the cultural chameleon guide to: los angeles

first impressions

After an hour delayed flight, the last thing I wanted to do was listen to the fedora-wearing hipster flirt with a mother and daughter in front of me for four hours. He was so falsely intrigued by the 21-year-old’s Midwestern fantasies and the mother’s career, asking them very normal questions that sent them into hyper-giggle mode. It was a typical frat bro at the bar interaction, which eventually added buzz balls to the mix, and ending up in a few trips to the bathroom. Well, at least there were no screaming infants this time.

LAX was bright and busy at 7pm. The wave of arrivals guided me along to a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Co on the luggage reclaim. I was starving (and mostly annoyed). As I devoured my croissant like a maniac, my boyfriend Jake was trying to pick me up, through the lines of headlights and taxicabs. Driving in L.A. stresses him out to no end, and this was my first glimpse at how inconsiderate, weaving cars pervade the city. Honestly, I’ve experienced worse traffic, bumper-to-bumper, in São Paulo but in California, selfishness definitely rules the road. I saw the hipster who was flirting with the mother/daughter get into a car with his blonde girlfriend.

PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, as Jake taught me months ago) was a calm drive that night. In Torrance, I had a quick change and we walked over to his best friend’s house on the corner. Zach, freshly 22, suggested we go bowling at Palos Verdes. With a new bottle of vodka, we bowled until getting kicked out at closing time. In the parking lot, everyone was surprised when they asked me if I had been to In N Out- “nah, we don’t have those over there”. I thought it was all Midwest/East Coast hype, but they seemed offended- so off we went, across the street to the local In N Out. I wanted to have a better (read: less sleep deprived and less buzzed) experience so I watched them eat their Animal style fries. In the parking lot, the guys were itching to drive around. I pushed a friend in a shopping cart we found. It was an exhilarating end to a Monday night.

The next day, we drove to Venice Beach- to discover the “weird side of L.A.”. That was the insinuation, really. Jake only said we’d see “characters”. Every house in front of the canals gave me more ideas for my dream house. Cubic and spacious, cacti and vibrant pink flowers on fences, I imagined all of these inhabited by people who have had enough of the mess of the city. On the boardwalk, the usual tourist-targeted t-shirts, shot glasses, and weed paraphernalia.

Once you move past the “characters” of the Venice boardwalk, you notice that there are a bunch of wall murals displayed. In fact, we stopped for a few minutes to watch an artist in the shade fill out the letters on a wall that connected to a conglomeration shop of shades, shorts, and shirts. The starry night mural was one of my favorites. Not only at eye level, if you look up- there’s art ready to be photographed as well. On the beach itself, there’s a public art space where you need to obtain a permit and then spray-paint to your heart’s desire. Even a few palm trees got the treatment.

To me, Venice Beach was all about getting noticed. The smooth skate park was filled with young guys in streetwear, practicing their tricks in front of a crowd of on-lookers. Muscle Beach, literally an outdoor gym complete with dumbbells and all, was only visited by a man drinking a coke that day (probably due to the heat wave). Any other day, though, I bet gelled hair, huge muscles, and grunting would’ve greeted us there. I’m not one for spectacles, so a two-hour visit was enough for me.

Jake took me to his other hometown- Long Beach. About 40 minutes from his house in Torrance, the drive to Long Beach passed by the ports and over a bridge. We spent the day in Downtown Long Beach and paid a visit to the outdoor mall, where he found a cheap pair of bright green Converse. After lunch at Islands, we looked at more street art.

The next morning, we spent some time relaxing on the bay and later went to the Eastside. Right on the main street Ocean Boulevard, stands the Long Beach Museum of Art, a brick building overlooking the shore. We enjoyed Cuban artist Rafael Soriano’s effervescent paintings in a short visit that lasted no more than an hour.

An internet friend of mine pointed us towards Fingerprints, a music store on 4th street. Since Jake & I are both music lovers, we spent a good time on Friday here looking at every corner that caught our eye. Vinyls and staff album picks, and there were vintage t-shirts as well. I was surprised to see cassettes making a comeback (is it still a comeback if it was still used in my early childhood?), at only $10 per cassette, I guess if you really wanted to listen to something new, this would be a different option. If you’re ever in the area, I’d check this place out for live performances. Sometimes they’ll put on small shows, acoustic sets, or listening parties.

The Groundlings

7307 Melrose Ave

Friday night, we went down to Melrose to watch an improv comedy show at the Groundlings. Having never seen any sort of comedy show live, we both walked in with no expectations and came out wowed. Also, tickets are only $16! If you get the chance, I highly highly recommend watching The Completely Different Late Show at the Groundlings (which is where Will Ferrell started out!). The theater reminded me of a smaller university lecture hall, and the director invites the audience to call out suggestions. Be aware that there’s a Groundlings school, but the theatre is in front of a bar called the Darkroom. Behind the theater, there’s an alley of street art to discover, and next to the comic store, there’s the Never Open Store. See for yourself- it’s exactly what you think it is.

Cinespia Cemetary Screening

6000 Santa Monica Blvd

I did some research before landing in California! One of the things I found beforehand was Cinespia’s Cemetery movie screenings (ahem-film, sorry Hollywood). Tickets are $16, and parking is an extra $12- but if you play your cards right, and plan ahead, I would park a little further away. *Be sure to read the signs of the street you’re parking on- a lot of them might need permits, but I’d go for the ones that go between time slots, or “after 8pm”. * They do have a bar and pop-up restaurant, as well as a free photo booth. We watched Sunset Boulevard, a black & white Old Hollywood film from 1950.

Think of this as a cool picnic and movie- just that it’s kind of in the same place as some dead peeps. All cool, all cool. Some lady behind us literally brought a cheese platter, a wine bottle, and a fake flickering candle. A little extra, but it upstaged our half bag of Doritos. Next time, we’ll make an evening out of it.

Inn of the Seventh Ray

128 Old Topanga Canyon Rd, Topanga, CA

We had a reservation at Inn of the Seventh Ray in Malibu for the Monday night of Labor Day weekend. About an hour drive away, we enjoyed the summer sunset passing by the beach. The drive took us through winding roads in Topanga and we ended up inside this fairytale restaurant. This place is integrated into the woods and looks over a bubbling creek, lit with Christmas lights. Jake turned to me, “we don’t belong here”. Obviously the youngest ones in the restaurant, we sat down nervously. The hostess told us that all their food was grass-fed, organic, etc… we nodded and she asked us what we wanted to drink. “Just water for now, please” we replied. “We have sparkling water, or room temperature reverse-osmosis water” I stifled the automatic urge to laugh and ordered the reverse-osmosis water. It tasted like normal water.

No offense to the high-class, but Jake and I are very low-maintenance. This was our fancy date night out and this place was out of the ordinary for us. We soon found a friend who understood our struggle; this waiter kindly brought us the dessert menu and we asked him about wines like the youngsters we are. Ugh, the vanilla lavender ice cream… the chocolate cake…the ESPRESSO ice cream. Our taste buds took an amazing journey that night.

Honestly, I’d recommend Inn of the Seventh Ray, but if you’re coming with a friend, make sure y’all are close, it’s an intimate setting. It better be some sort of friendiversary. Do not go here on a Tinder date. No matter how much you’re trying to impress.

The Standing Room

144 N Catalina Ave, Redondo Beach

You might be asking yourself, ‘why is Dre sending me to a gas station convenience store?’ Nah, this is no ordinary gas station style convenience store. The Standing Room in Redondo is worth it. I got the brisket sandwich and we split some sweet potato fries. Holy crap, like the best meal I’ve had in ages. The bread was buttery and perfectly toasted, the fries were perfect. They have a Korean style quesadilla too, and vegetarian options.

L&L’s Hawaiian BBQ

24223 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance

So, Jake has been hyping this place since basically when we first met. He thinks the wrong things are overhyped, like pizza and Bey on the internet (take it out on him, not me). L&L’s though? Definitely not overhyped. For about $10, you will get a meal that will feed you for two to three days. We’re ballin on a budget here.

Get the Katsu chicken, get the Hawaiian BBQ chicken or beef, get extra Katsu sauce. The meal comes with a serving of rice and a serving of macaroni salad. I’m not a huge fan of macaroni salad- but this one changed my life. I came here twice during my visit. I want to scream about L&L’s from the tops of mountains.

The Broad

221 S Grand Ave, L.A.

If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for art museums. The Broad was on my hit list (my common study spot was at the Broad museum back at MSU). When I read about how to get tickets to the exhibition I wanted to go to (the Infinity room), I thought it’d be much easier. They ‘release’ the tickets on the first of each month through their app. So, there I was, September 1st, with my phone in my lap. As soon as I clicked on ‘get tickets’, it told me I was number 50,000 in line. Honestly, I teared up…more than once. “Okay,” I said, “we don’t need to go to the Infinity room, let’s just see if we can get general admission”. A few hours later, it said General Admission was sold out. Resentfully, I deleted the app.

A few days later, I found out that the museum has a ‘standby line’ where you wait a bit, and they let you in for free. I followed the Broad Standby Line on Twitter and would keep track of it. I highly recommend doing this if you want to visit!! Weirdly enough, the lines were 2 hours during a few days of the heat wave. I checked early morning on an unassuming Friday (perfect weather too), and it said the line was 15 minutes. We drove about 40 minutes and parked in the museum parking. The wait lines were still 15 minutes. Beautiful, lovely, just amazing. I was beaming. Plus, these General Admission tickets you wait for are free. It was a very cool museum, you had the big names like Warhol and Koons, and not too crowded when we went during the week. To add to my happiness, we happened to walk into a space and see one of our favorite celebrities just chilling out. I’ll never live this day down.

Cha Cha Chicken

1906 Ocean Ave

My friend Abbas lives close to Santa Monica and recommended Cha Cha Chicken, a Caribbean eatery a walk away from the beach. This BYOB place specializes in jerk chicken, so I had some accompanied by our Red Stripe beers. This place is perfect for a small get-together, followed by a beach walk.

There was a silent piano concert when we got to the beach. You rent out these headphones and listen to this man playing an electric piano, surrounded by huge orb-like balloons and warm lights. People were into it. We got yelled at for playing with a balloon, but how could you resist?? Lame.

We watched the sun set behind the mountains of the Santa Monica pier and then hit up the Promenade to visit my old housemate, Jenna. It’s a fun night, there are street performers and a range of shops and restaurants.

The Grove 

189 The Grove Dr

My last day in California was relaxed. The last thing on my list was the lampposts at LACMA, in the Brea district (writing ‘the La Brea’ feels weird- the the? no thanks). We walked down S. Fairfax to look at some streetwear stores while we waited for the sky to darken a bit. The outdoor mall, The Grove, was also a fun walk, they have a ZARA and Topshop so you know I was happy. They also have a farmer’s market there if your heart so desires.

There’s lots of street art in the Fairfax district, but it is a little harder to photograph because of moving or parked cars and things in the way. It was a longer walk, compared to the ones we’ve done in the past two weeks, so it was smart to do it once the sun was setting.


5905 Wilshire Blvd

Parking is free after 7pm

I loved these lampposts! It was good practice for photography (to the right: Jake’s only good in-focus picture of me). We even got to see some Japanese tv show hosts, although I didn’t know who they were, let me just say I’m already a big fan. We didn’t go inside LACMA, but bring your student ID for a discounted admission. Also, LA county residents get in for free after 3pm on weekdays so more incentive for me to move there, right?