Good things about Los Angeles

by Maria on August 26, 2008

Some time back, I mentioned in passing that living in Los Angeles has never been my life’s dream. As of last week, I’ve lived here for a full year, and I’m glad to report I’ve mellowed on it a bit. Well, just the decision to put less energy into disliking it helped.

On another CT post of mine today, commenters geo and Delicious Pundit gently point out that it’s silly to hate on a relatively decent place like L.A. I agree. There are worse places to be dragged to by your job. It’s several months since I felt a true twinge of jealousy of a friend whose work took her to Astana for a few years (turns out they have quite good skiing nearby). L.A. has quite a few good things. Among them, Delicious Pundit exhorts me to “come to the Sunday Farmers’ Market in Hollywood and get some avocados and strawberries (Gaviotas, the kind that don’t ship), some tamales, and maybe some watermelon lemonade from the nice people who come down from Solvang.” Which sounds very nice indeed.

The best thing about L.A. is of course the weather. Nuff said. The first moderately ok thing about L.A. actually reminds me of Brussels: it’s a bit crap until you get used to it, but there are lots of good day trips and weekend trips to be made nearby in the meantime. So far, I’ve driven to Ensenada in Baja Mexico, Joshua Tree National Park, a couple of presidential libraries (both Reagan and Nixon are well worth a visit, whatever your political preferences), San Juan Capestrano, Santa Barbara and Solvang, and down the coast to L.A. from San Francisco. There’s no shortage of places to go from L.A., and they tide you over while you wait to find the city less soul-destroyingly ugly. Now that I’ve become indifferent to the strip malls and freeways, I’ve begun to like some of the nicer bits.

Good things about L.A.: many, many outdoor things, 5k and 10k runs every weekend that let joggers explore the city, some good cinemas and lots of cultural stuff scattered around a 30 mile radius. Life for me picked up an awful lot when I got a car and moved away from the office.

Bad things: well, let’s not focus too much on those, but I was surprised at how dirty the sea water is, and it’s a bit sad that so many good, independent book shops seem to be closing down at the moment. (Oh god, reading this back it sounds so Stuff White People Like, I’m mortified.)

I’m drawing a blank, but am sure there are plenty more good things, right?



rea 08.26.08 at 6:21 pm

Well, the city with the coolest song written about it–beats the heck out of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”:

“I see your hair is burnin
Hills are filled with fire
If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar
Drivin down your freeways
Midnight alleys roam
Cops in cars, the topless bars
Never saw a woman…
So alone, so alone”


harry b 08.26.08 at 6:30 pm

The La Brea Tar Pits. The County Museum used to have a free or almost free film showing of great old films in the summers (one summer I watched all Jean Harlow’s movies there). The United Teachers of Los Angeles, whose Vice President is a mensch. Bob Brenner at UCLA. The home of Justice of Janitor’s first really high profile campaign (Century City 1990). Vegetarian, myself, but people obsess about InNOut Burger.


Rich Puchalsky 08.26.08 at 6:40 pm

I moved to L.A. from the East Coast for a few years, and found many, many things to dislike about it. Here are some of the good things about it:

1. Murals. L.A. is one of the heirs to the Mexican muralist tradition, and murals are one of the only parts of the built environment that look like they respond to the particular needs of the people living there. I got so that I could recognize where I was in L.A. by the murals. I took up taking pictures of them as a hobby, and my site here has pictures of a thousand of them.

2. Natural areas. None in L.A., but within a three hour or so drive in each compass direction, there are: un-crowded beach, mountains with snow, mountains with lakes, old growth forests, 3 different kinds of deserts including the Kelso Dunes, which are classic sand dunes.

3. The Industry. Always a source of good stories and amusing quirks. For instance, I was asked three times at different restaurants if I was a director, because I was the only one dressing software-guy shabby — directors are assumed to be the only ones who don’t have to look good. And people will copy down your tired old stories excitedly, thinking that they may make part of a good screenplay.


Delicious Pundit 08.26.08 at 7:28 pm

I was just back East so I’m full of nostalgia for it, and it’s true that one does not live an exciting, public life here as one does on the streets of the great cities. And it is terrible about the bookstores. But I will point out two positive things :

1. As mentioned, the produce. It seems like a small thing, but eating is something we do virtually every day, and to have Meyer lemons (which I box carefully and mail to my sister in Albany), or thin-skinned oranges, or the grapes…it would be hard to go back to February in Brooklyn. Plus pistachios.

2. LA seems a lot less finished than other big cities. We’re still digging our subways, for example; our cathedral isn’t even a decade old. It’s fascinating to watch. (Of course, we don’t have a proper newspaper to chronicle it, but I’m trying to be positive.)

Or this from David Hockney (from Lawrence Weschler’s piece on the light in L.A., well worth tracking down): “…one of the things I noticed right away, long before I could even articulate it exactly, was how Stan and Ollie, bundled in their winter overcoats, were casting these wonderfully strong, crisp shadows. We never got shadows of any sort in winter. And already I knew that someday I wanted to settle in a place with winter shadows like that.”

Confidential to harry b: LACMA film stuff found here.


Roy Belmont 08.26.08 at 7:29 pm

You’ll have to search or implore the more knowledgeable for exactly currently where, but LA’s got the best inexpensive Mexican food in the US. Vietnamese maybe too.
Like most cities but even more so for being so widely spaced yet commercially full, you can get most any odd rare item somewhere. Big plus if you like odd rare items.
As far as the weather, the most beautiful urban dawn I ever saw was in Pasadena, just after three days of torrential sky-cleansing and street-washing rain. Visually, olfactorily, and with the local birds celebrating, acoustically beautiful as well.


Delicious Pundit 08.26.08 at 7:33 pm

Or this essay from Geoff Manaugh. Money quote:

In L.A. you can grow Fabio hair and go to the Arclight and not be embarrassed by yourself. Every mode of living is appropriate for L.A. You can do what you want. And I don’t just mean that Los Angeles is some friendly bastion of cultural diversity and so we should celebrate it on that level and be done with it; I mean that Los Angeles is the confrontation with the void. It is the void…It’s a confrontation with the oceanic; with anonymity; with desert time; with endless parking lots.


djw 08.26.08 at 7:39 pm

The near-mandatory driving; on crowded freeways, no less, to get just about anywhere. I couldn’t take it; that alone would drive me away. I’d be very unhappy to live somewhere I have to use a car more than, say, twice a week. The produce would lessen the blow, though.


Matthew Kuzma 08.26.08 at 7:49 pm

The best thing about L.A. is of course the weather.

This statement is probably the most decisive reason why I’ll never like LA. I hate the weather.

I live in Minneapolis where right now the heat of the summer is settling into a cool early autumn. Every night the air smells like campfire and the biking trails have started to get a dusting of crispy dried leaves. If this year is typical, we’ll have another surge of80’s-90’s in mid September and there’ll be a corresponding surge of beachgoers and walks to ice cream shops.

Around October the air will start to get crisper and hot drinks and bonfires will become more welcome. Long brisk walks through forrests of fading foliage won’t break you a sweat. The cooler, darker days will alternate between cozy and moody, depending on the daily cloud cover. Later in the year there will be the magic of the first snow and the silencing blanket of the first snow storm. The winter will be too long. But then will come spring with its long thaw, its snow-melt puddles, its gradual greening, and then another summer with thunderstorms that shake the windows and hot muggy days that abhor clothing.

You don’t actually have weather. If I want to appreciate the best part of LA, I can just visit the Mall of America, and much like the real thing, I’ll be itching to leave in a matter of minutes.


ed kupfer 08.26.08 at 8:19 pm

The greatest standup comedy scene in the world is centred around Los Angeles. For example, I just looked at the UCB schedule for tonight: Matt Besser and Marc Maron are doing Comedy Death Ray. For five bucks. This is the only thing that would tempt me to move from Canada. I can’t even pay 50 bucks to see comics of that calibre, because they never come here.


derek 08.26.08 at 8:46 pm

i lived in san fran and NYC and used to be really snobby about those two places in comparision to LA which i visited when my now spouse was living in santa monica. So, things to like about LA: what about Mulholland Drive at night?- the drive on PCH up to the beginning of Mulholland at Leo Carillo State Park with stops on the way at all of what we referred to as the “El” beaches north of malibu? – on the way to San Diego, turn left and go to Anza Boreago: fabulous state park; Venice Beach and its boardwalk, particularly on Sunday; the Santa Monica Pier; the fact that you can run/walk/rollerblade/bike for miles and miles and miles on the beach path [at least from malibu to LAX, if my memory serves me correctly]; Big Bear; Lake Arrowhead; the MoCA; when i first moved to CA, i was just amazed at the quality of the fruits and vegetables [and now that i live in NYC again, I really miss the inexpensive high quality fruits and vegetables available in CA]; and, yes, the weather – i think you just need to lose the attitude and be more open minded – the driving is a pain [when i was first going out with my wife i refused to go with her to a party in Palos Verdes because it required driving on the 405] but once you get out of the city proper, there is a lot to see, particularly the deserts [mojave, joshua tree, death valley] – it’s not perfect but it’s better than you think it is if you’ll allow yourself to enjoy it


MikeZ 08.26.08 at 9:12 pm

As someone who grew up in LA, went to school in the Bay Area, and now live in DC, I like LA the least among all the cities that I’ve just listed. But, there are good things about:

1) Cheap and accessible ethnic food

But that’s about it. I hated the traffic, and the fact that you’d have to drive to do anything, resulting from the virtual non-existence of useful public transit. And the air quality sucks.


christian h. 08.26.08 at 9:24 pm

I just moved to LA from Chicago and yeah, it’s different – but I like it. It has hills, and trees, and the ocean, and good weather (don’t listen to Matthew, he’s just trying to convince himself ;)) with no need for either A/C or heating, it has a high rate of unionization, it’s much less arrogant and self-involved than Boston or New York. It used to have one of the better papers in the US, before Tribune finished it off. No place is perfect. (Especially not DC, by the way.)


HD 08.26.08 at 9:34 pm

Having lived around (Seattle, NY, TX), the striking thing for me about LA is that it is one of two American cities that everyone shares. We all get NYC through books, and magazines, and the essays of Cheever and Updike and everyone else. If you walk around NYC, you can’t help but be literary, and overlay every intersection with something you’ve read.

Los Angeles, however, is the screen. Big screen Hollywood and small screen TV. Almost every place you’ve ever been in LA you saw on a screen first, even if that memory is 30 years old from an LA that doesn’t exist anymore that you saw on Emergency or riding along with Jack Webb or from the helicopter of MASH. It’s a city of sets. It’s hard not to feel like you are a character in a script as you drive about in those sets under the same big black sun as all those forgotten TV heroes.

Of course both cities cross over – we’ve all seen most of NYC in various Law and Order incarnations, and Los Angeles certainly looks like Raymond Chandler ought to still be writing about it. But NYC is words, and LA is pictures.

I would guess that you either like that feeling, or you don’t. And that will determine how you feel about LA.

I was going to write more, but the essay by Manaugh nailed everything else.


rea 08.26.08 at 9:46 pm

Matthew is right about the weather here in the old NW . . . up to a point. I live in MI rather than MN, but it’s much the same. Spring and fall are wonderful. Summer is a lot of fun, except for the relatively few days we get in the 90’s. Winter is fun, too, for a few days. Late January, or early February, though, with everything dark and dreary, the temperature in the teens, and dirty snow piled up everywhere–that’s pure misery. I know a number of people up here who suffer from seasonal affect disorder . . .


Music of the Spherical Quotients 08.26.08 at 9:58 pm

By far the best thing about Los Angeles is the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I’m always amazed that Angelenos are completely unaware of it. My favorite museum, by far!


Dan Simon 08.26.08 at 10:08 pm

it’s silly to hate on a relatively decent place like L.A. I agree. There are worse places to be dragged to by your job. It’s several months since I felt a true twinge of jealousy of a friend whose work took her to Astana for a few years

Sasha Baron-Cohen can get away with saying this sort of thing deadpan-straight (in character, at least). You, not so much. Remember–comedy is hard…


virgil xenophon 08.26.08 at 10:40 pm

derek @9 has pretty much covered the waterfront, so to speak. As I live both in New Orleans and here in Marina del Rey (where I am now) I feel I’ve the best of both old European (N.O.) and the “future” here in the West. One thing about Venice, Marina del Rey and Santa Monica is that they all run together, so things are pretty much contained in a relatively contiguous (for LA ) area. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lived all over, and each place has it’s special charms–and that’s the secret. Don’t wish Louisville is more like NYC, for example (I’ve lived in both) but enjoy each for what special things it has to offer. “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”


Anderson 08.26.08 at 10:42 pm

I mean that Los Angeles is the confrontation with the void. It is the void.

Nietzsche, prophet of Los Angeles:

We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself — all this means — let us dare to grasp it — a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will! . . . And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will. —

Not that one would superficially think that L.A. was motivated by a hatred of sensuality … but if you consider the contempt imposed by saturation, I think that L.A. begins to look a lot like the conclusion of the Genealogy of Morals.


Michael Drake 08.26.08 at 11:08 pm

You’ll like Book Soup.


anonymous37 08.26.08 at 11:26 pm

The art museums are great — better than SF (but second-rate compared to NY and Chicago). The Getty and LACMA are pretty solid institutions. The symphony is better than SF (and also not as good as Chicago and NY).


FMguru 08.27.08 at 12:35 am

1) The Big Blue Bus system (as seen in SPEED!). Limited range, but if you live in the UCLA/Santa Monica/Venice area, you can get by with only limited access to a car. Cheap and reliable.
2) KCRW, the finest radio station on the West Coast (streaming live on the internet, hooray!).
3) The shopping. There’s weird stores and swap meets and markets and ethnic enclaves for just about everything you might be interested in.
4) As mentioned above, bicycling/roller-blading from Malibu to LAX and back along the beach trail.
5) In-N-Out. Best chain burger joint anywhere, and just one of LA’s surprisingly long list of notable hamburger restaurants.
6) The Industry. Again, in West LA, it’s just a part of life, even if you don’t work for it directly (or indirectly). Nothing like having the radio tell you to prepare for delays passing through downtown because the streets are blocked for the Oscars.
7) The music scene. Every act, big or small, comes through LA at some point on just about every tour.
8) Architecture. LA has its own gifts to architecture, from awesome things like the whole Googie diner design aesthetic to terrible things, like the “dingbat” apartment and the two-story mini-mall (with little wall in front and underground parking accessable via a 45-degree ramp.)

The weather isn’t so great, particularly in the Valley, where it gets beastly hot, or inland where all the smog blows. San Diego and the Bay Area have it better in that regard.


Righteous Bubba 08.27.08 at 1:31 am

By far the best thing about Los Angeles is the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Yes yes yes yes yes yes.


sara 08.27.08 at 1:49 am

I lived there for a year with no car, so it’s damn inconvenient to get around the city by bus. Neighborhoods, even commercial ones, often have a low-density quality that is frustrating for pedestrians.

But the sky, my lady, the sky!

Especially at sunset with palm trees silhouetted against it.


JE 08.27.08 at 3:23 am

The commenters seem to be relatively young, live on the Westside and have limited vision. I have very mixed views of LA, having lived here for twenty-four years (I still miss rain) but to be fair, you must consider:
1) if you are not afraid of none-white people with limited English the food in LA is the best in the country with partial concessions to NYC. Contact me for restaurant recommendations, but you are going to have to go east of La Cienega. Ethnic correction – outstanding Italian, Armenian, Hungarian and Greek food here as well.
2) This is a capital of the Pacific Rim. You have to look for the signs of it, but you won’t find any in Westwood. If you have some understanding of slow change this place is fascinating. The amount of Chinese “flight capital” not to mention immigration staggers the mind. I will take you around if you want.
3) The spontaneous unplanned cultural mixing, borrowing and matching is unbelievable here and arguably historically unprecedented but you have to go east of La Cienega or south of the 10 to see it.
4) There is serious theater, literature and art here, but you have to know where to look for it. The LA Times is dead but doesn’t know it yet.
5) Go surfing and reflect on your statements.


mds 08.27.08 at 3:38 am

I suspect that I would agree with Delicious Pundit and sara about the quality of the light and the sky, since among things I loved growing up in southern Arizona were the sharpness of the light, the intensity of the sky, especially at dawn or dusk.

And sara:

But the sky, my lady, the sky!

If only there were a way to perform the secret Ken MacLeod handshake online…


Kenny Easwaran 08.27.08 at 4:29 am

Re: 2 – I’m also a vegetarian, but I like In’n’Out too. Although the menu doesn’t list anything vegetarian other than fries and shakes, you can order a “grilled cheese sandwich”, which is their cheeseburger without any meat. Still got the cheese, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and whatever their special sauce is. And from what I hear their ingredients are actually rather fresh and good, unlike other fast food.

Thanks for this post, since I’ll be moving to LA in January and want to know what some more good things about it are. But as someone said, so far it seems Santa Monica/Westwood-centered, whereas I’m probably hoping to live closer to downtown or silverlake.

One thing people haven’t mentioned which I found interesting when visiting my parents down in Orange County at some point is that if you go a bit south (perhaps the town is actually Artesia rather than LA proper?) at Pioneer Blvd and about 186th st, there’s all of a sudden about five blocks with excellent Indian food, clothing, music, and other stores in a neighborhood that seems to be otherwise largely Korean. I had a very nice dinner at one of the chaat places there just before heading to the airport a few weeks ago.


thompsaj 08.27.08 at 10:52 am

Silverlake, Echo Park and Highland Park are pretty neat neighborhoods filled with the aforementioned murals, and the indie rock scene is centered on the east side- there’s famous small venues like The Echo, Spaceland, and Silverlake Lounge. HP has a pretty good farmers market on Tuesday. Also well connected to downtown by the gold line train, which I’ve been riding for free lately and no one’s ever asked me for my ticket. They’re actually more walkable and bikeable than LA’s reputation would lead you to expect.


Maria 08.27.08 at 2:07 pm

Dan Simon, it’s not comedy. I really would have preferred Astana to Los Angeles, at least for the first few months.


Demosthenes 08.27.08 at 6:18 pm

Sounding like something from SWPL is not something to be ashamed of. At this point, that guy’s gone all the way to South Park-style self-parody.


Mantooth 08.28.08 at 3:05 pm

I came out there several years ago for work (academia) and left after two years because I hated it so badly, for all the predictable reasons. But I did find some things that I really have missed. Hollywood Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings is fantastic. Restaurants in general are very good, and the good ones are great. The beach south of the Ballona Canal/Marina del Rey is nice and underused, and the Ballona Canal bike path is wonderful. Topanga State Park is surprisingly close and isolated, and Joshua Tree is of course a highlight. Amoeba Records is huge and has good in-store performances. LACMA and the tar pits; Larchmont on a weekend morning; the downtown library. There’s a little area near Olympic and Wilshire, Vermont and Western where Oaxaca meets Seoul and Fujian–just a crazy place with a genuine street life. East of downtown is interesting as well, in the old Chicano East L.A. markets. And the best dim sum in the world is just east of the city in Monterey Park and Alhambra, where you can go before hitting the track at Santa Anita.


Lisa Spangenberg 08.29.08 at 1:54 am

I’m about to leave L.A., after 22 years, for Seattle.

Good things: Santa Monica–home of El Cholo, and the best margaritas, ever, and lovely mexican food, the Wednesday farmer’s Market on the third st. promenade, especially Harry’s Berries for strawberries, and John Tennerelli Orchards for peaches, nectarines.

Elsewhere– the Getty, and the Huntington. The UCLA Graduate Research Library. O’Brien’s on Wilshire for Irish Breakfast, and the best Irish coffee in the county (best ever is at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco). Homemade tortillas and tomatillo and cheese salsa at Casablanca on Lincoln near Rose.

I know, I really do, that I’ll find wonderful places and people in Seattle–maybe even used bookstores–but I’ll miss Santa Monica, and UCLA, a lot.


Ozzie Maland 08.29.08 at 8:57 pm

Excerpt from Ask Oxford:
What is the origin of the word ‘posh’?
The story goes that the more well-to-do passengers travelling to and from India used to have POSH written against their bookings, standing for ‘Port Out, Starboard Home’ (indicating the more
desirable cabins, on the shady side of the ship). Unfortunately, this story did not make its appearance until the 1930s, when the term had been in use for some twenty years, and the word does not appear to have been recorded in the form ‘P.O.S.H.’, which would be expected if it had originated as an abbreviation. Despite exhaustive enquiries by the late Mr George Chowdharay-Best, researcher for the OED, including interviews with former travellers and inspection of shipping company documents, no supporting evidence has been found.
[end excerpt]

I lived in the Boston area seven years, the Chicago area twenty-eight years, and So Cal (San Diego) the last eighteen — So Cal has my vote for being the POSH place: Porsche out, starlet home. If you get this far, be sure to visit Cabrillo National Monument, the La Jolla Cove, and the Hotel Del Coronado. The famed zoo, the Wild Animal Park (better than the zoo), and Sea World are for kids, as is Legoland up in Carlsbad.

Aloha ~~~ Ozzie Maland ~~~ San Diego


engels 08.29.08 at 9:09 pm

Turning right on a red light?


Righteous Bubba 08.29.08 at 9:30 pm

Anyone mentioned easy access to sex and drugs and rock and roll?

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