Los Anxious-less: How A Work Weekend In LA Turned Into A Solo Travel Experience
Last November, I had to journey from New York City to Los Angeles for a long weekend of working for my old job. The idea of traveling across the country to Los Angeles for work sounds totally glamorous, but at least in my instance, it absolutely did not start off that way.
In addition to being a magazine editor, digital editor, and social media editor at my old job, I also was involved in helping my employer put on consumer events across the country. It was a part of my job that I 100% did not like, because it had nothing to do with the editorial work that I loved, so the idea of traveling across the country (for the first time, mind you) just to sit in a convention center for the weekend before flying back home sounded awful. There were so many other things that I could do with my weekend if I just stayed at home. Plus, none of my friends from work were going on the trip and I couldn't bring anyone with me, so I didn't have anyone to spend my limited free time with.
Just as I was packing up to go on this trip, I figured that I would switch my mindset up. Instead of thinking about how I was going to be bored out of my mind most of the time and then stuck in my hotel room all night with nothing to do, I figured I could use this opportunity to have a weekend sight-seeing trip in Los Angeles, with most of my expenses covered (besides recreation, because I couldn't expense my company for that, of course). Switching up how I thought about the trip didn't make me any more excited for the actual work part of the trip, but it did have me looking forward to the after work parts of the trip, specifically two nights where I could go wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted to.
Since the trip was work-related, I didn't have much time to research things I wanted to see and do. I didn't know how long I would be stuck at the convention center during the daytime, so it didn't make sense to plan out a weekend itinerary for myself. Instead, I downloaded an app that would help me navigate the LA subway system (CityMapper is great, I use it all the time in my native NYC and it worked just as well in LA) and wrote down a few restaurants and sights that I saw on Instagram or on a quick Google search. That was it. So with that limited trip research done, I hoped on the plane and headed across the country.
Maybe it was because I was in Downtown LA, or maybe I am just used to NYC life, but my first impression of LA was that it was bright and sunny, but also super dirty and crowded, with the worst traffic I'd ever experienced in my life. I think I was in the cab for about 2 hours just to get from the airport to my hotel, which I recall was about a half hour away. This didn't put a damper on my excitement about exploring the city, but it was certainly hard to ignore.
I got to my hotel, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Los Angeles Downtown, talked the front desk concierge into giving me two warm cookies instead of one, and headed up towards my room. The trip from NYC to LA was about 6 hours, and even though it was around 2pm when I got to my room, I was exhausted and thereby torn as to whether or not I should take some time to explore the area I was in or just enjoy my warm cookies and take a nap. I also wasn't sure whether or not I would be needed to do any work that day for the consumer show, and I didn't want to venture out on an adventure only to be called back to help set up some vendor booths or something.
So, I decided to freshen up, change out of my sweatpants and sweatshirt that I wore on the plane (I am the only editor I know that doesn't dress up to fly. I can always safely assume that there will be no paparazzi waiting for me at the gate when I land, so I opt comfort), and go on the hunt for some late lunch/early dinner. I didn't really know of anything in my area, which would normally irk me on a regular vacation or weekend getaway. I grew up making itineraries for every trip I went on, so traveling without one just felt weird. I embraced it though, and found a cute place on Yelp that I chose entirely because the food and drinks looked totally Instagram-able. (When in LA, do as the influencers do, right?)
That cute little Instagram-worthy cafe was called The Mighty, and it was both adorable and delicious. I grabbed a cafe table by the window, ordered a chai tea latte and an avocado toast, and enjoyed how I was dining like a stereotypical LA local within 3 hours of being in the city. (Side note: I am obsessed with avocado toast, and make it all the time for myself at home, and I highly recommend The Mighty's Avocado + Burrata Toast to anyone else who is avo-obsessed and in the area. It was topped with cherry tomatoes and spicy peperonata, and it was probably one of the best avocado toasts I have ever had, hands down.)
Unfortunately, The Mighty is where my adventuring ended that day, and at the time I felt pretty guilty about it. I went out for sushi with a co-worker at a Japanese restaurant near the hotel for dinner, but ultimately I just stayed in my room, watched Modern Family, and took a nap. At the time, I kept making myself feel bad, saying that I had a round-trip plane ticket, a hotel room, meals, and taxi rides being paid for and that I should have explored more. But looking back on it, I was really smart to stay in for the night. I am someone that tends to run around on trips and never really take time to relax. I want to see and do and eat everything in a city before I leave it, and usually when I travel with people, everyone has something they want to see and do so the whole group ends up running around. Being alone meant that I could stay in and rest if I wanted to and not worry about effecting anyone else's trip. I could give myself some time to rest before waking up early the next morning and spending all day on my feet running around at the convention center. Plus, if I wanted to go out the next night, I needed to rest now.
To distract myself from how much I wasn't enjoying work the following day, I kept thinking about what I wanted to do that night. I knew that I couldn't stay out too late because I'd need to be up early again the next day for another full day of work, but I wanted to at least (a.) see something I've always wanted to see in LA, (b.) eat a nice meal, and most importantly (c.) feel like I had done something exciting. I decided that I was going to take the subway (I think they just call it the Metro, but I'm going to stick with subway. It's essentially the same thing.) and head to Hollywood Boulevard. I imagined it looked exactly like Disney's Hollywood Studios, a favorite hangout for my friends and I when I worked at Walt Disney World during college. As soon as the consumer show ended and people started filing out, I hailed a cab and headed back to the hotel to freshen up quickly before walk up the street to the subway.
Maybe my expectations were too high when I got there, but Hollywood Boulevard was not what I had expected. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I went and it was nice to see such an iconic part of LA, but it was extremely dirty and crowded and the establishments on the Boulevard, at least where I was near Hollywood and Vine, were kind of crappy. It didn't really exude the old Hollywood glam that I was hoping for, though I didn't let that stop me from seeing some sights that I had always wanted to see in person.
I was able to find one of Frank Sinatra's three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a very exciting thing for me seeing as he is one of my favorite musicians of all time, and take a picture with it. I also walked to the Chinese Theater, another Hollywood staple that I had always wanted to see since I was a huge Great Movie Ride fan, and the now closed Disney's Hollywood Studios ride was inside a replica of the Chinese Theater, where Walt Disney premiered many of his first animated and live-action movies. It was beautiful and way bigger than I expected, and it brought back a lot of happy memories of my friends and I riding the Great Movie Ride over and over again. After seeing those two things, it was getting pretty late and I was starving (believe it or not, consumer shows don't serve good food) and stopped in a Mexican restaurant that had great service, great guacamole, and a really cool vibe, only to learn the next day that it was a chain restaurant, and I had essentially gone to LA's version of Time's Square and eaten at a chain pizza place instead of something truly authentic.
On the subway back home, I had mixed feelings about my excursion that night. It wasn't really the glamorous, exciting LA adventure I was hoping for, but I had a nice time seeing some famous sights, had some great guac, and spent the entire night in a new place by myself without having an anxiety attack. That in itself was pretty special to me, and I justified to myself that technically I wasn't there to do anything fun, I was there to work, so anything fun that I was able to do, even if it wasn't super exciting or Instagram-able, was a great bonus considering I paid hardly any of my own money for this trip. With that, I grabbed some warm cookies from the hotel lobby (they just give them away, and it was probably one of the best parts of my trip, though I probably ate my weight in cookies) and headed to my room to prep for another long day of work.
My second and last day of work was just as long and uneventful as the first, but one thing that I noticed was when I told volunteer workers or co-workers from home about my night exploring Hollywood Boulevard, everyone was really impressed. I spent the subway ride to the hotel wondering whether or not I had been adventurous enough, and they had spent the evening eating at restaurants near the hotel and going to bed early. That made me feel even better about the night before, and I asked one of the show vendors who lived nearby what things I absolutely needed to do before leaving LA the next morning. My only qualifiers where that I didn't mind traveling from Downtown to Uptown or near the ocean, but I didn't want to be out all night (I had a plane home the next morning, and I didn't think that my employer would pay for a second airplane ticket if I missed the first flight).
The vendor told me about all of places he loved to bring friends and family who visited him, and they were all in Downtown LA, right near my hotel. I was skeptical at first, since the area around my hotel did not look the nicest, about what possible hidden gems could be hiding there, but he insisted that it was a thriving arts district and the home to Little Japan, a select few streets that feature entirely Japanese restaurants and shops, and that there would be plenty for me to see, do, and eat. He made me a list of everything worth doing, and I took his list back to the hotel with me after work, only to realize that his handwriting was extremely hard to read. He had nicely drawn a little map of the area for me and made notes of what was there, but it all looked like squares and scribbles. That is, except for the word "pie," which was scribbled on a little box that looked to be about 5 blocks away from my hotel.
I changed my clothes and headed down towards the scribbled note on my map, eventually ending up at a cute little hole in the wall restaurant, fittingly named The Pie Hole. Inside there was a counter with a bakery display of all the pies, a menu written on parchment paper behind the counter, and little numbers that you took to your seat so your order could be brought to you. I ordered a slice of the Macaroni and Cheese Pot Pie and the Mexican Chocolate Pie (I couldn't leave without trying both a savory and a sweet pie), and sat at a table near the window. There wasn't really anything to see outside the window, because it was dark outside and the area itself wasn't great no matter the lighting, but I didn't really noticed because I was distracted by my delicious meal. Everyone that passes through Downtown LA needs to stop here and at least get a Mexican Chocolate Pie to-go, because it was amazing.
Bloated and happy, I walked back towards my hotel to check out Little Japan before heading back to my room for the night. While walking around, I found an adorable little outdoor market place with paper lanterns hanging from the trees and lots of little shops and restaurants. I stopped in a store that sold exclusively beauty products and bought a sheet mask that was unlike anything I had ever seen. One of the trends for sheet masks now is that they have funny or cute animal faces or prints on them, because beauty companies think that millennials are more likely to take pictures of themselves in the products if the product makes them look like an otter or a tiger. (This is probably true, because millennials will take pictures of themselves for just about any reason.) What I found was not a sheet mask that was covered in cheetah print or a cute puppy face, but instead made your face look like a stack of pancakes with butter melted on them. Yes, you read that correctly. I thought it was so hilarious that I bought it, and I still haven't used it yet because I think it's too funny to actually use.
I spent a bit more time wandering around people watching and meandering through stores before I finally headed back to my room to pack and go to sleep. I didn't feel as anxious and doubtful about my adventure that night has I had the night before, and instead enjoyed feeling confident that I had spent the weekend doing mini adventures on my own in a new city. Sure, there is a lot of LA that I didn't get to see, but I took a work trip that I was completely dreading and turned little parts of it into a fun trip for myself almost completely on the fly. Plus, with all of the money I saved on not having to buy my own airplane ticket, hotel room, or meals, that meant that I could save up to come back to LA for a proper vacation and really see the city.