Travel extraordinaire Catherine Addé uncovers a few LA-centric icons and experiences not far from her own backyard.
BY: Catherine Addé
Photos by: Lisa Brewster
Union Station is one of the last great train stations in the country, certainly the largest in the west. It is in the very heart of Downtown LA, and on a recent trip, it was my destination.
My train had pulled out from Seattle on the Coast Starlight, the panoramic windows showcased views that changed from Washington and Oregon’s lush green forests, rushing rivers and eventually the railcar hugged California’s rugged Pacific coastline. It is quite possibly one of the most scenic rides I’ve ever taken.
Disembarking in Los Angeles, the station buzzed with a kind of excitement not usually experienced at airports; perhaps it’s reminiscent of the rail travel’s heyday—or just the anticipation that many feel before embarking on a grand adventure. Whatever the case, the station is a stalwart of Los Angeles and in spite of a few fast food outlets; little has changed to this architectural gem since its inception in 1939.
Sometimes I’ve enjoyed be bopping around Union Station as a destination unto itself. Venturing out, I’ve played tour guide showing visitors the original plaza of Los Angeles: Olvera Street, directly opposite station. Other occasions we’ve dined at Traxx, the award-winning restaurant inside the cavernous Spanish tiled interior. Sometimes I’ll just hop on the Gold Line from Pasadena to town for a famous French dip from Philippe’s which is near the station too. Commuters using the light rail or Fly Away coach to the airport may not take the time to soak in the atmosphere; for Union Station’s grand main lobby and cloisters surrounding the building outside are lovely. It’s Spanish revival and mission style architecture meets art deco, reflecting the year it was built combined with our illustrious history in California. Little wonder that the movie industry utilizes the station as a film set on a regular basis.
If Union Station is an architecturally important traditional and historic building, then the revitalized modern high rises of the gentrified “LA Live” are its opposite. This eclectic mixed-use space downtown has a cluster of hotels and restaurants, with the Grammy museum and Staples Center at its core. They are the flagship properties which are sports and concert venues used for top name entertainment.
When attending a major event at LA Live, I prefer to spend the night at a hotel there rather than battle traffic and parking hassles, even though I live close to Los Angeles in the Pasadena area.
A few years ago, my family treated me to the Grammy Awards ceremony for a milestone birthday. This is a big night for Los Angeles and the show is held annually at the Staples Center. The exciting lineup included Barbara Streisand, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Rhianna, Lady Antebellum, to name a few. To avoid any possibility of a traffic snarl, I thought it prudent to book my room at the Marriott LA Live hotel. I was not about to miss a moment of the red carpet arrivals, a celebratory dinner at Fleming’s, or the Grammy’s show itself!
After checking in, I tested (fluffed up) the pillows and inspected the room’s amenities – it had a really comfy bed for Marriott even sells their own line of mattresses. Gazing out, there was a fabulous view of the city lights and Los Angeles skyline.
Getting ready for the show was a stress free preening fest thanks to good lighting, a magnifying mirror and luscious toiletries. Next, I headed down to the Staples Center ahead of the crowds, filled with anticipation as if I were a recording artist as well.
Last summer, Adele held five sold out performances at the Staples Center and my sister and I scored tickets. Deciding to stay on site again was a no brainer; why not combine comfort as well as fun? The top few floors of the Marriott is actually its sister hotel: The Ritz Carlton, with a separate entrance off of Olympic Boulevard for convenience. Valet parking there on a busy night can’t be beat. Its Zen-like lobby and quiet rooms shielded us from the cacophony of sounds from the crowds below. This property caters to both the business traveler and the tourist and naturally has the high-touch, five star services that Ritz Carlton’s reputation is noted for. Upgraded linens (Frette), Marriott’s bedding, Asian inspired art, for tranquility here is key.
The concert was incredible; Adele’s voice was clear as a bell, the entire audience giddily sang along with her during the finale of ‘Rolling in the Deep.’ And, I must say, we felt a bit smug strolling from the Staples Center directly to our room at the Ritz, ahead of the 21,000 or so pouring from the venue. While sipping a glass of wine, we spied the snarl of traffic and people dashing about from our room’s window. Savoring the strains of a sweet voice, we donned the hotel’s plush robes and reminisced about our favorite parts of the concert. I thought what a way to cap off a perfect evening: enjoying a chat and having a relaxing respite before drifting off to sleep.
Catherine Addé is a native of Pasadena, a Certified Travel Counselor affiliated with TravelStore and Signature Travel Network. She has a Master’s Degree in Tourism Management and has held executive positions with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Windstar and Cunard Line Ltd. She lives in two cottages one, in the hills in Sierra Madre and the other in Wales, UK, with her husband and two cats.