for another year.

View from the Griffith Observatory

Photos by Bill Hughes
Top photo: Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara