You’ve likely heard the whispers that LA doesn’t have a personality, it’s just palm trees, vapid people, and unrelenting traffic. This is how LA is generalized to those of us living outside of its sunny, shiny, perfect bubble. So when I booked my week-long trip to the City of Angels, I had nothing but high hopes thanks to my long-term love affair with California — and zero clue what to expect.
Unlike a much more familiar-to-me New York City — which I generally keep up with where to go, what to eat, and what to do there, thanks to social media, proximity to Toronto, and friends who frequent the city — I had no working knowledge of LA in my back pocket. I had no wishlist. I had no must-do’s or must-see’s saved on Instagram. I had no idea what I was in for.
I just had 8 days to discover a brand new city in a part of the state I’ve never explored before, and a friend who’s lived there for 10 years, who, for 10 years, I’ve said I wanted to go visit. So this year I finally did.
I should add for context that this is a friend I knew when I was 7 years old who I haven’t seen in 12 years. So, when I say I had no idea what I was in for, I mean it.
Instead of overwhelming myself with research, I went completely against my type-A, super-planned-out travel approach and asked my friend what he likes to do. He said:
“Walking to Universal Studios, the Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica at sunset, long walks in cute neighbourhoods, movies at the Arclight or Citywalk, checking out vintage and collectible stores on Magnolia Lane in Burbank, the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, live music at Hotel Cafe.”
My immediate response:
“Sounds perfect. Let’s do it all!”
More than anything, I just wanted to feel like I lived there (if you read my recent article on how to experience NYC like a local, you’ll know this is a travel MO for me). I didn’t want to get sucked into all the tourist traps (well, maybe only a few). I didn’t want to run around this massive, crazy city trying to do everything and be everywhere, taking pics of the same things you already see all over social media. I wanted to experience LA through the eyes of someone who lives and loves it every day. And I desperately wanted to like LA, and not walk away thinking “LA doesn’t have any character, the way NYC does.” Which you hear, a lot.
So, with my 2019 goal in mind of being open to new experiences, adventure, and growth this year, I took a figurative and literal step outside of my comfort zone and into the unknown.
I think this is why it’s been so hard to write about the trip, to sum it up in one tidy article and turn it into just another travel blog of recommendations and places you must go. (Don’t worry, I’ll still give you my 5 LA must-do’s soon). The trip was such a personal growth opportunity for me in a lot of ways, so I feel like that wouldn’t do it justice. I still don’t know if this article does.
As I was sorting through all my thoughts and feelings about the trip, trying to figure out how to write about it and where to start, my best friend asked me “Don’t think. Just write. What are the 5 words that come to mind now [that you’ve been there] when you think about LA?”
These are the words I immediately wrote out:
Friendship. Creativity. Support. Inspiration. Peace.
Maybe not the typical words you expect to hear when you think about the overwhelming sprawl that is Los Angeles, but based on my experience they’re what I’m left with.
We really jam packed a lot into the week with a mix of both the touristy things, and the “live like a local” things. We neighbourhood hopped (which IMO is the only way to truly experience LA), we road tripped out to Santa Monica and Venice Beach, we hiked, we saw the Hollywood sign, we drove along Mulholland Drive, we celebrity-spotted, we vintage shopped in Burbank, we caught a movie at Citywalk (John Wick 3 – it was awesome), we took in The Getty and Hollywood Walk of Fame, we got stuck in traffic on the 101 (which is a true LA moment, I’m told), and we even pre-gamed the Game of Thrones finale by heading to a Renaissance Faire in Irwindale.
But between all those big moments, there were smaller, intimate, every day moments that really defined, for me, the city and those five words it left me with.
Like a night in over cocktails and guitar sing-a-longs with new friends who welcomed me into their homes and lives like they’ve known me years. There were dinners out and birthdays fêted, all with friendly faces who were just as excited to learn about me as they were to give me their best, little-known LA recos. And between so many Raptors games watched, walks to little coffee shops, and shared excitement over discovering new parts of the city together, I realized that even after 12 years, my childhood friend and I could pick up like we’ve been best friends forever.
I was thrown into this world I knew nothing about, and I left it feeling inspired and awe-struck by the people I was surrounded by. From candid conversations on the (entertainment) industry and politics, to advice and applause for each other on projects in the works, to helping each other through writer’s block and their creative process hurdles, I witnessed endless support and admiration for each other in their careers and personal accomplishments.
Now, back in Toronto and back to real life, I’m ready to take a course (screenwriting, perhaps?) and discover new creative hobbies. I’m ready to challenge myself and go after goals I was too scared to chase before. To expect more from myself and my friendships, to make sure we’re forever challenging, supporting, and inspiring one another. Just like the LA I spent a week with.
There’s something to be said about taking a step in the dark without a plan. Sometimes the best memories are made and connections formed when you open yourself up to the unknown and let life (or a vacation) take you where you’re meant to be — rather than where you’ve planned to be.
Mostly though, I’m so happy that LA showed me that it’s so much more than just palm trees, vapid people, and unrelenting traffic.