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Well, we’re back from yet another trip, and this time we took a long weekend getaway to Los Angeles, to celebrate my birthday! Since both the hubby and I lived in Los Angeles for several years, we didn’t feel the need to squeeze in every little touristy thing, and instead could pick and choose our favorite activities.
Still, we managed to squeeze a whole lot into just a couple days time, and have some great tips to share if you’ll be heading to Los Angeles soon yourself!
Weekend Getaway to Los Angeles Day 1: Venice Beach
We flew in to Los Angeles on a Friday, and our flights were free on Southwest Airlines, thanks to our use of Rapid Rewards points and our trusty Southwest Companion Pass. Since our flight got in around 4:30pm, aka the start of rush hour in Los Angeles, we deemed it wise not to try to make it all the way to our downtown Los Angeles hotel in the madness.
Instead, we headed to Venice Beach, which is fairly close to the Los Angeles International Airport. Here, we took a stroll along the pier (always good people watching in Venice) and met up with the hubby’s sister and brother-in-law for an early happy hour/dinner at James Beach, which, as you may recall from the movie I Love You, Man, is well-known for its fish tacos.
After dinner, we caught a Lyft to downtown to check in at our hotel for this trip, the Westin Bonaventure. Continuing our theme of visiting places that have been in movies, you may remember the scene from True Lies in which Arnold Schwarzenegger rides a horse through a hotel lobby and into a glass elevator. That was this hotel! In fact, we got to take the very same elevator several times, as it happened to be the one closest to our room.
Our room was nothing special — clean and comfortable, with a nice enough view of Downtown Los Angeles, but with no real upgraded features or design-work worth writing about like those in newer hotels. In fact, perhaps the most surprising thing about this hotel stay is that we actually paid for our hotel out of pocket this time, instead of using points to stay for free.
The reason? Math. The Westin offers free nights via the Starwood Preferred Guest rewards program, at a starting rate of 20,000 Starpoints per night. However, we found a rate via Southwest Hotels that cost just $221/night, and earned us 8,000 bonus points on Southwest as well. If you do the math to determine the redemption rate, we would have only been getting a value of 1.1 cents per point for our SPG points redeemed. That’s pretty pitiful for SPG points, which most savvy travelers can convert into 2.2 – 2.5 cents per point in value.
As such, we went ahead and paid the cash rate, earning 8,000 Southwest Airlines miles (which, given our Companion Pass, is worth roughly $240 for us — enough to get two one-way trip tickets somewhere later this year or next.) We also paid using our Chase Sapphire Reserve card, allowing us to earn 3x points on travel, equaling about $40 worth of value in Chase Ultimate Rewards currency. Sometimes, it’s just worth it to pay cash.
Weekend Getaway to Los Angeles Day 2: the USC vs. UT game at the Los Angeles Coliseum
On Saturday, we awoke bright and early in order to make our way back to our alma mater, the University of Southern California. Our tailgate was set to get going around 10:00am, which gave us a good 7.5 hours of tailgating before the game kicked off. I could only hope that would be enough time 😉
Jokes aside, there’s a lot to do on campus during gameday. For example, we had to go take a photo with our distinguished mascot, Tommy Trojan:
We took in some classic, USC-themed automobiles:
And the hubby wanted to go visit our many National Championship and Heisman trophies and Olympic Medals housed at Heritage Hall:
We also enjoyed a tailgate feast catered from El Cholo, before heading into the Coliseum for the game (photo at top). And though we won, wow, that was quite the nailbiter! I’d prefer a return to the days where we just beat every opponent by 50 points, please.
Weekend Getaway to Los Angeles Day 3: Disneyland!
After recovering from a full day of campus activities, we were up bright and early yet again to go to the happiest place on Earth! So we jumped in a Lyft at 7:30am in order to get to Anaheim in time for rope drop (the term for the special ceremony at park opening.)
As longtime blog readers will know, I do love me some theme parks. But I’m also pretty hardcore. I want to get there at opening and stay through closing and see absolutely as much as possible. To do this at Disneyland, we needed three things:
- Park Hopper Tickets — these allowed us to hop from Disneyland to California Adventure, back and forth as much as we liked throughout the day. We bought them online, in advance, from Undercover Tourist, which meant we didn’t have to stand in line to exchange for actual park tickets at the entrance — our printed voucher itself was a full access ticket.
- Disney Max Passes — this is Disney’s new “add-on” Fastpass system. It runs on your phone, and instead of having to run to Fastpass ticket distributions all over the park, you simply request your Fastpasses as soon as you become eligible via the Disneyland mobile app.
- A TouringPlans.com subscription. My favorite theme park planning app, this allowed us to estimate wait times, plan out our riding order, and get real-time reports of any problems or closures on certain rides throughout the day.
This combination worked FANTASTICALLY for us. We managed to hit all the major attractions at Disneyland, as well as the top three rides at California Adventure: Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Mania, and Guardians of the Galaxy. We even managed to do Haunted Mansion (which was all done up in Nightmare Before Christmas theming, for Halloween) twice.
I would HIGHLY recommend spending the extra $10/person for MaxPass. In addition to completely streamlining the Fastpass experience and allowing you to get in more rides, it also comes with free digital downloads of all of your photos on rides or with the official Disney photographers. Though, in my case, I am physically incapable of taking a decent photo on a ride:
We also managed to sneak in some of the classic Disney treats….let’s be honest, we ate A LOT of sugar this day!
Finally, at the end of the day we even managed to get excellent reserved seating for Fantasmic & the Fireworks (by purchasing a Fantasmic Dining Package via Cafe Orleans). By the time we got back to the hotel, my Fitbit said that we’d walked over 10 miles and taken more than 23,000 steps…no wonder we were pretty exhausted!
Though it was a whirlwind of a trip, I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated my birthday this year. It was a blast! Let me know if you have any LA or Disney questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer!