L.A. has so much natural beauty! The people are friendly. The weather is beautiful. There is access to all of the resources of a major metropolis. There’s a good reason why millions of people want to live here.
Of course, there are disadvantages, too. The city sprawls out over more than 500 square miles, which means that it can take a lot of time to get from here to there. There is smog (although the air is usually crystal clear at the beach) and there is traffic (although it is generally predictable and therefore avoidable, if you know the short cuts).
But in general, I find that Los Angeles is misunderstood. So often, people will tell me: “I was in L.A. once. It took us forever to get out of the airport and there was so much traffic on the freeway. Then we went to some conference center in a sketchy part of town. It was terrible. I could never live there.” When I ask them if they visited the South Bay, or the foothills, or the art museums, or the sports stadiums, or the university campuses, or the Hollywood Bowl, or any of the beaches, they look at me blankly and mumble that they were in Malibu for thirty minutes but they didn’t actually go to the beach. Uh-huh. Yeah, you haven’t really been to L.A.
When planning a tip to L.A., imagine that you are visiting a wild and foreign landscape! Los Angeles is not like other cities, so don’t expect it to feel familiar. Be kind to the natives, even if you think their customs are a little weird — try to get in a mentality where there is an exaggerated emphasis on cars, movies, and beach volleyball.
Got that? OK. Now, here are my 4 basic rules for having a good time in the Southland:
1. Respect the Freeway
The first mistake that tourists make is to assume that the city has a “center.” Downtown L.A. is a very cool urban community (boasting the Music Center and our new Cathedral, among other things), but it is not the “center” of Los Angeles in the European sense. Despite the success of Beverly Hills 90210, there is no single zip code where everything happens. Greater Los Angeles is a collection of smaller communities, each with its own unique culture. You might hate being downtown, but love the beach cities. You might prefer the mountain vistas of La Cañada to the fashionistas of Rodeo Drive. You might like Koreatown better than Olvera Street. But it’s all part of L.A.! Angelenos spend a lot of time on the road, going from one town to the next, without ever leaving L.A. My mom once quipped, “Los Angeles is a freeway looking for a city.”
Treat the freeways with respect. A freeway is a wild and powerful animal, but it can really help you… as long as you obey its laws and use its energy to your own advantage. If you do get lost, ask someone for directions. Angelenos love to talk about freeways. We talk about the traffic with the same enthusiasm that other people talk about the weather.
Freeway photo by Tom & Michele Grimm, DiscoverLosAngeles.com
2. Plan ahead
I love to be spontaneous! But as a native of L.A., I know that this city requires a lot of planning. If you want to cover more than 90 miles in a day (not unusual here), and still arrive at the right place at the right time, you have to think ahead. Get online before you plan your day: the Internet will help you map your route, buy your tickets, and choose where you want to have lunch before you get there. Also plan what you will do in the car. Road rage rarely happens to people who are having good conversations, listening to their favorite music, or enjoying an audio book.
3. Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Please, please, please do not leave L.A. without at least putting your toes in the Pacific Ocean. Go hiking, go kayaking, go parasailing. If you like cycling, enjoy the 25-mile bike path from the trendy Santa Monica Pier to the more remote beauty of Palos Verdes.
4. Go to the Opera
It seems that L.A. is on the verge of becoming one of the world capitals of classical music. Under the musical leadership of James Conlon and Placido Domingo, L.A. Opera consistently attracts world class artists for stellar productions. Gustavo Dudamel is pouring his dynamic energy into the L.A. Philharmonic. The L.A. Master Chorale is utterly fantastic. And the Hollywood Bowl continues to offer classical concerts to audiences of 18,000!
Of course, I don’t spend all my time in L.A. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I am totally in love with Europe. I love European music, European culture, European history, European food, European architecture! I feel very much at home there. And that’s why I’m often on a plane to London, Paris or Vienna. But at the same time… I’m pretty stoked about spending Christmas with my family in the city of angels.
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas from L.A.!