After years of taking an annual trip on my birthday, I’m well aware that travel in February comes with some built-in pluses and minuses.
A major plus: Cheaper airfares and hotel rates.
And the obvious minus: The weather is at its most uncertain.
I learned that again in a big way this year when my early-February trip to Los Angeles happened to coincide with a massive weather front that brought drenching rain all along the Pacific coast.
So, while my weekend getaway was packed with fun experiences, the top take-away may have been “what to do in LA in the rain.”
And, it turns out there’s plenty to keep you busy in the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” regardless of the weather.
I can’t say I had any up-close encounters with major movie stars on my rainy birthday weekend to Los Angeles, but I did experience a number of show-biz moments – from an actress playing the “star card,” to a veritable runway-show of fur coats, to a sweet aspiring comedian/singer waiter.
I also took in a Broadway legend performing in Hollywood, ate some amazing California seafood, and got to dip my toes in the Pacific Ocean. Not bad for a rained-out weekend!
On the downside, I saw a bit of sobering tragedy along the way – another lesson of life in this frenetic city that never seems to sleep.
Here are 11 of the top lessons from my weekend birthday getaway to Los Angeles:
It not only rains in Southern California, it pours!
I know it’s a cliche, but man, it pours. From the time we landed at LAX on Saturday morning until just before we took off on Monday afternoon, a steady downpour was our constant companion.
Our various Uber drivers were quick to point out that we visited on a BAD weekend. During our ride from the airport, our driver informed us that the rain would continue through Wednesday. “If you like water, you picked a good time to visit,” he said.
The rainy weather had been in the forecast for about week, but sometimes there’s no rescheduling. After all it WAS my birthday, and I’m kind of stuck with the date!
Hollywood = great theater performances
No surprise here. Hollywood delivers when it comes to entertainment.
With rain in the forecast, my son and daughter-in-law had suggested that indoor entertainment was the way to go. For my birthday, they treated me to a performance of “Hello Dolly” at the Hollywood Pantages Theater. It was an amazing way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.
None of us had seen the play before, and we were charmed by Broadway legend Betty Buckley’s performance as 1890s matchmaker Dolly Levi. “Hello Dolly” is billed as “Broadway’s Greatest Musical,” and the production at the Pantages lived up to the hype – splendid costumes, over-the-top dancing numbers, and great singing.
The theater was filled to capacity for the matinee, and the entire cast put on a show to remember. We were especially impressed with Jess LeProtto as the young clerk Barnaby Tucker, whose dance numbers were outstanding. I heard a woman behind me say, “Barnaby is really stealing the show.” We had to agree!
A bonus: Pantages is a beautiful historic theater, and its lineup of Broadway-quality performances is always changing.
Actresses really do play the ‘star card’
On Saturday night, we decided to stop for a drink and appetizers in the lobby of our hotel, the beach-side Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. It’s a classic hotel with a great location right along Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, and across the street from the Pacific Ocean.
Little did we know that the hotel attracts its share of Hollywood actors and actresses. As our server opened a bottle of wine for us, a woman approached him and said, somewhat aggressively, “When you get a moment,” and gestured to her nearby table. What surprised me is that she didn’t walk away at that point, but repeated, “When you get a moment,” and continued standing there for a couple of minutes.
It occurred to me that what she really wanted was for our waiter to go to her table immediately. We learned later that the woman is a character actress, known for her supporting role in the Austin Powers movies, as well as in subsequent cameo appearances in a number of television sitcoms.
Our waiter told us that the hotel restaurant gets regular visits from “A-list” Hollywood performers. Kudos to him for finishing our service before heading over to the actress’ table!
The rain will bring out the furs
As we sat and watched the parade of fashions on Saturday night, we noticed a trend: There were a lot of fur coats on display. Even though the temperatures were fairly mild and far from the freezing point, the rain apparently warranted the fancy, warm outerwear.
From the sleeveless jacket we saw at the Fairmont Miramar to a knee-length number along the Santa Monica Pier, fur coats were definitely in.
Rain doesn’t keep away the tourists
Myself included here: Despite the steady downpour, there were plenty of people braving the conditions on this early-February weekend in Los Angeles.
During an especially intense squall Sunday morning, I chatted with a woman from Shanghai, China, after she offered to take my photo along the Santa Monica Pier. It turned out that she and her husband were on a 15-hour layover in Los Angeles and decided to make the most of their time, despite the weather.
Umbrellas appeared to be the second-most popular fashion accessory (behind the furs, of course), and it was obvious that Los Angeles residents and visitors have learned to take the rain in stride.
The same was true in downtown Hollywood.
The Santa Monica Pier has a moody charm in the rain
I happen to love catching reflection scenes, and the Santa Monica Pier in the rain was puddle heaven! I was soaked when I returned, but I couldn’t stop taking in the unique rain-drenched landscape.
LA drive times are ‘flexible’
We learned a couple of painful lessons about Los Angeles traffic on the way from Santa Monica to downtown Hollywood.
First, estimated driving times by Uber and Google maps don’t seem to apply here. Although the trip was initially estimated at about 30 minutes, it was later upped to 40 minutes. It ended up taking an hour.
Main take-away: Add anywhere from a half-hour to an hour to your estimated travel time – especially in rainy conditions.
Second, not all LA Uber drivers are well-versed in navigating the intense traffic. When our driver opted to leave the slightly clogged freeway to take side streets instead, we thought she must know something we didn’t know. It turns out she didn’t. Her decision cost us about 30 extra minutes in traffic and resulted in us arriving late to our theater performance.
Emergencies are never far away
As I was strolling along the Santa Monica Pier Sunday morning, I was surprised to hear screaming sirens behind me. I stood by as a parade of emergency vehicles sped past. Soon, lifeguards with rescue boards were dashing into the massive waves.
I learned that a woman had jumped into the water from the pier and emergency personnel were trying to save her. They succeeded in the rescue, pulling the woman from the water, and wrapping her in an insulating blanket. It was a scary and sobering moment. Hats off to the rescue crew who didn’t hesitate to dive into the icy depths.
Dreams of stardom are everywhere
Everyone knows from movies like “La La Land” that Los Angeles is the city of dreams.
We experienced one of those dreamers first-hand, when we stopped in at the Santa Monica Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. for an early-Monday seafood lunch.
Although the food was delicious, we all agreed that the high point was our waiter – charming Sal from San Antonio – who sang a lovely rendition of the Mexican birthday song Las Mañanitas to me for my birthday.
Sal’s singing voice was beautiful, but it turned out that comedy was his true love. He told us he had moved to Los Angeles from San Antonio to pursue his dreams. Along with his day job serving tables, he said he regularly performed standup in the clubs around the Los Angeles area. As we were leaving, Sal jokingly urged us to watch for his special on Netflix, and I really wouldn’t be surprised!
Seafood is the way to go
When I travel to coastal locales, I always have a cuisine-related goal: Eat all of the seafood I can.
Because of the rainy conditions, we stuck to places that were close-by on this trip, but we still found some great options. I especially loved the lobster Cobb salad at the Fairmont Miramar’s Fig , as well as the tasty fish sandwich and sea-salt fries at the trendy fast-casual Voltaggio STRFSH in the Gallery Food Hall in Santa Monica.
It’s a chain and not a local spot, but I also enjoyed the seaside setting and the shrimp and hush puppies at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. on the Santa Monica Pier.
Beachside activities continue non-stop
I love nothing more than an oceanfront walk, and Santa Monica is a perfect spot, with its wide pier boardwalk and plentiful elevated walkways over busy streets.
On my several soggy walks along the beach path and pier, I found that the rain doesn’t seem to be much of a deterrent for ocean lovers. I passed by dozens of joggers, dog walkers and cyclists.
I even came across a showcase beach volleyball tournament, which added to the classic ocean scene.
Overall, although the rains can present a few challenges, I still recommend a winter weekend getaway in Los Angeles. After all, it’s the beach, and you can’t beat that.