5 Reasons New York Types Will Love LA
All of the fun, none of the snowstorms.
Think you’re too east coast for the City of Angels? More Lena Dunham than Kim Kardashian? More Strokes than Spielberg? It’s true, New York City can seem like the deep end of the ocean where LA is the shallow end of the gene pool, but there’s magic in the desert. Look past the juice bars, plastic surgery clinics, crippling traffic and wannabe movie stars and you’ll find a fascinating city of diverse delights. From underground hip hop to the world’s best vintage, cutting edge food culture to sweet contemporary art, Los Angeles goes more than skin deep.
#1 First up, the palm trees of the apocalypse
The palm-lined boulevards are so quintessentially LA that they can leave a New York-type cold. There’s too much sun and everyone dresses like they’re at the beach, while driving endless, gridlocked miles across a sprawling, decentralised city. That looming Hollywood sign, along with endless screaming billboards advertising new TV shows and bariatric surgery, only remind you how wrong LA can be.
But the palm trees are actually kind of interesting. They make it feel like LA was carved out of the desert; a baked, ambitious and ultimately doomed city. Perched right over the San Andreas Fault, with wildfires burning ever-closer to the heart of the city, LA is surely running against the clock. The palm trees are a soft, swaying reminder that it’s just a matter of time before desert creeps back in and swallows Los Angeles whole. It might not be the Manhattan skyline, but it’s still pretty cool.
#2 Them aerobicised ladies sure know how to eat
American food can feel like a wasteland of trans-fat and refined sugar, where epic portions and low prices stand in for freshness, quality and craft. But Los Angeles has an incredible food culture, and it has nothing to do with In-N-Out Burger (which, FYI, is not the greatest).
There are over six million people of Mexican ancestry in Greater Los Angeles and Mexican food is plentiful. From taco stands to traditional cantinas to sleek modern Mexican, there are hot tamales, thick mole and soft tortillas by the truckload. Speaking of trucks, the food truck scene in LA is outstanding. You can dive in on many an urban street corner, or sample them all at First Fridays on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. On the first Friday of every month, a cornucopia of mobile eats descends on the street – from lobster rolls to Texan barbecue to cupcakes and Creole delights – and the quality will surely blow your mind.
At the high end of LA eats is a network of boutique restaurants where the bounty of California’s Mediterranean climate is whipped into magical taste fireworks. Downtown’s Baco Mercat makes a buttermilk quail and pear dish that will make you cry, Mozza does this soft egg ravioli that defies physics and pretty much everything at Providence is amazing. If fine dining ain’t your thing, there’s always the burgeoning pop-up restaurant scene, which is a cheaper, more casual way to go foodie in LA.
#3 All the little niches
They might not have the muscle of Brooklyn or the Lower East Side, but there are cool neighbourhoods dotted around LA.
Silverlake, in East LA, is a long-established hipster haven, with some of the best/most pretentious coffee in town. Its boutique shops include a hidden tea den, a comic book store, a vinyl shop and a refurbished guitar seller, plus some bars and other diversions. The weird thing about Silverlake is how it’s laid out, scattered along a wide, sunburnt tract of Sunset Boulevard. It’s kind of familiar – clearly it’s where the cool kids dwell – but it’s a defiantly LA take on that globalised culture. Meanwhile Echo Park, one suburb over, is home to one of the city’s best live music venues.
North of Silverlake is the suburb of Los Feliz, a low-key but interesting neighbourhood which has ample decent coffee joints and bars, and the pervasive air of understated creativity. The main drags of Vermont and Hillhurst are walkable, which is a big win. To the north Griffith Park lies leafy and green, with the Griffith Observatory delivering killer views of the LA sprawl, and when you’re done you can catch a film at Los Feliz’s historic Vintage Cinemas. If you’re inclined to break out a map, you can find a couple of houses in the ‘hood that were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (Ennis House has been in more films than Kevin Bacon). The Greek Theatre has a decent lineup of music and you can head to Fred 62 after the show – the 24-hour diner is a favourite with touring bands, drawn by the (better than In-N-Out) burgers and the kitsch interior design.
Downtown will make you love LA. The suntanned City of Plastic drops away in this neighbourhood, where loft-dwelling residents walk the streets, a stone’s throw from the rough and tumble of a very serious skid row. By far the most interesting of LA’s hipster hives, Downtown was once a no-go zone of street violence and abandoned office buildings, now a tightly packed district of designer shops, superb restaurants and independent galleries. Life on the street hits it peak during the Downtown Art Walk, every second Thursday of the month, when you can gallery and bar hop with an electric crowd, and listen to endless chatter about how much the scene reminds them of NYC. It’s more like LA 2.0.
#4 THE BEST. VINTAGE. EVER.
Contemporary fashion is dire in Los Angeles, where Ugg Boots and bootie shorts still dominate the streets, but LA vintage is the best on earth. It’s hard to know if it’s the movie business feeding some period costume zeitgeist or just that LA is a major metropolis where the flotsam of the USA has come to rest. Either way, the vintage shopping rules.
There’s a network of stores on La Brea and Melrose, the biggest of which is Jet Rag. Over one huge shop floor and a jacket-heavy mezzanine, the place is crammed with recycled fashion, with a heavy bent towards ’70s west coast style. Their Sunday morning carpark sale is a total frenzy. Wasteland on Melrose is also big, but with careful curation and some high-end designer pieces on the racks.
If you’re in the neighbourhood, Echo Park has a few cool places, and people rave about Hidden Treasures in Topanga Canyon Boulevard, but Downtown does it best after Hollywood. Round 2 LA has mad “modern” vintage (think retro streetwear crossed with drag) while across the street Buttons & Bows resell hip designer threads. You can hunt for bargains or drop a bomb on brand-name vintage, but you’re not going home empty-handed.
#5 The sounds of the underground
Hip hop was born out of the five boroughs of NYC. Sure, LA produced its share of legends in the gangsta rap boom, but it’s hardly cool to see Dre spruiking headphones or Ice T solving crimes on television – if that was all we had to go by, you could only shake your head at the contemporary west coast rap game. But the LA hip hop scene had this undergrowth in the late ’90s that has sprouted into a world-changing scene. Acts like Kendrick Lamar, Madlib, the Odd Future collective and Flying Lotus have risen from the bedrooms of South Central LA and the San Fernando Valley to redefine the sound of music.
It’s kind of hard to explain why this is so cool. LA is one of the world’s music meccas, with high profile bands playing across the city virtually every night, but very little of it feels authentic. It’s an industry town, a money town, and the bands often feel like they’re selling something. The most punk thing about LA is the underground hip hop scene, spread across hard-to-find club nights and block parties. Visit Low End Theory, Gaslamp Killer’s weekly club night in Lincoln Heights, and you’ll get a taste of the radiant madness. If there was a club like that in my home town, I’d probably move in.
(Lead image: Eric Demarcq/Flickr)