Few cities seem to generate such extreme opinions as Los Angeles. Do a quick online search and the ‘I Love LA’ crowd will be mirrored by the ‘I Can’t Stand LA’ contingent. Many of the ‘love LA’ers are paid to say so – the marketing and tourism boards, and the hotels and businesses anxious to draw visitors.
So what is it about LA that draws such ire and fire? Why do so many people hate LA?
As I scoured the web before my summer visit, CNN rated it one of the world’s 10 most hated cities. In a Public Policy Poll on major US cities, 40% responded negatively about Los Angeles (only Detroit did worse). Another poll put LA just behind Detroit and Oakland for cities to avoid (a recent visit to Oakland should have reminded me of the dangers of listening to everyone else’s opinion.)
Even certain travel bloggers, at times known for glossing over distressing destinations, trashed the city.
My friends added to the mystique, telling me not to bother.
Worth only a quick glance, if that. Smoggy, hot, crowded, expensive, superficial. Celebrity-obsessed. Self-absorbed.
My objectivity was shredded. I came prepared to toe the line and hate the place.
So, dear critic, which was it? Did LA chew me up and spit me out? Or did she make me swoon?
I was told: the people of LA are all superficial
Massive generalization aside, I’m sure LA is filled with superficial people. They flock here to work in film and their look is part of that quest. Money is spent on staying young, remaining gorgeous, and glowing like the sun. I speak of course from jealousy, having spotted plenty of women my age looking fitter, trimmer, younger.
The flip side of that self-absorption is everyone’s sheer friendliness. It spilled over everywhere, in shops, restaurants, malls, on tours, in cabs… even with panhandlers on the street. However jetlagged I might have looked, there was always someone to say, “You look so AWESOME! I LOVE that blouse!” So yes, please, be superficial. You don’t mean it? I know that. But I’d rather have superficial cheer and a smile than an honest grump and insult (I know what I’m talking about – I live in France, where the honest grump rules).
I was told: LA is littered with broken dreams
Where people dream, broken dreams follow. Not everyone will make it big. You probably won’t be the next Nicole Kidman or Angelina Jolie or Kristin Stewart. You’ll end up waiting on tables or sweltering in a Spiderman suit on Hollywood and Vine, a movie star wannabe way past her prime whose life has been spent trying to ‘make it’. Come to think of it, isn’t that what most of us face, everywhere? Are you a millionaire? I hope so for your sake but for the rest of us, dreams soar, crash, and are replaced by brand new dreams. It’s the human condition. We try. We fail. We try again. It’s not about LA.
I was told: Los Angeles is an architectural disaster
Poor architecture is a strange criticism for a city filled with Art Deco and 1950s buildings. Nostalgic movie marquees have been spruced up to show off their 19th-century pastels and many houses look as though they’ve walked straight off a silent movie set. Some of them, apparently, have. I thought LA architecture was quite acceptable.
I was told: LA is flat, and it all looks the same
About the flatness… the San Fernando Valley, perhaps, but what exactly looks the same? The miles of beachfront, the Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the Santa Monica mountains in the background? Have you actually been here? There’s no question, the flat part of LA is flat. The hilly part is, well, hilly, winding through canyons and narrow mountain roads from which you can see a never-ending curtain of lights twinkling at sunset.
I was told: Los Angeles is boring – and a cultural desert
How exactly is it boring, remind me? You must mean the world-class museums and art galleries, right? The fresh and innovative foods? The quirky bookshops? The vintage shopping on Melrose, for when, you know, you get tired of the snooty designers on Rodeo Drive or can’t be bothered to drive to outlets larger than an average European village? The extraordinary cinemas and improv lounges and theaters? The macabre side of the city, with its ‘dead people’ tours and tourist-magnet cemeteries? The musical history that oozes from nearly every corner? The world-class street art? The incredible diversity – Spanish often seems more common than English, and LA has the largest Thai population outside Thailand. Sorry but which bit, exactly, is boring?
I was told: Everything in LA is supersized
Yes. To my European eyes everything was huge, and proudly so. Not my thing, but not a good enough reason to hate you, LA, not yet. And by the way, LA doesn’t hold the monopoly on huge. The supersize is countrywide.
I was told: Driving is insane
Having driven in Rome and Istanbul, I’m not quite sure insane is the right word. Driving is a complex acrobatic of weaving in and out of bus lanes, avoiding bicycles along the way. Freeways at rush hour are clogged and cars barely move. Drivers are erroneously convinced that highways will get you there faster (because they’re bigger?), so side streets stay nearly empty. Forget ‘The 405’ or whatever, stop being lazy with that GPS, pull out your street map and find a shortcut. The insanity seemed limited to blinkers. To not using blinkers before turning. Or not knowing what a blinker was.
I was told: Everyone cares only about showbiz
I recently tripped over a statistic: fewer than 2% of workers in Los Angeles are involved in the entertainment business, even peripherally. That’s a bit hard to believe. Most conversations I eavesdropped upon revolved around the entertainment business. Of course there’s the speck of summit we all see – the actors and actresses, the producers and directors – but also the electricians who wire the sets, the real estate agents who hunt for locations, the restaurants that cater for private parties, the taxi drivers with stories to tell about what ‘really happened in the backseat’. Still, that statistic bothers me. What if it’s right… where are all those people hiding?
The few people who don’t seem involved in showbiz all know someone who is. Everyone says they’re related to someone famous. My bus driver knew Richard Simmons (the 1980s exercise guru), a salesman knew Carl Reiner (the producer), and the gas station attendant had met Ellen when she stopped by in one of her several Porsches.
What I loved about Los Angeles
So much for the critic’s voice and my response. Now it’s my turn.
Because against all odds I fell in love with this city. It’s not the ‘I want to live here forever’ kind of love. It’s more the ‘I can’t believe it’s already time to leave’ kind of love, the kiss kiss and I’ll be back kind.
- LA is smart, creative and energetic: it doesn’t care what other people think – it just IS
- The Hollywood sign is a legend – and looks even better from above than from below
- Everyone treats life as a performance; that must get tiring after a while but to a visitor it’s fun
- Los Angeles is dog-friendly (that counts for a lot in my book)
- The apartment I rented was right next door to a house in which two Grateful Dead members once lived
- Los Angeles is actually FUN – in a Disney sort of way
- Parts of LA are stuck in the 1960s
- The weather, oh the weather!
- More than anything, Los Angeles made me smile
Just one thing, LA: please do something about that horrible area around Grauman’s Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard – especially about those guys that try to hang a snake around your neck. Not a good thing.
Otherwise, Los Angeles, you may not be the center of the universe but you’re doing all right, at least in my book.
Very all right.
Things every Woman on the Road should know
- I did not test LA’s public transport. The low cost of car rentals in California meant renting was hugely economical – although, I admit it, far less environmental. If you plan on public transport, start here. The metro (or train, as it’s called) has linked distant parts of the city, and not having a car no longer means instant isolation.
- We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb appartment – several rooms for under $100 a night; try finding that in a hotel. (Not a member of Airbnb yet? Join using this link and you’ll get a $25 discount on your first rental).
- I traveled with my partner and my 15-year-old niece. If there’s a teenager in your life, this is the city to be.
- If I were traveling through California again, I’d start in San Francisco and spend a bit more time to the north of the city; then I’d drive the Pacific Coast Highway, as I did; and I’d fly back out of Los Angeles rather than drive all the way back to San Francisco. I was in LA for a week. I could have stayed much longer.