Discovering LA: creative fires burn in the city of gridlock.

LA Skyline from the Getty Centre, 2016.

LA Skyline from the Getty Centre, 2016.

Mention LA and chances are you'll inflame a number of haters. When I announced my upcoming trip to a group of friends, I was met with an unanimous and scornful - WHY?!! In their imagination LA had become a metropolis ruled by petroleum guzzling ponies, gridlocked traffic, urban sprawl, and the tawdriness of Hollywood and the rich & plastic. Their belief in LA's ignominy, both culturally and environmentally, was so great that many of them had not even dared to venture into the city. The stigma had done its work.

Undeniably LA's entertainment industry is largely to blame for the unfavourable reputation. Long gone are the days of rose-tinted idolizing of Hollywood culture; instead a smoldering resentment (stoked by tabloid culture) has eclipsed the city, obscuring the beauty found in its less famous neighbourhoods and communities.

I won't lie: the force of public opinion had me considering a change of plans for a more crowd-pleasing destination like Portland (now find me one person who hates Portland, i dare you) but fortunately I didn’t buckle. And lo and behold, the LA I discovered was dynamic, inspiring, and culturally rich.

Here are some highlights:

WELCOME TO MURAL CITY

In many ways, LA is one large urban canvas with an incredibly strong mural tradition dating back to the 1930s. Venice - a street art mecca - boasts walls adorned by the work of famous muralists Rip Cronk, Emily Winters, and the Los Angeles Fine Arts Squad. Another hotspot, The Mural Mile, is an incredible 4 mile stretch along Van Nuys Boulevard showcasing over 40 vibrant artworks (and counting...).

The mural as a form of cultural expression is an important one. Along with beautifying neighbourhoods, murals communicate the social dimensions of a community and offer a platform for large-scale storytelling. Murals literally bring a city to life through colour, form, and the unifying power of their ideas. 

There are literally thousands of murals to see in LA. Learn about 10 iconic pieces HERE

Venice, 2016.

Venice, 2016.

MUSEUM-HOPPING

LA County Museum of Art, The Broad, MOCA, and hilltop masterpiece, the Getty Centre, are a few of the impressive art and culture centres in LA. Many of the museums are free to the public (or free on select days) and collectively offer an encyclopedic survey of art through the ages. As modern man’s treasure caves, the value of these collections is worth a king's ransom. They offer the opportunity to reflect on our society through time, and illuminate and enrich our emotional lives. 

If modern or contemporary art inspires you, you have over 400 galleries to explore...

LA County Museum of Art, 2016.

LA County Museum of Art, 2016.

TOPANGA CANYON

LA would be nothing without the inspiring natural beauty that sustains it. Topanga Canyon is a wild oasis west of LA in the Santa Monica Mountains where chaparral covered rocks, sage scrub, and coastal live oak grow abundantly. Vast and solitary, Topanga has provided many Angelenos escape from the bustling city life and inspiration for artists captivated by its raw beauty. In the 1970s, Neil Young created "After the Gold Rush" in Topanga, an album imbued by the vibe of the Canyon and the rich bohemian community that had gathered there to live and create.

Eagle Rock, Topanga Canyon, 2016.

Eagle Rock, Topanga Canyon, 2016.

BOWIE TRIBUTE AT THE ACE

Not exclusive to LA, but a pinnacle experience nonetheless, was The Life Aquatic concert held at the Ace. Inspired by the late Bowie and Wes Anderson's classic film, the show was presented to a sold out audience in the Spanish Gothic-style theatre in Downtown LA.

Seu Jorge, the Brazilian performer who played Pele do Santos in Life Aquatic, covered Bowie classics in an acoustic performance filled with beauty and pathos. Audience emotions were palpable that night and it was a unique experience to connect with Angelenos in the intimate venue, cheering and sighing, united by the bond of Bowie. Just before playing a heart-wrenching rendition of Man on Mars, Jorge revealed that his father had died 3 days after Bowie at the age of 82. The tour was a tribute to them both. 

Ace Theatre, 2016.

Ace Theatre, 2016.