Last month, Airbnb announced the launch of Trips – combining homes, experiences and places all in one app. Junkee Media’s publisher TIM DUGGAN was one of the first people to experience the new offering; here’s how his ‘Disco Queen’ tour of LA went down.
I hate being a tourist; shuffling in long lines to visit top attractions, elbowing selfie-sticks out of the way for a view, taking the same photo as millions of people before me. When I travel I prefer to dive straight in and live like a local would – albeit for just a few days.
Take Los Angeles. You can easily do the usual things on your visit – walk down Sunset Strip, visit the Pier at Santa Monica, and see the Hollywood Stars – but you normally end up getting a cookie-cutter experience jostling with thousands of other tourists doing the exact same thing. Alternatively, you can try to seek out a one-of-a-kind experience, but that usually that takes months of scouring websites and speaking to friends and locals to find the hidden gems.
Until now, that is. Airbnb has recently launched Trips, which aims to hook up travellers with experienced local guides, offering a shortcut to some incredible and unique experiences they couldn’t get otherwise. So now, as well as renting a room or house, you can now book to go on hosted experiences when you arrive in a new city. There are two types of Airbnb Experiences: multi-day trips, and single experiences that last a few hours.[related_articles]34276[/related_articles]
I’ve always had an interest in what goes on below the surface of a city, so I was pretty excited to be one of the first people in the world to experience Airbnb Trips on the ‘Disco Queen’ tour of LA, stopping off at some “campy, offbeat, kitschy, and bizarro Los Angeles landmarks”. It promised that each location would be “quirkier than the last, this is the borderline-tacky LA that eludes the glitz and glam of Hollywood.” Sounds fun, right?
We meet in Chinatown near Downtown LA, an area I’ve never been to despite over a dozen trips to the city, and as soon as our Uber pulls up we’re greeted with a hug from our host Courtney Nichols. She’s hard to miss, with bright blue hair, a colourful floral dress and a massive smile that never leaves her face during the entire duration of the tour. Courtney – the self described ‘disco queen’ – is a founder of one of the world’s best hidden bars, an authority of LA’s lavish and debauched nightlife scene, and the key to unlocking a completely different side of LA than you’d ever find by yourself. She’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
The first step on this offbeat tour is Velveteria, a museum of velvet paintings that showcases the oft-forgotten art of painting directly onto velvet that was a hit for a short time in the ’70s. With over 3,000 paintings collected from all over the world, the whole place is an absolute trip that the owner Carl Baldwin takes us through for about half an hour. From Hillary Clinton as a vampire to walls of painted clowns, a fluorescent UV room that lights up and a “Unicornucopia” homage to, well, unicorns, the Velveteria is about as strange as it gets. The passion Craig lovingly displays for this form of outsider art gives the place a cosy feeling. It’s somewhere I’d never have even heard of – let alone visited – without the expert guidance of Courtney.
Once we’ve had our velvet fix, our small group heads around the corner to a small doorway that opens up to an unexpected scene. We enter The Little Jewel of New Orleans, a grocery and deli that immediately transports you to the soul of the deep South, complete with a green-striped awning out front, black and white lino squares on the floors, and a menu bursting with Southern flavours and scrawled on all of the walls. Courtney appears to order one of everything from the menu, including soft shell crab Po’Boys and Alligator chilli (made with real Louisiana alligator), and we devour it in minutes. It’s one of the best, and most interesting, meals I’ve ever had in LA.
From there we jump into an Uber for our next camp-y destination, located literally underneath a freeway: the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre. Built in 1953, it’s a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument that features puppet shows for children – and you can feel the history from the moment you step through the door.
We head backstage to see the puppets – all lovingly crafted by hand, most of them original from the ’60s and ’70s – and watch the puppeteers bring them to life with simple flicks of the wrist. Courtney explains the history of the building and some more about Bob Baker as we wander around eating ice-cream.
We finish up in the theatre and Courtney drives us back to Downtown LA, giving us tips on the best places to go out that weekend. We make plans to meet up for a drink and explore the underground party scene of LA that night. Although we’d only met a few hours earlier, it really feels like chatting with a new, incredibly well-connected and cool friend; one that can help you navigate straight to the beating heart of a city to make the most of a limited amount of time.
And that’s what Airbnb Trips is all about – connecting travellers with locals in cities who share similar interests, and exploring a side of the city that you might not find in a guide book, but you instead need someone to open the door to.
Airbnb Trips is now live, with over 500 experiences available in 12 cities worldwide including London, Paris and Toyko. Trips will launch in Sydney and Queenstown in 2017, and budding hosts who want to share their own experiences in these two cities can request to list them from today.
(Lead image: Airbnb. All other images: author’s own. The writer travelled to Airbnb Open in Los Angeles as a guest of Airbnb.)
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