This will be a different kind of post. It’s not about a trip to Britain, a place I haven’t been to since 2018. It’s about a trip to Los Angeles, a place I’d never been to until this past February and the British things I found there. To be clear, this trip took place in late February, before Covid-19 shut everything down. My wife was recently sent there on a business trip by her employer, and since I’d never been there and the plane ticket was not that expensive, I decided to tag along and explore LA while she was working.
So, what does this have to do with Britain? Well, it turns out, quite a bit. There’s a long storied history of Brits in Los Angeles, mostly because of the entertainment industry. But there’s also a large British expat and Anglophile population. This means that, despite LA being a most ‘American’ city, there are actually lots of British things to do while there.
So, of course, I did a few while I was there. Read on for how this Anglophile managed to find important bits of Britain in LA.
This is the biggest and most obvious one. It’s also the strangest. I’ve always found it a bit odd that a symbol of British shipping and transportation history ended up in Long Beach, California, a port it had never even sailed too. So, number one on my list of things to see while I was in LA was Queen Mary.
It wasn’t far from where we were staying and the drive into the port where it’s located provided plenty for this infrastructure geek to look at and get excited about. I parked right in front – it was early and the parking lot was pretty empty.
I stood in line and waited for tickets, while the line was not long, it still took a few minutes to get to the front of the queue. There were quite a few people arriving for the hotel and quite a few more people next door boarding a Carnival Cruise ship.
I booked into the standard ‘Golden Age Tour’ but still had about 45 minutes to kill before the tour started. So, I followed the signs up the elevator to the deck where most of the visitor stuff is. There was plenty to see and wander around while I waited. You have free reign of all the open places on the ship. And that’s really my first things to point out: this ship is massive.
You don’t really get the scale of it until you see and experience it in person. Queen Mary was a floating city at sea. I wandered the promenade deck and saw what I could, went on the top decks and looked around. Plenty to see. But I had no context for anything, that would come later on the tour.
Eventually, I saw everything I was going to see on my own and then had to wait for the tour to start. The tour was pretty well attended, I would say about 30 people, several who had family who traveled on the ship at one point. The tour guide was entertaining and very informative. He gave us a rundown of the ship’s history, answered questions easily and then took us around to show us the nice things that he could still show us. So much of the ship is off-limits, but they preserved the highlights for visitors.
We got to see a few behind the scenes things – like the famous ballroom. It’s fun to imagine the golden days of the ship, before air travel, when ships like this were the centre of the world. Sadly, Queen Mary’s finest days are behind her. It’s over 80 years old now and it’s showing its age. While the ship had the most wonderful smell – similar to what you’d get in a National Trust property – I believe the ship’s days are numbered. It will never sail under its own power again. A recent report racked up a massive list of desperately needed repairs and while the people taking care of the ship are doing their best, they will lose the battle eventually. The constant financial problems of the various organizations who have run the ship do not help.
So, if you want to visit Queen Mary, I would do it sooner rather than later, one thing I’ve learned in my years of travel is that while these places may seem permanent, they never are.
The facilities in place – like the gangways that connect the separate ‘tourist’ parts of the ship, are in terrible shape. But I did manage to get to the back of the ship and see the Churchill Finest Hours exhibition – which had the sets from the film The Darkest Hour – and that was neat. Overall the exhibition on Britain during World War II was pretty good. I also saw the engine room, but I think next time I’d do the specific engine room tour as I had no idea what I was looking at.
Before I knew it, I’d spent almost the whole day here. But I had to cut it short. I suffer from hypertension and in my excitement to get to the ship, I’d forgotten to take my daily medication, so by mid-day, I felt like garbage and had to take my leave. There was much I didn’t get to see yet, but I just have a reason to go back. Sooner, rather than later….
I’d planned to eat on the ship, but honestly once there, I realized this wasn’t a good idea. The restaurants, frankly, are very expensive. I’d wanted to go to the Churchill themed pub, but it turns out, it’s a proper fancy sit down restaurant which entrees that were very expensive. I opted to just hit a restaurant near Long Beach on my way back to the hotel.
I did partake in the gift shop and acquired a lovely Queen Mary mug, perfect for my daily cuppa. I wanted to do afternoon tea in the tea room, but as I said, I didn’t feel well enough, so could not.
Parking was $20, which struck me as expensive. You can validate, but you have to eat in the restaurants to get it. My admission ticket was $40. This was pretty good value, I think for what’s on offer. You get the option of 3 tours and can do them all if you’re so inclined. The tours were pretty well subscribed, the hotel was bustling. So it was good to see that there was life in the place and people were enjoying it. I’d very much like to stay in the hotel before it’s too late.
I can’t wait to go back. There are very few ships left from the golden age of transatlantic crossings, Queen Mary is a treasure. I hope that it’s able to have continued life for as long as she can.
Here’s a gallery of photos – click to view a larger version:
Henry Edwards Huntington was a railway tycoon and real estate magnate, hugely responsible for the growth of Los Angeles as a city. He used his enormous wealth to found a library and art institution. The result is The Huntington, which I didn’t even know about until I was out in LA and was looking for something to do. Luckily for us, Huntington was a big Anglophile. The library has a huge collection of British research artifacts.
But the real star is the European Art Gallery, which is very heavy in British works of art. And by heavy, I mean like most of the place features the works of JMW Turner, John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, amongst others. I was pleasantly surprised at how many great British masterpiece paintings were located here. I was a very pleased Anglophile. The museum also possesses several very famous British paintings – like the iconic picture of Samual Johnson, another of Emma Hamilton (Nelson’s Mistress), a beautiful Constable six-footer (as well as one of his Salisbury Cathedral paintings).
I spent quite a bit of time here. The Huntington is massive, with several different buildings with different collections. The European building was pretty empty, so I had a lot of the paintings to myself, which was a real treat. There really is nothing better than sitting in front of a John Constable ‘six-footer’ and enjoying every brush stroke of an idyllic English scene.
In the library itself, there’s also a manuscript exhibition that has many famous works of British literature, like an original Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare folio, amongst other things.
I spent most of the afternoon here and I still only saw half of what was there – there’s so much to see at the Huntington! I can’t wait to go back another time and see the rest (and revisit my new art friends in the European gallery).
It was $29 for weekend entry – it’s cheaper on weekdays. Parking was free. There were cafes onsite, but again, I opted to eat elsewhere, though I imagine a cup of tea here would be quite nice.
LA is apparently full of places where rich guys collected their art – in fact – LA has two Getty museums. But the one I wanted to go to was the ‘new’ Getty located on top of a mountain. This was at the top of my LA todo list, it came highly recommended by everyone we knew.
We were not disappointed. What an incredible place The Getty is!
Now, John Paul Getty himself was a bit of an Anglophile – in fact, he lived the latter part of his life in England (and never even visited his museum). That being said, the collection doesn’t have a ton of British art in it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty, but the collection is spread out amongst all European art.
However, what British Art it does have is incredible. Of particular highlight were the two Turners – one of a sea scene and another of Rome. There are a few Gainsboroughs and a few Romney’s as well. The art was great, but honestly I was more interested in the place itself. The Getty is an architectural marvel and simply a beautiful place to be whether you’re looking at art or not.
I particularly liked that you park in an underground garage and then take a tram to the top of the hill. It feels like a sci-fi movie., like visiting Starfleet Headquarters in Star Trek.
The best part of it all was that The Getty was completely free. The restaurant/cafe was pretty reasonably priced as well and the food was good – and you can’t beat the views of Los Angeles from the terrace.
Another place I can’t wait to go back to!
This is by far the most ‘British’ thing I did our entire time in LA. I’ve wanted to visit The King’s Head for years. Their shop actually happens to stock our British slang dictionary, so I’ve had contact with them over the years. The pub itself as been there for almost 40 years and it’s an institution with the British expats in the area.
Inside it feels like an actual British pub; just plopped down in Santa Monica, California. The best part is that the place was filled with British voices – amongst the staff and the patrons. It was like going to a pub in England. It was pure heaven for this.
The food was magnificant, and very authentic. I had a steak & Guinness pie, and it was phenomenal and tasted ‘proper.’ The best part was that they had proper chunky chips. Not a steak fry they’re attempting to pass off as a chunky chip, but actual chunky chips. They were divine. Mrs Anglotopia had the ploughman’s platter, and it was wonderful as well. We ended our meal with a proper cuppa.
Next to the pub is the King’s Head Shoppe. It was rather neat to walk in and see our books prominently displayed. Truly chuffed. The selection of British goods in the shop was amazing – from teas, biscuits, candies, to Emma Bridgewater pottery. So many great British products in one place! They. Even sell hot pies and sausage rolls – and fresh British style meats (like back bacon).
If you’re anywhere in Southern California, you must check this place out. It’s an Anglophile’s dream.
What did I think of LA?
Since people will ask the question anyway – I figured I would answer it here. I quite liked LA. It certainly beats Chicago in February if the weather is the only consideration. The sun shined every day, and it was warm. We visited the ocean a couple of times. We spent a lot of time in the car, though, which is apparently the norm here. Thankfully we only experienced terrible traffic once. It was pretty easy to get around via the Freeways and when traffic was smooth, you’re not particularly far from anything. This space geek loved the Griffith Observatory (and the views!).
The first part of the trip, we stayed in Anaheim – it’s where my wife’s conference was and where her employer put her up. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Anaheim, which was basically Disneytown, USA. I didn’t spend any real time in Anaheim other than to sleep. Towards the end of the trip, once the conference was over, we relocated to a hotel in Santa Monica, and that was truly lovely. We really liked the vibe of Santa Monica; and enjoyed driving up to Malibu. The Pacific Coast Highway was incredible, I’ve never see coastline so beautiful.
Two things about LA really surprised me. The smog is insane. LA is surrounded by beautiful mountains, but you can’t really see them during the day because they’re shrouded in smog. The other things was the scale of the homeless problem. We’d heard about it on TV, but you really have no idea how truly bad it is until you see it in person.
We saw lots of great things, had some great meals, did some pretty drives. We toured Paramount Studios, which was great. Overall, we really enjoyed our short time in Los Angeles, and I’m looking forward to going back one day. It was strange, though, a couple of weeks after we got home, everything shut down. We haven’t left our home, save to go to the grocery store in almost a month. We began to see the beginnings of it while we traveled, while our planes were full, people in the airports were wearing facemasks, buying all the hand sanitizer and overall starting to follow what we would later begin to call ‘social distancing.’ We got very lucky that we didn’t catch anything transiting through LAX. Now, the world is a completely different place, and we have no idea when we’ll be able to go to LA again, let alone Britain, the place of my dreams.