Los Angeles doesn’t look like I thought it would look. I expected high rises, skylines, downtowns. Instead, its landscape is dispersed, decentralized, so that you take the freeway everywhere you go. It is, however, just as fun I expected.

Santa Monica Pier lights up at night, and fills with people of all ages who have come out to take a stroll, ride the carnival rides, or chow down on fried fish, corn dogs, and funnel cakes. Even at night, people line the end of the pier with fishing rods in hand, waiting for a bite.

By day, I rode up into Beverly Hills to check out Rodeo Drive, full of high-end boutiques, and stopped off for lunch at Urth Café. Then I headed to Hollywood for a look at the famous sign, and for a tour through the entrance to Mann’s Chinese Theater, where some of the biggest stars in film history have enshrined their handprints and footprints. There are studio tours on offer, so that you can check out famous movie lots and old movie sets, and around the city there are a number of amusement parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios.

Down on Venice Beach, I watched ridiculously muscled bodybuilders flex in the sun, and looked on as surfers played in the enormous waves. I’m happiest in the sun, and was thankful for the minor tan a morning at the beach gave me.

Saying good-bye to L.A. I headed back up the coast, taking the Coastal Highway (CA-1) back to San Francisco. My drive took me through Big Sur, where the road cuts through redwood forests and enormous cliffs drop with terrifying ease into heavy Pacific waves. It was by far the most beautiful drive I’ve ever been on.

After a week out exploring the American West, I’m happy to be home in my quiet city by the bay, but I’m thrilled to be heading back to all these places this summer on TFT’s new USA: California & the Grand Canyon or USA for Younger Teens: Hello California programs. I hope to see you there!