The most populous west coast city is the port city of Los Angeles, a huge flat land surrounded by a high mountain range that is covered in snow in the winter. Being one of the hottest places in the US, it baffled me to drive to work seeing snow covered peaks rimming the city horizons. But on summer days, I would ride my motorcycle up the precipitous cliffs and perch there, near the famed Wilson Observatory where Edwin Hubble discovered the accelerating expansion of our universe which bears his name, the Hubble Constant.
Looking over the Los Angeles basin, spanning from Pasadena to Santa Monica, at night is an awesome sight. During the day, you can see how much the surrounding mountains trap the air within the basin, which results in a recurring smog issue for the city. But it makes for beautiful sunsets!
The museum district of the city is close to Hollywood, near the active prehistoric La Brea tar pit. The pit has some great exhibits of animal skeletons dating from eras before the presence of mankind. Animals of all varieties have been dredged up from the molten tar where they ventured too close and were pulled in.
The LACMA and Norton Simon museums (Pasadena) are my favorite local museums. Overlooking Los Angeles from the north is the massive Getty museum made of white stone all from one quarry. This houses the massive personal collection of the John Paul Getty estate. It hosts a fantastic summer concert series of internationally renown musicians.
I recommend going Watts Towers, near the international airport. Here a visionary artist, Simon Rodia, constructed a massive imaginary ship from concrete, iron, glass and pottery as a passion project for decades. If you ever have a crazy ambition in life, you’d do well to execute it with as much vision and passion as Simon did!
Beyond Hollywood, Los Angeles is famous for its beach-focused culture and laid back attitude. It is so hot for much of the year, that we spend much of our time indoors or seeking to cooling solace of the beaches. If your goal is to “get away”, then heading up the coast to Malibu and beyond gives you mountains and hiking along the coast.
If you go to the beaches to enjoy cultural moments, Santa Monica or Venice Beach will give you a glimpse of beach culture. Here people convene to see and be seen. You can skate along the boardwalk, watch break-dancers and weight-lifters, or lounge in the restaurants near the shore.
To see the origins of this massive city, stroll down Olivera street, a crowded market that lines the banks of a small stream, which was the epicenter of Mexican culture before California became part of the United States.
USA’s second largest city (after New York) brings the benefit of the one of the largest international populations, and thereby, the greatest confluence of musical, culinary and artistic influences. The down side is that marketing here is particularly expensive. So it can be hard to find out about local gems. There are small ethnic neighborhoods you can seek out for particular genres of cuisine and music. Little Ethiopia is a great place for the original coffee-serving ceremony that addicted the world to coffee beans. Korea town is the place for the spiciest food you’re likely to ever eat outside of India. And the Mole cuisine here rivals what you’d have to go to Oaxaca to find otherwise.
Follow @Leapingaround on Twitter: twitter.com/leapingaround
Follow Christopher on Pocket