LA: A good place to fix your VW

As we headed back out of San Francisco, I found us a potential camping spot that was a fair size parking area on the junction of some minor on the outskirts of town. As it was right on the outskirts, I didn’t anticipate it being so busy, and it was in a good location for our whale watching tour in the morning. It must have been a shortcut to get somewhere as the traffic that started coming through from around 5am was pretty much constant. It was also raining, and our whale watching tour had been cancelled due to bad weather. Not overly thrilled by the way the day had started, we began the drive down to LA, still about 6 hours away.

The weather had at least cleared, and we identified our next suitable camping spot a few hours down the road. Wanting to spend some time catching up with our blogs and so on, we arrived an hour or so before dark after a steady climb up a steep and bumpy dirt road. The views up here were spectacular, and although we sat exposed on this ridge it wasn’t particularly windy.

We watched the sunset and got some pretty special photos.

It was also the first time Aimee had had a free reign of the outdoors for some time, and she was definitely enjoying herself.We had also bought her a first jumper, which was just too cute!

All was well until around 3am when the wind picked up. It got to the point where we were both lying there awake, wondering if the gas struts would be able to cope with being battered about by gusts of wind flying over the ridge. Finally, we decided that we didn’t think this was good for the pop top at all, and as we didn’t want it to collapse on us we got in there first and shut it. The problem with our van set up is that it’s not really good for two people to sleep downstairs. At this point we didn’t have much choice except to try. So after a lot of rearranging we did actually manage to make a passable bed arrangement that worked if we top n tailed! The van was still rocking all over the place in the wind, but it was much quieter, warm and more secure down in the bottom now. Aimee was a bit confused by the whole process, as she is used to having free run of the downstairs in the night time and had just lost her bed to us two grumpy people in the middle of the night.

Not feeling so refreshed in the morning, it was time to knock another chunk of the journey south. The only good thing about the whole experience is that we now know it is possible to sleep without the pop top which gives us a few more options for bad weather or stealthy camping!

Over the next two days we worked our way south. Stopping of to grab some showers at a beach campsite before parking up in a trailhead car park in the Santa Monica mountains. This put us within striking distance of LA, just over an hour away and so we would arrive on Friday morning.

Our first day we decided to do some of the touristy things, and as we drove into the city we passed through Beverly Hills.

We then stopped off to give Ruby a much needed wash and vacuum.

Feeling the kind of relaxed that only occurs when the van has been thoroughly cleaned, we continued. We were aiming for Hollywood Boulevard, to look at the walk of fame. Parking up on the street, we started wandering down it looking at all the names. I hadn’t realised it was quite so big, with over 2,500 names! It wasn’t too busy either, so we were able to get some decent pictures.

Stopping at a couple of particularly good ones.

You can pay someone to turn you into a Hollywood star too, if you really feel the need.

We decided this was the time to go the Hard Rock Café, as we hadn’t actually visited one yet. Lee bought a guitar shaped spatula which made him very excited.

We also went to visit the famous names and handprints in the concrete outside the Chinese theatre.

Lee was determined to find Sylvester Stallone on the walk back down to the van, fortunately you can look up online where the different names are to save you having to walk the entire thing.

Having ticked this one of the bucketlist, we planned to head to a local VW meet that night and started making our way there through the Hollywood hills via Sunset Boulevard.

It turns out that we were a bit early, so we spent a few hours in the car park doing the odd bit of maintenance to the van. Our horn wasn’t working, which is quite annoying in city driving and it turns out that the earth was very rusty and broke off the compressor when Lee took it off. This is one of the reasons I can’t live without Amazon, as within 10 minutes we had a new one ordered for $10, ready to pick up tomorrow.

Before too long a few VW’s pulled into the car park and we got a message from Brendan (the person who had invited us) telling us to come over and join them. There was only a handful of people there, Californian winter is very mild for us brits, but clearly cold enough to put off a lot of the local VW club. It was lucky we turned up in the end as they had forgot to bring the kettle to make hot chocolate, so we were able too lone our one. We spent a few hours chatting with various people, and cooking up some food in the car park. The founder of the club called Walker, said we could come and use his garage if we needed to, which was kind of him.

Before too long people headed their separate ways, and we were left debating whether to stay in the car park or not. Deciding it was still fairly early and we could do better, we headed for a spot I picked out on google maps, a 15 minute drive up into the hills.

The confusing part, was that as turned onto the small road there was a sign saying that the bridge was closed to everyone except residents. A while later we came to said bridge. It was just a normal little bridge, no barriers or anything else, except for a sign saying you couldn’t go over it… well people clearly did so we decided to drive down and have a look anyway.

We reached the car park at the end, which did say it was closed after sunset but looked pretty abandoned. There was a fee box with no way of paying the fee, and we reckoned we’d be left alone up here. It was also clearly a public park, so I’ve no idea about the whole private bridge thing. There was a good view out over the city, after you scramble of a small ridge.

The wind was picking up again so we decided to play it safe and sleep downstairs with the roof down, much to Aimee’s confusion.

Sure enough, there was hardly any traffic and we were left alone. In the morning Aimee got to run around the car park which is always good. The older she gets the more time she wants to spend outside off her lead and if you don’t let here she just resorts to orbiting the van, while biting everything.

It was a good idea for her to get it out of her system as we wanted to walk up to the Hollywood sign today, and reckoned it’d probably not be a walk she’d enjoying. As she’s still a baby she’s still getting used to people and dogs. Busy walks don’t go down well.

It was about a 40 minute drive over to the start of the trail, and it wasn’t all that clear where to park. You can’t park anywhere near the actual sign, and need to walk up to it, but there’s lots of different routes to take. We found a free car park with a trail map that said it was around a 4 mile hike up to the sign. It felt like ages since we had gone on a good walk, and it was a great day for one too.

Grabbing our water bottles and cameras, we set off. The first part was a steady uphill climb to the Griffin Observatory, which had a nice viewpoint out over LA.

We then continued higher and started to make our way across the network of paths that run across the hillside, the sign coming into view for the first time. Got me some funky new leggings too!

A view over to where we were heading.

Suddenly a formation of fighter planes flew over us!

Slowly climbing higher up, the views got better and better, if a little hazy.

We stopped at another point called Dante’s View, which was almost a mini botanical garden in the middle of nowhere, which again had some great views.

The path then circles around the hill, giving a different view.

We kept going, with a vague direction in mind. The routes are signposted, but not always with obvious names of where you want to go. I could only get signal on one side of the hill, which didn’t helps matter. Still we rambled on, going on a route which turned into a much smaller footpath, as supposed to a road.

This took us until we were level with the sign itself, but couldn’t really see it. we began walking down to the viewpoint at the bottom, before changing our minds and walking back up the road to the top. I hoped we would be able to get a view from behind the sign, but it’s not really clear. In the end, I’m glad we changed our minds as the views were well worth the climb.

We then went down to the lower viewpoint, to see it from the front.

Realising that we would lose the light soon, we starting to make our way back to the van. This takes longer than you think as you have to go in and out of all the valleys in the hills, as the crow flies it’s no distance, but it takes a while to get round. On the way back we spotted a couple of coyotes.

Some deer…

And sone kind of bird of prey.

The sun was starting to set, as we descended back towards the observatory.

We made it back to the observatory, where I just caught the last of the sunset over the hazy red city.

This meant the last section of the path we were starting to lose the light, but it was only a mile back to Ruby and really we timed it just right.

We popped over to a local shop to pick up the new part for the horn, before starting to drive south through LA. We decided we would stay in Walmart, as it was nice and close to Stefan’s shop where we would be working on the van in the morning. We arrived and set up camp. I’ve never had a problem staying in Walmart, while some are noisy or not in the best locations for camping (like by a dual carriageway) we have always found them to be a safe bet for an easy night.

This was not to be the case. It was 2am when security knocked on our window and told us to leave. Needless to say this did not put me in the best of moods. Having not had a decent night’s sleep for a while, I was pretty pissed to be woken in the middle of the night. Why they couldn’t have come over and told us to leave at a more reasonable time, I have no idea.

This led to us faffing about trying to find a new place. We tried one of Overlander, but didn’t like the look of it. we looked at street parking but it had restrictions for street cleaning. We then went to another Walmart which had no overnight parking signs. Then we went to another Walmart which looked ok. Security was circling around the carpark but there were clearly other people stopping. Hoping to be left alone, we got back into bed. A few minutes later the security van pulled up next to us, shining there lights through the canvas. We lay there waiting to be told to get out, but then they drove off and we could finally relax. To all those people who told us that camping in the west was so much easier, it’s really not!

All of this meant we arrived at Stefan’s shop for his business, ACE Performance Engines, a bit later than we planned.

After getting to know each other for a bit, meeting his girlfriend Laura and dog Benny we set up about sorting out Ruby. Me and Stefan went to pick up a new bolt, while Lee started one of the many other jobs we had to do.

Several hours later, we had really got a lot done. I have a running list on my phone of jobs to do and we had pretty much ticked them all off :

  1. Reattach rear shock absorber
  1. Weld rear bump stop that was completely bent and nearly rubbing the tyre
  1. Check wheel bearings
  2. Sort headlight/indicator earth problem
  3. Fix horn
  4. Glue door seal
  5. Tighten clutch cable
  6. Fit new roof rack lights

 As always the last thing on my list that never gets done is to adjust the windscreen wipers to stop them juddering. As it’s low priority it’s the one thing I never seem to do! Pretty happy with our progress, we decided to meet up with Stefan and Laura later and quickly drive down to the beach to catch the sunset. We just about made it.

We then drove down to Hermosa Pier and took Aimee down it for a walk. She didn’t end up doing any walking though, as she was bundled up in my jacket, terrified of the noise of the waves. We looked around some of the local streets while we waited to meet up and go for some food and a drink at somewhere Laura suggested called Phantom Carriage.

Ruby didn’t seem to be grateful for our day spent working on her, as during the drive over to the brewery the lights, radio and gauges all stopped working. We pulled over and I assumed a fuse had blown, but they were all fine. Deciding to just get there, Lee drove the next 20 minutes holding the headlights on main beam as they still worked that way. We arrived at the car park, and promptly ran out of fuel. A beer was definitely in order, and I tried a strange beer that looked like a regular beer, but tasted like a stout. It was really good though, as was the food that we ordered, if a little pricey.

We were going to sleep on the street outside their apartment tonight as it was supposed to be fairly quiet and there were no parking restrictions that night. After putting some fuel in the van, we had a better look at the switch. A bit of testing confirmed that the ignition switch had burnt out and that we had lost one of the three main feeds to the fuse board. Bridging it out with a piece of wire as a temporary fix, we drove back to their home.

It was indeed a very quiet road and we had an undisturbed night. It was a little bit weird being parked up outside the school and having a swarm of kids and parents all around us in the early morning. Laura was staying at home that morning and had said we could use their shower and do our washing which was great. She even made us breakfast!

While we waited for the washing, we popped down to West Coast Metric for a new ignition switch.

Inside we met Shin, who was part of Hot VW’s Magazine, he was pretty excited to learn about our trip and we said we’d see him again at Buses by the Bridge. Having collected our part, we went outside where Shin still was, and met Eddie who asked us if we wanted to do a short interview for Facebook. Totally unprepared, but happy to boost our social media we did a short video about our trip. A random morning, but it had been very productive!

We had some lunch, grabbed our clothes, and headed back over to the workshop to fit the new switch. It also transpired that the bike rack, which has been a bit of an issue ever since the telegraph pole incident, was not really attached to the van anymore. Finally being somewhere that had the tools to modify the bracket, we sorted this out too.

Still with the afternoon left, we wanted to actually go and see some more of LA. Stefan recommended going on a bike ride down the seafront which sounded like it would be nice.

It’s an easy level path, with some lovely views of the sand as sea. You also get to be nosy and look in everyones beach front houses on the way as they are right on the path. There is a huge range of design, from cutesy little cottages to big modern glass fronted building and Spanish villa styles homes. We rode about 8 miles, before turning back. We stopped again at Hermosa pier, and grabbed a happy hour drink in the pub while we waited for the sunset.

It was definitely worth it.

We walked back down the pier again, enjoying the colours out over the water and views back towards the shore.

Once we had got back to the van, we popped to the shop before heading around to Stefan and Laura’s apartment again. Stefan was still working, so while we waited we made ourselves some food and enjoyed have a bit more space to eat it. It was safe to say we had an enjoyable evening chatting as one double bottle of wine later and after midnight we decided to call it a night. We had also introduced Aimee and Benny to each other, which was definitely entertaining!

Stefan was already at work by the time we were ready to leave, so we headed round there one final time to say goodbye. We loved spending time with them, so much so that we decided to stay an extra day and forget about San Diego. We had to get going now as we only had a day to get to Buses by the Bridge, and we wanted to stop off at Salton Sea on the way there. I hope we get the chance to go back to LA and meet up again, hopefully this time they will have their VW and we can go for a road trip!

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