I never had any desire to visit Los Angeles. ‘Overrated’, ‘undesirable neighbourhoods’, ‘smog’, ‘hollywood tourist trap’ is what I had heard over and over again, and by osmosis believed for a long time. So last month I literally suppressed my preconceived ideas and spent a couple of weeks in LA and Southern California. A few of my girlfriends and I had started this annual ‘girls only’ long weekend get-together. And for this trip we decided to visit our friend Dana who lives and works in Orange County. I was going to say LA but that would be incorrect, it’s Orange County for the record. However, for the sake of this post LA refers to anywhere within the sprawling metropolis stretching from Mulholland Drive in the north all the way down to Dana Point in the south. And yes, our friend was born and raised in the area and yes, the story goes she was named after the famous Killer Dana surfing spot by her Dad. As it transpired we all had a surprisingly super-sized fun weekend exploring LA from a ‘local inhabitant’ perspective. Preconceived notions where truly shattered.
The first couple of days we made several unsuccessful attempts to see the famous sparking blue Pacific Ocean while driving along Dana Point and Laguna Beach. The weather was being very stubborn and had other plans. There was so much dense fog rolling in off the ocean and hugging the coastline that for a moment I thought I had taken the wrong flight and landed in San Francisco. This was my first surprise about LA, the fog not smog. Once the fog finally decided to head north where it belongs, I saw the ocean and coastline and fell in love with Laguna Beach. The area has a charming, relaxed beach feel with gorgeous houses sprawling gently up the hillside, art galleries galore, and loads rocky outcrops and little coves to access the beach. Charming even on cloudy, winter days.
Aside from Laguna Beach, the places we ticked of our girls weekend ‘must see while in LA’ lists were Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, LACMA, Huntington Beach/Pier (half tick – apparently its nothing special according to my friend Dana, so we saw the colourful night lights of the pier whizzing by from the passengers seat of her car – I trust her she is a local). We completely avoided some of the cliche tourist places like Hollywood Walk of Fame, Movie Studio Tours, Disney Land. Not wanting to stand in endless queues for hours only to see something that millions of others see. We wanted a more authentic LA local experience which was spectacularly given to us via our friend Dana. We were taken to local bars and restaurants in suburbs we had never heard of (such as Five Vines Wine Bar in San Juan, Side Door in Corona del Mar, Gleenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in Costa Mesa, and South of Nick’s Mexican Kitchen in San Clemente). And our sightseeing days were bookended by lots of strong coffee in the morning and strong cocktail and/or wine in the late afternoons, peppered with crazy girl conversations and uncontrollable laughter.
What fun and adventures we had. We spent one evening drinking strong margaritas and taking silly unpublishable (out of focus) group selfies on Santa Monica pier. Eating delicious Mexican from food trucks parked outside LACMA before seeing a Frank Gehry exhibition and wandering aimlessly around the permanent collections. Freaking out (well, me freaking out) along Venice Beach boulevard at the sheer number of homeless, drug addicts and dodgy street vendors casually mixed in with blasé tourists and exercise junkies, before scurrying back to the safety of the trendy Abbott Kinney shopping street. Being completely surprised by the trendy fashion style walking around Abbott Kinney: LA girls in lots of black jeans, black ankle boots, black sweaters, check plaid shirts and white tops. Such a effortless casual LA look. I don’t think I had seen as much black since I lived in Melbourne about four years ago. I guess it was winter though. Sitting in the infamous bumper-to-bumper, chaotic and aggressive LA highway traffic. Being taken to quaint suburbs that I had never heard of before like San Clemente, in search of great wine bars and Mexican food. Accidentally spotting a famous person, well a famous person’s name, when we stumbled across the Kirk Douglas Theatre while searching for a place to eat in Culver City.
I feel so fortunate to have experienced what I consider a more real LA, away from the tourist traps, tours and celebrity spotting fanatics. We laughed, drank way too many cocktails and bottles of wine, and hung out in our flip flops . Even though it was winter in California, jeans, t-shirts and flip flops were our standard daily get-up. After our fun long weekend together we sadly said our goodbyes. One friend flew back to Greenville, South Carolina and the other back to her now quieter house in Orange County. While my friends went back to work, I hired a car and headed up to Santa Barbara and over to Palm Springs for more southern California adventures. I returned to LA for a couple of days at the end of my trip and booked into a hotel in Westwood as a treat before the arduous long-haul flight back to Perth, Western Australia. I didn’t want to leave. There is so much to do, see and experience in LA. I was fortunate enough to spend a few extra days in LA exploring The Getty Museum, Malibu, Mulholland Drive, Rodeo Drive, and the Hammer Museum. One of my proudest achievements during my trip was surviving driving on the other side of the road in the mad, chaotic LA freeway traffic, and my biggest regret was not visiting the fabulous vintage stores dotted along Melrose Place – this will have to wait until next time.
In two short weeks LA was determined to change my preconceived notions of her (her because I think LA is a woman – unpredictable, stubborn, frustrating, magical, awe-inspiring, chaotic, beautiful, something to be treasured) by showing me it’s not all smog, traffic, Hollywood movie veneer and overrated tourist traps. She seeped in under my skin and left an aching desire to return to continue my LA story.