A personal take on Los Angeles – my life in La La land

by Lori Blackburn
The Redondo Beach Esplanade and Strand
Park

Over the years, Los Angeles has shown me many things. To find the LA of my adolescence, drive south from Los Angeles Airport along the Pacific Coast Highway. If the radio plays Surfin USA by the Beach Boys, then listen for Redondo Beach. That’s my hometown. My high school had a surf team, my Dad played beach volleyball, and “rad, gnarly, and cool” punctuated sentences. When winter storms produced sizeable swells, half my high school ditched class for surf spots such as Breakwall and El Porto. Redondo Beach is not just a location. It is a lifestyle. In grade school, joining Junior Lifeguards was as common as playing soccer. As one of LA’s beach cities, Redondo Beach is linked to its sister cities Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach by an oceanfront path called The Strand. A typical day on The Strand sees hundreds of people biking, skateboarding, walking, and rollerskating past restaurants and shops. These coastal communities, known as The South Bay, possess a homegrown culture of sports and sunshine.

King Harbor marina

Growing up, this was my LA. Mornings began with my Dad returning from a six mile beach run. He cranked up classic rock, drank protein shakes, and made fitness breakfasts of egg whites, salsa, and avocado. I was proud my Filipino Mom could waterski and kayak alongside him. Our favourite seafood restaurant was Tony’s at the Pier (www.oldtonys.com) where seagulls screeched by open windows and waves surged below. My twin sister and I hung out at Hermosa Beach where we wobbled on rollerblades and ate sandy fries from Goodstuff (www.eatgoodstuff.com). We went home barefoot, sunburned, and happy. During college, I traded the beach for bright lights. Hollywood’s nightlife became my LA. I moved to the San Fernando Valley where new friends introduced me to another LA. This one shimmered with decadence and with all the impressionability of youth, I embraced it.

Lunch with Friends

My first hotspot was Sunset Boulevard’s notorious Chateau Marmont (www.chateaumarmont.com) whose walls had hosted everything from Jean Harlow’s honeymoon to Jim Morrison’s rooftop fall… to John Belushi’s last night on earth. Rumour had it that Led Zeppelin’s band members had even ridden motorcycles through the lobby.As Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures once said, “ If you must get into trouble, do it at the Chateau Marmont.” Taking Mr Cohn’s advice, I held my breath as security scrutinised my fake ID before parting the velvet ropes. My triumph dissipated upon entering the Chateau’s gothic glamour full of designer labels and polished beauty. My favourite beach dress suddenly appeared childish. I hesitated before approaching the group of professional athletes, models, and venture capitalists I had come to meet. Surrounded by etched glass and damask, I guilelessly nursed a Long Island Iced Tea while they sipped Champagne. For dinner, I ordered a towering plate of shoestring French fries as my entire meal. My college budget was tight.

Chilling

Despite an ungraceful initiation, LA soon revealed a charmed life. A model friend gave me a wardrobe of designer clothes that she no longer used. I hung out with LA beauties whose electric smiles whisked us into VIP areas. They could open secret doors with a wink of their eye. We attended parties in the Hollywood Hills, enjoyed cocktails at Skybar (www.sbe.com/nightlife/brands/skybar), and frequented Marilyn Monroe’s suite at the Roosevelt Hotel (www.thehollywoodroosevelt.com). My roommate owned racehorses so I placed bets at Hollywood Park and swore when my trifectas did not hit. Would you believe that I was actually part of an entourage? I would barely believe it myself, but it is true. Every cliché was true. The limos, the parties, the rock stars, the mansions, the hidden penthouses, the fast cars, the grit and the glamour. That was my LA. Where restaurants had a free table if you were with the right crowd and French fries were comped when you ordered mind-blowing bottles of Champagne.

Tony's

In my late 20s, the entertainment industry became my LA. I worked for a publicist generating media exposure for actors, musicians and models. This meant 12 hour work days and endless Blackberry calls. During the day, I worked frantically behind a desk coordinating clients’ appearances in photo shoots, publicity opps, and glam parties. At night I attended insider events to escort clients down red carpets. This time, rather than depending upon the sway of beautiful friends to get me in, I was getting myself in through work. Working in publicity demanded thick skin. At the Daytime Emmy Awards, I watched a publicist garner media ire when she failed to announce her client loudly enough. The wall of photographers jeered, “Honey, we can’t hear you! You gotta speak up!” Another time I was snubbed by an agent backstage at a talk show only to be embraced by him at a movie premiere the following week. One time I even received a frantic phone call from a soap opera star who tired of waiting in line at a theme park and insisted that I get him to the front. Ah, life in La La Land!

The entertainment industry was exciting, but exhausting. After another long day, I headed to Beverly Hills’ SLS Hotel (www.slshotels.com/beverlyhills) for a dinner of molecular gastronomy at Jose Andres’ Bazaar. I pondered deconstructed fries and a life outside LA. Yearning for exotic locales and foreign cultures, I packed my bags and left LA. Home became Dublin, Manila, Auckland, San Francisco, and Bangkok. I did not visit the city for many years, but when I returned, I met a new LA. The LA I found resonated with quiet sophistication and creative connection. A newfound appreciation for the Arts led me to the grand Getty Center Museum (www.getty.edu) to explore fine art amongst city views, whimsical gardens, and dramatic architecture. The Da Camera Society’s (www.dacamera.org) classical music series provided intimate concerts in historic venues like the exquisite Doheny mansion in Venice Beach.

Lori Blackburn

In Redondo Beach I discovered Harmony Yoga (www.harmonyyoga.com) where yoga was not just a workout, but a community. In true LA style, vinyasa’s became a dance to funky soundtracks ranging from classic rock to house music. For a quick nature fix, I headed to Palos Verdes’ lush hillsides for walks along Terranea Resort’s (www.terranearesort.com) landscaped trails set against big Pacific Ocean views. Despite being a fancy five star resort, this hidden gem welcomes non-guests to its coastal oasis. An added perk is the cliffside summer concerts at Nelson’s restaurant complete with fire pits and sunset skies. Somehow Bob Marley on a California day makes everything seem right.I joined friends at evening picnics in the iconic Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Cinespia (www.cinespia.org) screened outdoor movies on a mausoleum and DJs played sets between tombstones. This celebrity cemetery hosts famous “residents” such as actress Judy Garland and gangster Bugsy Siegel. When big name bands came to town, we opted for scenic concerts at Griffith Park’s Greek Theatre (www.greektheatrela.com) and pre-ordered their signature picnic baskets filled with Santa Barbara wines and gourmet treats.

Fresh Crab at Redondo Pier Fish Market

This LA also teemed with culinary innovation. Trends such as the gastropub, global-foods-gone-mainstream, American tapas, modern izakayas, vegan restaurants, and the food truck fad had swept the scene. During the day, we visited the Hollywood Farmer’s Market (www.hfm.la/about-the-hollywood-farmers-market) and sipped veggie juices at Abbot Kinney’s The Butcher’s Daughter(www.thebutchersdaughter.com). At night we toasted Hite beers in Koreatown’s buzzing Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong where succulent BBQ sizzled table-side alongside techno beats and raucous laughter. On my home turf, we dined at Manhattan Beach’s Post (www.eatmbpost.com) where seasonal dishes were served in rustic ambiance. Now my fries were covered in artisanal parmesan and truffle oil. As comedian Billy Connelly once remarked, “I love Los Angeles. It reinvents itself every two days.” I could not agree more. From a beach-blessed childhood to Hollywood nightlife to the fast-paced world of entertainment publicity, LA continues to reveal its many sides. This is my LA – always changing, ever exciting, and endlessly rad.

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