Friday, February 25, 2011

City Tour #3 -- Los Angeles, California

For my first American city, I'll reminisce over Los Angeles, a city so big and sprawling that it encompasses many smaller cities and towns that each bring something different to the collective table.

I was only there for three days in 2009 before disembarking to Tahiti, so forgive me if L.A. didn't get my full attention while I was there. But I did enjoy my time in L.A. -- more than I thought I would.

Growing up, L.A. seemed to be too overwhelming to visit and I couldn't help but have the same impression when I started to plan for our visit. I'd been raised to think that traffic in L.A. was horrific but didn't experience any of it while I was there and I was surprised to see that the city was aggressively expanding its mass transit system even as the state of California faced an epic deficit.

In short, I didn't want to like L.A. As an east coast native, I wanted to reject the L.A. lifestyle of being famous for no reason, worshiping celebrities, being a Lakers fan and everything else that has become synonymous with Los Angeles. But I came away from L.A. with a deep appreciation for the city. I found that it wasn't completely a playground for the Kardashians or the cast of Laguna Beach. And maybe that's because our unofficial tour guide while in L.A. was so anti-L.A. despite living there that it rubbed off on me.

Perhaps my most favorite thing about the city was that while you could be in L.A., you could also be in a certain neighborhood that had a feel all its own, and not even feel like you're in L.A. -- Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Hollywood, Downtown...

So here is how I thought L.A. stacked up as a whole.

I saw the sign. And it opened up my eyes. I saw the sign.

1. Arts & Culture --10-- There is a little place called Hollywood that makes pretty much every movie that gets shown on a theater in America each year. Plus, all of the major television networks have studios in the city. L.A. also has a rich history of novelists (James Ellroy, Brett Easton Ellis) and has been home to many rock bands and rappers since...forever.

The bomb-ass shrimp tacos.

2. Food --8-- L.A. isn't known for one thing when it comes to food, it's known for pretty much everything. The melting pot of cultures and ethnic groups within the city have made L.A. a food paradise. From Mexican to Japanese, L.A. has it covered. One of my favorite places where this is on display is the Farmer's Market where I had some bomb-ass fish tacos. I never had a chance to make it to Olvera Street in downtown L.A., but I hear there are some good Mexican street vendors there. The sushi in L.A. was among the best I've ever had.

"L.A. has a subway?" -- Lethal Weapon 3

3. Mass Transit --5-- There are songs written about L.A.'s lack of mass transit and its dependence on the automobile and the city has a long way to go to make its system a comprehensive one. But they have also come along way within the last decade. You can now travel by rail from Long Beach all the way to North Hollywood and soon you'll be able to go from East L.A. all the way to Santa Monica. L.A. buses are said to be some of the most efficient in America, and they better be, since the bus replaced what was once the best network of streetcars in America. Since L.A. is so spread out, it takes a long time to get anywhere, whether by car or by rail, but the city has made great strides in improving its transit system and they must be commended for that.

Farmer's Market

4. Look & Feel --9-- L.A. has many vantage points. It all depends where you are. The beach? The mountains? Downtown? Is there smog? That said, L.A. is a beautiful city in almost every way, from the Hollywood sign to its palm trees down to its people. Perhaps its only downfall is its lack of a walkable city center, but Hollywood will suffice.

Nope, that's not Vancouver.

5. Overall --8-- L.A. is a world-class city. It has everything you want in a city, and probably a lot more. It's huge and can be overwhelming, and doesn't have a walkable city center as many cities do, but that doesn't stop L.A. from being completely awesome, as much as you may not want to admit it.

Total -- 40/50

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