Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 16, 2017
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City of angels

Two MDs and their kids surprise themselves by having a great time in Los Angeles

My children were rushing to compliment me. "Good eye, mom!" "Nice one!" What had I done to deserve this praise? I'd spotted a Lamborghini Diablo while driving along Sunset Boulevard en route to our hotel, thereby gaining the lead in the Car Game.

My two boys, David and Matthew, aged 10 and 13, created this rather unimaginatively named road-trip game. Each tries to spot the fanciest car and to say it out loud first. Well, they were tripping over their tongues as we drove through Beverley Hills to West Hollywood in Los Angeles, California. Ferrari Maranello! Bentley! Hummer! And occasionally, "Dad what's that one called?" as they've inherited the car fetish gene from my husband.

It never ceases to amaze me that the things your children enjoy most while travelling are the ones that weren't planned. We had rented a silver Ford Explorer to accommodate our luggage. Normally, we drive much more gas-conscious vehicles. Both boys are huge fans of the MTV show Pimp My Ride, which tricks out old clunkers to look like hot rods. Although the SUV wasn't "pimped," it was big and guaranteed great big smiles as they wound down the windows in the backseat and sang along to pop songs, with titles like "California" and "Beverley Hills," at the top of their lungs pausing here and there to shout out, "Aston Martin!" or "Rolls Royce!"

Our family ended up in Los Angeles almost by accident. We were were planning our return trip from New Zealand to Toronto from a six-month sabbatical. Initially, we had hoped to stop over in Fiji for a week but found that the cost to change our ticket was prohibitive. Our travel agent pointed out that a few days' layover in Tinsel Town would be free. She was from nearby San Diego and eagerly listed all the great things for families to do in LA.

My husband and I don't tend to think of cities as holiday destinations, we're more attracted to areas with nature and outdoor pursuits, so we approached the idea with skepticism. Eventually, we saw LA as more of an opportunity to break up the jet lag of which we'd been forewarned.


Read'em and Sleep
Part of the thrill of travel is the planning: heading to the library to get all the books or magazines about your destination weeks ahead so as to savour the enjoyment of it. Searching the Internet for accommodations, rental cars, flights. Imagining what your voyage has in store for you. In planning our family's trip to LA, we popped into the local library and signed out a couple of books, one of which was The Unofficial Guide to California with Kids.

As we began to explore the various places to go and things to do our excitement mounted. LA is so much a part of pop culture that we felt we already were very familiar with it. Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Malibu, Venice Beach, Beverley Hills and Laurel Canyon were all places we'd heard of or seen in movies, TV shows and songs. In some ways it felt like we were going home.

Next, we had a family meeting to draw up a list of things we'd like to do, thereby following a cardinal rule of travel: write down what it is you want on your trip and be ready to recognize it when you see it.

The boys wanted to go to Universal Studios and to skateboard at Venice Beach. My husband had a hankering for good Mexican food and I had romantic notions of an evening at the Santa Monica Pier. We all thought cruising around Beverley Hills and the Hollywood Hills would be fun. We figured if we stayed in West Hollywood for three days and Santa Monica for two, then we could nail all our targets. Lastly, I compiled a CD of California beach and summer songs for when we'd hit the freeway.

In West Hollywood, we stayed at the Best Western Sunset Plaza (8400 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; tel: 800-421-3652; www.bestwestern.com). It was in a lovely old Hollywood style building with a central pool and gardens overlooked by the French windows of the hotel's best rooms. Sipping a morning coffee and reading the Los Angeles Times, among countless pink flowering plants, was pleasurable. After checking in, we ate at the nearby El Compadre (7408 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; tel: 323-874-7924), an incredibly kitschy Mexican restaurant complete with Mariachi band and deliciously hideous thatched booths. The food was simple Americana-Mexican style but good, tasty and reasonably priced to boot.


Catch a Falling Star
Our Hollywood Stars map proved terribly inaccurate, as none of the street numbers matched actual houses. Regardless, we used it as a rough guide to tour through the Hollywood Hills. We'd zigzag up and down streets on a whim as we headed to and from our various destinations. We enjoyed the fantastic panoramas of the city below and took pleasure in driving the same routes as Harrison Ford, Lucille Ball, Madonna and countless others. Note that the map seemed to only show the locations of homes for celebrities that were dead or no longer living in La La Land. There are guided tours to stars' homes but we preferred the flexibility that the map provided.

While in Beverley Hills, we stopped for a stroll down Rodeo Drive, which was mostly traversed by other tourists. We popped into Saks and the Beverley Wiltshire Hotel, where Pretty Woman was filmed. True to form, we passed by ladies recovering from plastic surgery with contraptions around their necks similar to those that dogs wear so that they don't scratch themselves. It was definitely a destination that provided an opportunity to remind the boys not to stare and that if they thought a comment might be rude it should wait until we were in private.

Like all good tourists we made our way to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Mann's Chinese Theatre. I snuggled up to Johnny Depps' star, accepting that this was likely the closest that he and I will ever get, while the kids predictably chose a shot with Adam Sandlers' hand and footprints.

A lot of the names were unrecognizable to our kids, but strolling along and explaining the significance of the many musical, radio, TV and screen performers was a great opportunity for an impromptu entertainment history lesson.

On day two we braced ourselves for a visit to Universal Studios. As predicted, it was loud, crowded and expensive. Even so, there was fun to be had and I reminded myself that when in Rome. The tour of the back lot was cool: we saw the set of the crash site for Steven Spielberg's recent movie War of the Worlds. An audience participation show that explained numerous tricks of making the film was also interesting. What was most impressive, however, was when asked whether they'd prefer a few more rides or to go back to the hotel for a swim, the boys chose the swim. Yippee!

Driving westward along Sunset Boulevard through the tony Pacific Palisades neighbourhood, we arrived in Santa Monica. Having never really looked at a map of LA, I was unprepared for the magnificence of the great expanse of beach. It's a wide white sand strip along the Pacific Ocean with a paved trail for cyclists and skaters along 40 kilometres extending from Malibu through to Redondo Beach.


Down by the Boardwalk
Far and away the most pleasurable day of our trip started with breakfast at the aplty named Back on the Beach Restaurant (445 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica; tel: 310-393-8282; http://backonthebeachcafe.com), about a kilometre north of the Santa Monica Pier. I'd overheard a local say that on any given weekend you were likely to see around five celebrities on the beach. We rented bikes and rode them from the Pier, past beach volleyball games, Frisbee players and Muscle Beach, to Venice Beach. Here we disembarked to skateboard, peruse the countless street vendors' tables and take in a few street performances. Then we ambled out to the Venice Beach Pier to watch the surfers.

Again, the highlight for the kids was unanticipated: two female street vendors got into an all-out turf war, complete with some pretty nasty name-calling. Both boys chattered about the event animatedly the whole ride back, my younger son quoting each and every line of the battle verbatim.

While in Santa Monica, we stayed in a 1950s hotel called Ocean Lodge (1667 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica; tel: 310-451-4146; www.oceanlodgehotel.com), ideally situated across from the Pier and within walking distance of shopping and dining. It hadn't been updated a lot since that era, thus the single-paned windows left us craving a good night's sleep. If I went again, I'd pay a bit more and stay at the funky Hotel California (1670 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica; tel: 866-571-0000) across the street with it's surf-inspired decor for a true California experience — it even has surfboard headboards on the beds.

In the evening, we walked over to the Santa Monica Pier. Having brilliantly agreed ahead of time with the boys on a budget of $10 each, plus candy floss, we pre-empted those nasty "gimmies" that can ruin any family outing. The Ferris wheel lights, carnival sounds and simple pleasure of letting cotton candy melt in your mouth made for a lovely sticky night. The boys particularly enjoyed the bubble machine: they joined other kids gathered in front of the contraption as it made a variety of rainbow-coloured bubbles and tried to chase, catch or pop them. Again, a relative freebie.

On our last day, we hopped in the car and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, passing oodles of grand beachfront homes. We lunched at the Paradise Cove Beach Café (28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu; tel: 310-457-2503; www.paradisecove.org), then strolled along the sand admiring the villas. My older son was thrilled that he recognized the beach from the Adam Sandler film Spanglish. I was amazed and appalled to see black helicopters swooping down over the beach homes — they were likely paparazzi trying to snatch a photo.

Before heading out to the airport, we ate breakfast next door at Chez Jay (1657 Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica; tel: 310-395-1741; www.chezjays.com), reported to be a secret Hollywood hangout, in the Los Angeles Times. The place hasn't been updated since the 1950s, but it looked fabulous with its red leather booths, Christmas tree lights and walls lined with signed movie posters and photos. Apparently Jay, the owner, is an actor and you never know who or when an exciting guest may appear. Celebrities be damned, the boys loved it for the best bacon and eggs they'd ever had.

Of all the holiday destinations we've been to as a family, the kids ask about going back to Los Angeles more than any other. How's that for a vote of confidence?

 

Debra Parry is a family physician at McMaster University's Campus Health Centre. Her husband, and photographer, John Laird is a fam-ily physician in Guelph. They went to Los Angeles with their children on their way home from a six-month adventure in New Zealand where they combined work with travel. The Laird/Parry family are looking forward to wining, dining and exploring their way through France this summer for three weeks.

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