I never thought I liked cities, and certainly not L.A. Smoggy, crime-ridden, ugly, image-obsessed, cheap- that’s what I thought my nearest city was. My childhood ambition was to farm apples in the country somewhere. For years after my childhood ended, I fantasized about moving somewhere remote. I’d camped, and read Country magazine, which led me to believe that I’d love the open spaces, clean air, room to garden, etc. I still think I might like that.
Suburbs, on the whole, aren’t my cup of tea, although I’m lucky enough to live in one that avoids some of the ungainly sprawl of many ‘burbs and even manages to be quite walkable. It’s clean, safe, pleasant, if a little bland. I visit suburbs to visit people I love in suburbs, but I would never visit a suburb on purpose, the way I’d go to a country town or a city.
Visiting cities was actually how I figured out that I like cities. It started with San Francisco. I loved taking day-trips there and soaking up the funky culture and natural beauty. Then the East Coast charmed me with D.C. and Philadelphia. (Of course, I only visited parts of Philly and the District. Like most suburb-raised WASPs, when I say that I like cities, I mean the gentrified villages within cities.) I lived in dense, diverse Berkeley for a few weeks, and was enchanted enough to buy a Rybczynski book on “City Life.” I loved the compactness of city living- everything I needed was a short walk away. I enjoyed the cultures interweaving, and the opportunities to experience lots of art, museums, cuisine, music, and the like. More than anything, I discovered that cities are full of people, and people are interesting and have a glory that excels pretty buildings or neat streets. Cities, I finally decided, had their advantages.
LA was my neighbor city, but it was probably one of my least favorites. If my sister hadn’t gone to UCLA, I would have continued to believe that the best LA had to offer was Watts Towers (don’t go) or some cultural attractions in nearby Pasadena. But I would visit my sister in Westwood and walk through the lovely grounds of UCLA, admire the older buildings (quite a novelty in Southern California), walk past more restaurants and libraries that I could ever explore, and people-watch. Santa Monica, which had always been the epitome of uppity California in my mind, turned out to be charming (and yes, uppity). A friend finally took me to the Getty, and from there I explored the Getty Villa. I grew to appreciate Mochi and other ethnic food I have close at hand. I realized that the Hollywood Bowl was special, and finally admitted that we pretty much have some of the best weather in the world.
I still despise the traffic. Nearly all the buildings are appalling. Sprawl and smog are big problems here. I’m not ready to sing “I Love LA,” but I’m enjoying what’s here while I am. Here are some of the things I love about LA and its environs:
Having come to love LA late, there’s still a lot left for me to explore. This summer’s agenda: