A love letter to the city I once hated

A love story 15 years in the making

As someone who grew up (from the age of 10) in your suburbs, it’s notable how little of you I had seen prior to moving here for college. We were only 40ish miles away, in Thousand Oaks (a town remarkably unremarkable, at least until the 2018 tragedy). Granted, 40ish miles could mean upwards of a 2hr drive. But looking back, it still feels strange how little I knew about the city right next to me. A city whose reach extended far beyond its already expansive borders. A city who exported culture to the world. And yet I felt worlds away in my quiet town. 
Before moving to sunny California, I lived in the Midwest. I was a Midwest baby that got uprooted and thrown into the self-centered chaos of Southern California. Not to mention we lived in the suburbs of Chicago. And we would actually go into the city regularly. And Chicago is a glorious city. 
I still get hung up on the pathetic “skyline.” And it doesn’t feel like I’m in a city. There are many times when I’m weaving through side streets (ty Waze), when I think to myself: “if a foreigner was dropped right here, they would have no idea they’re in the second biggest city in America.” It feels like the suburbs, but with traffic. 
Back to how I knew nothing about LA. Growing up, pretty much my only regular experience to LA (county) was going straight to SGV. I had no concept of just how large LA is. The only pieces that I’d see were along the 101, and of course a healthy dose of the sad DTLA skyline while stuck in traffic on the 101. 
Sure, I have some vague memories of going to Santa Monica once as a child. At one point I regularly went to Universal Studios with a stream of visiting friends and family. I had been to Griffith a couple times. The Getty for field trips. But these disparate vignettes could hardly be pieced together into some concept of a city. At least, not in the way that a trip up Sears Tower or a walk through Taipei Main Station can give you a sense of Chicago or Taipei. And those, really, were my only two reference points for a while. 
It wasn’t until I decided to go to UCLA that I started understanding LA. I started seeing the different neighborhoods and appreciating their quirks. It took nearly ten years for me to learn to love LA. After all, it is an easy place to hate (sorry, LA). It’s also…well…objectively an ugly city. Sure, New York is dirty and chaotic. But no one designed Los Angeles. It was like someone puked up a few buildings, and over time, things were haphazardly arranged without regard to any sense of practical or aesthetic discipline and no amount of blue skies, palm trees and ocean views can make up for that.
Until you really take the time to dig in beyond the surface level, to understand why things are the way they are, to explore the nuances in culture from one block to the next, it seems like a pretty bland city. Nothing stands out. The only real attraction is Hollywood, and any Angeleno will agree that Hollywood is literally the worst part of LA. We locals avoid Hollywood. We think WeHo is a scene. We roll our eyes at Silver Lake hipsters as much as we do the same to Santa Monica vegan yogis. But we own it. Through all the bullshit, we have a level of self-awareness that makes up for the swampiness. We are conscious of just how ridiculous we are. And we know we can get away with it, because beyond all the eye rolls, we know we have it good. 
Sure, the traffic sucks, the streets don’t make sense, and public transportation is a joke. Sure, it’s grimy, full of has-been’s and trying-to-be’s. Full of mismatched architecture and long-ass parking signs. We’re shallow, self-centered, name-dropping “content creators” who pay $10 for a CBD matcha and talk loudly about our commutes.  
But we’re also a relatively young city with incredible reach and influence. We create culture and project it to the world. We are a city of people who still believe. A city of people who insist on creating, no matter how hard the hustle may be (it’s kind of a rite of passage at this point). We refuse to conform. We celebrate the different by giving room to the cultures within the society. No matter who you love, what you worship (looking at you, giant blue Scientology building), what language you speak, what you eat, there’s room in LA to exist and create and evolve.  

It takes a little time and a lot of heart to love LA. A shift in perspective, a dose of golden hour magic and you’ll see. Plus, if you hate where you are, just move a mile or two away and try again. We’ve got 503 square miles of potential. You’ll fall in love somewhere. 

Written into the very name of the city is an anchor into a history longer than the city itself. From the name of the city to the names of the streets to historic buildings, it’s hard to ignore the Mexican heritage. Today, LA is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Race and ethnicity (& authenticity) is an interesting study. The “diversity” of LA is more potent because the ethnic enclaves are scattered everywhere, and many of the immigrants are more recent. In some ways, LA is a magical place where strange alliances form and unexpected fusions are born. In other ways, LA has seen dark days where the differences break us. But there’s a certain resiliency in LA culture. California has this inherent openness to cultural understanding, one that you might not even notice until you leave.
In some ways, LA was born when Hollywood was born. At least the city as we know it today. Inherent in the city culture is the rhythm of Hollywood. The impulse to create. The respect for stories and inspiration. Some people think life in LA is glamorous: bumping elbows with celebrities, being extras in movies, sauntering through studio backlots. In reality, it’s more so trying to figure out if that guy who just walked in is from that one pilot you watched. Not being able to find parking within a few blocks of work due to filming. And spending quality time in studio parking structures trying to get out and go home. But at the end of the day, we all kind of buy into it. City of stars. A sparkly life where we’re all 2 degrees from fame. But hey, 2 degrees is closer than what the rest of the world gets;)
The real magic of Los Angeles comes from the people (yes, even you implants). Or rather, the imaginations of the people who come to LA. We love to hate on the “starving artist” trope (or now, even worse, the wannabe Instagram influencer), but regardless of ultimate success or failure, the city does attract dreamers. Creators, artists, people with a story to tell and a level of grit to do their life’s work, rebelling against what you’re “supposed” to do by believing in what you want to do. It’s this kind of resiliency, combined with the casual disregard for tradition that dares generations of Angelenos to keep dreaming in spite of it all. And that’s what I love most about you, LA, your unapologetic ability to profit off all the bullshit. I love that visitors hate on LA, because the secret is, you have to live here to appreciate this wonderful place where work blends with play, but one doesn’t really have meaning without the other. 

For a city that is so “shallow” and so full of beautiful people, it’s ironic that you have to look beneath the surface to truly see its beauty. But if the sun hits at just the right angle and you crop it just so, I think you’ll find yourself falling in love with this city too. 

Because in the grand scheme of things, LA is a teenaged city trying to figure out who she is, and taking us all along for the ride. LA is self-centered because in a way, we’re in the center of the world. The things that get created here are broadcasted to the world. And in turn, we take inspiration from around the world and find a way to make it our own. We don’t follow a 9-5 lifestyle, we worship creativity (though nothing is too sacred not to be messed with – yes, we put kimchi in tacos and miso in kouign amanns), and at the end of the day, we know we’ll get away with it. We experiment without rules, like the Wild West, catching the entrepreneurial spirit of our northern neighbors, but giving it a beachside attitude, and packaging it all up into something shiny and sexy with some Hollywood magic ✨  
I suck at goodbyes, so as I leave this city I’ve learned to love, I’m launching a brand new LA section with the hope that by the time I finish cataloguing all my favorite places, I’ll be back.