Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Valerie Ng

My life and career path were going nowhere, so I recently took up the offer of a family friend and moved from my home in the Bay Area to the Los Angeles area.

I hadn’t spent much time in Los Angeles, so it’s still fairly new to me. But as a former resident of Berkeley and La Jolla, I can already sense a lot of similarities to two of my former homes and feel fairly comfortable. The city is quite large and intimidating, but as someone who has hit urban locales around the world, I am determined not to let LA scare me.

As soon as I hit LA, I got a taste of LA life—sitting in traffic. It wasn’t too bad that time, but I knew I would encounter a lot of that here. I’ve never been a hard-core driver, to be honest, but I knew that I would need to be one here. Everything is so spread out that it’s almost as necessary to have a car here as it is to not have one in Manhattan.

I learned that the hard way the last time I lived in Southern California. So far, I have found driving to be pretty manageable. Getting to know the freeways (the most important for me are the 10 and the 405) is as crucial as knowing the subway lines in New York.

Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is the most picturesque of them all. Speeding along the coast, right by the ocean, and passing signs that point out the Santa Monica Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and Wilshire Avenue, you know you’re truly in Los Angeles. For me, it was an exciting feeling.

On my first day, I was alerted of another reality of the Venice-Santa Monica area, where I was staying—that there was no good Chinese food to be found. That was a little hard to take, but I decided that even if it was an ordeal to get it, it would be worth it. Whenever my family and I were in LA in the past, we always headed east to the Valley, usually to Monterey Park.

This time, on the suggestion of a relative, we headed for the New Capitol Seafood Restaurant in Rosemead, one town over from Monterey Park, which was a good 20-minute drive from Venice. We called the restaurant to confirm its location and discovered that we would have to wait about 20 minutes for our table. Fine by us, we figured. When we arrived, the restaurant’s popularity was apparent, as a large crowd was waiting to be seated.

We wound up waiting for about an hour before we could begin to decide on which specialties in which we would indulge. The clientèle of the restaurant was by and large Chinese, with only a few non-Chinese faces to be seen in the establishment. In fact, all of the specials listed on the wall were written only in Chinese.

In these parts of LA, inhabited by a large proportion of Chinese, good, authentic Chinese restaurants are plentiful, making it a “new Chinatown.” As LA’s Chinatown is fairly small and isolated, a trip to the Monterey Park-Rosemead-San Gabriel-Temple City area could offer a better glimpse of contemporary Chinese-American life in the Los Angeles area.

On the subject of food, I had reservations leaving the food mecca of the San Francisco Bay Area. How could I leave a land with some of the best restaurants, cafes, and bakeries in the country, and possibly the world? But I had heard good things about the food in LA, and so far, I have not been disappointed. There are plenty of farmers markets to keep foodies busy all week, and there is also no shortage of quality bakeries, cafes, and restaurants.

There are several restaurants that have caught my eye already, especially along Main Street and around the Third Street Promenade. At the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, a booth was set up for La Brea Bakery, one of the most renowned in the country, and I walked over to check out the selection. I chose the rustic apple tart, which turned out to be heavenly. Not too sweet and not too rich, it was just right.

I also spotted a booth for the Rockenwagner Bakery, owned by the father of the girlfriend of the guy whose room I’m currently living in. Since I had already had a pastry that day, I decided that I should wait until I had a chance to go to his bakery to check out his scones and muffins. A few days later, I did. I had a feeling that he may have been the one who served me, but I refrained from introducing myself for the moment. Somehow, “Hi, I’m sleeping in your daughter’s boyfriend’s bed” didn’t seem like the best introduction. But I must say that the triberry scone was delicious.

Although I drive a Prius, I intend to drive it as little as possible. My family friend, David, tries to bike whenever possible, so on my first full day in town, we went for a bike ride with his daughter Scarlet up to the Santa Monica Pier. Before too long, I could see the ferris wheel and roller coasters alongside the beach, bringing back memories of Belmont Park in San Diego.

We biked back along the beach, past the street performers and beach crowds before stopping for ice cream, so I got a taste of life at Venice Beach. I had a feeling I would love it. I’ve never lived within such easy access of the beach, and I wanted to take advantage of it as much as possible. I would just have to get used to frequent bike rides, which I have enjoyed. Bike rides along Main Street provide good tours of the city, as you pass by many of the unique shops, restaurants, and cafes of Santa Monica. I could spend months exploring Santa Monica and Venice.

However, I knew I would need to get out more in order to really experience LA. My friend Cassie just started a graduate program at UCLA, so I drove up to Westwood to meet up with her at the southern end of campus. The campus was certainly not isolated, like my university, UC San Diego, was. Surrounded by Westwood Village, there was no shortage of social venues, shops, and restaurants catering to students. I wish I’d gotten into UCLA, I thought to myself.

We spent some time exploring the area before she had to head back to her apartment to finish up some work. Later in the week, I met up with a contact at his office in Beverly Hills to talk about my career goals and prospects. As I drove past the Beverly Hills sign, the upscale shops, and the tawny estates, I wondered what it would be like to grow up there. I had met people from Beverly Hills before, and they had all seemed pretty down-to-earth.

I had been instructed to park in a visitor parking structure behind the building, where I was greeted by valets. I knew this was the big time, as the office was located on Wilshire between Camden and Rodeo. It was a good thing that I would have my ticket validated, or else I would have had to pay $1.75 for every 15 minutes, or around a $22.00 maximum. This would turn out to be a bargain compared to most of the parking lots in downtown LA.

Afterwards, I drove to a parking structure on Camden which offered an hour of free parking. A message on the back of the ticket said “Welcome to Beverly Hills.” I walked past The Farm, a restaurant recommended to me at my meeting, where he claimed to have spotted actors from Friends the last few times he dined there.

Along and around Rodeo Drive, every major designer has a shop, and the independent boutiques aren’t too shabby either. If I had a little more money in my bank account, I probably would have spent a lot of it in Beverly Hills. I decided not to stay too long that day, but I knew I would have to come back.

After almost two weeks here, I’m still looking for a job. I have some prospects, but while I still have some free time, I’m going to spend as much time as possible exploring LA. This is a city that offers almost everything. With so many neighborhoods, suburbs, cultures, and attractions waiting to be discovered, I have just barely begun to get to know this multi-faceted region.

About the Author

Valerie Ng is a budding travel writer who has traveled on three continents and lived in seven cities in four countries. Her favorite travel moments have included watching the fireworks from Piazza Michelangelo on St. John the Baptist Day in Florence, riding a songtheow past the lush greenery of Thailand, drinking sangria and people-watching at an outdoor café in Madrid at 1:30 am, and standing on both sides of the former Berlin Wall. She is currently looking up prices for tickets to Hawaii and Australia. She lives in the Los Angeles area but dreams of living abroad.

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