Travel memories, much like an OC sweater, last a lifetime.
With the world opening and closing every other day, I wanted to challenge the idea that only jumping on a plane counts as “real” travel. Travel can be a mindset, right? One where everything feels new.
I live in LA, and even here, it can be easy to get into a routine and forget you’re in the entertainment capital of the world.
What would it be like to spend a day looking at the city with fresh eyes?
From new experiences to things I’ve done a million times before, I decided to be a tourist in my own town for the day. I mean, I didn’t take an open-top bus tour of celebrity homes or anything. Wait, that sounds kind of fun?
To decide what I did want to do, I asked myself what kind of travel experience I was looking for.
I wanted to do some activities based on what I really value. For the purposes of this day, I chose spending time in nature, making connections, and getting creative.
Mostly, I wanted to spend a day inviting a sense of adventure and curiosity and anything-can-happen-ness.
Morning - exploring The Great Outdoors
Getting outside of my apartment for some outdoor quality time is important to me. Especially after a year in which “spending time in nature” looked like long, slow walks around my neighborhood with my hands lightly folded behind my back like an old person.
So, I kicked off my day-as-a-tourist in a not-so-well-known section of one of LA’s most well-known parks, Griffith Park. It’s a weird and wonderful strip of Griffith Park located somewhere between the Hollywood Hills and Los Feliz. Locals know it as Fern Dell, or, alternatively, “that hiking spot/park below the Griffith Observatory”.
Fern Dell’s got a little bit of everything and that’s what I did. I hiked the 1.5-mile loop and took the sharp hill up to one of LA’s most iconic landmarks - the Griffith Observatory. On a clear day, the views are amazing. Sadly, it wasn’t a clear day, but it was still worth it.
That’s the beauty of living here - I can come back!
A little sweaty and endorphin’d up, I hit the rustic cafe near the trailhead next, appropriately named The Trails, for some good coffee and tasty treats. I also discovered that sometimes these treats feature astronomical themes like Partial Eclipse Cookies and Mars Cake Pops??
No astronomically significant events were happening in the sky (c’mon, Space!) but I took my chocolate chip cookie and coffee down to what I consider a jewel of Fern Dell.
Weaved between the park and the trails, is a very cool hiking path that runs alongside a little stream.
It’s got bridges and a manmade cave and the kind of nature you expect (ferns) and the kind you don’t expect (California coastal redwoods).
There were also crawfish in the water, 100-year-old sycamores in the sky, and elephant ear plants that I made sure to high-five as I walked by.
Finally, I made it down to the park to unwind. I took out a book I brought with me, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and proceeded to people-watch instead.
People-watching: a favorite and recommended travel pastime. There were writing teams working on scripts and groups doing yoga and friends sitting in circles talking and laughing.
I did get some reading in underneath the trees before I called my time in nature a success and headed for my next adventure. It was time to actually talk to people.
Afternoon - Making Connections
The best part of traveling? The freakin’ people you meet. Living in LA for the past 5 years, my friend group has roughly remained the same. That is to say, small.
To get out there and meet people, I took to the interwebs and found a rec club that plays volleyball in the park (yes, another park).
This exercise in tourist-in-my-own-town was, admittedly, the hardest for me. I went on my own and I almost chickened out.
When I got there I thought, maybe I’ll just sit under this tree and read and casually glance at the people playing instead. That won’t be weird.
It was weird. I went over and introduced myself. And you know what? It. Was. The. Best.
After 15 minutes, and with close to 30 players, the guy coordinating asked us to huddle up. It was like camp except I could leave if I wanted to. We lined up by skill level (did I mention I don’t actually play volleyball?) and were numbered off.
Everyone was there to play and have fun. As the games got started, we learned each other’s names and my newfound teammates graciously showed me the ropes. How to call it, set it up, spike it, all the volleyball things.
It was peak afternoon and really hot when some angel showed up with popsicles. I was having a popsicle in the park with new people! Who was I??
Then someone else arrived with a whole watermelon and served that two. Naturally, I ate a slice mid-game and put the rind in my mouth whenever I needed to hit the ball. I was killin’ it.
Between games, we all hung out in the shade and talked. I didn’t have to become anyone’s best friend. I didn’t have to show off (God knows, I couldn’t have if I wanted to). I just got to be. Travel’s greatest gift - presence. Go with the flow-ness. It was perfect.
Finally, after a couple of hours of me flailing around (but having a great time), I said goodbye to my new friends. I left feeling like a million dollars. Like a million dollars that really needed to shower.
By the time I was on the train home, I was Googling volleyball techniques.
Night - Express Yourself
As a writer, creating can become isolating. Writing, for me, is mostly sitting in my apartment staring out the window waiting for brilliant ideas to land in my head...
Jk, it’s mostly me watching TikTok videos until I have to throw my phone across the room so I can actually write.
But I like to get creative in more ways than writing. And if you don’t think singing karaoke counts as a creative outlet, you’ve never heard a room full of strangers belt Purple Rain like it was the last night of their lives.
I think one of the best ways to get to know a city is to go where you can hear people sing. Nothing brings people together like a shared love of music and the freedom to suck.
And what better place to experience this kind of magic than a dive bar in Koreatown?
For the most lowkey-in-key(-or-not-in-key) night, Cafe Brass Monkey on 3rd is the place to be. It’s tucked in the backside of a strip mall but the beer is cold, the mic is hot, and the people? The people are unmatched.
With my tourist mindset in full effect, the local legends and the wood paneling and the neon signs seemed to sparkle. My friend and I got there early and stayed until the place got steady.
Did I sing? Heck yes, I did. TWO songs, actually. Dolly Parton’s 9-5 AND the a capella version of Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz. Both with heavy southern accents.
The whole place sang along to everything from Bobby Day’s Rockin’ Robbin (tweedle-lee-dee-dee-de) to Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer (whoa, we’re halfway there, whHooAA). And when the woman who sang 50 Cent’s In Da Club got discouraged by his too-fast flow, the small crowd rallied.
We left it all on the tiny dance floor underneath the multicolored disco ball. When it was time to call it a night, we were sent off like old friends.
I left with a newfound feeling of gratitude for this talented and welcoming city I get to call home.
Spending a day like a tourist reminded me that there’s a spirit to travel and that spirit can be called up anytime. I saw views I’d seen a hundred times with different eyes, met people I never would have met before, did things I never would have done. Mainly, I paid attention. It doesn’t take an exotic destination or even a big city to experiment with deciding to notice. There’s still a lot of memories to make right here at home. There’s still a lot to be discovered about this city and myself.