LA Gets Me Every Time

Los Angeles means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But for me, it will always be home.

And because it’s my home, it makes me sad when I hear so many misconceptions.

Growing up, whenever I visited another state, others assumed I was an actress or a surfer. Those were my two options and anything else was inconceivable.

A famous city like LA is vulnerable, judged as overrated when in fact…it’s underrated.

Since leaving in 2001, I’ve lived all over the US and traveled internationally. Not once have I found a place like Los Angeles.

For our ten-year anniversary, Mr. H and I decided to take a California road trip. He had never been to Hollywood or Venice Beach, never seen my hometown of Azusa in San Gabriel Valley.

downtown los angelesAfter all of these years of marriage, I was nervous about what he would think. I knew Mr. H had preconceived notions just like anyone else. It’s impossible not to have them.

But LA got him too.

runyon canyon

After a pitstop in Monterey on the coast, we took the 101 down. Picturesque dry valleys dominate the scene until you pass San Luis Obispo and catch a jaw-dropping vision. The Pacific Ocean, the gateway to Southern California.

The moment you roll down your windows and feel that salty breeze whipping through your hair, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Traffic is inevitable and even on a late Saturday afternoon, we ran into some. But when you’re on vacation and the windows are down with perfect weather, how bad can it be?

They say if you can drive in LA that you can drive anywhere. People can drive, because they have to. A car culture through and through, you need to know how to handle gridlock, parallel park, and haul ass so you don’t get run over.

As a bike commuter for six years, I now tend to get skittish and claustrophobic in cars. But oddly, in Los Angeles I felt fine.

sunset boulevardWe stayed in a bungalow right in the heart of Hollywood. Though walking is an anomaly in most of the city, there are in fact, walkable sections and public transportation.

My favorite shopping in the world, Melrose Avenue, was a little over a mile away so I braved the sidewalks. Thankfully, Melrose hasn’t changed at all. It’s still grimy and cheap, with magical finds.

Clearly, this belonged in my closet…

melrose shopping

Hollywood was a central location for us, to explore the city as well as the valley and the beaches.

I’ll be the first to tell you that LA beaches aren’t pretty. I can recommend five gorgeous Orange County beaches that will blow your mind. But, I’m a sucker for Venice Beach.

venice boardwalk


venice basketball courtI’ve sat at sidewalk cafes in Paris, danced at raves in the desert, and braved St. Patty’s Day weekends in both New York City and Chicago. The people-watching at Venice Beach is unmatched.

Although parts of Venice have been developed and some say “yuppified”, I was relieved to see the boardwalk was just the way I left it. The ethnic drumbeats, bouncing basketballs, and crashing waves were music to my ears.

Over onion rings and cold beers, we watched and listened, enjoying the colorful tourists, hipsters, musicians, hagglers, entertainers, bums, hippies, and skaters.

young skateboarder


venice beach skate park

Sunset was a drawn-out event, bathing everybody and everything in that Southern California glow. Sure the pollution is gross, but it makes killer sunsets you’ll never find anywhere else.

beach wind chimes

Beyond the city and the beaches are my old stomping grounds, a place you’ve probably never heard of…Azusa.

Surprisingly, much has changed.

A Target monstrosity wiped out a couple of blocks of cheap retailers that had been there forever. A light rail track has been built as well, looking like it will operate soon.

I didn’t understand these odd additions to my little hometown until I saw the fancy neighborhoods that had sprung up.

My old condo at the base of the canyon is still there, nicer with new paint. Across the street the farm with the annoying rooster, animated pigs, and the lovely horses I used to feed apples and carrots to are all gone—displaced by generic homes with tidy lawns.

On the other side, the llamas are nowhere to be seen. More generic homes have been built around the canyon.

I was happy to see that my old spot was unmolested. I used to come here to think about things…boys mainly. So, it was fun to sit down with Mr. H at my spot.

azusa canyonA predominately Hispanic population, I was the minority at my middle school.

I have some scary stories I can tell you about being chased by a girl with brass knuckles and threatened by her older brother who was in a gang. I have some lovely stories I can tell you about snacking on warm, fresh tortillas that my friend’s mom had just made with her worn hands after school.

With the yuppification that has taken place, I’m not sure what that means for the future of Azusa. For as long as I can remember it was unknown on the LA map, a cheaper option on decent land for families with lower incomes.

I still see some of the die-hards hanging on.

I was monumentally relieved to see my favorite Azusa restaurant, Best Teriyaki, standing strong and proud. It’s still a hole in the wall, though they have dressed up the outdoor seating a bit. And it still has the best teriyaki chicken with fries.

For old time’s sake, I had to get the side of Thousand Island for dipping.

chicken and fries

best teriyaki

Back when we decided to move to the West Coast, it was a choice between Los Angeles and Portland. A job worked out for Mr. H and we came here instead.

We’re spoiled in Portland with our clean air and water, our edgy city and impeccable nature.

But, there’s just something about LA that I will never be able to replace. And I will forever be a champion for my beautiful gritty home that nobody understands.

Because some of us get it.

43 thoughts on “LA Gets Me Every Time

  1. Spent 5 yrs. in LA. Went back to the area recently and I had forgotten how great it is-love Santa Barbara too. A bit sorry I left, but divorce will do that to you!! My daughter was born there.

  2. From the heart that was Britt. There’s me thinking that Dallas was your home town. When you write ‘Sure the pollution is gross, but it makes killer sunsets you’ll never find anywhere else’ then the place is definitely in your heart.

    Birmingham must be the most unloved city in the UK but even now, 38 years on, I’d walk its mean streets comfortably and defend it against anyone. I still follow the football team and get the highs and (usually) lows as the results come through late on a Saturday afternoon.

    LA still retains a lot of magic for those of us that have never been there through the media of small and big screens.

    1. Oh, no. Southern California girl all the way! It’s confusing b/c I was born in Texas and always had fam there, so I’ve spent a lot of time in Dallas.

      Isn’t that funny how protective we are over these places? Especially when they’re underdogs for whatever reason, we have to defend them.

      Yes, LA has a lot to live up to because of that.

  3. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip back, and your pictures are great. I’ve only been to Hollywood once. I’d love to go back someday and experience more of LA. How cool that you were able to take Mr. H to your “spot.” That must have been pretty special.

    1. It was so awesome! Yeah, you should definitely go back. You have to have a nice cold drink on the Venice Beach boardwalk and do some people-watching. So much fun!

      Yes, it was very special. Glad my spot was still there. With the way things were looking, I figured I would be trespassing in someone’s fancy backyard. That would have been an entirely different blog story. 😉

  4. I have to agree with Les Petits Pas de Juls; you’ve done LA proud with this post. So pleased you had a chance to visit and to introduce Mr H to your other beloved. 🙂

  5. It’s always nice to go back to the place one grows up and see the changes and especially the things that remain the same. I spent three weeks in LA a number of years ago, for a class in navigation, and it was just too crowded for me. As I rode in from the airport we passed a flat topped, bare dirt hill and I asked the driver if it was a land fill. That didn’t go over well. I did enjoy Venice and looking for the ‘green pop’.

    1. Agreed! I hadn’t been to Azusa since I left in 2001, so I was pretty stunned by the transformation. But it was great to see some of the old still going strong.

      Haha, that’s so funny! It’s definitely no Northwest when it comes to hills and trees. But I am a sucker for some good palm trees.

  6. Sounds like a fantastic trip!

    I must say, however, that I was offended by your blanket assumption that everyone outside of California thinks LA is made up of nothing but surfers and actors. I live on the other side of the country and I know that LA also consists of unemployed screenwriters.

    I await your apology.

    1. Haha, surfer and actor were what I heard specifically! Of course there are unemployed screenwriters running amok, so I sincerely apologize for not mentioning them in the intro. 😉

      These stereotypes follow us wherever we go. Because I spent my summers in Texas with my family and had a slight southern accent, the California kids assumed I was riding horses all summer.

  7. I went to school in LA and being from the (at the time) spacious suburbs in Orange County, just couldn’t get over how bad the traffic was there. I admit I wasn’t overly fond of the city, even though I mostly hung out on the “nice” West side since that was where school was. I’ve found though, that it does grow on you over time and if nothing else, you can experience vastly different cultures just from going between two neighborhoods.

    1. The traffic is a nightmare, and I spent my early adulthood sitting in it constantly for work and school. I know LA’s one of the main reasons I gave up driving six years ago. It did me in. 😉

      Indeed. The different cultures and neighborhoods were always intriguing. I know growing up there shaped me to be the person I am. Even the horrendous traffic!

  8. That must have been fun going back and seeing all the changes. Then sometimes you wonder if it’s you that’s changed since you’ve last been there and maybe that’s why some things look different. Too bad there were no more llamas around though! 🙂 I love people watching so I should probably get to Venice Beach one of these days – the beer and onion rings sound like the perfect accompaniment too!

    1. It was fun and scary to go back, especially to my hometown. Luckily we had dinner with one of my longtime friends, and she warned me about most of the changes beforehand so it wasn’t too much of a shock.

      You know me. I was super bummed about the animals. Growing up, I always knew I had it good with that unusual farm in the suburbs situation. So I made sure to give the animals lots of love.

      You’d love Venice Beach, honey!

  9. It must have been so wonderful to go back with Mr. H, to show him your old haunts. And also to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. That’s aways so fascinating. I’ve never been to LA. I like how it seems to be a meeting point for so many cultures, paths crossing, perhaps messily, but still. Lovely piece of writing, Britt (as always).

    1. It was beyond wonderful! I’ve been wanting to do it for a while and we even had a trip planned last year that we had to cancel because of our move.

      LA is certainly messy at times, but that’s one of the great things about it. It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

      Thanks, sweetness. xo

  10. My brother-in-law and his wife just checked out LA to see if they wanted to move there. They live in Austin. Apparently, architects get laid off en masse in LA when the economy tanks, and not so much in Austin. So, while they thought LA was cool, they decided not to head in that direction. I’ve been through the town, but I’ve yet to make it to the Getty and other museums there. This is on my “todo” list.

    1. Austin’s a great town. I spent a lot of time in Austin during our Dallas days as Mr. H’s sister lives down there. It’s hard to beat the Texas economy and cost of living. LA’s an incredible place to visit, but living there isn’t for everyone. Sounds like they made the right decision.

      For your museum list, my recommendation would also be the lesser known Museum of Tolerance. It’s awesome.

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