1. The magical lack of seasons
I love snow and adore winter, but there’s something glorious in being able to wear shorts and a t-shirt year round. You don’t have to rotate your closet and put things in storage, you don’t have to constantly check the weather to see if it’s going to pull some fake-out on you halfway through the day, and did I mention it’s almost always 70 degrees and sunny? That’s not some sort of Hollywood voodoo CGI magic. It just is.
Hiking in LA is not like any other hiking you’ve ever done before. It’s really like Hiking™ because Los Angeles is the city that has somehow managed to domesticate outdoor activities. I don’t know how — you’d think wilderness and domesticity are two very distinct entities — but even though the various canyon hiking trails are still difficult, they’re popular and it’s commonplace that people are there with you. This is fine until you manage to eat it while trying to scramble up the Runyon’s east side steps and an actress on the CW witnesses your wipeout, but you know.
3. In-N-Out Burger
This one isn’t really such a big deal if you move to San Francisco or another city with an In-N-Out, but bear with me here because the furthest east the stores go is Texas. And I get it, really, I do — good Mr. and Mrs. Double Double want to keep their ingredients fresh and this is the price you pay when you decide to leave that freshness zone — and of course, there are hundreds of other restaurants where you can get a really good burger, but it’s just… I mean. When you grow up with the greasy paper bags around your burger and the secret menu to end all other secret menus, it’s really hard to find something that hits all of those nostalgia points.
4. Lakers games
I know if you look at this year’s NBA statistics, you’re not going to believe me, but for a very long time, Lakers pride was the sports pride to end all sports pride. Those games were untouchable, the buzz and excitement of saying that such a powerful team was ours was a point of pride for everyone. The Dodgers and the Kings have had their ups and downs as any sports team is bound to do, and the Clippers are actually selling out entire games now that the Lakers are… I mean, I’m not going to talk about it because it hurts too much. Let me still live in the 2000-2002 glory years.
5. “Doing lunch”
This is a phenomenon that exists in Los Angeles mostly because it’s a driving culture. People don’t want to drink and drive, so rather than taking clients out to dinner, everyone does lunch. This inevitably leads to three hour lunches that eat up more of your day and wind up being a little counterproductive to business — how much do you actually get done over that chicken Cobb salad? — but it makes everyone so much more relaxed over the course of their day.
6. If a restaurant can put avocado on something, it will put avocado on something
Because, I mean, why wouldn’t you? An avocado is what happens when a tree and a stick of butter have a baby. Why WOULDN’T you want to put avocado on everything?
7. Mexican food
Full disclosure: as a Latina myself, I really, really should be telling you to hold out for the quality tacos and the authentic carne asada you find at your cousin’s friend’s barbecue, but I will always have a soft spot for opening a cheap Tito’s Taco burrito at the seam and eating the gooey, cheesy filling with those greasy-ass chips. Is it classy? Not particularly, but taste trumps class here. Because that’s the thing: it still tastes good. Even the cheapest, most questionable Mexican food still tastes AMAZING in Los Angeles. And everywhere else is just… not… quite… there and you begin to consider Chipotle to be authentic, and it’s just a downward shame spiral from that point on.
No. Really. I miss traffic. Traffic is great to bitch about. It’s so fun to complain about traffic because everyone else agrees with you. They understand! They hate it, too! Tell somebody you just met that you think the 405 is a hellhole, and boom, you’ve fond something you agree on already! Nothing bonds Angelinos like complaining about the traffic. And on top of that, you get to blast your music in your car with absolutely less than zero shame because everyone else is doing this, too, and you get to blame being late on the traffic. You always, always, always get to blame being late on the traffic. And you can’t do that anywhere else. (Trust me, you can only blame a public transportation so many times before people think you’re lying. The L train might be a nightmare and a half, but every once in a while, there’s some regularity to that beast of a subway system.)
9. Your immunity against namedropping
When you live in Los Angeles, namedropping is understandable, because chances are good you know somebody who knows somebody who works “in the industry” if you yourself don’t. These are just people you know and work with and see at the gym. If people namedrop in the course of a conversation, it’s just what happens. You can’t impress someone with your incessant namedropping when you’re from LA. Anyone else could run into them, so it’s nothing special. Yet when you leave, you suddenly lose all of this tolerance, like you’ve been drinking toxic water all of your life and lose the immunity when you learn what fresh water really tastes like. Suddenly namedropping grates on you. You will wake up from nightmares where you mentioned knowing five people in the course of 10 minutes, and you will wake up in a deep sweat of self-loathing.
10. The ability to go to the beach
Does everyone always go to the beach? No, not as much as you’d think. But still, it’s nice to know that it’s there. That it’s an option. That you could, in theory, go to the beach if you wanted to go. You never miss something quite so much as you do when the option to do it is suddenly taken away from you.
11. The Rose Bowl
Between the flea market, the huge concerts constantly being staged there, football games, and all of the other things that happen within those hallowed walls, the Rose Bowl is the gift that keeps on giving. There are no words for its utter majesty, just as there is nothing that quite compares to it.
12. The USC/UCLA rivalry
Say what you will about sports rivalries, but being able to pit yourself against half of your city is actually a beautiful thing. You’re always right up in the enemy’s face, and that constant buzz of confrontation is enough to always keep things just that much more interesting. Business deals have been made and broken over these allegiances. People have broken up over rivalry games. This is our Montague v. Capulet brawl. It is awesome and untouchable.
13. Always knowing somebody who has a pool in their backyard
Or at least you know somebody who knows somebody, and they’ll invite you along because their friend is “super chill, so yeah, it’s cool, dude.” I miss being perma-tan year-round. I really, really do.
14. Ice Blendeds
I bumrushed the Coffee Bean’s first New York City outpost when it opened two years ago, and there are stores in other states, but they’re just so freaking pervasive in Los Angeles. They’re EVERYWHERE. Instead of the Starbucks/Dunkin rivalry, Los Angeles thrives on a war of green straws and purple straw. (Why is everything rivalry in LA? Maybe it’s something to do with inadequacy and the constant quest for perfection. I’ll talk to my therapist about it.) Frappuccinos are all well and good, but there’s something to the thick, slushy consistency of an Ice Blended. And the minute you have to actually go out of your way to get one of these babies, you realize just how great they really are.
15. The city itself
You’ll notice it in the little things most of all — in movies and on TV, when you recognize a certain parking lot or street by your old house; in postcards your family sends of the Hollywood sign to appease you; in the └A symbol when you see it on somebody’s ironic baseball hat; in Snoop Dogg and Red Hot Chili Peppers songs when a DJ blasts them on the radio. (I was homesick enough when I saw the 30 Seconds to Mars ‘City of Angels’ video for the first time that I burst into tears watching all of those street lights from above.) Hell, you’ll even log onto your Facebook page during awards season and see people fighting about which movie deserves Best Picture with the kind of vitriol that is typically only reserved for election year.
When I left Los Angeles seven years ago for New York City, I thought I was going to miss the big things, the cliche things. I banked on missing Disneyland and stumbling across on-location shoots and the looming Hollywood sign always looking protectively over everything in the distance. But I didn’t. I missed the things that had substitutions, the things you could replace easily. I just didn’t want to replace them. I wanted palm trees, which aren’t even native to Southern California but that didn’t stop me from wanting them anyway. I wanted my driver’s arm tan, and Knott’s Scary Farm and Hollywood Boulevard in all its cheap, touristy glory. I wanted what I grew up with.
Because Los Angeles is more than the sum of its places and its landmarks and its weather. It’s more than the neighborhoods and the area codes and the zip codes made famous the world over by The Industry. Los Angeles may be big and sprawling and impossible to navigate without a car, but that’s part of its charm. It’s because it encompasses everything that it feels so much like home. And it always will be. You can always try to leave Los Angeles, but the truth is, it never really leaves you.