Tips for Travelers

Photo of a WalMart rack showing $30 and $40 plans for phone, text, and data service

Are you an International Traveler visiting Los Angeles? Here’s a few tips:

Stuff to Do

  1. Get a USA SIM Card & WhatsApp
  2. Start a Blog
  3. Write Something
  4. Cook Something
  5. Go for a Walk
  6. Go on a Sub-Trip
  7. Map of Your City

Stuff to See

  1. Museum of Jurassic Technology
  2. Anacapa Island
  3. Hollywood Sign Hike
  4. Hollywood & Highland / Chado Tea Room
  5. Amoeba Music
  6. Venice Walking Tour
  7. Long Beach State / Pyramid

Stuff to Do

Photo of a T-Mobile "SIM Starter Kit" hanging on a rack at the Walmart store in Rosemead, CA

1A. Get a USA SIM Card

For International travelers I highly recommend getting a USA SIM Card for your phone! It can save hours of frustration! Walmart (Walmart “superstores” all over, and there’s one down the street from me) has T-Mobile & AT&T SIM Cards available. They have a pretty good deal1 with T-Mobile for US$30:

  • SIM Card
  • USA Phone Number
  • 100 Minutes of voice
  • Unlimited Text
  • 5gb Data
  • 30 Days

1B. WhatsApp

The other half of the communication pie is WhatsApp. So many people are already on WhatsApp, and that makes it an ideal communication tool. Most International visitors don’t seem to use that much Voice or Text, but the USA SIM Card is still priceless because they do use a lot of WhatsApp & Google Maps. And having to wander around looking for free WiFi at Starbucks or McDonalds is a drag, especially if you’re lost. WhatsApp & Google Maps are priceless for travelers! Most peeps seem to use WhatsApp for text & pix, however it also gives you free international voice calls which can save you a fortune for keeping in touch or any emergencies.

For most International Visitors you’ll want that USA SIM Card to give you local access (3G / 4G / LTE), however you’ll want to sign up with WhatsApp not from your “temporary” USA Cell Number, but from your Permanent Home Number. So far everyone has managed to switch SIM Cards and WhatsApp keeps working.

Screen Cap of Susanne & Larissa's blog
Liz and Suus blog “Dutchies on the Road”

2. Start a Blog

To my surprise, the desire to experience, and the impulse to chronicle, are often not found in the same person. Some people travel. Some people write. Not that many people are travel writers! But we do all have cell phones we snap pix with, so why not post a few of them with some captions?

Our many social media platforms are cool, fun, and valuable. But they are also other people’s property. Facebook is obviously useful, but it’s also like pouring the pancake batter of your life into somebody else’s waffle iron. Sharing your stuff on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc it cool, but why not have a home of your very own?

Building a totally-your-own website really isn’t too hard or expensive. And a great middle way is to use the free (as in speech) WordPress platform as hosted for free (as in beer) at

Whether you choose, or Flickr, or something else, the ability to have a place where you can layout some images and words from your adventures is, to me, priceless. For yourself, for your friends & family, for your own history. Tools like WordPress and Flickr have both great web interfaces, and great mobile apps.

Here’s a few cool CouchSurfer blogs:

Photo of a journal with a red cover and the text "CouchSurfingLA" written on the cover in marker.
You can leave a “message in a bottle” in this journal. Only in this case, instead of the bottle traveling to different islands, the bottle stays in one place and the “people-islands” float by…

3. Write Something

Speaking of blogging a few words in cyberspace… there’s also a little CouchSurfing LA book here that you can write anything in. What you’re doing today. How your trip’s going. Your brilliant philosophy of the universe. How many stars you counted on Hollywood Boulevard. Anything! Cecile wrote a cool recipe for Choquettes in the book and wound up launching our new Recipe Project!

Denes & Csenge at the backyard dinner table
Denes & Csecsi eating in the back yard

4. Cook Something

Not to give you “homework” or anything like that! Just chatting is nice, and sharing a meal out is awesome! But there is something nice about trying to make something here. An “authentic” meal from home is such a wonderful thing. It doesn’t have to be great. It doesn’t even have to be “authentic.” But giving it a try is a nice thing to share and maybe it helps equalize the space as the tourist becomes the culinary tour guide. No pressure, honest! 😀

5. Go for a Walk

You might know that Los Angeles is not the most pedestrian friendly city in the world. Unlike San Francisco, New York, or other great world cities that are defined by density, Los Angeles is defined by sprawl. Stuff is just all over. Sprawl does help in the struggle against gentrification and it provides relatively lower rents and greater possibilities, but it sure makes it a trek to get from Point A to Point B.

It’s true that LA looks a little more like Blade Runner every year. And yes, UCLA is looking pretty Coruscant these days. Still, you just can’t walk from Griffith Park to Santa Monica. But you could walk from Union Station to Disney Hall, that’s only about a mile. And actually, there are a lot of walks you can take in Los Angeles.

  • Rosemead – My place in Rosemead is probably one of the less exciting walks to be had. But IDK where else you’ll find more Chinese and Vietnamese places. You can have Dim Sum for breakfast at 888 Seafood, and in the afternoon you can drop by Saigon’s Bakery & Sandwiches for that ubiquitous bit of global history: a Vietnamese sandwich on a French baguette.
  • Disney HallI mentioned that Disney Hall is only a mile from Union Station, and right across 2nd Street from Disney Hall / Redcat is The Broad contemporary art museum which just opened last month. Then across Grand Avenue is MOCA (The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles). Behind MOCA is Angel’s Flight, a 298-foot long railroad that runs down Bunker Hill. Angel’s Flight isn’t currently running, but you can just walk down the stairs next to it. Then across Hill Street is Grand Central Market. You can eat right at the market, or buy stuff like produce for later. Some of the produce has really low prices! Out the other side of The Market you can cross Broadway and take a look at the beautiful Bradbury Building. Beyond that is the Garment District, the Toy District, the Bead District, and on and on.
  • Santa Monica & Venice – you probably want to visit both, and they’re only 3 miles apart. It’s pretty cool to rent bicycles and bike between them, but you can also walk it in 45 minutes or so.
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame – As I’ll mention below, it’s a short walk from the Walk of Fame over to Amoeba Music. Why not see Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard on foot.

The list could go on forever. Even in the city of sprawl, you can still go for all kinds of walks.

Terézia Ligačová sitting on the edge of a big rock and overlooking the vastness of Horseshoe Canyon
Terézia Ligačová at Horseshoe Canyon

6. Go on a Sub-Trip

I’ve noticed it’s nice when visitors stay for a few days, and then go off on a sub-trip to The Grand Canyon, or San Francisco, or San Diego, and then come back for a couple more days. It seems to add another layer to the visit. It seems to add richness. If our schedules work out, you can often leave excess luggage here and travel lighter on your sub-trip.

Google Map of the Budapest Train Station

7. Google Map of Your City

I’m happy to use Google Maps to show you all the things to do and see in the Los Angeles vicinity that I can. Be sure to also use Google Maps to show me your city! I’d love to learn a little bit about where you’re from. The geography. The experience. How it compares and contrasts with Los Angeles.

Stuff to See

Christine M. Johnson sitting in a dark stairwell and wearing a t-shirt that reads "CSULB Girls Rock"
My former Student Assistant, Christine M. Johnson, in the stairwell at MJT

1. Museum of Jurassic Technology

Things to know about The Museum of Jurassic Technology:

  1. Nothing to do with dinosaurs
  2. Not for everybody
  3. Kind of an unusual place
  4. Really dark inside

Most museums, this side of The Enlightenment, stick to relatively textbook ideas about art, science, and culture. Not saying they aren’t great insights, but they are sort of “standard knowledge.” At MJT you will see exhibits you won’t find anywhere else. About different topics. About people whose idiosyncratic life and work may not have won the battle for the history books, but who nonetheless explored and experienced this life with powerful aliveness.

If all else fails… go upstairs to the Tea Room and have a cookie. Isn’t that what The Oracle in The Matrix gave Neo? A cookie?

Maybe check out my radio conversation with MJT founder-director David Wilson, and LA Author Aimee Bender. If you like it, maybe an MJT visit would be a good idea. If not, no worries.
Museum of Jurassic Technology / Wikipedia
Mr Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder / Lawrence Weschler /

Aimee Bender / Wikipedia
Aimee Bender /

Inspiration Point, East Anacapa Island, California. View from East Anacapa looking toward Middle Anacapa at Sunset.

2. Anacapa Island

While a visit to MJT is really only for a few people, almost everyone will enjoy the splendor of Anacapa Island. But unlike the few hours and bit of gas it takes to visit Griffith Park Observatory or Santa Monica Beach, Anacapa Island is an all-day trip that will cost you US$113. I’m pretty sure it’s an experience you will never forget, but it’s still probably not for everyone.

California has 8 Channel Islands that run along the coast from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Santa Catalina is the best known of the islands, and the only one people permanently live on. It’s still a tiny island with pedestrians and golf carts instead of cars. Taken individually, the 3 parts of Anacapa Island: East Anacapa, Middle Anacapa, and West Anacapa, are the smallest of the Island Chain. Anacapa is the only one of the Channel Islands to have a non-Spanish-derived name. Anacapa comes from the Chumash word eneepah or ‘Anyapakh, meaning mirage island.2

East Anacapa, where Island Packers will drop you off, is a really tiny island! If you walk slow enough it might take you 15-20 minutes to see the whole thing. Backpacker Magazine declared Inspiration Point, the view from the west-end of East Anacapa looking across to Middle Anacapa, the #2 Scenic Vista in America!

You should for sure check out Inspiration Point, but the real reason I’m recommending a trip to Anacapa is to kayak around it. Now that is a peak experience! No matter what, if the kayak rental guy tells you to only paddle the Channel Side of the island and not the Ocean Side because all the good stuff is only on the Channel Side, just nod your head politely and then be sure to paddle both sides!

The kayak rental guy is correct that all the amazing sea caves are on the Channel Side of the island. But where the Channel Side has California’s familiar green ocean water, the water on the Ocean Side is a vibrant blue. And while all the caves are on the Channel Side, the many hundreds of sea lions seem to all be on the Ocean Side. And paddling through the “logo” of the Channel Islands National Park, Arch Rock, on the East-end of East Anacapa is spectacular.

Sea Caves can be dangerous. Paddling through them on a calm day can be easy. On a rough day it could be life threatening. If it’s rough the kayak rental guy probably won’t even rent you a kayak. But for sure use judgement and err on the side of safety. When I was there the Channel Side was very calm and the sea caves were easy. The Ocean Side had some surf near the island and I paddled off the island a ways where it was calmer. Going through Arch Rock was amazing.

Depending on the tide, the passages between East Anacapa & Middle Anacapa, and Middle Anacapa & West Anacapa, might be water or land. You might just paddle through, or you might get out and drag your kayak a few feet and get back in.

My guess is that most people can paddle around East Anacapa without much difficulty. After that you can decide if you want to do Middle Anacapa, or Middle Anacapa and West Anacapa. West Anacapa is quite a bit bigger than Middle Anacapa or East Anacapa.

Find out about Island hopping holidays in Thailand. Thailand is an amazing destination that has a lot to offer a traveler, whether you’re staying for just a week, or are taking a long-term exploration of the country. The area is inexpensive when you compare it to other tropical island chains- I managed a budget as low as $20 a day. If you travel at the right time of year, you will find that island hopping is a great way to take in this stunning part of the country.

• Adult, same-day, round-trip to Anacapa Island - US$59
• Kayak Transport Fee - US$19
• Kayak Day Rental (sit-on-top ocean kayak, back rest, paddle, helmet, life vest) - US$35

• Day Total: US$113 (current pricing on 2 Oct '15)

Santa Cruz Island
For me, kayaking Anacapa is a peak experience. But because it’s so tiny, it can be rough on windy days. Santa Cruz Island is much larger and offers some protection from the winds. Also, aside from a few breathtaking vistas, you can’t really hike Anacapa, but you can hike Santa Cruz. Island Packers and Channel Islands Kayak Center both offer the same transport to Santa Cruz Island as listed above for Anacapa, and the prices are the same.

Note that there is camping available on both Anacapa and Santa Cruz! Spaces are easy to get on short notice in the Winter. Maybe harder to come by in Summer. Camping is US$15 per site per nite, and advanced reservations are required.

photo of the backside of the Hollywood Sign

3. Hollywood Sign Hike

Two of many visitors favorite things to do are Griffith Observatory and The Hollywood Sign. Griffith Observatory has amazing vistas of sprawling Los Angeles, and The Sign is an iconic signifier not just of a place, but of a state of mind, of dreams and ambitions.

But did you know you could hike from Griffith Observatoryto the Hollywood Sign!?

It’s true. And pretty easy! At the far end of Griffith Observatory’s tiny hilltop parking lot is the beginning of a hiking trial. It’s about 3 miles and maybe an hour walk to the Hollywood Sign. When you arrive you’ll be viewing the back of The Sign, not the front, and you can’t actually sit on the letters or anything like that unless you jump the fence. But you will get a view of The Sign that’s closer than most peeps ever get, and for sure it’s a different view.

Whether or not you like seeing the backside of The Sign, the hike is also pretty cool because you can see all of Los Angeles sprawling before you on one side of the ridge, and then the foothills of Burbank and Glendale on the other side.

5 young people having high tea at Chado Tea Room

4. Hollywood & Highland / Chado Tea Room

It seems like most visitors to Los Angeles do have similar lists of things they want to see, and one of them definitely seems to be the Stars on Hollywood Boulevard. As long as you’re going to Hollywood Boulevard anyway, you might as well go to Hollywood & Highland. Hollywood & Highland is a shopping center on the corner of Hollwood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. It’s pretty much ground zero for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and is home to the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are broadcast from. The centerpiece of the complex is a massive three-story courtyard inspired by the Babylon scene from the D.W. Griffith film Intolerance.3

H&H is a big mall where you can eat and shop. But I’m mostly bringing it up because of a tiny shop there: Chado Tea Room. In addition to this Hollywood location, Chado also has shops in Pasadena and Downtown near MOCA and not too far from Union Station. Chado has a wall of, I-don’t-even-know, 50 or 100 different teas & herbal infusions! You can have a cup of tea, or have high tea with those adorable tiered platters of tiny sandwiches and deserts, or just buy some tea to brew at home later.

Customers sharing finds in the record bins at Amoeba Music

5. Amoeba Music

Here’s another place that isn’t for most people. If you get your music from The Cloud (online) you don’t really need an oldschool “record store.” But some of you have discovered vinyl, or still like CDs, or just like giant buildings full of music stuff. If that’s you, then a visit to Amoeba Music will be a blast. If you’re already at Hollywood & Highland it’s just .9 miles / 1.4 kilometers away. Sunset Boulevard is 2 blocks south of Hollywood Boulevard, and Amoeba is on the corner of Sunset & Ivar. Across Ivar is the famous Cinerama Dome movie theater. Years ago my dad took me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey there, and years after that I saw Inception there. Ms. Google says you can walk from H&H to Amoeba in 18 minutes. Along the way you’ll get to see lots of stuff, and peeps, on the street.

Animated GIF of Graffiti Writer at Venice Art Walls

6. Venice Walking Tour

I’m convinced that the sentence on the back of your iPhone is actually a call for you to go on a walking tour of Venice!

Designed by Apple in California; Assembled in China

That’s really kind of a weird sentence! Why not Designed by Apple in Shanghai? Or Designed by Apple in New York City? Or Paris?

I think what they’re getting at is that California has a global reputation as a creative place. But why is that? I believe that creativity grows from diversity. From the many cultures slamming up against each other in places like San Francisco or Los Angeles or San Diego.

If I’m right that diversity grows creativity and innovation, then it’s hard to argue that anyplace is more creative than Venice, CA. In a short Venice walk you can see some of the world’s richest artists, and some of the poorest in the area. You can see a guy who’s played electric guitar on roller skates every day for the past 35 years, and one of the region’s most elite art galleries. You can do skateboard tricks, legally paint a graffiti mural, play competitive basketball, and lift weights on the beach.

Venice is already on most “tourist lists” anyway, so I’m just encouraging you to go. The legendary Rose Cafe on the corner of Rose & Main will be reopening soon as The Rose. IDK what the new place will be like, but that location has always been the start of my mental walk of Venice. Next door is Google Venice and behind The Rose was Digital Domain. Digital Domain has moved a short distance to Playa Vista, and that space is now also Google Venice. Once upon a time the Google Venice buildings were the Chiat/Day advertising agency. Once upon another time it was unthinkable that anyone west of Chicago was even capable of doing “real advertising.” Jay Chiat and Guy Day changed all that. Frank Gehry built their iconic Ship-Binoculars-Forest headquarters in Venice with the giant binoculars coming from sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Since crossing Hampton Drive between the two buildings was a little bit like the famous “Frogger” episode of Seinfeld, Oldenburg & van Bruggen created a sketch for a never-built bridge across Hampton in the shape of a giant wood screw. At Chiat/Day / Google Venice you drive through the binoculars to get into the underground parking lot.

Across Rose & Main Jonathan Borofsky’s 3-story Ballerina Clown adorns the front of a drug store with elegant clumsiness.

I like to walk a few blocks South-east on Main and then go down to the Venice Boardwalk and Beach. You could really turn right on any street, but I like turning on Paloma Avenue, as in Pablo Picasso’s daughter, Paloma Picasso. From there Roller-skating-guitarists, endless slices of cheap pizza, and artists with blankets filled with paintings for sale for a few dollars are all before you.

If you go on a Saturday or Sunday you can even take a few cans of spray paint and try a little Graffiti Writing at the Venice Art Walls. Next to the Art Walls is a giant installation by Mark di Suvero. Keep going down the boardwalk and then turn up Venice Bl to visit LA Louver and other art galleries.

Photo of the Pac Modern team in front of the CSULB Blue Pyramid

7. Long Beach State / Pyramid

I teach Art at Long Beach State University. LBSU is a 323 acre campus with about 37,000 students. I’d be happy to give you a tour of the campus. Or you can do a self-guided walk if you like. Our School of Art has 5 Art Galleries with rotating student shows. We have Volleyball & Basketball games in a giant blue Pyramid. People seem to like The Pyramid. You could even watch a game there and enjoy “fine” American sports food. I highly recommend the Nachos with the radioactive cheese sauce!


I hope you have a wonderful experience here in Los Angeles!

If you have any questions, just shout! You can leave a comment below, message me on CouchSurfing, etc!


  1. Broadband in the USA tends to be more expensive than other countries. So if the Walmart prices I quoted sound high, believe me, they’re cheap for around here! After helping a few visitors setup this plan for their phones, I realized it was a much better deal than what I was using myself! So I’ve now switched to the same Walmart / T-Mobile US$30 plan that I’m recommending to you. 🙂