If you’re dreaming of Californication I hate to break the news, but Los Angeles is less of a Hank Moody vision and more of a glamorized dump. Jack Kerouac once said that it was “the loneliest and most brutal of American cities”. And I second that. It is the land where you spend a lifetime in traffic and have to get on a freeway on a quest to obtain a piece of pizza. Forget wanderlust: the subway system exists only in theory. It is also the only place where downtown does not mean “The Most Representative Part of Town”, but something more like “Keep Out or Die Part of Town”. It’s not always sunny because the smog hangs above the city most of the time like a miasma sky. The famous Hollywood Boulevard? It’s just another touristy street. The only difference is that you can watch the Hollywood sign from afar, while a bunchof dudes dressed as Michael Jackson or Jack Sparrow try to get you to pay for a picture with them. The fabulous venues like Skybar full of the bold and beautiful? Are you on the list? No? Well, sorry son.
But despite all this, the City of Angels keeps me coming back. Let me tell you why.
Venice Beach is a magical place. Think Camden except the teenage emos/goths are replaced by the surfer dudes. It is the centre for the alternative in Southern California. The boulevard is filled with various interesting characters: from a homeless guitar hero to a struggling street artist to a skater champ cruising around in a t-shirt advertising a medical marijuana dispensary. Here you can find hipsters, stoners, hippies, punks –the deluxe package of subcultures. Venice Beach also ressembles a Californian version of Venice, for the residential area behind the boulevard is filled with canals and little bridges with colorful Chinese lanterns that add to the charm. Every house you pass while walking around the neighborhood seems to have its own, unique soul. If you wander around a bit more, you may even stumble upon one of the Californication houses at 2420 McKinley Avenue.
Another thing that is great about LA is its music scene. And the Sunset Strip Boulevard is its raging, wild heart. In the heyday of indie and electronic music that have completely taken over the industry, it is something like a rock n’roll reserve. It is a place where you can still find bona fide sell-your-soul-for-rock-n-roll characters that seem to be so rare these days. The music venues such as the Viper Room, the [original] Roxy and Whiskey a Go Go still host small, intimate shows with big names on the bill. The Rainbow Bar & Grill is a shrine of the 70s and 80s rock with walls full of rockabilia that have witnessed countless nights of debauchery courtesy of the members of Led Zeppelin and Guns ‘N’ Roses. Here you can still stumble upon Lemmy Kilmister sipping on his daily dose of Jack and Coke or Dave Grohl taking shots with Justin Hawkins. It doesn’t matter how tacky the colourful fairy lights and faux leather booths are. This place is sacred.
Beverly Hills is one of the places that actually corresponds with the clichéd notions of LA. It is so perfect that it makes you wonder whether you’re still in the real world or whether you’ve just somehow ended up in the middle of a big shiny display with a hidden “Do Not Touch” sign. Walking along the Rodeo Drive makes you feel like one of the 90210 characters when you pass the women in huge sunglasses getting out of their Lamborginis and putting their little Chihuahuas in Vuitton bags. Everything is incredibly plastic. And that is the beauty of it.
No matter how chill the casual SoCal vibe seems to be, drowning in the sea of flip flops, board shorts and Hollister shirts gets old as one gradually becomes severely deficient in bohemian culture. Silver Lake and Echo Park are the to-go places for the avant-garde fix. The area is the Indie Island in the middle of the Mainstream Ocean. It is an antithesis of pop glamour that is served in this town from Santa Monica Boulevard to Hollywood Hills. Here you can ditch the Prada Bling for the Salvation Army Hobo Chic. What makes it different from other hip meccas is that its alternative vibe still has a Hollywood flavour, for it is a home to struggling screenwriters, actors, and independent film directors. People like the members of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ryan Gosling and Eva Longoria have all lived there before they made it and moved to the grand Malibu mansions. It is worth to catch a show at the Echo, one of the most popular indie venues in the neighbourhood, or hang out at a dive bar like Hyperion Tavern. Hit Intelligentsia on Sunset Junction for the best French press in town and Local for organic lunch. Rockaway Records is a shrine of rock memorabilia, where you can get The Beatles ’65 concert flyer for a grand and a Bob Dylan ’99 tour harmonica for two. Even if you pass on that kind of bargain, it is still interesting to explore.
The drive along Pacific Coast Highway satisfies the craving for the classic Californian vista, while at night, the view of lit up Angel City from Mulholland Drive is like a movie shot. So perfect it makes you go: “Be still, my heart!”
That’s why I love LA as much as I loathe it and still fall for it every time I visit. Because love – hate relationships are the most passionate.