1. “The 10”
Los Angeles has a long-standing love affair with cars, one that goes back to the 1920s and later exploded in the 1950s with kitschy roadside signs, drive-in movie theaters and restaurants, and even drive-through dairies. As such, we treat our highways (yes, even the ones with ten lanes) with utmost reverence, adding a royal “The” before the route number: “The quickest way is to take the 110 to the 10.”
If you want to pay homage to our four-wheeled friends without actually sitting in traffic, head over to the Petersen Automotive Museum, a veritable place of worship for car geeks.
2. “Surface streets”
If you’re not riding high on the 5, the 10, the 101, the 110, or the 405, you’re probably cruising below on “surface streets,” which are basically…regular streets. Every Angeleno has their favorite “secret” surface street route, but perhaps the most poorly kept of these secrets is Fountain Avenue, an east-west corridor so commonly used as a bypass that when Johnny Carson asked Bette Davis for intel on “the best way an aspiring starlet could get into Hollywood,” she allegedly responded, “Take Fountain.” Zing!
The street is actually interrupted for a block on the eastern edge of Hollywood by a middle school, but it’s worth steering around all of those adolescents in the Silver Lake neighborhood, because this is where you’ll find one of my favorite Thai joints, Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle, near Fountain’s eastern terminus. Even if you’re not hungry, it’s worth a quick stop for one of their inventive “slushies” — you can’t go wrong with the pineapple basil.
3. “Corn or flour?”
We’re talking about tortillas here, perhaps the most important carb in Southern California next to donuts and hamburger buns. When ordering tacos, the answer to this crucial question is always corn — flour tortillas are for burritos, and for people who don’t know any better.
Every Angeleno has a favorite Mexican restaurant (personally, the mole and thick tortillas at La Cabañita in Montrose send me over the moon), but we also pledge allegiance to taco trucks, those wheeled purveyors of no-frills “street tacos.” My standby is Tacos Arizas (Logan Street, just north of Sunset Boulevard), a quick stroll from The Echo, a popular Eastside music venue. If you want to experience taco bliss at home, however, all you need to do is stop by Acapulco Mexicatessen in East L.A., a tortilleria that sells corn masa, chips, and fresh tortillas.
While the Hollywood Walk of Fame a few blocks down steals all the attention, the real Hollywood superstar is Amoeba Music, billed as “the world’s largest independent record store.” One step inside the cavernous building and you’ll likely agree.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed the first time you visit, but it’s a bit more manageable if you come prepared with a shopping list (make sure you add DVDs, books, and posters — they sell those, too), commit to focusing on one or two genres, or ask one of the approximately three million employees for a bit of musical guidance. No matter which route you take, give yourself some time to roam the multi-level space. Bonus: Despite appearances, Amoeba isn’t just a record store — they’re an integral part of the L.A. music scene, hosting free live shows and events several times a month.
5. “The Industry”
While this sounds like some sort of top-secret code name or a really exclusive nightclub, “The Industry” is really just a catchall term for the entertainment industry, which includes everything from indie record labels to massive film studios.
Most of the inner workings of The Industry are off limits to outsiders, but nearly every major studio runs tours that give visitors an opportunity to peek behind the curtain…er, screen. You’ll experience movie magic no matter which studio you visit, but Potterheads should head straight for Warner Bros., which offers plenty of wizardly delights. Music fans should schedule a stop at the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A., with historic memorabilia, audiovisual exhibits, and interactive experiences.
6. “The Lake Show”
We’re pretty big on nicknames here in L.A. — from LAX (that’s Los Angeles International Airport) to WeHo (West Hollywood), we like to keep things nice and casual. That tradition extends to the Los Angeles Lakers — or the Lake Show, if you’re a basketball-loving local.
It’s not the only moniker the team has earned over the years, though. Among the more popular was the “Showtime” Lakers, used in the ‘80s when the squad was led by someone also known by a nickname, Earvin “Magic” Johnson. The Lake Show play home games at the Staples Center, a giant arena that also serves as home base for the rival Los Angeles Clippers, the puck-slapping Los Angeles Kings, and our killer WNBA team, the Los Angeles Sparks.
It’s more an abbreviation than a nickname, but continuing with our laid-back reputation, you’ll never catch an Angeleno mentioning “State Route 1,” “The 1,” or “Pacific Coast Highway.” Instead, we keep it simple with the short-but-sweet “PCH.”
Just because we’ve reduced this nearly 700-mile span to three letters doesn’t mean we don’t recognize — or appreciate — how epic it is. In our neck of the woods, the PCH is the gateway to relaxation and recreation, running right alongside the Pacific Ocean.
While many people enjoy the beachy attractions in Venice and Santa Monica, it’s worth taking a road trip north to Malibu, where you can drive right between wild ocean waves and the dramatic Santa Monica Mountains. My favorite way to spend a Sunday is to head along the coast, dip into the mountains for a hike, then replenish all of those calories (and then some) with lunch at Malibu’s Reel Inn, a casual seafood joint that offers fish every which way, capped off with a surprisingly stout dessert menu. Of course, enjoying a beer in the sunshine isn’t a bad way to go, either.
8. “Animal Style”
Los Angeles has a thing for burgers, and one of its most-ordered versions comes courtesy of In-N-Out Burger, a wildly popular chain that was founded about 20 miles east of the city in Baldwin Park (located just off the 10, if you were wondering).
Sure, you can get your patty with cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato, but insiders know to order it “Animal Style,” which kicks it up a notch with grilled onions and special sauce. This is part of the chain’s (not so) “Secret Menu,” which also allows you to “Animal Style” your fries, go “Protein Style” (with a lettuce wrap instead of a bun), order a grilled cheese sandwich, or sip on a tasty root beer float.
9. “I’m spiritual.”
Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s some sort of energy vortex, but it seems most people in this city describe themselves as being “spiritual.” That’s not a bad thing, mind you: There’s a yoga studio (or five) in nearly every neighborhood, group meditation practices abound, and zen-stoking spots like the lushly landscaped Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine provide a quiet oasis in the city.
The spirit of mindfulness also pervades our food — “kale” and “quinoa” aren’t dirty words in Los Angeles. Some of the most inspirational dining can be found at Café Gratitude, whose inventive plant-based fare comes with a twist: The name of each dish is an adjective, and you’re supposed to go with the flow and order by saying “I am…” and the name of your dish. Hungry for a bowl of spicy curry? You are…Humble. Ready to find out just how spectacular vegan enchiladas can be? You are…Elated.
10. “The Valley”
For anyone who lives south of Griffith Park, The Valley is a mystical, faraway place…located just on the other side of the park. It’s shorthand for the San Fernando Valley, which is basically a suburban extension of Los Angeles. While it gets knocked for being hot in the summer and for being less culturally exciting than Hollywood and its surrounds, The Valley is actually full of awesomeness.
If you’re a Valley newbie, I highly recommend starting with North Hollywood, which has one of my favorite Mexican restaurants (Salsa & Beer), one of my favorite bookstores (The Iliad Bookshop), and one of my favorite tiki bars (Tonga Hut — order a tall glass of Kraken the Dole Whip if it’s on the menu when you visit). As an added bonus, you can ride the Metro Red Line subway right into the middle of the NoHo Arts District, a pedestrian-friendly area flush with food, beverage, and entertainment options.
Speaking of abbreviated place names, K-Town is local lingo for Koreatown, a unique L.A. neighborhood that was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. I’ll let Tony cover the food, but I’ll say there’s a whole lot more to K-Town than kimchi and bulgogi.
On the beverage front, Hwa Sun Ji Tea & Coffee (3952 Wilshire Blvd) is a cozy, quiet place to enjoy a cup of plum tea and a plate of cookies. For a rowdier atmosphere, head over to the divey HMS Bounty to throw back a few adult drinks. You should also consider spending a chunk of the day soaking at a Korean spa (Wi Spa is my favorite), or rally some friends to knock down pins at the delightfully nostalgic Shatto 39 Lanes.
The word “juice” might conjure up visions of breakfast-time delights, but “juicing” is a specific term people use when they’ve temporarily forsaken solid foods for the purportedly cleansing, detoxifying powers of fancy cold-pressed juice blends. While the idea of subsisting on liquid fruit alone is enough to make my stomach cry out for help, the upside is that L.A.’s drinkable diet obsession means there’s an endless parade of juice bars to visit when you just don’t feel like chewing your lunch.
Pressed Juicery is one of the more popular options, with locations all over the city. Yes, it’s pricey to swig a bottle of this stuff, but when you realize these juices are meant to serve as meal replacements, it’s a bit easier to swallow.
13. “That’s gnarly.”
If someone in Los Angeles comments that something you’ve done is “gnarly,” consider it a badge of honor. Some of our most expressive and endearing terms come straight out of SoCal’s skateboarding and surf culture, where “dude” is used to describe men and women, “sick” means good, and “rad” is awesome. See also: sweet, dope, and epic.
To experience the native language of L.A. in real life, get thee to the Venice Beach Skatepark, where you can watch skaters flip and grind against an ocean backdrop. If you want to catch even more action, head towards the water to check out all the surfers getting stoked on the waves. Gnarly!