During my reading break back in February, I took a spontaneous trip to Los Angeles to visit a friend and tour the city.
Now, "spontaneous" is a relative term. For me, it meant making plans to visit a year ago, booking a ticket during a Black Friday sale, and creating a list of places to visit organized by geographic location to make travel between them most convenient weeks before the flight.
No, the spontaneity wasn't in the planning of the trip, rather the idea itself. Up to this point, I've never traveled without my family. However, as somebody who has spent his life living in Vancouver with only a few years left before graduation, I felt the need to explore outside my comfort zone before being tied down by a job (ideally).
As happy as I'd be living in Vancouver my whole life, I feel the need to live in at least one place outside my hometown so that if I end up spending the rest of my life here, I'll have no regrets. Hence, this trip was a step to test the waters, I hoped that it would show me the wonders laying beyond my minuscule comfort zone and tempt me to go further and further into the unknown.
Spoiler alert: it worked. I absolutely loved my trip to LA, and will be sharing some highlights in this post.
Upon arrival, I was blasted by humid air and scorching sun. I flew away from a rainy, 10 degree Vancouver day to a beautiful 30 degree LA day. The sky had a slightly washed out look, not like the deep blues that I was used to. My Uber driver guessed it was from the smog, I'd also arrived just in time for the infamous LA traffic.
My destination was Westwood, the area surrounding UCLA. I spent my first day exploring the area. I remember being constantly amazed by how beautiful the streets were, the matching architecture of each building complemented by the beautiful deciduous and palm trees caused me to go tourist and snap photos every step I took.
I started working down my list of must-visit places on my second day there, and started with somewhere that is arguably a defining experience of California.
Famous for its short menu and huge value, some people joke about going to LA just for In-N-Out. I'm not generally a burger person, so maybe I was missing something. While everything tasted fine, it wasn't anything as divine as some people make it up to be. Perhaps it has more to do with the simplicity and cost of the In-N-Out experience rather than the pure taste. Given the price though, it's hard not to recommend just for the sake of checking it off your LA bucket list.
The Getty Center
A short trip and tram ride away from Westwood is the Getty Center, a museum that is as much of a masterpiece as the works of art it holds. It is situated on a hill and requires taking a tram to get up, which presents an extremely scenic view of LA. There's a little bit of everything here, from art dating back to the medieval times to modern photography exhibitions. If art isn't your thing, there's also a huge garden on site as well, and the whole museum is extremely Instagrammable. The best part: admission is completely free.
You may have noticed a few umbrellas in the previous photos. The rain went from a drizzle to a torrent that day, and when we were on the move again in the evening, the streets were basically flooded. This meant that it was the perfect conditions for a ramen run.
This was the best ramen I've ever had. Perhaps it was the cold weather that made it extra good, or perhaps the straight and thin noodles are more suited to my tastes than the curly ones which are popular at Vancouver ramen places, but it was seriously amazing. They offer an extra serving of noodles to add to your leftover broth for free (with a check-in on Facebook) if your appetite allows, so if you're a big eater, try being a bit conservative on your soup during your first go. They offer soy sauce with the second serving if you're all out of soup, but I feel like having a bowl of soy sauce and noodles wouldn't be a pleasant experience for most people.
Luckily, the rain was gone the next morning, and the usual LA weather was back. This meant that it was the perfect day to stop by Santa Monica.
Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe
This place seems like it could fit right in with all those high end cafes in Gastown or Yaletown in Vancouver. All their ingredients are as local, sustainable, and high quality as they can get, but unfortunately it shows in the price. I was tempted to try a latte and almond croissant with my sandwich, but that would have cost an additional $15 Canadian or something like that, so I passed. Located a few blocks from Santa Monica and the Third Street Promenade, it's a great place to start a long day of sightseeing. Just be weary of the hipster vibe, my water came from a huge stainless steel container into a mason jar.
Santa Monica Pier
A quintessential spot for anybody's first time in LA, Santa Monica Pier is one of the most photogenic tourist spots I've been to. The entire area is vibrant and bursts with personality. There's a few restaurants, an arcade, and an amusement park on the pier as well as a huge beach just under it. Honestly, nothing really interested me as much as soaking in the beauty and openness of the view; I spent a good hour wandering around just looking and taking photos. I regret not coming back to catch the sunset or sunrise from here, as I'm sure they would have been amazing.
Leica LA Flagship Store & Gallery
I've already written about the Leica Store in my previous post, but I just wanted to reiterate how friendly their staff were. I entered expecting the typical luxury-brand snobbery treatment, but was surprised to find the staff not only friendly, but also extremely knowledgeable about their cameras, lenses, and history. I ended up having a long conversation with one of the representatives about my time with an M8.2, and purchased a Noctilux mug.
They were also very accommodating to my friend, who used my time nerding-out about cameras to take a power-nap in the gallery.
Lady M Cake Boutique
After first laying eyes on the heavenly matcha mille crepe cake on Instagram a few years ago, I'd been dying to try one. I finally got that chance after realizing Lady M had a location in LA. I was half expecting to be disappointed; it's hard for foods which are this hyped to meet expectations, especially if they're also super photogenic. I feel like I'd be butchering it trying to describe what it tasted like, but it was surprisingly light and fluffy, not too sweet with just the right amount of matcha kick. My expectations were fully met, I was in green tea heaven. One day, I'll be back, and somebody will have to prevent me from ordering a whole cake.
They had a large variety of other cakes available too, so if you aren't a matcha maniac like I am, I'm sure you won't be disappointed. We didn't try anything else though, we knew exactly what we wanted the moment we stepped in there. Everything was surprisingly "affordable", and by that I mean expensive, but not ridiculously so.
My Vancouver roots will forever prevent me from calling it "Boba", but man was the bubble tea in LA amazing. Particularly, I found a fondness for brown sugar milk tea, a simple sounding drink that I'd never seen until visiting MJ Cafe earlier (which was also leagues better than what I've had back home). The difference a trace of molasses makes is astounding, the caramel-y taste mates perfectly with the milk and black tea to form something beautiful to the taste buds. If somebody knows where I can find this in Vancouver or Richmond, I'd be forever grateful.
This post has been much longer than I anticipated, so I had to omit a few of my mini experiences to make this a little more manageable to scroll through. All in all, I can safely say that this is one experience that was worth every penny (which at the time was about 0.61 American pennies) I spent. Traveling is one of those things which can be difficult to justify at first, especially as a student. The money you spend on the trip won't go into something you can hold or physically keep like a new laptop or a phone, but the experiences you gain, as corny as it sounds, are priceless.
Special thanks to my friend who provided accommodation and toured me around despite having two midterms during the time I was there.