On To Adventure

Adventures in La La Land: A Love Letter to Los Angeles

I’ve never written about Los Angeles and that’s always surprised me. Growing up, I felt drawn to L.A., like a sunflower to the sun, despite never visiting. Maybe it was the idea of Hollywood and my passion for films that fueled my fascination with the Southern California city. It makes sense. Last year I loved La La Land. I mean I La La Loved it. The first time I saw it in theatres I cried the entire subway ride home. The next day, my girlfriend, Rachelle, who’s also a shameless nerd, and I had an hour-long conversation about La La Land. The film isn’t just a love story between two people, it’s also a love letter to Los Angeles. That aspect of it resonated deeply with my youthful idolization of L.A.

La La Land

As a child, I imagined L.A. as a blend of Pretty Woman meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It seemed like a flawless place – incredible weather, beautiful beaches, and the city of moving pictures. It wasn’t until I visited L.A. for the first time at 27 when my feelings changed. I was so excited to finally visit, yet, when I arrived – shockingly – I wasn’t impressed.

It was okay. It was also grimy and there were more eyesores than stand out sights. I remember how thankful I felt for having chosen to live in New York. I remember thinking, that every day in New York something new takes my breath away. I didn’t get that feel from the city of angels. L.A. was cool, but it just didn’t feel fabulous the way Hollywood had promised.

I was disappointed in how little I felt for L.A. I wanted to love it. I was supposed to love it. It felt like I’d wasted my youth on California dreaming. My dad, who lived there in the 70s, claims it was his favorite city to live in. Rachelle, who spent several years there absolutely raves about it. I just found it kind of Meh.

The thing about L.A. is that it grows on you. Each time I visited, which has been quite often due to work, I appreciated it more and more.

The first time I stayed in Santa Monica, I was in complete awe. The boardwalk, the beaches, the palm trees, and the constant sunshine made this little section of L.A. feel heavenly.

On the next trip, I stayed in Venice Beach, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Santa Monica, but is somehow completely different. It’s wonderfully weird. Like The Doors said the “People are strange.” There’s muscle beach, freak shows, and painted murals dedicated to the dead decorating the area. There’s an aura of strange around the Venice Beach area. It inspired the oddities of my character.

I’ve also spent much time in West Hollywood, which is unlike than the beach towns. West Hollywood is much more lavish with chic restaurants and hotels. West Hollywood also holds a lot of the historic music hot spots like The Viper Room and Whiskey-A-Go-Go. It’s swanky but cool.

Then there’s the heart of Hollywood, which is basically like the Time Square of Los Angeles. It’s fun to walk down Hollywood Blvd and see the stars of famous celebrities lining the streets, but this area is more of a tourist trap than anything else.

There’s also downtown L.A., an area I happen to adore, filled with up and coming hotspots, and very walkable streets. This area’s often overlooked by tourists and locals alike, which made me enjoy it all the more.

Then, of course, let’s not forget the posh neighborhood of Beverly Hills, which is where the rich and famous lounge.

Like New York, Los Angeles is a city with many personalities.

The more I saw of L.A., the more I was able to appreciate the uniqueness of each section of the city. Still, there were a lot of drawbacks. There are sections of L.A. overpopulated with the homeless. Granted, I get it, if I were homeless, I’d want to be in warm and sunny L.A., too. But it doesn’t seem like the city does too much to provide support. There’s also places like Skid Row where you best say a prayer and run if you mistakenly turn down this street. Let’s not forget about the L.A. traffic, it seems like it takes an hour to get anywhere, and rush hour never seems to end. Naturally, as a New Yorker, I despise the fact that it’s not a walkable city, and if you attempt to walk, you will feel a slight fear for your life every time you cross a major intersection. And of course, there’s the superficial aspect of the city, whereas New York is blunt about what it is and the people that reside in it, we’re narcissistic jerks with no patience, but we don’t sugar coat it.

BUT to every negative, there is an equal number of positives to the city. What I love most about L.A. is the lifestyle. Los Angeles is a city that thrives on self-improvement. Locals seem to always be working to better themselves, which is the quality I most appreciate.

I’m a firm believer that happiness is achieved through a balance of nurturing your mind, body, and spirit. When it comes to the body, Los Angeles restaurants serve the freshest food I’ve ever tasted. There are endless juice bars, greens come with every meal, and avocado is served on everything. Also, no matter the time of day you’ll see people running, rollerblading, or walking their rescue dogs down the streets. As for the mind, L.A. is one of the most progressive cities in the United States. It’s always ahead of the curve when it comes to social politics. Something my liberal heart can certainly appreciate. In relation to the soul, meditation and yoga studios live on nearly every corner of the city the way Starbucks do in New York. And did I mention it’s sunny almost every day? And no humidity? These are my favorite things about L.A. But still, after all my visits, I was never in love with L.A. At least not until my most recent trip.

La La Land

Three weeks ago, days before my trip, I caught myself on multiple occasions complaining about having to go to L.A. Yes, complaining that I had to pack my bags and leave the frigid New York temperatures and visit sunny Los Angeles. I heard the words escaping my mouth, and I was as shocked as the people listening to my complaints. I LOVE traveling. I LOVE sunshine. What did I have to complain about? Please note: no one felt sorry for me.

The one thing that I’ve never had in L.A. is time to myself. I’ve always traveled with friends and co-workers, but on this trip, I had time to myself to take in and explore the city. I got to know myself in L.A. and it turned out I really liked the L.A. version of myself. 

La La Land

On my first night there, I went to a swanky sushi restaurant on Sunset Blvd and got a table for one. I had an exquisite sushi roll and a glass of California’s finest, and it turned out to be one of my favorite meals ever. At thirty, I no longer mind sitting by myself for a meal, in fact, I quite enjoy it. While I looked at the other tables full of couples and friends, I was thankful that I was getting to enjoy a meal by myself. Instead of needing to carry on a conversation, I did something I’d never done before, I took out my notepad and I started writing about L.A. I was so present and in the moment, that I wrote down everything the city was making me feel, most notably, 100% at ease.

During my week-long stay, I got up every morning at 5:30 AM. I started the day with a great workout, then I’d go back to my room, shower, meditate, then head down to a local juice bar and fuel my body with goodness. On my way back to the hotel, I’d walk to a hill that offers a breathtaking view of the downtown skyline and I’d watch the sun rise over it. During the days, I was busy working, but my work was spending time chatting with some of the most creative people in the world. That’s not an exaggeration either. These people are all brilliant creatives, most of them are LA transplants themselves, and so, they shared with me their moving to L.A. story. The similarity between these stories was they were all drawn by the laid-back Los Angeles lifestyle.

La La Land La La Land

The biggest difference between New York and L.A. is that people in New York live to work and in L.A. people work to live. Not to say, L.A. folk don’t take their careers seriously, they certainly do. But they seem to have a better understanding that there’s so much more to life than the accomplishments you list on your resume. There’s a lightness, or maybe an enlightenment to the people of L.A. that seems to be missing from most New Yorkers.

All that said, I’m still a New Yorker through and through. My heart belongs to the concrete jungle. I love that I can walk about the city and I can travel anywhere for $2.75 on the subway. My morning commute is spent reading instead of looking out from behind the steering wheel at the endless stream of cars. New York is my home, but what I learned on this trip to L.A. is that I can take the things I love most about the L.A. lifestyle and apply it to my New York life. I don’t have to compare the two cities, and I shouldn’t try. They’re completely different and it’s okay to be in love with both.

La La Land

For me, New York was love at first sight and L.A. was a city I fell in love with over time. I’m lucky enough to get to spend adequate time in both places. And while my present is in New York, I will never count out L.A. for my future. With that said, you can’t focus on the future. You must live in the now. Every second, every day, be present, after all, it was that feeling of being present that helped me to finally recognize my passion for L.A. As the old saying goes, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”

When the week came to an end, I was excited to get home to New York. I missed my boyfriend, my dogs, and the breathtaking views of my city. But for the first time, I was sad to say goodbye to L.A.

La La Land

I’m so grateful for the time I got to spend in L.A. exploring a new realm of the city, and a new realm of myself. I couldn’t write a more poetic conclusion to this chapter of my thirtieth year. I’m happy to be home in New York, but I guarantee the next time I head out to L.A. you won’t hear this girl complaining. After all these years, I can finally admit that I La La Love L.A. and that’s why I wanted to write about it.

Following a five-year stint in New York City, Ashley is now a Los Angeles transplant. Having grown up in rural Kentucky, Ashley is passionate to share self-care techniques used around the world and hopes to make them accessible to folks in rural communities. Ashley believes in gratitude, personal legends, and doing good. Aside from being a business leader in her professional life, Ashley is a novelist and freelance writer.

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