Book Now, Plan Later: A Day in L.A.

By John Deiner, Steve Hendrix, Andrea Sachs and K.C. Summers
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 24, 2001

When the Travel section staff discovered a rogue Internet airfare to Los Angeles of $50 each way, for a total of $127 with taxes, we couldn't resist. Although none of us had a reason to go to L.A., four of us quickly rearranged our schedules, plunked down the cash and booked tickets on Continental Flight 1451. We boarded on a June Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in L.A. at lunchtime with about 24 hours to fill before the return flight home. And just what does L.A. offer the one-day tourist? Something different for each of us.

12:50 p.m.

LAX and Out

Hey, no fair! It's muggy and overcast in L.A. -- where's that faithful California sun? But no time to gripe, the clock's ticking.

Deiner, Hendrix and Summers bolt for various rental car shuttles. Sachs, met by a friend with a car, is the first to break free of the airport. She and Josh Artis zip down Sepulveda Boulevard, her bare feet propped on the dashboard, windows down.

They're heading for the ocean -- specifically, Playa del Rey, the starting point of Sachs's day of beaches, a progression of seaside villages she will string together by car, bike and flip-flops. She stares at the knot of lunchtime traffic, musing: "In 10 minutes and counting, I will be sunning on the beach, under, um, cloudy skies."

The 21-room Inn at Playa del Rey almost spills over the sidewalk and into the busy intersection. The back yard, though, is 300 acres of natural wetlands populated with enough rare birds to fill an Audubon field guide. Just beyond is Marina del Rey, a former duck-hunting estuary that now shelters an estimated 6,000 crafts. There are more boats than cars, and today, more boats than people. Neophyte sailors practice racing maneuvers, missing each other by a wisp as they logjam around a buoy.

It's too excruciating to watch. Oh waiter, a Heineken, please, and while you're at it, an order of fettuccini with chicken, eggplant and sun-dried tomatoes in a rich cream sauce. It doesn't take long for Sachs to begin some serious lounging on the outdoor patio of the Marina del Rey Hotel, gazing at the boats. The only sounds are the faint barks of the sailing instructor -- "Come about. Hard alee!" -- and the waiter. "Another beer?" Why not. We're on the water. Finally.

2:05 p.m.

Southbound on I-5

L.A. works its wonders quickly. Less than an hour on the ground and Hendrix -- a candidate for middle age -- is driving very fast on a freeway in a red convertible. Jeff Custer, a friend down from San Francisco, juggles the map. They have planned a nostalgic trip to the suburban south -- the playgrounds of Orange County that Hendrix knew as a second-grader. Next stop, Disneyland, and an e-ticket return to childhood.

There is an upside to an unsunny day in Anaheim -- with every cloud, a few hundred more locals look up and decide not to go to Disneyland. The convertible is directed through acres of empty spaces by earnest young Disney "cast members" swinging red flashlights. They pull into the Goofy level and join the line of strollers, overburdened parents and slack-trousered teens pouring toward the tram stop.

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