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Randall's Guide to Los Angeles

Randall's Guide to Los Angeles

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Published by Randall Kuhn
Since I'm not working and I have some downtime in between attending to Prince Zaki's needs, I am for the first time ever uploading my semi-famous Los Angeles travel and neighborhoods guide for public consumption. Many folks have found it useful. Some of it is out of date now, but the spirit still holds and I have incorporated a few new finds from recent trips. Feel free to make recommendations or changes. I think you can enter changes in Scribd somehow. The downtown scene clearly needs a big update. Enjoy!
Since I'm not working and I have some downtime in between attending to Prince Zaki's needs, I am for the first time ever uploading my semi-famous Los Angeles travel and neighborhoods guide for public consumption. Many folks have found it useful. Some of it is out of date now, but the spirit still holds and I have incorporated a few new finds from recent trips. Feel free to make recommendations or changes. I think you can enter changes in Scribd somehow. The downtown scene clearly needs a big update. Enjoy!

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Categories:Types, Reviews
Published by: Randall Kuhn on Dec 19, 2010
Copyright:Public Domain

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05/12/2014

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Randall’s Guide to Los Angeles
For me, the best measure of a great city is the ratio of quality to pretension. A place like SanFrancisco is really great, but this greatness may be balanced by its inflated self-image. Boston,by comparison, is both not really that great
and 
it has an even more inflated self-image. At thefarthest extreme for me is my current place of residence, Boulder, where there’s absolutelynothing to do (unless you snowboard, mountain bike, or listen to bluegrass), yet the sense of self-worth is completely off the charts. Los Angeles, by this scale, is quite possibly the perfectplace, in spite of all its flaws. I’ll try to give an eye to the quality of the place in its totality below,but it’s worth appreciating lack of pretension as something that adds value by not overinflatingyour expectations and not having the locals annoy the fuck out of you with their prognosticationsof the city’s greatness.But how, you might ask, will I manage to seriously apply the use of the term “unpretentious” to acity littered with any number of boulevards of broken dreams, a place expressed almost entirelyin myth, a place crawling with sleazoids in big Cadillacs wrapped in bimbos with fake boobs?Two ways. First, I draw a distinction between ostentatious, which LA most certainly is, andpretentious, … Second, I would point out that LA’s ability to wrap itself in myths, both glamorousand sickening, both real or apocryphal, is the greatest evidence of all that it’s a city that placesform, function, image, and most of all, quality of life, ahead of prestige, grandeur or, yes, evenself-respect.Los Angeles has a distinct lack of pomp not found in any other truly great city, this lack of pompmay indeed be the factor preventing it from being perceived as a great city, which in turn maybe what keeps the place so fresh. I was living in LA during the millennium, and remember all thetalk in every city in the US of a planned major terror attack. At the time, I thought somewhatflippantly, what on earth would they attack in LA? Beyond the fact that no place here holds allthat many people (except the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum), there’s also no place in LA thatholds any symbolic meaning to anyone. Except maybe the Hollywood sign, which is sort of theexception that proves the rule. A symbol that’s not really a symbol of anything, has no peopleanywhere near it most of the day, cannot be seen from a vast majority of the city on most daysof the year, and has come close to being torn down in favor of housing any number of times inits life span.It’s a cliché to say that LA has no center. In fact it does have a center, but even those of us whoare fans of downtown and who center our guides to LA on downtown, have to recognize thatLA’s downtown is at best a node of nodes, and at worst just one of many centers, perhaps firstamong equals. But if you were choosing the most important, symbolic part of LA to attack, evenon Millennium Eve, which part would you choose? On Millennium’s Even, LA had five differentmunicipal parties in five different parts of the city. Needless to say none of these parties facedserious security concerns, nor did anyone really show up. As we know now, Los Angeles didseemingly face the threat of a terror attack that week, but the attack was planned for what isperhaps LA’s lone landmark of strategic and symbolic importance: Los Angeles InternationalAirport, the first place most people see as they reach the city of the angels. LAX makes theperfect strategic landmark for this unpretentious city. Garish and gaudy, sprawling and sketchy,overcrowded and overburdened, much derided by everyone but indispensable, and perched onthe edge of town, well out of the reach of public transport even after the city seemingly provideda transport link.
 
The charms of Los Angeles are many, some apparent – eternal sunshine, style, space, andfreedom – and some less so. It is my firm belief that anything you are looking for, any scene,any food, any club, you will find in LA. Not only that, but you will find it in its most undistilled,unadulterated, authentic form. But you will have to search long and hard, you may never find it,and ultimately you will have to take it on faith that if you didn’t find what you were looking for, it’snot because it wasn’t there, merely because you didn’t have the persistence, the hookups, or the gasoline. I always tell people that in San Francisco, you will food from anywhere in the worldwithin a few blocks walk, but it will be in its most yuppified, lowest common denominator form. InLA, by contrast, you will find the real deal, but you will be driving forever.This quest for authenticity, and the frustration that it can engender when you don’t find Shangri-la, has been the undoing of many an LA night owl, lounge lizard, or foodie, and ultimately it’s notworth it. If you’re moving to LA, choose your neighborhood wisely, cuz you’ll be stuck with it.Barriers both natural and unnatural (traffic jams, high speed chases, low speed chases) willleave you trolling through your own neighborhood over and over again, or traveling to the sameeasily accessible neighborhoods by the same tried and true secret shortcuts every weekend.The odds against finding a place to live comfortably, work fruitfully, and play endlessly and toyour satisfaction all in oen neighborhood of the Southern California Basin are approximately 18billion to one, but such is the price of perfection.If you’re just visiting LA, then put the top down, grab a Big Gulp, a bubble tea or a latte, popsome Tupac or that old Concrete Blonde album you just picked up at the swap meet into thecassette deck, and start driving. You’ll never face the existential frustration of not finding exactlywhat you want, but you may suffer under the burden of too many things to do and not enoughtime (or tolerance) to see them all. Don’t sweat it too much – LA will still be here when you comeback, and just about the same… only better. And if you can’t stomach all that driving, well thengrab your headphones, cruise down to the Nix Check Cashing, and buy yourself a bag of tokensand the Nix Check Cashing LA Transit System Map. Either way, it will be a bumpy ride(especially if you take Normandie), but a heavenly one.The urban areas of Los Angeles typically thought of by young singles lie west of downtown.They basically follow a west-east axis guided by Interstate 10, the city’s major west-eastboulevards – starting in the north with Sunset, Santa Monica (tricky, nor perfectly east-west),Wilshire, Olympic, Pico, Venice. When most people talk about the east side vs. west sidedichotomy in Los Angeles, what they really mean is west of some boundary -- usually LaCienega or La Brea -- versus everything else. And again, this zone would be bounded bySunset on the north and Venice on the south, unless you are rich enough to live in The Hills.This is the easiest way to understand the geography of LA’s interior. Overall, the easiest way tounderstand things are by its telephone area codes.213 – Downtown323 – A perfect ring concentric to downtown. Most of the city’s truly urban residential quarterslie in the 323.310 – The West Side (fashionable) and the South Side (lots of hidden wonder and beauty here)818 – The Valley (San Fernando that is)626 – San Gabriel Valley (the “other” valley that is), home to a majority of LA County’spopulation of Asian descent562 Long Beach. Huh? 562?714 – The O.C.
 
213
As a dense microcosm of the city itself, Downtown Los Angeles is of course big, complicated,and completely surrounded by freeways. On the other hand it displays LA at its most vibrant,bustling and historic. It also features numerous transit options, and you can see the forgottenbeauty of the Los Angeles River, which isn’t all concrete. Downtown covers the entire area,about 6 square miles, from Sunset Blvd and the Hollywood (101) Freeway on the north toVenice Blvd and Interstate 10 to the south, Pasadena Freeway (110) and Figueroa Ave to thewest, and the Los Angeles River and Interstate 5 to the east. Working clockwise you begin inthe central business district, on the western edge of downtown, between Wilshire and 3
rd
. Notethat things have changed a lot since this was first written, the gentrification has been dazzling.Visit the beautifully restored Central Public Library at 5
th
and Hope Street. From there climb thestairs or escalator up Bunker Hill, the historic home of LA’s power elite, and now home toLibrary Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Mixed in are an attempt at recreatingthe Spanish Steps, and a bunch of bad chain restaurants. To the west lies the permanentcollection of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Heading further up the hill you reachthe performing arts complex, including the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. As youlook down the hill towards Chinatown and the old downtown, you see on your right LA’sdramatic city hall looming, as on the start of 
Dragnet.
Look to your north at the gargantuanbuilding and plaza that looks like a giant yellow armadillo: that’s The Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels, the Catholic Church’s first major cathedral construction project in over 50 years.Hideous on the outside, but go inside and tour the courtyard and the sanctuary, and it’s far moreimpressive.Walking east down Bunker Hill you walk alongside Angel’s Flight, the funicular railroad that wasfound lying in mothballs in a warehouse 15 years ago, reassembled and then closed after itbroke free of its moorings and crashed into a crowd of pedestrians. Across from Angel’s Flightis Central Market, the city’s lively and functioning retail produce and meat market. There’s anarray of high quality, low cost produce, as well as some tasty kiosks selling tacos, pupusas,horchata and other tasty treats. Walking north and east from there you walk through the olddowntown on your way to the old Pueblo, the original 17
th
century Spanish settlement. Lots of interesting old buildings and missions, as well as the very touristy Mexican cafes and shoppingof Olvera Street. Cross through Olvera Street to Union Station, the restored Art Deco trainstation serving all Amtrak, regional rail, Metro and regional buses. The restaurant inside, Traxx,is both elegant and tasty, if a bit overpriced. Just to the north is Phillippe, which claims to be theinventor of the French Dip (also visit Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet, at Sixth and Spring, whichholds a rival claim to inventing the French Dip).Heading back south from the station you reach Little Tokyo. While not the preferred place to getthe most authentic Japanese food (for that head to Sawtelle Ave in West LA, or the southernsuburbs of Torrance and Gardena), there are still some great restaurants and bars and karaoke joints in the pedestrian plaza and the adjacent Yaohan Plaza Mall, anchored by the largeJapanese grocery chain, Mitsuwa. Try Honda Ya for exceptional Izakaya. North of Little Tokyois downtown’s museum district, including the temporary collections of the MoCA and theMuseum of Japanese American History. Little Tokyo also has a growing group of galleries andlittle clubs hosting poetry slams and multiethnic hip hop and fusion shows. Further east, in theold furniture district, is the fairly recent artists’ loft district, itself rapidly gentrifying. Hang out withthe urban reconquistas at Novel Cafe at 811 Traction Ave and Urth Caffe's urban outpost at 451Hewitt St.

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