What is Los Angeles?
How do you answer that question? Unlike perhaps any city in the United States, Los Angeles is definitionless. Some might even apply Gertrude Stein's famous statement about Oakland, that “there is no there, there,” to Los Angeles.
What I find so interesting though, is that there are, in fact, so, so many here's, here. My question for readers: How do you share these here's with others? How do you define Los Angeles for visitors, for out of town family, for distant friends?
I've been wondering this for months. If a friend were to visit from out of town, what kind of tour would I give her or him, especially if we only had a short time to explore?
Please excuse a touch of digressive background before my call for L.A. tour ideas (but click here if you're impatient). Though I've been thinking about this post for a long time, a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest finally inspired its composition. Though astute readers of Lascher at Large know my feelings about Portland — feelings only reinforced this last visit — they might not know this was my first trip to Seattle. As a vacation it was wonderful. My traveling companion and I rode the train to the Emerald City and explored with little rhyme or reason and scant attention paid to time's constraints.
Instead, we experienced the city on our own terms, at our own pace. We had a late breakfast in Queen Anne. We lingered in the splendid Olympic Sculpture Park and loved it so much we happily returned the next day at the end of a stroll through the pouring rain. We sampled salted caramels beloved by Barack Obama and eschewed overpriced omelettes in favor of straightforward but unbelievable fish and chips and chowder from Jack's during our breakfast visit to the Pike's Place Public Market. Some friends scooped us up and enlisted us in a trivia challenge over beer in Wedgwood (We can proudly boast we helped our friends to victory and a free pitcher for their next visit). We strolled down Pike Street from Capitol Hill to Downtown, dodging gamers attending Pax as we chowed on streetside crepes (food played a major role in this vacation, as it should in any) before stopping for fantastic martinis at an eclectic Downtown bar and grill.
My point here, though, isn't to recount every minute of our weekend. Instead, it's to note how subconsciously we took Seattle in. Though we know we didn't see nearly the entire place, I think we can both agree the sheer bliss of wandering semi-aimlessly delivered a sense of the town's rhythm.
Could a visitor have a similar experience in Los Angeles? Certainly, its sheer size might inhibit a weekend visitor from ever knowing this place. Then again, what if a visitor to Los Angeles accepted that they weren't going to see it all, that they never could, that even those of us who live here will never fully understand this place? What if they just let go and enjoyed seeing what they could see?
Your L.A. Tour
I've been wondering this for months, as I've also been wondering what it would be like to share this place with friends and loved ones from out of town. How would I do it? What would I show them? In what order would I show it to them? How could I even begin, knowing what I must be leaving out?
How would you give a tour of Los Angeles with only a short time to do so? What would you show? Why? What do you think is quintessential L.A.? What can be ignored? Do you have a universal trip you'd share with every visitor or are there certain ones you'd reserve for certain people? Would there be a specific flow to your tour?
Would you use the strict geographical boundaries of the city, or would yours be more a tour of Southern California with Los Angeles as its center of gravity? If you've had visitors, tell some stories of the tours you've taken them on. List a few places that have to be visited. Give a sense of the route you'd take, of how one might move between landmarks and why you'd go that direction, why you'd take that path.
If you're not from Los Angeles, what would you want to see here if you only had a few days to do so? What is this place to you? Why would you want to visit? What type of tour would you want?
Spread the word about this post. I'm not just looking to crib some ideas for when visitors come to town, but I think the discussion that could occur here would offer a look into the myriad images society has of LA. Please share this post with your friends and get them involved. I imagine the conversation that might ensue will be indicative of the variety of neighborhoods and populations and landscapes and experiences that only can be had here.
Why I care
I represent the fifth generation of my family to live in this city, though, unlike previous generations, I wasn't raised here, but 60 miles and a world away in Ventura County. Though I'm not yet convinced it's my permanent home, I'm a great defender of this city. I react strongly when those who haven't been here rail against its supposed faults, or when those who have extrapolate one negative aspect to explain the entire town.
Where New York City is often depicted as the center of the world, L.A., even with the California Dreaming, even with the starlets hoping to make it big, seems consistently portrayed as a broken soulless, placeless place. Yet, beneath its surface millions of places coalesce to become Los Angeles, millions of paths lead through the city, layering one on top of another. Though it can exhaust even the most focused mind to make sense of the knotted, scattered landscape, the patient will uncover gems both buried in the most distant corners of Los Angeles and shimmering in the bright glare of starlight.
Such facts might be true of any city -- really, of any human experience -- but at this moment I'm asking you to dissect L.A. and offer up your discoveries. Doing so is not a new endeavor. Nevertheless, how would you share Los Angeles?
Some of my own ideas
To get things started, here are a few ideas of the Los Angeles I might share, though these are some of the more obvious suggestions and there are so many gems I know I'm leaving out (specifically in the Valley, South L.A., the South Bay, and East L.A. -- so give me your ideas from these neighborhoods):
- A Los Angeles Conservancy walking tour of Downtown architecture followed by lunch at Grand Central Market
- A bike ride from Santa Monica to Venice Beach
- An afternoon lazily strolling around Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues before catching the sunset, and maybe a planetarium show at the Griffith Observatory
- A ride on the Gold Line to Pasadena (and to East L.A., whenever the extension opens)
- Watching the city transition along its spine on the Wilshire Rapid 720 Bus
- Stopping over at the LA River Visitor's Center
- Biking to Heliotrope and Melrose for dinner at the Pure Luck Restaurant followed by ice cream at Scoops
- A walk around the Silverlake Reservoir before a meal on Hyperion, Silver Lake Blvd. or Rowena and a show at Spaceland
- Riding the Red Line to Hollywood on a Sunday for the Farmer's Market and some touristy wandering
- Oaxacan lunch -- including fried crickets and a michelada -- at La Guelaguetza
- A lazy Saturday afternoon on Larchmont
- Catching a film revival at the New Beverly Cinema before a late night nosh (especially dessert!) at Canter's
- $2 PBR at the Shortstop before a Dodgers game (p.s. I'm no hipster -- despite the PBR and Echo Park, Silverlake and Los Feliz references)
- Bar-hopping Downtown at the Edison, Cole's, the Hotel Figueroa and the Library bar, to name but a few stops
- Wandering through LACMA before a dinner in Little Ethiopia
Those are but a few of my ideas. What are yours?
P.S., who wants to buy me tickets to this?