Smoking is banned completely in Los Angeles, and so is talking to the opposite sex in anything other than a purely professional manner. It is also against the law to walk anywhere.

If you fly into Los Angeles at dusk, whilst looking down at the Earth from your cramped aluminium sarcophagus, all you can see are millions of twinkling lights in what appears to be a never-ending expanse of printed circuit board. LA is so vast that it makes you wonder where they ever got all that space from. It also makes you wonder why they don’t donate some of it to New York, where they seem to be particularly short of it.

This is probably why they drive everywhere in LA. It is so spread out that even popping down to the local off-licence entails filling up the gas tank for a five-hour drive.

I was staying in a place called Marina Del Rey, which is not far from Santa Monica. I never eat dinners in hotels as going out for a meal is always a good excuse for exploring. The nearest restaurant to my hotel was only about two hundred yards away. So, on my first evening, I took a leisurely stroll in that direction to see if the food gets any better on the West Coast.

It doesn’t.

The only difference between food in the USA and food in the UK is there’s lots more of it on your plate in America. A fact that seems to attract larger British tourists to Florida year after year i.e. there’s no danger of being traumatised by a salad.

Unfortunately, plentiful though it may be, it is usually smothered in some gloopy sauce that’s been made with ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to be on speaking terms, never mind sharing the same saucepan. Still you have to give them full marks for trying, even if Anchovies, Mangoes and Gravel are never going to get along together. No matter how much you beat them.

When I’d finished my meal, I had a drink at the bar and stayed there until the small hours chatting to the barmaid. I was only chatting you understand. I wasn’t threatening her right to be a person by metaphorically beating her with my overbearing male phallo-centricity.

When it was time to go, she offered to call me a cab. I dismissed the idea as my hotel was only a couple of coughs and spits away. She was most insistent though, saying that the police would probably arrest me otherwise. Apparently the only reason that anybody would walk the pavements of LA at night is if they are too drunk to drive.

For a city that breathes petrol fumes you would think that the taxis would be the best in the world. They’re not. They are usually driven by Eastern European drivers who have just driven all the way from Bratislava and are surprised at your inability to speak Slovak. If your destination doesn’t include the word ‘Airport’ then you’re buggered, but that’s more than likely where you’ll end up anyway.

I wanted to go see the La Brea Tar Pits, which are world-famous. Well they were to me, because as a child I’d built an Aurora construction kit of them. The finished plastic model featured a hungry looking vulture sitting in a tree watching a struggling woolly mammoth that was being sucked into the sticky, black tar. Now I come to think of it, that may have been the sauce I had on my steak the previous evening.

I promised myself, that if I ever went to LA, I’d go see those bubbling pools of black stuff that had captured my boyish imagination.

The taxi driver had obviously not been the sort of child to have his bedroom ceiling festooned with dangling Spitfires and Messerschmitts. He looked decidedly vacant when I enthused about my model, and the famous tar pits it represented. We did eventually get there, via the airport (where he asked directions).

The tar pits are on Museum Avenue, and it’s a fascinating place. It’s no theme park, and there’s a sign over the door to the little museum warning that there were never any dinosaur remains in the tar pits. Despite this there was one little brat stamping his feet and demanding that his parents summon up a T.Rex for his entertainment. I think they’d driven a long way.

If you want to see a real theme park, then go to the Getty Centre in Malibu. This is an art theme park built like a mock Roman villa. Still, it gives us Europeans another opportunity to look down our noses at our historically-disadvantaged friends from over the pond.

Another quirk unique to California is the draconian attitude to smoking. Smoking is seen as a crime worse than walking, flirting or mass murder. I even got tapped on the shoulder when I lit up in a car park. You have to be twenty-eight to buy cigarettes in LA, which is nearly twice the age you have to be to buy a gun.

For all its crackpot attitudes I did rather warm to California. It looks and feels a bit like the South of France. Sadly without the good food, but without the French as well.

See my other USA travel guides at Johnny on the USA