Venice Beach boardwalk photo by D.S. White

Cities

California Love Vacation Playlist: Los Angeles Edition

These songs about LA are the perfect tour guide.

There are hundreds of songs written about Los Angeles—Wikipedia says that at least six are named after the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. A lot of those songs are about the same thing: coming to town with big dreams and leaving with a broken heart. Many of these tracks have really given this place an unearned reputation of being relentlessly superficial, ignorant, naive, and an enemy of the poetic. Here is your vacation playlist of songs that see the city through a different lens (and that will sound great while cruising down the freeway):

Leimert Park
photo by D.S. White

“I Wish” – Skee-Lo

Well, so many people wanna cruise Crenshaw on Sunday
Well, then I’mma have to get in my car and go
You know I take the 110 until the 105
Get off at Crenshaw, tell my homies “look alive”

This song is so Los Angeles that it even gives location, date, and direction to one of the most lit block parties in town: Leimert Park on Sunday can be home to a car show, a samba festival, an art walk, a poetry slam—or even all of those things, all at once. It’s not a coincidence that Skee-Lo even shot the video there.

Head to: Leimert Plaza Park, 3333 W 43rd Pl, LA, which can be reached as Skee-Lo suggests by taking the 110 to the 105 and exiting at Crenshaw—if you’re coming from the east. For other directions, check Google Maps.

Palisades Bluffs Park
photo by D.S. White

“Spectacular Views” – Rilo Kiley 

Indifferent but distanced perfectly
Projected endlessly
It’s so fucking beautiful

Jenny Lewis wrote the line “There are no bad words for the coast today” after seeing the Pacific Ocean waves crash into shore from a friend’s house in Pacific Palisades. If you don’t have a friend with a multimillion-dollar cliff home, you can still “see the stars from where the birds make their homes” at Palisades Bluffs Park.

Head to: Palisades Bluffs Park entrance, Via de las Olas and Mt. Holyoke Ave, Pacific Palisades. Although this is a public park, it is primarily accessible through neighborhood streets that dead-end at the shore. When you visit, please use courtesy when parking and walking past people’s residences.

“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John

Jesus freaks, out in the streets, handing tickets out for God
Turning back, she just laughs, the boulevard is not that bad

In a song about a manic pixie dream girl marrying her rock-star prince, we also see the street-peddling “Jesus freaks” she encounters, seeking out their own kind of salvation. Everybody’s got a dream. Come to Hollywood and determine for yourself whether “the boulevard is not that bad.”

Head to: The Hollywood Walk of Fame, on Hollywood Blvd between La Brea to the west and Vine to the east. The classic selfie spot is with the celebrity hand- and footprints in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre, but if that’s too hectic, just hop across the street to snap a photo in front of the El Capitan (6838 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood), a Spanish colonial revival theater built in 1929 and restored in 1991.

Venice Beach boardwalk
photo by D.S. White

“California Love” – 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre

Say what you say, but give me that bomb beat from Dre
Let me serenade the streets of LA 

Don’t think this sounds like the perfect beach song? Just check out the video, which is both an homage to the dusty expanse of the original Mad Max movies and a proto-Burning Man night party. The kind of gritty chill extolled by Dre and Pac has been gentrified out of a lot of the city, but Venice Beach remains largely unchanged from its ’90s heyday. Here you can still spot families and skate teens, bodybuilders and Rastafarians, side by side, all enjoying the sun.

Head to: Venice Beach boardwalk, 800 Ocean Front Walk, Venice. Be sure to check out the skateboarding pros, amateurs, and “I’ve made a terrible mistake” newbies getting air at the 16,000-square-foot Skate Plaza at 1800 Ocean Front Walk. Parking here is a killer, so it’s best to use public transportation or a ride-sharing service.

Koreatown
photo by D.S. White

“Jane Says” – Jane’s Addiction

Jane goes to the store at eight
She walks up on St. Andrews

Perry Farrell is a hometown hero, and judging by the number of people who have stories about running into him unexpectedly in the course of everyday errands, he loves being out in the city as much as it loves him. The song “Jane Says” name-checks St. Andrews Place in Koreatown, which until recently boasted cheap rents and a very walkable neighborhood, which was great for aspiring artists without a car. Things are a little more expensive now, but there are still great deals to be found in and around St. Andrews, particularly in the surplus of Korean barbecue restaurants, karaoke joints, or Korean-style day spas (some spas are restricted by gender, while others are open to all genders—check Yelp or individual spa websites to confirm).

Spend a day in Koreatown with this itinerary: Start off at Wi Spa (2700 Wilshire Blvd, LA), a mixed-gender spa with multiple therapeutic sauna rooms and massage and treatment options (and your admission fee is good for 24 hours)! Once you’ve gotten good and hungry from all that spa relaxation, head over to ChoSun Galbee (3330 W Olympic Blvd, LA) for delicious Korean barbecue cooked right on your table. Finish off your day with an hour or two (or more) at Pharaoh Karaoke (3680 Wilshire Blvd, Ste B-02, LA).

“This Is How We Do It” – Montell Jordan

The party is here on the west side
So I reach for my 40 and I turn it up
Designated driver take the keys to my truck

Montell’s feel-good anthem proudly repped South Central LA and the way everyone could find common ground in a great time. You can still capture that no-bad-vibes spirit with a visit to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, one of the longest-standing institutions of South LA (the name went through a rebrand in the early 2000s). The mall’s outdoor palazzo bustles with couples, families, teens, and, of course, “the OG macks and the wannabe players” out for a good time.

Head to: The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 3650 W Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, LA. You can get an upscale Southern dinner at Chef Govind Armstrong’s Post & Beam restaurant, or grab rolled tacos from Flautas at the mall’s food court. If you’re in the mood for a movie date, the Magic Johnson Theatre (also rebranded, as a Cinemark, but locals still call it by its spiritual name) is the place to check out the latest offering from the Pan African Film Festival or to watch Girl’s Trip. Whatever the groove, the party is under way. 

More for your LA playlist:

“Largo” by Fiona Apple: Visit the Largo at the Coronet nightclub, ideally on a night when any of the name-checked artists are scheduled. (366 N La Cienega Blvd, LA)

“Malibu” by Hole: Make an overnight reservation for one of Malibu’s many inexpensive beachfront RV homes available as vacation rentals.

“I Love LA” by Randy Newman: Take a midday cruise down curvy, tree-lined Sixth Street in Hancock Park, between Highland Ave to the west and Wilton Pl to the east.

“Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips: Visit art deco Union Station in Downtown LA. (800 N Alameda St, LA)

“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield: This song was inspired by ’60s “counterculture” riots in front of the Whisky a Go Go nightclub on Sunset Boulevard. (8901 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood)

“It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube: Take in a concert at The Forum in Inglewood, where the Lakers used to play the Supersonics. (3900 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood)

“Blue Jay Way” by the Beatles: Drive through Hollywood Hills’ “bird streets,” including Blue Jay Way, on your way to a tour of the Stahl House. (Stahl House address: 1635 Woods Dr, LA)

If you happen to find yourself in Reseda:
“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or “Screenwriter’s Blues” by Soul Coughing

For a blustery day:
“Santa Ana Winds” by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend cast

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