Los Angeles — The Good, the Bad and the Truly Ugly

A green freeway sign on California's Interstate 5 South indicating Los Angeles. Photo by BF Newhall

Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Do I love LA? No. Do I even like it?

Not really. LA is an awful place. It is 469 square miles of bumper to bumper traffic; sinus clogging air pollution; starless nights and unrelenting summer sun; alleys that go nowhere and

Pretty young woman blows out a birthday candle with her donut dessert at Waterloo & City in Culver City. Photo by BF Newhall

The Good: Christina, who is not blond, blew out the birthday candle that came with the — very, very good — doughnuts we had for dessert at the Waterloo & City gastropub in Culver City. It’s just one of many great places to eat in LA County. Photo by BF Newhall

ten-lane freeways that if it’s rush hour also go nowhere. Miles and miles of homely two-story apartment buildings without enough parking, and slap-dash mini malls also without enough parking. Palm trees nobody’s pruned in years. And did I mention traffic?

Los Angeles is a place where the women are blond, the men are brunette, the swimming pools

ten lanes of bumper to bumper freeway traffic in los angeles. photo by bf newhall

The Bad: Ten lanes of bumper to bumper freeway traffic. Photo by BF Newhall

are kidney-shaped and the lighting is neon. It’s a place where, if you miss enough freeway exits, you can end up in Death Valley, where at least you’ll find a parking space. Or Long Beach, where you won’t.

palm tree in los angeles with an unslightly mass of dead grey fronds hanging down. photo by bf newhall

The Ugly: A palm tree nobody’s bothered to prune. Photo by BF Newhall

If I’m so down on Los Angeles, why do I bother to write about it, let alone go there?

Because it is that singular sweet spot on earth where my pushing-30 daughter has parked herself — and her future.

And mine too, if I don’t watch out.

When I’m 99 and my knees are creaky and I can’t find my car keys because my kids have confiscated them, and the two of them (Christina in LA, Peter in Minnesota) have decided to pry Jon and me loose from our  house in the trees with its sliver of a view of  the beautiful San Francisco Bay, and Christina wins (loses?) the coin toss, and with that the two kids proceed to pack up our stuff and move us to LA — that’s when I’d better be ready to look past the ugly and see the good in Los Angeles.

A cherry pink five-petaled blossom blooms in Los Angeles in August. Photo by BF Newhall

The Beautiful: Summer, winter. Something’s always blooming in LA. Photo by BF Newhall

Last weekend, I gave it try. Jon and I were there to take our daughter out for the big three-oh birthday dinner. I snapped a lot of pictures. I tried hard to love LA.

This is what I saw. Some good. Some bad. Lotsa ugly. And here and there some actual beauty.


Read more about my grown-up kids at “When Your Twenty-Something Doesn’t Call — Or, How to Overmother a Grown-Up Kid”  and  “I’m the Mother of the Groom, Now What Do I Do?”

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A black and cream striped butterfly lands on a bright orange blossom in the Butterfly Pavilion at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Photo by BF Newhall

More Good: A butterfly comes in for a landing on a lantana blossom at the Butterfly Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, one of LA’s numerous first-rate attractions. Photos below by BF Newhall

a sign in los angeles advertising "Skin, A Gentleman's Lounge." Photo by BF Newhall

More Bad: It’s night. No stars, but lots of florescent and neon light.

a man in a wheelchair sits in the shade of two-story building in a paved alley in los angeles. photo by bf newhall

More ugly: An LA alley — a paved-over space that could be growing something, like some trees maybe.

Ritz-Carlton's graceful skyscraper in downtown los angeles with an unsightly telephone pole marring the view. photo by bf newhall

More Beautiful: The Ritz-Carlton is on the left. It’s big. It’s pretentious. But it’s beautiful. Too bad about the messy telephone poles all over LA.

A kidney shaped pool in a Los Angeles apartment complex. Photo by bf newhall

Kidney-shaped pool at an apartment complex — one of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?




  1. Barb,

    Boy, do I love the way you write! Direct, from the heart, no detours, passion, humor, humor, humor, and sarcasm born from spending a fair amount of time observing the human condition. And oh by the way, I had the chance to sit down with Peter yesterday and, thus, found out about your blog. Peter and I met at a 2 hour brainstorming session on the 15th. We agreed to meet yesterday and see how we could help each other. I help people and companies grow sales and typically web development companies need a little nudge with that.

    If your daughter has the same maturity and balance you and your husband ought to write a Spock-like book on raising kids.

    SF is city #3 on my all-time list of beautiful places to be. Chicago (born there) and NY nose you out. Spent a significant amount of time in the vicinity (Mountain View) in the 80’s working for a start up med company. Many good times were had in the bay.

    Just wanted to introduce myself. I’ll be a frequent visitor to your site.


    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks, Tom. Our kids turned out great, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for Jon and me to write a how-to on raising kids. We did the parenting thing by trial and error, mostly error.

      I too love New York. I lived there for four years in my formative young adult years and I still have wonderful dreams that I’m back there in that wonderful place. I think I’d like Chicago a lot.

  2. Hey Barb,
    I love LA (live here for 30 years) and love, love San Francisco. And, so glad your daughter parked herself here. Just think, we could be neighbors in 20 years or so. Really, there are so many good things about Los Angeles, you will be amazed! Trust me!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Judy, I wonder if my problem with LA is that, as a visitor and tourist, I spend so much time on those wretched freeways. I notice that once I get inside one of the great restaurants or museums or somebody’s house LA is pretty nice — and very interesting.

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