Shandelle Battersby dreams a California dream in the front row at the Dolby Theatre.

"Hey girl," shouted Spider-Man, "you checkin' out my moves?"

I had been actually - it's not every day that you see Spidey strutting on the street in front of you in his skin-tight suit, flexing his pecs.

I laughed and shook my head and scurried off down Hollywood Boulevard, past a Superman and an Elmo, a bit worried he was going to come after me for a couple of bucks - these guys make their living charging for posing for pictures with tourists and I wasn't sure if this extended to casual conversations.

We'd made a quick stop in Hollywood as part of our Los Angeles city tour on The Californian, a Trafalgar coach tour giving a taste of the best of the state from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north.


This gave us opportunity to have a look at the famous Walk of Fame and find the stars of our personal favourites.

Police officers were guarding a fenced off star-in-the-making for comedian Melissa McCarthy.

Many of our party were shocked to find Hollywood Boulevard was rather less glamorous than they'd expected, but a dose of glitz was to come with a VIP tour through the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars have been held each February since 2002.

The tour, which is not open to the public and often can't be held at all if the theatre is being used for an event, is a fascinating insight into Hollywood's night of nights, when the film industry gets frocked up and a lucky few take home a little gold statue.

The entrance to the theatre is actually inside a very non-glamorous shopping mall but, guide Justine tells us, it is transformed into a sea of red every year in time for the awards ceremony, a process that takes a full week.

One of the best parts of the tour was sitting down in the front rows of the theatre (which is a little on the tatty side) in seats normally occupied by the likes of Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro, and imagining seeing Jennifer Lawrence trip down the stairs or Julia Roberts bawling her eyes out, just a few metres away.

Even better was hearing about Hilary Swank making a stop for a vege cheeseburger in her backless gown after winning her Oscar for Million Dollar Baby in 2005, proving that celebrities get the munchies after a night on the tiles too.

Los Angeles Farmers Market. Photo / iStock
Los Angeles Farmers Market. Photo / iStock

It's hard to imagine farmers selling produce off the backs of their trucks when you're wandering around the Los Angeles Farmers' Market in the middle of Hollywood, but that's how this historic market started during the Great Depression in 1934.


These days it's more like an open-air food village, patronised by tourists as much as locals, with more than 100 colourful restaurants and shops, and even a few bars. There is still fresh produce for sale, as well as meat and seafood, specialty foods and gourmet groceries, but the stars of the show are its wide variety of small eateries, some of which have been there for decades and sport original signs and decor.

We were at the market in the expert hands of Melting Pot Food Tours, as part of one of Trafalgar's "Cultural Insights", which aim to provide a deeper, more unusual view of an area's culture - in this case, LA's culinary scene. In fact, the farmers' market serves as a microcosm of LA's hugely varied population, dishing up everything from authentic Mexican food and Brazilian barbecue to Asian foods such as sushi.

We had an hour with Melting Pot guides Andrew and Sabrina, who told us about the venue's history while giving us a literal taste of what it has to offer.

First up was a delicious New York-style slice of margherita pizza from LA's first pizzeria, Patsy D'Amore's, followed by Middle Eastern dishes of falafel, tahini and tabouleh from Moishe's and terrific corned beef, mustard and horseradish rye sandwiches from Magee's Kitchen.

We finished with a walking tour through the market, before calling in at Bob's Donuts for a divine jam and cream delight, made fresh that morning.

It was a quick - and tasty - way to learn a little about LA, and also served as something of a time capsule into its past.

Santa Monica Beach houses. Photo / iStock
Santa Monica Beach houses. Photo / iStock

The two-night LA part of our tour had started the day before with a lunch stop at the exclusive seaside resort town of Santa Monica to visit its famous pier (Baywatch fans will recognise it from the TV show) before getting back on the enormous 12-lane I-405 freeway and travelling north to The Getty Center in Brentwood.

This huge, impressive complex, perched on top of a steep hill overlooking the 405 roaring away below, is the home of industrialist J Paul Getty's famous art museum. Access is via electric tram.

It's worth giving yourself plenty of time here because you'll want to spend as much time outside the Getty as inside.

Architect Richard Meier's sculptural, stark buildings, mostly covered in Italian travertine stone, are alone worth the visit, and there are beautiful gardens and outdoor artworks surrounding them in every direction.

The Central Garden, created by artist Robert Irwin, is 12,450sq m and features a natural ravine and a tree-lined walkway, while its South Promontory recreates a desert landscape, complete with dozens of different types of cacti.

From the many lookout points you get fantastic panoramic views of the sprawling mass of LA, all tinged, of course, with a brownish haze - a by-product of its 4 million residents who love their big cars.

The Getty Center in Los Angeles. Photo / iStock
The Getty Center in Los Angeles. Photo / iStock

The museum is jam-packed with precious artworks. There are paintings by the likes of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Goya, Monet and Rembrandt, as well as sculptures, illuminated manuscripts and photographic exhibitions which change regularly. There's another campus, the Getty Villa, in the Pacific Palisades area 20 minutes away, which houses Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.

Despite being one of the richest men in the world during his lifetime, Getty was famously a tight-arse. He had a pay phone installed at his mansion in Surrey, and negotiated the ransom amount when his grandson, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped in Rome in 1973. Despite all of that, he has left the world with one of the best private art collections to enjoy for free.

Don't miss it.


Getting there: Hawaiian Airlines flies from Auckland to Los Angeles via Honolulu.

The writer travelled courtesy of Trafalgar and Hawaiian Airlines.