Most people who don’t live in Los Angeles might have this image of the city as a “lively, thriving” network of stars, entrepreneurs, and people in the entertainment industry. They might also imagine it to be nothing short of bars and clubs with eclectic individuals who party until morning, before calling an Uber to take them home. This is what I call the “Los Angeles fantasy”– even if there’s some truth to its party scene, not everyone partakes in it.
Those who envision the “party” Los Angeles often are talking about what goes on in the west part of the city. Known as the “Westside,” this area features the trendy neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, West Hollywood, and Venice, to name a few. Aside from rows of high-end stores and restaurants on Rodeo Drive and La Cienega Boulevard, respectively, there’s also the beach, as locals and visitors flock to Santa Monica and Venice for that laid-back vibe that characterizes much of Californian culture.
The Westside attracts a melting pot of people: students, retired folks, hippies, stoners, the homeless, self-made moguls, and much more. Everyone has a different purpose being in West Los Angeles, whether to surf waves or initiate a start-up company. People connect with people at cafes and bars (strangers and acquaintances alike), all the while enjoying the warm, beach sun that’s iconic of the city of Angels.
I didn’t grow up in West Los Angeles, although it was my home for four years while at university. My alma mater, UCLA, was situated in one of its neighborhoods called Westwood, and its location made for easy access to downtown, Santa Monica, even Hollywood, on weekends. Many of my friends and I enjoyed not only our freedom as newly-minted adults, but also the variety of delicious restaurants, art museums, and activities to choose from outside of studying. Sometimes, I would “take a break” from schoolwork to enjoy a night out in town, although I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t frequently do that (I was a good student, I swear!).
Some areas I’ve visited were Westwood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, the Pacific Palisades, and a bit of Bel-Air. As I’d said, Westwood was my home during my university years, as UCLA is located there. I grew up visiting it frequently, as my mom used to work as a nurse at its medical center (ranked in the national Top-5), and would sometimes bring me to work with her. Later, as a university student, we would sometimes go out to lunch together between my classes and her work, as Westwood is constantly opening new places to eat, drink, and otherwise snack. I’ve had plenty of great cuisines, including Thai, Lebanese, even French-Canadian! If anything, Westwood is the place to eat, as it offers a diverse gastronomic selection and is very affordable for broke students.
Continuing on the topic of food, Beverly Hills also offers an array of delicious eateries, albeit at a higher price. As a young adult, I would go with my family to several restaurants during “Dine LA Week,” which is actually two weeks of restaurants promoting their businesses– many either reduced menu prices or offer set prices to get more people to see what they have. That said, I’ve dined at several well-known establishments, including Fogo de Chão, The Stinking Rose, and Lawry’s. Forget about shopping on Rodeo Drive– eating is where it’s at!
Santa Monica is a popular destination for students on the weekend, as many go there to soak up the sun, do volunteer clean-up, or stroll along the Promenade. As it’s the location of so many movies, TV shows, and other forms of media, Santa Monica is constantly packed with people– locals and tourists alike– which has made it somewhat of a gimmicky area that might otherwise put people off. I would say the same goes for Venice Beach, although I haven’t been there yet. I’ve been to Santa Monica a couple of times and, while it’s a beautiful place, it does feel quite contrived at times, since everything looks so pristine and sunny, as what many non-locals imagine Los Angeles to be.
The Pacific Palisades (also accredited as Malibu) is a coastal part of the city, and it’s known to be quite affluent. I’ve only been there once to visit the Getty Villa, a Greek-Roman inspired museum that houses Greek and Roman antiquities. Besides being a museum, it’s also architecturally-gorgeous; it’s something you would see otherwise in Europe, so being placed in the States, it’s somewhat of a novelty (paradoxically-speaking). I visited in 2015 with a few of my university friends, as it was the summer after graduation and we wanted to meet up before we went our separate ways into “real” adulthood– if anything, the visit was sort of our “last grasp” at freedom, before we had to find jobs, go to graduate school, and otherwise be “responsible adults.”
Another trendy spot where I know many students visited was West Hollywood, although I’ve personally never been. Casually known as “WeHo,” it’s famous for its Sunset Strip and prominent LGBT community, along with plenty of bars and clubs (including historic ones like The Abbey) for night-long fun. There are also lots of music venues and comedy clubs, e.g. House of Blues, where celebrities come to entertain, and many A-list stars do live or otherwise visit to enjoy what the lively scene has to offer. West Hollywood has intrigued me for some time– even though I don’t consider myself a party animal, I’d like to see what it’s all about!
Overall, West Los Angeles is the place where visitors need to be at. Besides offering the famous beach-and-palm-tree vibes known in the city, it also has the food and entertainment to get a taste of the sprawling urban area. There are so many more neighborhoods to list (including Sawtelle, a personal favorite) and to visit that even I haven’t seen all that there’s to see! Perhaps one day I’ll have the freedom to explore more of this part of my hometown, just like how I did as a student.
Have you been to Los Angeles? What was your favorite part of it? Let me know!