Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Day 3 - Beachfront Mussels and Muscles

I was lucky enough to stay in the lovely beach-side suburb of Santa Monica. Beyond the fancy hotels, shopping and restaurants is the pier, just two blocks from my hostel.



It’s been in films like The Sting, Titanic, Forrest Gump, Iron Man, and Hancock. But more importantly it’s been a fun place for families and friends to hang out in the Californian sunshine for the past 100 years. With the Cirque de Soleil tents and a war veteran’s sandy memorial to the right and the stretches of beachfront to the left – the pier has an amusement park ‘Pacific Park’, a ferris wheel, an aquarium and a couple of restaurants. I resisted the urge to run down to the lifesaver's hut and do my best Baywatch slow motion run. Malibu is the place for that!




Wow - star spotting on the pier!



These miniature scultures of people's faces were so realistic. Not sure what to do with them though. They scared me a bit, the way dolls and puppets do.



The real macaws - so cute - their owner made one lay like a baby in my hands. Then he didn't ask for any money. A bit odd.




It's Zoltar - from the movie Big! I paid a $1, made a wish that one day I too could play a big piano keyboard by jumping, and got a generic fortune on a piece of card.



An old machine from the 1920's could have told me whether my bio-rhythm meant romance or endurance for the day. But I'd already spent my daily budget for blowing money up the wall with old Zoltar.


I stopped at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant for lunch. The chain is inspired by the 1994 film and has 31 locations globally. It was pure American kitsch and exactly what a tourist like me likes.



In the space of one meal I was served by 5 people and reminded that I was in the Land of Tipping. The service was fantastic – helped by the schoolgirl crush I developed on my hazel-eyed waiter when he casually sat down at my table to explain the menu and the ‘Run Forrest Run’ and ‘Stop Forrest Stop’ way to get his attention.





Families around me celebrated birthdays and ate ‘Shrimper’s Net Catch’: beer-steamed shrimp served in a bucket of ice to stop the prawns cooking any more in their shells between the stove-top and table. College kids and couples on dates downed signature Bubba Gump cocktails like Lt Dan’s Pomegranate Punch ‘and you keep the glass!’. The menu was filled with quotes from the movie and dishes like ‘Bubba’s far out dip’. I sat outside on the patio with a view over the beachfront and had clam chowder, a salad (the fork was cold which explains how the food service can be so quick!) and a gallon-sized glass of ‘Blueberry lemonade’ (lemonade with frozen blueberries floating around). You can lead this little pony to the lemonade but there’s no way I can drink that much in one sitting!



D├ęcor inside the restaurant was an explosion of southern style, Great Highways of the USA kitsch and war veteran memorabilia – basically exactly as Forrest Gump would have wanted it. The restaurant chain has 31 locations globally and the thought of the mass kitsch tonnage globally made my head spin. Like all tourist attractions that know their fans, there was an extensive gift shop at the restaurant exit – including the license plate signs – in case you have your own Forrest Gump or hazel-eyed waiter at home that you want to make stop and run.

A busy Sunday afternoon on the two mile walk from Santa Monica Pier to Venice Beach is a people watcher’s delight. The original muscle beach (as opposed to Muscle Beach Venice) was filled with capoera dancers, acrobats, tightrope walkers, pole vaulters, hula-hoopers, fire twirlers and a chess pit for good measure. Dogs chilled out on the grass and blinked lazily at their owners twisting and turning on the beach front and the grassy banks. Old dogs taught new pups tricks as the young acrobats took instruction from bearded blokes.










The palm-lined promenade hosted just about every form of transport on wheels and foot. Some of the hotels, houses and restaurants looked like pages from Martha Stewart Living.



The younger, cooler crowd at Venice Beach is different to the postcard-perfect families of Santa Monica Pier. Venice Beach on a Sunday means lots of stalls selling jewellery, street art, cafes and marijuana doctors.





I saw a man on rollerblades, dressed like a sikh, playing an electric guitar. Fully sikh, man!



Old Charly Temmel's ice cream looked pretty unappetising . . .



The docta is in da house . . .



Hole-in-the-wall eateries



A couple of girls approached me to be in their school photo project. I chose a word from the list and they wrote it on my cheek in eyeliner. The picture came out a bit funny because I was looking into the sun.  




Muscle Beach, Venice – home of the fabled muscle men and bronzed body builder was closed by the time I reached there.



I caught the bus back, chatting with an El Salvadorean bracelet seller on the way, and reached Santa Monica before it got dark. I had Joe's famous pizza, yoghurt from Pink Berry (self serve so you pay for only what you want, rather than a set amount) and watched a movie with the other backpackers.