La La Land

The plane touched down and excitement filled the air. This was my first trip to Los Angeles, a place that existed in my dreams and was about to become a reality. The fast pace of the freeways, the palm trees - everywhere, just like the movies. My first experiences there were fun - but underwhelming. The excessive time in traffic really brought me down. I am the type of person who’s really a sucker for human connection, so to be in a place where people basically don’t utilize sidewalks unless they’re getting to their car or from the car to a building, was really jarring. Not only that, but where were all the celebrities that allegedly lived here? I mean, if people are constantly in their cars, how do you ever see them? 

My friend, who was married to a paparazzo suggested that he’d take me on a tour to show me all the houses, where all the celebs lived. Off we went, and I got to see wall after wall, gate after gate, door after door, and still, no celebrities. And no houses either. It was the most disheartening process. My dreams were being crushed. Even the paparazzi chase after James Marsden I got to witness seemed boring. Where was Julia Roberts when you needed her? 

And then, there was the nightlife, or should I say, there wasn’t. A place where clubs are required by law to close at 2a.m.? Seems excessive, but it’s the truth. I was simply not having any of it. Granted, during the day, the parks, the mountains, the beaches, all wonderful, really - the quality of life, I imagined, top of the line. If you disregard the gray fog of pollution that covers the city, of course. But all good, isn’t there pollution everywhere? Who knows, you tell yourself the fattest lies when you want to believe in certain things.

I had not given up, I was certain that LA had to be that magical place from the movies, with all the cheap glamour and phenomenal black-tie parties, packed with celebrities pretending to have a good time. That’s the place I longed for, a place of make belief.

On the following year, I was invited to attend an Oscar party, perhaps the most sought after invitation of awards season. This was a private affair, at the house of a major pop icon, no press (or cameras and social media) were allowed and the guest list was tight, only 200 of the biggest and hottest talent in the world were invited, along with some key Hollywood players. I could not believe that I was in, this was an honor. I felt as if my opportunity had finally arrived, to truly experience LA at its best, on its most important night of the year, Oscar night.

The city buzzed, all along Sunset Boulevard and wherever else there was a key party taking place, traffic was intense. None of it mattered, because the party I was attending would only really get packed after everyone was done posing for pictures at Elton John’s or Vanity Fair, this was the party where they came to throw their hair back and really have fun.

Fun was had. Oprah Winfrey grabbed me by the arm on a twirl, most likely thinking I was someone else, and very quickly moved on to pay attention to Tom Cruise. Sharon Stone, probably the most magnificent creature I had ever laid eyes on seemed bored at the music, until Puff Daddy took over the pick ups. In an attempt to actually socialize, I bummed a cigarette from Penelope Cruz, who’s dress was all ripped to shreds at this point, from all the dancing that was taking place. More than half of the women were trotting around barefooted, without a care in the world. We were all sweaty and we were all having the time of our lives. A momentary bond was created between me and Renee Zellweger, who kept trying to hit on my friend, but with no luck - he was engaged to be married. That would not be a problem, Renee and I still had the dance floor. The bathroom line was dispersed by a housekeeper who informed us the toilet was clogged. So it was true, celebrities are just like everyone else, they even clog toilets the same way.

The follow up to this brilliant night was a brunch at the iconic Fred Segal, where me and my friends would rehash stories from the night before. Sitting next to me on the curb, waiting for a table just like everybody else, was J.Lo with her BFF Leah Remini. And there it was, the moment I had been waiting for all along, the LA of my dreams had concretized.

I did not stop going back to LA ever since, two or three times every year at the very least, and I just keep on falling in love with it more and more. Over time I learned to love waking up early in the morning for a walk on the hills of Hollywood, by the iconic Hollywood sign, all the way to the stunning Griffith Observatory. Sometimes if I’m feeling adventurous, I will get in my car and go to Runyon Canyon, probably the most popular of the hikes in town. There, the occasional celebrity sighting is inevitable, my favorite being a fresh faced Kathy Griffin walking her dog up and down the rocky pathways.

With time I also learned to get over my traffic resentment. I now zip all around the city in my little rental cars. It was in LA where I had my first car crash, not in New York, the place famously known for its horrid traffic and crazy drivers. As I was parking for brunch at Laurel’s Hardware, one of the hottest brunch spots in town, a bus took half of my car along with it. Of course, this being West Hollywood, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian arrived just as I was giving my statement to the police. A very glitzy car crash indeed!

In the evening, dinner at Soho House among the likes of Al Pacino or Madeleine Stowe seems like a great choice, followed by drinks at the historic Chateau Marmont, location picked for the movie ‘Somewhere’ by Sofia Coppola and of many incredible parties, like the night where many gathered around the pool to celebrate Valentino on his last collection as the designer of his own label. And speaking of parties, it was at LACMA - Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art, where Rodarte threw their pre-Oscar bash a few years back. Now, I am not saying that’s the reason why you should visit, but it is definitely a place to be seen. Their art collection is exquisite and the place itself is definitely not to be missed, much like the Ghery designed Disney Auditorium, with it’s incredible architecture. Speaking of art, a visit to Prism Gallery is also essential. This gallery co-owned by the brothers xxxx is one of the hottest in the country, continually launching new talent into the top echelons of the art world. Next door is the restaurant Eveleigh, one of LA’s trendy spots where top models Carolyn Murphy, Irina Shayk and Gisele Bundchen can be seen dining alongside Mario Testino, Adam Levine or Leonardo DiCaprio.

One of my favorite places for dinner though is Pace, on Laurel Canyon - not only for its delicious menu but for the history that’s present in that area. A few doors down from the restaurant is the house that used to belong to Jim Morrison, and that street was what he used to call “love street” - made famous by the song of same name. From the balcony of his house, Jim used to watch his girlfriend coming home from work every day. The country store next door to the restaurant is where Jim, and many of his rock star friends used to go for their groceries. The basement of this store served as Mama Cass’s first apartment when she arrived, broke, in Los Angeles. What Morrison and Cass didn’t know, is that they had gone to school together, years prior to that and had never met until then. That store is “the place where creatures meet” that Jim mentions in his song because of this accidental high-school reunion. After this walk down memory lane, a trip up to Mulholland Drive is mandatory. Its winding roads took the lives of xxx and were made globally famous by David Lynch’s homonymous film. Make sure to stop at one of the overlooks to take some of the most stunning night shots of the City of Angels.

Rodeo Drive, once made famous by Julia Roberts is just another shopping spot like any other in any large metropolis, and if that’s the focal point of your trip, then you won’t be disappointed as luxury is not spared here. Don’t forget to make a stop for lunch at Ceconi’s to recharge the batteries or later on at the cafe at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, where the pretty woman and Richard Gere were staying in, in that movie. This is a magical city, infinite opportunities for entertainment, from the Walk of Fame to the seedy Venice Beach where Arnold Schwarzenegger was once made Mr. World to the Santa Monica Pier, with its traditional funnel cake and amusement park - days can be spent discovering new things in Los Angeles and the more I discover, the more I want to return. You will too.