Notes From The Road: L.A. (it’s nicer than you think)

I’m apartment swapping for two weeks with my friend Rachel.
So while I’m poking around the hills of L.A., she’s enjoying the
novelty of wearing scarves because you actually need them in Minnesota!

When Rachel first emailed me about swapping spaces (I’m in St. Paul, MN and she’s in Los Angeles, CA) my first thought was:
“LA?  Eww.”

Followed immediately by:
“Also: OMG I cannot drive there. Annnnnd I’m pretty sure the entire female population consists of tiny blonde women with fake boobs who will try to talk to me about my aura and shame me for enjoying gluten and dairy.”

As with Poland, I was clearly working with some deep-seated biases. 
And not surprisingly, LA has turned out to be capital f Fun.  I probably won’t be relocating anytime soon (I do love me some seasons) but I’ve had The Best Time.


* Driving around the greater Los Angeles area like a boss.  True, I’ve had to sit on the freeway for 1.5 hours to get 10 miles, but it’s not nearly as terrifying as I feared (mostly because you rarely get above 30 miles an hour) and now I understand That One SNL Skit.

* Spotting Marisa Tomei at a big vintage sale.  My internal monologue went something like this: “Daaaaang but that lady has great style!  Oh, God.  Annnnnd she’s famous.  LOOK AWAY IMMEDIATELY.”

* Citrus fruit!  It grows on trees!  In people’s yards!  How novel!

* Walking on the beach with my sister while my friends back in Minnesota are moving their cars in a snow emergency #smugjerk

* The friendly, handsome dogs of L.A.  Everyone seems to have one!

* Navigating roads above Echo Park that are so narrow you have to back up to let people through.  Or so steep when you crest the hill you can’t see the road over the hood of your car.  Now that, my friends, is waaaaay more terrifying than taking the 405 in rush hour.

* Inadvertently happening upon the taping of a reality tv show, signing wavers, and then practicing our ‘reaction faces’ in hopes that we’ll get on camera

* Overhearing a guy talk about his ‘medical intuitive’ and seeing a girl in 6 inch patent leather platforms.  In CVS.  On a Tuesday afternoon.

* Taking part in the joy that is a Richard Simmons’ aerobics class.  But that’s a different blog post entirely!

I’m having so much fun!  I’m out here through the 14th, and then back to the snow.
  Let me know if there are any other can’t miss things I have to do before I leave!

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  1. The Dame Intl

    Throbulate! I like how you arranged your photos 🙂 Wish I was somewhere warm right now too!

  2. Sue Pariseau Pottery

    Definitely an excellent time to be in LA and not here in the frozen tundra. 🙂 But we love it right?

  3. Abby @ The Frosted Vegan

    I have the same thoughts on LA, but it seems I need to explore it more to find the good side!

  4. Julia H. @ Live Young and Prosper

    Haha, I love the title of this post. I'm definitely more of a Northern Cali girl, but in fairness I suppose any city that's in California can't be too bad! 😛

  5. Becca

    I lived about 30 minutes over in Valencia and I miss it every day. Grab some See's chocolate from a shop. Every year my dad special orders my mother a box for Christmas. It's that good. Also the shops are cute.

  6. Louise

    LOL at the blonde women with fake boobs.

  7. Kim

    My boyfriend lived in California at one time with his parents. They're Okies so they fit right in because there are huge groups of Okies who moved there during the Dust Bowl and stayed and kept to their own group. They were viewed like Irish in Boston. Okies need not apply. Okies not welcome. Okies eat around back.

    He remembers the oranges in his yard and how, at 2, he could just go into the backyard and his mom or dad would pluck an orange off the tree for him.

  8. lc  |  rebuild

    Ha! As a fellow midwesterner, your biases are mine exactly! I mean, doesn't everyone carry a small dog in their purse there?! 🙂 Glad to hear you're having a great time– and seems you missed quite the snowstorm back home!

  9. Anna

    You would be shocked how many people with citrus growing in their yard still go buy it at Trader Joes. Sad, but true story.

  10. Anonymous

    Go to the Getty. It's off the 405 and it offers amazing architecture, great exhibits, gift shops, and an awesome view. Plan to eat lunch there – outside in the sunshine!

  11. Anonymous

    As a Los Angeleno, I'm honestly offended. So you don't get any tips, any of you. Bleah.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I didn't mean to offend, Anon! I meant this in good fun – if you click through to my Poland post, I was equally mistaken about that, uh, entire country. As a Minnesotan, I spend most of my traveling life telling people that no, we're not all morbidly obese, no we don't ride polar bears to work, no, I don't see Prince as CostCo.

    • Rachel

      I think Sarah acknowledged how mistaken her impressions were – props to her! I find that most born-and-raised Angelenos have equally wrong assumptions about Massachusetts, where I'm originally from: they imagine that everyone wears polo shirts at all times, belongs to a yacht club and has an accent that they weirdly try to imitate (but get confused with Long Island's). When I lived in Spain, I found that most people assumed we all supported Bush (president at the time), ate burgers all day and knew Guns 'n' Roses. And guess what? I'm not mad. They JUST DON'T KNOW, and all they've/we've got is what the absurdly simplistic world of television tells us.

      Thank god there are people like Sarah who are willing to see for themselves, shatter their misconceptions and tell everyone about it!

  12. Katydid

    Head to Santa Monica/Venice Beach. Especially Venice. Its not as busy right now as it is in the summer (obviously) but one simply can not come to this city and miss my most favorite of favorite places. These may seem obvious and whatnot but they were my home when I first fled New England almost 10 years ago and well..The Santa Monica Pier at night?!. Nuff Said 🙂

    My only suggestion is that you leave really early in the morning or early afternoon and avoid some of the unavoidable traffic 🙂

  13. Anonymous

    Native Foods and Real Food Daily are FANTASTIC vegan restaurants. If you feel like getting out of LA proper, Long Beach is another cool city. The Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) is a nice, if small, museum. Next to Long Beach is San Pedro, which is home to "Sunken City." In the 1930's, the beach houses built on the cliffs started to fall into the ocean. It's a bit of a wasteland, but the view is nice and there is interesting graffiti art. You'll have to hop a fence or two to get down to the houses. Zephyr cafe is a good place for vegan food in Long Beach.
    -Allison L.

  14. Andrea

    Definitely definitely check out Abbot Kinney in Venice! Hike Mt Hollywood for amazing views from the Griffith Observatory. Eat everything!

  15. Ellie Di

    *swoon* I've wanted to visit LA since I started reading Francesca Lia Block books. The way she describes the city makes me faint. But I've always been a little intimidated by the sheer bigness of the place. Hearing that it's not as threatening as some stereotypes make it out to be is a huge relief!

  16. Ms. Cathy

    LA is amazing 🙂 So much fun, so much GLAMOUR!

    So happy you had a great time 🙂 LOVE the tacos from CALI! I miss my home state!

    Cathy Trails

    • Rachael

      High-five to you *high-five*

  17. Angela

    1642 (a bar near Echo Park in historic Filipinotown) late on Wednesday night for the HiFi Honeydrops, a swing quintet. Or Blue Whale in Little Tokyo for modern jazz.

    Downtown Pasadena for shopping/eating/people-watching (food from multiple continents all within walking distance). Downtown LA for the main branch of the public library – it is a sight to behold. Pershing Square for ice skating (which is also in downtown LA).

    Seconding the above mentions of: Venice Beach (honestly, there's nothing like it – a veritable circus of people, try and go when the drum circle is happening) and also Native Foods, which is delicious, and also Santa Monica pier at night (arcade! Lit-up ferris wheel! Benches right on top of the surf!).

    Did you already do the touristy stuff in Hollywood, like Grauman's Chinese Theater with all the cemented handprints of historic celebrities/entertainers? Or trying to find the various angel statues all over LA County. For independent movie theaters that feature foreign films, documentaries, and indie films, the Egyptian is good, or any Laemmle. There are good pole dancing classes in North Hollywood at a studio called Luscious Maven. Ride the Metro Red Line subway to observe all the public transit characters.

    There is a poetry slam called Da Poetry Lounge from 9pm-midnight on Tuesday nights ( Seven Grand is a whiskey bar in downtown LA with an extensive collection (, and a great drum & bass/groove-oriented jazz band called The Makers plays there from 10pm-1am on Tuesday nights. I'm actually singing there tomorrow night from 10pm-1am with my blues band ( I'm still bummed I can't make it to Masa for pizza, but have a great time tonight and for the rest of your stay! I'm glad you did the apt. swap with an Angeleno. 🙂

  18. Angela

    I've already said enough, but I thought of a few more:

    Upright Citizen's Brigade for improv comedy (

    Also, there's an outdoor mall in Glendale called the Americana that has a dancing fountain that I find enchanting ( And while you're in Glendale, try Portos Bakery – the line looks crazy long but it's for good reason!

    Last one – you can get cheap tickets to a Hollywood Bowl concert and there are pretty convenient buses that go there. It's a lovely outdoor arena and they sometimes have fireworks at the end of shows.

    All of the above should be free or under $15.

  19. Rachael

    I've always wanted to attend that Richard Simmons class!

    I think misconceptions are highly dangerous. I am constantly defending L.A.. no matter where I go, be it Ireland or Pennsylvania. I can't believe so many people can be so ignorant and generalizing. The same could be said for New York City, I imagine, though I find it is more socially and culturally acceptable to bag on/back-hand compliment L.A. because we're the center of people getting paid a metric ton of money to play make-believe. Which is hilarious, consider how SRS BSNS people can take themselves, but a high number of 'Hollywood' people are probably born/raised outside of L.A. and therefore cannot be classified as Angelenos. We have a card. Get 10 stamps and we'll let you call L.A. "home" 😉 Kidding.

    More misconception-busting posts like this need to happen. Glad you're enjoying your time here, Sarah. I'm full of the sadness that I am unable to join you tonight, but please have a blast and I hope to meet you another time. Hopefully our public transit system will only improve 🙂

  20. Rachel @ Existation

    Fun! I'm from the Cities (Stillwater), and I moved to LA a little over a year ago, and I LOVE it here. A few suggestions I have:

    – Hike Topanga Canyon and then eat at Paradise Cove in Malibu – the hike is GORGEOUS, and the latter has a super cute "private" beach with bluffs and tasty food.

    – Stroll around Manhattan/Hermosa Beach, two cute little beach towns in the South Bay, and then watch the sunset from the look out point up on the cliff in Rancho Palos Verdes.

    -Do the hike that goes up behind the Hollywood Sign.

    -Explore some of the LA stairs! Especially the ones I did recently ( – at the end there is a tasty little cafe with lavender shortbread cookies and omnomnomnom.

    -Both The Grove and Americana have this whole fake snow thing happening right now – snow starts falling periodically throughout the night – which is pretty funny to experience, being from the Land of Ice & Snow – I also love walking around either place any time of year because there are fountains and fancy stores and good music playing in the background. I'd recommend The Grove, because then you can also go check out the Farmers Market, which is another awesome place.

    The zoo is also super fun, and I love Santa Monica/Venice. Also, There are so many wonderful things to do here! Looking forward to more blog posts about LA =] Love your blog!

  21. Shepherd's Daughter

    Whoa! Those star lanterns are called "parols"! 🙂 Philippine holiday ornaments. (I'm homesick)

  22. Mandy

    I'm pretty sure "It's Nicer Than You Think!" should be the city motto. 🙂

    I know there are misconceptions about every place, but people can be downright nasty about LA. When they hear where I was living for nine years, I've had people I don't know tell me, "OMG, I don't know how you lived there. Everyone is so fake." Um, hi. I lived there. My friends live there. That's incredibly rude.

    And this doesn't happen once in a blue moon. It happens at least once a month. It happened to me tonight, actually! I feel like LA and New Jersey are two places where people have no qualms making fun of.

    But anywaaaaaay, I already gave you a link to my "Things to do in LA" list, and I totally agree with what everyone else has said!

  23. Pegacorn

    Born and raised in Los Angeles here. I love it when people come visit my city (or move here) and end up loving it! We get such a bad rep 🙁 The city is amazing – the weather, the art and culture, the mountains, the beaches, the food. So a few tips…

    Someone mentioned hiking Topanga Canyon. Do it! Better yet, drive through Topanga Canyon (where I grew up). Stop at the town center and check out local stores – Topanga Homegrown, Hidden Treasures, Canyon Gourmet, and Bouboulina's. Will Rogers is another one of my favorite hikes. If you want celebrity spottings with your workout, Runyeon Canyon in Hollywood is the best. If you want an astronomy lesson and a hike, check out the Griffin Park Observatory and surrounding trails.

    Sandwich lover's beware: Bay Cities Deli is the best ever. Located in Santa Monica, this place has crazy lines and crazy parking because it's that good (don't worry there is a parking attendant on duty to help you out). Tip: you can order online and pick it up – when you walk inside go to the left by the wine. I suggest the Godmother and the Caprese sandwich. Also really fun to spend some time and shop the gourmet olive oils, pasta, etc. If you go during lunch rush hour and don't preorder you will wait 30-60 minutes to have a sandwich made for you.

    Alvera Street in downtown LA is kitschy but a favorite of my childhood. Great Mexican food. Also, Homeboy Industries is really close to there. Go there for breakfast! Amazing food and bakery. Read about Father Boyle and his whole program of "jobs not jails". So cool. You can also go to downtown and easily walk around to the Disney Concert Center and surrounding area. Seven Grand Whiskey bar is awesome. Library Bar is good as well.

    Just remember, there is a reason Tupac wrote "To Live and Die in LA" it's because "it's the place to be." Have fun!

    • Mandy

      I miss Homeboy Industries chips and salsa! Such a cool program!

  24. Amanda

    It's funny, my parents lived in LA when they were in their 20s and they HATED IT, so I grew up thinking it was the armpit they said it was. Then some of my best friends moved out there, and I visited, and fell in love. LOVE. I would like to live there some day. I love Venice, I love the citrus trees, I love the sunshine… and I think there is so much more cultural richness to LA than its mainstream image gives it credit for. This is a really cool website about LA's neighborhoods:

    P.S. Chateau Marmont – GO THERE. Old-school Hollywood glamour — such a swoon-worthy experience. And good chances of celeb-spotting 🙂

  25. Beth (@RunTraveler)


    As a New Englander by birth, I felt EXACTLY the same way about California when I was growing up. (Aren't all the people blonde, fit, and flakey?) Then, by a twist of fate, I wound up living in Southern California… for ten years!

    It's a wonderful place, and much MUCH more complex than TV stereotypes suggest.

  26. Sarah Rooftops

    Yes! The first time I went to LA, I found myself feeling surprised by how *normal* everyone looked… and then I realised how ridiculous my preconceptions were, like people assuming I'm drunk and stingy because I'm Scottish. It's interesting to broaden your views, right?

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