If you are planning a trip to the California coast and want to see the sights and sounds of Los Angeles, Hollywood and Beverly Hills without the stress of driving, consider taking a bus tour around the city. That’s what we did during our last visit to Santa Monica and loved the experience of hitting the tourist track stress free!
As first time visitors to Santa Monica it was one of those times where you somewhat have to do the big tourist spots. That includes the famous Hollywood Walk Of Fame, the Hollywood Sign, see where the celebrities live in the exclusive properties of Beverly Hills and Bel Air and of course catch a few filming locations around Los Angeles.
Trying to fit all of this in during a short visit without losing your bearings, carrying an A3 sized map around with you or just being that annoying tourist in town is going to be difficult if you go it alone.
Surf City Tours
We did what most people do and turned to Google and Trip Advisor for some top tips which quickly led us to book a day trip with the quirky Surf City tours. From 10am to 4pm the tour offered an intimate, lively view of some of the biggest named places in California.
Cost: $85.00 (adults)
Duration: approx. 6 hours
Booking the tour is really straightforward. You simply need to drop them an email to confirm the hotel pickup location from a list of sites on their website. We were staying in the Fairmont Miramar hotel in Santa Monica which was one of their pickup locations so we were collected from the front of our hotel at 10am. You can however also get picked up from Santa Monica Pier if your hotel isn’t a dedicated pick up spot.
When the bus pulled up to the front of the hotel it was immediately apparent that this tour was going to be a good laugh, not only because of the uniquely decorated bus but as our host, Mike was a real entertainer, cracking a jokes and getting everyone on the bus to speak up and join in with the tour.
Celebrity house spotting in Bel Air
The first part of the tour took us straight into Bel Air to take a look at the exclusive properties owned by the world’s richest and most famous celebrities.
The houses were exactly as you would expect them to be, gated and massive! We didn’t see any celebrities during our visit but it has been known for celebs to wind their windows down whilst driving in and out of their homes to smile for a few tourist photos. That didn’t matter too much however as we did see the Fresh Prince of Bel Air house which brought all of my childhood memories back in an instant!
There was something a little strange about going to look at peoples houses from the street but nonetheless it was a curiosity that clearly has a lot of demand as there were bus tours of 5-10 people driving around all over the place. If you actually lived in one of these properties having this level of attention comes with the territory but I think it would make me want to live somewhere outside of the city rather than amongst it all!
Old Farmers Market in Los Angeles
The next stop on our tour was at the Old Farmers Market in Los Angeles. This used to be one of the original markets in LA where livestock and goods were traded so it’s great to see that it still stands true to its historic purpose and hasn’t been over-developed into something else.
The stop here is around 1 hour which allows you to grab lunch as the covered market offers a wide selection of food and drink stands.
Next to the Farmers Market is a shopping district so if you have the time or don’t want to eat here you can simply head next door and pick up any extra things that you may need.
Leaving the Farmers Market behind the next part of the day trip takes you along Sunset Boulevard.
This palm tree lined route is a very well known part of the city and features in more Californian films and TV dramas than I can even begin to name!
Cruising along Sunset Boulevard with beaming sunshine and the wind in your hair makes you feel like a million dollars… or at least it would you weren’t riding in an open top bus!
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Arriving at the Hollywood Boulevard, Mike pulled the bus over to let us all off and one thing was immediately obvious – tourists! Everywhere! I honestly don’t know why I’m surprised by that but I don’t think I quite anticipated how many people there would be.
Hollywood Boulevard is of course most famous for having the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on which there is certainly plenty to see. We stopped at the famous Dolby Theatre which hosts the Oscars each year, the Chinese Theatre with over 200 hand and foot prints and explored the hundreds of stars which line the pavements of the walk of fame.
Hollywood hills and sign
With Hollywood done the next stop involved making our way up into the Hollywood hills via very exclusive Mulholland Drive. Along this road there are countless A-list celebrities living in the properties so keep your eyes peeled!
At the top of Mulholland Drive you’ll be overlooking Los Angeles with a fantastic birds eye view of Hollywood. There’s a couple of notable landmarks to look out for here too including the world famous Hollywood Bowl so take a look around at what you can spot.
With the bus parked up it’s then a short 5 minute walk to a viewpoint of the Hollywood sign. You’re quite far away from it at this location however it’s perfectly adequate to get a photo.
The local laws have changed over the years meaning that they now don’t allow the tourist buses to get up close to the sign for numerous reasons. Similarly if you want to get to t on foot you’ll need to park up a few kilometres away and hike to it.
The final stop on the Surf City tour is the very premium Beverly Hills. If by this point you hadn’t yet spotted a celebrity this is going to be your last but best chance!
Beverly Hills sign
In Beverly Hills you will be dropped off at the Beverly Hills sign which is a small fountain. You can grab a few photos here before making your way down Rodeo Drive.
Rodeo Drive is one the main shopping streets in Beverly Hills offering a wide selection of premium shops. Pick a premium brand name and you’ll be finding it here!
At the bottom of the street you’ll then find the famous hotel from Pretty Woman so keep an eye out for that one!
Beverly Hills is a sea of wealth with supercars lining the roads and every other person carrying a Prada or Gucci bag. You’ll be offered the chance to shop here but you’ll certainly need to bring your gold card!
With Beverly Hills done the tour is complete but not before passing the Fox Plaza which featured as the main building in the first Die Hard film. The bus will then make its way back to Santa Monica to drop everyone back off at their hotels.
The tour did of course offer more than just the above highlights. It also took us that famous area where George Michael was arrested in that restroom, Whisky A Go-Go live music venue that launched global legends including Frank Zappa, Guns n Roses and The Doors, and numerous other well known spots around the city.
Surf City Tours review
The Surf City Tour of LA had some amazing reviews on Trip Advisor which led us to make the initial booking and it really didn’t disappoint. The tour was quirky, highly entertaining, informative but most of all, enjoyable! It lasted around 6 hours in total so it was a long day however it gave a really good flavour of all the key sights within the city.
For the full itinerary and to book this trip, take a look at the Surf City Tours website here: https://surfcitytours.com/tour-breakdown-pricing/
Are you heading to Santa Monica or Los Angeles this year and looking to explore the city? We’d love to hear your plans, let us know in the comments!