A love letter to the City of Angels
Like LA’s position between the steep, granite peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains and the unbounded Pacific Ocean, the city’s reputation is stuck between Valley Girl vapidity and a sun-kissed bohemia. Those who call Los Angeles home know which of those stereotypes is true. Yes, the weather is perfect. But there are so many more under-the-radar reasons why people love the City of Angels—moments, places, and experiences that make living here so pleasant and unbelievably magical that sometimes it’s hard to tell whether you’re still alive or have died and gone to heaven. Let’s count the ways we love LA.
1. Colonnades of palm trees. Tall ones, spindly ones, bearded ones, plump ones, palm “trees” aren’t native, but they are the symbol of Los Angeles.
2. Bungalows. In a city that’s never been quite sure where its suburbs are, the Craftsman bungalow is the perfect style of home—compact and easily replicable, yet rustic and seemingly handmade. You can practically reach out and touch the American dream standing on the front porch.
3. The chairs at Union Station. The wide, cushy seats and double-wide armrests of the chairs in the 1939 station harken to a time when train travel was glamorous and comfortable.
4. Keeping $5 in cash in your wallet. So you can always buy a heap of freshly-chopped pineapple, mango, cucumber, coconut, and watermelon slathered in lime, salt, and tajín from a fruit vendor under a rainbow umbrella.
5. Always taking Fountain. To beat rushhour traffic on surface streets, thou must know quicker routes on smaller streets. Bonus points to everyone who doesn’t need Waze.
6. Watching the credits at the end of movies. You’ll probably recognize a name or five.
7. “We want tacos!” Free tacos when the Lakers hold their opponents to under 100 points.
8. Riding the elevator at Miracle Mile’s Wilshire Tower with Ruben Pardo. He’s one of the city’s last elevator operators, and he reminds us “of those curious old days when the city was just discovering the automobile, department stores were the tallest buildings around, and people actually talked to one another in elevators.”
9. Admiring the Watts Towers in passing on every trip along the Blue Line. Los Angeles is filled with extraordinary works of outsider art and homemade installations, but Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers still stand out more than 60 years after the artist finished working on them. Standing nearly 100 feet tall, the towers can be seen for blocks in each direction.
10. Watching movies under the stars at Hollywood Forever. A picnic (with wine, of course) among friends and showy gravestones is a local summer pastime.
11. Apartment buildings with names. Why give someone your address when you can tell them you live at The Commodore? Or Casa Laguna? Perhaps Chateau Chaumont—or maybe even Cheviot Capri?
12. Having a fallback plan. Did your Hollywood dreams fizzle out? You’re always welcome on the Venice Boardwalk. Just put out a jar and start strumming a guitar, or slapping spoons together, or backflipping over things, or whatever it is you do. There’s an audience for it in Venice—at least until Snapchat kicks everyone out in approximately two years.
13. Seeing Catalina on a clear day. “26 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is awaitin’ for me. Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance.”
14. Recapturing the glory days of America’s favorite almost-sport at Shatto 39 Lanes or Highland Park Bowl. The golden age of bowling has long past in LA (and, really, everywhere), and many classic lanes like Holiday Bowl and Hollywood Star Lanes (where The Dude wiled away his time in The Big Lebowski) are gone. But a few gems remain.
15. Being dazzled by the signs on the old theaters on Broadway. Clifton’s is up and running again, and so are many of Broadway’s historic theaters. Though the street is quickly fancifying, it’s still one of the most lively places in Los Angeles, and at night, when its neon signs are aglow, it really shines.
16. Going on a hike after you get off work. The hills and mountains are our backyard. The best way to unwind from a stressful day is to sweat it out among the mustard flower and oak and cedar trees on trails overlooking the city or the bay.
17. Vincent Thomas Bridge. Eye level with the massive cranes that keep the Port of LA up and running, you can see the cargo ships hulking in and out of the harbor, and the seas of shipping containers stacked in neat rows and columns. Half the nation’s crap is sitting there, waiting to be unloaded, and you’re above it all.
18. Dueling French dip origin stories. Was it Chinatown staple Philippe’s or revived Cole’s in Downtown that first put meat on a roll and soaked it with meat juice? We may never get to the bottom of this, but it’s probably a good idea to eat one sandwich from each establishment as personal research into the matter.
19. Stepping off the Expo Line and smelling the salty air as the doors open. The terminus of the newly extended light rail line ends mere blocks from the beach.
20. Seeing our city depicted (and destroyed) in movies, TV, and songs. From Chinatown to Clueless to L.A. Confidential to Bosch to La La Land to Insecure to CHiPs to Drive to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman to Blade Runner, it never gets old.
21. Reservoirs. In the early part of the 20th century, William Mulholland gave LA the one thing it needed to grow into a sprawling metropolis: water. Starting in 1913, it flowed downhill from Lake Owens through the new Los Angeles Aqueduct, and a collection of urban reservoirs provided a backup supply. Fast forward to the present and federal regulations have made those reservoirs obsolete, leaving the city with a lovely collection of manmade (and only occasionally empty) lakes.
22. Blaming traffic when you’re late. Forgot about your lunch appointment? Just call and say you’re stuck in traffic. It’s not a lie if it’s about to be true.
23. Ruins. Some people say LA has no history. Yet the past is among us in the city’s many fire-wrecked houses, decaying film sets, and abandoned nazi compounds. Some of the best: San Pedro’s sunken city, Murphy Ranch, the old Los Angeles Zoo, the remains of a hotel and railway at Echo Mountain, and the foundation of Paul Williams’ Roberts Ranch House at Solstice Canyon.
24. Low riders. If you’re going to drive everywhere, you might as well do it in style.
25. Angeles National Forest. LA’s got the desert, the beach, and the mountains, and its the mountains that can feel like the farthest departure from city life. In Angeles National Forest, get lost among tall pine trees in high elevation, and go a day without hearing a car alarm or the roar of traffic.
26. LeLand Bryant buildings. Architect LeLand Bryant designed the type of buildings we aspire to live in someday, glamorous French Chateau-style apartments that once served as “pied-a-terres for industry talent that lived in the outer reaches of ‘Hollywoodland.’”
27. Ice cream weather. When it’s perpetually 75-plus degrees, it’s never too cold for Sweet Rose Creamery, Magpies Softserv, Coolhaus, or Mashti Malone.
28. Grocery shopping with celebrities. Trying to act totally normal when you and Kramer both reach for the peanut butter at Whole Foods.
29. The views from the top of parking structures. The stress of finally finding a spot melts away when step out of your car and are greeted by a view of the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, or Pacific Ocean.
30. Case Study Houses. Arts & Architecture’s Case Study Houses were intended to be low-cost models for family housing in Los Angeles after World War II. With designs by Charles and Ray Eames, Pierre Koenig, and Richard Neutra, they turned out to be magnificent. We’re not the only ones who think so. Nearly a dozen of the houses are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
31. Spotting Angelyne. It’s inexplicably thrilling to see the former billboard queen in her pink Corvette.
32. Running through Palisades Park and not caring about having to dodge tourists, because it’s so beautiful. The skinny park occupies 1.6 miles of prime coastal real estate on Santa Monica’s Sandstone bluffs, and it belongs to the public. Lined with Monterey cypress, eucalyptus, and palm trees, it also holds some fun secrets (there are Batchelder tiles on the massive rock gates at Idaho Avenue and a Camera Obscura at Broadway).
33. Neon. LA’s past as a neon mecca has been captured in photos, compiled into books, and curated in museums, but as the newly relit Jensen’s Recreation Center sign in Echo Park and NoHo’s glowing Circus Liquor clown can attest, neon is still alive and well.
34. Eating a churro and reflecting on the city’s strange 236-year-history at El Pueblo de Los Angeles. LA’s birthplace is a little too quirky to qualify as a tourist trap, and a bit too touristy to draw in a ton of locals.
35. Hopping aboard Angels Flight to get from Grand Central Market to MOCA. The charming, herky-jerky funicular—the world’s shortest railroad—only runs up and down the incline between Hill Street and Grand Avenue’s California Plaza, so you better believe we’re taking it every time we can.
36. Decorative breeze blocks. Found all around Southern California, these elegant concrete blocks allow for privacy with a bit of natural light. Plus, they look cool. It’s a win-win-win.
37. Ciclavia. Waking up early to bike the blocked-off streets before the official event begins is a totally unique way to see the city—miles of empty streets and not a car in sight. Once the event is in full swing, there’s nothing wilder than seeing Wilshire (or Broadway or Venice) flooded with people of all ages on two wheels.
38. The light. The pink and gold afternoon glow is intoxicating. It was the light that drew early Hollywood studios, and it arguably distinguishes changing seasons for Angelenos.
39. The Magic Castle. In an old Victorian house atop a hill in the heart of Hollywood, this private clubhouse for magicians (and friends of magicians) is both mysterious and impossible to miss. From the ghost that plays the piano to the entrance hidden behind a bookshelf wall, this place truly is magic.
40. The diversity of residential architecture. Say what you want, Woody Allen. LA’s hodgepodge of architectural styles is one of the things that makes it great.
41. Eating mountains of seafood and drinking cold beer with the rest of the hoi polloi the San Pedro Fish Market.
42. Seeing a movie in the theater where Star Wars premiered. From the Chinese to the Egyptian to the Vista to the Fox Theater, Los Angeles isn’t short on opulent old movie houses with a history just as rich as that of the classic films that first screened there.
43. Driving along PCH. From Santa Monica to the Ventura County line, the view is all crashing waves, endless sea, and surfers bobbing in the ocean.
44. Stepping over decorative sidewalks in Downtown LA’s historic core. Some, like Arthur D. Pizzinat’s terrazzo icons of Los Angeles outside Clifton’s Cafeteria, tell a story, others are simply beautiful.
45. Beholding the 10,064-foot peak that is Mt. Baldy. The tallest point in Los Angeles is a gorgeous backdrop for the city’s skyline.
46. Bougainvillea. The unofficial
flower vine of Los Angeles.
47. Freaking out when it rains. We all forget how to drive, and the local news stations kick into hyper-drive, giving the storms all of the treatment they deserve in a place that can get as little as 3 inches of rain in one year.
48. People Watching at Santee Alley. From odd knick knacks to the latest fashions, the vendors have it all at bargain prices. But sometimes the most fun part of a visit to the Downtown LA side street is just watching the crowds go by.
49. Living in a house with a Batchelder tile fireplace. Ernest Batchelder started his tile-making business humbly in 1910, using a portable kiln in the backyard of his Pasadena home. He became a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, and his handsome decorative tiles still adorn fireplaces and businesses, including Angel City Brewery and an old chocolate shop in Downtown that was hidden for years.
50. The city is a melting pot. It’s reflected in the food and architecture and neighborhoods, from Thai Town to Little Armenia to Koreatown to Little Tokyo to Little Ethiopia.
51. LA has always been attractive to folks on the fringe. Whether its charismatic fake-healers, hippie vegetarian restaurant owners, or ’90s stars who start their own churches, the city’s functioned as the place to be for generations of people who marched to the beat of a different drum.
52. Noir. The city looks great in black and white. Thanks to masters of pulp like Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Hughes, Walter Mosley, James M. Cain, and Ross MacDonald, Los Angeles will always be a land of hardboiled detectives and femmes fatales, where things are never as they seem and “murder sometimes can smell like honeysuckle.”
53. The Santa Anas. The hot, dry winds have a certain romance to them.
54. Coming down a hill and seeing a sea of twinkling lights laid out before you. At night, there’s too much urban light to see the stars in the sky, but the sprawl shimmers at night, and it’s mesmerizing.
55. Googie diners. If heaven turns out to be a vinyl booth at an Armet and Davis-designed diner, with a greasy omelette on the table and unlimited coffee refills, we won’t be disappointed.
56. Spying the brilliant blue and gold sunburst pattern above the entrance of the Eastern Columbia Lofts. Arguably the best example of Art Deco architecture in Los Angeles, this turquoise beauty opened in 1930 and was one of the largest buildings constructed in Downtown prior to World War II.
57. Strolling through Exposition Park. Thank you, LA, for clustering so many must-visit museums together. Now we can see dinosaurs, a space shuttle, and an exhibit on radical 20th-century black women in the same day, then meander through a colorful rose garden on the way home.
58. Buying a novel from the Last Bookstore. Or any one of LA’s indie book shops, including Book Soup, Skylight, Diesel, Eso Won, Chevaliers, Counterpoint, Angel City, Stories, Sam Johnson’s, Vromans, and Larry Edmunds.
59. Putting “the” in front of freeway names. “The 110,” “the 101,” “the 10,” “the 134,” “the 2,” “the 5,” “the 210”—this is totally unique to Southern California.
60. Knowing exactly where to find your favorite taquero on any given night of the week.
61. Nestling into a corner of Downtown’s Central Library. If the striking Art Deco building’s gorgeous marble staircases and incredible pastel murals (they took five years to complete) don’t make you want to read a book, maybe nothing will.
62. Feeling like a kid among the giant papier-mâché soccer balls and multi-colored donkeys in Downtown’s piñata district.
63. Getting to the game in time to take in the sunset at Dodger Stadium. Vin Scully once described the sunsets like this: “A cotton-candy sky with a canopy of blue—looks good enough to eat.” Those delicious sunsets are the cherry on top to watching the Boys in Blue (… and eating a Dodger dog).
64. Feeling like you’re back home when you see the tile mosaics at LAX. The colorful tiles that line the tunnels to baggage claim have been welcoming Angelenos home since 1961.
65. Exploring the Santa Susana Pass. Following the steep wagon road that travelers used once upon a time to navigate between Northern and Southern California, hearing the whistle of trains passing into Simi Valley, it’s easy to be transported to another time—or another world (you can see the area’s strange rock formations in old Star Trek episodes).
67. Arriving late to work to catch a rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl. You can shell out big bucks to see the LA Philharmonic at the outdoor amphitheater when evening comes around, or you can go for free and watch rehearsals on Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings throughout the summer season.
68. Whimsical roadside storefronts and bars. Where else but LA can you buy a donut from a building shaped like a donut? Or a drink from a bar that looks like a barrel? Back in the day, you could even get a hot dog from a hot dog-shaped stand, or a tamale from a restaurant resembling… well, you get the idea.
69. Discovering new bands while listening to KXLU. LA’s best music station, 88.9 FM, is run by students at Loyola Marymount University.
70. Avoiding Los Feliz Boulevard and taking Franklin instead just to drive over the Shakespeare Bridge. Built in 1926, the fanciful bridge spanning a ravine in the Franklin Hills is quaint and charming with its Gothic turrets.
71. Detecting hidden oil derricks. Why, in spite of obvious health risks, the second-most populated urban area in the nation is still a major hub of oil production is beyond us, but we’ll give the petroleum industry credit for cleverly disguising some very prominent drill sites. That decorated tower at Beverly Hills High? There’s a derrick underneath. That ugly office building on Pico? Fake! Bonus points to the THUMS Islands in Long Beach, which have waterfalls and other fun landscaping features to hide the drill sites.
72. Surveying the Hollywood skyline when you’re southbound on the 101. On clear days, you can maybe even see the ocean. But there’s always Capitol Records and the neon Patron sign. It can give you butterflies and make you feel like you’re arriving in LA for the first time.
73. Waking up at the crack of dawn for the first pick of the bounty at the Rose Bowl or Melrose flea. It’s worth it when you score the perfect vintage highball glasses.
74. Imagining shadowy forces behind every one of LA’s problems. There are conspiracy theories behind the traffic, the smog, and the shrinking supply of drinkable water. (Don’t get us started on what happened to the streetcars).
75. Tar pits. Right in the heart of LA is a link to the city’s prehistoric past—where mammoths, bison, and other Ice Age mammals struggled desperately to escape pools of viscous asphalt millennia before countless LACMA visitors struggled desperately to find parking in the same spot
76. Getting out of an event at 1 a.m. and remembering trains are still running. There should be a name for the combination of relief and ecstasy that comes with realizing the Expo, Red, Purple, Gold, Blue, and Green lines are open until 2 a.m.
77. Arriving in Santa Monica and suddenly finding yourself enveloped in a blanket of fog. The marine layer gives an otherwise ordinary day a nice air of mystery.
78. Using secret stairs as public exercise equipment. The staircases are left over from the old streetcar days are a piece of LA history.
79. The abundance of garden apartments. Los Angeles boasts the second highest number of garden apartments in the U.S., second only to Arlington County, Virginia. The idea to build apartments this way—facing a landscaped court yard, rather than the street—was born in England, but the weather here is much more suited to this type of living.
80. Sticking your face in a jasmine vine to inhale that delicious, sugary smell. Along with orange blossoms jacaranda, jasmine signals the arrival of spring.
81. Sipping martinis at Musso’s. Everyone is a martini drinker when they’re at the storied Musso and Frank Grill. The old school leather booths, engraved knives, and classic menu compel you.
82. Making contact with the restless spirits of stars like Marilyn Monroe and Rudolph Valentino. You might even get to meet Houdini if you ever find yourself in the Magic Castle’s séance room.
83. Admiring the incredible showmanship and artistry of the puppeteers at Bob Baker Marionette Theater. In operation since 1961, this puppet theater is not just for kids. (Really!)
84. Seeing the Griffith Observatory lit up at night. LA’s most majestic public building is even more impressive at night when it looms over the city like a guardian.
85. The chandeliers at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The trio of giant crystal chandeliers—each measuring 10 feet wide and 17 feet tall—makes going to the opera feel utterly glamorous, even in casual LA.
86. Midcentury modern. No other style defines LA as much as midcentury modern. Is it any wonder so much of Mad Men was filmed here?
87. The Museum of Jurassic Technology. What is it? Are the exhibits real? Why is there a tea room? This frontrunner for LA’s most unique institution is definitely a place that reminds us LA has always been weird.
88. Escaping to the desert. Whether it’s traffic or smog or the outlandishly high cost of living that’s got you down, the desert is there for you. Soak in a hot spring; join a hippy commune; enjoy a sound bath.
89. Subcultures. Be it surfing, skating, weight lifting, biking, improvising, live action role-playing, or roller derby-ing, misfits from all over the world have always been able to find their niche in LA.
90. The city of dreamers.
91. Trekking through Griffith Park, knowing P-22 is probably napping close by. He’s been photographed prowling around the Hollywood Sign. He’s snuck into the LA Zoo. One time, he wandered into the crawl space of a Los Feliz home. His presence is a reminder that though we live in a city, we share the land with some majestic wildlife.
92. Coachella. When all of your friends venture out to the hottest, dustiest music festival on earth, you sit at home, live streaming the shows in the comfort of your yoga pants.
93. Growing lemons, limes, guavas, and avocados in your backyard. Then giving them to your very grateful friends.
94. Amoeba. The mere thought of this treasured Sunset Boulevard store having to relocate had people sweating bullets.
95. Luxuriating in the sun at a rooftop pool. If you’re “cool,” you’ve probably been invited to lounge at the Chateau or Viceroy. But there’s always the judgement-free zones of the Ace Hotel and the Downtown outpost of the Standard.
96. Enchanting streetlamps. LA is home to more than 400 types of streetlights, from Broadway Roses to the Olympic Special. Ornamental streetlamps line the Colorado Bridge and Wilshire Boulevard through MacArthur Park. Some residents have fought to preserve them; Chris Burden’s installation of streetlamps at LACMA is one of the most instagrammable locations anywhere. “There’s something alluring and ennobling about these fixtures of outdoor furniture.”
97. Strip malls. Get your nails done and your brows waxed, buy a lotto ticket, and dine at your favorite hole-in-the-wall—all in one place.
98. Never needing a compass. It’s always obvious which way is east and west, thanks to the mountains and the beach.
99. Hearing Vin Scully’s voice on the radio. The voice of the Dodgers retired last year after 67 seasons with the Dodgers, but he’ll never retire from our hearts.
100. Holding back a tear every time you hear The Mamas and Papas sing “California Dreamin.’”
101. Not holding back a big smile when you hear Randy Newman sing “I love L.A.” We love it.