Los Angeles notes

Los Angeles no longer seems so superficial, perhaps because so many other parts of the country have been revealed to be the same or worse.  Their bookstores are no longer an embarrassment because now everyone’s are an embarrassment.  The city feels less glamorous and more normal, a better place to live but a more difficult place to talk about.  It remains an oddly forgotten city, overlooked in America’s love affair with Brooklyn and Silicon Valley and yes the Southeast, yet better to live in than perhaps anywhere else on this continent.  (Provided you do not have school-age children.)  The city has lost relative ground in one major way however: California no longer has such a monopoly on good Asian and Latin food.  Nor do movies exercise much of a hold on the American imagination nowadays.  It is no longer easy to identify what is essential about Los Angeles, yet no one here seems to care.

Eat at La Flor de Yucatan, get the cochinita pibil, the tamales dzotobichay, and the strange green egg dish, huevos papadzules, plus consider the daily specials.  Others recommend the hojaldra, note the establishment has only one table and they don’t shut the door on relatively cold winter days.

Also go to Jitlada Restaurant and get the mango raw blue crab, Coco lotus (fish soup in coconut milk), and Miang khum shrimp 7 heaven for a knockout southern Thai meal.


You might enjoy this.

There's a great Yucatán restaurant in downtown LA called Chichen Itza that I frequent. Check that out for comparison.

Also, the green mussels at Jitlada are a must.

"a knockout southern Thai meal": I prefer central northeastern, myself.

What's the big difference? Other than extra chile peppers in the NE Thai version? Isan food. Or I guess you refer to Chiang Mai? What do they have that others don't? Some people can discern the tiniest things I guess... it's all chicken and lemongrass with hot stuff in it for me. I do like Burmese and Vietnamese cuisine though, a little more fish (or so it seems).

I've been watching "Emergency!" and "CHiPs" lately. They are an anthropological gold mine of 70's LA.

What a dump! Other than the weather, what appeal did LA have then?

It seems to me that the difference today is that certain folks have the money to renovate their crappy little homes into something at least somewhat architecturally interesting.

Money is in LA, think (traditionally) defense industry, Hollywood. Weather in LA, as in AZ, appeals to the Midwesterners used to bad winters, and draws people from there. There is a sizable East Coast elite on the West Coast as well (naturally I was part of that crowd). As for people born and bred in LA, they tend to be descendants of the Midwesterners, aspiring Hollywood types, illegal aliens, Chinese in Monterrey Park, and other sundry minorities like blacks in Watts/Compton and a few Jews, which run Hollywood (can I say that? well it's true and it's OK). There's also a small financial district (Milken et al.) and longshoremen / transportation union types in the south. Not a bad place to live or visit, since you have year round hot weather with a smattering of smog.

"What a dump! Other than the weather, what appeal did LA have then?"
Every other town was a dump then. too.

I don't know if I agree with that. West Coast home build quality was/ is terrible. You did not have that problem in Chicago.

LA was just ugly suburban sprawl. Kind of like how libs complain about Houston today.

Well, there is this:


Wait, so 'ugly suburban sprawl' only bothers 'libs'? By calling it 'ugly', does that make you a 'lib'?


When I watch an episode of Emergency, CHiPs, Rockford Files, Columbo, Charlie's Angels, Adam-12, or even Sanford and Son or Chico and the Man, I usually find myself thinking: "Wow, that part of LA was _nice_ in those days."

LA has some of the most interesting, and historically significant, housing architecture of any US city.

At the same time it must be admitted that's maybe 1% of the housing stock; most of the rest of the housing is tiresomely bland and repetitious.

But most of us live in the bland repetitious housing, whether we're in LA or not. And only get to enter the houses by Frank Lloyd Wright, Schindler, Gehry, etc. as tourists.

Cochinta/Puerco Pibil: Straight out of a Robert Rodriguez movie: http://youtu.be/Vrw5FkLutWk

I'd move to LA if I could find a job there, (having lived there one summer). Yes, not as good as the golden age of California Steve sailed always talks about, but still a lot nicer than anything east of Denver.

What's the issue with school-age children in LA?

Presumably, the schools.

And having to get the kids to the schools? (I loved walking my kids to Elementary School. You can do that here. Maybe not in LA.)

With very limited exceptions, a truly middle class Los Angeles city family seeking a truly decent (or excellent) education in will mostly find schools with significant issues of poverty, educational apathy, and even gang and race-based violence. Such a family will have to search _very hard_ for excellent public schools on a middle class budget. And once the necessary applications have been filled out and waiting lists endured, the good school such a family _might_ get their high school aged kid into in another part of the city will probably require an annoyingly long commute.

It's true that, outside of LA City proper there are some excellent public schools (e.g. Arcadia, San Marino, La Canada, Palos Verdes, Manhattan Beach, Beverly Hills -- check the real estate prices in these areas) and of course, excellent but expensive private schools are available inside LA City (e.g. Cambell Hall and Harvard Westlake in Studio City, the Archer School in Brentwood, etc).

That said, one somewhat positive account of LAUSD's public school situation was written by Sandra Tsing Loh 7 or 8 years ago.

Correct. South Pasadena also has good schools, and less stratospheric housing prices than San Marino or La Canada (or Beverly Hills). But it's still expensive.

The other reason LA's not good for raising children: health. Even though the air gets cleaner every year, it's still the most polluted air of any major US city's. With correspondingly high childhood asthma rates (although I don't know if there's a direct causal connection there).

I've lived in a number of cities, including LA. It was great, but it was like a second job to do anything fun or social outside of work. The city is so spread out and your friends inevitably will be spread out in the different neighborhoods, so seeing them on a consistent basis is complicated (do I drive, do I take a $50 cab each way, do I crash at their place, giving traffic, when do I need to leave to get there, etc.). There is so much to see and do in the city, but with traffic, lack of parking, long distances, and high ticket prices, I ended up being incredibly selective about the events I actually attended. The list of concerts I *missed* while living in LA is depressing to me.

I currently live in a much cheaper city in the southeast where cabs are cheap, parking is plentiful, and my good friends all live a lot closer. Now I do anything without a second thought about the logistics of getting there and getting back, and if it sucks, the ticket was cheap and I can leave early without any guilt. In LA, the upfront costs of doing anything, in terms of prices, travel time, and logistics, are way too high for that kind of strategy. Bottom line is that living in LA made me appreciate the importance of proximity to friends.

Similar problems in London. The solution is to only make friends with people in your neighbo(u)rhood, only attend concerts locally, only go to local restaurants. It rather defeats the purpose of living in a big city in the first place...

The situation in LA (well, the sprawl of LA) might be worse because that solution doesn't really work there. Because everyone *else* is willing to travel very long distances to get to their entertainment (seriously, it was a huge culture shock how a 50-minute one-way trip was perceived as totally normal), there's very little incentive for people to contribute to neighborhood culture/food/entertainment. For example, in the area around where I lived, the "local" entertainment options (within a few miles) were a mall and a bunch of mediocre chain restaurants. If you wanted to, e.g., go to a concert, you *had* to travel 20-30 miles--doing stuff locally wasn't really an option, unless of course you lived in one of the destinations (very expensive).

For the same rent, I now live downtown in the NW. Not only are the distances traveled much less (true even if I lived on the outskirts!), but the city is set up to make traveling these short distances very pleasant. In suburban LA, walking two miles means walking on streets like this (neighborhood streets will not go through or have no sidewalks), which is pretty unpleasant.

Does this have anything to do with the fact that your current city's metro area is no more than a fifth the size of L.A.? I'm guessing that it does.

This all quite accurate (I lived in LA for over 20 years and now live just across the river from downtown Portland). I'd still pick LA over Portland (or Seattle), though narrowly. More stuff to do, and better weather. Yes, 90% of the great stuff to do in LA was stuff that I never went to, but that's one of the signs of a great city: too much great stuff to do, and only one lifetime to do it in.

To take just one narrow example: classical music. Next week Itzhak Perlman will be performing with the Portland Symphony. Great. But that's the big superstar event of the year for Portland. LA will have someone of that stature performing at least every month, if not every week. Did I make it to most of those performances? No, but it was nice to live in a city where every week there were numerous world-class cultural (and sports, except for the lack of an NFL team) events happening, and that when I did choose to go see one, there was a choice of major attractions. Instead of just the one visit (or two; last year both Joshua Bell and Hilary Hahn performed in Portland).

But I'm not complaining about Portland; it's an excellent place to live. Not quite as good as LA, but far better than most other places in the US (and I've lived in every corner of the US as well as the middle).

I've thought about this before, and I just wonder if the problem is that you should make friends near where you live? I guess you might make some friends in a new city and then they are much more likely to move an hour away in LA than if that would involve moving to an entirely different city, but I'm not sure if this is a complete answer.

I've visited LA only once, and I don't get the impression Tyler uses mass transit, but I found the most underrated thing about the city to be the bus system. Its the best bus system I've used in terms of ease of use, knowing where the buses are going, safety, and the amount of time you have to wait for the bus. It seems to cover everything.

We didn't rent a car and used the overpriced taxis only twice. We did use the subway a few times, which is also somewhat underrated in that its not really the white elephant its usually portrayed as (it just doesn't go down the Westside). I do agree with the overall point that the spread out nature of LA makes the place unusually difficult to live in terms of the logisitics. I've lived in places like this and it sucks. In the case of LA, I've read that this was due to the early mostly Jewish movie producers being told by the elite that they weren't welcome to set up shop downtown, leading the the emergence of the Westside neighborhoods as an alternative or the main hub.

The busses in LA go everywhere, and there is more light rail and subway than you might imagine as well. I will admit that the busses mainly serve low skilled workers, so you may feel out of place in a business suit on them. You are unlikely to have any negative encounters though.

Taxis are horrible, use Uber which is cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable.

Most LA restaurants seem sub-par, including the expensive high-end ones. However there are some good high-end ones (Hakkasan and Mastro’s Steakhouse stand out), and there also are some great high-end vegan restaurants like Gracias Madre, Cafe Gratitude, and Crossroads. And you might sit next to Oprah in them as well.

Many places (especially in West Hollywood) will let you dine outside with your dog, which is worth it for the company even if the food is not the best. In the "winter", they may need to turn on the heat lamps though.

The LAUSD has mainly horrible schools. Stick to public schools in Beverly Hills, Agoura Hills, etc. Or go private or homeschool!

Fifty-ish years ago, I thought the Art Deco houses were beauts.

We are all Angelinos now ...

And the Lakers suck now... at least there's LA Clippers :)

It is amazing to me how much difference the type of leave the tamales are wrapped in makes.

So true. Banana leaf is the way to go!

Actually, they left the door open because they knew you were coming and would appreciate the food more that way. They were going to have a live pig run through the restaurant, but the pig was late and you were gone by then.

>Provided you do not have school-age children.

Well then. A haven for the elderly, liberal elites, and unemployed millenials it must be.

Sounds like you've had a rough day of parenting your 10 children aged 1 to 17. Even people who have had children tend to have school-age children for only a small faction of their lives.

There has been a lot of shilling for warm weather coming out of the GMU economics department lately. Somebody on EconLog, I think Caplan, made a post a few weeks ago about Florida being the strongest "inherent advantage" as a place to live in the USA, and now Tyler proclaims LA the best place to live in ALL OF NORTH AMERICA (!), despite apparently having mediocre culture, mediocre food, and terrible schools.

I guess the DC winter gets to some people.

Don't forget LA's award-winning traffic congestion. North America's best!

Atlanta is worse.

By some measure, I suppose Atlanta would take the top spot. I guess it depends how it's ranked and who does the ranking.

FWIW, according to the annual Traffic Scorecard compiled by the traffic information and driver services provider INRIX in Kirkland, WA, Los Angeles drivers waste the most time in traffic (as of 2014):

According to the Tom Tom index (calculated by the Tom Tom GPS company), Los Angeles again has the worst in the USA as of June 2014: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/04/worst-traffic-cities/9926213/

But, I do stand corrected, as Tom Tom also states that Mexico City has the worst traffic congestion in _North America_:
"Looking at traffic overall in North and South America, the study found L.A. was fourth-most congested behind Rio de Janeiro, 55%; Mexico City, 54%; and Sao Paulo, 46%."

OTOH, I will be so bold as to say, subjectively, as a resident of Los Angeles, that the traffic congestion in those other three cities lacks a certain panache, a certain je ne sais quoi. Their traffic congestion simply misses the charm, the excitement, the adventure and, yes, quite frankly, the "magic" which is to be found only in the traffic congestion of the City of Angels. And that is why I continue to believe that LA's traffic congestion is the _best_ traffic congestion in North America.

Um, ever hear of the Long Island Distressway, a/k/a "the world's longest parking lot?"

Florida's weather sucks. It just sucks the opposite time of year that the Northeast's weather sucks.

"yet better to live in than perhaps anywhere else on this continent. (Provided you do not have school-age children.)"

Well that's a rather large caveat...

I have no real insight into whether the L.A. area schools are as bad as Tyler suggests, but to, in turn, suggest that such apparently bad schools are only a drawback for a seemingly small slice of the public (those with school-age children) reflects something depressing about Tyler's world view (or perhaps the nations').

A child is generally in the public school system for 13 years (K-12), or perhaps a bit longer (with public pre-school).

Assuming your child is not an only child, your family of 2-3 children might be in the public school system for perhaps 16-20 years.

That's a pretty large and important chunk of a typical person's lifespan. Most people don't want to pull up roots as soon as your children finish school and move elsewhere. And assuming that you might want to live where your grown children might also to establish roots and raise a family, then the idea of flitting off to an educational desert seems even less attractive.

Sometimes I am saddened that the idea of raising a family, and the choices made to support that, seems to have receded so much in the thoughts and opinions of our public intellectuals.

"Sometimes I am saddened that the idea of raising a family, and the choices made to support that, seems to have receded so much in the thoughts and opinions of our public intellectuals."

How do you think the kids feel!

It's hard to think of a group that kids spend less time thinking and feeling about than public intellectuals.

Hadur is the current thread winner.

"yet better to live in than perhaps anywhere else on this continent" ... I agree, if you're wealthy enough to live somewhere between Palisades and Venice, and you never have to go anywhere on any sort of schedule. In that case, you wouldn't be troubling your kids with public school, either.

Contrarian perspective: try "LA East"...no traffic, no smog, no natural disasters, good weather, no state income tax, and property for a quarter of the price. If anybody in this readership finds himself there, look me up for a free dinner.

Sorry, not quite catching your meaning. Er, where is "LA East" ?


Ah. Ok. Got it. Thanks.

"...good weather (?)..."

There is absolutely no comparison between the weather in LA and the weather in LV.

For beach communities, this is a fair comment. If you're inland or particularly in the valley, it's not very different.

I live inland (San Gabriel Valley) and my comment holds. LV has multiple days of the summer that are unbearable. We have perhaps 10-12 to 15 days where the temperature might touch 100. It almost inevitably cools off at night.

It also rarely gets cold. We just had a stretch of about a week where I actually had to wear more than a long sleeve shirt when I left the house in the morning.

Right now, it's 79 degrees here - in Las Vegas it's 56.

I think you're just rationalizing your choice of location.

I concede that Vegas does not win on weather, but this blinds Angelenos to the other factors. My grandparents and parents are also from SGV.

Not to beat a dead horse, but consider also: free and abundant parking most everywhere, natural features not overrun by crowds, business-friendly government, less regulatory intrusion. Pity the gun owner who moves from LV to LA. The general aviation pilot is welcome here; in Santa Monica, I pay a fee for the privilege of landing, and they're trying mightily to tear out the field altogether.

I recognize my arguments must not be persuasive; the bright side is, it stays cheap.

"Their bookstores are no longer an embarrassment because now everyone’s are an embarrassment."

Tyler, I would love to know what (if any) bookstores you have found in the U.S. or abroad that are not only not embarrassing but also worthy of veneration.

OK, perhaps I should not post two snarky replies to two different aspects of a single post (by a blogger who I like), but...

This claim, that basically all US bookstores are an embarrassment, is not only silly, but pretentious and out of touch.

I can go to my local Barnes and Nobles, browse perhaps 100K+ books, a deep magazine rack, many movies and CDs, drink a variety of interesting coffees and sample bakery treats, and look at games, calendars, and other bits. I can look for new bestsellers, discounted bargain books, and a solid area of local interest books. The store has long hours, decent pricing, is well lit, warm, and safe, with free parking.

Now granted, I am but a flyover country rube. I am surely missing out on the wonders of L.A. and the coasts in general. Why, I don't even know what "cochinita pibil" is...

Having standards of any sort will look pretentious to somebody. You defend B&N as another defends Walmart, as another defends 'Merican beer...and so on until you're at a monster truck rally listening to Nickelback.

I think it's more useful to point out people's hypocrisies rather than their standards.

Yeah, people who bash B&N don't remember 1990.

The very best bookstores then had a sense of being curated, which B&N lacks, but they also were very thin on the ground and had a limited selection unless you were into a very particular set of mainstream intellectual things. If you'd rather have your teeth drilled than read Phillip Roth, you were pretty much out of luck.

...and if you wanted to dawdle and not buy a book in the first 3 minutes you were in the independent bookstore, you were also out of luck.

LA seems less superficial...Why...Because the rest of the nation become just as superficial! Probably the biggest difference of SoCal today than 30 - 40 years ago, is the town actually has more local citizens than ever. Back in the 70s and 80s, it was such a transplant town that the California Angels (dating their name) would feel like they had visitor crowd at home games against the Yankees & Red Sox. (It was true with all visiting clubs but the Yanks & Sox were the loudest.)

Yes, Chips showed all the dumpy areas of the city...But every US city had dumpy areas...It the 1970s!

Tyler, did you chill with Sailer?

I hope you're joking. No way Tyler would hang out with that racist piece of garbage.

We prefer the term "biological determinism".

You must be new here.

Though I'm sure Tyler would require a signed NDA first...

California as a whole, and LA in particular, is one of the best places on Earth to eat food that doesn't involve the murder and enslavement of animals.

Sad that a well-to-do economics professor, who can amply afford cruelty-free food and has so much to say about freedom and morality, is unable to take the simple logical step of extending his concern and kindness to other conscious beings.

Reminds one of the Founding Fathers, making all those grand statements about freedom while owning slaves.

Morrissey, is that you?

I'm vegan and pay dues to PETA, but your hysterics aren't helping things.

I've lived in LA my whole life. It's a place you can't help feeling conflicted about. Traffic can be terrible, but if you know when to go and check the freeways for jams, and alternates, you can usually avoid it. There's lots of natural beauty to be had, watching the sun set into the ocean while sitting in a pine grove on Angeles Crest, Shakespeare in Topanga Canyon, a winter walk on the beach, hard to beat. LAUSD, the leviathan school system, has some outstanding schools, but also a LOT of mediocre or downright terrible one too. Our son's in a private school, so we've dodged that bullet, (at considerable cost). Anyone who complains about the food hasn't looked. You can get an excellent version of ANY cuisine in LA. With all these immigrants, it's the real deal as well. Crime here - like a lot of places - has dropped considerably, opening large areas of the city to gentrification and redevelopment. Depending on who you are in that equation, it's a plus or minus, but I doubt many in previously gang plagued neighborhoods would welcome back the crime to chase off the newcomers. There's a lot to do here, it just takes a while to find, to get the groove of LA. It's probably a better place to live in than to visit, (unless you've got a seasoned guide). For anyone visiting, here's my list - Huntington Gardens, Santa Monica Pier, Topanga State Park, Griffith Observatory, (hike up to it), Farmer's Market on 3rd/Fairfax, Ethiopian on Fairfax followed by a show at the Groundlings, followed by desert at Yamashiro in the Hills. I could go on but that's enough for now. final thought - It's an easy place to find fault with, but when I'm away and come back, I'm surprised how much I took for granted.

I find Yamashiro really over-rated for food quality. Nice "experience" though. Same could be said for José Andrés "The Bazaar" or the Saddle Ranch Chop House on Sunset. You won't forget a dinner at those places, but you might forget what you ate.

Hill hiking in LA is amazing, and there are trails for all levels of exertion and view desired - from imitating the opening credits of The Andy Griffith Show in Franklin Canyon, to Mt. Baldy, an 11 mile loop with 4,000 feet of vertical elevation gain to the 10,068' summit. The sun is really your enemy though, hiking is best done closer to sunrise or sunset, even in the "winter".

Hiking in the sun: long sleeves and long pants for sun protection (nomads in the Middle East don't walk around in shorts and tank tops). A hat with a big brim. Lots of water.

It still does require acclimation and conditioning. On the plus side, you're ready to hike in and out of the Grand Canyon (1000 foot per mile uphill climbs in direct sun and 90 degree temps and 6,000 foot altitudes? That's literally a walk in the park in LA.)

Well, Yamashiro is mainly for the view; I suppose that's why he said just desert there. Interesting to visit, but not for the food. And the hiking is superb, with Griffith Park, Topanga, the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains, and the San Gabriels.
The best part about the Baldy Loop is having a beer before riding the chairlift down.

The schools have actually significantly improved; they were a grotesque mash of bussing and overcrowding, but the entire District is just finishing a massive build-out of new schools (based on some propositions passed by the voters) and has generally taken care of its overcrowding issues. And in many neighborhoods that have gentrified, since they are no longer down-on-the-heels immigrant communities, there are even less kids in the schools. The California budget requires all schools get equal funding...but in the affluent areas, the citizens hold private fundraisers for their schools. So once the affluent are around a school, they start supporting it.

Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on sites I
stumbleupon on a daily basis. It's always useful to read content from other
authors and use something from other web sites.

Comments for this post are closed