1. Your “seeing the city from your window seat” moment
“We’ve begun our final descent into the Los Angeles area, where dreams come true and the local weather is friggin perfect…” Okay, I made that last part up, but I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to hear it.
From the window seat, you watch the city spread out below, glittering for miles. Like all astonishing feats of human imagination and industry, the scale and ambition of L.A. inspires a thousand daydreams by the time you’ve put your seatback upright and locked your tray table. At night, the City of Angels is a shimmering grid of light, and you think of the movie Tron (the original, of course!) and half expect to see light cycles streaking down the 405 leaving luminous traces of blue and yellow in their wake. This is your first L.A. moment, and technically you’re not even there yet.
2. Your “gaining a new appreciation for neighborhoods” moment
L.A. has grown from a Spanish mission to a metropolis of millions — and all of the nuance of people, culture, life, etc. is found at ground level. Driving a few blocks transforms the landscape and the local culture — one minute you’re in Koreatown noshing on bibimbap, the next you’re in Los Feliz grabbing coffee and people watching (hoping to catch a glimpse of someone, anyone even remotely famous).
From Compton to Downtown to Bel Air, Los Angeles is a patchwork of neighborhoods in a crazy quilt that shouldn’t make sense…but somehow it does. Skip from hood to hood to see what’s what and what’s good!
3. Your “Whoa, this place is huge!” moment
Maybe you have this moment from your window seat coming in to land, or maybe it’s in the back of an Uber, or perhaps the sheer size of this place doesn’t hit you until you’re at the Griffith Observatory looking out over the city. Sooner or later it blows your mind. I’ve lived in L.A. for 5 years and it still rocks me every time I hike into the Hollywood Hills and take in the view of a city that doesn’t stop at the horizon.
4. Your “food truck” moment
I don’t want to claim that L.A. invented food trucks…but I will assert that it has elevated food truck culture to an art form. Whether you’re chasing down one of the high-profile celeb chef trucks (please, Roy Choi, take my money!!), or you’re grabbing a plate of tacos from one of the nameless and ubiquitous trucks that patrol the city, your food truck moment is waiting! Just make sure you have cash.
5. Your “kicking your shoes off at the beach” moment
The car is parked and you’ve walked to the edge of the city where the concrete ends and the land turns to sand and falls into the sea. Free your feet from your flip flops, untie your sneakers, slip off your sandals, unbuckle your boots, kick off your heels. Now feel a quadrillion grains of warm sand as you step onto the beach and your feet sink deliciously into the soft surface. Aaaahhhhhh. Better than sex. Almost better than those tacos you just had.
6. Your “realizing some of the best food is in a strip mall” moment
Passing by the numberless, unpretentious strip malls that contain all manner of businesses from nail salons to sandwich shops, one would be forgiven for thinking the best food in this city must surely reside elsewhere. But look past the unadorned exterior (judge not these books by their covers!) and you’ll find the best damn boat noodles, sushi, shaved ice, and lomo saltado this side of literally anywhere.
Or if it ain’t the best, it’s so good it doesn’t even matter. What matters is you found a seat at this busy hole in the wall, and you’re not leaving until your belly begs off.
7. Your “I don’t care if it’s cliche, I’m gonna go see it anyway” moment
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Los Angeles sees its fair share of tourists from around the globe. Said tourists tend to flock to a handful of iconic locations…and for good reason. Some people might want to avoid the beaten path, but the gravitational pull of places like the Chinese Theater, the Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Watts Towers, or the Walk of Fame is real.
Don’t fight it. Enjoy it! You can strike out on your own and discover a million and one authentic L.A. moments and hit up some of the iconic landmarks incomplete without their crowds of selfie-stick-waving visitors. This is a side of L.A., too, and you should definitely see as many sides as you can.
8. Your “pulling your rented bike onto the beach bike path” moment
I swear to God the best decision I’ve made in my entire life was renting that ratty cruiser bike in Venice Beach. You’ll realize this soon, too, as you hop on and begin to pedal down L.A.’s 22-mile beachfront bike path, aka “The Strand.” Moving fast enough not to topple over but slow enough to take it all in, you lackadaisically pedal parallel to the Pacific and you feel it in your bones that this moment is perfect. Not great, not ideal, not amazing or awesome — perfect.
9. Your “seeing your fave star on the Walk of Fame” moment
You’re strolling down Hollywood Blvd when they begin to appear: Paula Abdul, Bruce Lee, Julie Andrews, Pitbull, Pee-wee Herman, Jackie Gleason, Marilyn Monroe, Kevin Hart — sooner or later, you’ll see a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that you simply have to stop and snap a pic with.
For me, it was Michael Jackson and Kermit the Frog. Maybe it’s dumb, I don’t care — and neither will you when you ask a stranger to take a photo of you sitting on the ground, grinning next to your fave artist, actor, musician, or, in my case, frog.
10. Your “taking in the epic drive-thru line at In-N-Out Burger” moment
Whether you’re a bonafide In-N-Out Burger addict/aficionado, or you’re seeking out the legendary fast food joint for your initiatory Double-Double “Animal Style” — you may be tempted to turn around and reconsider your life choices when you see the line of cars snaking around the building and clogging the too-small parking lot, spilling into the street. You squint into the interior of the restaurant and it appears to be swarming wall to wall with hungry, hungry humans.
More than once I’ve grimaced at the insanity, but I’ve always joined the the line, because yes, it’s that good. Besides, you’re in L.A. — it’s practically a law that you have to hit In-N-Out at least once.
11. Your “realizing the Hollywood Hills are actually mountains” moment
More than mere “hills” that serve to elevate multimillion-dollar mansions above the mostly flat city, the geographical feature often referred to as the Hollywood Hills is actually a stretch of the Santa Monica Mountains. It isn’t until you venture into one of the rugged parks (Griffith, Runyon, Franklin Canyon, Topanga, to name a few) that penetrate the “hills” on a day hike that you fully appreciate the fact that L.A. has a mountain range running through it. You won’t mistake them for the Himalayas, but you will break a sweat climbing to the top of Mount Hollywood.
12. Your “understanding there’s more going on than you could ever hope to do” moment
You wanted to do it all. You were ready to tackle the city. But somewhere along the way, you’ll come to terms with the fact that L.A. has more going on than one lifetime could possibly experience. For every concert, happy hour, restaurant, taco truck, beach cafe, and gallery you hit, there are a thousand more you never will. You can’t — there’s simply too much.
But FOMO not, dear travelers! See what you can with the time you have, and make a list for your next visit.
13. Your “considering moving to L.A.” moment
It’s bound to happen. As your misconceptions fall away, they’re replaced by memories-in-the-making of a city with a million secrets it wants to tell you. You can now feel the pull that has brought dreamers and seekers and artists and actors here — you get it. And the sunshine warming your face isn’t half bad either.
Then the thought comes unbidden: “I could live here…I could totally see myself here!” If it isn’t the magical magnetism or the weather, it might be the friendliness and the diversity of the people around you, or the food, or it could be the abundant opportunities that only an economy this big can cook up. Or you might just discover your inner West Coast beach bum and never want to leave…whatever the reason, you’re now mulling over the logistics of a move to Los Angeles. You’re not alone.
14. Your “feeling the city melt away as you drive up the PCH” moment
One moment you’re deep in the concrete byways of lala land, and the next you’ve pulled onto State Route 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway, aka PCH, aka one of the prettiest drives on the West Coast. The transition from city to serene seaside is abrupt and welcome as you roll down your window and let the warm breeze play between your fingers and muss your hair. You’re heading west towards Malibu, the ocean is there on your left, and the city is nowhere to be seen.
15. Your “realizing the weather actually is perfect” moment
Stay long enough in L.A., and you’ll have the epiphany that this place enjoys perhaps the most agreeable climate in the United States. Sure, L.A. has its scorchers, but the yearly average of 329 days of sunshine aren’t all too hot to handle. Most of them are very pleasantly in the mid-80s — perfect weather for…well, anything.
16. Your “becoming just a little more chill” moment
The West Coast is known for its chill, easygoing, “no worries” vibe as much as its natural beauty. And if you’re open to the city, if you let L.A. in as you let the sun splash across your face, you’re bound to download some of that legendary Best Coast chill.
L.A. didn’t invent cool — it just added surf and sand and welcomed the free spirits and culture makers. Don’t be surprised if you’re a little more relaxed, or if your typical worries scurry away and are replaced with a sunny sense of calm. Bring some of that chill home with you as an unseen souvenir and a reminder that some places can change us for the better.