Los Angeles: Southern California Starts Here
“I grew up in Southern California.”
To Americans who didn’t grow up in SoCal, this is the equivalent of saying, “I grew up in Los Angeles.” And to the healthy chunk of Gen Xers that devoted their afternoons to Dylan McKay and the 90210 crew, “I grew up in Southern California” means something even more specific: “I grew up in Beverly Hills.” The reality is that I had hardly set foot in Los Angeles–let alone the fabled Hills–until I was old enough for Sunset rock shows and Camel cigarettes. And it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I got to see Los Angeles from a grown-up point of view.
Lesson one to loving Los Angeles is this: don’t listen to the naysayers. There’s always going to be someone painting the city as too image-obsessed, too judgmental, too tan, or too Ed Hardy, but keep in mind that this is also the city where Hollywood happens—where you can run into a celebrity on your way to a 3:00am chili dog at Pink’s or stumble upon the latest taping of Castle while you’re walking your pug. Oh, and the food? If you aren’t blissed out on Sprinkles cupcakes or Sabor y Cultura coffee, you’re not getting the most out of your SoCal experience.
The city’s sit-down cuisine challenges conventions as well. I had a chance to dine at Susan Feniger’s Street just a couple of weeks ago, and it was an all-around amazing experience. The restaurant takes street foods from around the world and comes up with something I’m going to label “globetrotter gourmet.” You know how vodka flights work? Well, our prix fixe meal here was something like that—each dish hailing from a different hemisphere. And don’t be afraid to order the things you can’t pronounce. I could live off of Susan’s spinach varenyky, and I’m still not sure if that “k” is silent.
Prefer something more tropical? Trader Vic’s Lounge at the Beverly Hilton is famous for its tiki-style beverages and Polynesian-inspired decor. Once you’ve ordered yourself a Mai Tai, step into the outside portion of the bar and check out the immaculately-landscaped pool. It’s definitely in the “oasis” category:
The rooms at the Beverly Hilton are inspiring as well, though I regret to say that I don’t have any photos of the interiors. You’ll have to imagine the sprawling marble bathrooms instead. I honestly could have spent days in that bath tub, watching telenovelas on the in-room TV and sipping chilled Amarula. Days, people.
But back to Los Angeles. If you’re looking for landmarks here, there’s far more to see than just the Walk of Fame. Stop in at the Beverly Wilshire, where Julia Roberts underwent her streetwalker-to-socialite transformation in Pretty Woman (funny how it goes the opposite way nowadays!) or drive up to the Sunset for a look at the iconic Capitol Records building. There are tours aplenty that showcase celebrity homes and Hollywood hot spots, and entertainment lovers can pick up tickets for live TV tapings and stage shows.
Los Angeles is also a city with some serious scenery. Yes, there are palm trees—you’ll see them lining many a city street—and if you’ve ever had “All I Wanna Do” stuck in your head, you can certainly make time to see the sun come up over Santa Monica Boulevard. But there are other vistas as well. The majestic San Gabriel mountains, the bright and busy shops of Chinatown, and the long stretches of sun-blanched beach are all as much a part of Los Angeles as that big, white Hollywood sign.
Closer to the Pacific shore, Santa Monica offers its own set of charms—not the least of which is the locally-sourced cuisine. Restaurants like FIG have been increasingly focused on bringing in quality local ingredients, and an abundance of farmers ‘ markets in the area make it easy for chefs to find fresh, delicious produce. Even if you aren’t hungry, the Fairmont Miramar—the hotel in which FIG is located—is worth checking out. Its manicured grounds and fountains are like a tropical fairyland, and the Los Angeles sunshine makes it even better.
Really–Los Angeles is kind of like its own country. There are Beverly Hills streets lined with shiny designer storefronts, there are Wilshire taco joints stuffed with rowdy UC undergrads, there’s Sunset Strip with its iconic venues and bulb-lit marquees, and there’s the mecca of gay bars in fashionable West Hollywood. All you have to do is figure out what you’re looking for, and you’ll find it. And that’s how you end up loving Los Angeles.
Photo Credits (Top to Bottom): “111 Hollywood Sign” by Robert Garcia; “STREET Art” by me; “Beverly Hilton Poolside” by me; “Capitol Records” by Still Burning; “Palm Tree Sunset 4” by tiarescott; “The Fairmont Miramar Hotel” by Kevin Labianco.
My name: Kate Beall
How I earn my keep: Writing for Travelocity.
Best meal I've ever had: There are three: the mofongo at Jimmy'z Kitchen in South Beach, the lomito completo at Fuente Alemana in Santiago, and (for the sheer novelty factor) the cuy chactado in Arequipa, Peru.
First thing I do in a new place: Hit the shower. Anything more than an hour in transit gets me fantasizing about soap.
View that took my breath away: Seeing the endless stretch of the Sierras as I flew in to Reno/Tahoe for the first time. In the winter, it's an aching field of white all the way to the horizon, like a world wiped clean. Looking out at it gives you this unmatched feeling of eternity.
Most challenging travel moment: Sharing a pull-out couch in a cramped New York apartment. The heat wave of 2010 was in full, humid swing and the air conditioning was D.O.A. There was nothing to do but soak your clothes in the sink and hope to pass out before they dried. ...then wake up in an hour and do it all again.
Favorite way to get around: On foot. I'm still working on the motorcycle license.