Home of and a shorthand reference for the film industry, as well as the home of its eponymous sign, Hollywood is one of the most well-known places in the world. It's actually a fairly small neighborhood, but it's rich (no pun intended) with culture and history. In addition to film and its sign, Hollywood is also the home of the Dolby Theatre - where the Oscars are held each year - plus the Walk of Fame, the historic TCL Chinese Theatre (and other historic theaters), comedy clubs, and much more.

I was privileged to spend four days and nights here. I liked it so much I even stayed an extra night, abandoning the Airbnb I had rented to stay. There was so much to explore and do. I stayed at USA Hostels Hollywood, which was situated on a road right off of Hollywood Boulevard, the heart of the neighborhood. This is where I made some super cool friends.

I remember when I first exited the train station and arrived here, I was just blown away by the spirit, the activity, the lights and colors and just vitality of the place. I was enamored.

Here's a few people I got to meet while staying at the hostel, in addition to a couple people I saw along the way.

This is Gabriel (pronounced gaw-bree-el). He's from Brazil, and he was the first person I was greeted by at USA Hostels because he was my roommate. He was in the states on a work trip in IT, but I believe this was his stretch of vacation. This photo was taken in the outdoor patio of the hostel.

While his native tongue is Spanish, he spoke fluent English and seemed to have good listening comprehension in English as well. He ended up being such a sweet and tender guy, and a good friend of mine on the trip. He used his opportunity in LA to go see a theatre performance of Frozen 2, as well as Disneyland. He also came with a bunch of us on the Hollywood sign hike (see below).

One thing that I found interesting from speaking with Gabriel was the type of crime in his native country that he described. He said he loves doing photography, but in Brazil (or at least his part), he can hardly get away with it, because if you're seen with a camera, it's likely you'll get mugged and have it stolen. It was really heartbreaking to hear. But he was such a positive dude and he really blessed my trip. I'm thankful to have had him as a roommate, and I was sad to watch him go a day or two before I departed!

I had spent the morning walking around Hollywood Boulevard taking photos and eventually returned to my hostel. When I returned, I entered the front door and saw this girl standing in the foyer, in the spot where people sign up for various tours. Something about her caught my eye. Maybe it was her obvious beauty and fashion choices against the surroundings. But I kept walking past her. Then, suddenly, after considering for a moment or two, I turned around and asked her if I could take some photos of her. She wasn't just okay with it; she was totally enthused. So in this little corner, with my 50mm lens, I snapped a bunch of photos as she voluntarily posed in all these different ways. I didn't even have to ask - she just did it, which can (and in this case, did) make a photographer's job so much easier. I confess I'm not the best at orchestrating poses - it's certainly a weakness of mine as a photographer. So thank the photography gods for people like her!

This ended up being my favorite photo. The next day, I ran into her in the kitchen and we shared a breakfast together along with her friend. I used the mighty powers of my camera's wifi and Airdrop to transfer the photos to her, and she seemed stoked. I even got her name, but because I forget names so easily...I forgot. She was super sweet, cute and cool, and I think those traits were adequately embodied in this image.

As I mentioned in my previous entry of Beverly Hills, Jaimee is an Australian who was traveling to the states for her first time. She'd been traveling for at least a month or two by the time she ended up in LA - the terminus of her journey. Before reaching LA, she had visited Vancouver (Canada), then Seattle, and finally Los Angeles. While she had enjoyed herself in those other places, I recall her saying that LA was her favorite.

Like the photo of Gabriel above and the photo below, this photo was taken in the outdoor patio of USA Hostels, right before we embarked on our Hollywood sign hike. Jaimee ended up being one of my favorite people, and it was such a blast talking with her and discovering certain Australian nomenclature & various colloquialisms, and comparing them to America's. (For example, in Australia, they're fond of referring to McDonald's as "Mackers.")

Hollie was one of the coolest, fun, and jovial people I met on my trip. She and Jaimee became friends quite quickly. She was also on the Beverly Hills walking tour, donning a backpack with one word that ran along the side: "DOUCHEBAG."

Hollie hails from England. She landed in LA after visiting San Fransisco, where there was another branch of USA Hostels that she stayed at. She ended up staying in LA for quite a while after a bunch of us departed, even exploring a part of Santa Monica & Venice that I explored. Hollie was a big laughing enthusiast, and she was just overall so jolly and hilarious to me. I seriously loved her friendship & company, and I'm thankful I got to enjoy it for a few days instead of just one. (Fun fact: before this trip, Hollie had never tried ranch dressing. This changed when a few of us went to a pizza shop in Malibu a couple days later.)

En route to the starting point for the Hollywood sign hike, I captured this photo of the friends I made at USA Hostels. From left to right is Jaimee (Australia), Alvaro (Mexico), Melissa (America, although I never really got to know her), and Vik (Australia). This was the real bonding day for us all.

We weren't quite at the summit yet, but this was an ideal spot for photos, which we took a lot of right here. I think all of us were so stoked to finally be before this iconic "monument" that we'd all heard of and seen photos of for years before landing here. This hike wasn't just the highlight of the day, but probably my entire trip. After this, we proceeded to the top of the sign, where I took the photo at the top of this page. It was hands down one of the coolest places I've ever been, and the hike itself was actually a lot of fun.

When I saw this mirror on our way up to the summit of the sign, two words appeared in my head: "PHOTO OP!" I summoned my friends over and told them to pose in a bunch of different ways, in this was one of the results. We clearly had so much fun this day; I bet we all wish we could go back and do it again. I know I do.

You can't really discuss Los Angeles without discussing its abject homelessness. I read recently that the Los Angeles homeless population is the second highest in the nation, with more than 56,000. The population of Portland, Maine is about 66,000, to put it into perspective. New York City has LA beat by a wide margin, with more than 78,000. It’s truly dizzying, and obviously tragic.

I had heard about how severe the homelessness is out there, and I definitely saw it firsthand. People sleeping in the middle of the sidewalks, in parking lots, on benches. Legitimate homeless “camps” with tents lining the sidewalks because by law the inhabitants are permitted to. Beggars on every street corner and sidewalk. Vagabonds yelling and cursing - often incomprehensibly - at no one in particular. Even though I sort of instinctively knew, a native there told me not to make eye contact with the louder ones as they could target you, possibly at the risk of you being harmed somehow.

I saw this man asleep in a parking lot and felt compelled to take this to remind myself and illustrate that the problem in this city truly is severe.

This was taken at the Griffith Observatory, a popular tourist attraction and "gateway to the cosmos," as its description reads on its website. It's situated just a few miles from the Hollywood sign hike and, like the sign, overlooks the city. It even made an appearance in a scene in 2016's La La Land with Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone, including this very site inside, in which the couple danced around the rotunda!

More than anything I was just stricken by the light in this moment. I loved the warm glow cast from the pendulum in the center of the rotunda onto the curious visitors gazing down into it. The girl on the right had intriguing features that caught my eye in the warm glow - her glasses, hair and denim jacket. So at the risk of looking like a mega-creep sketchball, using my long telephoto lens, I took this from afar. I still kinda wish I had asked her if she’d want me to send it to her but my group was leaving sooo that didn’t happen. It’s a small world; maybe I’ll see her again someday.

Next (and final) stop: Santa Monica & Venice Beach!

View Part I: Downtown

View Part II: Beverly Hills & LACMA