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From brushing shoulders with A-list celebs to seeing the effects of progressive change and even considering what a tiny speck we are in the universe – Los Angeles isn’t just an entertainment capital – it’s the centre of everything. 

While LAX has improved significantly over the past year, there’s no denying it’s a full-on airport to first disembark at and go through security in the States. I recommend picking one of California’s many airports that Hawaiian Airlines (hawaiianairlines.co.nz) flies into, and with so many people raving about the city’s beauty – I pick San Diego.

Landing in San Diego gives you a great chance to recharge the batteries before throwing yourself into the pace of LA! From relaxing on the beautiful beaches in the year-round sunny weather to taking a Mexican food tour over the border into Tijuana, it’s a great way to start unwinding from work.

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Paradise Point

For me, the obvious place to stay is Paradise Point Resort (paradisepoint.com), in the heart of San Diego’s Mission Bay. This unique resort covers its own island, with convenient bridges on both sides connecting it to the mainland. The ‘island paradise’ vibe this gives is intoxicating. Outside my villa, families are toasting marshmallows over fire pits. Beaches line the island with all manner of water sports on offer – but I’m happy to recline by the adults-only pool (one of five), eat at their fantastic restaurant Tidal, and slink off to the city’s gaybourhood, Hillcrest, in the evenings. The resort is located very close to the city’s controversial Sea World theme park – which still offers live orca and dolphin shows – and is a convenient Uber ride from Balboa Park, which houses San Diego’s legendary Zoo (often voted the world’s best) and most of their art and history museums.

Paradise Point

If you’re picking the best time to visit this year, it is worth considering that their Pride Parade (which attracts over 300,000 people) takes place on Saturday 20 July, while the renowned San Diego Comic-Con kicks off the following weekend on 27 July. Hawaiian Airlines’ generous 30kg baggage allowance will help with fitting in your costumes for both those events!

San Diego’s Hillcrest district.

Relaxed and rested, I’m ready to experience the big smoke, and there is no nicer way to get up to LA than to take the fabled Pacific Surfliner train (pacificsurfliner.com). The Pacific Surfliner’s route wraps around the coast, so the view for this three-hour journey is a collection of postcard pictures of the sunset over various Californian beaches. If you have more time to explore the SoCal coast, the Pacific Surfliner stops in San Luis Obispo (known for its wineries), hippy haven Santa Barbara and home to Disneyland, Anaheim, so your possibilities are endless!

Moxy Hotel Downtown LA

I jump out at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and immediately start absorbing the city’s history. On previous visits to LA, I have stayed in West Hollywood, which feels like a break from the sprawling metropolis with its village vibe, but as I stroll up historical Olvera Street with its colourful Mexican marketplace, I feel I am ready to be in the heart of the action.

Inside the rooms at the Moxy Downtown LA.

With that in mind, there is no better place to stay than the Moxy Downtown LA (@moxy_ac_losangeles). Moxy is a hotel chain I first experienced in Manhattan during WorldPride in 2019 and one I always wanted to stay in again. One of Moxy’s signatures are the floor-to-ceiling windows, which gave me an incredible view of the Los Angeles Convention Centre (where RuPaul hosts DragCon), the Crypto Arena (formerly the Staples Centre) and the LA Live venues that house some of the biggest sports games, concerts and movie premieres! Moxy rooms are designed like a super yacht’s bedroom, with no space wasted. I could lie on that enormous comfy bed all day and admire the view, but the city is screaming at me to get out and enjoy, and from the Moxy, you don’t have to go far.

Rooftop bar the Golden Hour at Level 8

Just next door is Level 8 (level8dtla.com), a building of venues ambitiously created by Los Angeles hospitality legends The Houston Brothers – fraternal twins who, since 2008, have created 13 other wildly successful food and beverage venues throughout LA. But Level 8 is their crowning glory, stacked with eight different venues, each catering to different aspects of the perfect night out. There’s the ornate rooftop pool bar, The Golden Hour – a gorgeous spot for cocktails, cabanas and, if the night gets naughty, a dip in the pool. Mr Wanderlust has a jazz lounge-meets-gentlemen’s club vibe, with live music and burlesque dancers to entertain. At hotpot restaurant Lucky Mizu, the exquisite decor sits beneath a 40-foot ‘Earth Harp’ that plays in conjunction with DJs on selected nights. Maison Kasai and Que Barbaro serve unparalleled Japanese and Brazilian fare, respectively. The Brown Sheep is a taco truck serving til the wee small hours. Mother Pearl is an indulgent outdoor champagne and raw bar, and Saints & Sinners is a wild nightclub with a Catholic church-like interior and a lucha libre wrestling ring above the bar. At least one big night out attending some of these venues is a must when you are in LA. I have never seen anything like them outside of Vegas or Dubai, and to have them so conveniently close together ensures you have more time having fun and less commuting. Unsurprisingly, bookings for all Level 8 venues are essential!

One of Level 8’s many fantastic bars, Mr Wanderlust.

Staying at Moxy Downtown LA is a breeze. I’m a quick Uber ride from the theatre district, where the Ahmanson (centertheatergroup.com) has all the latest musicals and Broadway hits, and walking distance from The Bloc (theblocla.com), a vibrant open-air urban centre that’s great for a spot of lunch and retail therapy. On my way back from The Bloc, I pass Green Qween (thegreenqween.com), the renowned queer-owned weed dispensary run by LA queer nightlife stalwart Andres Rigal. The store feels like a sleek slice of interior design’s future (it’s won awards) and even has a prominent disco ball-lit corner dedicated solely to queer-owned weed companies!

Green Qween co-founders Taylor Bazley (left) and Andres Rigal (right).

The experience casts my mind back to interviewing Chloe Swarbrick before NZ’s marijuana referendum and makes me wonder what could have been. The best way to find out is to do a tour of West Hollywood’s (WeHo) Emerald Village (emeraldvillageweho.com), LA’s ‘capital of cannabis culture,’ sitting in the heart of the gay village.

Spaced out at the Emerald Village.

Due to different council by-laws, Green Qween in Downtown can only sell cannabis products – none can be consumed on the property. WeHo being a different district means different rules, and here some dispensaries have lounges where weed can be consumed. On my tour, we visit five dispensaries and pass another four! Each offers a different vibe and shopping experience, and one stands out above the rest. The Woods (thewoodsweho.com), which is owned by Woody Harrelson (among others), has its own ‘ganja giggle garden’. You enter through the store, which looks like an upmarket Scandinavian garden centre, and enter the garden at the back, which features large ponds of coy carp and a jungle of leafy green plants. There’s even an outdoor bar that serves cannabis-infused cocktails.

The terrifying Stranger Things-themed Haunted House at Universal Studios Hollywood.

So, what do you do when you’re high in Los Angeles on holiday? Well, I have two fun suggestions! The first is Universal Studios Hollywood (universalstudioshollywood.com), where you can be wowed by the shiny new Super Nintendo World and get absolutely drenched on the Jurassic World ride (and need to wear the pyjama pants you brought in the gift store for the rest of your visit)! Having previously visited Universal in December, I didn’t think anything would top their Grinchmas and Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but their Halloween Horror Nights, which they run right through September and October, have to be seen to be believed. The Studios are elevated with terrifying Haunted Houses themed around TV shows like Chucky, Stranger Things and The Last of Us.

The Griffith Observatory

If you are looking for a more sophisticated exploration, head to the Griffith Observatory (griffithobservatory.org), tucked high in the hills with incredible views across the city and over to the Hollywood sign. Known as Southern California’s ‘gateway to the cosmos’, visitors can look through telescopes, explore space exhibitions and see live shows in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. It may have been the edibles, but one element of the Griffith stuck with me the most. In the bowels of the building, a bronze statue of Albert Einstein sits on a bench, holding his finger up to the stars. Printed on the enormous wall next to him is what the Griffith calls ‘The Big Picture’ which is the largest astrological image in the world. It shows the millions of galaxies that Einstein’s finger alone was covering… and that’s just a tiny fraction of the night sky. “It’s not a great place to come if you’re having an existential crisis,” my guide assures me laughing, but probably an ideal place for Hollywood ‘stars’ to visit when their ego needs to be put in check.

Albert Einstien’s statue at The Griffith Observatory.

The hope of seeing a ‘star’ is one of the reasons millions of visitors descend on Los Angeles each year, and at The Grammy Museum (grammymuseum.org), I am lucky enough to spot one! The Grammy Museum is a must-visit for any pop music geek. Some exhibitions include iconic performances and outfits captured at the awards, and others teach you details about your favourite stars and songs that you never knew! But the jewel in the museum’s crown is its theatre – a 200-seat intimate venue where some of the world’s biggest musicians will hold talks about their new work. The night before I visit, Kesha is there; the night after, Olivia Rodrigo; but tonight, I am lucky enough to see legendary gay icon, Kylie Minogue!

The Grammy Museum

I am attending just for the excitement of being in such an intimate space with Kylie. I wonder if I might even get to ask her a question, but when I collect my ticket, I am issued a surprise gold wristband that secures my entrance into the after-party! Kylie talks for an hour with one of the editors of billboard.com about her career and hits, not to mention the misses. It’s pop geek heaven, and as I look around, I can’t see anyone with a gold wristband on. ‘How exclusive will this after-party be?’ I wonder. ‘Surely she won’t be there?!’

The after-party takes place on another floor of the museum. A small bar has been set up serving Kylie’s own brand of rosē and prosecco. I’m there on my own, so I force myself to mingle and quickly meet the music editor of the Los Angeles Times and two guys who tell me they ‘run E-News’! It’s an hour and a half before Ms Minogue appears, and, tipsy, I have summoned up the courage to approach the most fun-looking bears in the room, and they haven’t left me disappointed.

Kylie and the bears at The Grammy Museum.

We are the last group in the room to meet Kylie, who is humble and charming. She seems relieved when she hears that I’m from New Zealand. I get the sense she doesn’t feel she has to try as hard. I wish I had worn a more expensive jacket befitting a gay icon, but I’m here with Kylie – that’s what counts – not how sweaty my face looks in the pictures we take with her.

Eagle LA

Like a rainbow, Kylie disappears as quickly as she arrived – taking our hearts with her. The bears and I are giddy and decide to head to their local, Eagle LA (eagle.com), to celebrate.

It’s about 3am when I get back to my hotel, wondering if I will ever top this amazing, quintessentially LA night out.

For more information on flying to California with Hawaiian Airlines visit hawaiianairlines.co.nz

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