taking adventuress

wanderlust: los angeles – 30 days in america

This post introduces ‘Wanderlust’ as a regular feature.  And this story on Los Angeles launches a series on my 30 days in America, which I introduced here.  

Before I pulled out of the parking lot I did my little mantra that would accompany me on the next three weeks of driving through the states of California and Nevada.  It went something like “remember Maree, your driving on the right hand side of the road, the right hand side (at this point my right hand would go up in the air to cement the statement).  When you turn right it’s a hard right, when you turn left its going across the traffic.”  I did this pretty much every time I got in the car.  Seriously.

My safety drill over I then turned the radio up loud to some gangsta rap (I did) and headed off into the Los Angeles morning traffic.  It was my first time in LA, actually my first time in America.  And there’s nothing quite like driving in a new city straight after a 14.5 hour flight to remind you your alive.

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I spent my two and a half days in LA –

  • Driving.  A lot.
  • Strolling Santa Monica
  • Being in awe at the incredible works at the LACMA – the Giacometti collection literally stopped me in my tracks and made me gasp out loud – and cry a little.  It was so beautiful.
  • Attending a LACMA artist talk with some LA locals I’d just met that night
  • Indulgent people watching and glorious food at Rays Stark Bar
  • Looking at the moon through a super telescope on the lawn of the Griffith Observatory.  God it was beautiful.
  • Seeing LA at its best – up high at night from the Griffith Observatory balcony.  A sea of sparkling jewels as wide as the eye can see = glorious.
  • Driving Sunset Boulevard
  • Getting frustrated a hell of a lot – missed turn offs, driving aimlessly without finding anything interesting, getting lost and stuck in traffic
  • Loving the gorgeous weather – hot dry heat all the way (I visited end September)

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I can honestly say I have never ever been to a city like Los Angeles.  Never.  And I’ve been to some of China’s monolith cities, and still LA is in a league of its own.

Its urban sprawl, insane amount of roads and motorways and the abject poverty sidled up against dripping with diamonds excess is an assault on the senses (and I’m not a delicate wee flower).  Oh, and the slew of old run down buildings lining the super wide roads pretty much everywhere (expect in the neighbourhoods of the super rich) was SO not what I was expecting.

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I was disoriented, unable to find its heart.  When I travel to new places my small town routes seeks the heart of a place so I can position myself, a compass of sorts to ground me and guide me into the unfamiliar.  I couldn’t do that in LA. New York, Beijing – yes, but not in LA.

That’s the beauty of travel though, being outside of your comfort zone and submerged in difference, and on these counts LA delivered in spades.  In retrospect I’m pleased I spent a few days there, it shattered the myth and gave me an entry handle on a part of America so often sensationalised.

It’s the kind of place you need to know where to go – a local’s knowledge would be gold dust.  It’s not a take a wander and stumble upon a gem, kind of city.  No siree.

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I’m not jumping to go back, but then I can’t dismiss this city because I never got the chance to see a lot of it’s beauty revealed.  I was there for a blink of time and was totally naive and un-prepared.  I had grand visions of checking out some of the incredible modernist architecture but late starts to my day (time zone difference) and getting lost and the copious amounts of driving meant that didn’t happen.  I’d say I’ll land on its shores again and will do a truckload of research before hitting the tarmac.

My recommendations and tips

  • Watch Crash (one of my favourite movies) it shows LA rawly and beautifully in all its shades of grey.
  • Hire a car.  Hire a car.  Hire a car.  Do not do LA without a car.
  • Research the shiz out of the city before you get there and plan.  Know where you want to go and what you want to see. LA is not the city to have a light and loose agenda, it will gobble you up and spit you out.
  • Get access to insider knowledge if you can, if you have a friend there hit them up for info.  If a friends visited before ask them what they did, how they found it.
  • Check out Santa Monica’s glorious town, beach and boardwalk, it’s a welcome contrast to the concrete jungle.  Think laid back beach culture.
  • Do a little drive by through Beverly Hills houses.
  • You must visit Griffith observatory.  You must!
  • If you love your art the LACMA is a non negotiable.
  • If I went back again I would definitely do a day bus tour.  I can’t believe I’m saying this but I would.

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