You love your life. You found a neighborhood that suits you, where you're surrounded by new places to explore and new people to meet. Yet sometimes you feel a sinking sense of nostalgia for the place you used to call home. Even those of us who grew up and remain in Los Angeles get that feeling sometimes. Heck, every once in a while, when the summer heat waves are a distant memory, I actually miss the San Fernando Valley neighborhood where I was raised. But for many Angelenos, homesickness isn't cured by a freeway drive to grab lunch at Brent's Deli with your mom.
Still, plenty of people have found reminders of home across the greater Los Angeles area. A lot of times, those reminders are in the food that makes up the region's diverse restaurant scene. Sometimes they're in nature, perhaps in the windy rustle of trees in the mountain air or the gentle roar of Pacific waves. Other times, the reminders have little to do with the past and more to do with a reminder of how great the present can be. This list is the result of a call I put out to friends and their pals on Twitter and Facebook for the spots that most remind them of their hometowns — and the places they visit when they feel a wee bit homesick.
1. Head to the mountains
After finishing college, Stephen Bridgewater headed to Los Angeles. Acting ambitions, weather and a promise to a friend brought him out west, and while he has lived in the city for 19 years, every now and then he longs for the things that remind him of his hometown: Amherst, New Hampshire. That's when he heads to the mountains.
Big Bear and Wrightwood are Bridgewater's picks for keeping the homesickness at bay. They provide a chance for him to “get out of the smoggy air” and enjoy a slower pace of life. Sometimes, in the midst of a California winter, he can catch a little ski time in the mountains. Maybe he'll even have the opportunity to use the chains on his tires. Not only does Bridgewater enjoy the chill, his dog digs it too.
2. Drink an old favorite beer
POP Champagne and Dessert Bar might be known for bubbly and sweets, but Pennsylvania-raised Michelle Bradley heads there for a sip of her home state's brew. The Pasadena restaurant serves up Yuengling, a family-owned beer brand that's touted as the oldest in the country. While Bradley notes that Yuengling, known for its lager, was “at every bar” when she was a Penn State student, it's a relatively obscure name out on the West Coast.
3. Seek the sounds of your hometown
When Kate Sullivan was a college student in Orange County, she missed her hometown of New York and, subsequently, drove to L.A. to hear the sounds that reminded her of home. At L.A. Opera, Sullivan was able to indulge in the opera fixes she once got at New York's Metropolitan Opera. She flipped over the performance of Il Trittico that opened the 2008 season, as well as Woody Allen's take on Gianni Schicchi. Although Sullivan no longer lives in the area, she's thinking about making a visit to catch the latter when it reappears at L.A. Opera this September. Sullivan adds that the prices for L.A. Opera tickets, frequently as low as $29, make opera an affordable opportunity that's not necessarily available in other cities.
4. Find a market like one you remember
Tod Nagel isn't originally from New Orleans, but he lived there for more than five years — and one recent addition to L.A.'s food scene reminds him of his old home base. Tucked into Ord Street in Chinatown, Little Jewel of New Orleans stands out with its striped awning and a soundtrack of soulful oldies. Nagel says that everything from the music to the handful of tiny tables is reminiscent of the markets in New Orleans. “The only thing missing is the local beer,” he says.
When he stops by Little Jewel, Nagel might pick up an Abita root beer and Zapp's Cajun Crawtator Potato Chips to go with his sandwich. “If I'm lucky, they'll have a blackened catfish po'boy on the menu that day,” he notes. He's also a fan of the blackened chicken po'boy, the shrimp and oyster po'boy and the crawfish mac 'n cheese, something he never actually ate while living in New Orleans.
5. Explore a neighborhood food scene
Some are lucky to find a single restaurant reminiscent of home. Others find whole neighborhoods where familiar tastes dominate. Chase Wang was born and raised in Hawaii and has been living in Los Angeles ever since he headed to college at USC. When he wants something reminiscent of his home state, he heads to Little Tokyo or South Bay cities like Torrance and Gardena.
In the South Bay, Wang can hit up spots like King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant and Back Home in Lahaina, the latter of which frequently features live music. In Little Tokyo, he can grab Hawaiian food at Aloha Cafe or eat at spots like Daikokuya, where Japanese food also gives him a taste of home.
6. Take some time to enjoy local, small town life
Mike Wellman, co-owner of the popular Comic Bug stores, is from Elizabeth City, North Carolina. “There's a few bars and not much else,” he says of the small town. “It's the kind of town you just ride your bicycle around, you know?”
While Wellman may prefer the big city — he has lived in L.A. since 1997 — every once in a while he gets the urge to find “small town charm” somewhere closer to his adopted home. That's when he heads to El Segundo. “Everyone seems to know everyone else, for better or worse,” he says, adding, “the police are bored enough to pull you over for a broken tail light.” It's not what he wants to deal with on a daily basis, he says, “bu, it's a nice place to visit.”
7. Find the connections between L.A. and another metropolis
Griselda Diaz spent a significant part of her childhood in Guadalajara, Mexico, and there's a lot about the city she still misses. Today, Diaz finds reminders of the city across Los Angeles. In Lynwood, there is Plaza Mexico, with nods to colonial architecture that she says are reminiscent of what one might find in Guadalajara. Sometimes she'll head to South Gate for a meal at La Chiva Loca. She says that the restaurant's torta ahogada, a sauce-covered sandwich, and its soupy carne de su jugo are great. Both dishes are commonly found in Guadalajara.
8. Catch a whiff of a familiar scent
Sometimes, it's a smell that evokes memories — and for Miles Taber, the scent that permeates Frogtown takes him back to his hometown of Sacramento, where he grew up near the American River. He says that the recent renewal projects have made the L.A. River a lovely spot, but it's the way the area surrounding the waterway smells that catches his attention. “That smell is hard to do justice; it's coolly swampy and fishy,” he responds, “in the nicest way possible.”
9. Hit the beach
Eric K. says that he doesn't get homesick. After more than 20 years in L.A., he considers both this city and his native Honolulu, Hawaii, his hometowns. Part of that, he says, is due to the similarities between the two cities, which get stronger when he heads toward the water.
“I would spend my weekdays living in the suburbs while going to school, but when the weekend rolls around, my parents would load up my brother and me into the car and take us down to the beach,” he recalls. “Spending all day at the beach bodyboarding (or attempting to) and barbecuing with my family are some of my fondest memories growing up in Hawaii.” Eric, who requested that we didn't use his last name, eschews the tourist-heavy spots in favor of places like Manhattan Beach, Malibu and Laguna. “There is an indescribable vibe at these coastal cities that reminds me of those weekends spent long ago,” he adds. “Regardless whether it's Waimea Bay or Malibu, there is a passion that the residents share, and it really shows. I'm one of the lucky ones that had the chance to grow up in both.”
10. Remind yourself that right here and now can be beautiful
I went into this project thinking that missing your hometown was a given. After all, I'm the sort of person whose first stop after landing at LAX is In-N-Out. As hard as it can be to live in L.A., I can't imagine leaving it.
But not everyone has that relationship with their hometown. Some people choose not to look for the reminders of their old lives but to focus on the beauty in their new one, whether that comes in the form of good weather or opportunities that don't exist elsewhere.
When I first posed this question on Facebook, my friend, animation artist Lorraine Grate, who previously lived in Arkansas, commented that she goes to Disneyland to remind herself that this is a pretty cool place. Yeah, technically Disneyland is Orange County, but it's also a byproduct of Burbank magic, of the wild imagination and ambition that keeps attracting people to this metropolis. Maybe your spot isn't Disneyland, but certainly there's a place where you can simply appreciate the moment. Head out there.