I recently met fellow traveler Joel from Freedonia Post, who’s about to start his own round-the-world trip in July 2010. His posts are really fun to read, living up to his tagline of “The world’s most entertaining world travel blog.”
As Joel currently lives in LA and loves the city, I asked if he could dispel the myths about Los Angeles and persuade me to visit there one day. It’s now on my list of places to travel! See for yourself…
To paraphrase something a wise woman once said “Los Angeles isn’t bad, it’s just drawn that way.”
LA takes a lot of heat for its traffic, lack of public transportation, smog, crime and cheesy tourist attractions. And a lot of it is well-deserved – Grand Theft Auto didn’t spring entirely from a programmer’s imagination.
It takes a while for a novice to discover what’s underneath all that, but if you look past the movie studios, Disneyland, night clubs and Rodeo Drive, you can find a wonderful adventure.
Here are a few things I’ll miss about Los Angeles:
Lots of places are described as an outdoor paradise, but let’s be honest, many of those are covered in snow 50% of the year. And I hate snow with a passion.
Los Angeles may not be sunny every day, but it rains an average of 26 days per year. That leaves 339 days a year when you can enjoy the outdoors. You can surf in the morning, ski in the afternoon and top it off with an evening bike ride in the mountains.
The highlight: April – the hills are green, the skies are generally clear and the temperatures are ideal for any outdoor activity.
The Los Angeles area is a cyclist’s dream. Within spitting distance from the city, there are hundreds of miles of quiet mountain roads winding through the Angeles Forest, the Santa Monica mountains and dozens of other locations. These are roads you can ride for hours, and have fewer than a dozen cars pass by. It’s odd that few tourists ever get out to these areas, because they have some of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen.
In the more urban settings, the terrain sparks amazing levels of creativity in architects and engineers who built hillside homes around Mulholland Drive and its canyon offspring. I question the wisdom of raising junior on stilts in the middle of earthquake country, but I bailed on my engineering degree after two semesters, so what do I know?
The highlight: views from any of the canyon roads above Malibu: Latigo, Sycamore and dozens of others.
One of the largest urban parks in the world, Griffith Park is wilderness smack dab in the middle of cityscape. Almost daily, you can see deer, coyotes and any number of other animals while hiking acres of trails. The Sierra Club hosts regular weeknight hikes through the park.
Attractions in the park include the Los Angeles Zoo, Travel Town rail history museum, Gene Autry museum of Western Heritage, pony rides, horse trails, a carousel and spacious venues to play, have family picnics or even practice your drums without annoying the neighbors.
The highlight: Griffith Park Observatory – beautiful views of the city, the Hollywood sign and the surrounding mountains. Also famous as a location in Rebel Without A Cause.
Forget about the Walk of Fame, watching tourists is the real attraction of Hollywood Boulevard, whether they’re measuring their feet against John Wayne’s at Grauman’s or taking photos with the guy wearing the homemade Spider-Man costume.
Highlight: Venice beach. Another great place to watch tourists and the very offbeat locals, along with arts, crafts and $3 t-shirts.
If you DO want to see a celebrity, forget about going on a movie studio tour. You’re much more likely to bump into Jennifer Garner at Starbucks, Harrison Ford at the Brentwood dog park or any number of actors out for a morning hike in Runyon Canyon.
For the newcomer, you have to keep your eyes open because most people don’t expect to see actors sitting next to them. On the Universal Tour several years ago, an entire tram full of people busily scanned the backlot for stars, never noticing that Mel Gibson and his kids were on the same tram.
The other random encounter I enjoy is the discovery of locations used in television and films. The backlots are certainly interesting, but it’s those little places you happen upon that are much more fun. My childhood memories rushed back the first time I rode my bike past the Brady Bunch house in Studio City or hiked to the Batcave in Griffith Park. Here’s a little list of some random locations around LA and the films they were used in.
Highlight: My favorite random encounter is a tough one to track down – the ecological disconnect of a flock of parrots that calls the area around Pasadena its home.
The Mix of Cultures
Los Angeles culture is like a smoothie made with a broken blender. Part of LA’s struggle and its charm is that the cultural topography doesn’t really blend together throughout the city.
Dreams cross cultural boundaries, so people from other cities, other states and other nations all gather in LA, bringing bits of their homes along with them. Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, K-Town, Chinatown, Thai Town and more surround the downtown area with a wide variety of cultural experiences.
Because of the historical ties to Mexico, Hispanic culture is prevalent throughout the city. The best places to experience it are Olvera Street, and for a special treat, you can check out a traditional Mexican rodeo in Pico Rivera.
Highlight: Mariachi Plaza, where dozens of professional mariachi musicians gather to be hired to play at restaurants, parties and community events.
If all that doesn’t offer you enough adventure, then keep this in mind: other areas of the country may do civil war re-enactments, but where else can you re-enact a high speed car chase of your very own?
Thanks again, Joel! If readers enjoyed this article, please check out Freedonia Post for more.