By Almara Abgarian, Freelance journalist, editor and media consultant, can be found tweeting @almaraabgarian
Tuesday 4 Dec 2018 12:00 pm
To me, Los Angeles has always been synonymous with beauty, sex and money, a melting-pot-cum-playground for the rich and famous with a constant influx of newcomers desperate to make it.
Although part of the image is well-deserved, theres another element to LA that deserves your attention – its beach communities.
From the tourist trap that is Santa Monica to the happy-go-lucky lifestyle of Hermosa Beach, each area on the strip has its own appeal.
My trip began on the gritty streets of Venice Beach (and eventually ended with me being driven to the hospital in an ambulance – but Ill get to that later).
On the way to the hotel, my driver shed some light on the underbelly of LA.
Up ahead, a woman was standing in the middle of the junction and holding a sign scrawled with the word pregnant, while asking passers-by for money.
Its a common sight, according to my driver, who was banker but left the industry just before the financial crash.
At first glance, its hard to see the appeal of Venice.
Two homeless men were camped out by the green near the beach – one smoking a spliff, the other kindly greeted me as I walked past.
When I arrived on the strip, theres a heated basketball game taking place (and since this is California, it was being filmed by a crew), while skaters and cyclists whizzed past.
But beneath its somewhat rough exterior, Venice was actually incredibly charming, with an authentic coolness that gentrification hasnt quite erased yet.
I recommend starting your day with breakfast at EggSlut, popping into vintage shops for a spot of retail therapy, grabbing a pizza slice at lunch, and ending your night in a local dive bar.
For serious shopping, abandon the strip in favour of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where you can find plenty of independent retailers, local food joints, and a weed shop called MedMen where theres smokeable and edible marijuana on display.
On nearby Rose Avenue, swing by Moon Juice for adoptogenic super herbs, juices and blends, including supplements like brain dust and vanilla mushroom proteins.
I considered purchasing some sex dust, meant to improve stamina, but as I lacked a penis, it felt like a waste of money (and it would have been awkward to explain at customs).
Its generally pretty quiet early in the week, and the silence can come off a bit intimidating, but dont let that put you off.
Where Venice is young, cool and edgy, the neighbouring communities Manhattan and Hermosa are its older sisters – still up for a night out, but without the pretentiousness (and probably in bed by midnight).
Despite being just a 15-minute bike ride from Venice, Hermosa especially is vastly different.
For one, the properties are more expensive, but overall it feels safer, calmer and by default, less exciting.
Life slows down in this neighbourhood; dog walkers stroll along with their pets, kids ride by on their scooters, and eager tourists go on biking tours.
LA beach life is all about being active, whether thats surfing, cycling or the pride of Hermosa – beach volleyball.
Its not just a hobby either; you can train with professionals like local Mark Burik, who I worked with on my second day in California.
Sadly I wasnt blessed with good hand-eye co-ordination, so spent the majority of the time sweating, swearing and attempting to dodge the balls Mark threw at me.
Food highlights in Hermosa and Manhattan Beach:
Make sure you have breakfast at Serve on 2nd, where chefs prove that not all of California has given into low-fat dishes and kale salads.
Opt for the crunchy whole wheat french toast with frosted cornflakes and a side of bacon – you wont regret it.
Another low-key local favourite is Hermosa Pie & Cake, a tiny shop with vegan-friendly options and a secret garden in the back.
Or stop by the beach-front food market to pick up homemade fig jam and sample fresh fruit.
If you keep walking down Hermosa Beach, youll eventually find Redondo beach and pier, and its quaint fishing community. Stop here for some excellent seafood.
Fish is a very big part of LAs food offering. Far from the British deep-fried fish and chips, LA seafood is re-imagined into mouth-watering delicacies, like the blue crab gnocchi at farm-to-table restaurant Manhattan Beach Post, founded by Michelin-starred chef David LeFevre.
His seasonal menu changes without notice, though thats all part of its appeal. Thankfully, the downright filthy bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits seem to be a signature staple.
After a day of cycling and volleyball, we headed to Jay Lenos comedy club in Hermosa Beach. Theres a two-drink maximum; clearly someone has heckled the comedians a tad too hard in the past.
Its a fantastic night out with a mixed bag on stage and in the crowds, as well as plenty of jokes about the current political state of LA. Sadly, no phones allowed during the show.
On my third day, I travelled along the coast to Marina del Rey.
Although its a stones throw from Venice, it has a distinct luxurious vibe – you can even rent yourself a yacht for the day and go cruising around the harbour.
Or you could try sports activities, like kayaking or paddle boarding.
And here is where disaster struck for me.
Remember how I told you I was taken away in an ambulance? Well, my paddle boarding session ended with firemen carrying me into an ambulance, a broken ankle and four days in a hospital before I was flown home.
I say it now, and Ill say it forever – always get travel insurance (and dont ever take the NHS for granted again).
Sadly, the accident cut my trip short, and I missed rock climbing and a wine hike in Malibu – youd have thought thats where I would have broken a bone.
But despite the dramatic ending, LA and the Californian lifestyle have left a great impression.
Ill be back in next year, but Ill stick to tanning on the beach this time around.
Where to stay in LA and how to get there:
I can highly recommend Hotel Erwin in Venice, as its a prime location to the beach and within walking distance to shops and restaurants.
And, since youll be smack in the middle, you can venture up and down the strip to explore.
When it comes to flying, there are plenty of good options, including British Airways. Prices start from £315 return.
(Top picture: Getty)