Desperately Seeking Downtown Los Angeles

Cityscape from the book Good Night Los Angeles
Montana is Big Sky Country. I've never been there. Before we took our trip this summer, I'd never been to (only through and around) Los Angeles. It is Big Highway Country. By L.A., I mean the actual downtown area of the city, not all the surrounding cities. Burbank, Long Beach and places in between didn't count. I was on a quest to find L.A. proper. The city, the Mecca and...the downtown (or lack thereof).

I heard that. Yes, just now. You snorted when I wrote "downtown." So did a bunch of others when I told them of my quest to see "downtown L.A." Idiot? Yeah, maybe. More on that later.

So we got to L.A. (pronounced as Cheryl Crow sang it in All I Wanna Do: with a long drawled "L" and a short, Canadian "A") and the freeways kept routing us around the tall downtown buildings in the distance. Crow's song was a torturing earworm in my head:
Cheryl Crow Sings All I Wanna Do, Saturday Night Live


Hit it!
This ain't no disco
And it ain't no country club either,
This is L.A. ("Elllle, Eh")




What I learned very quickly was that in this vast cementscape (I like it better as one word) of L.A., you cannot survive without "the Disneyland Effect." Never heard of it? The Disneyland Effect is a last hope for stressed drivers dealing with 6 lane highways (12 across in both directions) moving at 85 miles an hour looking for their exits. Or not. You could also be crawling along looking for your exit--trying to get the hell away from the traffic horror. In desperation, you deliberately choose the back roads or alternate routes just so you can be moving forward rather than in gridlock. In theory, the Disneyland Effect gains you the illusion of fun and movement (even if you're actually driving an extra 30 miles) as if you were actually in Disneyland.
Tuck and Roll Buggies at Disneyland
Tuck and Roll Buggies at Disneyland by California Bear
Here are few stops we made thanks to the Disneyland Effect:

View from Mulholland Drive by Rachel Medanic
We meandered up Mulholland Drive and the hills of Bel Air on the way home. This hills view has a giant McMansion going into the curve of the hillside off to the right out of the picture. The amazing L.A. area hills reminded me of what I love so much about Oakland.

Also exploring and trying to get to the L.A. Zoo on a partial Disneyland Effect whim (we were too late), we discovered the Gene Autry Museum of the Wild West (we were too late to get in there, too.  I desperately want to go back):

Courtyard, Autry National Center, Los Angeles
Gene Autry and his horse
The California Science Center and Legoland were intentional destinations. Here's the Endeavor:
Entrance to the California Science Center, Los Angeles
Space Shuttle Endeavor, California Science Center
 The space shuttle Endeavor was pretty awesome.


Hollywood Hills from Griffith Observatory
Creative Commons license photo of Griffith Observatory of Hollywood Hills, downtown by Boqiang Lao
I fell in love with the West Hollywood hills (Beachwood Canyon to be specific). Houses nestle into the hillside and life is peaceful and quaint (in a very California kind of way). You get drawn in and want to stay. Independently of one another, my husband I were both thinking Wow, I could live here!

We attended a benefit concert for Hollywood Orchard featuring performances by Moira Smiley and her musical friends in the area. When not traveling, Moira calls this place home. It was a pretty awesome excuse to discover the west Hollywood Hills, the amazing Griffith Park and super hikes that gave you views like:

Hollywood sign from Griffith Park by Rachel Medanic
My search for "downtown L.A." has been like an ongoing Where's Waldo book for me over the years, especially since I moved to northern California. I'm not obsessed, but anytime I meet people from L.A., I ask them if they've ever been downtown. That's where the weirdness... and controversy begins. Many believe there isn't a downtown. Maybe there didn't used to be. Here are some things people say when asked if they've ever been downtown.:
  • "LA has a downtown... (spoken at first with a defensive/questioning tone that trails off on "town") but..."
  • "Well, LA doesn't really have a downtown, you have the Staples Center and some buildings but..." (from 2012)
  • "There is a downtown but it's not like New York or San Francisco, you can't just walk around."
  • My husband asked family in Long Beach, "So my wife has been asking people about whether or not they think LA has a downtown." Loud laughter at the absurdity of the question.
  • "The downtown is sort of...like...well..." My friend reverts to a gesture. She holds both hands out and makes a box shape. "The downtown is like..." [makes box shape, no words] Not sure what she means exactly but it comes across as "there's no there there."
Halfway through the trip, I began to wonder if people who say there isn't a downtown have ever actually found the energy to try to get there rather than passing it by on the freeways. 
Driving toward Downtown L.A.


Maybe it's SoCal logic:  if you're constantly driving around something and only viewing it from a distance, maybe it doesn't actually exist? In fact we did make it "downtown." We walked around, had a rockin' salad and confirmed the opinion that...there wasn't much there there. Or it at least it wasn't able to stand up to the draw of Hollywood Blvd.

There is one last thing I have to do--now that I've been to "downtown" L.A. I can't stand typing "L" "." "A" "." It's really annoying. From now on, I'm going to type Elle Eh.

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