It was a ritual freshman and sophomore year to talk about exploring Los Angeles. At the beginning of each quarter, each one of my friends and I would promise each other that we were finally ready to start taking LA discovery seriously and that we would Yelp as many restaurants and museums as we could, slowly devouring all of the city’s cultural offerings. But each quarter we would follow the same patterns of sticking around in the Westwood bubble, maybe hanging out in Santa Monica once or twice but mostly eating in the dining halls and fabricating elaborate horror stories about the public bus system to avoid having to ride it. On rare occasions I would find myself eating somewhere fun, like a Peruvian restaurant in Beverly Hills or a hotdog place in a railroad car, and my sense of self was so inflated by these types of outings that the non-exploration I was doing felt fine. I didn’t have a clue where Koreatown was during my first two years, but at least I went to a museum every other month. Having an OK knowledge of museums is sufficient in a big place like LA.
Now, though, I have a car and any excuses I used to make for myself about the difficulty of navigating bus schedules don’t make sense. The city is finally accessible, and after some time spent in a city abroad, I’ve internalized the importance of taking advantage of the cool, fun stuff that cities have to offer. Since school has started, I’ve ventured into the Angeleno landscape almost every day. Last night I went to a boba place (my fifth in the past month) and this weekend I visited the Craft and Folk Art Museum for LA’s free museum day. I’ve tried Korean barbecue in Koreatown and expensive iced mochas in Silverlake. I went to a plant nursery in Echo Park for some foliage for my apartment, and I drove over to a man’s house in Venice to pick up some Yucca trees I found on Craigslist. I’ve even started visiting downtown, which has historically been uncharted territory for me. I remember once during freshman year I made my way to Olvera Street, the Mexican street market across from Union Station. The bus commute took up most of my afternoon, effectively placing the downtown neighborhoods on a do-not-visit list. Even during summer, when I had the time to spend sitting in traffic on the 10, I still avoided venturing too far away from Westwood. But recently I’ve opened up to downtown. Last week I went to a gallery opening in Chinatown just a couple of blocks from Union Station. Two nights ago, I went with my roommate to an open mic night in Little Tokyo which is just a stone’s throw from Chinatown. I’m not only going to fun and easily accessible places, like Main Street in Santa Monica or Abbot Kinney in Venice, but now I’m also making my way downtown and beyond, past the comfortable Los Angeles that’s knowable by bus. And I’m having a lot of fun doing it. Hopefully my momentum won’t break any time soon and I can continue on my path of LA exploration. Because really, after having talked about it endlessly for three years, finally I’m doing it. I think that this really will be the quarter that I get to know Los Angeles.