Over the course of a week in Los Angeles, I trekked all over the city, met up with five different friends, and presented them all with the same incredulous question:
Do they LIKE living in LA?
I asked with equal amounts of adoration and exhaustion — because during the time I’ve spent in the City of Angels (7 or 8 trips in the last decade), my impressions have ranged from <heart eye emoji> to <eye roll emoji,> sometimes in the span of a single half hour.
Here in LA, you can get bangin’ egg rolls for $1 but you might have to eat them next to a rabid-eyed crew that has been awake for 37 hours. There are a million cool neighborhoods to explore but it might take you 1.5 hours and 17 sudokus to make it across town. You can walk your dog to year-round soft breezes, mild temps and palm tree views but your pup might also pick up some used sanitary napkins on the stroll.
You get the idea.
Here’s how I size it up:
Food, food, food. LA is top-tier; that’s not a conversation. The food scene is delightfully diverse, high brow and low brow, greasy and kale-y, old school and cutting edge, classic and unexpected. In a week, I embarked on an ambitious taco tour around the greater DTLA area that truly brought me back to Mexico and Central America, munched my way through a Japanese market, crushed Thai and hot dogs, rice bowls and pizza and fried seafood and kale salad and almost-raw birthday cake cookies. Yes, the kale salad was just so that I can tell my mother I’ve been eating vegetables. Eating one’s way through LA is a reminder of how much culture lives here. It’s not just killer chicharrones in a parking lot, it’s an entire piñata district (a real place that I did not just make up), complete with Mexico City-like street carts, sidewalk micheladas and rows of barkers. (“Tenemos tacos, tortas, quesadillas, enchiladas, sopes, que busca!”) It’s not just killer Chinese food, it’s a culinary map of various Chinese regions. Whatever food you’re searching for, you can probably find it in LA. Go hungry.
Neighborhoods feel like communities. Yes, it’s hard to get around (see below). But maybe because of that fact, neighborhoods are more likely to feel like little villages. Despite being a city of 4 million, it’s not uncommon to run into your neighbors or your tight circle of friends or know the guy at the corner shop — probably because everyone, in solidarity, refuses to fight the 101 more than absolutely necessary.
Your budget is what you make it. Sure, you can blast through $1,000 in one night, no problem, if that’s your calling. But you can also live pretty well, as I mostly have, on about 40 bucks a day (sans housing of course). Hit up some taco trucks for $1.50 grub. Grab a $4 ‘dog from the boardwalk. Eat in markets; swill in dive bars. Honestly, some of the best food in the city can be procured for under $10. Consider it a tasty challenge.
Walking around braless in last night’s clothes is fine. Honestly, it’s almost trendy. Even in a place as swanky as Venice has become. “You can’t tell who is rich and who is poor here,” my girl Lindsey told me this time around as we rolled out of her house to walk the pups in a strange array of sweatshirts, pajama pants, socks under sandals and unwashed hair. The rest of the early morning crowd followed suit. I’m 1000 percent in for this.
Beaches + unreal weather + sunsets + extra-tall palms: Let’s be real: it’s kind of pretty here. There really is nothing like watching the waves crash against the rocks on Venice Beach, driving up the PCH or strolling down streets lined with impossibly tall palm trees and framed by the San Gabriel mountains. The days, in almost perpetual sun, are hot and the mornings and evenings, often cool and fresh. Just prepared to be mocked on Instagram when your pals set up propane heaters after the temps drop below 65. Listen — it’s a cold 64 you guys, life can be really hard here.
SPRAWL. Unlike New York and San Francisco, LA isn’t all that walkable thanks to a criss-cross of highways and the sheer amount of space it covers. Trying to bounce around from ‘hood to ‘hood is no easy feat and often requires A CAR. See below.
Traffic makes you want to jump out of a rolling car. Or possibly just crawl out of a completely stopped car because WE’RE NOT MOVING, ARE WE. Though there aren’t so many tote bags dedicated to it, gridlock is just as integral to LA’s identity as palm trees and surf boards. Need to commute to work? Cue up 7 consecutive podcasts. Want to take a Lyft to a loc 10 miles away? Bring a short novel. I had a conversation, while here, about a friend picking me up adding a full hour and a half to our trip. HOW DOES ANYONE LIVE THIS WAY???
The LA effect. Everyone is always planning meetings here. (My gal pal, distraught I didn’t have anything set up, frantically called a few associates exclaiming that her friend was here in LA for a week with NO MEETINGS.) Everyone wants to know who everyone else’s meetings were with. And if there were any famous people involved. And how long it will take them to also become famous. Wait, was that Alex Randoman we just passed? I heard his agent has a brother whose fiancée’s daughter knows a guy who might be able to get my foot in the door at this marketing company I’m going for. My cousin, who, you know, worked for Liam Hemsworth’s tailor like five years ago, had coffee with the CEO once. Well, he was in the coffee shop at the same time. Guess who else was there: Becky from advertising. But I’m pretty sure she hasn’t gotten a meeting yet because her ex-boyfriend told his therapist, who is super close with my best friend’s aunt, that she’s actually trying to start her own thing.
Half of LA is wasted; the other half is very, very sober. Perhaps this is a slight exaggeration, but it’s clearly not that far off because the three LA residents to whom I repeated this statement had the same reaction. Pause. Look into the distance. Remark “Hmm,” thoughtfully. If you go to pick up takeout, there’s a good chance the human manifestations of at least five different drugs will cross your path; but if you throw a party, there’s an equally strong chance half of the attendees will bring green juice in lieu of tequila. For someone who operates firmly in middle territory, like I, it’s very confusing.
It’s rapidly changing. Like a lot of major cities in the U.S., the cost of housing is getting out of control and people are being priced out of the market more and more every day. That means gentrifying neighborhoods, depleting culture and homeless people showing up in odd places — like camped out in front of high-end boutiques. It’s threatening to kill some of what makes LA so great, and it’s disconcerting. Maybe more than ever, LA is becoming a city of two tales; tent towns in front of high-rise condos, Manolo Blahniks next to shoeless feet.
Sometimes your dog eats dirty tampons on the street. I’m sad to report this is a true account that happened to me while dog-sitting and strolling around the block (he picked it up three times after I pulled it out of his mouth; it was a really terrible 30 seconds of my life), which is anecdotal but also an illustration of a greater point —LA isn’t exactly pristine. Take a jaunt around any given neighborhood and you might come across discarded boxers and shoes, paint cans or needles (fun!).
My advice? Stuff your face with tacos until you’ve entered a sort of chili-induced haze and then raise your gaze above the sidewalks. Those palm trees sure are pretty.