I was relieved to discover that In-N-Out Burger is hopelessly overrated; relieved, because how good could a burger possibly be? I was excited to leave again without having to miss a supremely unattainable fast food option.
It almost seems redundant to mention traffic, but there it is: the sheer size of the cars, the freeways, the streets and the lanes can be mesmerizing to someone who’s used to European mini-cities and their European mini-cars in their European mini-streets.
And there’s something to be said about how all of that – the traffic jams, the constant swerve around rush hour, the distances – has influenced life and culture, in some ways more subtly than in others. Coming from Berlin, where most of everything is walkable (and if not, at least accessible even without a car and therefore very convenient to the common tourist), there are no excuses to spend a sunny day inside. In LA, your day is dictated by the most convenient route: you will not get in the car to drive around aimlessly; or to spontaneously run some errands on the other side of town.
You will get in the car to go from A to B, and therefore eliminate most of what makes tourism (and urban life) so delightful: spontaneity.
Places you can (and should) take a walk in LA:
- Venice Beach Boardwalk
- Venice Canals
- Santa Monica pier
- Rodeo Drive*
- Fairfax Trading Post / Melrose Avenue (on Sundays, for thrifting)
*pronounced Ro-De-O, not Rod-E-o, to distinguish the famous boutique street from the regular people’s Rodeo Street
I mean, it’s not so much that you can’t or shouldn’t walk – it’s just that the availability of cars and parking spaces and lanes have made location as a concept less necessary. I heard that urbanization is kicking into gear right now, what with the influx of Millenials and people who’d rather not drive.
In any case, Venice is a heaven for people who love bikes (and birds, those douchey electric scooters that are too much fun to pass on). Cruise around the whole neighborhood and enjoy being somewhere in the middle of the mobility paradigm shift of the 21st century.
(Again, coming from Berlin, it was actually quite liberating to have and spend our visit in a massive and imposing Range Rover, so much that I returned almost heartbroken at the thought of riding my bike and – urgh – having to WALK everywhere!)
The food scene seems to be just as new to LA as to Berlin.
Anyway that’s what people say? The major difference being the outstanding service mentality. It’s nice when your waitress doesn’t shout out at you for trying to order. :)
In-N-Out: I mean, if you have to, I guess? Fuck the fries though.
Crossroads: You won’t know it’s all vegan until after you’ve left the restaurant, the state and even the country; all you’ll remember is how perfect it is to stumble upon one of the best food experiences on a random Sunday afternoon.
Gjusta: Overwhelming nightmare on the first try, an odyssey of flavours on the second; almost ‘too perfect’ if such a thing exists (it does), and the preceding hype spoiled my surprise – but not enough to leave it out. It’s good.
Gjelina: Great food which has nothing to do with Italy but with an idea of how Italy would play out in LA; like Kanye West opening a pizza place, it’s good and refined and fantastic, but it does feel like a poignant reference more than an actual gastronomic entity; a simulacrum of Italian pizza, optimized to a degree where that is hard to digest (honestly not sure whether pun intended or nah). That doesn’t mean it’s bad, I’m just used to the frantic chaos of restaurants in Berlin (and even here, I don’t like the all-smiles and carefully-plated small bites of overpriced extravaganza when all I want is something as simple as a pizza). Well for what Gjelina is – an institution! – I can only say it really, really exceeded all my cynical expectations. Yes, best pizza I’ve ever had.
Night + Market: Read above, but sub Italian for Thai. And don’t underestimate the burn when they ask you if you like it Thai spicy (it’s MORE than the ‘thai spicy’ offered in Thailand and I loved it)
La Isla Bonita / Guisados: Doing the extraordinary by lumping together two very different taco places, but all in all they were both great (one’s a truck in Venice, one a sit-down restaurant in Echo Park). Talking too much about LAs Tacos is like listening to a Berlin tourist go on and on about Döner, there’s only so much you can say without sounding like an uncultured tourist. Tacos, döner and all the significant street foods of their respective origin should be treated exactly the way they’re supposed to be treated: like a side note, a hangover food, a quick lunch opportunity; some are simply better (fresher, tastier) than others, but none should be elevated to gourmet status.
Takis: Not a restaurant but a junk food and exactly why I love America. Lime and heat make this as thoroughly ‘pseudo-mexican’ as can be. Best enjoyed on the Santa Monica Pier.
Mexican Fruit Cup: Same as above. If you love spicy and tangy and fruity, then this is your way to go. Also an extraordinary opportunity to discover Chamoy and, if you haven’t yet, Tajín, the two ‘junk food’ staples that I’ll miss the most.
Also found on Santa Monica pier.
Fried pickles: Yes
Café Gratitude: No
In fact, LA is best explored with friends, and only friends. Trying to be a regular tourist in LA (or, God forbid, a backpacker) isn’t impossible but I doubt it’s a lot of fun. Everything has to be coordinated and orchestrated in advance. Almost like making plans at home… tiring and exhausting.
LA is a place to have lavish BBQs (ingredients sourced at Whole Foods and Erewhon) in someone’s backyard, with friends and their friends, too. There’s music and stories about celebrities and weed and – speaking of weed, did you see those incredibly professional Weed shops that would humble an Apple Store? – if you don’t have all of that social connection to the city, I’m afraid there’s not a lot to experience outside of a stop and go road trip through traffic.
Two excursion were made: one to Long Beach to visit our friend Melli (shout out to that!), who cooked for us and took us out on a little sightseeing tour through the seemingly virgin vintage stores of Long Beach (bargains can and will be made).
There was also a pit stop at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, something I’d always wanted to try. The chicken was good. I couldn’t really with the waffles? But what kind of waffles are THAT dry? Hit me with fried chicken & juicy waffles and I’m set, but to be fair, I’d been full with carbs and fat for 8 subsequent days by that time and backed up forever soooo maybe not the best benchmark for gourmet experiences.
The other trip was a 2 night stay at another friend’s place in Joshua Tree. A stunning view, and a perfect journey-within-the-journey. I loved every moment of the desert, and it made me long for much more than just that tiny glimpse. I have no intention to drive up and down any coasts, I want to go straight through the heart of America, through the dust and sand and the gloomy looking but friendly people. Only two hours away from LA, I was already captured by the possibilities of ‘the land of the free’ as I remember it from my childhood (i.e. through movies and literature; the America of the 90s was a thoroughly different one, but it still exists out there).
Bottomless refills of Lana del Rey aesthetics
LA Playlist 2018 (as unceasingly played on the radio)
Drake – Nice For What
Cardi B – Motorsport
Migos – Stir Fry
LA Playslist 2018 (as prepared by me)
Curren$y – G’s Walk In
Payroll Giovanni – Good Day To Get Money
Buddy – Shine
Jay Rock – King’s Dead
Vince Staples – Norf Norf
Miguel – NWA
Flatbush Zombies – Headstone
LA Playlist 2018 (things I actually listened to)
Drake – Nice For What
Schoolboy Q – X ft. Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz
Cardi B – Ring ft. Kehlani
Buddy – Shine
Kendrick Lamar – All The Stars
Kodack Black – Roll In Peace
Lana Del Rey – Summer Bummer ft. A$AP Rocky
I flew Lufthansa from Berlin to Munich to LAX on an A380 for 350 Euro with a month’s notice. No layover or stopover times. It’s possible to strike deals like that without losing your soul (and your luggage) to a cheap and uncomfortable airline that will treat you like a zoo animal. Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with or paid by Lufthansa, I’m just saying.
On long distance flights with Lufthansa, book the “whole, unprocessed foods” category to actually enjoy an edible meal (this is so LA)
I mention the flights because I remember that the LA hype started right around the time AirBerlin (RIP) started offering non-stop return flights for as low as 600 Euro (including meals + luggage), so maybe 5 years ago? This info wasn’t something I actively sourced, but I wonder now whether the flights facilitated a newly found passion for LA, or whether the need for direct flights was finally met by the airlines.
And in general, how infrastructure encourages traveling (I know it does for me, as I’ve definitely grown out of 30 hour layovers and things like that).
How to become part of LA
Uber or Lyft everywhere to get around if you don’t have a car.
If you do have a car, avoid the freeway like it’s your death sentence; coming from Germany, the concept of overtaking on ALL lanes is oddly barbarian. I am traumatized much more than by any other self-driving experience ever.
In LA, people don’t smoke anymore; they JUUL. I deeply regret not bringing one back (for I’m the perpetual quitter); they’re high fashion tools, perfect to elevate your style on Instagram, probably a real disrupter or perhaps not – but it’s just one of those things, you know, that LA does?
If you need a bar in Culver City, the Mandrake is a perfect stop on way to the other side of the city.
I never made it to Downtown.
Biggest thanks to my loveliest of friends, Isa and Lara, and Lara’s even lovelier family and iO and Rachel and Melli and Jacob for showing me around and letting me do all the sightseeing, even Griffith Observatory and Mullholland Drive and Fairfax flea market (T W I C E). I think I’m coming back.