A friend who lives nearby sent me this photo. It’s pretty mind-blowing that there’s parts of LA where this is a necessary public service announcement, and got me thinking about how I experience the city. When I talked to the recruiter about jobs in the US the only guidance I gave was "anywhere but LA". I had grown up with LA Law, Baywatch and countless movies that left me certain that I’d hate it. Of course, all the interviews he arranged were in LA. I ended up accepting an offer here, with the idea I’d stay maybe a year.
A couple of days after I landed, I pulled out a street map and looked for any big patches of green, in the hope of finding some small place to walk in peace. I was surprised by the size of the blank spaces and picked one that looked promising. Rancho Sierra Vista was only a few minutes from where I was staying, and I found I could walk 9 miles straight through wilderness along Sycamore Canyon, right to the Pacific. Even more amazing was that this was the narrow axis of the parkland, it stretched for over 30 miles from Santa Monica to Camarillo. Ever since then, the Santa Monica Mountains have been my real Los Angeles.
Unlike any other city I’ve lived in, LA is entirely optional. Hardly anyone I know visits the east side, or even the sketchy neighborhoods near Santa Monica. The reliance on freeways means that downtown is a lot less important than you’d expect, with events and attractions scattered through the other hot locales like Hollywood. You can pick and choose which areas you want to visit and miss out on very little. It’s not like London where the center has all of the biggest shops, tourist traps and entertainment, reinforced by the flow of the tube lines. The only place that forces you to come into contact with Angelenos from the whole city is the freeway itself, with Humvees scattered between gardener’s pickups.
I’m not proud of my isolation from the majority of the city, but it does seem characteristic of LA. One of my favorite parts of trail work is getting local kids who have no idea there’s even wilderness on their doorstep excited about the outdoors. Many of their families are as ignorant of the beauty on offer as I was when I arrived, so getting the word out is crucial. The reason I’m writing up the local spots is so anybody who starts an internet search for hiking or camping hears about all the choices. I love my Los Angeles but I want to share it, even if that makes it a little less private.