I moved to Los Angeles from New York three years ago, and fell in love with the city pretty quickly, or so I thought. After all these years, I’ve realized it takes a while to really understand the appeal of LA. After three years of exploring the hidden spots, of venturing out on day trips and to different neighborhoods, of never freezing through winter and being able to eat and drink happily outdoors all year round, I realized how much more I’ve really grown to appreciate this city.
Coming from New York, I was surrounded by people who had very strong (negative) opinions of LA. Which is strange because I’ve met very few (or none, come to think about it) Angelenos who say they hate New York. New York and Los Angeles are both amazing cities in their own ways…why can’t we all just get along?
But go ahead and ask any New Yorker how they feel about California; chances are the response will be something along the lines of “Well, San Francisco is pretty cool, but I hate LA.” (Bonus Round: Ask that same New Yorker if they’ve actually been to either LA or San Francisco – 60% will answer ‘neither’, 30% may have been to one of the two, and probably only about 10% will have visited both cities and have a valid basis for comparison.) And there are certain stereotypes of LA that everyone seems to have heard: people in LA are fake, there’s no culture, etc.
Now, I think the criticisms are somewhat unfair. Perhaps some of our ‘culture’ is more focused on films & cars, but this is a city with an amazing underground music and art scene, museums like the Getty, LACMA, The Huntington Library, the Annenberg Space for Photography (among many), and gems such as The Last Bookstore and The Night Gallery scattered throughout – Los Angeles definitely has a unique culture. As for ‘fake’ people in LA, that word has such a general, changeable definition, that it’s hard to really know what people are talking about when they use it as a description. However, let me address the two most common interpretations I’ve heard for why LA people are ‘fake’.
1) “Everyone pretends they’re a producer” – If you’re talking about a very small percentage of people in the neighborhoods of Hollywood/West Hollywood/Beverly Hills…well yes. I actually agree that this behavior is a completely shameful practice restricted only to LA, because in no other city in the world do men pretend to be rich and important in order to get a girl in bed (replace boasts of ‘producer’ with ‘stockbroker’, ‘real estate tycoon’, or even ‘largest cattle herd owner’ – depending which corner of the world you find yourself in – and in some city somewhere a guy is using that line to get attention).
2) “People smile all the time and are nice to you, and yet they won’t call you and aren’t really your friends.” – First of all, it’s 75 F and sunny almost all the time, not to mention you’re walking under palm trees all day in a state where weed is legal. Of course people tend to be smiling more than the average American. For the second part of the accusation…you know that thing you do when you bump into someone from college, or have an interesting ten minute conversation with a stranger, exchange contact info, and promise you’ll go out for coffee? Then you know how life happens and that coffee date never comes about? Yeah. That’s a ‘human beings post-kindergarten’ thing, not an LA thing.
But enough defensiveness! I want to discuss what I love about living in Los Angeles, and what you can really only appreciate by spending a lot of time in this city.
1. Los Angeles is Half Urban/Half Nature
LA is a city spread out around hills, sandwiched between the ocean and the desert. Even while driving back and forth for work or running errands, you may get to drive through a canyon, over hills, or ride parallel to the ocean. Steel and concrete haven’t fully taken over the environment here like they have in other cities. If you do want a real ‘city’ feel, head downtown to one of the amazing restaurants and cafes that have popped up seemingly overnight (Alma restaurant was voted best new restaurant in the country), and finish your day at a rooftop bar overlooking skyscrapers. But the point is, you have a choice. And on your days off? Beaches, hills, and wooded hiking trails are everywhere. If you feel like taking a day trip, the only question is: what environment do you feel like seeing? You can find peace in the desert at Joshua Tree, rock climb and hike the wooded valleys in Yosemite, surf at one of the beaches, or snowboard on Big Bear Mountain. It’s hard to appreciate all these things in a 4-5 day visit to the city.
2. Being Active is Easy and Encouraged
Yes, the stereotypes about LA’s addiction to yoga and hiking, and images of many Angelenos as skaters and surfers are mostly true. But even if you’re not into that kind of lifestyle, it’s hard not to find something to help you have fun and be healthy. Even if you’re not an active person, so many people around you will be, that you will probably join up in some sport or pastime yourself. And it’s hard not to be happy when you’re outdoors, being active, or just having fun with a new hobby. Of course, the fact that the climate is pretty great all year around helps you stay outdoors and active. Which brings me to my next point.
3. The Weather
Yeah, I know, big surprise. This is probably the number one thing Angelenos love about their city, and it’s pretty obvious why. But visiting LA for a few days and thinking how nice it is that it’s warm outside in January, is a completely different feeling than going through a whole winter without once being forced to sit for coffee or lunch indoors. Or never really having to pull out a heavy jacket. Or never having to experience the winter blues, because the sun is always shining, and the cold, cloudy days that make you just want to stay under your blanket and not venture into the outside world simply don’t exist (or very rarely come around).
4. The Places You Only Discover & Love When You Live Here
LA is not really a city of ‘sights’. For most of my friends who visit, I suggest neighborhoods they can hang out in, bars/restaurants/cafes they can go to, and activities they can do, but it’s hard to give a list of ten ‘sights’, or in other words, places you should go look at and then walk away from. NYC has the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, Washington D.C. has the White House and the National Mall with its obelisk, but unfortunately, the number one tourist destination we have is Hollywood Boulevard. I’m sure I speak for most Angelenos when I say that Hollywood Blvd. is one of the most annoying places to stop at or walk through. There are hundreds of tourists walking in every direction, people getting in your face to sell their CDs and Celebrity Home Tours (because seeing Brangelina’s 10-foot fence from a passing van is a thrill, apparently), and the constant danger of smashing against someone who just stopped to take a picture of a star on the Walk of Fame. It’s noisy and overcrowded, and since it is a a tourist hotspot and a magnet for newcomers to the city, completely unrepresentative of the rest of LA.
There are better ways to experience LA’s pride as the capital of the entertainment industry. You can go to film festivals, movie theaters like the New Beverly Cinema (just call it New Bev) or the Silent Movie Theatre that really celebrate film classics and film history, or attend the frequent exhibits on some of the genre’s most celebrated geniuses (the recent exhibit of Stanley Kubrick’s life and work at LACMA comes to mind).
Enjoy music on the Sunset Strip at Whiskey A Go Go, The Viper Room, and many other such music bars if you’re in the alternative/rock crowd, or head to the House of Blues further on down the road, or go to Bardot on ‘School Night’ to see up and coming indie artists. Check out the music scenes that have sprung up in Silver Lake and downtown. Head out for a night of drunken belting with friends at one of the many karaoke bars in Koreatown, right before you hit up a 24-hour Korean BBQ.
I could really go on forever about the places you find while living in LA that you probably won’t get to on a short vacation, but I think I have made my point. If you do want to check out some more spots, Refinery29 put up a great list of hidden LA places.
I am not saying LA is perfect or objectively better than some other city. For example, I wouldn’t mind eliminating rush hour traffic and the 2 AM closing time of most bars here, and I still have a lot of affection for and great memories of the other cities I’ve lived in (New York and Athens). However, if you come to LA simply expecting to confirm the negative stereotypes you have heard, you most likely will, as any city you view with a filter of prejudice will probably fulfill your pre-existing impression of it. The truth is that Los Angeles is a wonderful city, but one that reserves its best side for its residents. So grab a surfboard and come live here for a while – there’s a good chance LA will surprise you.