Every now and again, I try to persuade someone to live in LA, or someone coming here asks for my opinion. For the sake of efficiency, I am here recording my present attitudes. If you’re reading this, and I would like you, perhaps this will incline you towards living in my city. If I don’t like you, move here anyway, we’ll probably never see each other.
Los Angeles is a high-variance place. If you can configure your life right, it’s maybe the best city to live in, period. Before you dismiss me as eccentric, Tyler Cowen agrees with me, and he’s been to a lot of cities—and he doesn’t even care about great parties, surfing, or hallucinogens, which LA has lots of. But the configuration part is important. Basically, you have to avoid being stuck with a long commute, or living somewhere loud, scary, or really out of the way. If you have to drive for two hours a day from your home in a wildfire zone occupied by ten hippie jam bands, then Los Angeles is awful, and that’s a real possibility for some people.
The East Coast cliche about the SoCal person is that we’re vapid and care mostly for our well-being and whatever spiritual thing we’ve got going on. This is basically right on the facts, but I’d reframe the value judgements. Here, neuroticism is not a valued cultural norm and we enjoy taking care of ourselves. At first, coming from an East Coast background, this filled me with suspicion. Now that I’ve adjusted I feel like I just unplugged from the Matrix. How did I ever possibly give a shit about all of those other things? The deal is that this is the most Epicurean place I’ve ever been in North America, a continent known for having fun in fits and starts while feeling quite bad about it.
The most physically attractive people in the world move to Los Angeles, and then they dress super frumpy. The done thing is to have bone structure that’s hard to believe, and then drape it in sweatshorts or whatever. Sometimes trendy nice sweatshorts, sometimes just regular ones. Part of it is that being gorgeous without trying is the embodiment of the aforementioned California epicureanism, part of it is that exercise or surfing can break out at any time in this population, and part of it is that these displays actually are quite effortful, just in a concealed way—a lot of lip injections, cardio, and whey protein are required to maintain the natural beauty.
It’s hard to really get Los Angeles until you’re standing here, because it’s a felt sensation. The perfect weather, the endless summer, lushness and the twinkling expanse, the incongruity, the dirt and glory—I can throw these words at you, but you have to actually come here to comprehend the niceness of it. Something about being able to have a perfect day every day adjusts your psychology, but only after it’s been true for a period of time. And there’s also the weirdness of the place, which is similarly hard to describe, but which often lurks at the edge of the frame. David Lynch is a longtime LA resident, and living here doesn’t make his movies seem realistic, but you sort of start to understand where he’s coming from.
As an entire city, Los Angeles is not walkable. It’s a car town. But many parts of it offer excellent walking, and it’s strolling weather every day. Venice can be a bit much but the people-watching is unbelievable, and there is the, um, ocean. Echo Park is the cutest hipster neighborhood in the world, next to maybe Atwater, the other one. Rustic Canyon is a shaded pocket of eccentrically beautiful mansions that’s a great place for contemplation if you can stop yourself from lusting after the real estate. The average walking experience is poor, but the peak walking experience is marvelous.
The Best Food
My impression is that Los Angeles is the world’s best food city, and it’s not close. I have a galaxy-brained theory about why this is. Restaurants decline when they sell prestige, rather than food. (This is why Manhattan is often not a good place to eat.) But, given that LA is a sprawl with clumps, there is no one prestige location; it’s so big that you can’t count on being seen anywhere. So you have the advantages of a wealthy dining population without the drawbacks. Also, Los Angeles is a melting pot filled with ethnic enclaves, so you have Thai food made for the informed demand provided by a dense local Thai population, same with Chinese, Indian, Mexican, and others. It’s hard to avoid an incredible meal here. I hope that Animal reopens soon—greatest meal of my life, period.
New York has lots of kinds of people, but you can also map out genres that you will see over and over again. Los Angeles has more genres, and, also, more people who don’t fit into any genre. There is no one type of person that Los Angeles suggests you should be. Nobody is waiting for you to live up to the Angeleno code, because it doesn’t exist—the New Yorker is a real thing, but the Angeleno is just a funny-sounding noun. There is no quintessential Los Angeles experience. You can be whatever you want to be, and basically nobody cares. This can feel lonely but it’s also thrilling; the feeling is that there’s a higher amount of eccentricity here, and that less of it is cultivated.
This is something nobody ever told me, which is really important: if you wake up at dawn in Los Angeles, and you have good time management skills, you can go for a walk on the beach, then go skiing in the afternoon, then fall asleep in the high desert at night.
Take It Easy
Los Angeles, unlike other cities, has no centre, and never ends. I mean, look at this thing:
It’s a long blanket of highly attractive landscapes, screenwriters, magic castles, and taco stands. If you try to find the essence, the centre, the One True Experience, you will go mad and start attacking the palm trees. You must relax. Take it easy, or Los Angeles will destroy you.
Hey! Great writing. I regret I never had the opportunity to live in LA. I lived in NYC for about 20 years. It feels like a waste of time at this point. That’s a little harsh - say I wish I’d diversified a bit more.
You might like this piece: https://www.bldgblog.com/2007/10/greater-los-angeles/. I read this a decade ago, probably, and it always stuck with me.
I've lived in both cities and your opinion on food is 100% wrong. This is completely wrong: "This is why Manhattan is often not a good place to eat." It's hard to generalize with two large cities and thousands of places to eat, but I can't think of a cuisine where it's not better in NYC except tacos.