hollywood, california, travel, budget
Humor, Motherhood, Travel

California. On a Kari and Anna Budget


A few years ago, Anna and I talked about going on a girls’ trip after she graduated high school. A Gilmore Girls-ish style getaway before Anna went away to college.

I don’t remember exactly when we started talking about it, but over the past two years; it became less talk and more action. Because when your teenager requests to vacation ALONE with you, you take it seriously. We also had free airfare thanks to my husband’s airline miles through work travel, which made our decision even easier.

We settled on California for a couple of reasons: the weather, there seem to be lots of fun things to do, and we love the celebrity, television, movie stuff. Anna had been to California with her dad when she was 12 for a wedding but she didn’t get to do much of the touristy, celebrity, Hollywood thing. Just the cousin, family, wedding thing.

To be clear, I won’t do the touristy Hollywood thing the next time I go, but you really should experience it at least once in your life if that is something that interests you. 

But we were on a serious budget AND we only had four days and three nights to spend in California, so we crammed as much as we could into it. California is expensive, especially the whole touristy, celebrity, Hollywood things we were looking to accomplish, but there are ways to see it for a lot less and if we know how to do anything, it’s doing anything on the cheap.


hollywood, california, travel, budget


Getting there

First, if you live anywhere east of Colorado, you’re going to you need to fly in order to see California. If you have a fear of airplanes or flying, then driving is indeed your only option, which may actually be cheaper than airfare. But driving from the Chicago area wasn’t workable, as we only had a limited amount of time to travel. Personally, I really want to do the Route 66 drive someday, driving from Chicago to Los Angeles, but for this trip, that wasn’t a possibility.

Having free airfare was really exciting for us because it was one less thing to save up for because flying is expensive. Another exciting thing was that we had a flight attendant on our flight (to AND from LAX) who looked exactly EXACTLY like Matthew Broderick (aka Ferris Bueller). So much, that in fact, I couldn’t concentrate during either flight on anything but him. I get why people become stalkers because I had the stalks on this guy the entire time I was up in the air. Then I felt the need to share with all of you what he looked like as proof by trying to get a picture of him. But trying to get a picture of your flight attendant without looking like you are trying to get a picture of your flight attendant is a lot harder than it looks. I got to talk to him briefly about how much he looks like Ferris Bueller ahem I mean Matthew Broderick, then he laughed and said he gets that all the time.

I bet you do, sweet cheeks.

I bet you do.

What were we saying?

Oh yes, so we tried to get a picture of him but got this one instead:

california, girls trip, airline, airplane, hollywood



Once we got to LAX, we had to stop at the baggage claim to pick up our free checked bag. We always bring a carry on when we travel because it is a lot cheaper than checking a bag. Also, I have anxiety about losing the bag, especially on the way to the destination because then we won’t have underwear, toothpaste, etc., etc.

But sometimes the gate attendant will offer to check your bag for free and then I forget all about losing my bag because I like a deal more than I like to have my underpants on night one of vacation.

So after scooping up our free checked bag (never gets old), we headed to the Uber/Lyft spot at LAX to get a ride.


california, lax. LA, hollywood, airport


Getting around 

I don’t mean to be bossy but for the love of God, don’t rent a car in California if you are planning on only seeing Hollywood. For what it would have cost me in gasoline and sanity alone, I could ride in comfort and relaxation in the back of a complete stranger’s car. There is no way you want to drive in LA traffic. I knew it would be bad, but I did not know exactly how bad it would be. I wanted to French Kiss the drivers in Chicago when I got home.

Uber it was. Until it was Lyft.

A long story you won’t be remotely interested in.

To start, we had the best Uber and Lyft drivers, although as I age I realize that if you are nice, then you get friendly people, mostly. It’s called mutual respect and I am learning that there are a lot of shitty humans out there.

I don’t care how busy you are if you have an Uber or Lyft driver who starts a conversation, engage. It’s really not that hard. I enjoy talking to people but even if you don’t, look at it as a way to get to know the area. I picked our driver’s brains about where to eat, where to go, what to do, even how in the hell they can afford to live there. Some of the most memorable times we had on the trip were while in an Uber or Lyft.

The first driver on the way to our hotel was friends with an actor in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I would never have learned that if I sat quietly in the back seat, so there is something to be said for being a chatterbox.

I also learned the following from all 15 of our collective drivers over a four-day period:

Montreal is beautiful this time of year; El Pollo Loco has fantastic deals and superb chicken; June Gloom is when it is cloudy every morning in June but the sun comes out every day around 10; Cameron Diaz took an Uber to LAX but sat on her phone the entire time; they think it’s cold when it is 60 degrees in February; Lisa Vanderpump is taller than you would think but most celebrities are really short: the cops in LA turn on their sirens just to get through traffic; Randy’s donuts by the airport has the best donuts; Roscoe’s chicken and waffles are the only real LA restaurant around, otherwise there isn’t any food that is “California” other than tofu; most people aren’t from LA, they are from everywhere else, which explains the food situation. 


california, hollywood, travel, budget
Traffic in LA is a “thing”. This was at 11 in the morning.


See? If you stuck to your expensive rental car, you would be stressed out in traffic and you wouldn’t have learned all the above!


california, hollywood, travel, budget, girls trip
What kind of tree is this?? Beautiful.


We’re Here! 

First thoughts of Los Angeles? It’s a little dirtier than I thought it would be. With all of that fresh air and sunshine, I never dreamed it would look this way. It’s gorgeous in some areas and in others, not so much. But the weather more than makes up for that. No humidity, the brightest sunshine I’ve ever experienced, and lots of great landscapes I had also never experienced. Purple flower trees, the hottest pink flowers on bushes, and just green. What amazes me is that all of this exists with little rain. I can see why people like living here.


california, la. hollywood. budget. travel


The above is what I like to call my “panic attack lunch”. Once we got to our hotel in Hollywood and checked in, we decided to Uber to The Grove in LA. If you aren’t familiar with The Grove, it’s an outdoor mall with lots of restaurants and shops that adjoins the Original Farmers Market.

It also is the home to the television show EXTRA hosted by Mario Lopez, which was the real motivating factor for stopping there.

We got to The Grove a little after lunchtime and realized we hadn’t really eaten yet. So we went to the first place we saw that looked inviting: Marmalade Cafe.

There was no rhyme or reason in us going here and apparently, it is a local restaurant, but the food was just okay. Or maybe it was the fact that I had a minor panic attack while sitting at the bar waiting for our food to arrive. I can’t explain when or why I get them, but this one had to do with the fact that the reality set in that I had just flown cross-country and was far away from Mike and Ella.

I had to calm myself internally all the while eating a very expensive, very rubbery calamari/ artichoke dip/quesadilla appetizer platter that Anna and I split. The food was icky; I was getting a travel headache; the bathroom had a giant poop in the toilet, and my phone was at 30% and rapidly draining. I needed a little comfort and was not finding it on our subpar appetizer platter. I mean, who the hell serves calamari without marinara sauce?


I collected myself with a Starbucks coffee to help with the headache, and some California sunshine to help the soul. It was while I came down off of the panic attack that I turned around and saw this:


california, la, hollywood, travel


The Writers Guild of America. Where I registered my screenplay. Whoa.

It’s okay. The signs are there. Everything will be good.

Plus, I have my girl with me.

We are in California; we are healthy; we are together; we are here.

Back to reality, another money-saving tip is to split meals. Anna and I split nearly every single meal we ate in California, except for our last night (read on for that). It saved us so much money and we never finished the food anyway because we weren’t that hungry with all the walking, being outside, and just the excitement of being in LA.


california, la, hollywood, travel


But we didn’t split this meal:


in and out, burger, california, hollywood


Uh-uh. No way.

We ended up at the In and Out Burger on Sunset Blvd. across the street from Hollywood High School, which was pretty cool, but there was nowhere to sit inside or outside. Apparently, everyone else in Hollywood loves In and Out Burger as well. So we Ubered back to the hotel with our bags of burgers and fries and ate them in the hotel room. They were cold by the time we got there, but they were still yummy.


california, in and out, hollywood
You’ll only get why I took a picture of the spread if you read my screenplay. Head here if you do not know what I am talking about.


Speaking of my screenplay, being in LA helped me to realize I might need to tweak parts of it, which is what a good screenwriter does, right? Researching for the craft! Look at me being all Hollywood writerly! Maybe I can write the trip off as “research”. Looking into that…..


california, hollywood, walk of fame, LA


There were signs everywhere.

Not actual SIGN signs, but spiritual signs.

Our flight attendant, the Writers Guild building just popping up, stars on the walk of fame.


california, LA, hollywood, walk of fame


Hollywood Walk of Fame 

The Walk of Fame is smelly, dirty, and kind of gritty, I even wrote that exact review on Trip Advisor. But this is the thing, IT IS THE HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME. Go for the whole touristy thing, soak it up, ignore the scammers dressed up as Superman, don’t take CDs from the “performers”. Be safe but also have fun because you are walking in the steps of your favorite celebrities. Will we do it again? No. Am I glad we did it? You bet.

Also, you don’t need to do a “tour” to see the Walk of Fame. It is pretty self-explanatory but know that it winds around for blocks and in some areas, the sidewalk is not highly visible and on some side streets, so be aware of your surroundings because nothing makes you look like a tourist in Hollywood like walking around looking at the ground and taking pictures.


california, walk of fame, hollywood, travel
Top to bottom left to right- Hollywood Walk of Fame; Scientology Building; Grauman’s Chinese Theater; My “star”; scamming superheroes on Hollywood Blvd.; there will be lots of tourists.


Anna and I could walk to the Walk of Fame from our hotel our first morning there, but that was really the only thing we could walk to. We were just down the street from the Hollywood Bowl as well, but there is nothing to see from street level. Our neighborhood was a little gritty in spots, but nothing was really walkable. If you go to the Walk of Fame, go early in the morning before the crowds get there.

If you want a more walkable experience, plan to stay on Sunset Blvd. or the strip as they call it. Much more to walk to than where we were staying, which made us regret our choice a little. Also, downtown Los Angeles is far from any of this, so if you are thinking the downtown is a good place to stay if you are looking to do the touristy things, it isn’t unless you have an unlimited Lyft or Uber budget.


california, la, hollywood, travel
Left to right- Anna and I on the Starline tour bus; the apartment in the last scene of Pretty Woman; church used in Sister Act and Gilmore Girls; Katy Perry’s “assistant”; the Viper Room.


Starline Tours

The biggest investment in our trip (besides the hotel), was doing a celebrity homes tour. Yes, it’s cheesy, yes it’s a touristy thing to do, yes it’s an invasion of privacy but if you are in Hollywood, try to take one of these tours. It’s fun, it’s more than just celeb homes, and it’s kind of rite of passage, like popping your Hollywood cherry.

Definitely book your tour before you even leave for Hollywood. I booked it three days before we left Illinois and saved $50. I feel like when you get in vacation mode; you end up spending way more than you would at home. I also did research before booking so rely on reviews etc.. to help you make your decision. One thing I have learned over the years is that there are whiny-ass people in the world and those people LOVE to leave reviews.

I chose Starline Tours because it has been around forever. I initially wanted to do the TMZ Tour because I wrote them into my screenplay, but it was way more expensive. Essentially, these buses go to the same places (celebrity “homes”, movie sites, etc) but I wanted one that visited Beverly Hills and the Hollywood Sign. If I had to choose again, I would probably still do Starline, but there were a few disappointments like, we got little viewing of the Hollywood Sign.

I guess I thought we would get closer than this:


hollywood, hollywood sign, la, california, travel starline


As you can tell from the clarity, that picture is zoomed in. We stopped on the side of Mulholland Drive to get this picture. To give you an idea, we were in a little tour bus on a very curvy mountainside road FAR FAR away from the actual sign. I am sure this is probably the closest we could get without being a billionaire or a mountain goat, but it was a little disappointing and made me wonder how in the hell all those kids from Beverly Hills 90210 got up there after graduation.

Yes, I realize they made it for television.


california, hollywood, travel


But we got to see Drew Carey’s trash cans!

Our tour guide really loved his job, and it translated into being an amazing tour guide. He told us stories to fill gaps of time at stoplights, let us know how he loved old Holywood glam (me too), and gave us backstories on certain parts of the towns we were going through.

It was when he didn’t look at his binder of required information that the tour became much more than the usual celebrity homes tour.


california, beverly hills, hollywood
Left to right; top to bottom- The Beverly Hills Hotel; Wilshire Blvd./Beverly Wilshire Hotel (where Pretty Woman was filmed); palm trees lining the streets of Beverly Hills (also known as the intro to Beverly Hillbillies); street signs in BH; Gwen Stefani’s house when it wasn’t JLO’s house.


But this is my takeaway from this portion of the tour- we are paying our celebrities and music artists WAY too much money.

Wayyyyyy too much money.

WAYYYYYY too much money.


beverly hills, california, la. hollywood. travel


I didn’t regret spending the money on this tour at all, but I would spend more time researching tours to see if there were more things I could see. Next time, I would find a tour that shows more of the movie and television locations rather than celebrity homes. Because honestly, I couldn’t care less where Justin Bieber lives, I just want to see where they filmed Chico and The Man.



california, santa monica pier, hollywood, travel
My feet at Santa Monica Pier.


Santa Monica Pier

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, don’t listen to people when they tell you not to go somewhere on vacation.

When we visited Salt Lake City for the first time a few years ago, someone suggested we not visit the Great Salt Lake and I didn’t listen to them. I had read about the Great Salt Lake since I was a child, both my girls learned about it in school, and it’s a national treasure, so why wouldn’t I stop there?

Not everything means something to everybody, which is why when people ask me what not to see when they visit areas, I don’t tell them. What I might like, you might hate, and vice versa.

Case in point- Santa Monica Pier.

A friend of ours told us it was dirty, touristy, and not worth our time.

How do they know what our time looks like?

BUT I almost listened and didn’t visit.

Then I decided we would rent bikes in Santa Monica and ride the beach up and down (didn’t happen, see, ITINERARY), and see it that way.

After a 45 minute Uber ride in traffic, we finally got to the pier and saw the sign in front of us and both of us got embarrassingly giddy.

We walked along the pier, and it was indeed dirty and touristy, but we loved it.


My Three’s Company-loving self-was in heaven.




Of course, Anna had no clue of Three’s Company, but she fell in love with the dirty touristy pier all the same.

I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before and honestly; I didn’t know that I ever would get here.

This part of the trip was emotional for me.

I was taking pictures of the pier, of the ocean, and I just got completely wrapped up in the moment.


santa monica pier, california, la, hollywood, travel
Left to right. Top to bottom- Anna and I in Santa Monica; Santa Monica Pier sign; the Pacific Ocean; Zoltar!; the end of Route 66.


I started crying.

Anna looked at me and put her arms around me and I told her I was crying because I couldn’t believe I was there, that I was crying for all the people in my life who would never get there for different reasons.

I dried my tears, and we walked all around the pier, arm in arm, soaking it in, looking for souvenirs, and inhaling that ocean air.

This was one of my favorite moments of the trip, and I never would have had it if I had listened to someone else.


I lost those amazing four dollar Forever 21 earrings on our last night. Worth it.


Livin’ It Up in The City 

On our last night, we planned to go to a cool restaurant called Pump, owned by one of our favorite Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Lisa Vanderpump.

We got dressed up, Anna did my makeup and I ended up looking possibly the best I have ever looked in my life (see photo above).

I wish she could make me look like this every day of my life, but then no one would recognize me so……


beverly hills. california, boys town, santa monica boulevard, travel
Left to right, top to bottom- the interior of Pump; exterior of Pump; the Pumptini; Anna and I after dinner; the bar we got into.


We had an amazing dinner, ordered the least expensive options on the menu (grilled chicken caesar salads for both of us), had a pumptini (or three) that I let take a few Anna sips (don’t judge), and sat in the open-air restaurant, talked and held hands.

It was such a glorious end to an amazing girls’ trip.

We didn’t get to see Lisa Vanderpump, but it didn’t matter. We had such a beautiful dinner together alone. It was magical.

The vibe of the neighborhood this restaurant was in was infectious; we didn’t want to leave and in fact, stayed at the restaurant for over two hours and never felt rushed.

We spilled out of the restaurant and hit the streets of Santa Monica Boulevard at 10 on a Thursday night (Friday eve, as we know it in our neck of the woods) and lived a little on our last night in Los Angeles.

This particular neighborhood is known as Boys Town, a predominately LGBTQ neighborhood, and to describe the aura (California is rubbing off on me) is hard to put into words, but the best word I can think of is acceptance.

And so much love.

Walking down the street, I had two different gay men tell me I looked GORGEOUS, HONEY. Honestly, that was the best compliment I have probably ever received.

For this mom of two, who has bags under her eyes, cellulite on my thighs, and anxiety-like none other, I left LA feeling better about myself.

Over the course of two hours on our last night, we got into a gay bar, danced with amazing human beings that never questioned our being there, met three guys whom I am now friends with on Instagram, and left hugging like we’ve been friends forever.

This was my most favorite trip I have ever taken.


california, girls trip, budget, travel

That up there is the reason we went to California. I would go to the ends of the Earth for my girls, or at least, the other side of the United States.

It was magical. The whole thing. Even on the plane when she would just lay her head on my shoulder, or on Santa Monica Pier when instead of being embarrassed by her mom’s menopausal meltdown, she comforted me by putting her arm around me, sitting at Pump holding hands, and talking about the memories we had just made.

Oh sure, we could have made memories staying in Illinois doing versions of the above but there is something about heading out on an adventure with your child, going places neither had been before, doing things we had never done before, that takes a relationship to a new level.

Someday, when Anna is working full time, married, or maybe rocking her babies, she will think about this trip and smile. Maybe even tell her children about the time their grandma ran down Santa Monica Blvd. barefoot alongside her, laughing, hugging strangers, and being in the moment.

I hope she won’t ever forget it.

I know I won’t.

17 thoughts on “California. On a Kari and Anna Budget”

  1. I’m so glad you had that quality time with your daughter and the fact she asked you to do it is a testament to your good parenting. A lot of kids her age are giving the “I’m too old for that” line when, in fact, they aren’t. But you have brought back many good memories for me. I spent my summers in LA by court mandate once my pops moved out there for work and it was far different then. I learned to drive traffic there (which was still awful even then, I can’t imagine it now), I was able to walk the Walk of Fame before people started scamming as faux superheroes and the strip was where the hair bands were hustling just before grunge killed it all. LOL And girl, OWN the “touristy” thing. I don’t know when it became a dirty word but somewhere in there locals in any town but especially places like LA and NYC started muttering “tourist” loud and judgy enough to make people feel self conscious for trying to be a part of what the city is known for or part of it’s rich history. Pssht, sip on your craft beer and shut it.

    I would much rather walk in the footsteps of the great John Ritter, take pics of the Hollywood sign and all of the history behind it including when it was falling apart and almost got torn down and seeing Gwen’s house (my future best friend) than hanging out somewhere someone deems “trendy.” Le barf. We have LA on our radar because the hubby’s never been there but we’re likely driving and making a month long adventure out of seeing movie locations since that’s our thang. Of course, we’ll drive the strip and see where our teen bands got their starts and we’ll do the touristy thing proudly because I’m never seeing those people again and hope to make as many wonderful memories as you did!


    1. It was SO cool and now I think you are cool that you spent summers in LA, even if they were court mandated. 🙂
      You’re totally right about the touristy thing although when I mentioned it, I meant it as a safety precaution lol.
      But being a tourist in a new city is soo good, and meeting new people is even better.
      I am missing California now and cannot wait to someday get back, AND I WILL GET BACK!


  2. Kari, this is beautiful. I’m glad you two did it! You are like my friend when it comes to travel. She takes care of the research, itinerary, plans while I stress.

    No humidity. Oh, I want some of that.


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