Searching for elevated places combines three of Los Angelinos favorite activities into one: hiking, Instagramming, and looking for parking. But before we go on, we need to correct some mistaken California mythology: Los Angeles is not, in fact, a giant coke den, where celebrities and also-rans do hard drugs until the wee hours, marching inevitably towards your favorite grocery store tabloid. In fact, most Angelinos take their health seriously and abide by a vague spirituality that exists at the intersection of fad dieting, physical fitness, and environmentalism. Combine hiking with Sunday brunch and you have – voila! – the perfect California cliché.
But like any religion worth its salt, theology here correlates closely with secular wisdom. I mean, let’s face it, you too would have banned shellfish if your family kept trying to eat day-old oysters in the Israeli desert. And it’s with that same wisdom that people in Los Angeles drive all the way up Mulholland for a dirt-lot space at Runyon Canyon or hike a half-mile to the trailhead at Temescal. That’s because it’s only from elevation that you can take-in all the layers of this city at once.
LA is a three-dimensional place: the rolling basins, the emphatic hills (Hollywood, Beverly, and Baldwin), and the Mountains surrounding*. You will drive on freeways built on mountainsides (take the 134 east), you will blister your palms turning your steering wheel hard-left, hard-right, and back to navigate the canyons across the Hollywood Hills; and you will sit in traffic on one of the city’s endless basin boulevards, looking up at the mountains wondering how they can be so god damn calm in all this shit.
So when you finally get on top of it all, whether it’s the Baldwin Hills overlook or the penthouse bar at the Huntley Hotel, you’ll see something that you’ll try without success to record on film. Filter after filter on your Instagramm will fail to capture the beauty of the palm trees in Santa Monica, now 200 feet below you and back lit against the Pacific Ocean; the afternoon shadows stretching across the Malibu canyons; and the boulevards of the basin, stretching for 30 miles to the foot of the mountains.
Coming down you’ll understand how geology and geography are the same in a city framed by an ocean and a mountain; not the science of it, but you’ll see the ocean mist coming in through Santa Monica and petering-out near the Hills and then you’ll get why it’s so damn hot in the Valley. It will make sense why the Verdugo mountains look as burnt as the leather skinned starlets of NoHo and why Topanga Canyon looks so much like a place called “Topanga.” That’s what you learned today.
So you’ll valet your car – because let’s face it, this is West and Hollywood and you have a better chance of finding a straight dude walking a yorkie than a parking spot here – and while you eat your kale salad, you’ll grudgingly concede that nothing you snapped did the whole scene justice. Your search for elevation was a private affair, your own little prayer on a hillside full of weirdos in yoga pants, and that’s just fine. Because you know what? This is LA.