May 25, 2022
Facts and myths about living in Southern California
Are you dreaming of moving to California and wondering to what extent the image shown in movies and series is truthful? Will your character fit like a glove to the local reality, or maybe your tastes do not match it at all? Rush or chill out? Sun or rain? Slow food or fast food? Hybrids or muscle cars? East or West? For us, the answer is clear: best coast is west coast!
1. In California, you may not own an apartment, but you must have a car.
Truth. Without your own means of transportation, you can do practically nothing. The distances in California are enormous and the public transport is like a UFO. Someone apparently saw it, but no one had direct contact. Okay, I exaggerated a bit with the latter. But the fact is, it will be very hard to get from one place to another without a car, and Uber can be pretty costly if you intend to use it often and on far distances. Exception: San Francisco. The city is quite well connected by buses and trams.
2. California has the worst traffic in the entire United States.
Truth. The statistics don’t lie. Directly referring to point 1. Since there is no life without a car, everyone has a car. Or two. Or three. Because in addition to a compact car, for commuting to work, you also need a pick-up that will take the family to the campsite. And if you are wealthy (and in Orange County, where I live, there are a lot of wealthy people), you should also have a sports convertible or some historic low rider that you can boast of when you go to the beach on a weekend. This causes enormous traffic jams, especially around freeway exits / entrances, during rush hour, or when entering the city. On weekends you can spend half an hour or longer in parking lots of shopping malls, near beaches or popular tourist spots, unsuccessfully looking for a place to park. I saw many times, especially between June – August, people standing in 2 miles long line, waiting for a parking spot near the beach. Parking fees can reach up to $40. In Los Angeles alone I saw parking for $70 and $100.
3. Only Toyota Prius, hybrids and electrics drive on the streets.
Stretched, but true nonetheless. With some exceptions (see point 2), southern California has been dominated by hybrid cars. There are several reasons for why this. First, Californians are very environmentally conscious and being eco is hot. Secondly, as I have already mentioned, the distances here are huge (and gas prices are raising daily) and driving a hybrid saves a lot on fuel. Finally, driving a car with low exhaust emissions entitles us to use a carpool lane (a lane that allows a car with 2 or more people in to drive in it), usually much less crowded than the other lanes.
4. Everything has to be eco in California.
True. Eco is a trendy word. Like “organic”, “gluten free”, “raw” and “vegan”. Here, great importance is attached to what and how much you eat. Eggs have to be “cage free”, preferably from “vegetarian feed” hens. Milk and milk products from cows not fed with growth hormone. Californians also pay close attention to drink the right amount of fluids, which is not surprising considering the temperatures prevailing here for most of the year. Vegetable smoothies, drinking yoghurts, drinks stuffed with minerals and, above all, water, water and more water! Stay hydrated is the advice I hear most often in SoCal.
5. California is crazy about kale, avocado, chia seeds, quinoa, acai and goji berries.
True. When Californians fixate on some food, they have no mercy! Avocados (and the guacamole made from it) are eaten in every imaginable form, but nothing beats kale, which is now available even as crisps.
6. The most popular cuisine is Mexican.
True. Not burgers but tacos, not pizza but tortillas and no chips but nachos. And not ketchup, but salsa and guacamole. I personally love real, well-prepared Mexican cuisine. Stay tuned for a recommendation of one of the best Mexican restaurant in Orange County )pictured below. Dogs are allowed outside, no limits).
7. Most Californians eat out a lot.
True. Homemade food usually exists in a form of pancakes for breakfast (weekends, mostly, nobody has time to cook a full breakfast during the week) and microwave dishes for dinner (either store bought or over the weekend leftovers). You don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well, quite the opposite. In California, the best food is served from food trucks and old school dinners. One of the most iconic places is In-N-Out Burger, they literally serve a few basic types of burgers and fries. As a vegetarian, I can’t really recommend it or not, but let the fact that In-N-Out is famous all over America serve as an answer. So far this fast food was only located in California, however, just recently, an exception was made to this rule and they opened a restaurant in Oregon.
8. There are no seasons in California.
Or: there are two seasons. Or: there is only day and night. Or: it never snows in California. And, my personal favorite: it never rains in California. All of the above are true, but only on the south part of the state. This is how life in Orange County looks like. There are no seasons, it’s warm or very warm. But remember, a large part of the state is covered by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, or the Snow Mountains. This name has its justification. I remember in July, in Yosemite National Park, we barely found a piece of snow-free land to pitch a tent! And on our way back from Death Valley in January we got stuck in a snowstorm on the freeway. California is a very large state, stretched from north to west, bounded on one side by mountains, and on the other by a cold ocean current, which translates into great climatic diversity. In winter you can reach the ski slopes of the Big Bear Mountain region from the sunny beach in 2 hours.
9. A week is enough to see the most interesting places in California.
Myth. See previous point. California is 3 times bigger than Poland. Could you see the most interesting places in Poland in a week? In a week you can only barely pass through all these places. But if you’re already planning to ride the most beautiful of all states in 7 days, be prepared to spend a lot of time behind the wheel. I even tried to calculate the route between the absolute must see (LA, SF, Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks) especially for you. I got 2400 km.
10. A smile is a must.
Truth. And in my opinion, this is a very good rule. A smile replaces 1000 nice words, relieves tensions, and makes the day better. What’s up? – a question which you will hear 50 times a day from just about everyone, from a salesperson, a colleague at work and a stranger on the sidewalk. We answer “good”, we smile, and in fact it does get better. Well, why not smile, since there is a beautiful weather 360 days a year, people are nice and the surroundings are beautiful?
11. Nobody walks in LA.
Both true and false. In Poland, I could walk to many places. To the grocery store, to get bread, to the post office or to the clinic. When we first moved to Orange County, it turned out that everything is far and usually there are no sidewalks, so it’s hard to walk there. In fact, no one does “aimless” walks here. But lots of people run, go hiking (we have many great routes along the ocean shore or in the hills surrounding the city), and bike rides. So it’s not that the streets are empty. Although I have to admit that downtown Los Angeles looks deserted outside of working hours, but who would want to walk in the center of a polluted city when there are so many great walking routes right next to it? Try Griffith Park, for example.
12. People go to the store in pajamas.
A bit of a myth. I mean, I’ve seen people wearing pajamas in stores, but very, very rarely. Much more often the ones that were walking dogs or taking out the trash. I must admit that I still do not leave the house in pajamas. This is because Californians are really not judgmental and the point of embarrassment here is much, much higher. Cultivated individualism allows people much more freedom. If I were to describe how the natives dress most often, I would point to sports clothes. Leggings, yoga pants, shorts, t-shirts, sneakers, tennis shoes, flip-flops reign on the streets all year round.
13. Life is cheap.
The biggest myth. Anyone who has lived here for a while will tell you that this is not the case. True, life is easier and more pleasant, some things are cheaper, e.g. brand clothes from outlets (don’t take our word for it, check our post here on best outlets in Southern California). The price of food is similar to that in Poland. But your biggest expense when you move to the States, and your destination are big cities like LA, SF or NYC, is renting an apartment. In big cities, rent will consume a large part of your earnings (if they remain at a moderate level). With the lowest earnings, you can forget about living independently. You’re gonna have to find a roommate.
14. Life is expensive.
A little bit yes and a little bit no. Certainly, life in California is more expensive than in other regions of the country (except New York). But as the locals say, you are paying for the lifestyle. For over 300 sunny days a year. For the proximity of the mountains and the ocean. For the wonderful vegetation. For fantastic, smiling and friendly people. For endless possibilities of spending free time. Surfing and skiing in one weekend? The best restaurants of all cuisines of the world? Concerts of the biggest stars, an extensive system of beautiful bicycle and walking routes, film premieres with the participation of actors, numerous outlets of the world’s biggest brands… I could go on and on. When paying the rent on mortgage you pay for this lifestyle.
15. Smoking marijuana is legal.
True. California was the first state to introduce completely legal marijuana smoking, without the need for an appropriate medical certificate. In practice, you smell weed everywhere.
16. Californians don’t like New Yorkers.
A bit true. These animosities result from a completely different lifestyle and different behavioral norms. NYC residents think we are false and hypocritical because we keep smiling, saying hello, and asking everyone how they are doing. We think New Yorkers are unpleasant because they don’t and because they keep honking at each other while driving, so they must also be very nervous. New York thinks California has no sense of humor and is silly because they don’t get ironic jokes. After all, irony is characteristic of intelligent people. We believe that ironic comments can hurt, and that veiled mockery tends to be more frustrating. We have different interests, we spend our free time differently, we enjoy other things. And, as you probably know, everyone considers their perception for life the only right one.
17. English is the main language.
True, but that will likely change in the next decade. Already, Latinos outnumber white people in Los Angeles. Spanish is the first language for 30% of people. It is assumed that Los Angeles is the second largest Mexican city (just like Chicago is the second largest Polish city). English and Spanish mix freely in Southern California creating a mix called “spanglish”.
18. California is oversensitive about wasting water.
True. But it’s justified. California is a very dry state, with many fires in summer and fall season. So if you move to California, you will learn to take a quick shower and turn off the water while brushing your teeth.