Winter in Los Angeles

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NATHAN MORLEY escapes the European winter for a weeks visit to Los Angeles, America’s ‘dream factory’, where tales of the Beatles, ghosts and JFK dominate conversations at the hotel bar.

Last year we spent a week in the freezing cold of New York, saved only by my wifes addiction to Macy’s and Broadway, so for a change we decided to follow the sun to California this time to see if it really never rains.

It does. We arrived at LAX to a cloudy, wet cold city, but were soon cheered on arrival at our downtown hotel. There are a great many unpleasant hotels in Los Angeles; the Millennium Biltmore certainly is not one of them.

The interiors of the Biltmore Hotel are simply stunning. The entire ground floor is decorated with frescos and murals; carved marble fountains and columns; massive wood-beamed ceilings; oak paneled walls; lead crystal chandeliers and heavily embroidered imported tapestries.

The hotel has a very colourful history, having played a part in both the golden years of Hollywood and the exciting political scene during the fifties and sixties.

Political buffs love to stay here as it was the scene of the 1960 Democratic National Convention, when delegates chose a youthful John F. Kennedy as the party’s presidential nominee.

His acceptance speech was given in a room which is now the lobby.

My guide, the very amiable Steve Eberhard, the hotels long-time maitre d’ and historian took me on a private tour to clear up a bit of sixties pop history, which has often been debated.

The Beatles paid a visit to the Presidential Suite in 1964 during their first U.S. tour. Due to the overwhelming number of fans crowding the streets in front of the hotel, the John, Paul, George and Ringo were forced to access their room by landing on top the hotel in a helicopter.

This event has been disputed by some – but it is in fact true, as Steve showed me as we took the elevator to the top floor.

Although no longer used, the helipad remains, with a staircase which leads to the Presidential suite.

This hotel has often been associated with numerous ghost stories and other fascinating tales of the unexplained. Mystical orbs, ethereal apparitions and things that go bump in the night are commonplace it seems and almost everyone who works here has their own spook story to tell.

While we congregated in the bar for an evening of live music, our server told us of her many encounters with a ghost, which apparently sits in the same spot every now and then, before fading into the night.

The bar tender also has tales of a spectre couple dressed in black that also occasionally pop in for a drink.

Breakfast is served on the ground floor and waiter’s dash around serving coffee and freshly squeezed Californian orange juice, as a chef prepares omelets and pancakes – ordered to your specifications.

During the trip we were lucky enough to get tickets to a TV recording the famous Warner Brothers Studios on Burbank to watch the taping of the Australian show ROVE LA featuring in person John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

It was interesting to watch Olivia speak of her battle with cancer, and how she is now helping others in the same situation, while John touched on the death of his son Jett, and how he copes with his loss.

The whole experience was free and great fun, check to find out how you can get tickets to shows. The highlight of this event was getting to hangout near the very studio (stage 21) where Humphrey Bogart filmed Casablanca.

Obviously, a trip to Hollywood is a must during any trip to LA, but be warned this includes walking the gauntlet of tacky souvenir stands, street artists hustling for a tip and endless invites for bus rides to see the homes of the stars.

You must visit the world famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, which is home to the historic Hollywood forecourt – featuring handprints of iconic celebrities from the movies and showbiz. (Yes, I got a photo standing in the footsteps of Bing Crosby).

During our day in Hollywood, we found time to catch a peek at the famous Capitol Records building (a must for Beach Boys fans) and catch a charming snapshot of a world partly vanished near the old RKO studios on Gower Street, where the Astaire – Rogers musicals, Citizen Kane and countless westerns were filmed.

If you want to leave the urban pleasures of the city, head to the coast.

A taxi ride from LA to Santa Monica State Beach costs around $45 and is well worth it. Santa Monica is an iconic destination that draws visitors from around the globe.

The stunning beach is three miles long, covering 245 acres of sand along Santa Monica Bay. You can sit on a bench on the pier outside Bubba Gump’s (yes this is where Forrest Gump finished his marathon run in the movie) and watch the world go by.

If you enjoy sipping margaritas with a view of the Pacific coastline from Malibu to the South Bay, then you must try the reasonably priced Mariasol restaurant at the end of the pier, which serves a unique blend of Mexican-styled seafood dishes, and has a bizarre seagull deterrent alarm, which blasts off every few minutes!

Santa Monica itself is very cosmopolitan, with the 3rd Street Promenade shopping experience including national stores, name brand clothing, and boutiques.

We decided to use public transport to get back to the city, which was a big mistake, as the bus ride took nearly three hours and stopped about every kilometer.

Next year we are driving the famous Route 1 to San Francisco – that’s if can I muster enough courage to drive on the nutty roads of America.

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