I touched down in Los Angeles just as dawn was breaking across the skyline. After a five hour night flight over the Pacific Ocean, I was more than ready to feel solid earth beneath my feet again. Even waiting in the breezy outer terminal in the early morning chill was a sort of small, dimly lit heaven. As I watched the taxis and buses make their rounds I took the first real breath I had in a long time. I was off the island, I hadn’t died on the plane, and I was about to see my best friend after roughly two years apart. I was a bit tired, still rattled from the flight, and a bit cold, but more than anything I was enormously thankful for that moment.
Then she pulled up and the back of my throat was already clenched in an attempt not to cry. There’s really no feeling like being reunited with someone who resides most of the time only in your heart and on the other end of a phone call. I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have many of these reunions, and this one was just as magical.
Los Angeles has never had much of a hold on me. I don’t like crowds, the idea of fame and expectations of physical beauty, or smog, so LA wasn’t really a place that was on my radar. What really brought me to LA was my best friend; the chance to reconnect, spend time together, and honestly, some much needed support for my big move. We could have spent the entire week laying in bed eating microwave pizzas and watching a combination of Hulu and Netflix, but because she is amazing, the entire week was full of adventures. So here I will recount some of our destinations and maybe inspire someone else to experience some of what we did.
The Last Bookstore
If you’re a book lover like me chances are that you’ve heard of The Last Bookstore. Despite being too aware of the lack of space in my baggage and a wallet that was already protesting my life choices, we went. It was all that I expected. A large first floor full of books, sitting spaces, and vinyl. The second floor was brimming with more books, as well as art installations, a book tunnel, and little one room artisan shops along one corridor. If you’re in LA and enjoy books and the literary scene, this is a must visit.
Side note: For those who are staying for a while it’s worth mentioning that The Last Bookstore has various book clubs— each touching on a different genre— that I personally was not around long enough to enjoy but would have LOVED to have attended.
The Original Farmer’s Market
Knick knacks, food, food, and food. We found a little “spirituality shop” with incense and candles galore, a dozen vendors with fruits or candy, some shops sporting little rotating racks full of postcards or silly bumper stickers, and most importantly (to me) there were so many options for a delicious hot meal. Though I was massively tempted by the Italian food— to be honest I am always tempted by any kind of Italian food— I turned to see the holy grail of “ethnic” foods to which I simply did not have access when I was living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean— Cajun and Creole food. So if you’re like me and enjoy the experience of browsing many different foods and maybe wanting to buy a silly postcard while you’re at it, this is a worthwhile stop.
Side note: The Cajun food place I mentioned is called The Gumbo Pot and their food was great. And they have vegetarian options!
Da Poetry Lounge
Poetry! One of my great loves! We happened to be able to drop by on a night when they were having a workshop and an Open Mic session. It helped me understand why LA is a place where people come to reach their dreams. There were so many talented people performing, and the crowd was amped and supportive of every person who had the bravery to share their work on stage. We left with such a good feeling about life, while also being a little worried about our own writing skills… which I think is a great breeding ground for improvement and inspiration.
Side note: If you’re into poetry check them out online to see when their workshops are! For two of us to attend a writing workshop and the open mic it cost us $30 (all together), which really isn’t that bad, especially considering how much we enjoyed ourselves!
Venice Beach Boardwalk
This is an obvious and much hailed LA must see, and now I see why. While much of LA feels like you’re in the public eye and need to look or act a certain way not to stand out too much, this was the place where people came to not care about those sorts of things. Eclectic may be an appropriate word to describe Venice Beach. What I really loved was seeing how creative people gathered there— we saw artists with their paintings, people making everything from little signs in glass bottles to random displays (which they charged you to take pictures of), and perhaps the most intriguing to me, a man who appeared to be homeless playing the piano so beautifully I literally do not think it would be possible to walk past without taking a moment to appreciate his talent. So if you want to see the artsy, slightly off beat side of LA, I think that this is the best place for you.
Side note: If you like Poke Bowls there’s a little poke bowl shop right next to the famous hanging sign and they were delicious!
Again, as a book lover, libraries are my jam. So when we decided to go to Huntington Library I was picturing an old library full of antique books or something along these lines, which honestly sounds like a riveting afternoon to me. To my surprise, Huntington Library is not just a library. It is a massive set of buildings which include a library, multiple art galleries, a café or two, and seemingly endless beautiful gardens. As much as I love books it was the gardens that won me over. There’s something about flowers that can make you feel beautiful and magical. My favorite part of the gardens was a gorgeous stone fountain which rested at the end of a long grassy field, flanked by roses and statues of mythological figures. I could have sat there in the sunlight all day, basking like one of the flowers.
Side note: If you buy your ticket online you do not need to wait in the regular line. Their ticket windows at the entry are not well marked, so if you’re confused you’ll save a lot of time by asking someone.
Okay, so I’m pretty sure everyone has heard of Medieval Times. As someone who loves history and the allure of the King Arthur mythos, this has been on my bucket list as long as Disneyland. For about $60 (I know, that’s not super affordable but it was a lifelong dream!) you get your meal served to you and get to watch a show of knights jousting and performing other knightly duties. I think it’s a great thing to experience once in your life, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Side note: They did have vegetarian options if you’re not down for the usual chicken leg thing. Sadly they don’t have vegan options yet, but here’s hoping that they do soon!
So I’m a Disneyland kind of girl. Universal Studios was never on my mind until Harry Potter World became a thing (proud Ravenclaw here). I have to say, I’m so happy that we went! Of course when you visit any sort of theme park you have a certain set of concerns— crowds, everything is expensive, and you have to wait in long lines— but honestly I had a wonderful time regardless. I got to visit Hogwarts and I got groomed by Anubis outside of The Mummy ride, so how could I not have an excellent time? This is another thing that I think everyone deserves to experience once in their life.
Side note: The Waterworld show—which is amazing, for the record— brings in a lot of viewers, so during those show times you’re likely to find shorter lines at some of the other popular rides!
Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art (LACMA)
I couldn’t be in a major city and not make the time to see an art museum. LACMA was a series of buildings that contained various kinds of art galleries, most separated by theme. Unfortunately a few of the exhibits were closed when we visited, but we still had a lovely time. I found one of my new favorite visual artists— Richard White— who beautifully captures the African American experience in his art with hints of surrealism. So if you visit, check out his work! Needless to say, if you love a quiet afternoon staring at art, this is an ideal place to visit.
Side note: I do need to mention that if you plan on visiting you should check their website first. There are certain days of the month when admission is free or can be purchased at a serious discount. I had to pay about $20 to get in! Entry is always free for LA residents, so bring your ID.
My week in LA came to a close way too soon. I realized how much there really was to see and why so many people have made LA a part of their dreamscape. I’m not sure if it was all the bomb Mexican food, endless opportunities for fun, or my best friend (i.e: it was all of those things) but I sort of fell in love with LA— crowds, judgey attitudes, smog and all. While I have to say that living there seems like a frightening prospect to me, LA has won me over in some small way and I look forward to visiting again.