Weathered from an unconventional and remote semester, four 20-year-olds (a Lebanese, a Turk, a Chicagoan, and myself) took on the swelling metropolis of angels for a week. But this is no ordinary city.


Just like a matryoshka, L.A. is made up of several cities nesting within each other… West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica, to name but a few. However, unlike the Russian doll, each city has its own, distinguishable character, precipitating a single diverse melting pot of aesthetics, people, and ideas.

Getting acclimated at WeHo

The uber neatly dropped us off at the Strip, a stretch of approximately 2.5km of Sunset Boulevard, without fair warning of the sinuous diagonal walkways. West Hollywood is full of them. I pressed the “beg button” and the little green man was triggered, yet we stood clueless as a myriad of cars hastily enveloped us from left and right – diagonal walkways you said? More like unexpected-death walkways.

As we walked down the Sunset Strip, I thought to myself, “the sybaritic young Hollywood lives on!” I felt the titillation, destiny, and vibrance – that the name itself imbues – subsume me. Your imagination takes you to preceding decades; one gets a whiff of the supper clubs of the 30s/40s, the drive-ins of the 50s, the boiling decadence from the discotheques of the 60s and 70s, and the epicurean VIP rooms and venues of the 80s and 90s that helped mold the current outlook of WeHo, and the strip in particular. We quickly discovered our go-to late night snack spot near our hotel: Pink Dot! After a transient debate on coke v. diet, we finally grabbed our sodas and made our way to The Comedy Store (once the famous Ciro’s nightclub) to watch a Roast Battle, trying to picture what it would’ve been like sitting here when Mitzi Shore first co-founded it in 1972, or when comedians like Jim Carrey and Michael Keaton were discovered on Amateur Night.

The Strip is also known for the bookstore Book Soup; visiting established, per se, bookshops is somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. I know I’m Gen Z, but that does not mean I am obliged to commit to some flimsy device and give up my page-smelling and page-fondling tendencies. Book Soup was founded by Glenn Goldman, serving as “bookseller to the great and infamous”, since 1975. I paced myself along the seemingly infinite titles and my eyes and heart quickly undergirded a leather-bound copy of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” – it was even complete with his 1855 preface. The rest was history as they say.

As I arrived at De Longpre Av to meet the girls, Caroline surprised me with a spray tan appointment. Notice how suave my friends are: at that point I had never gotten a spray tan and before that I would have never said “yes” to one. But since when can one say “no” to a surprise? The moment arrived, and the woman, who had the most beautiful tan, told me to get undressed and place my hands in the air and my feet on two sticky floor pads. She assured me that it would not be orange, confidently exclaiming “I’m British! I know what ugly orange spray tans look like!” I smiled, staged some excitement, and stood there as a breeze of unknown chemicals embellished my body. I did a rapid one. You’re supposed to leave it on for 3 hours, but out of pure paranoia (and because I am as pale as it gets), I decided to wash it off even sooner – just 2 hours later. And there I was the next day, our way to the farmer’s market, looking like a carrot that was pulled out of the earth a tad too late to consume. I Brexited at the speed of light: bought a loofah at CVS, ubered back, and scrubbed my sins away.

Becoming Angeleno at Beverly Hills

Perhaps the only zip code millennials and Gen Z know, because – let’s be real for a moment – who did not grow up watching the telegenic teen TV drama Beverly Hills 90210 featuring the glitzy goings-on that occurred in the area’s manicured designer streets. Caroline glanced to her right and pointed to the sky: “Rodeo Dr” was hanging amid the palm trees, written in white bold letters, resting on the metallic virescent sign (the name is mostly used to refer to the three-block stretch between Dayton Way and Santa Monica Boulevard), as if it had remained untouched since the Oh-So-‘90s era of Pretty Woman and Clueless.

The iconic Bijan yellow Rolls-Royce was fixed outside the famous boutique House of Bijan. It stands out as a beacon of fashion history, exuding the legacy of Iranian-American designer Bijan Pakzad who used it as his daily personal car until his death.The window shopping stopped once we saw the notorious Kreation Organic Juicery, a new hip local chain store selling cold-pressed juice and healthy goodies: I grabbed the “Amazon” açai bowl, “Feel Better” juice, and an aloe vera water. At that moment I had succumbed to the superhype healthy L.A. lifestyle, to my friends’ surprise. I was amazed. We were amazed. The colors, the flavors, even the sustainable packaging – we went to Kreation for breakfast every day for the rest of the trip.

The real damage occurred in our next stop: Melrose Avenue. Along its “west end”, Melrose is perfect for a quiet stroll and a slice of pie at Sweet Lady Jane (Deren highly recommends the mixed berry pie). I don’t think I’ll ever get over how wide the streets were. I felt so free, as we vacillated from the shady parts to the scorching sun spots. From Paris Hilton’s favorite Fred Segal to Reformation Vintage – Melrose, actually, has it all. So, if you’re trying to save, maybe skip this one.

After all this walking, Aya and I were growing dangerously hungry. Don’t get me wrong, Kreation was amazing, but Pink’s Hot Dogs is filling. On the corner of Melrose and La Brea since 1939, an oldie as far as L.A. restaurants go, sits this salient hot dog/burger place with a unique menu and a plethora of celeb acclaim. The coolest fun fact ever is that the wall of fame in the dining room was initially started as a wall for aspiring actors and glitterati to stick their photos to be discovered by any directors or producers who were known to dine there. The autographed assemblage of photos makes Pink’s a quaint attraction, and the bacon chili cheese dog a must-try. Seriously.

Letting loose at Santa Monica

Traffic, traffic, and more traffic. Around 3ish we encountered true L.A. road inertia as we made our way down to Santa Monica, after an invigorating hike at Runyon Canyon. We got to the Pier, evaded the overbearing crowds, unlocked a Lyft bike each and pedaled. The sun was blazing down still, but we were chasing speed, as if our mission was to keep our hair in the air for as long as possible. Our smiles kept widening. Our eyes kept sightseeing. And our hearts kept beating as we overtook one another.

The Santa Monica and Venice bike paths suddenly fused. We took notice of the Pride flag lifeguard tower, so left our bikes, and laid supine by the water. Miles and miles of rich, golden sand, entwining with the oceanwater ripples. Once the wind picked up substantially, we biked along the Venice Beach Boardwalk, gawking at the murals, the palm trees, and the jampacked shops. I saw the famed Venice Kinesis mural by Rip Cronk, and the more covert A Touch of Venice by Jonas Never. They were truly breathtaking during sunset and in their vastness, we felt minute. The nooks and crannies of the area were, too, spellbinding. Everything felt fresh but also faintly rugged: a contemporary, liminal atmosphere that I did not want to leave. (pick 2: 7.1, 7.2, 8.1 or 8.2)

Deren and I made a quick stop at Eggslut, on Pacific Avenue, to try their bacon, egg, and cheese roll. This path divergence was worth it – if you see Eggslut anywhere in L.A. go get a BEC.

We met up with Aya and Caroline on Abbot Kinney Boulevard to thrift and then biked all the way back to the Pier to make it to our Élephante reservation. A bar-meets-restaurant type of style, Élephante was more than just a pleasant surprise. The atmosphere and food imbued Mediterranean overtones, but without taking away from the magic of being in Santa Monica, oceanside. The stone and wood surroundings and smell of freshly cooked pasta blended seamlessly to create a rustic and homey, yet cool ambiance. Two dishes are a must (approved by all four of us): the whipped eggplant dip and the lobster pasta.

It was about time that we put our fakes to the test; Deren and Aya went for a classic glass of Chardonnay, whilst I opted for a Moscow mule (a note for close readers: I did not forget Caroline, she just doesn’t indulge in alcohol). To our undeserved luck, our fakes remained stashed in our cardholders, and Aya repeated her triad: “Cheers! I love L.A. F*** IDs.” The mule was a 10/10.

Be A Local For A Day

You cannot visit L.A. without stopping by The Original Farmer’s Market – at 3rd and Fairfax Avenue – it is perfect for a quick bite, or as a mini stop on your way to The Grove. I never fully understood why people visit farmers markets when visiting a new place, but this one felt different. I fully justify its buzz. It had everything from the perfect French crêpe to a sticker store. If you love spicy stuff, make sure to stop by Light My Fire which has hundreds, if not thousands, of hot sauces sourced from around the world.

The one thing Deren and I knew for certain, even before booking our trip to L.A., was that we wanted to go see the newest exhibitions at LACMA: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. By “go see the exhibition” I also mean contemplate life. LACMA was under heavy-duty construction, and in tandem with the pandemic, many areas were consequently closed. But that didn’t stop us. Among the dust and penetrating drilling, we found a little haven in the Yoshimoto Nara exhibit. Deren and I have this thing where we randomly drop bombs (make big, contested, or controversial statements) in conversation, entering a never-ending serpentine vortex of existentialist, and often saccharine, chitchat. The Nara exhibit induced a lot of those bombs: a collection of 30 years of work from the internationally acclaimed Japanese artist showcasing not only his famous subject, the young bug-eyed girl, but also his conceptual process. Every room, every piece, had something different to say.

To those who are still reading, thank you for bearing with my pedantic and tangential proclivities. There is one, final, destination that you ought to relish. It would be remiss of me if I did not include In-N-Out: California’s famed burger fast food chain. The aesthetics were IT. The signature white, red, and yellow color-scheme and the mix of tables, booths, and bar-style seating is terribly inviting. The crossed palm trees, the typical yellow neon sign with the company’s motto (“Quality you can tase”), and the historic employee uniform emanate a retro and comforting tried and true feel. Now the important stuff: one burger is definitely not enough, ask for the animal style fries (it’s not listed, because it’s a secret menu item, so don’t forget!), and if you’re a (diet) coke fan, don’t get an XL (it’s wayyyyy bigger than you think). Although I love that In-N-Out has chosen not to franchise its operations or go public (for quality purposes I assume), I just wish they could ship me my order for dinner tonight.

This quasi-Russian doll city intertwines lavishness with grunge like no other place. There are no limits in L.A.… not even geographical ones. There is a certain allure to its relaxed milieu as it allows oneself to really home in on the city and tailor it to their persona and lifestyle. One can make it feel like the vivacious cultural mecca that it is, creating a busy bee and even trendy routine. Or one can shift to the other side of the spectrum, enhancing the city’s free and easygoing feel, for a more unhurried and casual way of life. In my eyes, this duality is the foundation of the city. This duality births the city’s nuances and anodyne vista. It stokes its effervescence, and in turn, its popularity.