I’ve never quite known what to make of the place I’m from. Is it Westchester, California? No, it’s not big enough for that. But Westchester, Los Angeles, seems strange too. Westchester, LAX, almost makes more sense. The only thing I’m certain of is that it isn’t Westchester, New York. Westchester, to me and everyone else living there, is just Westchester (or C-Town, as my old Youth and Government delegation liked to call it).
The small town in a big city, which is consistently overlooked by everyone but its inhabitants, has always been a place stuck in time. A few years ago, you could drive through and see homes that hadn’t been remodeled since the 1970s, as if they had been plucked off the set of “The Brady Bunch.” Everyone knows each other (or knows of each other), which gets tedious when you’re repeatedly having run-ins with your embarrassing seventh grade crush at the local Vons. Nostalgia runs rampant as people cling to places such as Tower Pizza and Paco’s Tacos and the various traditions such as cotillions (ballroom dancing and etiquette lessons) for nervous and hormonal middle schoolers. My summers consisted of “Sandlot”-esque baseball games and block parties, riding our bikes into the campus of Loyola Marymount University, or LMU, for Jamba Juice and spending all day at the beach.
Westchester is changing fast because of the expansion of its next-door neighbor, Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, and the development of “Silicon Beach,” with Google, Facebook and other tech companies moving in down the hill. I like to think that in these developing times, my hometown will stay untouched, but that isn’t totally the case. A lot of Westchester, however, keeps its same old airport-town charm in a way no other place can.
Westchester is truly an underrated food hub. There’s no shortage of incredible and diverse options in such a small area. Whether it be an old baseball team party favorite such as Hacienda del Rey or new places such as Cafe Solar, there’s something for any mood you’re in. And unlike the rest of LA, parking is pretty much all free (unless you try to park by LMU without a permit). Some of my personal favorites are KC’s Crepes Cafe, with its amazing dessert crepes and boba, Ayara Thai Cuisine and its amazing crab fried rice and The Ramen Joint. Some old classics include Dinah’s Family Restaurant for the old-fashioned fried chicken, The Coffee Company for a Sunday breakfast after sleeping in or going to service at one of the many neighborhood churches and Alejo’s Presto Trattoria, which is the perfect place to take the family. I haven’t even scratched the surface with these restaurants, but just know you won’t starve if you ever find yourself here.
Close proximity to everything
People don’t know where Westchester is because it’s a tiny town packed between everywhere else. Marina del Rey, Venice and Playa del Rey are right down the hill. Inglewood is a short drive away and you can walk into Culver City easily. Unlike other places in LA, such as the South Bay (which is also very close) and Downtown (which is not quite as close), you aren’t trapped where you are. Rather, some of the best places in LA are just a five- or 10-minute drive out of Westchester. My favorite place to go, which is really no more than a 10-15 minute drive, is the beach. El Segundo, Dockweiler, El Porto, Manhattan and Redondo are popular spots, and arguably the best surfing and swimming beaches in the entire world. You know the Beach Boys? Well they’re from Hawthorne, which is yet another city close to Westchester — so you know they frequented the same beaches Westchester residents did. So pick up the good vibrations and hop in a car, your bike or a bus, and go wherever you’d like — it won’t take too long.
The Fourth of July parade
One of the best traditions Westchester has is its famous Fourth of July parade. It’s so popular and iconic that the city actually used to have an elephant march down the street. Summers in Westchester aren’t complete without riding your scooter or bike down to Loyola Boulevard to watch the festivities. Childhood nostalgia, sunshine and red, white and blue confetti fill the air, leaving you a little dizzy with happiness. You’re guaranteed to run into all your friends, their parents and kids you used to babysit. It’s a wonderful community builder and the epitome of a suburban summer.
I didn’t actually figure out that “Downtown Westchester” was considered to be “downtown” until I got to high school. It’s pretty much just one long stretch of street, with restaurants and stores on either side. Most people would just drive through it, past the In-N-Out by the airport until they’re on their way to more “exciting” LA attractions such as Rodeo Drive and the Spider-Man impersonator in front of the El Capitan Theatre. But Downtown Westchester has some cute attractions itself that are worth checking out. For example, it used to have a “before I die …” chalk wall on La Tijera Boulevard, which has now turned into an “I channel my creativity toward …” chalk wall. There’s also a fun mural on the wall next to it for all you Instagram models. Right across the street is Soundsations, a classic music and record store, which is a cool neighborhood place to appreciate music that isn’t on Spotify or Apple Music. Downtown also hosts the Rotary Club of Westchester’s annual used book sale in the parking lot in front of Ralphs, which has been going strong for 63 years! There’s a cool selection of old books for dirt-cheap prices.
Westchester has no shortage of places for teenagers to loiter around, and the trails at Bluff Trail Park, or the Bluff, do the job perfectly. You can easily access the Bluff through the neighborhood or LMU’s campus. The trails are popular spots for moms to go running during the day and teens to hang out at night. It’s probably the best spot in all of Los Angeles for Fourth of July fireworks as well, giving you a bird’s-eye view of pretty much every firework show in the city. It’s a nice little escape from suburbia.
Westchester is about as LA it gets. It’s a crossroads of different pockets of the vast city but has managed to forge its own distinct personality over the years. This small town in a big city has fostered a strong sense of community that’s hard to ignore if you’re here. I’ll admit, it’s strange seeing modern architecture and porches everywhere in my little slice of middle-class heaven. I recognize less every time I come home, but the town and the wonderful people in it still cling to the last scraps of tradition and space-race era feels. I love you, Westchester. I may have left for bigger places and Bay Area snobs, but you’ll always be No. 1 in my heart. Don’t forget me while I’m gone.