From everything I had been told, LA was a city I was expecting to hate. Most of the Americans I met overseas didn’t even like the city which definitely didn’t help form my predispositions. Yet somehow, despite all of this I ended up loving the five nights I spent there. Staying at Banana Bungalows in West Hollywood, where almost every night is a party, I immediately killed any preconceived notion of not drinking in the US to save money. Arriving at night and exhausted I spent an hour or so in the common room, instantly noticing that the hostel’s occupants were no where near as welcoming and friendly as they were in Asia. In Asia, other travelers tend to stand out and are sometimes relatively rare, so it is easy to make friends and group up. In a hostel of this size in a city like LA, it becomes a little bit harder as everyone seems to have their own groups doing their own thing, adding to my belief that big cities are the loneliest places to travel.
The following morning I met an Australian who agreed with my view of the hostel’s environment and invited me out to Venice Beach with some friends of hers. The beach was far nicer than I expected, and also a lot crazier. The beach is miles long, up to 100m wide in parts and surprisingly vacant of activity. There are volleyball nets set up everywhere, a skate park, basketball courts and, for some reason, an outdoor gym named ‘Muscle Beach’. The gym is caged off from outsiders however certainly welcomes onlookers as the tanned bodybuilders of Venice Beach bench press and dead lift whilst the fish taco yielding crowd walks by. Opposing Muscle Beach on the other side of the walkway is one of the many marijuana dispensaries offering medical examinations for anyone willing to part with $50 for legal access to marijuana to treat ‘back pain’. Even foreigners can get their ‘card’ as a Swedish guy at the hostel proved later.
A few kilometers along from Venice Beach is Santa Monica Pier. The walk takes half an hour to an hour and provides an opportunity to see the rest of the circus act patrolling along the pathway between the two ends. People on bad acid trips dance and scream, up and coming rappers push cd’s in your face and hipsters fly by on old pink roller-skates, hoping to bring them back. It’s great entertainment.
Without a car, seeing LA would be a long and painful process due to its seemingly endless sprawling size and lack of efficient public transportation. The sprawling is such that unless you are downtown, you don’t really feel like you are in a huge city. Luckily, the hostel organizes tours of LA for anyone without access to a car which is what kept me occupied for one of my days. Starting in West Hollywood the van of mostly Australians (almost everyone I met in the hostel was Australian) drove past many sites I could (sadly?) recognize from books and pop culture. I remembered Fairfax High as the highschool Anthony Keiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers went to and was continually surprised as the day went on as to how familiar LA feels. Santa Monica Pier and the canals near Venice Beach felt familiar from the show Californication, the show Entourage had made Rodeo Drive, certain clubs and restaurants seem familiar and I could even instantly recognize the house from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air when driving through the Beverly Hills area. Like it or not, we absorb a lot of American culture just through the TV we watch, although thankfully in real life the culture is a lot better than The Jersey Shore or Kardashian’s portray. Finally, an LA tour wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Hollywood sign and checking out a few of the Hollywood Stars.
I was lucky enough to cross paths and spend a few days with a good friend of mine, Megan, who was on her way home after spending the semester in Canada. I had heard good things about the Getty museum and wanted to do something cheaper and (slightly) less touristy than Universal Studios for the day. It took over an hour and a half by bus to get there, but it was worth it. The glorious stone museum is set atop a hill overlooking the city which had as many people admiring the views from the lawns and gardens as it did viewing the exhibits. The exhibits were numerous and varied from French fashion and art to two large rooms given to the appreciation of trees through art. My favorite was the photo galleries depicting different aspects of Cuban history and culture. Included in the gallery was the original iconic photograph of Che Guevara that is seen on t-shirts and and posters everywhere in Australia.
That night the sister hostel nearby was having a party with free food and alcohol (something they did most nights) that ended in going to one of the huge nearby clubs. The party was fun and even the long, winding walk to the club had its laughs until I got there and realized I didn’t have any ID. After spending so long in Asia I wasn’t used to needing ID to buy alcohol or get into bars so bringing it along completely slipped my mind. Not being a big club guy I wasn’t too worried and tried to catch the bus home, except I went the wrong direction for half an hour before I realized something didn’t seem right and turned around. Fortunately, the bus drivers in LA are very friendly and were a great help in sending me in the right direction. All except for one was very helpful and friendly when it came to helping out the lost foreigner, a few even let me jump on for 2/3 of the price because I didn’t have the right change.
The next day Megan and I shared a ride to San Diego with yet another two Australians, leaving behind some great first impressions of LA and the USA at large.