Finding Beauty Between the Seams in Los Angeles

It’s too spread out. The interstates are a parking lot. It’s a concrete jungle. It’s too hard to get around on public transportation. It has no culture. These are a handful of the complaints I hear the most about Los Angeles. I’ve not only been at the receiving end of these, but have often muttered these complaints myself. On visits to L.A., I’d often ask people (often condescendingly) why it was that they lived there.

Yet after numerous visits the last couple years, I now find myself calling Los Angeles home, with no intentions of leaving anytime soon. Pick a city, any city in the world. Odds are that you’ll hear some, if not all, of these complaints about it. In L.A., however, it just seems to be a little bit more in your face. In San Francisco, the greater Bay area may be spread out, but the city of San Francisco is rather small, at just seven by seven miles. In Manhattan, if the traffic is too much to handle, then you go underground to catch the subway.

However, L.A. doesn’t have the same luxuries as some of these cities. Similarly to another city I wave the flag for proudly, Las Vegas, you really have to work a little harder to scratch below the surface to get at the core and essence of Los Angeles. So today, I look at some of the frequent complaints about L.A., what many may call the “chinks in its armor,” and discuss how each has made me find a different beauty to the City of Angels.

1. While L.A. may be sprawling, you’ll find micro cities and cultures that make it a melting pot found in few metros in the world. In one day in Los Angeles, you can go from hiking ridges to shopping in Koreatown to touring a brewery to visiting Chinatown to hang gliding to eating in Thai Town to watching a screening of your favorite television show. There are few places in the world that offer such diversity in cultures and adventure. Oh, and there are beaches here. Miles of it.

2. While the interstates can frequently be bumper to bumper, they are often only necessary from going from one end of L.A. to another; spend your time in one part of L.A. and plan your days around traffic. Los Angeles has got to be the only city in the world that no matter what time of day, you can be late, and legitimately blame it on traffic, even if it's midnight. From where I’m from in the south, 8 miles is 8 minutes. In L.A., 8 miles, is 80 minutes on a bad day, and 30 to 45 minutes if you’re lucky. L.A. is one of the few cities that you have to be cognizant and plan your day around traffic patterns. Thankfully, there are apps, such as Google Maps, which can show you drive times and give you route options if there’s an accident or heavy traffic. If you’re visiting L.A., I recommend staying in one central neighborhood. Pay a little extra money to stay where you’ll be spending most of your time, such as West Hollywood or Venice Beach, rather than staying by the airport and having to drive so much. If you know you’ll be coming back to L.A., then just tackle Venice and Santa Monica. On another trip, spend all of your time in Hollywood and West Hollywood (which is very walkable), and on another trip, spend it in the South Bay (Hermosa, Manhattan, and Redondo).

3. Concrete jungle as it may be, wilderness awaits. Hey, you know that big sign that everyone and their momma has seen on television that reads “Hollywood?” Well it sits atop a mountain. And you can hike that mountain, and a lot of other nearby mountains. I live just feet away from one of most famous streets in Los Angeles, but with a 5-minute walk I can be at one of a couple parks, and with a 20-minute walk I can be at Runyon Canyon, which features numerous trails. Just a couple miles away is Griffith Park, also home to numerous trails, as well as being home to Griffith Observatory, and neighboring Hollywood. Bordering the Pacific Palisades is my favorite hike in Los Angeles, Topanga Canyon, which is home to miles of trails that go deep into the Santa Monica Mountains.

4. While L.A. public transportation isn’t like it is in cities like San Francisco and Manhattan, it can be just as seamless, just as long as you're not going from one end of L.A. to the the other. Not only that, but did you know that Los Angeles has a metro rail with several lines (yes, L.A. does in fact have a metro. Let that blow your mind!). Depending on the day and time, taking the bus from West Hollywood to Santa Monica, for example, only requires getting on one bus, and will take just a little longer than if you were driving. Taking the metro, from Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles, for example, can take about the same time as driving, and even less time in some cases. If you're staying in any of the Los Angeles beach cities, you can simply rent a bike and ride The Strand, which connects Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo. And while the haters are going to hate, L.A. is a walking city, in my opinion. In a given week, I may drive my car just a couple times, although I'm out of the house every day. Just miles from my house are some of L.A.'s best restaurants and bars, numerous grocery stores (including Trader Joe's), hiking trails, The Grove, and The Original Farmers Market. I will sometimes use Uberx, which typically isn't more than about $10 around West Hollywood.

5. While L.A. may not have the history Dublin, Ireland, nowhere else in America does either. The fact is that Los Angeles is teeming with history. For example, the La Brea Tar Pits, located in the Miracle Mile district, features a group of tar pits around which Hancock Park was formed, which date back thousands of years, although the first recording of them comes from the mid-1700s by Spanish explorers. Los Angeles is home to a couple hundred theaters, performing hundreds of shows each year. The list of museums in Los Angeles include Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Architecture and Design Museum,  and the Getty Center.

Listen, I get it. There are all these preconceived notions about Los Angeles, in part thanks to the media, which you'll find about many of America's metros, including New York City and Las Vegas. There's not the same romance with Los Angeles that you'll find with Paris. I've sat in hours of traffic. I've cursed at public transportation. But L.A. can't be considered in the same way as other cities. It's more of a region of micro cities, each with their own character, beauty, strengths, and nuances. To visit Los Angeles and get a proper glimpse of it in a week, like you may Seattle or San Francisco, is impossible. However, spend each visit in one area of the city and look for the beauty in the seams, and I think you may be surprised what you find.