Los Angeles, California – September 2000

Sorry You Missed All The Fun
Last month’s Democratic Convention was wild, contentious, issue oriented, and not at all what LA is about. While we do have our share (and them some) of riots and civil exuberance, Los Angeles is so much more than the sum of our soundbites.

Los Angeles is not Hollywood and it is not choking smog and it certainly is not riots. At heart I think the city exists as a warren of smallish communities zoned into one sprawling megalopolis.

It is these small pockets of distinction that are the key to LA’s character. If you can find the pocket that moves at your pace and speaks to your soul you can exist quite blissfully within that pocket and more often than not avoid, or at least mute, the cacophony that most perceive as Los Angeles.

As a traveler the trick is to find this spot before you arrive. For many, vacationing or just passing through, Hollywood and the Beach communities are the highlights, so this month’s update centers around those areas.

The Beaches
At the beach there is quite a style and content gulf between each of these beaches.

Venice Beach exists as something of a free-spirited community replete with coffee shops, tattoo parlors, thrift stores, eclectic ethnic dining, small beach cabanas and apartments.

By contrast Santa Monica, Venice’s upscale sister, swings to the more commercial side of life. Trendy, upscale restaurants and shops are Santa Monica’s bread and butter. The centerpiece of Santa Monica’s tourist trade is the Third Street Promenade, a kind of outdoor shopping mall on steroids.

Manhattan Beach is the first of three somewhat similar beach communities, the others being Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach. These three areas represent the heart and soul of the LA beach scene. A haven for surfers, families out for fun, sailors and sun junkies alike, these sea hamlets are packed with small shops, cafes, and teeny tiny beach apartments and hotels.

As a general rule everything at the beach is more expensive. That being said you can still score some great deals off the beaten path in these areas. The pace and atmosphere along this run of beach towns is generally much more casual and relaxed than in the northern beaches (read flip-flops and shorts in Manhattan versus khakis and loafers in Santa Monica).

When I say beach community I’m generally only referring to the 10 or so blocks closest to the ocean. Further east the neighborhoods lose their charm and quickly degrade into suburbia. Stay close to the beach and you can’t help but find whatever it is your soul craves.

Hollywood is by turns either tourist hell hole or historic paradise. There is no mistaking the kitsch and glitz of this place. The Metro Redline now takes you directly to the intersection of Hollywood and Highland, the epicenter of tourist Hollywood. Within walking distance you’ll find the Walk of Fame, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, Mann’s Chinese Theatre, The Wax Museum, and the jumping off point for numerous historic tour bus rides, etc.

Hollywood nightlife is the epitome of knowing where to look. Many of the best clubs are unmarked and hidden in specious looking alleys. However, there are enough hot spots in plain sight that you should NOT go trawling unguided through the murky backwaters of Hollywood. A concerted rejuvenation project has left Hollywood much cleaner and safer than it was just three years ago, but as with everything on the road, caution and common sense should dictate staying out of dark corners unless you’re with someone who knows the way.

In closing I’d say either Hollywood or any one of the local beaches have enough in store to fill your mind with great memories. Just relax, have fun, and ENJOY the show.

One of your best bets to stay informed in LA is via National Public Radio (NPR). Los Angeles enjoys two of the premiere NPR stations in the country. Check out KCRW (89.9FM) and KPCC (89.3FM). Both of these stations broadcast a calendar of upcoming events, concerts, and giveaways, and host superb websites that are updated regularly. You’ll find them at www.kcrw.com and www.kpcc.org.