I don’t like big cities. They’re crowded, congested, smoggy, inflicted with concrete urban sprawl like a parasitic blight.
But if that turns you off from this post, please, keep reading.
I’ve gone from living in Boston and Denver, two mid-sized cities with varying degrees of traffic and congestion, to Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city.
After Houston I swore to myself I wouldn’t live in a city any bigger.
Nope. Lure me with all the cultural candy you want.
No way. Give me small cities and hippie mountain towns.
But I received a job offer to work outside of Los Angeles.
An offer I, in true Godfather fashion, just couldn’t refuse. It was too perfect, too in line with my passions as a field scientist and educator.
So Jessi and I packed up my things and we began our road trip to what is, as of writing, the second largest city in the United States, after New York City.
Now I will make this disclaimer: I don’t actually live in Los Angeles proper. I live in Los Angeles County, which is a huge patchwork quilt of incredible variety that spreads far beyond Los Angeles city limits.
So this post is very much based on my experience in the metro Los Angeles area, and not in any way meant to disparage the City of Angels itself.
In fact, I’ve come to embrace it. Here are the top five things I dreaded before moving to Los Angeles, and why you should rethink your image of this metro area, if you’re anything like I was.
Here are my top 5 Los Angeles misconceptions, and why they got totally blown out of the water when I arrived and settled in.
Myth #1: Los Angeles is scary.
When I first visited LA in the late ’90s, I thought of it as a place with absurdly huge highways, eight lanes that disappeared so fast you couldn’t keep up, speeders and highway patrols and the crips and the bloods.
It was, to my teenage sensibilities, scary.
But I know better now.
While, like any big city, a healthy dose of caution and know-how is necessary, Los Angeles is navigable and safe if you know where you’re headed.
Keep a good head on your shoulders and don’t leave valuables strewn about in your car.
And remember that people are people. You will meet equal part opportunist and Samaritan here in the City of Angels, and that includes the metro areas.
I have not felt unsafe once since moving here, and that’s a really good feeling. My newfound friends, neighbors, and neighborhoods have felt safe and supportive.
Myth #2: Los Angeles doesn’t have outdoor activities.
Did you know that Los Angeles has many parks within the city limits, and it even has a bona fide paleontology museum and dig site practically in the middle of downtown?
From hiking the Hollywood sign to spending at day at the Page Museum and La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles is full of outdoor activities that don’t just encompass people watching and skateboarding.
Although, who am I kidding, those are abundant, too. The people watching? Probably the best in the world, in my opinion.
If you stray a bit to the west and east of the city proper, you’re surrounded by beaches, boardwalk piers, and some fantastic mountain hiking. Los Angeles sits at the juncture of several mountain valleys, including the San Fernando Valley (like, totally) and the San Gabriel Valley, trending eastward until you hit the Inland Empire and points east like Palm Springs.
Simply put, it’s beautiful.
And if you like hiking, biking, and camping, you’re surrounded by the Angeles National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, Topanga State Park (are we the only ones who think of Boy Meets World?), San Bernardino National Forest, and many more. You’re within a few hours’ driving distance to Joshua Tree National Park and Channel Islands National Park. Seek outdoor escapes, and you shall find them in abundance.
Myth #3: Many people in Los Angeles are plastic and fake.
Okay, how lame is this myth? I’m not even sure what it means to be plastic and fake. Every city, every country has people who are only concerned with their own interests and maybe have too much money to spend on plastic surgery.
I really won’t spend much more time on this myth because it’s too stupid. Yes, Los Angeles has rich people. Yes, it has celebrities. But pretty much all of the people I’ve met have been down-to-earth, brilliant, hard-working and just all around nice people.
Stupid myth, go away! Which brings me to the next one.
Myth #4: You have to be rich to live in Los Angeles.
I live in a 500 square foot studio apartment and I pay $1100 per month not including utilities.
I will get that out there and have no qualms about it. It was pretty much the only thing I could afford.
Los Angeles is expensive, maybe more so than many other cities, but not prohibitively so.
Gas prices are higher, taxes are higher, rent is higher. But really, rent is no higher than they would be if I lived in Boston or even Houston Heights. It’s unfair to judge California based on tax and gas prices, because some people will live here for the climate and the lifestyle, and that’s okay. I’m just one of many, many people who are living proof that it can be done.
It’s true that higher prices do drive some people away from Los Angeles, but as the second most populated city in the United States, there has to be something driving people here. And for now, at this stage in my life, I’m okay with that. If you’re not, it’s alright; no one can force you to live here.
I still like the view!
Myth #5: Los Angeles is too crowded.
Los Angeles has traffic. Enough said.
It’s not much worse than Houston, and it comes with the territory of this being a big city where tourists and workers flock.
But even within the city, you can find places that provide moments of peace.
If the city itself is too much, I personally enjoy living a bit to the east of the city. The San Gabriel Valley is just the right kind of pace for me, and it’s got the outdoorsy, hippie vibe that I love so much.
Take it for what it is–Los Angeles is a cultural mecca and a microcosm of the world. It’s tough, it’s gritty, it’s full of potential and full of opportunity.
Never thought I would live here, but I can say it’s really growing on me.
It might just be my kind of place.
What are your thoughts on the City of Angels? Do you live here? Have you visited? Anything we should add to our assessment? Let us know!