So you’ve booked your dream holiday: you’ve chosen a great hotel, maybe scoped out a couple of decent restaurants (you know how important this is to me) but what’s the best way to really get under the skin of your destination? Well, Virgin Holidays has come up with the brilliant idea of Virgin Holidays Experiences: a breathtaking range of over 300 experiences for everyone from foodies and shopaholics to the thrill-seekers and outdoorsy types, and even those in search of the perfect Instagram shot. These fab new experiences will enable all of us to create a bespoke holiday experience that truly reflects our interests and obsessions. So whether you’ve always dreamed of shopping with your own personal stylist in New York, fancy taking surf lessons in San Diego, a seaplane trip over Horseshoe Bay in Vancouver or discovering Chinatown in San Francisco, the world really is your oyster! I was lucky enough to travel to LA and San Diego with Virgin Holidays earlier this month to try out a few of the amazing new Virgin Holidays Experiences. First up, an incredible foodie tour of East LA.
If you were thinking of discovering a little more about LA away from the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and shopping on Rodeo Drive, you wouldn’t immediately consider East LA, but I think that’s the beauty of these new experiences: you might know you want to do something foodie in LA, but now you have loads of really interesting suggestions to choose from. Our East LA Latin Flavors Food and Culture Tour took us away from the traditional tourist spots to this mostly Latino neighbourhood. As we walked to the first place on our tour, our guides, sisters Diane and Lisa told us a little more about Boyle Heights, a neighbourhood that sprung up in the mid 1800s due to the California gold rush, and with a population of largely Mexican, Latin and Central American inhabitants.
After stopping at Tamales Liliana’s for a delicious red pork tamale with salsa and champurrado – a thick, Mexican hot chocolate, we took a sunny stroll to the Mercadito de Los Angeles. This fabulous Mexican market sells everything from chillis and dried cod to sugar skulls and Donald Trump piñatas and it was absolutely fascinating to wander around the different stalls, tasting molé sauces and delicious fruity sorbets. Upstairs, there’s a restaurant and a meeting place for the local Mariachi bands – it’s an incredible place to visit.
Next stop was La Gloria Mexican Foods to meet owner David. It was fascinating to chat to David and hear him tell the story of how the business started out as a tiny little tortilla factory owned by his grandfather, and how it’s now a huge operation, making over 2 million fresh tortillas every day and making tortillas for some of the biggest brands all over the world.
While we were chatting, we nibbled on literally the most delicious guacamole I’ve ever eaten, as well as buñuelos: crispy fried tortillas with cinnamon and sugar that you just can’t stop eating. As hard as you try, you’re powerless to resist those delicate, sweet, crisp little tortillas.
We were starting to feel a bit full, but Diane and Lisa had plenty more for us to see, so we powered on. Our last stop in East LA was the lovely, family bakery Pasteleria Luceros where we got to try their iconic tres leches cake. Made with whole milk (or cream), evaporated milk and condensed milk, it’s a traditional Mexican celebration cake and is really rich and delicious.
Diane and Lisa also very kindly gave us a little taster of one of the other Virgin Holidays Experiences, the Original Farmers Market Food & History Tour. The Original Farmers Market (no apostrophe!) is one of LA’s most famous landmarks, and there’s been a market on the site since 1934. The market is frequented by locals more than tourists and it’s a fascinating place to walk around. The open air market has more than 100 merchants selling everything from fruit and veg to gourmet groceries, ice cream and coffee, and also boasts over 40 restaurants and bars. Highlights for me were the incredible beef sandwiches from Magee’s Kitchen, and the delicious pumpkin ice cream at Bennett’s.
As always, as soon as you’ve booked your holiday, make sure you book your airport parking, especially during school holidays. We always use APH Meet & Greet parking – we’ve got to know loads of the drivers over the years and they’re always so friendly. Drive straight to your departure terminal and just drop your car off with your APH driver. He’ll take your car away and store it safely while you’re away, then be waiting for you when you return. It’s so easy.
Where to eat
We really enjoyed RossoBlu in Downtown LA. Although we initially thought that our driver had taken a wrong turn (the area seems quiet – although apparently City Market South continues to see new restaurants, cafés and residential property too), we spotted a sign which led us to a gorgeous, twinkly outdoor area, then a huge, industrial chic restaurant with huge murals and an open kitchen. The food is modern Italian and absolutely to die for. And, just in case you needed any further confirmation of RossuBlu’s uber coolness, I sat right behind Cillian Murphy.
Where to stay
We stayed at the gorgeous ANdAZ West Hollywood, perched in prime position on Sunset and so rock ‘n’ roll that the lovely seating area you’ll find in your room, with a perfect view across the whole of LA was actually once a balcony. However, due to their slightly outré clientele hurling things from the balconies, it was decided to enclose them in glass and save a fortune on TVs. The rooftop pool/bar is to die for with beautiful views out towards Hollywood, Beverley Hills and Downtown LA. All the rooms have recently been refurbished and mine was a soothing mix of soft greys with dark woods and accents of rich, teal green. You’re on the Strip so don’t expect your stay to be peaceful (ear plugs are provided), but who cares? Public areas are fun and buzzy and it’s such a cool place to stay.
Enjoy five nights in Los Angeles with Virgin Holidays, including Virgin Atlantic flights from London Heathrow direct to Los Angeles. The package includes five nights at the ANdAZ West Hollywood with room only accommodation for £995 per person. The price is based on two adults travelling sharing a standard room and includes care hire and all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected. To book: 0344 557 3859 or visit one of our individual retail stores or one of the 110 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide or visit www.virginholidays.com
Massive thanks, as always, to Louise and everyone at Virgin Holidays. You rock!