My face is pressed on the window, trying to spot the Hollywood sign. I’m breathing so close, it’s forming a sweat patch on the cool glass. I’m like a hawk, ready to see my first celebrity – playing my own game of I SPY.
I settle back in my seat – my back comfortably resting on the black leather. We’ve been in Los Angeles for less than an hour – travelling along the San Diego Freeway towards Santa Monica. Palm trees line the wide streets and the morning sun is beaming through the hills. LA is not as crazy as I thought, I tell my friend. “I know, hey. It’s nothing like I expected,” she agrees.
“I’ve been here for 25 years, girls. I love it. There really is nothing quite like this city,” our taxi driver chimes in. He’s got white hair, a big belly and a certain calmness to him. He’s a bit older, but I can tell he’s got a young soul.
I’ve been told American’s are rude, but this guy is totally proving that theory wrong. He tells us we must visit the arty, gritty Venice Beach. I ask him where we can go and surf here. “All along the coast!” he says. Maybe we will like LA, I question. We’re only here for a quick stopover before we catch our train to Palm Springs, for Coachella – no real intention to see or do too much here.
A few minutes later, we arrive at a friend’s apartment. By “friend”, I mean I met him in Ibiza and we partied for a week, back in 2012. His place reminds me of a little beach house. The last in a row of six, it’s a sweet baby blue and white colour.
“Welcome to America!” Chris greets us. He’s a New Yorker through and through, but has recently moved here because he landed a job at Snapchat. So LA, I think to myself.
“I’ve got to shoot off to work. I’ve got no car, but Venice Beach is only a 20-minute walk along the beach. Let me know if you head there later and we’ll grab a bite.”
Handing us his small silver spare key, he ties his shoelaces, positions his cap, and leaves us with a big, wide grin – as he pulls the wooden door towards his chest. “Have a great day. It’s going to be nice and warm. Good old California!” he cheers. Jetlagged but running off off new country adrenaline, we toss our backpacks on and follow his lead.
Weaving our way through open, quiet streets, I can’t help but absord the laid-back feeling of this town. I feel like I’m in southern Spain.
We spot our first Californian café – Dogtown Coffee. It’s got a surfer-skater vibe. I overhear two tall, sandy blonde haired guys rave about the caramel latte. Decision made! There’s a big wave mural on the outside wall – symbolic to this town’s culture. I sit perched on a cool metal seat – as people ride by on their bicycles and roller blades. How rad! Roller blades are actually cool here – taking me back to my 90’s upbringing.
With the sweetness of the sweet caramel coffee lingering in my mouth, we wander down to the waterfront – over a few metres away. A thin concrete path follows the shore, coloured with people from all walks of life. This place has it all – outdoor yoga classes, a man doing pull ups on a playground, a camera crew, live street art, surfers… life seems to be enjoyed outdoors here. We wander for hours.
I get a text from my friend. It says, “Hey guys, want to grab a bite? There’s this place I know you’ll love…” He’s not too far from the Venice Pier, which I spot in the distance. “Cool – let’s do it,” I type back.
The sun is starting to set a radiant orange and people transform into shadowed silhouettes. The tide rolls in and out, softly. Surfers peep their heads out of the green barrel working its way into the shore. This is the life, I think to myself.
I had this preconceived view of LA in my mind. I just didn’t quite know it – until I proved myself wrong. The Hollywood sign. Beverly Hills. Celebrities. Stardom. Mansions. Plastic surgery. Money. Well, at least, that’s what we’re told on TV. Normal people in search of stardom. Celebrities walking around everywhere. The Hollywood sign a marker that you’ve entered the “elite.”
And I start to feel disappointed in myself. I hate judging a place before I’ve been. How the hell could you? You haven’t seen it with your own eyes. Felt the city’s heartbeat. Met the people that call it home.
But with LA, it’s one of those cities on the world podium. And I wonder…. Am I enjoying LA more because I had such low expectations? Possibly yes, but there’s a bigger lesson here.
It’s a compelling social experiment – not only on travel, but also for life. What we assume or expect from a place changes how we experience it. You decide the outcomes you expect – and those expectations alter your experience, of yourself and the place. But we don’t always know what we expect. It’s not always in our conscious, until we’re being challenged.
And this “proven wrong” helps challenge us. Opens our minds. This is why travel is so much more than just seeing the world. We learn about ourselves. You just need to be ok with having your mind blown. So, ditch the guidebook. Ditch those expectations. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. It’s important you experience it yourself.
It’s said that in LA, everyone is a star. But maybe that’s how the city wants you to feel. I once heard that LA and Adelaide, my home town, are the only two cities with lights that twinkle from outer space. It’s got something to do with the shape of the hills that border the city – trapping in illuminating gasses.
Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. But maybe my love for LA is written in the stars.