The USA is a big place. I only had two months to get across it, and it had taken me 5 weeks to get to New Orleans. Because there’s (comparatively) not so many places to see in that huge expanse of land West of the Mississippi, I jumped on a flight to California. I planned to dedicate the last few weeks of my stay to the USA’s West Coast.
I didn’t expect to love Los Angeles. It’s a city that permeates popular culture to such an extent, I felt like I already knew it. So I didn’t expect to be surprised by how cool it was or how awesome the people I would meet here would be. Pretty stupid in retrospect. I spent 6 days in LA (2 more than planned) and had an excellent time. Mainly because of my amazing host David and his friends.
David is an acting student at the University of Southern California, meaning he hangs out with a group of creative, ambitious and exceedingly friendly bunch of people. Many of whom are aspiring actors. How befitting that I should spend time with actors in LA! David and I got along so well it felt like we were friends from the get go. He went out of his way so much to ensure I enjoyed my visit I really felt like the guest of honour. I am sure we will be friends for a long time =)
One of the first things I did was get shown the USC campus by Maddie, which gave me such college envy! It was a beautiful place that made my university’s campus seem super dreary. I really felt like I was in a different world. A world that seemed very appealing…! But then who doesn’t dream of being a college student in California? It’s always perfect weather and everyone’s good looking… appearances aren’t everything but after Imperial College it’s a welcome change!
Downtown LA surprised me by being… well, not terrible. It’s improved a tonne in the past decade apparently, due to the opening of trendy restaurants, bars and shops that reminded me heavily of Shoreditch or London Bridge in East London. I enjoyed exploring The Last Bookstore, an absolute paradise for book nerds such as myself, standing in awe in front of the Walt Disney Opera House, being perplexed by Andy Warhol’s installation in the Museum of Contemporary Art and rubbing elbows with the (presumably) rich and famous at a rooftop bar surrounded by LA’s skyline. There were also some modern and beautiful parks and plazas that I loved hanging out in, reading and writing. If there was less traffic and fewer homeless people it would really be something special!
I spent some time out in Hollywood as well. Although the nightlife on a Tuesday night was a little lacking, it was pretty cool during the day. I strolled down the Walk of Fame obviously, snapping pictures of the Chinese theatre and the palm trees lining Hollywood Boulevard. The Hollywood sign was perched on the hills above, but I was more interested in climbing up to the Griffith Observatory, a world famous landmark most people I know wouldn’t have heard of. I walked for a long time through gorgeous residential neighbourhoods, up steep sandy trails offering panoramic views of the city, to reach the observatory where I learnt about the Northern Lights and Nordic mythology through a pretty cool light show. I watched the sunset over the city, seeing the whole thing during the day and night, a spectacular sight indeed =)
David and I spent a fantastic day at the beach, spotting seals from Santa Monica pier, grabbing delicious burgers down in Venice while checking out the artists and musicians, and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean (which I dipped my feet in, possibly the first person in my family ever to do it). Even though it’s December, there are still people playing volleyball and working out on the beach (although not so many daring to go in the ocean). We even spotted a group of Santas in speedos, a sight I could have done without… Santa Monica also features as the last part of Route 66, so I can totally now claim to have done that as well XD
The last thing we did was pop to Beverly Hills and pretend we could afford to shop on Rodeo Drive. It’s an absurdly upmarket and beautiful district, and was the perfect place to sip a chai latte as the Ferraris roared by. It’s impossibly ritzy, and really brought to my attention the extremes of wealth, glamour and poverty here in Los Angeles. For example some of the buildings on Broadway in downtown were obviously at one time theatres; now they house tacky tourist shops and dodgy looking convenience stores. You go down the Walk of Fame and homeless people are lying on top of Tom Hanks’ and Frank Sinatra’s stars; Marilyn Monroe’s star is outside a McDonald’s! The area directly south of USC was purportedly dangerous and I was advised to steer clear.
I had an awesome stay in LA, but even in the short time I was there, the problems with the place were pretty apparent. I was shown the better parts of it obviously and have left with good impressions… but I would say I wasn’t quite able to fall head over heels with the city. Saying that, I can’t wait to return to see my new friends =) The other particularly special thing about my stay was the atmosphere in the house I stayed. I immediately felt like one of the group, like the home was kind of mine as well. I found it difficult to leave that environment, to remind myself that I am travelling solo. But if I hadn’t been alone I don’t think my stay would have been as memorable. So that’s definitely one of the bittersweet perks of solo travel!
Thank you so much again David! And it was a pleasure to meet the rest of you LA kids, especially Maddie. I’ll be back before you know it 😉